When I was a kid, just getting started in hunting, both my dad and my grandfather hunted with Savage Model 99s. I remember Dad’s the best. It was the Model 99F, in .308, and it was a real ball-buster. Granted, we had lousy benchrest technique in those days, but, man, did that gun seem to wallop him when doing our annual zero check prior to deer season. Still, Dad liked it for its handiness in the woods, both in carry and in shooting, and I thought it was the coolest gun I had ever seen. I loved how it looked and how it sounded when he worked the action. I thought it was royalty compared to my pedestrian Winchester Model 94.
Dad killed a lot of deer with the rifle, but eventually it “stopped shooting”—a malady that these days I attribute to a scope problem. But the seed was planted with me, and I often thought about the rifle and figured one day I’d own one myself.
Many decades later, I was at my father-in-law Jim Berger’s place, and the talk turned as it always does to guns. I mentioned my fascination with the 99, and the next thing I knew he was rummaging through his gun safe—producing a Model 99 built in 1927 and chambered to .300 Savage. It had belonged to his grandfather, in whose hands it had accounted for two black bears and “an even dozen” deer—no small feat in Depression-era Pennsylvania.
The next time we were home for deer season, he was kind enough to let me hunt with it. I’d sent ahead a Marble tang sight, which Jim installed and zeroed, and the folks at Federal supplied a couple boxes of their 150-grain Power-Shok .300 Savage load. I was as excited for the hunt as any I could remember—back on my home turf with a truly classic rifle.
The Savage Model 99 was the brainchild of Arthur Savage himself. Officially the “Savage Repeating Rifle Model 1899,” it was introduced in 1899. According to the excellent The Rifle in America by Philip
B. Sharpe, published in 1938, the Model 1899 (later 99) was a refined version of the 1895 rifle that also brought the world the .303 Savage—a rifle/cartridge combo Mr. Savage had submitted for the U.S. military trials that resulted in the eventual adoption of the Krag-Jorgensen.
Savage was fortunate in that his company came onto the scene when smokeless powder cartridges were already in use, so he didn’t have to reengineer blackpowder designs to handle higher pressures. The Model 99 was smokeless-capable right out of the gate.
The Model 99 is a hammerless lever action with a hefty breechblock, the rear of which locks up strongly against the solid receiver when the lever closes. The rifle incorporated innovative features such as a small window on the left side of the receiver that showed how many rounds are in the rotary-style magazine. This rotary magazine permitted the use of spitzer bullets, which competing tubular-magazine rifles could not handle.
While it’s of the “hammerless” persuasion, it has an internal hammer as part of the mechanism. Savage added a cocking indicator—on this gun it’s a pin in the top of the receiver—a feature that was ahead of its time. The safety is somewhat novel as well. It’s located in the bottom metal, right behind the trigger. Sliding it forward locks the lever and the trigger.
According to Sharpe, beginning in 1925 Savage began labeling its 99 versions A through G. My father-in-law’s rifle sports a 22-inch barrel and is a takedown, which makes it a Model 99D. (Savage initially introduced a takedown 99 in 1907, when it cost $25, a $5 premium over the standard gun.)
To take down the rifle, remove the fore-end by pushing its latch, then simply unscrew the barrel from the receiver. An indexing notch in the barrel/receiver threads mates with a small metal block in the fore-end so the gun can’t be completely assembled unless the threads are fully engaged.
The Model 1899/99 was originally introduced in .303 Savage, and it added numerous chamberings over the years—one of the most significant being the .300 Savage, the highest-pressure lever-action
cartridge of its day. Savage’s aim was to provide hunters with a medium-length round to compete with the .30-06. The original load pushed a 150-grain bullet at 2,700 fps, according to Cartridges of the World. The Federal load I used is a bit slower at 2,630 fps.
I can’t think of a better rifle/cartridge combination for woods whitetails. With the Marble tang sight I was able to shoot five-shot groups offhand at 50 yards that measured two to three inches, and the recoil was negligible for a cartridge capable of producing 1,844 ft.-lbs. at 100 yards.
The Model 99 handles like a dream. The balance is perfect for carry, and even though I didn’t use a sling (the stock doesn’t have sling-swivel studs), toting it all day wasn’t a problem. Alas, the deer didn’t cooperate, but I frequently threw the rifle to my shoulder for practice, and the sights aligned incredibly quickly.
I’m a fan of lever actions. I started hunting with a Winchester 94, and I have two of those in .30-30 Win. along with a Marlin 39A .22. But my long-ago lust for the Model 99 (and now the .300 Savage cartridge, too) was not misplaced. I think it stands head and shoulders above all other levers, and I can’t wait to hunt with one again.