Savage Arms has been noted for the production of practical, well-made hunting rifles since inception of the company in 1894. It built its reputation with the excellent lever-action Model 1899, and later with rifles of almost every type. That said, it would be difficult to find a more obscure item than the Savage Model 45, a hunting rifle that appeared in the late 1920s. Most gun nuts have never even seen one. Actually, Savage marketed two models in this vein. The Model 40 was the basic model while the model 45 “Super Sporter” had some dress-up features and was supplied with an aperture sight. These rifles followed and replaced earlier bolt actions, the Savage Model 1920 and Model 1920/26, interesting rifles but with an action that was apparently too short to handle the popular, powerful .30-06 Springfield cartridge. I suspect that this, along with a more complicated and difficult-to-manufacture action, was responsible for the 1920/26 being replaced with the longer and simpler Model 40/45.
The bolt action Model 40/45 was produced from 1928 until 1940. Chamberings included the popular .250 Savage, .300 Savage, .30-30 Winchester, and .30-06 Springfield, a lineup that covered most American big game hunting. Approximately 18,000 of these rifles were produced, but only 6,000 of these were the fancier Model 45. This accounts for the fact that one can go years without seeing a Model 45 on a used gun rack. Just as obscure is a knowledge of the nature of the rifle’s action, its quality, and how well it worked. We will shed some light on that here.
The title rifle shown in the picture, found recently in a friendly, local gun shop, is chambered for the .30-06 Springfield with an attractively tapered 24-inch barrel. The metal finish can be rated as excellent, the bolt shows only modest wear, and the bore is shiny and free of rust and pitting. The wood is another matter, and much more will be said about that later. The stock sports a nice recoil pad and grip cap, and a spiffy pair of sling swivels. Overall, the gun has a rather bulky appearance, a result of the difficulty in streamlining the kind of action it uses. Of course, vintage .30-caliber rifles are what we are all about here at A Tale of Two Thirties, and this, along with a low asking price, meant that we had to try it out.
The markings on this rifle are as follows: On the barrel “Savage Arms Corporation Utica, N. Y. – Made in U. S. A.” (Two lines). On the barrel, left side just ahead of the
receiver “.30-’06 Springfield”. On the receiver, left side at front “SAVAGE Super Sporter” (two lines) with the serial number beneath. On the barrel, right side below the rear sight “HIGH-PRESSURE STEEL-PROOFTESTED”. The rear sight is a Marble, folding semi-buckhorn with a miniscule notch, and at the front there is a bead on a short ramp. The Super Sporter came with a Lyman aperture sight which, sadly, is missing but attested to by the two screw holes at the left rear of the receiver. The bottom metal is a steel stamping long enough for the trigger guard and
the box magazine opening. The magazine holds three cartridges and is marked “.30-’06 Springfield.” It is released by a button of the right side of the stock. The grooved top of the receiver has been drilled and tapped for scope bases, with poor alignment indicating an amateur job. I filled the holes with plug screws. The serial number of 18xxx would indicate that this rifle was produced fairly late in the series career, perhaps in the late 1930s.
And now to the wood. It is straight grain walnut with a pleasing color and a varnish finish. Sources say the original gun was furnished with a steel buttplate, but a Pachmayr white-line recoil pad has been well-fitted to this arm. The original Super Sporter also had a checkered grip and foreend, but no checkering appears on this rifle, and the Schnabel foreend tip which graced this and other Savage arms is also missing. To top it all off, the stock is not a single piece of wood but is rather a three-piece laminate of walnut slabs. Very unusual, it is as if a half-inch of wood was planed off of each side of the original stock and then new, full-length wood applied to each side and then shaped to the correct contour. This is not exactly what happened, however, because the inletting for the action in the middle layer is not of factory quality. While the lamination has been expertly done, the inletting for the action (see the pic) is one of the most outstanding examples of amateur gun butchery that I have
ever seen. It appears to have been done with a dull screwdriver. If you spend time in the used gun aisles and look at a lot of old guns, you will occasionally find something that defies explanation. This is one of those somethings.
