The 308 Winchester is one of our more popular and most versatile cartridges. Accurate, powerful enough for most anything in North America save the largest bears, and affordable, the 308 Win. has a lot going for it. Among the most popular firearms chamberings for this cartridge is the bolt-action rifle, and we recently tested four examples to see which one might make a timely Christmas present for yourself or someone else who would like something long and skinny under the tree.
In some ways, this report was a continuation of the test we ran in the October 2017 issue, which used the Savage Axis, Remington SLP, Remington Varmint rifle, and Browning BAR, all in 308 Winchester. This time, we included a rifle that would be a match for the Remington Varmint rifle previously tested — the Savage Model 12 with bull barrel was the heaviest rifle this round. In the previous feature, the editor noted that none of the rifles seemed to excite the testers. He was correct. This time around was different. This time we got excited and found the rifles are interesting and appropriate to the job at hand. More specifically, the rifles were the:
- Ruger American Rifle Standard 6903, $382;
- Savage Model 12FV 18393, $420
- Savage Axis II XP 57095, $411; and
- Mossberg Trophy Hunter, $240
We really liked one rifle and felt that it was a Best Buy and a great all-round choice. Also, a more-recent version of an existing model was well worth its modest price. Because we are always looking for a low-cost gem, we added a bargain-basement used gun whose specific model we hadn’t previously tested in the magazine. The Mossberg Trophy Hunter rifle line (there is also a Savage Trophy Hunter, so don’t be confused) has been replaced by the Mossberg Patriot series.
The Savage Model 12FV was the most accurate rifle in the test and received high marks for its smooth action and three-position safety. The only question was, would you be willing to lug this rifle around the woods or bring it to the stand? Those and other questions are answered below.
How We Tested
During the test we used four loads. The first was a handload consisting of the Hornady 168-grain A-Max bullet and Varget powder for 2600-fps average velocity among the rifles. Each rifle fired 20 of these in offhand fire at a steel target at 50 yards and then 10 more at 100 yards to test practical field accuracy. For firing from the bench, we used the Hornady 168-grain Black round, Black Hills’ 175-grain BTHP Match, and the Fiocchi 150-grain SST, providing a good mix of bullet weights.
|Fiocchi 150-gr. SST||Savage Axis||Savage Model 12||Ruger American||Mossberg Trophy Hunter|
|Average velocity||2740 fps||2866 fps||2728 fps||2599 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2500 ft.-lbs.||2735 ft.-lbs.||2478 ft.-lbs.||2249 ft.-lbs.|
|Small group||1.4 in.||0.6 in.||0.9 in.||1.2 in.|
|Large group||1.95 in.||1.2 in.||1.4 in.||2 in.|
|Average group||1.7 in.||0.9 in.||1.2 in.||1.6 in.|
|Hornady Black 168-gr. A-Max|
|Average velocity||2645 fps||2790 fps||2655 fps||2590 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2609 ft.-lbs.||2903 ft.-lbs.||2629 ft.-lbs.||2501 ft.-lbs.|
|Small group||1.35 in.||0.65 in.||0.85 in.||1.40 in.|
|Large group||2.10 in.||1.20 in.||1.60 in.||2.10 in.|
|Average group||1.75 in.||0.95 in.||1.20 in.||1.80 in.|
|Black Hills 175-gr. Match|
|Average velocity||2603 fps||2812 fps||2566 fps||2616 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2632 ft.-lbs.||3072 ft.-lbs.||2558 ft.-lbs.||2658 ft.-lbs.|
|Small group||1.25 in.||0.75 in.||0.85 in.||1.75 in.|
|Large group||2.1 in.||1 in.||1.5 in.||2.25 in.|
|Average group||1.6 in.||0.88 in.||1.2 in.||2 in.|
|To collect accuracy data, we fired three-shot groups off a benchrest. Distance: 100 yards. We recorded muzzle velocities with a Competition Electronics ProChrono Chronograph.|
Ruger American Rifle Standard 6903 308 Winchester, $382
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
The Ruger American is light enough, accurate enough, and inexpensive enough for us to want to keep it.
|ACTION||Bolt, 3 lugs, 70-degree throw|
|OVERALL LENGTH||42.5 in.|
|BARREL||22 in. long, blued steel; 6 grooves, 1:10 RH twist, free floated|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope)||6.6 in.|
|LENGTH OF PULL||13.5 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.1 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (empty)||7.13 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (loaded)||7.15 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Blued steel|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable box|
|STOCK||Black synthetic, integral bedding block system, grip serrations; sling swivel studs, soft rubber buttpad|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3 lbs. adjusted, Marksman Adjustable trigger|
|SIGHTS||None, bases supplied|
This was the price for just the gun from BudsGunShop.com. It’s also available as a package (16934) with a Vortex Crossfire II 3-9×40 Riflescope for $486 retail. As tested with a Leupold Vari-X II 3×9-50mm scope ($390 at OpticsPlanet.com), the total package comes to $772.
