1917 First impressions first. All my shooting life I’ve been warned of and suffered from ‘hammer bite’ while shooting a Government Model Colt or any of the copies or clones thereof. I’ve been ‘bitten’ by a Beretta 418 pistol, when the slide rails nicked the web of my shooting hand. I even heard ‘Beretta bite’ mentioned on a television program – the same day, in fact. I’ve never heard of “Savage bite’ – but it occurs as well! Not serious, but enough to get one’s attention, the slide rails again dug into the web of my shooting hand enough to draw blood. Sigh. Photo of wound incurred included.
The Savage autopistol is one of those near genius designs. It is a retarded blowback action, claimed in early advertising to be ‘locked’ at the moment of firing. The short version is, the barrel must be rotated a few degrees in order for the slide to move in recoil. The bullet travelling down the barrel, being spun by the rifling in the barrel is rotating the same direction the barrel must turn, imparting a radial momentum preventing rotational movement of the barrel. So until the bullet leaves the bore, the barrel cannot turn to unlock the slide. Or so the advertising says.
The system worked well enough to allow a pistol chambered in .45 ACP to function properly and pass the first set of trials for the ‘new’ Army pistol – which resulted in the adoption of the M1911, designed by John Browning and built by Colt Firearms (and others). Savage had a chance to be the M1911 pistol, but didn’t want to commit the money and machinery to build more pistols for testing.
The series of pistols known as the Savage autoloading pistols began in 1907, utilizing a patent granted in 1905. It was designed by a gentleman named Elbert Searle, who was not at the time part of the Savage Firearms Company. It’s a somewhat complicated story and not in the scope of this report, so I refer the reader so interested to the book Savage Pistols, by Bailey Brower, Jr.
The first pistol was called the model 1907. There was a design revision which concealed the manually controllable striker called the model 1915 and finally the model 1917, which brought back an exposed ‘hammer’ attached to the striker.
The pistol being the subject of this report is a model 1917. The biggest single identifier of the model 1917 is the near triangular grip profile. I must say the grip is very comfortable. One feels a grip which affords ‘total control’ over the handling and recoil of the pistol. (Just for comparison, my hands are just big enough to fully grip a Colt Government Model pistol. I can shoot a Government Model one-handed and feel in control of the pistol. I feel my grip is rather ‘incomplete’ shooting most double stack magazine pistols. Including Glocks. Don’t ask.)
This particular pistol found its way into my life and collection in a gun show in Orlando, Florida. It was just sitting there on a table with a modest price tag. It is in fairly good shape, not perfect, not in box, but in fair finish, a shootable bore – some dark in the grooves – and complete. The grips are very sharp in the fine detail; one can read the ‘trade mark’ legend in the now politically incorrect American indigenous native logo. Of note, the grips are not broken or cracked. There is some bluing loss and a bit of ‘freckling’ on the top of the slide. Most of the frame is quite well preserved and there are no gross bumps, bruises or dings, save one bit of rub wear on the right side of the slide near the muzzle; not normal holster wear. It came with one magazine which if anything, is a bit more worn than the pistol proper. One never knows, but I conjecture the original was lost and replaced.
With a box of my standard Prvi Partizan ammunition, chronograph and a B27 target, off to the range.
In spite of the over eight pound trigger pull, it shoots fairly well. The trigger pull is about 8.25 pounds, according to my trigger gauge. I noted the trigger travels about 1/8th inch of slack, then about 1/16th inch to release the sear; over travel is minimal. Sadly, the sear is unreliable and will be explained later.
As with all pistols of this era, the sights are rather small and unobtrusive. As is the norm with this class of pistol, the sights are fixed and in the case of the Savage, are milled from the same stock as the slide. One can do some minor adjustments for windage by carefully filing out the rear notch but I’m not going to do that.
The three yard group was fired at the upper “8” in the scoring rings and is encouragingly tight and on target.
The seven yard group was fired at the lower “8” in the scoring rings. This grouping is also encouragingly tight, and just a bit removed to the left; not enough to cause concern.
The fifteen yard group was fired at the “X” and is all within the “10” ring. Sufficient for self-defense use, I should say. This group shows a bit of leftward incline, but is still sufficiently centered.
The five shot group fired from twenty-five yards is nicely contained on the head of the target. Frankly, I was just a bit surprised it grouped as well as it did. To be fair, this was fired (as all other groups) outside in broad daylight. I could find the sights and line them up properly. Of all criticisms of this pistol, accuracy is not a concern.
The ‘point shoulder’ group was fired at ten yards. There were only two shots fired, both off to the left and low – no doubt a result of my clutching the pistol as the shots were delivered. Still on the target.
This brings up a troubling development.
While shooting the previous groups, I noted the pistol would end on occasion with the hammer down on the empty chamber following firing the last round in the magazine. When I charged the chamber for the last string of ‘point shoulder’ shooting, the pistol discharged when I let the slide go forward. For some reason, the sear is not consistently engaging. Upon inspection, I found the hammer to follow when the slide was dropped on an empty chamber. So I’m looking into the matter and not shooting this pistol further. Happily, I had already fired the five shots over the chronograph – without incident, I add.
Chronograph results of five shots gave me an average velocity of 755 feet per second. According to Savage advertising of the era, the ‘locked breech’ action gives all the power available from the cartridge. It is not notably ‘faster’ – more efficient – than other .32 ACP pistols I have examined. So much for advertising claims.
Other than the mechanical deficiency noted regarding the sear, this pistol is a well built and useful pocket pistol. The safety mechanism (thumb operated analogous to the Colt type) is positive and can be easily applied and released. Accuracy is quite good, in spite of small fixed sights and a heavy trigger. Were the sear reliable – I’m sure they normally are – and I had more confidence in the power of the cartridge – which I do not – this would be an excellent carry pistol. It does pretty much what is needed and without extraneous frills and doodads.