It is somewhat funny that I am following up on the Savage 99 review with a post about another weapon that featured largely in "Joe Kidd" and one that is also something that I have wanted since I was a kid. Unlike the Savage, though, I never thought I would acquire a Mauser C96; much less one with a shoulder stock holster. Thanks to some very generous folks and maybe a little karma I now own this C96 made in 1918 and the matched holster/stock.
While it is in shooting condition I am not going to touch off a round untill I swap out the springs (especially the recoil spring) with new kit from Wolff. That process will be a topic for another post in a few days.
In advance of that I'll trot out a few points about the Mauser C96. While the Borchardt C93 can claim to be the first commercially produced semi-auto pistol it would have to stand on the Schönberger-Laumann's shoulders just to kiss the C96's ass.
An early proponent of the C96 was Winston Churchill who carried one right around the time he stated "Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result".
The platform was amazing for its time and, in many ways, would be noteworthy today. The 7.63x25 round it was chambered for still qualifies as a scorcher. Compare an 85 grain .30 pill at 1450-1500FPS in 1896 to a 9MM +P+ 90 grain "extreme" defense load at 1550 FPS in 2019. What a difference 123 years makes.
Look for more details and a range write-up to follow in the next few days.
P.S- The C96 was the platform used for Han Solo's blaster.
P.P.S- I don't give a fuck if Han shot first but if he didn't then he was a chump.
The first time I can specifically recall seeing a Savage Model 99 was in the movie “Joe Kidd” when I was 7 years old or so. I had already started reading everything I could get my hands on about firearms so I was able to identify the Mauser C1896 on display but I didn’t know what to make of that sleek lever action Robert Duvall was sporting. I corrected that knowledge gap most ricky-tick during my next trip to the library. My love for the Savage 99 has never flagged since then although actual trigger time has tempered my affection a teensy bit.
Before getting into the specifics of the Savage Model 99 I should square away some details to put the platform in perspective. In 1886 the French military put the world on notice that there was a new game in town when they rolled out the 8MM Lebel rifle round using smokeless powder. Beyond the whole “smokeless” thing the real news was the vastly higher pressures generated by the new powder which resulted in much higher velocities. This was a tectonic shift in firearms technology the likes of which that hadn’t been seen since the percussion cap and, to a lesser extent, the advent of cased ammunition.
The black powder era had relied on launching the biggest chunk of lead possible in what was, in the best case scenario, a parabolic trajectory that offered gold at the end of quite a rainbow. With smokeless powder velocity skyrocketed and trajectories flattened. There was a limit, though, to how well a chunk of old style lead could tolerate high velocity. It wasn’t long before folks realized two things.
1. If you didn’t want to turn your rifle‘s barrel into a smoothbore in a few rounds you’d want to find some way to coat that lead with a jacket of material hard enough to not get scoured off by the grooves in the barrel.
2. It was no longer necessary to rely on a big ole fat ass chunk of lead to handles one’s business. A smaller projectile moving at 200% faster velocity would make your target just as sick at a much greater range with a much flatter trajectory. The way to get to that increased range and flat trajectory was to utilize a jacketed bullet design that was quite a bit more pointy than its predecessors; in 1898 or so the “Spitzer” bullet was developed to meet that need.
At this juncture you may be wondering what all of this this has to do with the ding dang lever action you signed up to read about in the first place. I can surely empathize but a certain degree of context is crucial to fully appreciate the story being told.
There were 2 direct impacts that the smokeless powder revolution had on the lever action scene with one having more material implications than the other.
1. Smokeless powder had operating pressures far beyond anything experienced to that point and the only games in town in 1886 for a repeating lever action that would digest high tension rounds (by black powder standards) were the Winchester 1886 and the Marlin 1881.
