The Lightweight Rifle
Let’s Explore A Savage/Kimber Connection.
Early in the 20th century Savage developed a light bolt-action hunting rifle called the Model 1920. Later a few minor revisions were made. The revised model was called the 1920-1926. Two cartridge choices were offered, .250-3000 and .300 Savage.
Fewer than 12,000 were ever made. Savage dropped it from the catalog in 1931. A number of factors kept it from achieving popular acceptance, such as the American preference for lever actions. Those who wanted bolt-action rifles often wanted them in .30-06. The Depression ended what modest demand there was.
Nonetheless the 1920 was a landmark rifle. It was the first American-made, lightweight, bolt-action sporter and one of the first made anywhere. Unlike some early lightweights (such as the famous 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer), the1920 is a rifle—not a carbine—with either a 22- or 24-inch barrel. Depending on cartridge, barrel length and wood density, individual rifles weigh from just under 6 pounds to a few ounces over.
The action of the 1920 shows the influence of the Mauser 98 and ’03 Springfield, with two forward locking lugs, long external extractor and controlled-round feeding. The base of the bolt handle serves as a back-up/safety lug. The receiver is a machined section of steel tubing, while the recoil lug is a thick washer sandwiched between barrel and receiver. The original 1920 had a light, slim barrel and stock.
In The Rifle in America, Phillip B. Sharpe wrote, “The 1920 represented the latest and highest development of the American hunting rifle at the time of its introduction… it was considered the acme of perfection…The rifle as a whole shows extreme attention to detail… large locking lugs ensured extreme strength and this rifle was capable of handling the maximum pressures in use during its era.”
The Kimber 84M Montana shares many qualities with the century-older Savage 1920: controlled-round-feed bolt action, integral blind magazine, 22-inch barrel, along with superb balance and handling. It has a tougher, more rigid synthetic stock, stainless steel metal, a far superior trigger and is adapted to scope use. As shown with steel rings/bases and Swarovski 3-10×42 scope, the Kimber weighs 6 pounds, 9 ounces, and the Savage weighs 6 pounds, 6 ounces. With alloy rings/bases and a lighter scope it would be easy enough to match the weights of the two rifles.
Savage supplied rifles for Roy Chapman Andrews’ 3rd Asiatic Expedition (1923) to Mongolia. Andrews wrote to the factory, “In the .250-3000 you have a splendid product” and praised its “astonishing shocking power.” He went on, “I am taking your model 1920 Bolt Action .250-3000 on the Third Asiatic Expedition… I consider it the best all-around rifle obtainable.”
The rifle has its faults. The trigger pull is terrible; the 1:14-inch twist (in .250-3000) limits bullet choice; there’s no convenient way to fit a scope. While I consider it historically significant, this is not a plea to bring it back. Rather, I’d like to convince shooters of the virtues of lightweight and moderate recoil, as well as excellent balance and handling.
Some lightweights are built by chopping and slimming the barrel. Personally I don’t much care for barrels under about 20 inches. They are loud, for one thing, and generally result in an unbalanced, muzzle-light rifle. What I want is a barrel length of 20 to 24 inches, balance point about 5 inches ahead of the trigger, moderate recoil and weight (loaded) of 6.5 to 7 pounds.
The Kimber 84M Montana .223 is a shooter too. Five shots at 100 yards,
using reloads with Hornady 55-grain V-Max bullet delivered this group.
Dave’s Savage 1920 .250-3000 left the factory September 11, 1920. John T. Callahan (P.O. Box 82, Southampton, MA 01073) can supply letters with date of manufacture and other interesting information for many Savage, Stevens and Fox firearms for a modest fee ($25 for most Savages, up to $40 for some double-barreled). The Lyman 54 bolt sleeve sight was an option on the 1920, standard on the 1926. The receiver bridge is slotted, should you prefer to load with clips.
I also want a scope, though I can get by with a receiver sight. Scope, rings and bases add at least 12 ounces and generally more. To stay under the weight limit, the rifle itself can’t weigh much over 5.75 pounds.
Jump forward nearly a century and compare the 1920 to my Kimber 84M Montana. The rifles have a lot in common. Bolt action, controlled-round feeding, blind magazine, 22-inch barrel and balance point 5 inches ahead of trigger. The Kimber has a really excellent trigger, a stable synthetic stock dimensioned for scope use, stainless steel barrel and action. Even with steel bases, rings and 3-10×42 Swarovski scope, the weight empty is 6 pounds, 9 ounces.
Keeping rifle weight under 6 pounds costs money, with most examples working into four figures. Currently, the 5.5-pound Savage Lightweight Hunter is one of the few (barely) under $1,000. Accepting just a bit more weight (say 6.25 to 6.5 pounds) opens up some attractively priced options, for example the Tikka T3 Lite and Ruger American. I’ll compromise a bit on weight, but not on balance, handling or recoil.
The biggest mistake people make is the “someday I might hunt moose so I better get a…” I have a 6.5-pound .30-06, and a .340 Weatherby a bit over 8 pounds. I consider them special-purpose tools. If the power is genuinely needed, they are marvelous devices. But they are not fun to shoot.
Okay, go ahead and get the .300 Magnum and get it out of your system. When high ammunition costs, recoil and muzzle blast lose their appeal get a light .243. Or look around and find a nice Savage 1920 .250-3000. A light, well-balanced rifle with moderate recoil is an absolute joy to shoot.
By Dave Anderson
1 Lawton Street
Yonkers, NY 10705
Type: Bolt-action repeater,
Cartridge: .223 Rem (tested), .204, .243, .257
Roberts, 7mm-08, .308
Overall Length: 41.25 inches
Barrel: 22 inches
Weight: 5 pounds, 4 ounces
Length of pull: 13.6 inches
Finish: Stainless steel barrel/action
Stock: Kevlar/carbon fiber
2 Slater Road
Cranston, RI 02920