Vintage Rimfire: Savage Model 1903

Vintage Rimfire: Savage Model 1903

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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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


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.


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.

Recommended for You


Shooting Times Father's Day 2019 Gift Guide

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Shooting Times editor Joel Hutchcroft provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day...


Review: Smith & Wesson Model 19 Classic Revolver

Joel J. Hutchcroft - March 08, 2019

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 is back in production after being on ice for almost two decades.


Review: Remington Model 700 PCR

Sam Wolfenberger - April 15, 2019

The Model 700 PCR is a long-range rig built for punching paper, ringing steel, and hammering...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Moving and Shooting

Most gunfights are fluid and it's likely that you will need to move. Here are some precise methods for moving and shooting.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”


Share the Handloading Experience

Lane Pearce - May 19, 2019

The joys of handloading are many, and one of them is sharing the experience with a novice.


FNH USA Announces 5th Annual FNH USA Midwest 3-Gun Championships

Shooting Times Staff - September 23, 2010

The FNH USA Midwest 3-Gun Championships kicks off at 8 am on Friday, May 21.

See More Stories

More Rifles


Gibbs M1903A4 Springfield Sniper Rifle

Joseph von Benedikt - June 20, 2019

The Springfield M1903A4 was the first sniper rifle issued en masse to the United States armed...


Browning X-Bolt Pro Review

Sam Wolfenberger - March 25, 2019

Sam Wolfenberger tells all in this Browning X-Bolt Pro review.


Review: Hi-Point Model 1095TS Edge

Steve Gash - February 26, 2019

Just right for hunting, plinking, and home defense, the semiautomatic Hi-Point 10mm carbine is...

See More Rifles

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.