Rimfire rifles come in all shapes and sizes with something on the market for everyone. Most of us started shooting with a .22 in our youth and whether it’s a beloved favourite like the Brno Model 2, the highly-regarded Henry Model 1 lever-action or classic single-shot Lithgow 1A, many have a special place in our hearts (and gun safes) for a reliable .22 rifle.
While we’re all broadly familiar with bolt, lever and pump-action .22s, the latest offering from Savage is something different – a lever release rifle. When the gun is fired the recoil opens the action and ejects the spent round. A catch holds the action open and the gun cannot be fired again until the user manually operates the lever just forward of the trigger, which closes the action and feeds a round into the chamber, readying the rifle for the next shot. From a safety perspective this is marvellous – it’s immediately clear if the gun is loaded or not and if there’s a round in the magazine.
Lever release designs have been around for more than a century – the Pieper-Bayard single-shot .22 rifle was being made before World War One using the principle – and although the draft fell out of favour for a long time it’s now making a reappearance, the A22R the most recent incarnation of the venerable idea.
The magazine is a 10-round rotary-style affair similar to that found in the Ruger American .22 rifle. While initially seeming a bit complicated for a rimfire rifle, the design works well and allows for 10 rounds to be held in a magazine flush in the stock – aesthetically pleasing while meaning one less thing to potentially catch on branches and brush when out in the field.
The rifle looks good and handles well but those are secondary to the important questions for the discerning shooter, namely, is it accurate and is it reliable? Yes on both counts.
Importer Nioa and Ipswich gunshop Queensland Shooters Supplies arranged for the SSAA to put the Savage A22R, chambered in .22LR, to the test to see how it would perform both on the range and in the field.
The A22R is lightweight, weighing in at 2.26kg and shoulders well, although I found the synthetic stock a touch shorter than was ideal for me. It soon becomes apparent the lever release requires quite a stiff pull to activate and can’t be reached with the trigger finger without taking it out of the triggerguard (and away from the trigger to do so).
However, what the A22R does is allow the shooter to maintain a sight picture for subsequent shots – the review rifle was fitted with a Leupold VX Freedom 3-9×40 sight and the combination proved a good one indeed.
The action has the big advantage of not needing any space to operate. For example, a bolt-action requires the user to have elbow room to move their arm to operate the bolt, a lever-action entails clearance under the rifle to operate the lever, and pump action rifles need the user to move their support arm to work the action.
The lever release of the A22R means the shooter can hold the rifle on target and move their hand – as opposed to their whole arm – to reload the gun, ready for the next shot with the sight picture retained. The rifle would be great for shooting from a prone position or enclosed space such as from a ute or 4WD cab.
We all know .22 rifles tend to have favourites when it comes to ammunition, as well as the usefulness of heeding the advice given to most new gun owners to simply obtain as wide a variety of .22 ammo as you can and see how it goes.
With this in mind, I put the A22R through its paces with a variety of ammunition including CCI subsonic, Mini-Magnum and Velocitor rounds, Eley subsonic and high velocity hollow-point rounds, Federal Premium Hunter Match ammunition, Winchester Bushman rounds and an assortment of .22 rounds from the ‘miscellaneous’ box in the ammunition locker.
The importers claim in advertising the A22R will function correctly with subsonic ammunition and I confirmed this – both Eley subsonic and CCI subsonic ammunition worked flawlessly in the rifle, activating the action the same as standard rounds and proving highly accurate too.
Of the hunting rounds tested, the Federal Premium Hunter Match performed most accurately at 25m on the range, with CCI Mini-Mag close behind. Remington T22 target rounds were the most accurate overall, while of the subsonic ammunition the Eley was most consistent.
It should be noted that all commercial hunting ammunition tested produced consistent and small groups – they’d all fit an area the size of a 10c piece – although the subsonic rounds had a lower point of impact which would need to be compensated for when sighting the rifle on a target.
But I also tested the A22R with some Winchester .22 Long Z rounds which didn’t function properly, failing to generate enough recoil to open the action, meaning it had to be cocked manually. These were the only rounds that didn’t behave appropriately in the gun, every other cartridge type feeding, firing, extracting, ejecting and locking the action open with no issues whatsoever.
A number of SSAA ranges have ‘single round loading only’ rules, meaning the magazine can’t be loaded and used for casual shooting. This makes it difficult to sight in or practice with some types of rifle, but the design of this one meant it could be used fairly well under these conditions.
The magazine in the Savage A22R came out easily, falling into my hand under its own weight when released, and clicked home securely when replaced. Of course, just because a rifle works well on the range doesn’t mean it will give a good account of itself in the field – after all, you wouldn’t take an Omark Model 44 hunting as a matter of course – so I headed out with the A22R to a property in western Queensland in search of rabbits and foxes.
The A22R impressed me greatly, its light weight meaning it was almost no encumbrance at all when carried on a shoulder sling and it came to my shoulder quickly when readied, pointed well and handled nicely.
Spotting a rabbit at about 40m I fired a shot which just missed but was able to operate the lever release, retain the sight picture and put the subsequent round cleanly into the rabbit’s head. What I also liked was that the action locking open between shots meant I could clearly see – and feel, at night – the action was open and the ease of removing the magazine was great for safely negotiating obstacles such as fences.
While loading the rotary magazine in lowlight conditions can be a bit fiddly, I couldn’t see any reason why changing magazines in the field would present any problems and indeed, for the higher volume shooter, a spare magazine could well be a worthwhile investment.
The trigger was not ideal for me, even with Savage’s AccuTrigger adjustable trigger feature. Out of the box I found it extremely heavy and even after fiddling to move it down to something lighter and more useful, I felt it lacked the crispness I’d have liked, particularly for range use.
While the review rifle was a .22LR, the A22R is also available in .22 Magnum and .17HMR calibres and I see no reason why they wouldn’t be more or less identical from a general operation, handling and shooter experience perspective.
While this isn’t a precision target shooting rifle – it’s accurate but you won’t see it at the Olympics – it’s a great plinking rifle and bunny-buster, so if you’re looking at your gun safe and thinking there’s room for a new .22, the Savage A22R has a lot to offer and is well worth checking out.
• The Savage A22R is a Category A firearm in Queensland. Shooters in other states are advised to check with their equivalent of the Police Weapons Licensing Branch for clarification on the rifle’s classification in their area.
Calibre: .22LR (also available in .22 Magnum and .17HMR)
Action: Lever release
Magazine: 10-round detachable rotary
Barrel length: 20^ (50.8cm)
Sights: Weaver scope base