By: Jim Kushner.
I got my hands on a classic old deer rifle the other day. The Savage 1899 in .300 Savage caliber. As the name indicates, the gun first came out in 1899.
As time went by, like every other gunmaker Savage chambered the 99 in several popular cartridges along with their own .300 Savage.
When the new mall opened in Saginaw I remember going into the Sears store and looking at a Savage 99 rifle on display there. I was probably 12 or 13 years old. It was chambered in .308 and I remember asking my Dad about the 308 cartridge. I really liked the looks of that gun but never did get one.
The rifle I have here was made in 1950 according to the date code stamped on the front of the lever boss. This gun appears to have spent it’s share of time in the deer woods as a few old pine needles fell out of it when I removed the fore end to give it a thorough cleaning. It has a Redfield mount and a cheap 4×38 scope mounted on it. I removed the scope and mounts as the rear ring was loose and the gun appeared to have been somewhat neglected recently, there was a buildup of dirt, oil & some rust spots on the exterior surfaces. Since I purchased this one I decided to replace the scope with an old Weaver 4x that just seems more appropriate.
As I disassembled the gun I discovered some interesting things about the design and the gun itself. The magazine is loaded similar to a typical bolt gun, singly from the top of the open action. This gun has a brass rotary magazine with a built in counter that shows the rounds left in the magazine by way of a small window (hole) in the left side of the receiver. There is also a small metal stud that protrudes from the top of the tang when the gun is cocked. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that the gun is loaded but since this gun does not have a hammer it does tell you if it is ready to fire (cocked). The safety is located on the case colored finger lever just behind the trigger, it slides forward or back and it locks the trigger and the lever when engaged. Later models had a tang mounted safety & a detachable magazine.
This gun has been drilled and tapped for scope mounts and sling swivels. The earlier rifles were not drilled for scope mounts or slings so the collector value is diminished on this particular gun but it has a nice bore and seems to function fine, especially after I cleaned it. It’s considered a “shooter” rather than a collector piece. That’s not such a bad thing in my opinion as it was designed as a hunting rifle and is more than capable of continuing that role, I intend to hunt with it.
The other thing I found interesting is that this gun was stamped with a serial number on the bottom of the receiver, on the inside of the fore stock where it slides into the front of the receiver and on the butt stock under the steel butt plate which is also stamped on the back side with the serial number. I can only assume that these numbers were added as each individual guns was being built.
Everything on this gun fits together very well and the action is tight. The hardwood stock has only a few minor marks and no cracks. There is a deep checkering pattern on both the pistol grip and the forend.
The .300 Savage cartridge is not very popular anymore but is still in production and available with 150 & 180 grain bullets. I think the 150’s have a velocity somewhere around 2600 – 2700 fps. The 180’s are quite a bit slower at somewhere in the 2200 -2300 fps range. Both should be more than sufficient for deer and other big game animals at reasonable ranges.
I have an old black & white photograph showing a large group of hunters posing in front of a pile of moose & elk trophies. Every gun in the picture is a lever action. There are a number of Savage 99 rifles being displayed along with some different Winchester’s. One of them appears to be the Winchester 94. I would assume that gun was chambered in the mild mannered 30-30 or 32 Winchester special. The guy holding that rifle is straddling an elk carcass. My point here is that we have a ton of cartridges to choose from and while there may be “better” cartridges out there the old rounds are still capable of doing what they were intended to do.
This is just my personal opinion but the only “new” rifle I own is a Howa bolt action in 6.5×55. I hunted with it all during last years firearm season and while it is a very nice gun I do not like the way it carries compared to the my pump & lever guns. The Savage 99 feels the same as the rest of the lever and pump guns. The balance point is always near the front of the receiver and on most bolt guns the stock is fairly wide there. The others are narrow and just seem to fit in the hand better. I am sure this is just me and it’s because I spent so many years carrying a lever action or pump.
The 99 has a pretty good reputation for accuracy, when the weather clears up a little I will get to the range and see how this one shoots. I found a couple of boxes of 150 grain loads and one box of 180’s.
The problem this purchase has created for me is that I will want to hunt with it this fall and that is putting it in competition with the new Howa, which is a really nice shooter and a recently acquired Remington model 141 pump rifle in .35 Rem.
Maybe not such a bad problem to have I guess.