What are some good bolt-gun options for hunters who don’t want to deal with a lot of recoil? We reported on 22-250 rifles using loads suitable for deer hunting in the November 2019 issue of Gun Tests and noted the need for proper bullet construction and plenty of speed. Now we turn to a little cartridge that will fit in a standard AR-15 magazine, can roughly equal the energy of a 7.62×39 or a 30-30 Win. round, and has been designed to work well at supersonic or subsonic velocities. We are talking about the 300 Blackout — a cartridge scoffed at by some, but which we find both interesting and useful. Toward that end, we tested three of the current crop of bolt-action rifles chambered in 300 Blackout.
Our test samples were examples of relatively short-barreled bolt-action rifles with threaded muzzles, for those readers who might want to attach a suppressor and shoot subsonic 300 Blackout loads. They were the Ruger American Ranch Rifle 26968, $529; the Savage Axis II 18819, $385; and the just-introduced CVA Cascade SB CR3914R bolt action, $621.
As usual for this team, all testing was done at American Shooting Centers in West Houston. For accuracy comparisons, we fired multiple five-shot groups at 100 yards from a well-sandbagged position. We fired using a 13-pound bag called The Bear, plus a rear bag. Both did a great job of staying where they was supposed to on the bench while supporting the rifle. We learned that The Bear’s sides grip your firearm well and we were not having to reset our long guns every few shots. Available at RecoilGear.us, The Bear sells for $185, and we also used their Medium/Flat rear bag with the non-slip option, $35. The products are made with 1000-denier water-resistant Cordura fabric, put together with UV-resistant non-wicking thread, and every internal seam is at least double stitched, with some being triple stitched. Because of materials and construction methods, the bags are very unlikely to take on water and turn into something resembling a brick, a problem we have seen with other bags. All velocities were measured using a LabRadar device, and we fired three factory loads, two of which were supersonic and the third was subsonic. Those were Magtech 123-grain FMJs, Frontier 125-grain FMJs, and Precision One’s 200-grain Nosler hollow points. Using all this gear to record objective data, we then rendered our buy/don’t buy recommendations based on how the products performed in head-to-head testing.
Gun Tests Grade: B (BEST BUY)
Good reputations are hard to come by and protected jealously once attained. Savage rifles have a long history of providing good accuracy for their shooters without breaking the bank. Constant innovation has helped them maintain that status. They were the first to employ a system whereby a threaded jam nut was used to secure the barrel to the action, thus allowing custom headspace to be set easily and inexpensively. Later, they introduced the AccuTrigger, bringing us a unit that could be accurate, adjustable, and very safe.
|Overall Length||36.6 in.|
|Barrel Length/Twist||16.125 in., 1:8|
|Overall Height w/o Scope Mount||6.5 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||6.6 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded||6.8 lbs.|
|Action Finish||Matte Black|
|Barrel Finish||Matte Black|
|Magazine Type||Detachable Box|
|Drop at Comb||0.5 in.|
|Drop at Heel||0.75 in.|
|Bedding||Metal pillar with metal recoil lug|
|Buttplate||Rubber recoil pad|
|Length of Pull||13.5 in.|
|Receiver Scope-Base Pattern||Savage 1-piece Picatinny rail|
|Trigger Pull Weight||2.25 lbs.|
|Safety||2 position tang|
|Warranty||1 year for original owner|
|Made In||USA, Massachusetts|
But how do you maintain the same standards and take the price down another whole level? Enter the Axis II. This newer offering utilizes the same cylindrical action, which also simplifies the machining required. The company limits the action options to a single size (long), and then uses different magazines to make that work. The 300 Blackout magazine in our sample had more than a half-inch of “dead” space at the rear of the mag and plenty of room left in the mag beyond the nose of the cartridge. Another new feature on the Axis II is the ejection port. The opening is smaller, leaving more steel, thus more strength and rigidity in the action. The aforementioned magazine has a polymer base and real metal parts. Press to the rear on a tab at the front of the magazine and the flush-fitting piece removes easily. Specs on the Savage website state that the magazine capacity is four rounds. We were able to fit in five rounds easily, and it functioned perfectly.
The barrel-attachment method is only part of what Savage uses in the top end of their rifles in their search for accuracy. They also employ a standard-diameter bolt and two-piece locking lugs that are allowed to float a bit as they lock up with the chamber. This helps keep the cartridge concentric with the bore and brings more of the surface of the lugs into contact with the barrel, both of which are a potential boon to better accuracy. The bolt handle projects to a length and at an angle that makes grasping simple and comfortable while maintaining proper distance from any optics. The bolt handle is skeletonized for weight savings and, in a concession to price, appears to be a MIM part. A small button protrudes from the rear face of the bolt shroud, acting as a cocking indicator. The safety is a two-position affair on the tang just behind and below the bolt. It is removed by simultaneously depressing the trigger and a pivoting lever located just in front of the bolt. Please make sure the rifle is unloaded before doing so. There is a Picatinny rail running the full length of this long action, bringing lots of space for the attachment of optics.
The barrel on the Savage is just over 16 inches, as are all the rifles in this test. The 300 Blackout just doesn’t pack enough powder to require a long tube for full combustion. The Savage Axis II also builds a little weight into the tube with the diameter just to the rear of the 5⁄8×24 threads coming in at 0.75 inches. This makes the Savage a hair nose heavy, with a balance point right at the front end of the magazine. The thick barrel fits nicely in the black synthetic stock, allowing it to free-float properly. The fore end slims down at the top, creating a slim grip for fingertips, which we liked. The stock ends in a nice, soft recoil pad perfect for a cartridge that doesn’t kick much anyway.
