Savage Impulse Mountain Hunter
By: Mike Dickerson
Savage Arms surprised American shooters two years ago by introducing its straight-pull Impulse rifle. Before then, guns with straight-pull actions were mostly expensive playthings for Europeans. Savage was betting that Americans would embrace the primary benefit of straight-pull rifles (they are, in a word, fast) if Savage could bring the design to market at a relatively affordable price compared to similar European guns. In this, Savage succeeded admirably, and the Impulse gained a footing. I tested one of the early models and came away impressed in every respect but one. The Impulse rifles were, as advertised, fast, accurate, and relatively affordable, but they were not exactly lightweight.
They are now. One of the newest additions to the line, the Savage Impulse Mountain Hunter, tips the scales at a hair over 7 pounds. That may not sound all that light compared to many of today’s ultralight rifles, but it is far lighter than other Impulse models like the Impulse Predator, which weighs 8.7 pounds, or the 8.8-pound Impulse Big Game rifle. I found the Mountain Hunter to be light enough to carry comfortably for most jobs, but I didn’t feel like the rifle might blow away in a stiff breeze. It has just enough weight that it steadies up nicely to help make your shot count.
Savage achieved weight savings in the Mountain Hunter mostly by switching from beefy contour steel barrels to carbon fiber-wrapped, stainless-steel barrels from Proof Research. These barrels, with single-point cut rifling, aren’t just lighter than traditional barrels. They have a well-deserved reputation for delivering match-grade accuracy, better heat dissipation, and longer barrel life with less point-of-impact shift during high-volume firing.
The barrel on my test rifle, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, was threaded and came with a muzzle brake installed. It wasn’t needed in this chambering, but the rifle is currently offered in nine different chamberings, including 270 Win., 28 Nosler, 300 Win. Mag., 300 WSM, 308 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 7mm PRC, and 7mm Rem. Mag. Given the rifle’s relatively light weight, a muzzle brake might be a welcome addition on guns in some of the more potent chamberings, or you can add a suppressor if you wish. The rate of twist varies by chambering but is appropriate for each cartridge. My 6.5 Creedmoor-chambered test rifle has a 1:8 rate of twist.
The heart of the rifle is still the straight-pull action within an aluminum receiver, which is built around a HexLock bolt employing six stainless steel ball bearings and a detent in the receiver to achieve a solid lock-up. When you push the bolt forward, the bolt handle rotates forward and engages a mechanism that expands the ring of bearings into the detent. The bolt handle rotates to the rear when you pull the bolt back. The mechanism remains locked until the trigger is depressed, but there’s a bolt-release button at the rear of the bolt that lets you unlock the bolt and unload the rifle. The removable bolt handle is ambidextrous and can be adjusted to operate in multiple positions.
Operating the straight-pull action takes a little getting used to, but once you do, you can cycle the action and trigger follow-up shots far faster than you can with traditional bolt actions. Although the bolt cycles smoothly, you need to operate it with a bit of authority to force the bolt fully closed and to fully eject cases. While testing the gun at the range, I had one case hang up momentarily on ejection, but that was entirely my fault for operating the bolt a little lazily.
I found it easy to insert and remove the detachable metal-and-polymer magazine. Capacity varies by chambering, with the magazine for my 6.5 Creedmoor rifle holding four rounds. Magazines for some of the fatter cartridge cases, like 300 Win. Mag. or 7mm Rem. Mag., hold only two or three rounds.
The barreled action is nestled into the innovative and rock-solid Savage AccuStock system, which employs an aluminum rail to engage the action three-dimensionally along its entire length. The synthetic stock continues to use the Savage AccuFit design, which allows you to use a system of provided spacers and risers to adjust length-of-pull and comb height for a custom rifle fit. The stock comes with a generously sized, soft rubber recoil pad that does a good job of mitigating recoil. It also has soft, textured non-slip panels in the grip and forearm for a sure grip in inclement weather.
The rifle is equipped with the iconic and much-copied Savage AccuTrigger, which is adjustable within a range of 1.5-4 pounds. As it arrived from the factory, the trigger on our test rifle broke cleanly and consistently at an average pull weight of 2 pounds, 4 ounces. I happily left it at that setting. The trigger is paired with a two-position, tang-mounted safety lever that is easy to reach and operate with the thumb of the shooting hand. The safety does not lock the bolt down, but the bolt is locked any time it is pushed into battery. It can only be unlocked by pulling the trigger or operating the bolt release button.
Notably, Savage set this rifle up for long-range shooting out of the box. Atop the receiver, you will find an integral, one-piece 20 MOA Picatinny rail for mounting scopes. Range testing was done with one of my favorite riflescopes for this purpose, the Trijicon Credo HX 2.5-15X42mm model.
Functionally, everything worked as it should. The push-feed action fed rounds reliably and ejected empty cases with no issue except for the one time I did not fully draw the bolt all the way back. With a minute or two of practice, working the straight-pull bolt became second nature, and I had to resist the temptation to fire shot strings too close together to give the barrel a chance to cool between groups. I was pleased to discover that the carbon fiber-wrapped barrel cooled down far more quickly than all-steel barrels.
I have seldom shot a Savage rifle that was not accurate, and the Impulse Mountain Hunter was no exception. All four tested 6.5 Creedmoor loads tested in the rifle produced three three-shot average groups at 100 yards measuring less than an inch, which was very good performance considering all testing was done on a day when the wind varied 5-15 mph. Hornady’s Precision Hunter 143-grain ELD-X load proved to be the most consistently accurate load tested, with average groups measuring 0.57-inch and a 0.50-inch best group. Three other loads, using 120-grain and 140-grain bullets, turned in average groups measuring three-quarters of an inch to just under one inch, with some half-inch best groups.
Velocities out of the rifle’s 22-inch barrel were surprisingly close to factory-stated numbers for the loads tested, ranging from 44 fps to 97 fps slower than the factory-claimed velocities, which are typically achieved with longer barrels. I suspect that velocities may increase, and the barrel may become a bit “faster” with more barrel break-in.
With an MSRP of $2,437, the Savage Impulse Mountain Hunter isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s still far more affordable than the well-known European straight-pull rifles. A big chunk of that price is due to the rifle’s carbon fiber barrel, as Impulse models with traditional steel barrels cost roughly $1,000 less. That’s simply the price of admission for using carbon fiber barrels. For more information, contact Savage Arms; Tel.: (800) 370-0708; Web: www.savagearms.com
Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
Action Type: Straight-pull bolt action
Trigger: Adjustable AccuTrigger
Barrel: 22-inch stainless, carbon fiber-wrapped
Rate of twist: 1-8”
Receiver Finish: Matte Black
Stock: AccuStock synthetic
Magazine Capacity: 4+1
Sights: Picatinny rail
Weight: 7.16 pounds