Gun Review: Savage 111 Long Range Hunter in .338 Lapua

I’ve taken the Precision Rifle class at the SIG Academy and one of the things we got a crack at was launching .338 Lapua ammo. In that case it came from a Blaser rifle. That was a beautiful gun, but it comes with a beautiful price tag north of $3,000, too. A little Internet searching showed that if you want to shoot in that big boy caliber, that’s pretty much the going rate. So you can imagine my surprise then when I got an email from Davidson’s (the Gun Genie people), advertising a sale on the Savage 111LRH. Turns out I could pick one up from my neighborhood gun store for a price just shy of grand . . .

I had looked at some of Savage’s rifles before because the head instructor at the SIG Academy, Scott Kennison had mentioned more than once that Savage is a good choice if you want a great gun at a great price. In fact, lots of companies (SIG included) buy barrels from Savage because they make really good stuff. One thing that tended to turn me off of other Savage rifles was that most of them were rather low capacity guns with internal magazines that held only four rounds or less.

I like rifles with detachable magazines and not many of the Savage guns I looked at had them. The 111 LRH, though, is offered in a number of calibers, and the .338 features both a detachable 5 round magazine and a muzzle brake on a threaded barrel – two features that I wanted on my prospective .338 gun.

My justification for buying it was that I didn’t own a true hunting rifle. Sure, I have a couple of .308s, but they are a Sig 716 and an M1A. Neither of them are really great hunting guns (although, I’m sure that there are folks who will argue that point).

Now, the chances of me actually doing any real hunting is pretty slim. But should I choose to hunt, the .338 Lapua round is more than capable of taking down anything I could possibly want to shoot. Then again, a 26″ barrel is a little long for moving through the underbrush. And let’s face it, you’d better damn well hit what you aim at because a .338 Lapua stays supersonic out past 1,600 yards, so you really don’t want one of these rounds tearing through the woods unimpeded.

One of the things that I quickly noticed about the 111 was that it was very easy to short stroke the bolt. This happened to me on a number of occasions until I learned to make sure that I pulled the bolt all the way back each time. Once I got used to the sounds the rifle made, it was easy to tell whether or not I had actually chambered a round or not.  Having now fired more than 100 rounds through it, it’s no longer a problem

Confession: it was with some trepidation that I pulled that trigger for the first time. Conventional wisdom says the .300 Win Mag is on the outside edge of what most shooters consider to be acceptable recoil. And with about 30% more powder capacity, I knew the .338 Lapua would be one mean kicking son of a bitch.

But Savage has apparently done its homework and the combination of the padded butt stock and muzzle brake really tames things. Felt recoil was less than my original Remington .300 Win Mag SPS. It’s also softer shooting than my Mossy 930 firing OO buckshot. The only time it really hurt was when I didn’t have the rifle tucked firmly into my shoulder pocket. That, as they say, is a self-correcting problem.

I’ve had several shooting sessions where I dumped about 40 rounds downrange and the next day, the only discomfort I felt was a slight tenderness to my lower jaw where it rested on the hard plastic adjustable comb.

The 111LRH has a 1:9 twist rate, as opposed to many higher end .338 guns that use a 1:10 twist rate. The upshot of the faster twist is that the 111LRH can handle the longer 300 grain bullets with ease, but may not be quite as accurate with the shorter 250 grain bullets as some pricer alternatives. I reload my own ammo and 300 grain bullets are only slightly more expensive than 250 grain ones, so it’s not a big consideration for me. But if you plan to use factory ammo, you may find it hard to find any real bargains in the 300 grain range.

Which brings us to price. No one is going to claim that shooting a .338 Lapua is cheap. It’s not unusual to pay as much as $6-$8 per round for high end ammo. While you can find some deals out there (Cheaper than Dirt has Sellier & Bellot ammo with the Sierra MatchKing 250 grain HPBT bullet for $25.08 for a box of ten) caveat emptor.

