Savage A22 Pro Varmint
- By Pete Moore
- 1 Comments
- Last updated: 14/05/2019
I first heard of and tested the Savage A22 semi-auto in 2018; in the US, they had already launched this model, which covered, 22 Long Rifle, 17HMR and 22Magnum (WMR). The HMR was a no, no, as due to the wording of the law after the 1988 Firearms Amendment, we could not have anything self-loading unless it was in .22 rimfire calibre. At that time, the 17 did not exist, but they could have changed it all too easily when it did, but they did not; ridiculous! So, rather than going for a 22 Long Rifle, I picked the WMR, as I always thought this more powerful cartridge could do well on a semi and I was proved correct.
The A22 was a soundly made rifle but nothing too exciting and showed a few quirky features. The stock was a basic, hollow, moulded polymer and a bit noisy and take-down for full stripping and cleaning required the scope to be removed. The barrel was a massive 22”, OK for a 17HMR or 22WMR perhaps, but just too long on a 22LR in terms of ballistic output, as I have proven many times. However, the heavier and more rigid tube should offer better accuracy/ concentricity, even if it was 6” shorter.
Feed was from a 10-round rotary magazine, much like a Ruger 10/22 and there was no automatic last round bolt hold open; instead, a manual catch was included, again like the Ruger. Savage however, fitted their AccuTrigger, which has been one of their great selling points for many years and something that subtle and adjustable is rarely encountered on a sporting semi-auto as standard.
This year, the latest A22 appeared, in the form of the Pro Varmint, which, in the most important areas, takes inspiration from what 10/22 owners have been doing for years to their rifles. By that, I mean binning the factory stock and barrel and fitting better and more shootable furniture and a heavier tube, all available from many after-market suppliers. Well, Savage cut to the chase and fitted this version with a Boyd’s Pro Varmint stock in black, and a heavier, 22”, fluted barrel and AccuTrigger as standard. This more stable and potentially accurate package could prove to be a semi-auto sporter worth taking seriously!
Other changes include a receiver-length Picatinny rail, always a result, the original A22 shows two, short Weaver bases front and rear, nothing wrong with that but the Pic is so much better. Annoying is the short, round cocking handle, as the WMR version had a flattened and enlarged control, which was so much more practical. The muzzle is threaded ½ x 28 UNEF, which for our market that primarily uses ½ x 20 UNF would seem less practical. Chances are it saved the importers money, as that’s how Savage does them in the US; and, in fairness, the popularity of 22 LR AR15s in the UK has increased the amount of rimfire cans now offered in ½ x 28.
The weight-adjustable, AccuTrigger is a given in terms of improving shooter performance, but what about the other two attributes of this rifle? The medium/heavy, 22” barrel is semi-fluted, two inches back from the muzzle for 11”. There are six, shallow flutes that do little to relieve weight, so are more cosmetic than anything else, as this rifle is no lightweight for a 22 rimfire at 7.5 lbs un-scoped. The Boyd’s Pro Varmint stock is perhaps not quite what it seems, and you would be forgiven in thinking it’s made from a heavy, black synthetic, but it is in fact hardwood with a black, textured over paint job.
The build is McMillan-like at the rear with a squared off butt, with high, straight comb and quite vertical pistol grip. Underneath is a vestigial gripping-type hook, with just enough to get hold of for added stability off a bag or bipod, there’s a single QD stud at the rear and a slim, ½” rubber pad that gives a length of pull (LOP) of 13.8”. The action void is well inleted and the longer forend a semibeavertail style and good and rigid with a generous free-float in the barrel channel and twin QD sling studs. Regardless of material it’s a good handle and should perform well, although the LOP was a tad short for me.
Unusual on a modern rimfire semi-auto, the receiver is all steel, as is the Picatinny rail, so a solid foundation to start from! Despite its length, the 22” barrel is good and rigid, and I was expecting good things on the range. The trigger mech housing (TMH) is plastic and shows the cross-bolt safety in front of the guard and pushes right to left to FIRE. In front of this is, the L-shaped manual bolt hold open catch, you just hold the action open and push it up to engage, then pull back on the bolt handle to release. The AccuTrigger shows the familiar, blade-inblade safety lever, adjustment is through the guard with a tool supplied. Although not radical anymore, it allows easy adjustment along with a safety feature that won’t allow you to dial it too low.
The rotary magazine is like a bigger 10/22 design and latches at the front of the well by an integral catch. Filling appears stiff, but, as I discovered, there’s a knack to it; there’s a cut out to the right of the feed lips, which you push the case into then move it across and down to engage the slot in the rotor. However, after a couple of boxes of ammo it eased up a bit. Stripping is a bit involved, there’s a short plastic cover that has to come off first to get the bolt mechanism out, which means removing the scope as it blocks the cover.
So, scope off, cock the hammer and insert a slim punch into the hole on the right of the cover, this contacts the main spring and pushes it forward. At the same time lift the rear of the cover and it will come free, from here you can remove the spring by pushing it forward and lifting it rearwards. Note that with the spring out the cocking handle can be pulled out of the right side of the bolt, which then can be slid back and lifted out and over the cocked hammer. Although simple enough, it does need some practice, also on reassembly you need to ensure the cocking handle hole lines up with the return spring plunger, so it is held secure. And the rear cover snaps back down, however, you can clean the barrel from the chamber end without having to take the action out of the stock.
I see the Pro Varmint primarily as a small game hunter and it came with a moderator, Bushnell 4-12x40 RIMFIRE scope with their BM350 BDC reticle, which is cut for a 20-grain 17HMR, so good enough for a 22LR and a Harris clone bipod. I added my favourite 22-sub-sonic Winchester 42-grain MAX, which I have found to be semi-auto friendly, plus three makes of high velocity (HV).
The general feel of the Pro Varmint is good, with the stock contributing a lot to that impression, as does the AccuTrigger. The action is long for a 22LR and the Picatinny rail, quite far forward, as it can’t be fitted on the rear cover. This means that the scope has to be set back as much as possible to get a workable eye relief; I see now why Savage opted for a shorter LOP. It also occurred that the bolt is massive for the calibre, sort of one size fits all be it 22 LR or 22WMR, so I also dug out some HV ammo just in case I had functioning problems!
The Winchester MAX subs functioned 100% and returned a speed of 1054fps; it was shooting about an inch at 50 and 1.5” at 100m and around the inch at 50, so no real advantage to that longer barrel. I used three high velocity loads: Remington Golden Bullet, CCI MiniMag and MagTech; of these, the Remington proved reliable, but the other two less so. The issue was the fired case falling off the extractor and jamming in the action, the MagTech was worst. In terms of performance, groups size did not really alter, although drop was reduced, with these three averaging around 1200 fps. The Accu Trigger felt a bit creepy, but a quick twiddle sorted that out and I could appreciate the lighter/ crisper release. You just have to get used to the fact you are taking up the safety blade first, before hitting the actual trigger lever.
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