The Ruger American isn’t a cut-down Ruger M77 or Hawkeye, but is instead its own design. The Ruger American features a free-floating barrel, adjustable trigger, and a well-designed stock. The stock features steel V-blocks that cradles the action and set screws that make it rigid. It is no secret the more expensive Ruger M77 sometimes required glass bedding and relieving the forend for best accuracy results. The Ruger American rifle is good to go as issued. We like the stock design, especially the comfortable and secure fit of the angled wrist of the synthetic stock.
The bolt has three locking lugs. The bolt throw is 70 degrees. The bolt is tight, smooth, and operates well. The four-shot magazine is positive in operation and is easy to load and unload. The Ruger features a two-position sliding safety. Among the three less-expensive rifles, the Savage Axis II, Mossberg Trophy Hunter, and Ruger American, we found nothing to separate their functional quality. The Savage Model 12, we felt, featured a better safety system.
Fired offhand, the rifle has advantages. There are serrations near the front of the stock the Savage Axis does not have; however, some of the crew did not use these serrations in their firing style. In rapid offhand fire, the Ruger gave a good account of itself and rang the steel target on demand at 100 yards. All of the rifles had been sighted in for the handload in the initial work up session to fire 1 inch high at 100 yards. This enabled us to zone in on the center of the steel target and punish it. In accuracy firing from the bench, the rifle provided excellent results.
The most accurate loading was the Black Hills Match, with a 0.85-inch three-shot group. Firing from the bench, we felt that recoil was not severe, but the Savage Axis has a better recoil pad. The Ruger trigger is crisp and clean. There were no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject.
Our Team Said: Our evaluation was primarily centered on hunting, but we also decided that if we needed a 308 rifle for area defense, the Ruger American would be at the top of the list. A number of the raters compared the rifle to some pretty expensive rifles during the discussion and the comparison was favorable.
Savage Axis II XP 57095 308 Winchester, $411
GUN TESTS GRADE: A- (Best Buy)
This rifle neatly solves a lot of problems. You do not have to purchase a rifle then select a scope and sight the rifle in. Purchase the rifle with a bore-sighted scope, and you will be on the paper at 100 yards, with little final adjustment to be made. The Axis II was reliable and cannot be faulted on any major count. It works well, it is accurate enough for hunting to well past 100 yards, and it is affordable. With the new stock design and AccuTrigger, the rifle is superior to the original Axis rifle and is a solid Best Buy.
|OVERALL LENGTH||43.9 in.|
|BARREL||22 in. long, black carbon steel; 1-10 twist; Sporter taper|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope)||7 in.|
|LENGTH OF PULL||13.3 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.5 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (empty)||8.2 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (loaded)||8.4 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Matte-black carbon steel|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable box|
|STOCK||Black synthetic sporter|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3 lbs. adjusted, AccuTrigger|
We found the Axis II rifle for sale without a scope for $323 at several outlets, but we felt that the Bushnell scope was well worth the extra $88. The Savage Axis II is an improved version of the Axis we have previously tested. The stock differs from the Axis, and we liked the appearance and the fit and feel. The XP is a notation for this package gun, and the Axis II features the Savage AccuTrigger, which the original Axis did not have. The rifle is supplied with a Bushnell 3×9-40 scope. Sources tell us the scope may differ in some outlets.
The AccuTrigger created a sensation when released 16 years ago. The center lever blocks the sear unless pressed, and this allows a rifle with a lighter trigger to be deployed with a greater degree of safety. All four rifles tested feature a variation on the trigger lever/adjustable rifle trigger. The stock uses steel pillar bedding, once an expensive custom modification. The stock is supplied with sling studs. All the raters commented favorably on the recoil pad, which was rated the best of the test.
The Savage was the most comfortable of the three standard-size rifles off the bench rest, which has something to do with the stock as well as the recoil pad. The rifle is relatively light at 6.5 pounds. The stock treatment is good, with a thin wrist, which allows rapid handling. The safety is tang mounted. All the raters liked the tang-mounted safety, which was basically the same type on all four rifles tested. The safety was crisp and positive in operation.
Firing offhand at the steel gong target, we found the Savage Axis rifle in the running with the Ruger and superior to the Mossberg Trophy Hunter. The bolt throw feels different from the Ruger’s, but it is quite smooth and fast in operation. Most of the raters felt that a fast follow-up shot was quicker with the Ruger. Firing offhand, the Savage Axis II was accurate and gave the 100-yard gong a beating. It is the lightest rifle tested and gave good results in quickly tracking targets.