Accuracy

I was pretty enthusiastic about the 111’s accuracy at first. During an early session, I took a few shots at 800 yards using some factory loaded 250 grain Lapua ammunition. I was using a friend’s Leupold Mk 4 scope as the one that I had brought with me — the Primary Arms 4-14 Mil Dot Scope that Foghorn was so fond of — proceeded to shit itself after about 10 rounds. Lesson learned: what works great on an AR might not be so good on a .338 gun. Anyway, while shooting at the 800 yard line, I managed to put three rounds within four inches of each other, which translates to 1/2 MOA. By the way, I’m running a 10X Bushnell Elite scope on the gun now and it seems to work just great, thank you.

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to repeat that feat at the 100 yard line in my last two range trips. That said, I was using hand loaded ammo with both 250 and 300 grain Berger Tactical Target bullets. I’ve tried two different powders  (H4831-SC and IMR 4350) with different powder weights. In that first session, I didn’t have Berger’s recipes, so I used the Sierra reloading manual and chose powder weights that I would have used had I been shooting 250 Grain and 300 Grain Sierra Matchking HPBT bullets. These were close, but not perfect and while none of my experiments were great, it initially seemed that the 250 grain bullet was more accurate than the 300 grain one.

Lately, though, I’ve been using recipes from Berger and they’ve proved much more effective. Loading for the maximum speed, I sent about eight 300 grain bullets down range into the target below:

In a perfect world, we’d just throw out the five rounds in the white, call this a three round group and agree that we have a sub-MOA rifle. In the real world, however, we can say that this is a pretty decent rifle and in the hands of someone more proficient than I, it could be a decent competitor. It’s not going to win any national matches, but then again, for under $1,000, would you expect it to?

You really don’t appreciate the power of the .338 Lapua until you fire one. I wasn’t allowed to shoot the steel targets at 100 yards because the round would blow right through them. Even at 300 yards, every steel target I hit fell over and each one had a chunk taken out of it.

Build

The 111LRH features Savage’s Accu-Trigger and Accu-Stock.  The Accu-trigger is a true adjustable trigger with a user selectable pull weight range of 1.5 – 6 lbs. Many gun makers stay away from adjustable triggers fearing lawsuits that could result should a gun with a light trigger be dropped resulting in an accidental discharge. Savage addresses this problem by including an insert in the trigger that must be depressed for the sear to properly engage (think Glock’s Safe Action trigger).

You need to remove the barreled action from the stock to adjust the trigger pull weight. But once removed, the adjustment is simple, provided you haven’t lost Savage’s special adjustment tool (pictured below with the yellow handle). Not sure why Savage didn’t just go with the standard allen key for this adjustment, but it may have something to do with the over/under travel mechanism that keeps you from going outside the 1.5 – 6 lb adjustable range.

The Savage Accu-Stock is essentially a standard composite stock with aluminum rails reinforcing/bedding the action.

Savage’s marketing speak to the contrary, it’s clear that this is not the equivalent of a custom bedding job. But it certainly is an improvement on a plain composite stock and may mean that you won’t be in as big a hurry to swap it out. While Savage claims that their Accu Stocks have true floating barrels, a quick dollar bill test on my rifle showed that the stock does indeed contact the barrel at the end.  This however, was quickly cleaned up with the judicious application of a Dremel tool. After ten minutes of work, the barrel is now truly free floating.

Issues

Besides that not-so-free–floating barrel, there are a couple of other nits to pick. First, the rifle was hell to get sighted in. Even with a very nice Leupold scope mounted, the zero kept wandering. Fortunately, Scott Kennison was on hand during this exercise and quickly figured out that the problem was a loose scope rail. A few dabs of Loctite and the problem was fixed.  Still, something that should have been caught by the QC guys before Savage shipped the gun.

Then there’s the action. I don’t pretend to understand all of the nuances that make a good action, but to paraphrase that famous comment made by a Supreme Court Justice in regards to pornography, I know one when I see it. And this ain’t it. My point of comparison is the Remington 700 that my .300 Win Mag is built around.  That action is solid, smooth and has the feel of a quality hunk of metal.

