August 31, 2016
Not many people know that the .300 Savage was the starting point for the U.S. military 7.62x51 round, which eventually evolved into the .308 Winchester. It's an old but very capable cartridge. And the vintage rifles I used for developing my hand-loads are a Remington Model 722 bolt action and a Savage Model 99R lever action.
The .300 Savage was introduced in 1920 for Savage's popular Model 99 lever rifle. At that time bolt-action rifles (especially the .30-06 Springfield 1903) were gaining favor with hunters, and Savage sought to up the Model 99's performance from its original .303 Savage chambering.
The Model 99 action was much too short to accommodate a .30-06-size cartridge, so while the .300 Savage has the same case head dimensions, its overall length is 2.600 inches compared to 3.340 inches for the .30-06. To achieve maximum case capacity, the case has a sharper shoulder, and the neck is extra short. Even so, it contains approximately 25 percent less propellant than the .30-06.
The .300 Savage is very similar to the .308 Winchester. The .308 is the commercial version of the 7.62x51 round developed for the U.S. military in the early 1950s to replace the venerable .30-06.
What you may not know is the .300 Savage was used as the starting point to develop the 7.62x51 military cartridge.
The case body of both the .300 Savage and the .308 Win. are essentially the same length, but the .308's shoulder angle and body taper are reduced. The .308's neck is longer, so case length and overall cartridge length are longer.
The .308 Win. caught on with hunters at the expense of the .300 Savage's popularity. While preparing for this report, I was reading a review of the then-new .300 Winchester Magnum in the December 1963 issue of Shooting Times. In that issue, Technical Editor George Nonte referred to the "old" .300 Savage. So, 50 years ago, and just 10 years after the .308 Win. debuted, the .300 Savage had already been relegated to the cartridge cemetery.
Because the .300 Savage is so similar to the .308 Win., there are many handloading components to choose from, except maybe new .300 Savage brass. According to my old Powley computer, IMR 4895 is the most versatile powder, but that simply means Alliant Reloder 15 and Hodgdon Varget are good choices, too.
Large Rifle primers are more than adequate to ignite the moderate charges of propellant loaded in the .300 Savage. If you can't find .300 Savage cases, not to worry. You can reform .308 Win. brass by full-length resizing and trimming to the proper length. You have to remove about 0.15 inch of each extruded case neck, so a powered trimmer is almost a must-have. The reworked brass can be reloaded with any recommended starting load and fireformed to obtain the final .300 Savage case configuration.
I recommend full-length sizing any hunting round to ensure your handloads will chamber reliably — especially when reloading for a lever-action or semiautomatic rifle. I also crimp the completed round if the ammo will be fired in an autoloader just to make sure the bullet doesn't set back.
A less obviously critical step when handloading a sharp-shouldered, rimless case like the .300 Savage is making sure you carefully adjust the sizer die to achieve the correct headspace. You sure don't want to set the shoulder back too far!
Most reloading die companies' instructions say, "Screw the sizer die down until it contacts the shellholder. Lower the ram and turn the die down about a quarter of a turn further and lock it into position." The intent is to compensate for any structural spring in your reloading press to ensure the case is fully resized.
That's the right way to do it only if your gun's chamber and the sizer die are cut precisely within the cartridge dimensional tolerances. However, if the rifle's chamber length is near the upper limit and the die's chamber length is dead on or just a bit short, you can inadvertently set the shoulder back too much, creating excessive headspace between the cartridge and the chamber.
You might ask, "So what if the headspace is off a little?" Well, when you squeeze the trigger, the round may just hangfire or maybe not fire at all. This can occur when the primer receives a weak strike because the too-short cartridge slides forward in the chamber, creating a gap between the breechface and the firing pin.
Or the round may fire the first time, but the case will stretch too much under pressure. If that happens the case body can seize the chamber walls, and the case head can slam back against the breechface. When you reload it, the sizer die will force the shoulder back several thousandths of an inch.
As you reload and fire your cases again and again, the thin wall just above the thick case head will work-harden. Sooner or later, the case head will partially or completely separate from the body. A stuck case is not a catastrophe at the range, but it can really put a damper on things if you're afield without any tools to clear the chamber.
To achieve and maintain correct headspace, first screw the sizer die into the press until it touches the shellholder and then back it off a full turn. Next, resize a case, wipe off the lube, and try to chamber it. The bolt or breechblock may not close easily, but don't force it.
Then adjust the die position down an eighth to a quarter of a turn; select another clean, once-fired case; and repeat the sizing and trial fit process. If it still doesn't chamber easily, readjust the die and repeat the procedure until the resized case will chamber without having to force it.
Don't be frustrated if you repeat these steps until the sizer die is adjusted just like the instructions stated in the first place. That means you have a good chamber and an excellent set of dies. However, if the case chambers the first time you try it, you should take your rifle to a gunsmith to check for proper headspace.
It may no longer be popular, but the "old" .300 Savage can still hold its own compared with many of today's popular hunting cartridges. Loaded with 125- to 165-grain bullets, recoil is very moderate, making it a practical choice for hunting varmints and deer-sized game.