New for 2012 is the long awaited left-hand version of the budget minded Axis. I must admit that I was extremely surprised when I first found out a left-hand model would be offered - especially after my pleas for a left-hand Stevens 200 fell on deaf ears year after year. Cudo's to Savage for giving us lefties a budget minded option as Marlin, Mossberg, Ruger and Remington clearly have no interest in ever doing so. It's this recognition of the needs of left-handed shooters that initially drew me to Savage and keeps me coming back to them time and time again. Their selection of left-hand models with different features and options far surpasses that of any other manufacturer on the market, as does the number of different cartridges they offer in left-hand rifles.
Getting back to the Axis rifle, we previously reviewed a right-hand model chambered in .22-250 back in April of 2011 (see article here). As such I'm not going to go into great detail or specifics about the differences between the Axis and Model 110 based rifles as that's already been covered. I will however give my take on the overall accuracy, design and ergonomics of the Axis as some of my opinions do differ from those offered in the other review.
For a quick recap, the Axis is an all new design unique in and of itself and was designed specifically to take advantage of newer and cheaper manufacturing processes that allow it to be sold at a price substantially lower than that of the 110-based models. The omission of a machined rear tang on the action saves cost in material and machining time, the stocks are made using a new mold technology that greatly reduces the mold cost, and the one-piece firing pin eliminates the cost of numerous separate parts/components and the cost of the labor to assemble them. In short, the Axis is a perfect example of how to build a bolt-action rifle as cheaply as possible.
Now I know what you're thinking - we live in a society where cheap usually means junk and the idea of "you get what you pay for" is driven into our heads day in and day out. However, not all cheap things are necessarily junk. In the case of the Axis the contrary is blindingly true. The small port/solid receiver top of the Axis action makes it more rigid than a standard 110 action, and the machined flats on the Axis action help to reduce unnecessary weight compared to the 110 action. The barrels used on the Axis rifles are the exact same ones used on the 110-based rifles - made from the same bar stock and machined on the same exact machinery with the same exact tooling. The same can be said for the bolt head, though as noted the internal bolt components, bolt body, bolt handle, stock and trigger are unique to the Axis.
Naturally, as one would expect from such a low-cost rifle there are some shortcomings with the Savage Axis. However, in the case of the Axis these are not "defects" or "inferior" components that are "cheaply" made, but rather deliberately lower grade (functionally) components that were used to keep the cost down. The standard, old-style non-adjustable trigger is a prime example of this. Savage could have easily put their award winning AccuTrigger on the Axis, but doing so would have meant having to raise the price. Savage also could have designed and built a higher quality stock with much better ergonomics - one that doesn't flex like a wet noodle in the wrist area with the slightest bit of pressure, but doing so would have cost more and thus would have necessitated a higher price point. Since the whole notion behind the design and building of the Axis was to meet a specific price point in the market place, upgrading either the trigger or stock would have defeated the intended purpose of the product as a whole.
Regarding the trigger, while it is far from matching the feel and quality of an aftermarket trigger or even the AccuTrigger, it's still a perfectly serviceable trigger for a hunting rifle - which is all the Axis was designed or intended to be. In stock form the pull on my example is just over 5 pounds - definitely on the heavy side but I've had worse. A little polishing and tweaking can easily bring it down into the 3-4 pound range which to me is the ideal trigger weight for a general use hunting rifle. If you want lighter than that you can swap in an AccuTrigger (see How-To here) or you can install an aftermarket trigger from Rifle Basix or Timney. With those options readily available one can't really fault the Axis for it's trigger as it keeps the cost down and a fix is just a phone call or mouse click away.
The synthetic stock found on the Axis is another issue all together, and one that isn't easily resolved at present as there are no aftermarket options available (yet). Like the non-Accustock synthetic stocks used on the 110-based models for decades, the Axis stock also suffers from forearm sag if/when deployed on a bipod. What this means is that when you attach a bipod and use it as a front rest, the forearm bends under the weight of the rifle until it comes into contact with the barrel - nullifying the free-floating of the barrel and negatively affecting accuracy. The more troubling issue with the Axis stock is the amount of flex that is found in the grip and wrist area. This in large part is caused by the actual design of the stock as the grip and wrist areas are so thin, and when you factor in the large chunk of the stock that is removable (the trigger guard plate) there's simply not enough material there to make the grip/wrist area rigid. The result is a grip/wrist that flexes enough to change your point of impact (POI) nearly 2 M.O.A. at 100 yards.
