Savage '99

February 2010

This passing decade has been notable for its centennial designs in smallarms. There was the 92 Krag, the 94 Winchester, and the landmark 98 Mauser. Nineteen ninety-nine brings us round to the full century of the Model 99 Savage, an outstanding and unusual artifact that deserves more renown than the public has seen fit to give it. The Model 99 Savage was and is a great rifle, filling a tactical niche which has not been duplicated by any other piece. It was a lever-action to beat the bolt-action, and in many ways it did.

When I was at university I held a sort of unofficial position as "fraternity gun counsellor" for the Zete house at Stanford. One of the brothers sought my advice on the purchase of a deer gun, since he had decided to follow in the footsteps of his father as a big game hunter. His problem was that he was left-handed. In those days the bolt-action 30-06 in its several forms - Springfield, Winchester and Remington - ruled the roost. The 30-06 was the perfect cartridge and the military-type bolt-action was the only way to go. My left-handed friend was unhappy with his father's Springfield, so he came to me for advice.

After checking all sources, we got him a Savage 99 in caliber 300 Savage. We had Bob Chow's shop in San Francisco do a trigger job for us, and fitted the piece with a four-power Weaver scope plus a military-type loop sling. The resulting combination was quite sensational. The lever-action permitted easy use from either right or left shoulder. The 300 Savage cartridge was not quite up to a 30-06, but it was close - very much like a 308. The 5-shot rotary magazine, plus cartridge counter, was a delight to use, and the little gun shot into postage stamps as far away as you can see a postage stamp.

The 99 was offered in all sorts of varieties and modifications, from its year Model of 1899 up to the present. It was available in a take-down version, and later with a detachable box magazine (which was a distinct step backwards). It was easy to fit with good sights, either aperture or telescope, since it was not open on top like competing lever-actions. Its magazine would accept pointed military-style bullets, avoiding the possibility of inadvertent ignition in a tube magazine. Its trigger, as it came out of the box, was not its best point, but it was amenable to fine tuning. It was altogether a nifty little gun, and it beats me why it did not sweep the board with the public. The manufacturer made a point of issuing it in caliber 250-3000, maintaining that you could reach the magical 3000 fps figure with an 87-grain 25-caliber bullet. The 250-3000 (or 250 Savage) was a good enough deer gun, if your deer were not too big, and it was gentle as a lamb to shoot. The 300 Savage was a practically perfect deer cartridge, as the 308 is now, and the 99 was eventually offered in 308, as well as 358 Winchester.

The manufacturer went through a series of vicissitudes during the wars, and unfortunately its quality control slipped badly. Today, if you want a premium 99, best look for one built before War II.

Here, of course, is the answer for the southpaw. Several domestic manufacturers have offered left-handed bolt guns to the public over the past couple of decades, but somehow they do not seem as popular with lefties as the 99.

Today you can go abroad for the Blaser 93, the symmetrical action of which is instantly convertible by the acquisition of a left-handed bolt. This, of course, is an excellent solution, for the 93 has many additional advantages, but the combination is expensive. (The specter of the left-handed Steyr Scout sits there glowering in the corner, but apparently without glowering hard enough - so far.)

The memory of that rifle sticks in my mind. When the war caught us everything came apart, and I have no idea whether my friend survived it to become the ardent deer hunter that he hoped. I am sorry to say that I have not seen him since Pearl Harbor, and that is a long time ago. I would like to think that that M99 300 is still today giving good service in the California mountains, unless it got run over by a truck or something. There is no reason why it should not.

-- Colonel Jeff Cooper, in his Commentaries.

There's not much I can add to the above. My Savage '99 is a model EG (24 " barrel) and dates to 1949. I got it for free because of our New! Improved! Firearms Control Act, which limits the number of firearms you may have unless you're prepared to jump through hoops (which I obviously am).


They didn't drill and tap the Savage for a scope back in 1949, and I am reluctant to drill the gun, even though I'm the only person standing between the gun and the police melting it. I'd rather fit a scout scope rail like this.

This rifle does quite well with a load of 37.8 grains of S335 for 2350 fps (or alternatively, the same amount of S341 for 2200 fps) with the PMP 168 grain bullet. This is with CCI primers, I found that Fiocchis just don't work. Strange, but true. But in the mean time, it's open sights, and I suck with open sights.

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