Varmint Annihilator: DIY Facelift for a 223 Budget Rifle (Savage Axis, Boyds Stock, ATN X-Sight 5)

As much as I love my custom rifles and actions, I know that not everyone can afford them. While quality materials are really nice, you don’t need a full-custom gun for rock chucking. Boyds Gunstocks makes it possible to make a budget rifle your own! 


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About the Savage AXIS

While .223 is synonymous with AR’s, it is an especially fun cartridge to shoot from a bolt gun. The Savage Axis is an affordable base-model gun with a number of great features. The MSRP is $429, but I’ve seen it for sale for under $400. The long action Savage AXIS .223 weighs  6.3 lbs. with the factory stock and has a 1:9 twist barrel. 

From Savage Arms

Affordability, performance and precision all come together in the AXIS. The rifle’s modern design includes sleek contours, recoil pad vents and a textured, easy-to-control grip. Its 22-inch, carbon-steel barrel is button rifled for superb accuracy. The AXIS features a black synthetic stock, smooth bolt operation and a 4-round detachable box magazine.


    • Smooth, reliable bolt action
    • Black synthetic stock
    • Button-rifled 22-inch barrel
    • 4-round detachable box magazine
    • Modern design with contoured grips and fore-end

What’s in the Box

The rifle comes with the bolt wrapped separately, a gun lock, empty chamber indicator, instruction manual, decal, promotional materials, and foam earplugs. 

About the Boyds Featherweight Thumbhole Stock

Boyds offers the Featherweight Thumbhole for a variety of rifle models in a number of colors. They also offer a left-handed version. This USA-made stock has an overall length of 31.5 inches and a standard 13.75 inch length of pull.

I opted for the forest camo laminate with high gloss, 14” length of pull, Limbsaver recoil pad and aluminum pillar bedding (rear only). I used forest camo laminate on my Bergara Premier 7mm PRC build, but without the high gloss. This add-on definitely gave the colors a different hue. While all Savage AXIS rifles are long action, the correct Boyds stock is the short action FBC option, which has the proper magazine inlet.


I used a 5/32” T-handle wrench to remove the barreled action.

The trigger guard is part of the factory stock, so I needed a trigger guard as part of the Boyds stock as well.

The simple barreled action was very easy to install — it just popped right into the stock.

I secured the action screws with the T-handle, but used the Wheeler F.A.T.  wrench to torque the action screws. (Boyds specified no more than 35 inch-lbs.)

The stock had good bolt clearance out of the box. It fit so well, I decided not to bed the stock unless shooting revealed I needed to.

I installed a Picatinny rail and mounted an ATN X-Sight 5 Laser Range Finder 5-25x on the gun in Athlon precision rings. I chose this scope to record video internally as I pursued rock chucks on the Ultimate Reloader ranch. It also includes an integrated laser rangefinder, which is especially handy for varmint hunting.

Next, I made sure the bolt cleared the optic and measured the trigger pull with a Lyman electronic digital trigger pull gauge. The approximate five pound trigger pull is much heavier than I am used to, but the trigger had very little creep and movement. 

The new stock and rail brought the combination to 7.52 lbs. from the factory 6.3 lbs. The scope and rings brought the total package to 10.10 lbs. 


I started at 50 yards to get it on paper and used ATN’s one-shot zero feature at 100 yards.

For the laser rangefinder to work properly, I needed to enter the ballistics information for my particular load. I was using Berger 73 grain BT Target factory ammunition running approximately 2800 fps.

Once my scope height, ballistic coefficient and all other needed information was set, all I had to do was press a button to range a target. The ATN X-Sight 5 automatically made the appropriate adjustments from there. 

I fired two decent three-shot groups during the zeroing process: 0.711” and 0.608” inches off a bench at 100 yards. I did struggle some with the trigger as it was much heavier than I am accustomed to. I was happy with the performance of the Berger 73 grain ammunition and the Savage AXIS for the price range. 

With everything set, I went out in search of rock chucks, engaging some steel D-M targets along the way.

I concluded that the 73 grain Berger may have been too heavy — I’d like to see greater velocity at impact. The Hornady .22 caliber 62 gr. ELD-VT or a 55 grain hunting bullet may be a better choice.


The rifle was very easy to manipulate, particularly with the compact, thumbhole stock. This variation provides an entirely different shooting experience over a more traditional stock profile.

The Savage AXIS is available in a number of calibers, so I would probably choose .22-250 if I were to dedicate this gun to rock chucking. Future upgrades to a budget gun like this could include threading the muzzle and a lighter trigger. Overall, I was impressed with the fit and finish of the magazine – I had 100% feeding with zero issues, and the variety of options Boyds offers for the platform. 

Get the Gear

Boyds Gunstocks Featherweight Stock

Savage AXIS

Berger .223 73 Grain BT Target Ammunition at Creedmoor Sports 

ATN X-Sight 5 LRF 5-25x Scope 

Athlon Precision Rings

Wheeler Tools 100 Piece Professional FAT Wrench Screwdriver Set

Wheeler Tools 65 Piece Hex/Torx Screwdriver Set

D-M Targets (get your Rock Chuck Targets HERE)

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Gavin Gear

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