American Rifleman magazine once put the Savage 99 in its list of “Ten Rifles Everyone Should Own“, and while I disagree somewhat with
lots a couple of their choices, the Savage 99 is a slam-dunk listing — with one reservation, which I’ll get to in a while. But first, let’s look at this rifle and see what all the fuss is about:
I’m going to make my prejudices known up front. I think the “99” is hands down one of the most beautiful rifles ever made, period. That swooping stock as it leaves the receiver, the way the lever snuggles into the underside of the stock… ooooh, mommy. And if you can find one like mine, with the “schnabel” front stock…
…and that’s before we start talking about the brilliant rotary magazine, which, unlike for some lever rifles we could mention (Winchester, Marlin coff coff ), allows one to load this rifle with pointed (and not be limited to flat- or round-nosed-) bullets.
Which brings me to my only quibble with the 99. While it can handle medium cartridges (.308 Win, .300 Savage, .375 Win etc.), I don’t think the recoil is worth it. My .308 Win model is, honestly, painful to shoot. The angle of the thin stock pushes it right into the soft part of the shoulder, and for me anyway, it’s owie after four or five rounds. I think the perfect cartridges for the 99 are either the .250 Savage, or if you want something a little cheaper, .243 Win. Those, I can shoot (and have shot) all day. (I could have put a soft rubber pad on the rifle but I didn’t because wrong.) But the Savage is not an all-day shooter, anyway. That thin, elegant barrel heats up really quickly, and it will start to whip on you after a dozen rounds or so.
What this exquisite gun is, is a hunter. It’s light, accurate, quick to reload (in my case, about half a second or more quicker than my Mauser 98K), and quite honestly, I can’t think what more one could ask for a deep-woods rifle.
What sets Savage 99 owners apart from the rest is the fact that they love their 99. In the Rifleman article linked above, the writer laments:
I once had a lovely mid-50s Model 99 in .308. It was my favorite Texas whitetail rifle and in a weak moment I traded it for some rifle I can’t even remember. Lesson: Never sell or trade a good gun.
I’m one of those losers, and what I should have done was sell my .308 and immediately got a replacement in .243. But I didn’t because I’m an idiot. I should have just gone without electricity for a couple months…
Because of all this, Savage 99 rifles are relatively scarce, and quite expensive. Their owners don’t want to relinquish them, and anyone who’s ever fired one, let alone hunted with it, will know exactly why.