The action, removed from the stock,
is shown in the accompanying photo. It is held in the wood by two screws, one into the recoil lug and one into the rear bottom of the rceiver. It is a simple action and the most outstanding feature is that the locking lugs are located not at the front of the bolt, but on the bolt sleeve just in front of the bolt handle. Opposed extractor hooks are located at the front of the bolt, and the bolt face is relieved slightly for the cartidge head. Another picture compares the Model 45 bolt with a bolt from an 1891 Mauser, which has the two opposed front locking lugs that have become the pattern
for almost all military and sporting bolt actions since the late 1800s. The Mauser design requires that a mortise for the lugs be machined in the receiver just behind the chamber. An advantage sometimes cited for rear locking lugs is that the lack of a lug mortise in that position makes for smoother feeding of cartridges. This might be an advantage with clip-fed cartridges. The trigger is a simple military type which works well enough. The safety is a semi-circular strap that fits under the rear of the receiver and is guided by an inlet groove in the stock. A small, spring-loaded plunger fits in a hole in the stock and acts as a detent for the “safe” and “fire” positions. A small pin actuated by the safety locks the bolt closed in the “Safe” position. This is a crude arrangement and, with the poor stock inletting, does not operate positively. Perhaps providence brought this gun to me rather than to someone whose main interest was hunting, rather than gun design. It would have been unsafe in the field.
When a rifle that deviates from the Mauser pattern is encountered, one always questions the function and the strength of the action. In this area the Model 45 looks good. The receiver is probably the largest piece of tubular steel to be seen on a sporting rifle. It is fully 8-3/8” long and 1.325” in diameter. There are cuts for the bolt handle, magazine, and ejection port but
these are no larger than necessary. Check the picture of the left side of the action and you see solid steel for its entire length. The thickness of the steel around the bolt hole is a very significant .300”. The bolt fits precisely and locks up very snugly. The locking lugs measure .120” by .420” each, which is slightly smaller than the measurement on a Mauser. I calculate that the total locking lug area of the Model 45 is about 90% of that of the Mauser. Additional safety is provided by the base of the bolt handle locking in its strong groove in the receiver. The handle does not actually bear upon the receiver groove surface in the locked position, however. There is no special provision for the venting of gas from a pierced primer or a case separation. The front bottom of the bolt is flat and grooved to allow it to ride the edges of the box magazine and gas would likely follow these grooves and be directed downward through the magazine area.
This examination gave me no reason to fear shooting the rifle under controlled conditions. At the bench I could eliminate any danger due to poor operation of the safety. I took some Remington Factory Express 180-gr Core-Lokt PSP rounds and some handloads to the range. The rifle functioned fine and was comfortable to shoot with the effective recoil pad in place. Feeding, extraction, and ejection were good. The trigger was not especially crisp, but not creepy, either. The Remington factories averaged 2,660 fps. The handload, 47.1 grains of W760 behind a Sierra 180-gr Round Nose gave an average of 2414 fps. I really couldn’t see the sights, but was able to keep the shots within 1.5 to 2” at 50 yards. These figures, especially the Remington factory load, remind us of just what a powerful cartridge the .30-06 is, and why it has lasted for over 100 years in the hunting fields. If you want to be a fan of the newer, magnum thirties, fine, but you really can’t argue with a 180-gr bullet travelling over 2,600 fps. With precise bullet placement it will bring down anything on this side of the world.
When having fun my question is always “What next?” and I know I am not satisfied with just a description and a little shooting of this historically interesting Savage Model 45. The potential of the arm has not been fully examined. For me, that big steel tube has exceptional accuracy written all over it. But first, I will need to improve the bedding of the action, get the safety to work well, and get some better sighting for pappy’s old eyes. Excuse me, gotta get to the shop now. There will be more later.