2. Beyond operating pressures there was a fundamental issue that no repeating lever action platforms of the day were equipped to address; namely those pointy ass spitzer jacketed bullets. The tubular magazine that was the sine qua non of the repeating lever action was, well, a tube that stacked one round on top of another. Having an aggressively pointed bullet resting against the primer of the next round in the tube is, as one might imagine, a sub-optimal proposition that could readily turn your smoke pole into a Roman Candle. That isn’t even close to as fun as it sounds even if you asked somebody to hold your beer before you demonstrated it.
In light of these two limitations the introduction of the .30WCF (also known as the .30-30) in 1894 is not exactly a shocker. Beyond being stoked with smokeless powder the round nosed soft point ammo didn’t really do anything in terms of long range performance beyond barely stretching the envelope of the tubular magazine fed lever action platform. To be fair, though, it must be acknowledged that .30-30 ballistics and a lever action platform have been the vector for quite a few cases of lead poisoning in the last 124 years.
The Winchester 1895 was an effort to address the inherent limitations of the tubular magazine by incorporating a box magazine that stacked the rounds one atop the other. Teddy (AKA Teethadore) Roosevelt was a notable 1895 enthusiast (especially in .405 Winchester) but I have to say that, for what little I know it is admittedly worth, I don’t share his opinion. I’ll grant that the platform’s ability to accommodate a stripper clip and high tension rounds was a plus but I feel that it fails in virtually every other respect. The most glaring (pun unintended) example of this failure is that it had an open topped receiver that largely, if not entirely, precluded the use of a technological advance that went hand in hand with high velocity jacketed bullets; the telescopic sight. To further complicate things the balance of the rifle was thrown off by the magazine and recoil has often been cited as being excessive. Recoil is, simple physics notwithstanding, a subjective thing but I can say, objectively, that the platform is in my humble opinion (but not so humble that I’m keeping it to myself) as ugly as sin.
Before I go on to laud the relative beauty of the Savage Model 99 I reckon I should address the important stuff like the mechanics of the platform and the rounds it was chambered for. The Model 99, and the ammo it ate, was a serious deviation from what was the lever action status quo.
1. The first obvious feature of the platform is the lack of an exposed hammer. There were three immediate benefits to this.
A. Decreased Lock Time- Lock time is, essentially, the distance a weapon’s hammer or striker needs to travel before the process of cartridge ignition begins. Distance equals time and time is at a premium when one is setting off a controlled burn of a high tension fuel source to propel an object at high velocity. As hard as it may be to believe little stuff like this really matters. While advocates of shooting (myself most certainly included) can be a pretty coarse lot our pastime is one that that embraces precision on a religious level. The lock time of the Savage 99 with its internal hammer was both an obvious and big ole improvement over the external hammers of the competition.
B. The lack of an external hammer allows for a more streamlined profile and makes the platform a bit safer since there isn't an exposed hammer to catch on brush or whatnot and possibly (lottery ticket odds) touch off a round causing issues with putting unintended holes in stuff that would be best left in a hole free status.
C. The internal hammer absolutely set up this platform for an efficient use of optics; which no lever action repeater of the day (or the next few decades) could claim. Marlin at least offered a solid topped receiver but the Savage still wins on this because the lack of an external hammer allowed mounting an optic as close to the bore axis as possible absent placing the optic in the bore itself which would cause some difficulty for all involved.
2. On the topic of optics; the solid frame receiver and side ejection of the Savage Model 99 placed it in the rarified air of being the only lever action game in town that could manage the rapidly evolving technology of both ammo and optics. Truth be told Marlin was knocking at the door but the Savage 99 was the only one that could combine the horsepower of the new smokeless rounds with the “leverage” to maximize them.
3. The rotary magazine of the Savage 99 was a much more elegant approach to the notion of stacking rounds with pointy-ass spitzer bullets than any of the competition could come up with. The closest contemporary would be the Winchester 1895 and the design (stripper clip accommodation notwithstanding) was so far behind that I might have already name checked it a time or two.
