Pat Cascio’s Product Review: Savage Arms AXIS II XP

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I’m one of these people who doesn’t brag very often about my accomplishments in life. The walls in my office are lined with various certificates I’ve earned over the years, from all types of training, too, and I only have about half of my certificates displayed.

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One of my few military training certificates I’ve managed to hang onto over the years is from the United States Army Marksmanship Training Unit. It’s from April, 1970 and certified me as completing the Rifle Instructor and Coaches clinic. I’m extremely proud of this earned diploma. Oh, it’s not that I didn’t know how to shoot a rifle before this. I earned an “Expert” rating in Basic Training with the M-14. However, once again, it wasn’t the military that taught me how to shoot. It was some country cousins, Moe and Abner, back in Kentucky, who taught me how to shoot rifles.

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I’m also a certified NRA Rifle and Pistol instructor, but I don’t teach many classes any longer and will soon retire from teaching at all, at least NRA classes. I don’t make it a habit of showing off my shooting skills during a class, unless I absolutely am forced into demonstrating that I can also shoot as well as teach. My students are amazed at how well I shoot handguns but are blown away at how well I can shoot rifles. Again, I’m not bragging, lest you think I am. It just comes from learning some of the tricks of the trade and from doing a lot of shooting all my life.

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Sometimes I hear from SurvivalBlog readers asking me why I don’t post pictures of my groups when I’m shooting for accuracy. Well, there’s a good reason for that. Anyone can shoot a group and claim it was shot from “X” distance, when it wasn’t. A picture proves nothing! Many of the gun writers I know all joke about one particular gun writer, whose name I won’t mention out of respect. This writer claims to be one of the best handgun shooters who ever lived and who ever will live; at least that’s what he says in his articles. However, when watching him shoot in one of the TV shows sponsored by one of the big name gun magazines, he is a lousy shot. Why his editors don’t question his claims as to how small of a group he gets all the time in his articles amazes me.

I remember reading one article that this writer did claiming he shot a ¼-inch group at 25 yards with a 1911 handgun that was five shots into a quarter inch. Now, let’s stop and think about this. The .45 ACP round is, well, .45 inches in diameter. Even if this writer had gotten five shots through the same hole, his groups would have been more than a quarter inch! I think maybe, just maybe, he was drinking some cheap wine, standing on his head, and typing his article backwards, when he made that claim.

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The reason for the background on my own firearms training is this– most rifles (and handguns) are more accurate than just about any of u can shoot, when it comes to accuracy. However, that’s not to say that some guns aren’t more accurate than others; they are! Then again, you do not have to spend a lot of money to get a lot of accuracy, especially when it comes to rifles. Enter the Savage Arms AXIS II XP package rifle in 30-06, which is what my oldest daughter gave me as a combo birthday and Christmas present last year. I’m always on the lookout for bargains when it comes to firearms, and I don’t like spending more money than I have to. Our local big box store in the Pacific Northwest, called Bi-Mart, had the Savage Arms AXIS II XP on sale for $329 with a $50 rebate! It was available in 30-06 or .270, and I love the 30-06 so requested that caliber when my daughter went shopping for it.

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I don’t like boring our readers with specs on firearms, but I wanted to list what this AXIS II XP has to offer. First of all, as already stated, it is in 30-06. The barrel is 22 inches long with a 1:10 right hand twist to it. Overall length is slightly more than 43 inches. The matte blue/black finish covers the receiver and barrel, for a nice subdued look. There is a very nice recoil pad on the stock as well as sling studs on the stock, too. The gun comes with a detachable 4-rd box magazine that stays locked in place. Some Savage rifles have had a problem with detachable mags just dropping free of the gun under recoil; this one doesn’t!

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The AXIS II XP was topped with a Weaver 3-9X40 Kaspa scope, and Weaver produces some outstanding glass for rifles. I did some searching on the Weaver website and found that this particular scope retails for just about $150! Wait? Huh? That can’t be. The rifle with the scope was only $329 with a $50 mail-in rebate that brought the cost of the gun down to $279, and it came with an outstanding Weaver scope that retailed for $150, which means the price of the rifle alone was $129!?1 That can’t be, but my calculator came up with these numbers several times, and my public school math said the same thing.

Then we have one of the best features of the AXIS II XP, and that is the adjustable Accu-Trigger, which some other gun companies have copied. The trigger is easily adjustable for pull weight. I left mine as it came from the box right at 3.5 lbs with very little take-up and a very crisp let-off. There is that “Glock-like” trigger lever in the center of the trigger for a little bit more safety, too, as well as the safety on the receiver.

The Weaver Kaspa 3-9X40 scope gave me an outstanding and very clear view, second to none. I’ve had scopes that cost two and three times as much that weren’t as clear as the Kaspa is. It is also shock proof and water proof to boot! The scope came mounted and bore-sited from the factory, and it only took me a few minutes to get the scope fine-tuned to my liking. I zero all my high-powered rifles for a 300-yard zero, too.