In this test, we found only a slight advantage in the more expensive Leupold scope. The Bushnell scope mounted on the Savage Axis II worked fine for every shooting chore. When firing off the benchrest, the Savage Axis II was not as accurate as the Savage Model 12, which was expected. The Savage Axis II was more accurate than the Mossberg Trophy Hunter, but not as accurate as the Ruger American. The best group was with the Black Hills Ammunition 175-grain Match load, with a 1.25-inch effort at 100 yards. The rifle never gave any type of function problem.
Our Team Said: The XP rifle-and-scope combination proved to be a good one, and the Bushnell scope is adequate for the chores it will be called upon to perform in the field. Though the rifle was in third place for accuracy behind the Ruger American and Savage Model 12, we feel that the Savage Axis II XP package is the Best Buy of the test.
Savage Model 12FV 18393 308 Winchester, $420
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
The Savage Model 12 is the most accurate rifle tested. Fired from the bench, recoil was modest, and the rifle never failed to impress us. It was not such a joy to lug back and forth to the 100-yard line, which we did with each rifle to see how weight impacts the shooter. Firing several three-shot groups and trudging to the berm and back was a part of the test that favored lighter rifles. The LOP is slightly longer than the other rifles, but we felt the advantage of the recoil pad made it worthwhile.
|OVERALL LENGTH||46.25 in.|
|BARREL||26 in. long; matte-black carbon steel; 1:10 twist|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope)||7.1 in.|
|LENGTH OF PULL||13.6 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||9.8 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (empty)||11.1 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (loaded)||11.4 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Matte-black steel|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Blind box|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3 lbs. adjusted, AccuTrigger|
This was our price from Cabelas. Fitted with a Nikon Buckmaster 3×9-40 scope, $150 from Brownells.com, brought the test total to $570. This is the most expensive rifle tested, but not the most expensive combination tested when mounted with the Nikon Buckmaster rifle scope. At $420, we feel the Savage Model 12 is a solid deal and a valuable rifle. The 26-inch-long bull barrel makes for a very stable rifle with good attributes. As it turned out, the rifle is also very accurate. The barrel is free floated, and the fit of the stock to the action is excellent. While the obvious difference between the Savage Model 12FV and the other rifles is weight and barrel length, we also wanted to thoroughly compare the actions, triggers, and safety systems.
The Model 12 action is very smooth and appears strong. The addition of an enlarged bolt knob aided in fast handling and manipulation. Bolt operation is very smooth with a fast uplift and rapid action. The bolt is rigid and does not wobble. We also liked the Savage Model 12’s three-position safety. This safety enables the shooter to lock the bolt on Safe, to have the rifle on Safe but still work the bolt, and to move the safety to the Fire position. This safety marks the Model 12 as an upscale rifle compared to the other rifles tested. Still, the tariff wasn’t very high for a superior rifle.
We chose the Nikon Buckmaster rifle scope to top the Savage Model 12. There are more expensive scopes we might recommend for use at 200 yards or more, but the Nikon provided all we needed for this test. During the test, the two identical Bushnell scopes went against a Leupold and this Nikon. The Bushnell products served without complaint and were easy to properly zero. The Savage Axis II XP came bore sighted from the factory and needed no further adjustment when used with 168-grain loads. The Nikon Buckmaster is a widely distributed and affordable rifle scope. It provided good results on the firing line. We cannot say that one rifle scope gave an advantage over the other in this test, in which almost all of the ammunition was expended at 100 yards. We agreed that the Leupold had the best glass clarity, but because of its price, it should have.
The Savage AccuTrigger was set at a crisp 3 pounds before heading to the rifle range. The Model 12FV stock widens slightly ahead of the magazine. This widened section makes for excellent handling in offhand and prone fire. When firing offhand using the proper technique, bladed to the target, the rifle provided excellent results — the best of the test in addressing the steel gong at 100 yards. The rifle is heavy, however, and some raters tired more quickly than others when firing offhand with it. Just the same, at least for the first 20 cartridges, the rifle is comfortable to fire offhand. Felt recoil was the least of any rifle tested because of the weight. We sometimes slung the rifle over our shoulder and walked to the 100-yard line during the test. The Savage Model 12 was more of a drag on the shoulder than the other rifles. You will have to decide if the Savage Model 12 and its weight suits your personal style.
Fired off the bench, the Savage Model 12 gave excellent results. The smallest group of the test program was a 0.65-inch 100-yard three-shot group with the Hornady Black load and its 168-grain A-Max bullet. The Black Hills Ammunition 175-grain Match load slammed into 0.75 inches. The Fiocchi 155-grain SST, a hunting load, delivered a 1.0-inch 100-yard three-shot group. The rifle was very accurate, easily the most accurate rifle tested. It should be with its purpose-designed stock and bull barrel, but all heavy-barrel rifles are not as accurate as this one. We ran across a single problem with the Savage Model 12, the only feed issue with any of the rifles.