4. The Savage 99 came with a loaded chamber indicator and a round counter; nobody, near as I can tell, did that back in the day. Was it some kind of a “Nanny State” thing or a common sense response to a design that made it difficult to see if a round was in the chamber and the weapon was locked and loaded? I know how little I care about other folks’ take on the situation and the measures I take to address what I see to be a shortcoming of the platform but I will say that while I appreciate the feature I would chamber check my 99 religiously. Truth be told I feel like there are worse approaches to life than the one that can be summed up in two words; “Chamber Check”.
5. The safety on the 99 was placed in about as ergonomic a spot as possible for the platform and was, again, years ahead of the competition.
6. While I’ve talked about the design features of the Savage 99 that were way ahead of its day I haven’t talked about the ammunition. If the 99 was "fashion forward" the ammo was "fashion fast forward". The 99 was known to eat a lot of proprietary rounds but , in the overweening interest of my profound laziness, I’ll restrict my discussion to the 2 rounds that serve to illustrate its place at the top of the heap.
A. If Charles Newton’s creation of the .250-3000 Savage didn’t set the world on fire in 1915 it sure threw a few matches on the kindling by being the first factory round to exceed 3,000 Feet Per Second with a reasonable payload (a 75 or 80 grain bullet).
B. In 1920 Savage rolled out the .300 Savage that was, pretty much, the blueprint for the 7.62X51MM (.308 Win) that came out 3 decades later. The fact that Savage was roughly 30 years ahead of the military speaks, to me, about a corporate culture that placed a premium on innovation.
My particular Savage 99A hails, by my estimation, from the mid-1950s. I base this on it being chambered in .308 Win and having a rotary magazine, loaded chamber indicator, and a round counter. It may well be a slightly later model but my aforementioned laziness has, to this point, precluded me from exerting the energy to determine its birthday so I’ll just run with the info I have decided on.
The case hardening on the receiver is sweet and I like the looks of the Schnabel fore-end. That last detail has nothing to do with me making jokes about Schnabel fore-ends back in the day. Yes, I am such a gun nerd that Schnabel was a word I was well aware of before my 11th birthday.
The specifics of this platform are-
Unloaded Weight -6 lbs. 9 ounces
40 Inches overall length
19 Inch Barrel
3 lb. trigger pull.
5 round magazine
The iron sights are a pretty standard folding rear buckhorn with a reasonably precise gold bead ramp front. Sight adjustments are about par for the course for a lever action that is closer to the term “octogenarian” than pretty much anyone would prefer. The elevation options on the rear sight are, to put it bluntly, absolute shit. The front sight is drift adjustable for windage which is all kinds of fun for nobody other than the target. For the uniformed that means you take a chunk of metal (a punch) and whack on it with a larger piece of metal (a hammer) to move the point of impact left or right. I have got the iron sights adjusted so the elevation is on at 50 yards but right by a couple of inches. I am not interested in whacking on that front sight so it will remain the way it is.
To be fair to the sights I strongly suspect that by the time my rifle got built optics were the standard choice and the iron sights were a bit of an afterthought intended as a back-up. A receiver mounted peep sight would no doubt do wonders for the rifle’s performance but it still churns out 5 shot 50 yard groups in the 1 to 1.5” neighborhood. Or at least does so for the first 5 rounds. The barrel heats up pretty quick and groups open up even more quickly but are still well within the minute of pie plate that is practical hunting accuracy. I have read reviews that cite the recoil as being excessive off a bench but I have not found that to be the case at all. The poor design of the iron sights is far more of an impediment to meeting the rifle’s potential than recoil is.
Speaking of impediments to meeting the rifle’s potential I am somewhat saddened to report that there are a couple of issues that will relegate the Savage to the role of “Safe Queen” until I correct them. The first is that the rifle does not feed surplus ammo with any degree of reliability. More often than not the bolt seizes up and requires an absurd amount of energy to cycle; like dismounting the rifle and placing the butt plate between your feet and yanking on the lever (with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction). This may very well be dealt with by giving the chamber a serious deep cleaning but ultimately isn’t that big a deal since this is a hunting rifle so what really matters is how it handles sporting ammo like Remington Core-Lokt 150 and 180 grain loads. The upside is that extraction of those rounds has been flawless.
