Farewell To The Savage 1899.
Savage Model 1899, we're going to miss you in the 21st century. You don't appear in Savage's 1999 catalog, but you had a long and successful run as one of the most outstanding sporting rifles in the world.
Here's how good you really were.
The Model 1899 was so far ahead of its day that it defies comparison. In an era when John Browning was coming up with designs like the 1886, 1892, 1894 and 1895 Winchesters, Arthur Savage's Model 1899 was a stroke of genius. The Model 99 simply revolutionized the design of a modern lever action rifle, and until Winchester brought out its short-lived Model 88 lever action, nothing could compare with it.
Here was a true hammerless design, first introduced as the Model 1895 Savage. The internal firing pin propelled by a coil spring provided an ultra-fast locktime in a period when competing lever-actions still carried heavy external hammers that were a relic of the muzzleloading era.
Even without a hammer, you always knew when the 99 was fully cocked. Extending through its upper tang was a small steel pin -- visible and easy to feel, even in the fall when your hands were often snuggled inside a pair of warm gloves.
Cocking the firing pin occurred at the last moment, as the lever was closed on a fresh shell -- not, as in the Winchester and Marlin models that cocked the hammer, as the lever was being opened. The Savage's almost self-opening action insured that all of the force in opening was applied to the important job of extracting the shell, not to cocking the mainspring.
Ejection was positively positive and to the side so that from its very beginning, the Savage 99 could always be fitted with a modern scope sight. Early models were not factory drilled and tapped, but it was a simple matter to do so.
As scope sights became a significant and desirable accessory on hunting rifles, gunsmiths drilled, tapped and mounted hundreds of thousands of scopes on iron-sighted Model 99s.
Ahead Of Its Time
Incorporating a five-shot rotary magazine rather than a traditional tubular magazine in his 99, Savage again showed his genius. He gave the hunter the advantage of being able to shoot ballistically superior, spitzer bullets in a svelte lever action rifle.
There were other advantages as well to the rotary magazine. Made of brass, it was machined specifically to each caliber chambered in the 99 so that feeding cartridges was smooth, flawless and in a straight line. By having its cartridges contained compactly in the receiver rather than hanging out there and chugging down a tubular magazine, the Savage maintained its excellent balance and constant point-of-impact.
The rotary magazine facilitated the trim lines of the 99's slim receiver that measured only 1 1/2" wide and 2 1/4" deep. The Savage was easy to tote in the eastern deer woods and proved to be an ideal saddle gun out west.
Finally, the Savage 99 magazine system incorporated a unique and visible cartridge counter. Through a window milled into the left side of the receiver, one could read exactly how many shells were held in the magazine. Only at the very end of its manufacturing life did a detachable magazine replace the rotary magazine of the Model 99.
Changing With The Times
The 99 action was inherently strong and gas proof. Chambered originally for the relatively mild .303 Savage, the 99 handled the modern, compact, high-pressure and high-velocity cartridges that came on the market over the next 100 years. Before its demise, the adaptable 99 had been factory chambered for 15 different cartridges: the .303 Savage, .30-30, .25-35, .32-40, .38-55, .250-3000 Savage, .22 Hi-Power, .300 Savage, .308, .243, .358, .284 Win., .22-250, .375 Win., and the 7mm/08 Remington.
Several early chamberings of the Model 99 were as radical as the rifle itself. Arthur Savage, Charles Newton and the Model 99 were simply made for each other. In 1912, Savage chambered Newton's high-velocity "Imp" -- the .22 Hi-Power that propelled a 70-grain (.227) bullet at 2,800 fps.
Hyped as it was in the sporting press. the .22 Hi-Power was soon used on everything from tigers to African buffalo. Basically, a necked down .25-35 case, the Hi-Power still is an adequate caliber for deer and remains somewhat popular in Europe.
Then in 1913, Savage rocked the shooting world with the introduction of the first commercial sporting cartridge to attain 3,000 fps -- again one of Newton's creations, the famous .250-3000. Inherently accurate, light of recoil, and perfectly matched to varmints and medium-sized game, the .250-3000 in the Model 99 sold like hot cakes -- and still does, when you can find one!
In 1920, Savage brought out the Model 99 in yet another radical chambering -- the .300 Savage -- which for the next 64 years turned out to be the bread-and-butter caliber for the 99. The .300 Savage was based on a shortened .30-'06 case. Compact and efficient, it was an immediate hit with big game hunters.
In my youth, the .300 Savage, chambered in a Model 99 and carried in a saddle scabbard, was one of the most popular calibers seen in elk camp. Much to the .300's credit, it was the seed that lead to the much later development of the military 7.62mm round and its commercial equivalent, the .308.
And accurate? Well, the Savage lever gun could give most bolt guns a run for their money when it came to out-of-the-box accuracy. Part of the secret was in the stock. The butt stock of the 99 was drawn tight to the solid receiver with a through-bolt as opposed to the tang-mounted stocks used in Winchesters and Marlins.
The lock time of the 99 was remarkably fast and although the Savage bolt locked up at the rear, it locked up tightly. More subtly, the Savage 99 readily accommodated a scope sight -- an advantage that helped shooters extract the utmost accuracy the Model 99 had to offer.
I have owned several solid-frame Savages in .243 Win., .250-3000, .300 Savage, and .308 that truthfully could be rated minute-of-angle rifles. Triggers weren't ever the greatest, but the 99 can shoot!
Over its lifetime, the Model 99 was offered in a seemingly endless variety of models and grades: take-downs and solid frames; round and tapered octagonal barrels of assorted lengths from 20" to 26"; standard weights and featherweights; rifles and carbines; engraved receivers and plain; straight gripped stocks, stocks with pistol grips, straight comb stocks and Monte Carlo stocks; and tang sights, receiver sights or micrometer adjustable rear sights. There are simply so many models, grades and variations of the Model 99 that collectors will be kept happy and challenged for decades to come.
Two of the more important and very practical changes that occurred over the evolution of the Model 99 were the addition of higher combs to accommodate the increasing use of scope sights and the movement of the safety from an awkward position on the bottom tang to right-under-your-thumb on the top tang.
While the solid frame Model 99s are the most accurate, I have always been attracted to the takedown models. There is simply something very neat about a rifle that one can break down into two compact units and stick in your luggage.
One of the most interesting factory options offered to the owners of Savage takedowns was an auxiliary .410 shotgun barrel. Switching to the full choke .410 barrel, the hunter could quickly convert his rifle into a single shot smoothbore just perfect for securing a few squirrels, rabbits or grouse.
Elegant, reliable, accurate, far ahead of your day in design and refinement, we're going to miss you, Savage Model 99.
Arthur Savage: The Man Behind The Gun
The story of the Model 99 would not be complete without a few remarks about its inventor Arthur Savage had a remarkable career Born in 1857 in Kingston, Jamaica, where his father was Britain's Special Commissioner to the West Indies, he journeyed as a young man to Australia and developed the largest cattle ranch on that continent.
Selling the ranch, Savage returned to Jamaica and bought a coffee plantation.
Turning to his creative side, he co-invented the Savage-Halpine torpedo, adopted by Brazil, and worked on early recoilless rifle designs.
Immigrating to the United States, he became the superintendent of the Street Railway in Utica, N.Y. and in 1892 at age of 36, submitted his first hammerless, rotary magazine, lever-action rifle design to the U.S. military for testing and possible adoption. The U.S. rejected his design and instead adopted the Krag. The rest, as they say, is history. Undeterred, Savage continued to refine his design into the rifle we know today as the Savage Model 99.