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My All-Time Favorite Rifle is an Oddball

This 1949 Savage .250-3000 Model 99 Hammerless Lever Action Rifle


Savage .250-3000 Model 99

My old Harley-Davidson motorcycle, my old Colt handguns and this old Savage rifle all speak to me. What do they say you ask? "I'm proud to be an American." The story behind Arthur Savage and his lever action rifle epitomizes the American Dream. One has to use their imagination to realize how amazing this rotating magazine must have seemed at the time. High Tech doesn't come close to describing it.

Not only does it have a counter on the left side of the receiver to let you know how many rounds are left in the circular rotating magazine, it has an indicator on top of the tang to signal when the internal hammer is cocked.

Rotating Magazine Feature

The term spitzer is an anglicized version of the German word meaning “pointy bullet.” These were developed in the late 19th century to provide better aerodynamics and longer ranges than the traditional round-nosed bullets. With the advent of the pointed, or spitzer, bullets; the tubular magazine became a potential liability. When the pointed nose of a round is pushed, by the magazine’s spring, against the primer of the cartridge ahead, disaster may occur with no more than the recoil of the rifle. Arthur Savage's rotary magazine solved the problem.

Savage .250-3000 Ammo
Savage .250-3000 87 Grain Ammo

This is what's imprinted on my vintage box of ammo pictured here. The cartridges in this carton are designed to give the maximum ballistic performance in this caliber and represent the latest developments in cartridge manufacture. NON-CORROSIVE PRIMERS - Residue will not cause rust or corrosion. SMOKELESS POWER - Powder of latest developments is used to insure maximum velocity, accuracy and penetration.

First Things First

The first thing I did after buying this gun was order a copy of David Royal's book, A Collector's Guide to the Savage 99 Rifle and its Predecessors, the Model 1895 and 1899. This is the first book to cover every aspect of the Savage 99 family of centerfire rifles from the prototypes to the last rifle produced.

This hardback book covers the variations in each model and addresses comparisons between similar models; dispels a number of myths, misconceptions, and catalog errors and omissions; and contains complete production figures by serial number and year. So I found out my gun was made in 1949 from the serial number of 529636.

In fact, my book arrived before my new old gun! The gun was shipped USPS Priority from Vermont to Alabama and it took 12 days to arrive. For a while there I was thinking it was on a slow boat from China. Nothing I was reading in the book matched up with the stock, checkering, pistol grip and cap, butt plate and forearm of this gun. Identifying the letter designation of the model from the book was perplexing, as some of the identifiers were related to the wood.

"Thanks to Calhoun at 24 Hour Camp Fire, I learned this is a 99EG."

Author holding Model 99
I quickly learned my 71 year-old gun was an oddity.

After-Market Wood Upgrade...

Will I ever discover at what point in the last 70 years the wood was upgraded? Not likely. But I can speculate thanks to the guys over at the Savage Collectors Forum sharing their knowledge with me.

It was the high grade wood that caused me to find this gun. I wanted to add an American made rifle to my collection because even though the Colt Sauer rifles had Colt's name on them, they were made in Germany.

In my search for a rifle to add to my collection I used only four criteria:

  • 1) American Made,
  • 2) Mid-20th Century,
  • 3) High Grade Wood and
  • 4) Price Tag of $2,500 or Less.

The First American Cartridge To Achieve 3,000 Feet Per Second Velocity

The year was 1915 and the man was Charles Newton, a lawyer and firearm enthusiast who designed and created the .250-3000 Savage Cartridge to be used in the Savage Model 99 hammerless lever action rifle. Newton wanted to load 100 grain bullets in the cartridge, which would achieve a velocity of 2,800 feet per second, but Savage knew that by reducing the bullet to 87 grains and obtaining the record velocity of 3,000 feet per second would sell rifles.

So one-hundred and some odd years later, Newton's original idea to use 100 grain bullets has stood the test of time better than the 87 grain idea. Originally, the rate of twist of the barrel rifling in the Savage .250-3000 rifles was one turn in 14 inches, however in later years it was reduced to one turn in 10 inches to improve accuracy with the 100 grain bullets. I don't hand-load myself, but I found a good source for quality 87 grain loaded cartridges to appease my old gun with the 1:14 ratio.

Savage Model 99 .250-3000
Description from Auction Listing

Savage 250-3000 model 99 lever action in ultra super high grade, The wood is ultra deluxe grade and the blueing is fantastic. The color case on the lever shows very little use. It has a 24 inch barrel with a fantastic bore. It has a Redfield hunter 3x9x40 scope. There are no cracks in the wood. The serial number is 529636 and it has a brass counter. This caliber is now called 250 savage and the ammo is available. This rifle has only been fired a very little. It has a very fancy steel butt plate.

Approximately 1 million of the Model 99's were made over the course of 100 years, so they're not rare.

Generally, knowing something about the history of a gun I add to my collection is important to me. In this case however, the dealer was unable to provide any history. And honestly, I've had a lot of fun researching and investigating.

Author holding Model 99
Summary

This gun checked every box on my configuration wish list with the exception of one. I wanted an engraved receiver, but that wasn't a deal-breaker. But one more time, this is my favorite rifle precisely because of the internal workings (pre-detachable magazine box), 24" barrel, high grade wood, straight forearm, the unique .250-3000 caliber and the excellent over-all condition, all with a price tag well below my $2,500 spending budget cap.

