By: Otha Barham
There it was, lying on the table in front of me. A deer rifle. Not just any deer rifle, but one of the finest repeating rifles ever built: a Model 99 F Savage.
A flood of memories suffused in emotion filled my consciousness. The pleasant reflections of the past flooded my thoughts; except there was an uncomfortable lump in my throat.
What can cause us to become so moved by a deer rifle, one of thousands made just alike and distributed far and wide? What is so special about seven pounds of steel and walnut? I cannot explain the depth of feeling that many of us have about some object that is an extension of ourselves in our pursuit of happiness. But I can’t resist a cursory look here.
I really didn’t need the little featherweight Savage .308. (The “F” in its name indicated “featherweight.”) But it came as a gift from a special friend, Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Conservation Officer Bobby Wilder, who had become a Regional Supervisor for Enforcement in that agency and continues his upward march in his field.
The original Model 99F bought in 1960. It is truly one in a hundred. It took almost half the bucks of my life, and also took one elk.
‘A Rifle Suitable for All-Around Use’
Bobby had flitted around our old deer camp house in Kemper County as a kid trying to find his way in this world of hunting the big woods that had their grip on him. Our years together a long time ago in those woods add to the value of the rifle.
Another wonder surrounding this prized gun is the fact that it is identical to my first deer rifle, the one with which I bagged my first deer some 55 years ago – and which I resurrected recently to take another fine buck – and the one that my son’s wife used to bag her first deer while shooting my handload. It is the slender Model 99F with gold-plated trigger and the wonderful rotary magazine that was developed by Arthur W. Savage in the late 1800s, and which in my opinion has never been bested. The magazine allowed the more efficient pointed bullets to be used in a lever action rifle, something the Winchesters and Marlins could not do. The great Jack O’Connor called it a “rifle suitable for all-around use.”
A Store of Fond Memories
The rifle itself and its American manufacturer play their parts in my store of fond memories; the stock of good walnut, the tang safety that makes shooting either right or left handed, the cocked and ready indicator that protrudes so one can feel it in the dark – a last minute check assured the hunter it was ready to fire.
And then there is the little slot in the side of the receiver through which the number of rounds in the magazine can be read on the magazine spool, exclusive to the Model 99. And the bluing was done so well on the action and chrome-molybdenum steel barrel that it still shines after several generations. And that wonderful mosaic oil-blue pattern, common with Savage guns, that adorns the lever and trigger guard is a unique and appealing touch.
I especially admire the Savage 99F because it brought running bucks to the ground for me like no other rifle I could hope for. The gun gave me my very first deer, a big eight-pointer that was flying ahead of a pack of hounds. My first shot took the buck through the heart, and before he knew he was dead, the second shot smacked him just four inches behind the first. The speed of the lever on the Savage showed its stuff! It literally springs forward, and when you slam it back, your hand is right on the grip ready to fire, one less movement than with a bolt action. And credit that flawless magazine that has never once jammed on me in 55 years, even though I shot it so much that I wore out the chamber 30 years ago and had to have it reworked.
Sometime back there Bobby Wilder got himself an identical model in the same caliber as mine, the .308 Winchester. He was barely a teenager when I, in my mid-twenties, showed up in deer camp with my Savage.
As far as I can learn, mine was the first rifle in those parts with a scope, a 2 ½ power Weaver mounted low for quick sighting on running game. The Savage side ejection allowed the scope to be mounted low over the action – a must for keeping your cheek tight against the rife when firing.
The Savage began dropping bucks almost like magic compared with the dismal performance of the buckshot we had back then that was loaded into paper hulls with cardboard wads and rolled crimps. Bobby saw my Model 99 perform, and that influenced him to get an identical one for himself in later years.
“I took a lot of good bucks with the rifle,” he said.
If he thought I would appreciate the gun, he was right – especially for the memories it brings back.
Note: Savage discontinued the Model 99 in 1999, it having spent exactly 100 years on the market. If I had my way, we would have had a national celebration with parades and parties and speeches by its admirers – Like me.
Otha Barham is a retired entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture writing from Meridian, Mississippi. Contact him at: OthaBarham2017@gmail.com.