The Savage Model 12FV in 308 Winchester features an integral magazine that holds four cartridges. When all four cartridges were loaded, the rifle sometimes misfed the first cartridge up. This happened about half the time, and occurred with all three loads. The first cartridge would stop feeding and have to be led by the finger into the chamber. When only three cartridges were loaded, there were no feed issues. With a gun that shoots like this one, we can’t see the owner sending the rifle back to the maker. More likely, he would prefer to deploy a four-shooter (3+1) instead of a five-shooter. We otherwise found no defect in performance or reliability.
Our Team Said: The Savage Model 12FV is easily the most comfortable rifle to fire from the bench and was the most accurate. The weight of the rifle may be a drawback, but then it is a varmint-weight rifle intended to set on a hill and shoot varmints at long range. As an all-round hunting rifle, it doesn’t come up short on accuracy, handling, and comfort.
Mossberg Trophy Hunter 308 Winchester, $240
GUN TESTS GRADE: C
The rifle is reliable and operates smoothly enough for the price, if not as smoothly as the other rifles tested. Overall, the rifle was worth the modest price, but there are better choices. The Bushnell scope gave excellent performance for the price. While the Bushnell scope isn’t expensive, it offers parallax adjustment. Checkering was okay, but the fit of the stock was only fair. This stock was fatter than the synthetic rifle stocks.
|OVERALL LENGTH||44 in.|
|BARREL||22 in. long; blued steel, 1:10 twist|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope)||7.2 in.|
|LENGTH OF PULL||13.5 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||7 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (empty)||8.7 lbs.|
|WEIGHT SCOPED (loaded)||8.9 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Blued steel|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable box|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3 lbs. adjusted|
We found this rifle languishing on the rack at a pawn shop. The owner told us that in this day of $400 guns that come with factory-outfitted optics and accurate modern rifles, used rifles must be cheap in order to sell. (Unless they are a pre-’64 Winchester or a solid Remington 700 in a popular caliber.) This rifle showed little signs of use. The stock wasn’t particularly attractive, most likely birch, with checkering around the pistol grip and forend. The scope was a Bushnell Banner Dusk to Dawn model. Unlike the common 3×9-40mm, this is a 4×12-40mm. The scope was perhaps originally offered in a combination. Today, it costs $111 at OpticsPlanet.com.
The stock is okay but angular. You really have to want a wood stock to choose this one over an ATR with the standard synthetic stock. The barrel is stamped “TROPHY HUNTER.” A similar rifle, the ATR with wood stock, is offered at RKguns.com for $330, but that rifle is not supplied with a scope. So, our set up was a good deal as the rifle was practically spotless. We have been asked why we test used guns, and the fact is we pass on badly used or abused firearms. But a clean catch such as this one is worth testing and educating the reader as to what is available in used department. If used smartly and not abused, such guns can be as good as new.
The rifle featured sling attachments and a 22-inch barrel. The Trophy Hunter tips the scales at almost exactly 8 pounds with the scope mounted. The trigger wasn’t difficult to set for the even 3-pound break we tried to give every rifle tested. The trigger is no easier nor more difficult to set than the other rifles. The detachable box magazine holds four cartridges. It isn’t difficult to remove and seems sturdy once in place. It did not rattle. The stock’s forend was too angular. Some of our colleagues with larger hands found no problem with the forend. The stock was ideal for fit into the shoulder.
Our Team Said: The Mossberg Trophy Hunter wasn’t a bad rifle, but we see now why Mossberg replaced it. The rifle’s bolt was smooth enough, equal to the Axis, perhaps not the Model 12, and slightly less smooth than the Ruger. We do feel that the bolt of the Mossberg had more wobble and loose motion as it was worked. There were no feed issues. Fired offhand, the rifle proved steady. The wobble in the bolt slowed the shooters down compared to the other rifles. We wished we had a thicker recoil pad. The Mossberg was the least accurate rifle tested.
When the smoke had cleared, we had several good choices. One of the raters remarked that the Savage Model 12 had delivered sub-minute-of-angle accuracy with the Black Hills 175-grain load while delivering more than three thousand pounds of energy. The weight of the Savage Model 12 is a drawback, but then it is a “varmint” gun.
The Savage Axis package gun is easily the Best Buy, and while the average accuracy wasn’t as impressive as the 12FV, the Axis is well suited to taking medium game out to 200 yards.
The Ruger American, however, would be Our Pick with a bit of shopping for the proper scope. For hunting a 200-pound animal at 200 yards all are fine, with the Savage Model 12 stretching the range somewhat.
Written and photographed by Gun Tests Staff, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.