The action on the Savage just doesn’t. It feels light and for lack of a better word, cheap.  That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it as it performs its function adequately.  On some higher-end .338 rifles, the action probably costs more than this entire rifle does, so its hardly fair to ding Savage for using a cheaper action in order to keep the price down. It doesn’t appear to inhibit the rifle’s performance at all. That said, I would not want to bet my life on it, nor would I want to bet that this rifle would hold up to the kind of punishment it would get in a military theater. So the big guys with the expensive rifles don’t have to worry much about Savage taking away their business any time soon.

One final minor issue: Savage’s choice of magazine. From what I’ve been able to gather, Savage elected to use Accuracy International magazines for their .338 Lapua guns. On the one hand, they avoided having to re-invent the wheel with potentially less than stellar results. On the other, nothing that Accuracy International makes comes cheap and an additional mag will run you $100 or more from places like Cheaper than Dirt and Midway USA. I found the best price on a second magazine from Davidson’s when ordering with the rifle. The cost was only a bit more than $100 and I did not have to pay a second shipping charge.

Cost

Before you rushes out and grab a 111, you need to do some thinking about the choice of caliber. Conventional wisdom suggests that your average .308 is more than capable of extremely accurate, deadly shots out to 800 yards. I know that folks will argue that the .308 can be effective at even longer ranges, but often that involves an accurized gun that costs more in the end than my 111LRH did.

That same conventional wisdom holds that the .300 Win Mag is good to about 1,200 yards. It’s not until you exceed that limit that the .338 Lapua really comes into its own.  Sure, it throws a bigger bullet as fast or faster than some other calibers, but let’s face it – if I can hit something with a .308 inside of 800 yards or a .300 Win Mag inside of 1,200 yards (and that’s a big if), it’s not going to be any less dead than if I had hit it with a .338 Lapua.

In truth, I don’t have access to any ranges longer than 1,000 yards. So really, this gun doesn’t afford me any benefits above and beyond my existing precision .300 Win Mag (which cost me about 3 times as much).  All that the Lapua really gives me is more kick, and a bigger ammo bill.

That said, the coolness factor here of a .338 Lapua rifle can’t be denied — especially given the price.  If I had to spend $3K -$5K to get a gun in this caliber, I’d have passed. But for under a grand, this is just a fun rifle to shoot irrespective of the higher cost of ammo.  Let’s just call this one my “stupid gun.” I’m sure I’m not the only person who owns a wholly impractical, but loads of fun to shoot.

For me, buying this rifle was a no-brainer. It shoots way better than I’m capable of at the moment and lets me spend my money on ammo rather than rifle to get better. If you’re looking at getting into .338 Lapua, this is a great way to go provided you are prepared to do a little work to tune it to your liking.

Specifications:

Caliber: .338 Lapua (other calibers available)
Sights: None, pre-installed rail for scope mounting, but you supply the locktite
Barrel Length: 26” w/ 1:9” twist
Overall Length: 50”
Weight: 9.25 lbs
MSRP: $1290 (street price near $1,000)

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Style * * * *
The Accu-Stock is pretty nice. Not McMillan nice, but nice nonetheless. A very impressive looking rifle especially given the price.

Ergonomics * * * *
The 111 shoulders pretty well in any shooting position. The standard adjustable comb is pretty rudimentary and unfortunately you need to move it to remove the bolt, but it does the job well enough. A long shooting session does result in some lower jaw tenderness due to the unyielding plastic, but that’s a minor nit to pick for a .338 Lapua.

Reliability * * * *
It’s a bold action rifle. Once you learn not to short stroke the damned thing, it goes bang every time you pull the trigger. With over 100 rounds through it, it’s been perfect.

Customizable * * *
Stocks, triggers, and other parts are available, but for basic work or hunting, there is no real need to replace the trigger or the stock, for that matter. The gun comes with everything you need except for the scope.

Overall Rating * * * *
What’s not to love?  Unless your life depends on it, this gun can pretty much hold its own with rifles that cost three times a much.