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Rifles

Vintage Rimfire: Savage Model 1903

by Joel Hutchcroft   |  August 8th, 2016 0
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This vintage rimfire rifle has been described by firearms historians as looking like “something is missing.” No doubt about it, it is odd-looking.

One of the great things about being a gun accumulator—as opposed to being a gun collector—is that I can acquire just about any type of gun that piques my interest. My acquisitions don’t have to fit into any logical collecting scheme. You know what I mean. They don’t have to follow the developmental evolution of some specific type, make, or caliber of firearm. All they have to do is tickle my fancy. One of my most recent purchases—the Savage Model 1903, the subject of this report—is a good example.

Mechanicals

The Savage Model 1903 is a pump-action, side-ejecting, .22 rimfire rifle with an internal hammer; a 24-inch, octagonal barrel; open sights; a two-piece walnut stock; a two-position safety located at the top rear of the receiver; and a steel buttplate. It was produced by Savage Arms Co. from 1903 until 1916. Actually, according to Savage & Stevens Arms: Collector’s History, 5th Edition by Jay Kimmel, Savage made an additional 1,000 Model 1903s in 1922.

The rifle’s most unusual feature is a five-round detachable magazine. Typically, pump-action rimfire rifles have a tubular magazine located under the barrel. It’s the detachable magazine design that makes this gun look as though something is missing. The magazine release is a thin lever located inside the trigger guard on the top edge, forward of the trigger.

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The most unusual feature of the Savage Model 1903 is its detachable, five-round magazine. Typically, pump-action .22s have tubular magazines.

The rifle’s single slide bar is located on the right side of the barrel, and it connects the slide handle with the breechblock. Pulling the slide handle to the rear pushes the breechblock back to extract an empty case and cock the internal hammer. The spring-loaded ejector is positioned internally in the left side of receiver wall, and as the breechbolt is moved rearward, the case is ejected out through the port in the right side receiver wall.

Chambering a round occurs on the forward stroke of the slide handle. The detachable magazine acts as a bolt hold open when it’s empty. In other words, when the magazine is empty, the slide handle and bolt can’t be moved forward. Removing the empty magazine allows the slide handle to go forward.

The Savage Model 1903 is a takedown model with the takedown screw located on the right side of the receiver just above the trigger. During disassembly the receiver splits vertically, and the bolt and slide-rail assembly are on the right half, and the trigger, trigger guard, hammer, and buttstock are attached to the left side. The Savage Model 1903 accepts .22 Short, .22 Long, and .22 Long Rifle cartridges interchangeably.

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Savage produced the pump-action Model 1903 .22 rimfire rifle from 1903 until 1916 and again for one year in 1922.

The gun shown and reported on here is the standard grade with smooth shotgun-style buttstock and pistol grip, but high-grade versions also were offered. They included Grade EF, The Expert, Grade GH, and The Gold Medal versions with fancy wood, knob-style half-pistol grips, various levels of engraving and checkering, Rocky Mountain front sights, and Savage micrometer rear sights.

According to Kimmel, gold, silver, and nickel trim could be special ordered. You could also get special grades of wood and special finishes, and you could have sling swivels installed at the factory. About the only thing you couldn’t get was a set trigger.

Provenance

I purchased my Savage Model 1903 not long ago, and I got it at my favorite local gunshop—Pekin Gun of Pekin, Illinois. I was there transferring a different gun, and when that transaction was completed, I asked if they had any Remington Model 25 pump-action rifles. The clerk said they didn’t, but he allowed me to take a close look at the other pump guns they did have. All of them were .22 rimfires, and they were from a variety of manufacturers. I noticed the Model 1903 right off because it looked so strange.

The clerk let me pick it up and look it over closely. I had to have it. I didn’t know anything about it, but I trust the workers at Pekin Gun and know the prices are always within reason. I bought it on the spot.

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The Savage Model 1903 takes .22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle ammo interchangeably.

Rangetime

The Savage Model 1903 takes .22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle cartridges, so the shooting chart for this report shows how my rifle performed with loadings of each of those chamberings. Some of my ammo is pretty old, especially the .22 Short. In fact, Federal doesn’t even make the two .22 Short loads any more. Interestingly, the Hi-Power stuff still has the price tag on it, and it reads $1.46.

As you can see, the old gun did pretty well with all of the ammo, but it was most accurate with the Federal Hi-Power 29-grain .22 Short ammunition (a.k.a. #712). The rifle’s trigger pull is pretty good, averaging 3.75 pounds. It is smooth and very consistent. My results are with the rifle’s original open sights because the rifle is not set up for mounting a scope without drilling and tapping it.

I’m sure its accuracy would improve with a scope mounted on it, but I’m not going to drill and tap it. I like it just the way it is. Well, I do wish it had sling swivels and maybe the knob-style half-pistol grip.

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Like I said at the beginning, my guns don’t have to fit into a well-thought-out collection. However, I have always enjoyed pump-action rifles; in fact, I grew up shooting a Winchester Model 1890 pump, so I guess you could say my Savage Model 1903 goes with the two old Model 1890s I currently own. But I still think of myself as a gun accumulator rather than a collector.

Now if I could find the Remington Model 25 that I’m looking for, well, then you might say I’d be on my way to becoming a “collector” of vintage pump-action rifles.

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