Our Team Said: The Savage Axis II felt good, cycled smoothly, and functioned perfectly, as long as it was fed from the magazine — a problem we noted before and which we think was much more a result of the short cartridge in the longish action. Average group size, excluding the Magtech ammo, was right at 1.75 inches, with the best group of 1.09 inches coming from the Frontier 125 FMJs. At $385, this is a lot of performance for the dollar. We think the Savage Axis II 18819 in 300 Blackout is a Best Buy.
300 Blackout Range Data
|Magtech 123-grain FMJ||Ruger Ranch Rifle||Savage Axis II||CVA Cascade|
|Average Velocity||2278 fps||2245 fps||2281 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1418 ft.-lbs.||1377 ft.-lbs.||1421 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||3.50 in.||2.89 in.||1.97 in.|
|Average Group||5.38 in.||3.32 in.||2.79 in.|
|Frontier 125-grain FMJ||Ruger Ranch Rifle||Savage Axis II||CVA Cascade|
|Average Velocity||2191 fps||2201 fps||2199 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1332 ft.-lbs.||1344 ft.-lbs.||1343 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||0.77 in.||1.09 in.||0.89 in.|
|Average Group||1.79 in.||1.61 in.||1.16 in.|
|Precision One 220-grain Subsonic||Ruger Ranch Rifle||Savage Axis II||CVA Cascade|
|Average Velocity||1057 fps||977 fps||1067 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||546 ft.-lbs.||466 ft.-lbs.||557 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||1.28 in.||1.16 in.||1.14 in.|
|Average Group||1.99 in.||1.89 in.||1.42 in.|
Testing was done at American Shooting Centers in West Houston. Muzzle velocities were determined via a LabRadar chronograph, $559. All shots for group were done from a Bear model large shooting bag ($185) and a Medium/Flat rear bag ($35), both from RecoilGear.us.
Value Guide: Short-Action Bolt Rifles
|Tikka T3X Varmint JRTXH312 223 Rem., $999||Nov. 2021||A||Our Pick. The most accurate rifle in these tests and perhaps the most versatile, we’d buy the Tikka.|
|CZ Model 527 03019 223 Rem., $785||Nov. 2021||B+||The trim receiver allowed the longest barrel, while maintaining a compact OAL. Outstanding trigger.|
|Ruger Hawkeye Predator 17122 223 Rem., $1359||Nov. 2021||B+||A brushed stainless finish, a gorgeous three-color laminate stock, and a great trigger.|
|CVA Cascade CR3907C 350 Legend, $658||Jul. 2021||A||Our Pick. Outstanding trigger and tons of features on a value rifle. Tied with the Savage M110 Hog Hunter.|
|Masterpiece Arms MPA BA MPR PRO 6mm CM, $2499||Apr. 2021||A||Our Pick. A heavy, yet graceful beast of a rifle. The MPA is one of the most popular rifles on the PRS tour.|
|Christensen Arms MPR 801-03035-01 6mm CM, $1799||Apr. 2021||A-||Lightest sample included in this group, tested for a sport that prefers heavy rifles, and it still almost won.|
|Ruger Precision Rifle 18032 6mm Creedmoor, $1599||Apr. 2021||B+||Good accuracy and dependability. We would have liked a crisper trigger and a wide, flat fore end.|
|Savage M110 Elite Precision 57558 6mm CM, $1999||Apr. 2021||B+||Least accurate with the Federal ammo. Black Hills and Berger ammunition were much better.|
|Savage Arms 110 Hog Hunter 223 Rem., $599||Feb. 2021||A-||Oversized bolt, adjustable iron sights, adjustable LOP, a box magazine, and a threaded barrel.|
|Christensen Arms Ridgeline 801-06015-00 6.5 PRC, $1793||Jan. 2021||A||Our Pick. Accurate with factory ammunition — even better with reloads. Carryover winner from Nov. 2020.|
|Seekins Precision Havak Pro Hunter 2 0011710059-F 6.5 PRC, $1895||Jan. 2021||A||Outstanding accuracy. We loved the Seekins stock and the trigger.|
|W’by Mark V Backcountry 6.5 RPM, $2249||Jan. 2021||B+||Beautifully put together, but downrange accuracy wasn’t up to what we saw with other rifles.|
|Bergara Premier M’tn 2.0 BPR28-65PRC 6.5 PRC, $1999||Nov. 2020||A||A 100% carbon-fiber stock and trim 24-inch barrel make this a premier mountain rifle.|
|Browning X-Bolt Max LR 035438294 6.5 PRC, $1180||Nov. 2020||A||A little longer and a little heavier than our other test rifles. Beanfield rifle rather than a mountain rifle.|
|Savage M110 Hog Hunter 57534 350 Legend, $487||Jul. 2020||A||Our Pick. Compact size with a short, stiff, accurate barrel and a great trigger. Straight-wall chambering.|
|Ruger American Ranch Rifle 26985 350 Legend, $442||Jul. 2020||F/B+||First sample failed when the bolt disassembled itself. The replacement rifle wasn’t all that accurate.|
|Winchester XPR Hunter 535741296 350 Legend, $635||Jul. 2020||A-||A full-length rifle that looked great and handled well; dropped off half a grade for its just-average accuracy.|
|Winchester M70 F’wt SS 535234220 308 Win., $951||Apr. 2020||A||Our Pick. Smooth handling, very good accuracy and classical styling.|
|Tikka T3x Lite Stainless JRTXB316 308 Win., $748||Apr. 2020||A-||Best Buy. Functional polymer stock, the smoothest bolt in the group, and the best out-of-the-box trigger.|
|Remington Model 7 CDL 26423 308 Win., $798||Apr. 2020||A||A nice piece of wood, a good trigger and a compact 20-inch barrel on a rifle that could really shoot.|