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Affordable .30-06s: We Like Savage, Howa

However, steer clear of the Century Arms Sporter’s poor accuracy and trigger.

The .30-06 Savage Model 111F is a $376 bolt-
action rifle with a synthetic stock, a 22-inch
barrel, and a four-shot magazine. It’s a solid
choice for deer hunting.

The .30-06 Springfield may be a victim of its own success. As one of the most widely accepted hunting cartridges used in this country, the venerable aught-six suffers from being overlooked by many of today’s deer hunters, who think that more power (such as that delivered by the 300 Win. Mag) can compensate for poor shot selection. In reality, the Springfield case, when properly loaded with bullets ranging in size from 125 to 220 grains, can either be a fast-stepping long-range round that doesn’t punish the hunter to a Alberta-class whitetail stopper. If bullets were baseball players, the .30-06 would be the consummate utility fielder, except he would be able to hit with power.

Accordingly, there may be more hunting rifles chambered for the .30-06 than any other centerfire cartridge, and the hunter who walks into nearly any gun store or pawn shop can usually find a rifle chambered for the round in almost every price range.

Usually, however, nimrods will look at the top of the market for their guns, when they can find very good “working” products—serviceable, but not fancy—for hundreds of dollars less.

We recently had a chance to examine three such guns that fit into the lower end of the price spectrum: The $425 Howa Lightning, a $376 Savage Model 111F, and a $250 Century Arms Centurion 98 Sporter. To test these products as field guns, we accuracy-fired several brands of commercial ammunition through them from a rest, examined their functions for reliability, comparatively assessed their out-of-the-box performance in critical areas such as trigger-pull quality, carry weight, and other factors, and decided which one we would buy of the trio.

In our estimation, the Savage Model 111F and Howa Lightning zapped the other budget bolt action in the areas that counted, which we describe below.

The Players
The Howa Lightning, also known as the Model 1500, is a Japanese-made bolt action rifle marketed in this country by Interarms of Virginia. In non-magnum calibers, it features a 22-inch barrel, a synthetic stock with a raised cheekpiece and an internal 5-shot magazine with a hinged floorplate.

This model is available in six standard and three magnum calibers from .223 Remington to .338 Winchester Magnum. For this test, we purchased a $425 Lightning in .30-06 Springfield. Its steel receiver, floorplate and barrel had a shiny blued finish, while the aluminum alloy trigger guard and magazine well had a similar black finish. The steel bolt body was white. We considered the fit of its metal parts to be very good.

The Savage Model 111F is an inexpensive American-made bolt action rifle with a blued finish and a synthetic stock. When chambered for a non-magnum caliber, it features a 22-inch barrel and a fixed four-round magazine. This $376 model is made in seven standard and three magnum calibers from .223 Remington to .338 Winchester Magnum. A left-handed version, the Model 111FL, is also available. Our .30-06 test gun’s steel barrel and receiver had a brushed low-glare blued finish. The bolt’s handle was a duller blue, while its body was white with a laser-etched Savage logo.

The trigger guard was made of black plastic. We thought the Savage firearm’s metal-to-metal fit was acceptable, but its moving parts had a small to moderate amount of play, in our view.

The Centurion 98 Sporter is a rebuilt and refinished bolt-action rifle marketed by Century Arms. It features a surplus German Mauser 98 action mated to a new barrel and synthetic stock. A reshaped bolt handle, a new low-swing safety, and a Weaver-type scope base are standard equipment, allowing the rifle to be scoped. This model retails for around $250 and is available in .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester. The .30-06 98 Sporter we bought had a steel receiver, trigger guard, and magazine assembly with a high-gloss blued finish, while its barrel had a brushed low-glare blue finish. Most of the steel bolt was white. Small dings and dents were noted on the back portion of the bolt, the bolt handle, and the trigger guard. The edges of the five-shot magazine’s detachable floorplate were deformed enough that we couldn’t remove it. Fitting of the bolt could have been better, in our view. There was also a lot of play in the trigger and the safety lever, we thought.

Accuracy Testing
We thought the Lightning’s accuracy was above average for a .30-06 bolt-action rifle in this price range. The best three-shot average groups, 1.23 inches at 100 yards, were obtained using Federal Premium 150-grain Sierra GameKing boattail soft- point bullets.

Likewise, the Savage Model 111F’s accuracy was very good with the right ammunition. Remington 125-grain pointed soft points produced the best three-shot groups of the test, averaging 1.03 inches at 100 yards. Also, Winchester 165-grain pointed soft points achieved 1.13-inch groups. However, none of our shooters were satisfied with the Centurion’s accuracy. Its tightest three-shot average groups, 2.60 inches at 100 yards, were produced with Federal Premium 150-grain Sierra Game-King boattail soft points.

Field Factors
In our examination, we found each gun showed areas in which it was better than the other two products. One of the most important spots was the trigger function. In our opinion, the movement of the grooved 5/16-inch-wide Howa trigger was better than the other guns. Although its pull let off at 3 3/4 pounds (according to a self-recording trigger gauge), shooters said it felt about a half-pound lighter. Also, there was no take-up and a moderate amount of overtravel.

All of our shooters agreed that the Savage’s ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide trigger was much too heavy. The pull had a small amount of creep and let off with 8 pounds of rearward pressure. After releasing, there was some overtravel.

