In the 1980’s I not infrequently borrowed a neighbors Savage Model 99 in .308 for hunting. I always liked it; it was handy, with the mechanism and rotary magazine keeping the weight close to the body. He wouldn’t sell it; mostly an academic consideration since I seldom had any money to spare in those days.
Savage Model 99- the other other levergun.
The basis of the Model 99 was the Model 1892, a cooperative venture between Arthur Savage and Colt. This was submitted to Army trials, but lost to the Krag rifle. On the basis of this design the Savage Arms company was formed, and in 1895 beat out the Winchester 1895 as the official rifle of the New York National Guard. Politics scuttled this contract, but a refined version of the rifle was introduced commercially as the Model 1899, and quickly became popular with big-game hunters in North America.
The Savage 99 did achieve military use; during WW1 it was adopted by the Montreal Home Guard units. It was chambered in .303 Savage; conversion to standard British .303 would have required re-tooling, which would have resulted in necessary delays.
One of the reasons for the popularity of the Model 99 was it’s rotary magazine. This allowed the use of ballistically more efficient pointed or ‘spitzer’ bullets. Most other lever-actions use tubular magazines, and it was thought that the point of a bullet pressed against the primer of the next round in the magazine might lead to disaster if the weapon were dropped.
The gun was available in a wide variety of calibers, with the most popular being .30-30 Winchester and .300 Savage. One proprietary cartridge, the .250-3000 was the first commercial cartridge to exceed 3000 fps. at the muzzle. Later versions chambered the more powerful .308 Winchester, and offered options such as a removable box magazine.
Production was discontinued in 1997, presumably due to increasing production costs. Today these guns command prices starting around $600 and go up from there. In the case of rarer calibers they go up a lot.
I’ve fancied them right the way along, but prices went too high for me to justify on a rifle that duplicated the function of guns I already have. It appeared I was destined to remain frustrated in my desire to own one…
An ‘Affordable’ Model 99
I was at Pinto’s earlier this year (where else?) when a fellow brought in a load of guns to sell, which included the rusted remains of a Model 99. After the shop had procured the lot of guns I expressed an interest in the Savage. The action is frozen by rust, the stock is cracked and there is serious pitting on the outside of the barrel. Chris offered it to me for a pittance, and we agreed to trade it for a bit of fabrication work. That didn’t work out (he couldn’t find the gun that needed the work) so today we paid him the requested pittance and brought the rifle home.
So, frozen solid by rust, badly pitted on the outside of the barrel and God only knows what the inside looks like, needing a new stock and fore-stock. It appears to be thirty caliber, but which thirty caliber? The gun was made in 1954, so there are several possible choices.
It doesn’t really matter. If, against all odds, the inside of the barrel is OK I’ll do a chamber casting and figure it out. Perhaps that information will be revealed as I clean her up. If I have to replace the barrel, well… we’ll see. I might go with one of the standard calibers or go with something a bit more… exotic. Whatever, I want to refinish the gun to ‘like new’ condition.
Well, first things first, and the first thing is to saturate the action in WD40 for a while and see if I can break it loose. If that doesn’t work there are other options, but I’ll try to keep things simple for the moment.
This is going to be a fun, if complex and probably frustrating, project. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 November 2020
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