Impulse Intel: Q&A on Savage’s Straight-Pull Bolt Action
Savage Arms is shaking things up the 2021 hunting rifle market with the first truly affordable – and American-made – straight-pull bolt action. How does it work? Is it safe? Will it work for lefties? Is it affordable?
Guns.com answers these and many more as we get familiar with the Impulse Big Game.
Q: How does a straight-pull rifle work?
A conventional bolt action uses four motions to cycle the action – lifting up, pulling back, pushing forward, and rotating down. Meanwhile, a straight-pull bolt action does just what its name suggests – drawing directly rearward and pushing forward in two quick in-line movements.
Q: How does the bolt function? Is it safe?
Savage uses what they call Hexlock, a locking mechanism that uses ball bearings to secure the bolt. When the Impulse’s bolt handle is closed, six solid ball bearings are forced outward into locking recesses machined into the barrel extension. When a round is fired, the ball bearings tighten relative to the pressure increase, providing a robust and secure lockup.
Q: Can a straight-pull rifle really run as quickly as a semi-auto rifle?
This is largely a subjective question and depends heavily on the familiarity of the individual shooter. Hey, we can’t all be Jerry Miculek and have a trigger finger that competes with full autos. However, with some practice and muscle memory, running a straight-pull bolt action with both speed and accuracy can easily be attained. Though few of us will ever even think to compete with a semi-auto rifle, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised just how rapid and smooth these babies can be.
Q: What are other straight-pull rifles?
Savage is certainly not the first to the party. It’s not even the first American-made straight-pull, though they are currently the only American production straight pull, and they are without a doubt the most reasonably priced. Savvy firearms aficionados will immediately recollect the old M1895 Lee Navy. Heck, even Browning’s popular rimfire T-Bolt is a miniature straight-pull design, not to mention the European darling Browning Maral.
The most well-recognized, high-end, and popular straight-pull rifles have centered on the European market. However, many have won serious favor with American hunters. The favorites have long been stunning specimens of workmanship and art from Blaser, Heym, and Merkel, among others. The Swiss Army even started fielding the straight-pull Schmidt-Rubin back in 1889.
Q: What calibers are available?
The three models announced at the launch each include their own family of calibers.
Impulse Big Game: 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, and .300 Winchester Magnum.
We’re pleased to see that Savage has rolled the popular “Accu” features onto the Impulse. Not only does this new rifle make use of the AccuStock and AccuFit system for customizing the length of pull and comb height, but it also includes Savage’s user-adjustable AccuTrigger. The trigger on our test rifle broke nicely at 3.6 pounds right out of the box, and we never felt a need to adjust.
Q: Can shooters swap barrels or change calibers?
Yes. Both barrels and bolt heads can be swapped in the field. The Impulse is designed with what the company calls a four-bolt barrel clamp, the attachment point where the barrel extension mates to the receiver. The user loosens three and removes one. This provides an integral locking system that makes for incredibly simple disassembly and, ideally, repeatable zero.
The barrel extension locknut allows for headspace control. Further, the floating bolt head can be removed without tools and swapped when a new barrel and extension assembly is installed, though a torque wrench is needed for correct reassembly.
Q: Will the Impulse work for lefties?
Yes, to some extent at least. One of the most interesting possibilities with a straight-pull bolt action, in addition to caliber modularity on a single rifle, is the ability to swap the bolt handle from right to left, making the platform accessible for left-handed hunters. While the handle will be on the left, it is important to note that the ejection port remains on the right. Whether Savage will launch a true left-handed Impulse down the line remains to be seen, but the current design grants some serious ambidexterity.
Q: How do I mount a scope?
In a slick design move, the Impulse has been built with an integral 20-MOA optics rail machined into the receiver. There’s no concern about the base being solid here. Shooters can choose almost any scope rings – Weaver or Picatinny-style – and optic, making this a simple and secure platform.
Q: Is the Impulse accurate?
After spending a significant amount of time on the range, much of that in frigid cold and windy conditions, we can say definitively that our Impulse Big Game in .300 Win Mag is indeed an accurate rifle. We did the majority of our shooting with premium factory ammunition, including Federal Premium Terminal Ascent, Nosler Trophy Grade, Winchester Big Game Long Range, and HornadyPrecision Hunter, but they all put out either MOA or sub-MOA groups. The Impulse platform even advertises a repeatable zero, which applies when swapping barrels because the barrel extension is timed via the receiver and barrel locking lug.
Q: Is the Impulse more difficult to clean than a standard bolt action?
Though many design features on the Impulse are quite impressive from an engineering standpoint, one underappreciated aspect is the simple and toolless disassembly and reassembly of the bolt system. To do this, Savage essentially built self-contained modular sub-assemblies. Almost any other work that needs to be done can be accomplished with standard tools found on any workbench. That adds up to a firearm that is no more difficult to clean than any other bolt action, but in some ways, it is even easier.
Q: Can the bolt knob be changed? What about the bolt angle?
Yes. The bolt handle is threaded to receive aftermarket knobs, as some shooters prefer to customize. The thread pattern is 5/16-24 UNF with a .500-inch length. Taking that a step further, the bolt handle position can be customized as well, and we’re not just talking port and starboard. There are five different positions on both the right and left sides, allowing the shooter to choose the desired angle. The bolt handle is keyed, so it can only be inserted in prescribed orientations. The rifle manuals explain the process in detail.
Q: When will the Impulse be available?
The good news is that the Impulse is shipping immediately. Of course, we fully expect demand for these rifles to far outstrip production, at least initially. Most savvy shopping hunters should have their rifles sighted, packed, and ready in plenty of time for fall hunting seasons.
Q: Will more straight-pull rifles be added to the lineup?
We would be surprised if Savage does not make additions and evolutions to the Impulse straight-pull family. Larger calibers make sense on a platform that cut its teeth in the dangerous game market where rapid follow-up shots can mean the difference between life and death. Further, the exploding interest in PRC shooting is creating a demand for speed and precision to win competitions. This opens a major market for straight-pull platforms.
Given the modularity of the Impulse platform, Savage is almost certain to provide not only additional models but aftermarket components as well. Though the Impulse family is young and unproven, the future is bright.