October 04, 2019
By Joseph von Benedikt
My first acquaintance with the .22 Savage Hi Power—as chambered in Savage’s Model 99—came in my early teens while butchering a beef with local old-timer Doyle Moosman. Doyle had shot a big male mountain lion and a big mule deer buck with that rifle, and he told me all about his adventures while we worked on the cow.
Ever since, I wanted a Savage 99 chambered in .22 Savage Hi Power of my own. Recently, I found one at Gunnies, the local shop that does my FFL transfers.
The Savage Model 99’s features include a rotary, spool-fed magazine and a lever-activated, rear-locking bolt. Savage manufactured the rifle from 1899 until 1998. Serialization stopped at almost 1.2 million. Unlike competing lever-action rifles of the era, the Savage 99 has a full complement of modern features, such as the ability to safely function with and fire sharp-pointed bullets; strength sufficient for high-pressure, high-velocity modern cartridges; and a solid-top, side-eject receiver that is compatible with installing a riflescope.
The rifle’s safety is a sliding affair located in the lower tang just aft of the trigger. It serves double-duty by also locking the lever. When the rifle is cocked, a small round indicator protrudes from the top rear of the action. On early models, a brass magazine counter is visible through an oval hole milled into the forward left side of the action.
After firing, a stout hook-type extractor draws the empty case from the chamber, and a dual-purpose magazine cutoff and ejector pops out of the left inside wall of the action and boosts the empty out. Takedown models, like the one shown here, can be broken down to suitcase-size.
My rifle was made in 1915, and it was in rough shape when I spotted it. As gunshop manager Ron Davies stated, the rifle “looks like it was drug around behind a sheep camp for 10 years.”
Massive chunks were missing from the walnut stock and fore-end. The buttplate was missing, and a large portion of the toe was gone. No discernible finish was left on the metal parts, and the finish on the wood was long gone. I’ve rarely seen a firearm so worn.
The fore-end takedown latch was missing, but a small round rod can be used to unhook the latch. Original sights were in place, but the adjustable rear was missing its elevator.
Worse than the cosmetic damage was the play between the action and the barrel assembly. Even with the fore-end installed, there was discernible wiggle.
As for the bore, it was fairly bright, but the rifling edges were rounded.
Because of its horrendous condition, I managed to purchase the rifle for very little—and felt that doing some restoration-type work on it would not hurt any collector value because, well, there wasn’t any.
Long story short, I did quite a bit of stock work but left the metal as it was. Eventually, it was ready for the shooting range.
Getting .22 Savage Hi Power ammunition proved to be as much of a challenge as getting the rifle shipshape. The .22 Savage Hi Power is nearly obsolete in the United States, but cases can be made by necking down .25-35 Winchester cases, which are available, and I was able to dig up a source for custom-made 0.228-inch bullets on gunbroker.com in several grain weights and bonded and non-bonded versions. I purchased a 100-count box of non-bonded 70-grain bullets and ordered dies and a bunch of .25-35 brass from Hornady.
Surprisingly, the .22 Savage Hi Power is readily available in Europe. Known there as the 5.6x52mmR, it’s commonly found in drillings. As a result, several European companies manufacture ammo, and some is imported here. I ordered a box and some empty cases from MidwayUSA.
Before firing the rifle, I discovered that an AR-15 barrel shim was the perfect thickness to tighten up the slop between the barrel and the action. And when I started shooting the Model 99, I was relieved that bullets hit the 100-yard target nose-on and created nice, crisp round holes, indicating that the rifling was at least good enough to stabilize the projectiles. Then, as the rifle produced acceptable groups, I was delighted. Sellier & Bellot’s factory load actually grouped the best, producing sub-2.0-MOA, five-shot groups. My handloads averaged just under 2.5 inches. Interestingly, the thicker-walled Norma cases produced significantly more velocity with the 27.0-grain charge of IMR 4320 propellant than the necked-down, thinner-walled Hornady cases.
Worn butter-smooth after more than 100 years of use, my sleek Model 99’s action worked smoothly and fed ammo beautifully. Recoil was minimal, and balance was wonderful.
I confess I had more fun shooting the .22 Savage Hi Power than I’ve ever had with a Savage Model 99—and I’ve always loved 99s. Now I’m hoping to call in a coyote close enough to perforate with this veteran rifle.