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Old October 28, 2012, 05:51 PM   #1
Brian Pfleuger
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Join Date: June 25, 2008
Location: Western Colorado, finally.
Posts: 19,107
Project Savage 11 243AI is FINISHED! (For Now.)

Woot Woot!

She's done!

I started this project with a nearly new Savage 11 chambered in 270WSM. I decided a rebarrel was in order and began researching where I'd get it and what cartridge it should be.

The cartridge choice was easy. After a little research, I decided that 243Win was everything I needed and more but 243AI offers another 150-200fps and really has no downside, being that I load my own ammo. So that choice was made.

At first, I was headed toward a gun that would have been GREAT for varmint and benchrest work but a compromise on deer hunting. I was going to go with a 28" barrel, heavy contour and a heavy Choate target stock. After some more pondering, I realized that what I really wanted was a fantastic deer gun that was a compromise for target and varmint use. I knew that all my choices (except the 243AI) were wrong for that application.

After researching extensively about every barrel option I could find and PMing quite a few members here (Special thanks to Scorch!), I decided to go with a barrel from McGowen. I chose 24", stainless steel, 6 flutes in the Shilen #2 profile and 11dg target crown. McGowen originally told me 8-10 weeks but it ended up being just a bit over 7 weeks. The finished barrel comes in at about 3 1/2 pounds, keeping the gun very close to it's original weight, and it looks fantastic.

I've had to make a few short-term compromises (since none of you guys want to buy any of the stuff I've been trying to sell) so the gun currently wears it's original Savage stock and a Nikon 3-9x BDC scope. Net year, it'll be finished off with a nicer stock and a Sightron SII Big Sky scope with a bit more magnification.

I've got to say, I'm surprised by how much I learned doing this project. It was quite the process.

1)Savage bolt heads are swappable and come in appropriate sizes for about every cartridge that's ever been made, which is good. What's not so good is that there are so many choices and so little information listed on most sites that it was tough to figure out which model I needed exactly. The size (.308 standard) is obvious, but there are different lengths of various heads and I wasn't sure which portion of the head was different. As it turns out, it's the thickness of the head itself that varies, so with the Savages unique headspacing system it doesn't matter which one you get, except...

2)As it turns out (it's obvious if you think about it), if you get a bolt head that's a different length, you end up with a firing pin that's either too long or too short. These are adjustable too and once you know how it's pretty easy but I never thought of it before.

3)Savage recoil lugs are notorious for not being flat, which adversely affects accuracy as it applies uneven force on the action when you tighten the barrel nut. Interestingly, it seems that I'm the only person who's ever tried to do a conversion on a large shank Savage rifle and wanted to replace the recoil lug. Large shank aftermarket lugs are like finding Unicorn teeth or something. Anyway, I ended up carefully measuring mine and realize that what I initially thought was up to .006 variance from top to bottom was actually just because some of it is blued (the part that doesn't touch the action) and some isn't (the part that does). Once I measured just the part that does touch, I found that I had one small burr that was .001 more than the rest of the lug. Once I ground that off, I had a very nice, flat, consistent lug.

4)I had a good time trying to find the Go and No-Go gauges for 243AI. I wanted to buy them but they're all backordered for months. As it turns out, the "No-Go" gauge for a 243AI is the same as a 243/308 Go Gauge and, as it turns out (Thanks again Scorch!), you can rent these things for like $8 from 4-D Reamers. While I was at it, I also rented a Savage barrel wrench.

5)People sure make a big deal about getting the barrel off these Savage rifles. I was almost convinced that I'd need an army of horses to get it off but I was also reading some stories about needing no more than a pipe wrench and barrel wrench. I decided to go that route and see how bad it was. I taped up the action, recoil lug, barrel and giant crescent wrench with blue painters tape, set the gun with crescent wrench attached to the recoil lug on the floor, slid the barrel wrench onto the nut and stepped on it. It came loose no problem.

6)The Savage bolt head parts are all interchangeable. This isn't information I could really find listed anywhere easy but I did finally run across it somewhere. So, the extractor and ejector can just be swapped from one head to the other. Getting the whole bolt and head apart is pretty easy and there's plenty of YouTube video and what-not to help.

7)The magazine... it's internal and the new ones are stupidly expensive. Obviously, the 270WSM case is a different size than the .243 case. I also read things about "Center-Feed" and "Push-Feed" and couldn't figure out what the difference is or why. But I do know that the 270WSM is Center Feed while the 243 is Push Feed. I'll save anyone else the research and just tell you that swapping out the bolt head fixes the issue and you're good, so there's really nothing that needs to be done extra. As far as the magazine, I simply measured the clearances around the 270WSM case and then bent the feed lips to match those clearances with a 243 case. Worked like a charm.

So, barrel off the gun, bolt assembled with extractor and ejector removed, action vertical, bolt closed in action, Go-Gauge set on top of bolt head. Screw barrel in until it stops solid against the Go-gauge. Tighten barrel nut just enough to hold it still. Open action. Remove Go-Gauge. Put No-Go in it's place. Attempt to close bolt. It shouldn't close (and didn't). Tighten barrel nut again, which I did the same way I loosened it, and retry both gauges. Close on Go-Gauge, no close on No-Go gauge. 10-4, presto, usable gun.

So, I loaded up 5 "Verify It Don't Blow Up" rounds using 55gr bullets and 90% charges of Trail Boss (Love this powder!). This load should be generating 30,000 psi and 2,300 fps. I must admit, I fired the first round one-handed with my head turned. Fortunately, it was entirely uneventful and the remaining 4 were fired like a normal, sane person.

I might have left something out but this is approaching novel length now, so if anyone is still reading at this point and wonders about something, please do ask.

And... the requisite pictures....

Note in this picture, standard 243Win on the left, fireformed 243AI on the right. The case shoulder/neck junction is not perfectly formed as this load does not generate enough pressure to get the job done completely.
Still happily answering to the call-sign Peetza.
The problem, as you so eloquently put it, is choice.
-The Architect
He is no fool who gives what he can not keep to gain what he can not lose.
-Jim Eliott, paraphrasing Philip Henry.

Last edited by Brian Pfleuger; October 28, 2012 at 07:15 PM. Reason: Added crown picture
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