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What About These Stevens Rifles?

copyright 2009 - Stephen Redgwell

Author's Note: These are idle thoughts about Stevens (Savage rifles) - hunting rifles, that is. This isn't about sniper rifles, benchrest rifles or tactical rifles.
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If you're bored and want to start an Internets fight quickly, just post that your Remington is better than any Savage, or vice versa. Threads like that can draw Interweb weirdoes faster than the smell of wet leather at a fetish convention. So, to all the dyed in the wool Remington or Savage fans whose opinion cannot be swayed, regardless of evidence or expert testimony, time to move on. If you're some sort of all knowing, tactical ninja sniper, thanks for dropping by, but there's nothing to see here.

Now that the cement heads are gone, we can carry on.

I believe that most hunters do not modify new rifles. Except for adding a scope, most are used as is. There's nothing wrong with that, and quite frankly, that's the way it should be. It doesn't seem right to sell a new product that needs any work prior to use. Despite what you read in print or on the Web, any rifle, regardless of manufacturer, will shoot well without any changes - even the ones with heavy triggers and flimsy stocks.

So, if rifles can shoot respectably without any modifications, why do people bother with aftermarket accessories? It's usually one of these reasons - Web influences, magazine advertisements or personal preferences.

Years ago, when information traveled slower, people had to wait for their favourite monthly hunting magazine to read about the latest gear. All the hottest stuff was inside - complete with pictures - either as its own write up or displayed as a full page, colour ad. If you didn't have a subscription, it was important to get to the store early on the first of the month and buy your favourite mags before they sold out. There were fewer places to get information back then. After reading them front to back, you'd talk to others about what whatever caught your eye. Word of mouth was the best way to advertise (and still is today). It may have taken a while, but the message got out.

These days, we've got the Web, and that means instant gratification. With so many hunters and shooters online, reviews and user impressions are available 24 hrs a day. Whether it's a web board or a private page like this one, the curious get to travel the information highway and read about almost anything.

One has to be wary of having so much "wisdom" available however. Is what you're reading creditable? You know what they say about opinions. Are you reading someone's opinion...that is a repetition of someone else's opinion...that is a repetition of yet another opinion, from some unknown source? Put another way, "I heard from the friend of a friend..."

In the end, it boils down to getting your hands dirty and finding out for yourself. Go to the range and look for a person using whatever it is that's piqued your curiosity. Go to a gun shop and examine the latest gadgets. Nothing beats actually playing with equipment and talking to real people.

It also means that you have to determine exactly what you need and why. A few years ago, I was thinking about buying a new varmint rifle.

"I need a smaller calibre, coyote rifle that's easy to carry. Loaded, with a scope, it should weigh less than eight pounds. A 223 Rem is perfect. There's lots of ammunition available and I can also reload my own bullets (I make my own 52, 60, 65 and 66 grain bullets using J4 and rimfire jackets - Steve)."

I looked around and these were the rifles available at the time:

Tikka T3 - $700
Rem 700 SPS - $650
Stevens 200 - $280

I owned two Tikkas, two Remingtons and one Savage. Of the three, Tikkas were head and shoulders better than the others. The trigger was adjustable from two to four pounds and the barrels were superlative. The bolts were so smooth - like butter. They needed no work at all. The stocks were solid and not flexible.

The Remingtons were okay, but the triggers needed work. Their wood stocks were solid, but I had no experience with their synthetic stocks.

The Savage was a plane Jane rifle, but easy to work on. Their wood stocks were solid, but I had no experience with their synthetic stocks.

Price was the deciding factor. I wanted the Tikka, but couldn’t afford $1100 for a scoped and ready to use T3. The Remington was almost as expensive, so the 700 was out too. That left the Stevens, but I wasn't too disappointed. I liked to tinker and the Savage rifles were the most user friendly of the three. If you were comfortable using hand tools, they were simple to work on.

I have always thought that easy maintenance was one of the reasons that gunsmiths were wary of Savages. They'd lose money if customers worked on their rifles at home - especially barrel changes and trigger jobs. They are the bread and butter of the trade. For the life of me though, I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t stuff their shelves with Savage accessories like barrels, bolt handles, recoil lugs or bolt heads.

Aftermarket Savage/Stevens barrels can be pre-chambered for the cartridge of your choice, screwed on and headspaced quickly. If you've done it a time or two, you can swap out a barrel in about 15 minutes. Remingtons and Tikkas need to have their barrel changed and finish reamed. That takes longer and is more expensive.

That said, there is still money to be made in gunsmithing. A lot of Savage customers have their rifles professionally repaired and modified. Sharp Shooter Supply in Delphos, Ohio deals with Savage rifles exclusively and Fred Moreo, the owner, is always busy selling parts and working on customer guns.

Anyway, back to my decision. The Stevens was an unknown quantity. The only thing I knew was that this rifle was described as a pre-AccuTrigger Savage. Having been in the military for over twenty years, and having worked on some butt ugly, plastic wrapped guns, the Stevens grey stock wasn't objectionable. From previous experience, I knew Savage triggers were adjustable. The way I figured it, I could put a good mount, Burris rings and a mid quality scope on the Stevens and the whole package would cost about the price of the unglassed Tikka or Remington.

I got a Ken Farrell mount ($75 CDN), Burris Signature Vee rings ($50 CDN) and an Elite 3200 scope ($250 CDN). The rifle itself was $280 CDN. The total? $655. While I was waiting for the scope, mount and rings to arrive, I adjusted the trigger to 3 lb.

Since then, I've added a Timney trigger ($125 CDN) and an oversized bolt handle ($25 CDN). Grand total - $805 CDN. Any gun can be made to shoot better with a good trigger and a quality scope.

So, the reason that I picked the Stevens was because it was less expensive than the others. It was easier to work on too. If Remingtons were more user friendly, like the Savage/Stevens, or had more features like the Tikka, I would be more inclined to pick one of them.

If you have the basic mechanical skills, there are enough aftermarket parts to make it worth your while to pick up a Stevens (Savage). By the time you're done modifying it, your rifle will outshoot most Remingtons for much less money and time in the shop.
 
www.mysticprecision.com - For Canadians that need releoading equipment, Savage/Stevens parts, barrels, triggers, etc.