The Savage Lightweight Hunter is right at home in the high country where the air is thin and the going is steep and rough.
I have always had an interest in what is popularly called a “mountain rifle,” because I have always lived in an area where much of the terrain is mountainous and steep. Early in my career I began to appreciate rifles designed to be carried in high- altitude country where hunting involved a lot of climbing straight up and down and scrambling around rocky bluffs. It soon became obvious to me that it was necessary to have a rifle that was both light and accurate.
By the time I went on my first deer hunt in the late 1950s, I’d graduated from a standard weight Brno ZG47 weighing around 4kgs to a BSA Featherweight .243. Equipped with scope, carrying sling and a magazine full of cartridges, it weighed about 3.2kgs.
The remodeled Remington 600 Mohawk that replaced it was even lighter – less than 3kgs! Since then both age and rifle weight have crept up on me, so that the lightest rifles in my rack tip the scales at 3.6kg – not really much of a burden, but hardly in the mountain rifle class either.
Most factory rifles exceed 3.6kgs field-ready. And the Model 70 Winchester Featherweight doesn’t really live up to its name since it normally weighs over 3.6kg in full marching order. Rifles that very meet the criterion for heft are the Tikka T3 Light, Ruger 77 UltraLight, Remington 700 Mountain LSS and Model Seven and Marlin XL7. A few rifles which over-qualify include the Kimber 84M, Browning A-Bolt Mountain TI and Steyr Mannlicher Classic Light. There may be others, but in future they’ll all face some serious competition from the new Savage Model 11 Lightweight Hunter.
The first thing that struck me about the Savage Model 11 LWH was the quality of its fit and finish and its resemblance to the scarce VZ33 and G33/40 Mauser actions which have always been eagerly sought after for building light sporters. This Czech military small-ring action was 5mm shorter than the standard M98 miltary action and had to be opened up to take cartridges of .270-.30-06 length. The G33/40’s main feature however, was the way it pared weight by having lightening cuts milled into the sides of the small-diameter, thin-walled receiver.
It is interesting how history repeats itself! The first true mountain rifle built by an American manufacturer was the Model 20 Hi-Power Savage. It had a shortened and modified version of the Mauser 98 receiver combined with a 1903 Springfield-type bolt and non-rotating extractor, and was shorter even than the short- action Type K Mauser action. Chambered in .250-3000 Savage and .300 Savage, the rifle had a feathery heft, slim 55cm barrel and lightweight walnut stock. The Model 20 had a few bad features including a split bridge that made mounting a scope difficult and a two-stage military-type trigger.