The 338 Lapua is a very good cartridge for long range sniping and its use in combat sniper rifles continues to grow. Because of the growing adoption among military snipers there has been an increase in popularity among enthusiast as well as competitive shooters in the civilian ranks as well. The downside to the 338 Lapua is that it is based on the .416 Rigby case which has a larger case head diameter (.590″) than the standard magnum cases (.532″) and unfortunately, many of the commercial actions and bolts are not large enough to easily handle the larger case head diameter. Because of this, popular actions like the Remington 700 require special work to be done to them in order to fit the .338 Lapua, and anytime you mention special work, it means more money and also lower production numbers. As such, there are not a lot of lower priced precision 338 Lapua rifles on the market. That is where the Savage 110 BA comes in. Savage actions are built on a modular design, so instead of them having to make major modifications to a bolt design, they simply had to make a new bolt head and they were pretty much there. Of course some other details such as magazine design needed to be performed as well. The end result is that they were able to release a modern precision sniper rifle chambered in the .338 Lapua for a reasonable price. Now, reasonable does not mean cheap as the street price on these rifles is around $2000 at 2012 prices. This is still not cheap, but it is cheaper than most others out there and to justify the price, Savage has included various options and features to make it even more attractive. The big question is, will it perform? That is where we come in.
The 110BA had some initial teething problems when they were first released but those were sorted out and now the rifles are readily available on the commercial market. They arrive in a fairly typical Savage box, though larger than a normal, and it includes the rifle, bolt, instruction manual and some other registration and warranty cards. Everything is nicely packaged and wrapped in plastic with some light oil for corrosion protection. The packaging is well made and durable and is probably better than most mass produced factory rifles. As you unpack the rifle you begin to notice the rifle is large, like most all 338 Lapua rifles, and everything seems to be on a bit larger scale. The other thing you notice is that there are a lot of rails on the rifle, as we’ll discuss later.
For the past decade or so Savage has been making their mark in the industry by not being shy about innovation and being willing to try the latest fad and they tend to bring them to market quickly. On the 110BA the big thing that is different than most rifles out there is their stock. The aluminum chassis system is a flat sided aluminum modular stock that is finished in a matte black color. There are weight saving flutes on the sides and there is a detachable box magazine setup with a thick trigger guard. At the front of the trigger guard there is a magazine release lever that protrudes down below the guard. The modular stock is designed to incorporate an AR-15 style pistol grip and the grip it comes with is comfortable and has a PSG-1 style platform at the bottom to provide hand support. The platform is bulky, but it does its job well.
The MagPul adjustable stocks have been very popular on the AR rifles and the 110BA incorporates the same MagPul PRS stock for the buttstock. For those that are not familiar with the PRS, it has two adjustment wheels, one for raising the comb and the other for adjusting the length of pull. The stocks are well made from a hard kydex style plastic and with the easy adjustments it will fit just about any shooter. The plastic itself does not provide a great cheekweld and the shooter can sometimes find themselves slipping down and continuously trying to get into a non-slipping position, especially if sweating or with face paint on. Perhaps some moleskin or strap on cheekpiece could help.
If you noticed that there are flush cups on the stock, those are not installed from the factory and were installed by the owner after purchasing the rifle. There is an Anschutz style accessory rail on the bottom of the forearm which can be used to attach various picatinny style rails to be used for attaching a bipod. This rifle had a picatinny style rail that was used to attach the excellent GG&G bipod. There is a standard sling stud attachment as well that can be used to attach a Harris style bipod. The accessory rail runs the full length of the forearm allowing for a wide adjustment range to be used however needed.
The action is a standard Savage 110 long action with the rounded rear receiver. The controls will be familiar for those that have experience with Savage rifles. There is a bolt release switch/lever on the right hand side of the action and to remove the bolt you press it down while holding the trigger to the rear. Reverse the process to put the bolt back into the action. The safety is also in the standard location which is at the back of the tang and is wide with serrations to help with operation. It is a three position safety, forward for fire, back one notch for safe but allowing the operation of the bolt, and the furthest back position locks the bolt and the trigger.
