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Many shooters, myself included, look longingly at those beautiful custom and limited edition sporting rifles. Some of them are produced in the manufacturers’ custom shops or are built by gunsmiths, but others are just the high end models such as the Winchester Model 70 Super Grade or Ruger Hawkeye African. If you are like me, one of those rifles would probably spend most of its time in the safe and something else would be taken hunting. In recent years, manufacturers have introduced economy rifles that are capable of excellent performance, but they are not works of art and have little esthetic appeal. Such models as the Savage Axis, Ruger American, Thompson Center Compass, and Remington 783 come to mind. These rifles are often referred to as “entry level” or “bargain” models.
During the several years in which I was writing the reloading column for a popular magazine, it was necessary for me to have rifles in several calibers that I did not already own. A budget rifle was exactly what I needed for load testing rather than for pride of ownership. The Savage Axis was the go-to rifle in .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington, and .243 Winchester calibers. Eventually, writing about reloading ended and although I still wanted to keep those rifles because of their performance, I wanted to enhance them rather than replace them with more expensive and elegant models. The items most desperately needing modification on the Savage Axis are the stock and trigger. Fortunately, these areas can be upgraded conveniently.
With the Savage Axis being a very popular model that is available in numerous big box stores, it is a rifle that is frequently given a new stock. There are numerous manufacturers of stocks, but Boyds provides excellent stocks to enhance the Axis. In fact, Boyds offers about a dozen models that range from a classic sporter design to thumbhole models to the versatile At-One. A very nice video showing the results of changing the stock on a Savage axis is available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbvRG0rDgK0
My Axis in .223 Remington caliber gives accuracy equal to that of any other centerfire rifle that I have. For that rifle, the effect that I wanted was provided by a stock having a custom sporter design in Claro walnut with fancy ribbon checkering and white line spacers at the grip and fore end caps and butt plate. That stock really changes the complexion of a Savage Axis. Installation was about as simple as removing and reinstalling two bolts (Photo 1). As will be shown later, the degree of elegance of the finished product speaks for itself.
In .22-250 Remington caliber, a Savage Axis makes an excellent long range varmint rifle. In order to wring out the best performance, my goal was to give that rifle the greatest versatility and stability. A stock that will do that is the Boyds At-One so I chose that model in the nutmeg color scheme. The factory stock was removed and the At-One was attached in a procedure that was “bolts-out bolts-in” simple. Absolutely no fitting was required. When shooting from a rest on a bench, this rifle is phenomenal, and it is as stable as Gibraltar.
Having solved the stock problems, there remained the issue of trigger performance. With my rifles not being the Savage Axis II versions that have the Savage AccuTrigger®, my approach to improve the trigger action was to replace the factory triggers. Although others are available, I chose a Timney because of long experience with such a trigger on a different rifle. I am not a gunsmith or even what would be called a very talented amateur, but installation of a Timney trigger on a Savage Axis is a simple operation. Years ago, I paid a gunsmith to install a Timney trigger on a different brand of rifle, but changing the trigger on a Savage Axis can be a “do-it-yourself” job. The steps are clearly presented in the instructions that come with the trigger, but they are also illustrated in the photos included here. Photo 2 shows the differences between the factory and Timney trigger on which adjustments are possible.
Make sure the rifle is unloaded and remove the barreled action from the stock by removing the two action screws that hold the action and stock together. Look carefully at the factory trigger to see the various parts and how they function (Photo 2). Remove the factory trigger by pushing the “C” clip out of the retaining groove in the trigger pin (Photo 3). That makes it possible to lift out the trigger. Next, place the Timney trigger in the trigger frame and insert the trigger pin as shown in Photo 4. While doing this, keep the new trigger spring in place in its recess and insert the other end in the recess on the bottom of the trigger housing. Next, the sear engagement is set by cocking the rifle and turning the sear engagement screw clockwise until the firing pin is released (indicating no sear engagement). Now back the screw out about 1/6 turn (see Photo 5). This should result in appropriate sear engagement. Pull the trigger to check the extent of sear engagement. Adjust the screw until the desired degree of sear engagement is obtained and then tighten the lock nut to maintain that sear action (Photo 6).
After the sear is adjusted, the weight of pull is adjusted by turning the rearmost screw as shown in Photo 7. To increase the pull weight, turn the screw clockwise and in the opposite direction to decrease the pull weight. Do not try to obtain a trigger pull that is too light; a pull of about three pounds is good on a hunting rifle. The movement of the trigger is controlled by a raised tab on the underside of the safety. The adjustment screw should be turned in so that it makes contact with the safety. That prevents the trigger from moving rearward when the safety is on. Make sure that the screw contacts the underside of the safety to prevent trigger movement! Position the screw so that the safety slides to the “on” and “off” positions but does not allow trigger movement that would cause the rifle to fire. Cycle the bolt and check the trigger and safety to make sure that everything is working properly. Photo 8 shows my elegant Savage Axis with the new Boyds stock and Timney trigger installed.
The Savage Axis may be an “entry level” rifle, but it does not have to remain that way. My Axis rifles have always performed better than many more expensive rifles, but now they have appearance to match. Frankly, I do not need rifles that cost more unless the goal is to “intimidate thy fellow shooters.” Thank you Boyds! I am now considering adding a Savage Axis in a larger caliber such as .270, .308, or .30-06 and if I do, it is going to get a Boyds stock.
The barrel and action are held to the stock by two screws.
Note the differences between the factory trigger and the Timney model.
The trigger pin is held in place by a “C” clip.
Align the holes in the trigger and the trigger frame and insert the pin.
Adjust the sear contact by turning the screw until the firing pin is released then back the screw out approximately 1/6 of a turn and check trigger motion.
When the desired sear contact is obtained, tighten the locking nut.
Trigger weight is controlled by the pressure on the spring which is controlled by the adjustment screw.
Now that the trigger issues are remedied, add an elegant Boyds stock. The result is a greatly enhanced Savage Axis.
Written by Jim House with photos by Kathy House.