Derek Nugent salutes the Savage Model 24 combination
Without doubt one of the most enduring, passionate and controversial fireside conversations between hunters is that concerning the ‘ideal’ calibre/rifle combination for hunting in Australia. Everyone has their own opinion as to what constitutes the best all-rounder and supports their view with a myriad of facts and anecdotes, often based on decades of field experience.
In general terms my own view is firearms are much like golf clubs, specifically tailored to a particular usage and so a ‘set’ is really required to cover all possible scenarios with practical confidence. For just as you wouldn’t chip with a driver or drive with a putter, nor would you take on an NT buffalo with a .22 WMR or rabbits with a 45-70. Yet with that said, one option often overlooked in the search for an ideal compromise in terms of a single firearm able to deliver in the broadest range of circumstances, is the modern double rifle or combination gun.
The concept of a multi-barrelled firearm isn’t new, in fact it’s been around for centuries. As early as the late 17th century, references can be found to their existence and certainly after the French and Indian War of 1760 they were in common use. Indeed it was such a firearm (a double-barrelled flintlock smoothbore) that Captain Cook was using to defend himself in 1779 at the moment of his untimely demise in Hawaii. In the early years of the Napoleonic Wars the Royal Navy adopted the Nock gun, a seven-barrelled smoothbore flintlock volley affair, and while effective in clearing a ship’s deck at close quarters, they were quickly discontinued due to their massive recoil.
In the Wars of 1812, double-barrel firearms were issued to Canadian and British light infantry officers (for example at the Battle of Chateauguay in October 1813), for use against US forces. The Americans themselves used them at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 and most notably it was the weapon of choice for Colonel William Travis, the garrison commander. Interestingly, modern reproductions of such firearms persist including, among others, the Pedersoli Kodiak Express double-barrel flintlock in .63 calibre.
As arms technology moved forward so did the evolution of the multi-barrel firearm. Whether in a side-by-side or over-and-under configuration – as a shotgun, combination gun, cape gun, double rifle, drilling or Vierling ‑ the reliability and versatility of such guns ensured their enduring popularity as evidenced by the plethora of manufacturers maintaining offerings in the marketplace today. These include high-end names like Purdey, Rigby, Holland & Holland, Blaser and Merkel to cite but a few, to more pedestrian makers like Bruno, Tikka, Savage, Baikal and Chiappa. Regardless of origin, all share the same simple and reliable break-action design and, more importantly, the versatility of having a multi-calibre capacity on hand to cover most hunting situations.
This is particularly true of the combination gun (rifle/shotgun) version of the multi-barrel firearm which, when paired with appropriate ammunition choices, propels it into all-rounder consideration, at least I like to think so. And it was with this rationale in mind almost 30 years ago I made the decision to buy the nondescript yet exceptionally versatile Savage Model 24F Predator.
Savage Model 24
This has been available in one form or another for more than 80 years and appears today in the second-hand market from time to time. Introduced by Stevens Arms in 1938 as the Model 22-410, it remained in production until 1950 and during World War Two the US Army Air Corps acquired some 15000 as aircrew survival guns. In 1950 the Model 22-410 was redesignated the Savage Model 24, enjoying a production run in excess of a million across some dozen variants until its discontinuation in 2010.
In 2012 the Model 42 was introduced as its successor, though available only in 22-410 with a takedown version released in 2016. Interestingly this latest iteration of the Savage combination gun echoes its distant Stevens origins. How the wheel has turned – or not!
The US-made Savage Model 24 is an over-and-under, break-action firearm using a traditional standing breech, extractors (not ejectors) and a rebounding exposed hammer. Initially the barrel selector was a button on the right-hand side of the action, later replaced by a selector integral to the hammer via a small throw lever. A traditional top of tang lever breaks the action, though some variants feature a side lever or press button in front of the triggerguard for this purpose. The safety is a simple cross bolt.
Variants of the Model 24 are almost boundless and use names like Camper Companion, Survival, Predator and Turkey Special. Stocks could be had in either wood or synthetic (Tenite in WWII era and Rynite subsequently) and in an assortment of grades, finishes and configurations. For example the DL version came with a satin chrome finish and gold trigger, some had the barrels joined over their whole length, others separate. Some stocks were of Monte Carlo design, others straight with or without a semi-pistol grip. Some featured chequering while others were smooth and there were models which even had the capacity to carry extra rounds in the butt itself.
Iron sights were standard but later models had grooved receivers or were drilled and tapped for Weaver mounts while basic engraving and colour case hardening was also available. The calibre range was impressive: .22LR, 22 WMR, 22 Hornet, .222 and 223 Rem, 30-30 Win, 357 Mag and 357 Max over either 410, 20 or 12-gauge. It’s the scope of these chamberings which foster the versatility and suitability of the Model 24 to a wide array of hunting scenarios and consequently help push the case for its consideration as that elusive all-rounder.
My decision to buy a Model 24 was in direct response to the tragedy which unfolded at Port Arthur in 1996. With the legislative situation in flux as then Prime Minister John Howard considered the necessary changes to firearm ownership laws in Australia, I asked myself what would be the most versatile firearm to own should the decision be ‘one licence, one gun’. On consideration of my target species ‑ red deer, pigs, wild dogs, foxes, hares and rabbits – I settled on the Savage in 30-30/12g and bought one from Rebel Gun Works in Brisbane.
The gun is a Model F with synthetic furniture, weighs just over 3kg and is 100cm long with 60cm barrels. It points well, the trigger breaks crisply and cleanly and it has operated flawlessly for decades. The synthetic stock and metal finish are tough and durable, lapping up hard usage. Yet being essentially a single-shot firearm does bring its own challenges and rewards in terms of ensuring that first shot is right every time, this being an understanding all ethical hunters would have to appreciate when using a Model 24 in the field.
It’s easily broken down and is therefore a terrific ‘traveller’ (within legal guidelines) and a great camp gun. It’s the ‘go-to’ if I’m planning an ‘armed walk’ and by this I mean when doing work on my property, checking hides and trail cameras or any other activity where I just might opportunistically encounter game and in this capacity it has taken deer, boars and dogs with efficient ease. I augment its versatility by carrying a selection of ammunition on my belt, in particular using solids, buckshot and lighter field loads for the 12g and 150gr for the 30-30. In recent years I’ve modified the gun slightly by fitting a Picatinny rail to allow for a greater range of sighting options and have variously used iron sights, a red dot and traditional telescopic sights to good effect.
I’ll be honest and say that over the years I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my Model 24, primarily due to my preference for timber as opposed to ‘plastic fantastic’, though at the time I bought what was available. I often look at it and think “Boy that’s ugly, I should sell it,” then common sense will prevail and I’ll take it afield and be reminded of the versatility and performance which drew me to it in the first place.
Although now discontinued, examples do come up for sale from time to time and while the Model 24, or indeed any combination gun, may not be to everyone’s taste, they’re certainly a versatile firearm, particularly when paired with purposefully selected ammunition options.
Modern combination guns and double rifles represent the end point of an evolution in firearms technology and design which has progressed over many centuries. But are they truly that elusive all-rounder we all talk about? Maybe or maybe not and I’m not going to kick the hornet’s nest with a definitive yes or no. But I honestly believe this category of firearm is much underrated, has a lot to offer and as such warrants consideration, though ultimately the final decision is for every individual hunter to make.