The trigger is the Savage Accu-Trigger which has been around for a while now. The trigger was a revolutionary design for a rifle trigger and allowed Savage to have a light trigger pull yet still provide liability protection as there is no way for the rifle to fire without the shooters finger on the trigger. This is accomplished by having a ‘blade’ that protrudes through the trigger shoe and this blade must be depressed in order for the trigger to be activated. The concept is similar to the Glock Pistol mechanism for those that may be more familiar with that setup. The trigger on this rifle broke cleanly at a measured 1.25 lbs. with no takeup, besides the blade, and some over travel.
The bolt handle is a large tactical style bolt handle that is machined with serrated grooves on it and it is a bit longer than the standard Savage bolt knob. One of the nice things about Savage bolts is that their modular design allows for easy bolt knob switching and there are several manufacturers out there that do after market bolt knobs for Savage rifles. The rest of the bolt is the same as any other Savage 110 bolt, including the bolt head and extractor design. There really does not look like there was much to do for Savage to be able to chamber their rifles in 338 Lapua.
The Magazine is a single stack magazine that holds 5 rounds of 338 Lapua ammunition. The magazine fits snuggly into the floorplate and it locks into place with a click. The fit can be tight and requires some practice to figure out the best way to easily get it inserted and seated. It seems to work best by tilting the magazine forward a bit to get the front of the magazine in first and then slide it on up until it snaps firmly in place. To release the magazine the operator presses the magazine release lever, at the front of the trigger guard, forward until the magazine pops loose. This lever is also firm and is difficult to operate when keeping the firing hand on the pistol grip, though it can be done with some effort. The easiest way, though probably not the best, is to remove your hand from the pistol grip.
As mentioned before, the action is a standard Savage 110 long action using the standard recoil lug and barrel locking nut as all other Savage 10 and 110 rifles. As is common with most mass produced rifles, the bolt fits into the action with a bit of slop but this helps when build up and grime get into the action from field use. The bolt itself slides fairly smoothly along the rails and chambers with minimal effort. The barrel is a 26″ long heavy barrel with 1:9″ RH twist and made from carbon steel. The barrel does have 6 flutes to help save some weight and there is a large muzzlebrake on the end with three chambers and closed at the bottom to help prevent dust and dirt from being stirred up upon firing. The barrel and action have a matte black bluing applied that is fairly non-reflective.
There is a large one piece rail along the top that extends ahead of the scope mounting area that is used for mounting night vision optics. The rail also extends down on the left and right hand sides of the rifle to provide accessory mounting areas as well. This provides a lot of mounting options but does also add to the weight and bulk of the rifle and it would be nice to have the option of purchasing the rifle without the side rails or forward rails if desired. The rail does also have a 20 MOA cant built into it to help maximize the elevation adjustments of the chosen scope. The extended rail is also properly designed to not touch the barrel which is free floated for accuracy.
Overall the rifle is large at over 50″ long and also fairly heavy at over 15 lbs. for just the rifle alone. When you add optics, bipod, and loaded magazine you are pushing 20 lbs. total for the system. But this is not completely out of the norm for a large .338 Lapua rifle. The 110BA looks the part and has all the capability to mount and utilize the latest accessories, though whether the rifle “looks” good is in the eye of the beholder. Some here liked the looks, others did not. But that is not what we are here for, we need to know how the rifle performs and what its capabilities are.
For our testing we mounted our trusty Leupold VX-III 6.5-20x50mm Euro spec (30mm tube) scope that we use for a lot of rifle reviews here. We utilized medium-high Nightforce 30mm rings, the scope needed to get up a little higher than normal to get the bell of the scope high enough to not touch the extended rail up front. This was required even with the slight depression in the rail for the scope. For our 100 yard accuracy tests we utilized the HSM 250gr Sierra Match King, 300gr Sierra Match King, and Swiss P 247gr Styx action ammunition. For round one of testing the temps were 35 degrees with a light rain and winds of 3-7 mph.
We have had troubles in the past using the Savage accu-triggers with gloves on and decided that all shooting would be conducted without gloves to try and help prevent the same types of problems. The rifle fed from the magazine very well and was smooth throughout the tests. It is a simple design but seems to work effectively. The steel magazines do not rattle around much when seated, even when empty. We also tried single feeding with an empty magazine seated in the rifle to test the ability to emergency load a single round and the rifle had no problems. The AR style grip is comfortable and provides a good upright position for your firing hand. Recoil on the rifle is mild for a .338 Lapua, this is due to a very effective muzzle brake and a heavy rifle. Unfortunately, that mild recoil is offset by the Magpul buttstock.
