Bolt-Action Rifles: Innovation or Tradition?

Two new bolt-action rifles that predator hunters can add to their arsenals without dipping into their kids’ college fund.

Bolt-Action Rifles: Innovation or Tradition?

CVA Cascade

Savage Impulse Predator
Savage Impulse Predator

Savage and CVA took very different approaches in the design of their new bolt-action rifles. There’s no denying the companies remained true to their tradition of producing rifles with uncanny accuracy at a budget-friendly price, but the similarities end quickly thereafter. Rather than pit the guns against each other in a head-to-head rumble, let’s take a look at the virtues of both and features that might make one or the other a better choice, depending on hunting style and budget.

 

Give Me Two Steps

The big departure is the fact that the Savage Impulse Predator uses a straight-pull bolt, while the Cascade’s design is more traditional. Both operated perfectly in testing, locked up tight and there were no hiccups at the range. 

Straight-pull bolts are not new, although they’re a relative rarity stateside. The first rifle with one appeared in the late 1880s in Europe, where the system caught on and continues to be offered by a variety of manufacturers, partly because operation is faster. With it you simply pull the bolt handle back and then push forward. Spent brass ejects during rearward travel, then a fresh cartridge is picked up from the magazine and chambered as it locks at the front. The system improves speed of cycling and by reducing vertical movement during the process minimizes the effort required to keep a target centered in the scope. 

CVA’s Cascade uses the bolt-action system most common here in the United States. Cycling it takes four steps: lift the bolt handle, pull fully back, push forward and rotate it down into full lockup. To enhance speed, though, Cascade’s bolt handle features a 70-degree throw. It’s a solid and familiar design with a history of performance. 

The same reliability and safety are also present in the straight-pull bolt, despite the fact it’s never really caught on in North America. The Impulse bolt locks up using a six BB/detent system Savage calls HexLock. A plunger system inside the bolt forces them out and tightly into a groove where the chamber begins. The system has been thoroughly tested and is rugged enough to handle magnum cartridges. 

The design roughly reflects many in Europe’s most popular straight pulls, but Savage made its system a lot more modern modular. Its bolt head can be removed for cleaning, maintenance or replacement without tools. The bolt handle can be swapped for southpaw use quickly and easily without the intervention of a gunsmith. Basically, it’s owner friendly and configurable.

 

Range-side Differences

There’s no denying that a straight-pull bolt is more efficient, but it’s going to take practice at the range to reap that benefit. In the number of rounds put through the loaner Impulse Predator it never palpably ran faster than the Cascade. Admittedly there are no stopwatches involved when printing groups, but lack of familiarity slows things — old habits dying hard. 

Plus, with the ammo shortage there was no luxury of running through enough cartridges to build the abbreviated motion into muscle memory. If you’re more adaptable, though, or have a stockpile of your favorite load, you’ll be up to speed in no time.

 

Test Triggers

The Impulse Predator ships with a Savage AccuTrigger, and volumes have been written about its virtues. It literally changed what we expect from stock guns. More and more manufacturers are offering similar user-adjustable versions of their own. During testing the break was clean and crisp without any creep at 3.1 pounds. If that’s too much for your preference, you can adjust it anywhere between 1.5 and 4 pounds. 

CVA muzzleloaders have amazing triggers and the same can be said about the single-stage unit on the Cascade bolt action. No palpable take up or creep, and the break was clean on the tested gun at 2.25 pounds.

 

Reliable Receivers

Savage’s famed barrel-nut system, which is likely a contributor to accuracy, anchors the Impulse Predator’s 20-inch barrel to the aluminum receiver. A steel insert where the bolt slides during operation ensures long-lasting reliability and added reinforcement, and the barrel is threaded for muzzle devices. 

It comes with an integral 20 MOA rail atop to make mounting optics fast and easy. The tang-mounted safety is two-position. To remove a live cartridge from the rifle with the safety on, simply depress the button on the back of the bolt and cycle toward the back. 

A metal magazine with 10-round capacity ships with the gun. It ran flawlessly during testing and dropped freely and clearly when working the release, which is flush with the forward edge of the trigger guard. 

The receiver on the CVA Cascade is steel, and the 24-inch, threaded 4140 steel barrel shows all the performance we’ve come to expect from the Bergara plant in Spain. The receiver is tapped for scope mounting, but this year the company is also shipping a 20 MOA rail with the gun, which was previously offered as an aftermarket accessory. The Cascade’s safety is two position and located on the receiver’s right side. The gun ships with a flush-fitting four-round polymer magazine.

 

Configurable Stocks

Cascade’s stock is constructed from a fiberglass-reinforced polymer with the company’s SoftTouch finish. It wears Veil Wideland camo that the FDC Cerakote finish on the barrel and receiver accents nicely. It ships with a removable spacer for changing length of pull for smaller stature shooters or for adjustment when wearing a heavy coat.      

The Impulse ships with Savage’s AccuStock system, which includes three spare stock risers and three extra length-of-pull inserts. Changing the setup to fit your needs is fast and easy and there’s no shortage of configurations possible. Its synthetic stock is finished in Mossy Oak Terra Gila camo and the barrel and receiver are blued. 

Both rifles have generous recoil pads and sling swivel studs. The CVA, however, has three instead of two with the spare there for attaching a bipod. The SoftTouch system worked well on the hot and humid testing day, although the Savage stock’s rubbery contact points at the wrist and forend were a welcome touch by late afternoon.

 

Undeniable Accuracy

The Savage Impulse Predator’s action is blueprinted before it leaves the factory, one of the reasons the company has an enviable tradition of accuracy. This rifle didn’t disappoint, and it wasn’t finicky about what it was fed, either. At 100 yards it printed sub-MOA groups with three tested loads, but Hornady’s 6.5 Creedmoor American Gunner 140-grain BTHP topped them all. It averaged .63-inch five-shot groups. There was no shortage of holes touching throughout the session, regardless of ammo used. 

CVA’s Cascade was impressive as well. Once again, groups all averaged under an inch, with Federal’s American Eagle 123-grain OTM leading the way at .68-inch. 

I’ve come to expect that performance right out of the box from both of these companies, though. As things lap in and pet loads are identified, things will only get better for owners.

 

Overall Impression

The Savage straight-pull bolt applies modern metallurgy and manufacturing techniques on a time-tested design. Lockup is stronger than before. It’s reliable, performs and improves follow-up shot speed. It will likely take some practice to reap the latter benefit fully, however. The early hours of testing included some struggle to work the bolt. At first it took unfamiliar authority to bring it to lock up (new gun working in, obviously) and the habit of turning the bolt handle up during cycling slows things down with a straight pull. Both maladies diminished as the day wore on, but if you purchase an Impulse invest time behind the trigger. You’ll need intimate familiarity with the system when pursuing predators. 

The Cascade is a budget-friendly option with the kind of accuracy we’ve come to expect from the company. Its operation is bolt-action intuitive, at least here in North America, and it’s also a pleasure to shoot. You can’t go wrong with either rifle.

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