Straight-Pull Sensation: Savage Impulse Big Game Rifle
It’s fast. It’s accurate. It’s modular. It’s much more affordable than its closest competitors. Could Savage be turning the straight-pull action into the Superman of the hunting world, or is this misplaced hype?
Based in Westfield, Massachusetts, Savage Arms introduced its straight-pull bolt-action Impulse rifle without the usual fanfare of the industry’s SHOT Show, canceled amid the turmoil of the Covid-era. Still, the rifle’s launch has created exceptional hubbub as the only currently produced, American-made, straight-pull centerfire rifle.
The Impulse platform was designed to be customizable. Each is built on an aluminum receiver with an integrated barrel extension and carbon steel barrel. What looks like a right-handed bolt can actually be switched over to the left side and adjusted for the preferred angle. There’s a detachable box magazine, Cerakote finish, fluted barrel, and threaded muzzle.
There’s an integral 20 MOA optics rail machined into the receiver. Like many of the European straight-pull designs, Impulse shooters will be able to swap both barrels and bolt heads in the field, meaning caliber modularity as well. Partner that capability with everything Accu – trigger, stock, and fit – and the Impulse might be one of the most customizable rifles yet.
The Savage Impulse is launching simultaneously with three separate hunt-specific models: Big Game, Predator, and Hog Hunter. Barrel lengths range from 20 to 24 inches, depending on the model and caliber. The Impulse line also supports a wide range of calibers that include 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, and .300 Winchester Magnum.
What Exactly Is a Straight Pull?
Speed, reliability, and precision are the names of the straight-pull game. Whereas a conventional bolt action uses four motions to cycle the action – lifting up, pulling back, pushing forward, and then rotating downward – a straight pull draws directly rearward and then pushes forward in two quick in-line movements.
So what holds the bolt in place instead of mechanical locking? Savage uses what they call Hexlock, a system of ball bearings that secure the bolt. When the Impulse’s bolt handle is closed, six solid ball bearings are forced outward into locking recesses machined in the barrel extension. When a round is fired, the ball bearings tighten relative to pressure increase, providing a robust and secure lockup. Savage has been working on the Impulse project for nearly three years, and its design makes use of 13 pending patents.
“We’ve studied more than a century’s worth of straight-pull actions and kept running up against the same conundrum; straight-pull actions are fast, but they don’t inspire confidence,” says Savage Arms President and CEO Al Kasper. “Speed means nothing if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at. Impulse changes that. We’ve brought our tradition of accuracy into the mix to make the fastest, most accurate straight-pull rifles ever built.”
Our test rifle is the Impulse Big Game chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum. One of the most interesting possibilities with a straight-pull rifle is the ability to swap the bolt handle from right to left, making the platform accessible for left-handed hunters. For instance, on an upcoming international hunt with firearms travel restrictions, we’ll be able to share one rifle between two hunters – one right-handed shooter and one left.
Also, the bolt handle is threaded to receive aftermarket knobs, while the threaded barrel offers ample options for brakes and suppressors. Besides speed and accuracy, there are numerous benefits to the Impulse and its action. Barrels can be swapped in the field, which means easy caliber changes with the tool-less removal of the floating bolt head.
The Impulse also carries over some of Savage’s most popular bolt-action features, including everything Accu. This new rifle makes use of the adjustable AccuTrigger, AccuStock, and the AccuFit system for customizing the length of pull and comb height. AccuFit stock components and magazines are compatible with existing Savage 110 rifles, and we were quick to pick out a slightly higher comb insert while removing all length of pull spacers for what feels like a custom-fit rifle.
The AccuTrigger on our test gun broke at 3.6 pounds, so we felt no need to adjust. Coming from someone who shoots plenty of bolt-action rifles, we expected to struggle a bit with quickly cycling a straight pull due to the muscle memory of standard bolt guns. Just a few days of range time proved how quickly shooters can become accustomed to running the Impulse.
There is definitely a learning curve right out of the box, especially for those who have never known the joy of working a rifle like the Blaser R8. The Impulse must be run with authority, but a little practice builds confidence surprisingly quickly.
We fired a mix of premium factory .300 Win Mag ammunition from 150 to 200 grains. The Impulse shot near MOA with the worst, MOA with most, and sub-MOA with the best. To be fair, even our best day of accuracy testing was done in the heart of a bitter cold snap of Midwest winter, so we fully expect even better performance ahead.
After putting out nice three-shot groups at 100 yards and then stretching it to 200 yards, there’s little doubt the Impulse has more fuel left in the tank at longer distances. The potential of the new Savage is just gaining traction when you partner that capability with the ability to run the straight-pull bolt much more quickly. That, and it’s at a price that makes it affordable to the masses like no straight-pull rifle before.
Though we’ve yet to take the Impulse on an actual big game hunt, the rifle more than proved itself on the range and in adverse conditions. We can’t wait to get it afield and harvest some larger game. It is indeed fast, accurate, reliable, and affordable. If those descriptors catch your attention, best get on a gun shop waiting list for an Impulse straight-pull bolt-action rifle.