Even for stock on a low-end budget-minded rifle, that amount of flex is completely unacceptable. Other manufacturers offer similarly priced budget rifles (Ruger American, Remington 770, Mossberg ATR and Marlin X7), yet none of their synthetics stocks flex in this way. For the most part these flex issues could be resolved by changing to a better compound of polymer, but for whatever reason Savage continues to use this inferior compound for all it's synthetic stocks. I just don't get it.
With that out of the way lets get on to something a little more positive and uplifting - the action and barrel. As noted above there are some features of the Axis action that I really like. The small ejection port makes for a much more rigid action that's less prone to warping during the heat-treat process (a known issue with 110-based actions). The machined flat on the non-port side of the action helps to reduce weight by removing unnecessary material, and it also just begs to be machined out to make the Axis a dual-port action for the single-shot benchrest and varmint fans. The bolt still suffers the same timing issues that the 110-based actions are plagued with, but that was to be expected.
The bolt handle presents a bit of a problem - especially if your scope of choice has a large ocular bell. The thicnkess and bend of the bolt handle leaves very little room for scope clearance, and I actually had to try three different scopes before I found one that would clear the bolt - even if just barely (an old Bushnell Elite 3200 3-9x40mm if you were wondering). Looking at the bolt I have a couple ideas on how to resolve this use, but I'm going to keep those under my hat for now until I can determine whether or not they are indeed feasible without weakening the bolt handle too much.
The main trigger housing is attached to the action via two pins and also serves as the rear tang which houses the safety. While not the prettiest design it is functional and given the long-wide safety button you really don't notice the absence of a true tang on the action. It should also be noted that the Axis features a 2-position safety rather than a 3-position one like is found on the 110-based models. Another key difference to note is that the Axis does not use a rear baffle, but instead combines it with the bolt handle and thus a ramp on the forward side of the bolt handle provides the primary extraction. It is for this reason that 110-based bolt handles can not be used on an Axis (a question we see frequently on the forum).
Similar to the 110-based action the Axis shares the same barrel shank thread size and pitch, and uses the same barrel nut. Another shared feature is the sear-actuated bolt release that features a flag-like tab sticking up on the right-hand side of the action. Just like with the 110based models, one needs to depress the sear flag while holding the trigger rearward to extract the bolt from the Axis.
The 3-round detachable magazine is identical to those used on the 110-based models other than the bottom plate. Where on the 110's the bottom plate is generally metal (some 110 package rifles now feature the plastic bottom plate with the integral retaining clip from the Axis), the one on the Axis is plastic and features the retaining clip as part of the plate rather than it being part of the bottom metal like is found on most 110-based models. (Yes, Savage is making things very confusing yet again with their inability to decide what they're going to use where.)
At the range I found it to be very difficult to shoot consistently with the stock due to the inherent flex int he grip/wrist area. By simply varying the firmness of my grip and/or how tightly I pulled the stock back into my shoulder could move the point of aim (POA) by as much as an inch and a half at 100 yards. As a result i had to be very careful in how I held the Axis - trying to make sure I held it the same for each shot so as not to have my groups open up. To say it's a hassle, a headache, and flat-out a pain in the rear to need to do so would be an understatement.
With that said, the Axis was never designed or intended to be a top-notch precision target rifle. It's a budget minded hunting rifle - plain and simple, and so long as it offers acceptable accuracy for hunting (IMO that's 1.5 MOA or better) then it more than adequately meets the needs of it's intended use. Folks will argue what is and isn't "acceptable" accuracy all day long on the forums, but in the real world where most hunting shots are taken inside of 200 yards a 1.5 MOA rifle is plenty accurate.
In this case the Axis proved to be a stellar shooter with my leftover handloads - that is once I got accustomed to the peculiarities of the stock and swapped in an aftermarket trigger. My first half-dozen or so 3-shot groups in stock trim might as well have been labeled as a single 00 buckshot load as that's about what they looked like on paper. Three rounds groups were averaging almost 3" wasn't inspiring to say the least. After swapping in an aftermarket trigger and settling into a groove, things started to improve by leaps and bounds. By the end of my range session I was consistently shooting sub 3/4" groups at 100 yards with some even coming in under 1/2". That's mighty impressive for a $280 rifle with a heavy trigger and garbage stock if I do say so myself!
All in all I think the Axis is a winner - and the number of units Savage has sold in the last two years confirms that on a much larger scale. Yes it has it's shortcomings, but even so it's still an incredible bargain that still offers many of the "bang for the buck" benefits Savage is known for while leaving more of those bucks in your wallet. All that's left is for you to buy one and use it to put a buck or two on your trophy wall.
Savage Sports Corporation
100 Springdale Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Savage Sports Corporation
100 Springdale Road
Westfield, MA 01085