The shape and material of the buttstock is such that it is not easy to get a good solid, non-slipping cheek weld and to do so required me to cant my head to the side to help hold things in place and keep my eye aligned. Unfortunately this placed my cheek bone right on the hard cheek piece and after about 10 rounds; my cheek began to feel it. Even with the fairly mild recoil of the rifle, it took about 3 days for the pain from the cheek bone bruise to go away after the first shooting session. The pain was enough that I changed my cheek weld to not cant so far onto the cheekpiece, which meant using neck muscles to hold my head in place instead of resting it completely on the stock. This is not preferred or desired. I would prefer to see a more traditional stock design be used.
The accu-trigger continued to cause problems as well. We continued to have several failures to fire as the blade was not fully depressed during the trigger squeeze and this happened even without gloves. The reason is because some shooters with shorter fingers, myself included, do not curl the finger all the way around to make a full “J” shaped hook, when this happens the blade in the accu-trigger may not always fully depress and it does what it then is supposed to do and blocks the firing pin from striking. You hear a click, but do not get the associated boom. Perhaps training can correct the problem, but for those that are like me, the current trigger is not suitable for operational duty and a replacement would be in store. When the trigger is working, it is nice and aides with getting the full accuracy out of the rifle.
We also ran into two extraction failures while using the HSM 300gr ammunition. In both cases the extractor blade was not catching the rim of the case in order to extract it from the chamber. The extractor appears to be normal and it worked for all other loads and only happened those two times, but obviously, if that happens the rifle becomes a big 20 lb club instead of a long range precision rifle. A cleaning rod down the bore was all that was needed to remove the brass. We measured the case head diameter of one of the cases that failed to extract and discovered that it was .005″ smaller than the rest of the brass we measured. The Savage extractor is not an overly large one and it appears that this slight size difference was enough to keep it from being able to grab the spent brass. Other rifles such as the Sako TRG-42 have a more aggressive extractor that seems to be able to handle the variances better. The brass probably should be more consistent, but this does need to be watched when used in conjunction with this rifle.
The 100 yard accuracy results are listed below:
|Ammo||Avg. Group||Best Group|
|HSM 250gr SMK||1.106″ (1.06 MOA)||0.980″ (.94 MOA)|
|HSM 300gr SMK||1.417″ (1.35 MOA)||1.082″ (1.03 MOA)|
|Swiss P 247gr Styx Action||1.940″ (1.85 MOA)||1.919″ (1.83 MOA)|
As you can see from the results, the accuracy of the 110BA was not what we were hoping. While the rifle shot better than MOA on occasion with the HSM 250gr, it was just barely. The groups were very consistent; it just was not as tight as we had hoped. The Sako TRG-42 that we have here shot the same lot of 250gr HSM ammo well under .5 MOA and the 300gr at about .6 MOA so we could not attribute it to the ammunition. Typically Savage rifles shoot very well for factory rifles so we took the rifle out on a 2nd day for accuracy tests just to be sure, but the results were the same. Obviously there is probably a load out there that will shoot better in this rifle, especially if you hand load. But we could not get any better accuracy out of the rifle with these three loads.
Because the 250gr was shooting the best we decided to use it for the long range shooting impressions and at 300 and 400 yards the groups measured right at that 1 MOA again. For shooting steel plates at longer ranges it seemed to maintain the same MOA of performance. Now do not get me wrong, 1 MOA is still good and is what we require as a minimum from a rifle/ammo combination when considering a rifle for long range tactical use. But we were hoping for better performance, and as we indicated, perhaps with different ammo it will come into its own.
The rifle is a decent effort by Savage, but perhaps they have tried too hard to put all the right pieces together rather than looking at the rifle as a whole. Savage also offers their 110FCP with HS precision stock in 338 Lapua that uses the same muzzlebrake. We have not tried one of those out yet, but right now that is the way I would be leaning if I were purchasing a Savage 338 Lapua rifle, and it is less money as well. The 110BA performed okay, and the aluminum stock and other parts should hold up well. But with the uncomfortable MagPul stock, average performance, and an accu-trigger that I would need to replaced, I would be reluctant to recommend the 110BA.
If you own one of these rifles in 338 Lapua and have had different experiences with accuracy and comfort, let us know and we can be sure to update the information.
Sniper Central – 2012