There is a great deal of satisfaction when you wait patiently in search of just the right firearm you want to acquire and it finally comes along and you get it. I have always been a big fan of high quality wood on long guns and this particular gun exceeded my expectations.

As far as the Monte Carlo style stock, I thought it seemed appropriate for a gun with a scope (it's intended purpose), and a gun that fired the fastest bullet of its time, even though it wasn't bolt action. And especially for a caliber that lends itself so well to competition shooting and paper targets. You may have read about my old Remington 90-T that had a Monte Carlo stock. I never really liked it on a shotgun.

For the record, I've never owned a shotgun with a scope mounted on it.

Many of the Model 99's have the Schnabel forearm and I'm not throwing off on them, but I always think "European" when I see one. I like this straight rounded-end forearm and earlier I alluded to the fact that it makes a statement, "I'm proud to be an American."

Okay. Okay. I'll get off my American High Horse. On average, ten percent of my readers are outside the United States and I appreciate you all. My wife drives a Porsche Cayenne, one of my gun cabinets is French-made, I own more than a few German-made knives and a few Belgian and Italian-made shotguns. I even have a non-military Walther in my collection.

When I was in the Army I fired every rifle the United States and Germany had to offer. And qualified Expert with all, but in my post-military life I've had little interest in military style weapons. My old gun collection just wouldn't be complete without this sporting/hunting rifle.

There is a lot to learn and experience with this old gun and I'm looking forward to following up this article with more and better information on the Savage Model 99 and the .250-3000 cartridge.

Conclusion

It's like Someone took a near new '48 Panhead and Made a Chopper Out of It

Not necessarily cool to do that I agree, if the gun was a rare model or caliber. But in my opinion it just doesn't get any better than this post-war 99EG from Savage's first year at the Chicopee Falls plant, especially for a collector that actually shoots his guns. It puts a smile on my face every time.

"To the Purist Collector, the wood replacement on this gun would be a sacrilege."

"That is understandable", says the old guy that still runs 16" whitewall Dunlop tires on his 1997 Heritage Springer. I cringe when I see an FLSTS with replaced tins or paint scheme. My Harley came in only two colors, Birch White or Birch White. Well, one had a Red Stripe and one had a Blue Stripe. Mine has the Blue Stripe. At some point in this old gun's life, a previous owner thought enough of the gun to pay homage by giving it the best possible wood upgrade.

The Premium Wood Upgrade...

Thanks to Magnum Bob over at the forum, I now know that the wood is "Walnut crotch wood in the butt. Forend appears more straight grained." After researching, I'm convinced this is not the Turkish Walnut we've seen so much of in the last 30 to 40 years.

And About this Fancy Butt Plate...

With such attention to every other detail like the widows peak, those protruding screwheads in the photos were a puzzlement to me. Turns out they just weren't seated well. Evidently someone else removed the plate to investigate as I did when the gun arrived and over-cautiously tightened them too little.

Fancy Buttplate by A.O. Niedner
A.O. Niedner Custom Butt Plate

Pocono Jack let me know that it is a "Niedner style butt plate. Designed by A.O.Niedner, an early 20th century gunsmith and rifle maker."

Adolph Otto Niedner (1863-1954) was born in Philadelphia to German immigrant parents. He enlisted in the Army in 1880, fought against Geronimo and the Apaches and had a scalp wound to prove it. After his discharge from the Army in 1883 he served on the Milwaukee police force until 1899 when he moved to Malden, Massachusetts.

He opened a gunsmith shop in 1906 and made prototype gunsights for inventor Eugene Patridge. He established the Niedner Rifle Company after moving to Michigan in 1920. Niedner manufactured custom rifles for many noted riflemen including Townsend Whelen, Charles Newton and Ned Roberts. How's that for a customer list?

With a name like Adolph... I can see why the guy would go by A.O.

The steel pistol grip cap was also designed by A.O. Niedner to perfectly match the steel butt plate. In all of its simplicity it is truly a work of art.

Fancy Pistol Grip Cap matches Butt Plate by A.O. Niedner
Niedner Steel Pistol Grip Cap

As a big fan of Colt handguns, I have rarely appreciated third-party modifications to the original handguns. And if I had been a longtime fan or collector of Savage rifles, I might not be so accepting of this creation.

Oh, and this Monte Carlo stock...

The stepped-up comb and cheek piece became popular in the 1950's when scopes came into widespread use.



I'm going out on a limb and guessing the modifications were done in the early '50s.


Author with his Savage Model 99
Ignorant but Happy Author with his 250-3000

In fact, the mods could have been made in '49 because it is likely this gun shipped in June of that year. In 1949 the first serial number produced was 520791, the last serial number that year was about 541100 and the serial number of my gun is 529636.

With only weeks into my exposure to the Model 99 I have a lot to learn and I may have to come back and rewrite this article entirely so please forgive my ignorance. My only hope is that I make up for it with enthusiasm and excitement.

We all speculate to some extent when we buy an old gun. I think I have an $800 gun with $800 worth of furniture on it. Please smile when you laugh. But I will say this. I've already had $1,600 worth of fun in just two short weeks!

I love this old gun and would be happy to hear from anyone that can share any useful information with me. Message or post on my Facebook page.

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