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Savage Arms rifles are one of the best kept, or maybe that’s worst kept, secrets in the gun industry when it comes to accuracy. They are some of the most accurate rifles to be had, period! Yeah, I know, I know. Some of the earlier Savage Arms high-powered rifles just didn’t flow when it came to looks, but that’s in the past. Current Savage center-fire rifles are just as handsome to my eye as some of the more expensive rifles. I certainly prefer synthetic stocks in my area because of all the rain we get; wooden stocks tend to warp while synthetic stocks don’t! Oh sure, sure. Nothing beats a beautiful wood stock for looks or highly polished blued barrels and receivers, but you pay for that; you pay a lot! To me guns are tools, and they can also be a thing of beauty. However, to my eyes, they are working tools first!

The bolt-action was as smooth as smooth can be, too. The bolt locked and unlocked very nicely. Yeah, I’ve had bolt-action rifles that had a much smoother bolt throw, but believe me, under stress, you can’t tell the difference between bolt operations, so long as the bolt opens and closes without any problems.

For my testing, the nice folks at Black Hills Ammunition provided me with a good quantity of their outstanding 168-gr Hornady A-Max ammo. This is an outstanding round for medium to big game hunting. To be sure, with the right bullet and bullet weight, you can take any big game in America and that includes the brown bears. However, I’ll readily admit, I’d prefer a heavier hitting caliber than the 30-06, but it will get the job done with proper shot placement. I used to believe that the .300 Winchester Mag was the do-all caliber for me, and anything less was, well, less! However, a friend of mine, who is now long gone, pointed out to me that if you look at the down range ballistics of various calibers, like the .300 Win Mag, 30-06, 7mm Rem Mag, and others, the bullet “drop” isn’t all that different. I just never took the time to really compare this aspect of things, always thinking that the magnum rounds shoot “flatter”. While they do, compared to non-magnum rounds, the difference really isn’t all that great, to my thinking, and I’ve never shot a deer at more than 150 yards. Most deer I’ve taken have been at 100 yards or less, so “flat” shooting magnum calibers weren’t really needed.

Now, before you fire off letters to me saying that the .300 Win Mag or any other magnum caliber is better for long(er) range shooting, I’ll agree with you, if I’m taking sniper shots out to 800-1,000 yards. In that case, the magnum rounds are more effective, no doubt about it. However, I’m no longer in the military or doing very long range shooting any more. My last “long range” competition I shot was at 200 yards; I beat everyone and never got invited back to shoot with those guys. They thought 200 yards was “long range” shooting. Go figure.

For many who read SurvivalBlog, we think about survival and keeping the bad guys at bay, if possible, to save our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and protecting our supplies when the SHTF! I have no problem with that thinking, but I just don’t see myself taking out people at super-long distances. First of all, I don’t know how I’d justify killing someone at those distances who may not even pose a threat to me, so act according to your own conscience and beliefs before pulling the trigger.

Let’s get back to the accuracy out of this Savage AXIS II XP in 30-06. My shooting was done at 100 yards over a rolled-up sleeping bag over the hood of my pickup truck. My first three round group measured a dead even 1inch! Yeah, you read that right; it was a once inch group. Most gun writers know when to put the rifle down and start writing. Surely, it won’t get any better than that, but I don’t consider one three round group as a test to how well any gun can shoot. The Black Hills 168-gr Hornady A-Max round comes from their Black Hills Gold lineup; it’s premium ammo, not low-cost big box, big name ammo company economy ammo. So, I expected some great accuracy from the Savage and the ammo combo. I was disappointed.

Over the course of several outings, I managed to get some groups just slightly below an inch, and some were well over an inch. It depended on if I was on my game that day and, of course, depended on the weather conditions and other factors. In all my testing, I fired more than 150 rounds downrange and wasn’t disappointed in the gun and ammo performance. If I was on my game, 1-inch groups were the norm. Now, I’ve had some readers ask me why I don’t shoot at longer distances. Well, the norm for testing rifle accuracy is at 100 yards, and, quite honestly, I don’t enjoy walking back and forth at longer distances over rocky logging roads or through heavy brush. I believe most will agree that 100 yards is a fair test of rifle accuracy!

So, my oldest daughter spent $329 for my combined birthday and Christmas gift and got a $50 rebate inside of six weeks. That’s outstanding service from Savage. I don’t know where else you are going to get this much gun with this much accuracy for so little money with a Weaver Kaspa scope on it. It can easily serve as a sniper or counter-sniper rifle in a serious survival situation, or for that matter in a combat situation if it came down to that. All this just goes to prove that you don’t always have to spend a lot of money to get a lot of gun. I’m keeping my eyes open to see if this sort of deal comes along again. This one was just before Thanksgiving, when everything goes on sale. If this sale comes along again, I’m going to pick up another AXIS II XP in .270, just because.

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio

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