The reconditioned Century firearm’s ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide trigger might have been acceptable in the past, but it definitely wasn’t up to modern standards. The pull had 1/4-inch of slack, 1/16-inch of creep, a mushy 61/4-pound let-off and a lot of overtravel. Consequently, a great deal of skill and effort was needed to properly control the trigger, in our view.

Of the three guns’ stocks, we liked the Savage’s the best, mostly because the barrel was free floated in the stock, which undoubtedly contributed to the gun’s accuracy. A composite material of fiberglass and graphite was used to make the one-piece Savage stock. It had a dull black finish and unraised molded checkering. We found the Savage Model 111F to be the lightest and most muzzle heavy rifle of this test. The muzzle wasn’t especially stable, but shouldering and target acquisition were the fastest. The straight comb afforded a stockweld with good jaw contact but little cheek contact when using a scope. Our shooters thought the squared 1.55-inch-wide forend and the 1.37-inch-wide pistol grip were the least comfortable, but they nonetheless allowed a secure grasp. Felt recoil was the heaviest with the Savage gun, we thought.

The Howa’s Butler Creek one-piece polymer stock had a dull black finish and raised molded checkering. The stock’s raised cheekpiece allowed a stockweld with very good cheek and jaw contact. Due mainly to their greater width, we thought the stock’s rounded 1.73-inch-wide forend and the 1.43-inch-wide pistol grip afforded the best and most comfortable grasp.

Of the rifles in this test, the Lightning was the heaviest and the most evenly balanced. Shouldering was natural with the Lightning, though target acquisition was comparatively slow. The barrel wasn’t floated. The Centurion’s barreled action was fitted to a Butler Creek polymer stock with a dull black finish and raised, molded checkering. It was similar to but not identical to the Howa Lightning’s stock. We thought the Centurion’s balance was more butt heavy than the other rifles in the test. Shouldering felt the least natural, in our opinion. When shooters were wearing a jacket, the toe of the recoil pad tended to snag on it. Shooters with short arms thought the stock’s length of pull was too long. Nonetheless, the raised cheekpiece afforded a stockweld with very good cheek and jaw contact. We felt the rounded 1.61-inch-wide forend was a bit slim, but it and the 1.34-inch-wide pistol grip allowed a secure grasp. The barrel didn’t float freely in the Centurion’s stock channel.

Feeding and ignition were 100 percent reliable with all of the ammunition we used in the Howa, as was extraction and ejection. The bolt cycled smoothly, and we could unload the gun easily by dropping the magazine floorplate. Likewise, we couldn’t fault the Model 111F’s operation. It digested the three kinds of ammunition we used without malfunctioning.

Although the bottom of the bolt rubbed against the back end of the magazine’s plastic follower, there was no binding or stiffness in its movement. Top-loading the fixed magazine through the ejection port didn’t present any problems, we thought, but the only way to unload the firearm was to repeatedly cycle the action.

Though the 98 Sporter didn’t malfunction, its operation wasn’t as smooth as the other guns, in our estimation. The bolt itself operated stiffly. Furthermore, during its back-and-forth movement, the bolt dragged on the magazine’s metal follower. Consequently, cycling the action took more muscle than it should have, and execution of follow-up shots was slow.

Moreover, the Sporter’s internal magazine had a military-style floorplate, which was designed to be detachable. To remove it, the nose of a cartridge is inserted through a hole in the rear of the floorplate to depress the release, then the floorplate is moved toward the rear of the rifle. Despite our best efforts, the floorplate wouldn’t budge.

Open sights were standard equipment on the Savage Model 111F. The steel front sight, which was dovetailed to a ramp, had a bead-shaped top and a black face. The black plastic rear sight, which sat on an angled base, had an adjustable blade with a U-shaped notch. It utilized two opposing screws for windage corrections and one screw for elevation changes.

We felt this arrangement provided an adequate sighting reference for shooting out to about 65 yards. For longer distances, the receiver was drilled and tapped to accommodate a scope. Using a two-piece base and a set of rings, we installed a Burris 3-9X scope on the rifle.

The Howa wasn’t equipped with open sights, but the top of its receiver was drilled and tapped for a scope mount. Using a two-piece base and a set of rings, we easily installed the Fullfield scope on the firearm. The 98 Sporter came with a two-piece scope base attached to the top of the receiver, which could save you a little money. We attached the scope to the gun using standard 1-inch rings.

Guns, Gear & Game

• $376 Savage Model 111F shot two brands of over-the-counter ammo very near MOA, and it was lightweight and fast handling. If you can get its heavy trigger reworked by a competent gunsmith, this modestly-priced rifle could be a shooter.

• We also like the $425 Howa Lightning. It shot accurately with the right ammo, and it had a better trigger than the Savage out of the box. We do recommend this .30-06 rifle, however, the Savage Model 111F may be a better buy.

• The $250 Century Arms Centurion 98 Sporter was inexpensive, but our shooters weren’t satisfied with its accuracy, action, or trigger. From what we saw during our testing, we wouldn’t buy the 98 Sporter.

Also With This Article
Click here to view the performance and specifications.
Click here to view "Lightweight Fixer-Upper: Resurrecting a Remington."
Click here to view the contacts and addresses.
Click here to view "Hunting News."

-By GGG Staff

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