A much more serious issue and the one that will relegate this rifle to range use only is that the ejector is prone to pop out of the groove it rides in if the action is briskly cycled (like setting up a quick follow up shot) and completely binds the action of the rifle. This is unacceptable in a hunting rifle and something I hope to be able to correct.
There are three things I need to address with this rifle and I’ll list them in order of importance.
1. The situation with the ejector has got to be corrected because even though the Model 99 is a fine lever action it is a piss poor single shot.
2. A decent set of optics will do wonders for this rifle. I suspect that it is probably a 1.5 MOA platform if given a chance.
3. Running FMJ surplus ammo is a non-starter but also a non-issue since this is not a plinking rifle.
At the end of the day I am glad that I own this rifle and, minor disappointments notwithstanding, it is a beautiful and classic bit of American firearms history.
Thanks to a marketing campaign that was second only to Colt’s relentless self-promotion Winchester successfully positioned their lever actions in the 19th century popular imagination as “The Gun the Won the West”. This claim was and is demonstrably false with a better case easily made for two generations of big bore single shots earning that lamentable accolade. “Plains rifles” like the Hawken and later “buffalo rifles” like the Sharps and Remington Rolling Block are not, however, the topic today.
While Winchester’s first marketing victory was in print advertising they really cemented the notion by virtually cornering the market on the Silver Screen. This marketing genius would make the lever action (meaning Winchester) the “American Rifle” and further lead the casual observer to think that there were essentially no lever actions beyond, in order of screen time, the 1894, 1892, 1873, 1866, 1885, with the 1895 very much bringing up the rear.
At the risk, if not the certainty, of being pedantic I’ll point out that the pump action is the truly unique “American” rifle design as the lever action (albeit in single-shot format) was also a European thing. That, however, is a conversation for another time; what I would like to talk about now are a variety of other lever actions that have not gotten the popular press that they should.
Some, like the Marlin 36 and 336, are every bit as popular by sales volume as their Winchester counterparts. The Savage Model 99 was literally decades ahead of the competition in both design and the rounds it was chambered for. The Browning BLR is, in a lot of ways, the logical evolution of the Savage Model 99. We’ll even look at Winchester’s 20th Century redheaded stepchild the Model 88. We’ll also look at the Marlin 1894C and 1895. While I would like to include the Ruger 96 series and the Sako Finnwolf (a lot like the Winchester M88) I don’t have access to those platforms and prefer to write about what I can actually touch and shoot.
This project will take place over a series of posts. I reckon I'l start with the Savage Model 99 and then just meander along as whim or, heaven forfend, logic dictates.
I am an unabashed fan of the Springfield XD platform and have been for the last 15 years or so. I am also a huge fan of sub-caliber conversion kits. (the photo to the right of this post is me dumping a magazine through an AR conversion kit) . It is amazing to me that there is not a huge business providing conversion kits but I guess there aren't enough industry folks out there with 2 clues to rub together who can figure out that there is, you know, a market to be catered to.
In any case what we are here to talk about today is the Advantage Arms .22 conversion kit for the Sringfield XD . There are 2 issues I have with this kit..the first is that it is stupid expensive and the second is that it is the only game in town. Seriously...is there nobody out there that can step up and offer an alternative?
One issue I absolutely don't have with the kit is how it performs. Despite the manufacturer insisting that it will only work with high end .22 ammo I have had no problems with it using the cheapest .22 ammo out there. The fact that the cheapest ammo is 4 or 5 cents a round is a topic for a rant on another day.
I really like that the kit fits the holslers I carry and (try to) compete with and , more importanty, the magazines fit standard mag carriers. This alllows for quality training.
The kit is also pretty accurate and comes with fully adjustable sights. I have not made any adjustments yet and have only shot offhand but the results are fairly good so far.
