By Bruce Buck
Photographs Courtesy of Savage Arms
What’s in a name? Sometimes it matters; sometimes it’s just marketing fluff; sometimes it’s a little bit of both. Savage has just introduced a new Fox A Grade side-by-side. Let’s see where it stands for that famous name.
Along with Parker and L.C. Smith, Fox was one of the great American gunmakers of the past. Ansley H. Fox started making boxlock side-by-sides under his own name in 1896, but then he went to work on two other shotgun ventures before starting the A.H. Fox Gun company in Philadelphia in 1906. Fox initially offered his guns in five grades, adding the basic Sterlingworth in 1910. He left the company that carried his name in 1912 to pursue automobile production, but the company continued without him. In 1929 Savage bought the Fox company and moved shotgun production from Philadelphia to Utica, New York. There Foxes continued to be made until production tapered off in the early ’40s and the line ended. Savage switched the Fox name to an upgrade of its Stevens 311 side-by-side, calling it the Fox Model B. This plain, durable Anson & Deeley boxlock remained in the Savage lineup until the company’s reorganization in 1988. After that the Fox name was unused until 1994, when the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company, under an agreement with Savage, began making and selling A.H. Fox guns of very high quality and along the lines of the Philadelphia guns. They remain in production today and can cost $25,000 and more, depending on the grade and extras.
In 2017 Savage decided to market but not manufacture a Fox A Grade shotgun. Savage struck a deal whereby Connecticut Shotgun would build cosmetically altered versions of its RBL side-by-side for Savage to sell as the Fox A Grade. Connecticut Shotgun has been making the RBL since 2005, and almost 8,000 have been made to date. The RBL was, and is, an excellent gun. (See a review of the RBL Launch edition in May/June ’07.)
The Fox A Grade, née RBL, is a gun that Savage should be proud of. Mechanically, it is a different gun than Connecticut Shotgun’s high-end Foxes, but it is no slouch. List price for the Fox A Grade is $4,999. (Not surprisingly, that’s about what some RBLs are going for today, depending on options.) Our review gun was a 28" 20-gauge. Savage also will market the gun in a 26" 20-gauge and a 12-gauge with 26" or 28" barrels.
The RBL/Fox A action is an Anson & Deeley boxlock. The A&D has been by far the most popular design for side-by-side boxlocks for the past century, because it has minimal parts and maximum efficiency and has proven extremely reliable. At first glance inside the A Grade’s action you will notice the gold-colored titanium-nitride coating on the triggers, hammers, horizontal sears and ejector cocking arms. This is the same hard coating used on drill bits. The firing pins are built into the hammers as a single unit and are operated by leaf springs. Today’s leaf springs use modern metal alloys and are quite durable. Interior machining is visually precise, which is no surprise, considering the modern CNC and EDM machines that Connecticut Shotgun uses. Lockup is by the Purdey double underbolt—which, like the A&D action, is proven beyond a doubt and used by most side-by-side makers. The Fox hinge is replaceable, if that should ever be necessary.
Double triggers are standard on the gun. The trigger pulls were both 5½ pounds. That may be just a little heavy for some tastes, but there was absolutely no creep or overtravel. A single trigger is not an option, though it is on the RBL. The safety is automatic, and the safety lever has a nice bump on it for good thumb engagement. It was easy to click on and off, a feature quite important on a field gun where safety use precedes each shot.
While the Fox A Grade’s and RBL’s receivers are mechanically identical, they differ cosmetically in a number of ways. The rear of the Fox A Grade receiver where it meets the sides of the stock head is flat, while on the RBL it is curved. The sides of the receiver sport a shallow example of the distinctive Fox sharp cheek. Stamped into that on each side in tiny letters is “Fox.” The perfectly nice scroll laser engraving is minimal and mostly hidden by the marvelous bone-and-charcoal case coloring. The bottom edges of the receiver are slightly rounded for a more comfortable carry.
The barrels are made completely in-house and are joined at the rear, not by the common monoblock or classic chopper lumps but by a brazed dovetail plate that incorporates the barrel hooks. The automatic ejectors are the proven and popular Southgate type.
The barrels are chrome lined for ease of maintenance and cryogenically frozen to relieve stress and warpage. Our review gun had chambers that were only 2¾" long, not the usual 3" as on most 20s, and this was marked on the barrels. While some 3" 20-gauge lead shells don’t pattern well, 3" is very handy when steel shot is being used, as it allows a larger payload. Bore dimensions were both .615", exactly the nominal diameter for 20 gauge. Forcing cones were standard length, not the currently trendy extended ones.
Five screw chokes come with the Fox Grade A: Cylinder, Skeet, Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full. The chokes are made by Trulock, and those from Cylinder to Modified are approved for steel. They are flush mounted at the muzzle and of thin construction, so there is no muzzle swell. They also are notched for efficient choke-wrench engagement.
On the outside, the barrels’ ribs are silver soldered for longer life than the usual soft solder provides. The top rib is a low, swamped classic English game style, which is so attractive and minimalist. The finish of the barrels on our test gun was a matte blue, but production guns will be the traditional polished blue.
The wood on the gun is also in the classic tradition of an English straight stock and splinter forend. Stock dimensions were 14½" length of pull, 1½" drop at comb and 2½" drop at heel. This will please those who are of shorter stature with fuller faces. Double-trigger side-by-sides often are stocked a little longer than this, to accommodate rear-trigger usage, and a bit higher, to deal with barrel flip. There was zero cast, so lefties will feel at home. No other stock dimensions are currently offered.
Make & Model: Savage Fox A Grade
Action: Anson & Deeley boxlock
Finish: Case-colored receiver with 20% engraving, blued barrels
Barrel length: 28"
Weight: 6 pounds 2 ounces
Chokes: Five screw-in flush-mounted tubes/p>
Stock: English, oil finish, 14½" x 1½" x 2½"
Accessories: Choke wrench, takedown ABS case, cable gun lock, owner’s manual, one-year warranty
Price as tested: $4,999
The American black walnut stock on our gun had decent but not outstanding figure. Other Fox A Grades I’ve seen in photos have had more attractive wood. Checkering in a minimalist pattern had been nicely done by laser. Savage says the finish is oil. It was high gloss, flawlessly applied and completely filled the wood grain. Wood-to-metal fit was well done and uniform. The rear of the stock sported a smooth, functional plastic buttplate. The Fox had a short trigger tang, not the elegant long tang of the RBL. Up front the nose of the splinter forend was slightly deeper and less graceful than those on nice English guns. The forend latch was the usual self-adjusting Anson push-button.
The Fox A Grade comes in a decent-quality ABS takedown case that should survive airline travel. Included with the gun are the five chokes and wrench, a pointless steel-cable gun lock and a very basic manual. The warranty is for one year.
Shooting the gun was trouble-free. Everything worked as it should. For me, the stock fit was low and short, but I fixed that with a slip-on recoil pad and some moleskin on the comb. Depending on size, some other shooters felt that the gun fit them quite nicely. The gun’s 6-pound 2-ounce weight and central balance made it quick and handy, while the longer 28" barrels added just enough stability. This gun would be a pleasure to carry and shoot on a long day afield.
Fox fans will not be disappointed in this gun. It lends honor to the name. It is designed and made with American quality and handles well. Mechanically, it is not akin to previous Foxes, but it easily can stand on its own merits. This Savage Fox Grade A would have made A.H. proud.