Budget precision rifle: Customizing the Savage Axis

I’ve been having a blast with my Savage Axis HB.  As reported in Savage Axis HB Review: Sub MOA for sub $300?, the rifle shot sub MOA it’s first five shot group.  No small feat for a $285 rifle with an $11 rail.  I think the Axis is nifty, but it is the antithesis of the rifles I normally shoot.  The Axis lacks the refined construction and high end parts of a custom rifle, but it allows new shooters to enter the sport for a reasonable amount of money.

Savage Axis HB file

The rifle, as configured with a Harris bipod and Leupold Mark 4 for initial testing is shown above.  As noted in my review, the factory trigger and stock needed help.  Wanting to see how far I could push this rifle I reached out to Timney Triggers and Modular Driven Technology.

Timney provided an excellent aftermarket trigger that reduced the rough 7 pound 6.5 ounce trigger pull to a crisp 2 pound 8 ounces.  Used in the final stages of the initial review, the trigger greatly improved the firing characteristics of the rifle.

Fixing the stock and magazine system required a little more thought.   The Axis uses the same length action for both long and short cartridges.  At the factory, a special insert in the stock changes it to match the cartridge.  While the firearms market is awash in aftermarket Rem 700 stocks and chassis systems, there are only a couple options for the Savage Axis.  Fortunately, one of them is outstanding, the Modular Driven Technologies LSS.

stripped lss

Rifleshooter.com has been using the MDT LSS on Remington rifles for years.  The chassis simple design allows the the shooter to adapt most AR-15/M15 M4 pistol grips and collapsible stocks to fit their needs.  Additionally, the LSS replaces the factory magazine system with the ubiquitous AICS style magazine.

Savage axis in lss front side

Installation of the LSS is a snap.  Simply remove the barreled action from the factory stock, place it in the LSS and tighten the screws.

savaga axis in lss custom

My Axis is no longer a sub $300 rig, but it is still pretty reasonable.  I sourced the MDT LSS and Timney trigger direct from the manufacturers.   The other parts came from Brownells.  Let’s look at the cost break down less rings, bipod and optic (prices are April 2016):

Total cost $928.  If you are recycling some parts from your AR or buy some of the items used, you’ll save even more.  While $928 puts you at a price point on par with a Remington 700 or a well equipped Savage 10, those rifles aren’t running a customizable chassis system with an AICS style magazine.  Street price in my area for a Ruger Precision Rifle is $1299 plus tax, this custom Axis is nearly $400 cheaper.  That is a lot of money left over to invest into optics or buy ammunition.

It looks quite a bit different now, but does it shoot?

Saveg Axis 308 100 yard groups lss

Heading to the range with two different hand loads, I shot these six groups, prone with a bipod and rear bag at 100 yards (above).  Both loads used twice fired Federal brass and Wolf primers.  The 175 SMK load on the top row was over IMR 4064 (2513 feet/second), and the 168 SMK load shot along the bottom row was over Varget (2695 feet/second).  The 175 SMK load averaged .957″ (.914 MOA) and the 168 SMK load averaged 1.221″ (1.166 MOA).

I packed up the rifle and headed to a different facility with targets out to 700 yards.   I loaded more 168 SMKs for the trip since I was running low on 175 SMKs.   I unfolded the bipod, went prone, dialed in my dope (calculated off the ballistic application on my iPhone) and made a cold bore shot on a round 18″ plate at 500 yards with the 168 SMK load…. a good start!

Before I started to bang away at the steel, I took some time to shoot a few groups prone, from a bipod with a rear bag.

Savage axis at 300 yards

This 5 shot, 300 yard group fired with the 168 SMK measured 2.621″ (.834 MOA).

Savage axis groups 308 at 500 yards

At 500 yards, I fired three 5 shot groups with the 168 grain SMK load.  From top to bottom they measured 6.75″, 6.50″ and 6.75″ (measured with a tape measure), for an average size of 6.67″ (1.27 MOA).

Savage axis LSS 500 YARDS 168 SMK

The one 5 shot group I fired with the 175 SMK at 500 yards measured 3.320″ (.634 MOA).  Looking good!

axis 700 yard 175smk

Pushing back to 700 yards, and running low on the 175 SMK load, I fired one five shot group on a steel plate- not to shabby!  Note:  I apologize for low quality yellow outline on the image, but you get the idea.  Note: the group to the lower right was shot by my friend’s 6mmBR with 107 SMKs.

I spent the better part of the morning ignoring my match rifle to play with the custom Axis.   I only loaded 15 rounds with the 175 SMK, which shot noticeably better than the 168 SMK, however, the 168 SMK was still a blast.  With the correct wind call and elevation adjustment the rifle did everything I asked of it.  Ringing 6″x10″ mini IPSC silhouettes at 600 and 700 yards were an easy task.  If the range I was shooting at had steel at 1,000 yards (the internet’s favorite distance), I have no doubt that this rifle would have hit it.

Does this rifle shoot and handle as well as on of my match guns?  No, but that isn’t the point.  I’m  sure there have been rifles that cost less and shot better, but I am thrilled with this one.  For under a grand I have a rifle capable of sub MOA performance, a proven Cerakoted chassis system, familiar AR-15/M16 M4 ergonomics, a Timney trigger and use AICS magazines.  I have an older Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14 M1 scope on this rifle, which can you can find used for a decent price.  Alternatively, the Vortex PST  or Nightforce SHV scopes offer a lot of value for the money for a setup like this.

There can be a lot of socioeconomic shaming in this sport.  Don’t believe the hype. The $285 rifle and $11 rail provided a solid base to build this rifle for just over $900.  You don’t need to spend a pile of money to ring steel at longer ranges.

Pick out your Savage AXIS here…

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