10 yard offhand groups with the cheapest .22 I had in the ammo locker. The Armscor did really well and the Remington Thunderbolts did OK as well even if the POI was a few inches below POA The blue-green blob is some chewing gum I stuck on the target as an aiming point (Appalachian engineering) to try and get a frame of reference for the Remmy bargain basement ammo. Considering that this ammo was specifically name checked by the manufacturer as being a no-no I was surprised that it ran flawlessly and grouped fairly well.
I left out a couple things when I wrote up Pap's piece. The most glaring is that this design lacks a transfer bar safety so it should never, ever, be carried with a full cylinder since a stout enough external blow to the hammer (as might happen if it were dropped) could cause a round to touch off. This is pretty much lottery ticket odds but if one is actually toting a R-101 then loadiing 8 rounds and leaving the hammer down on an empty chamber would be the prudent way to go.
Now that I have gotten the public service announcement out of the way I can move on to the other thing I dropped the ball on.. ..pictures of the sight modifications.
At the risk of being "Caption Obvious" I'll point out that this is the silver dime repurposed as a front sight.
A kind of crappy picture of the rear sight lined with brass. It was really hard to get a good picture which actually speaks to how hinky this rear sight is. This, and the grip, are the limiting factors for this platform.
Pap's pistol in its natural environment. The paper target has 18 rounds offhand rapid fire single action at a bit over 15 yards and 1 round double action offhand from 40 yards . Rapid fire in this case being as fast as I could acquire the sights and cock the revolver. The 20 Gauge shotshells were shot at from 15 to 20 yards offhand single and double action.
My grandfather James Marion “Bud” Mast was a man of slight stature and mild demeanor yet he cast a very long shadow indeed. His capacity for work was almost as legendary as his reputation as a raconteur (or racoonteur if you will) and prankster. While nobody could truly claim Bud’s stories as their own (or tell them half as well) I do own a couple of his things that I treasure; a banjo made for him by his good friend Stanley Hicks and a .22 revolver. I can’t coax a sound out of the banjo that doesn’t recall the groundhog skinned to make it but I can get that .22 to sing once in a while so I reckon that’s what we’ll talk about today.
The High Standard Sentinel was sold as an inexpensive .22 “plinker” and defensive revolver from 1955 until ~1984. Pap’s pistol is a 22 ounce aluminum framed model R-101 that shipped from the factory in 1957 with a 6” barrel. By 1968 or so someone had applied a bit of what I like to call “Appalachian Engineering” to the sights (but more about that later). The first thing that one would notice about the pistol is that it is a bit worn but not at all that badly considering that it is over 60 years old with many, many thousands of rounds sent downrange.
The most glaring scar it has is one that it shares with almost all early R-101s made without a spring-loaded ejector rod. At some point or another the cylinder swings closed (generally after dumping empties) with the ejector rod extended and the frame gets scratched. Once one looks past that and some holster wear at the muzzle and a bit of pitting on the cylinder a switched on observer might notice that the front sight has been replaced with a polished silver dime. Further examination would show that the rear sight notch has been opened up a bit and then lined with brass. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket surgery to figure out how one might switch the front sight out for a dime but I have always wondered about the process involved with lining the rear sight notch with brass. Over the years I have had older shooters comment on the pistol when I had it out at the range back home. Apparently the dime as a front sight was not unheard of but they had never seen the rear sight modification.
The platform was already inherently pretty accurate but these bits of hillbilly ingenuity really kick it up a bit. Every action, however, has an equal and opposite reaction so it should come as no surprise that the sight modifications do come with a cost. Shooting paper can be a little bit of a drag since the tiny rear sight notch can get lost on a black bullseye at 15+ yards. Having said that the combination of that shiny dime and the brass lined rear sight really, really work on practical targets in good light. A shotgun shell at 15 yards off hand has more than ample reason to be nervous when Pap’s .22 makes an appearance and a soda can targeted at 50 yards from the kneeling position would be much, much happier at 75 yards.
