As I often do between hunting seasons, I was recently thinking about some of my favorite rifles. After carrying a Ruger 44 Magnum carbine my first two decades of deer hunting in Florida where long shots are not the norm, I began to expand my ability to reach out a bit farther. As usual with me, I did not buy new and I picked up a few different models & calibers along the way in an effort to find one I liked best.
The one rifle which has accompanied me to the woods on every season since I got it is a little Savage Model 10 bolt-action rifle in 308 Winchester. I got to thinking about that faithful firearm, and realized that if I had to choose just one favorite deer hunting rifle, Sierra would be the one.
Roughly 15 years ago, I purchased the gun from the brother of its original owner. He’d inherited the rifle and decided to pass it along to someone who could use and appreciate it. I had recently enjoyed hunting with a Savage 110 chambered for 270 Winchester, and while I’d been successful I was interested in the shorter barrel, shorter action, and larger caliber of the 308… and I had gained an affinity for the lightweight synthetic stocks Savage was using at the time.
The Sierra’s stock is nice & light… and unique. The rubber recoil pad is ventilated rather than solid, and the checkering molded into the pistol grip & forearm is decidedly odd.
The Model 10FM, or Sierra, was Savage’s answer to the “mountain gun” models offered by its competitors. This is evident in the light weight of the rifle and its 20-inch light-contour barrel, as well as the Sierra logo etched on the bolt — which is blued instead of the more common polished silver finish on Savage bolts of the period.
The Sierra felt right at home in my hands, and I quickly struck a deal with the seller. Before long it was wearing a 3x-9x Sightron S1 scope, and I’d begun working up a handload for it. Less than two months later, that rifle put its first deer in my freezer using my handloads, a trend that continued for five years until its score was ten and I’d built Little Lotta, another Savage I’d rebarreled to 338-06.
Among the critters slain with the 308 during that time were my first-ever sure-nuff “trophy buck,” which I bagged during my first deer season after my best buddy (Dad) passed away. I also used it to take a few big does that season.
For the next five years I carried the 308 off and on, but usually did my deer shooting with the 338-06, also taking a couple with my handgun Brün Hilda, various muzzleloaders, or the custom Mauser 93 I built. Then Winchester introduced a new type of hunting bullet called Deer Season XP, which impressed me. So I got hold of a couple boxes in 308 and, a decade after I’d first carried the Sierra into the woods, I went back to carrying it almost exclusively. The rifle was so comfortable, convenient, and familiar and did so well with that ammo that I had a hard time hunting with anything else.
The Savage Model 10 is the short-action version of the famed 110, the bolt-action rifle whose locknut-barrel design kept manufacturing cost down while accommodating fast and accurate headspacing. This allowed Savage to establish itself as the source for affordable bolt action centerfire rifles that were almost always accurate & reliable out of the box. In more recent years the company moved away from that image and raised the cost of their old tried-and-true actions… a decision about which I have mixed emotions.
The Sierra has a 20-inch barrel with a nice light contour, and the short barrel with short action make for a nice handy rifle, with an overall length of just 40 inches. The trigger is not the Accutrigger version, but that doesn’t hurt it one bit as it breaks cleanly with a pull weight of about 3.75 pounds.
It’s the lightest bolt-action centerfire rifle I’ve toted in pursuit of game, and even with its oversized Zeiss 4x-16x scope that weighs a pound and a half by itself, this shootin’ iron weighs in at 8 pounds unloaded.
Like most of the 10/110 series, my Sierra has a 4-round integral box magazine without a floorplate, which means it loads and unloads from the top. Some find this troublesome, but I usually keep ammo in the magazine during the hunt and simply remove the round from the chamber for transport and while at camp. No problem.
Once I combined the Sierra with Winchester Deer Season XP, I was on a roll. During the first season I used it to lay down two mature does and my heaviest whitetail to date, a 172-pound 8-point that really made my day/week/month/season.
The following season, I used this rifle to take a buck on the only “double-header day” I’ve ever had with one of my uncles, when he took a nice doe in the morning and I nailed a tall-racked buck in the afternoon. The buck was 260 yards from my muzzle when I ruined his day.
After a short break with another brand of ammo that didn’t treat me as well accuracy-wise, I returned to Deer Season XP and remain happy with the combination. Since then I’ve used it to harvest a few does and a fine last-minute buck on my final deer hunt of 2018, my second-heaviest whitetail to date.
There’s no telling what the future holds for me and my handy little rifle, but you can be sure that no matter which deer gun I decide to carry, the Sierra will not be far away — and will almost certainly accompany me to the deer woods more than once each season.
I guess I’d have to call it true love.
Are you too in love with a deer rifle? Please comment to tell us about it.