You don’t hear much about the Savage Model 99 or the 300 Savage cartridge anymore, but when I was a youngster in the 1950s farm country of Pennsylvania it was a pretty popular combination.
My first introduction to that outfit was by an uncle who, since the early 1940s, owned a Savage M99G (featherweight take-down) in the 30-caliber chambering and, years later, installed a 4X Weaver scope on its deck.
My earliest recollection was seeing that rifle leaning in his closet and always hoping that one day I’d be allowed to give it a try. Every time I asked, the answer was that I was a little too young and had to wait ’til I got a little more meat on my bones.
Compact and fast-handling, the customized Savage ’99 worked well in the deer woods.
I was 11 years old when I finally got to fire that rifle. It happened when my Dad and I were at my uncle’s farm while he was in the middle of his “sighting-in session,” just before the deer season.
Uncle Dick put a piece of plywood with a white circle painted on it (about 10 inches in diameter) out around 100 yards. From a rest on the hood of his old Ford he hit that circle two out of two shots, and my Dad proceeded to do the same. As you can tell, they weren’t interested in tack-driving, only in what it took to put venison on the table. On our way back from the target, Uncle Dick must have seen that sorry-eyed Bassett hound look on my face when I saw him nudge my father and nod towards me.
I heard Dad say, “I don’t see why not.” Then my Uncle asked, “Jim, you want to see if you can hit anything with this?” Well, I couldn’t have been any more surprised than if I had been struck by lightning. I was only about 10 feet behind them, but I know that I broke the sound barrier in closing that distance.
We were only about 50 yards away from the target when he handed me the Savage. It seemed to weigh a ton compared to the Daisy BB gun and the Remington Model 121 22LR that I was allowed to shoot. He showed me how to open and close the action, load the magazine and put the safety on. There were some other instructions on breathing, holding steady and sight picture that I barely heard since I couldn’t get over the excitement of actually holding the rifle that I was only allowed to look at for the past 11 years.
He handed me a cartridge, I loaded it and thought that I’d go one better than both my Uncle and Dad by trying the shot offhand. I’ll never forget seeing the target through the scope and trying to keep those crosshairs from dancing around. Keep in mind that I was only 11 years old and didn’t weigh 80 pounds soaking wet…so when I fi nally pulled the trigger, a little more happened than I expected.
All I remember was a hell of a belt, seeing my uncle holding onto the scope – and the both of them belly-laughing while I was on the ground wondering what happened. As I recall, Dad said “There’s a hole in the corner of the plywood.” That was bullseye enough for me and I could feel my chest swell with pride almost as fast as my shoulder did from the pain of that steel buttplate. I can remember my Uncle saying, “Jim, if that had been an elephant, we’d be having tail soup for supper.”
Although I was more than game to try another shot, I was lucky to have two adults around with common sense to override my enthusiasm. The rest of the day, my left arm reminded me of my graduation into the centerfires. As the years passed, I grew a little bigger and become less sensitive to recoil. I got into the fad of faster, flatter-shooting cartridges housed in more modern bolt rifles topped with variable-power range-finding scopes.
Whenever my Uncle saw me with a new rifle and equipment he’d ask, “Where’s the safari, Jim?” His opinion was that if a deer couldn’t be got with the Savage – along with a little woods savvy – then that deer couldn’t be got at all.
He would make that point time and again by harvesting 95 percent of his deer within 50 yards. That other five percent proved that if you have only one rifle and know how to shoot it well, that variable scopes and belted magnum trajectories weren’t necessary. I once saw him shoot twice at a doe out past 300 yards and put her down on the spot. A quick post-mortem showed the bullets struck her in the neck and chest.
It wasn’t until 1988 that his statement came to haunt me. I was in a little gun shop browsing the racks and spotted a couple of Savage Model 99s in the 300 Savage chambering. One was a Model F in nice condition and the other was customized in the Mannlicher style, with a 20-inch barrel chambered for the 300 Savage cartridge, and wearing a Weaver K2.5X scope.
It was love at first sight and the next day I was back at the gun shop, trading in one of my heavy tack-driving bolt guns with its 3-12X variable scope. The rifle’s serial number put the Savage’s date of manufacture around 1954, but when it was customized I’ll never know. I brought it to my local gunsmith to see what he could tell me and he believed that it was customized at the factory, by the evidence of the matching wood and tell-tale Savage checkering.
I have found this little Savage has never exceeded 1 1/2-inch groups at 100 yards with either 150- or 180-grain bullets and that the K2.5X scope is no hindrance when shooting a practical field ranges (point-blank to 200+yds.). I don’t mind saying that its recoil is a lot lighter than what I remember from 30 years earlier.
If I need to take a shot beyond 200 yards, then I think I need to learn to hunt a little better. It is by far the handiest rifle I have ever handled. In the past 10 years it has been my woods companion through many miles, and it looks it with the honest dings and scratches earned from the thick brushy areas I hunt. Every one of those scars is a reminder of a memorable hunt to harvest a little venison for the table.
My Uncle has long since passed into the happy hunting ground, but I tend to agree with him that this little custom Savage M99 Mannlicher is all the rifle I’ll ever need.
This article is an excerpt from the Gun Digest 2009 Annual.