Even with the sights and 6” barrel, nice though they may be, these shots would not be happening without a very good trigger. I have never fired another Sentinel so I don’t have a frame of reference other than reputation; which is that the trigger could be pretty good out of the box. I do know what the trigger on mine is like. Perhaps there was some work done on it way back in the day or maybe the action just got polished through firing a gazillion rounds. No matter the cause the effect is a pretty damn good trigger for an aluminum framed bargain .22 DA revolver.
The double action pull averages a very smooth 9 lbs 8.5 oz and stacks just enough that better than decent results can be achieved if the shooter totes their end of the log. In theory a DA pull this light should be a recipe for disaster in a .22 LR but in thousands of rounds I can’t recall more than a few failures to fire. The few I do recall were from batches of ammo that were also failing in a variety of other platforms (Remington Golden Bullet I am looking at you). The single action pull averages a very crisp 2 lbs 6 oz and while it is not a target trigger it will certainly do until one shows up.
This revolver, like all of us, is not without its flaws. The grip is way, way too small and shifts around quite a bit in the hand. I suspect half of shooting this revolver well is adapting to and overcoming this shortcoming. The rear sight would certainly be a lot easier to acquire if it was a bit wider and would make the shooter’s job easier to do. Having said that there is no way in Hell that I am going to mess with Pap’s pistol. If I do my part and account for its eccentricities this little .22 always does its job and has never let me down over the 25 years that it has been a cherished, and heavily used, part of my gun collection. There are many firearms (damn near everyone them in fact) in my collection that would carry a higher price tag but there isn’t one of them I value more than this bargain basement aluminum framed oddity. I look forward to passing this revolver on to my nephew and PIC James so that he can then pass it on to another generation.
A lot of folks judged my grandad based on his appearance only to find out that they had woefully underestimated him. The same can be said for his .22; its humble and eccentric appearance conceals a real ability to perform and it is truly unique. Although I can think of many instances where people’s expectations were subverted an anecdote about when I got my NRA pistol instructor’s certificate will suffice. The other folks in class shot the qualifier using a Ruger .22 target pistol. I split my qualifier between Pap’s pistol and a 4” Ruger Security Six in .357 Magnum. There was some barely contained derision thrown at Pap’s piece until I put 9 rounds in one hole. I didn’t shoot as well as the folks with the expensive target pistol since I threw one round from the .357 but Pap’s pistol, as always, had my back.
Thanks for stopping in and checking out my page. I have been into shooting almost as long I can remember. I was 4 years old the first time I pulled the trigger on a firearm; my grandfather’s Mossberg .22 (that I still have). While the point of aim was a pie plate the point of impact was an innocent lettuce plant about 2 feet to the left of the target. I have been a student and devotee of the firearm since that day and have worked hard on improving my shooting. I can say, with no small degree of pride, that I never shot another lettuce plant; not even that one mouthy arugula in Marin County.
Though it may come as a bit of a shocker, my intention is to discuss all things shooting related from a slightly different perspective. If there is one thing that folks who like to shoot like even better it is talking about shooting. Whether it is revolvers vs. semi-autos (yes I am that old) to the 6.5 vs 6.8 there is always a lot to talk about. Although I am not a contrarian I do have some opinions that don’t cleave to the mainstream and I look forward to discussing those among the myriad other topics that are available.
My first article will be a comparison of the Marlin 336 and the Winchester 1894 and why I feel that the Marlin has always been the better design unless we are talking about the Winchester Model 88 but that is a topic for another day.
Thanks for checking out the site. This blog is new and under construction. Check back later when there's something to show. To be featured will be firearm and shooting supplies reviews and articles, general thoughts on gun rights, my favorite shiny things, and how-to articles and videos.
I've been shooting since I was a kid and I hold the following certifications: NRA Pistol Instructor, NRA Rifle Instructor, and NRA Range Safety Officer. Currently, I'm working on competing in IDPA matches and the NRA Marksmanship Certification Program.
Too "gun show" for the hippies, too "hippie" for the gun show, I'm the misfit liberal gun nut in the crowd. Probably the only one. Stick around if you are pro-choice on everything including the right to own guns or can handle an opposing view on things.