By Glenn Barnes
I shivered uncontrollably inside my heavy hunting coat and waited impatiently for the sun to rise. Opening morning of deer season in North Carolina usually is not so cold. Soon, I heard the sounds of birds and other animals coming to life. Glancing up, I noticed a flock of geese hurrying south for the winter.
As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, I began to see creatures large and small on the large soybean field. At least 20 does, followed by a cadre of frisky yearlings, were working their way toward my stand. I laid my rifle across my backpack and raised my binoculars to get a better view.
Surrounded by thick woods and near irrigation canal, the field is a magnet for deer. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a reflection of light, turned my head and caught sunlight bouncing off the tips of shiny antlers. Two hundred yards away, walking belly-deep in beans, was one of the finest 8-pointers I’ve ever seen.
I watched, mesmerized, but not so entranced that I forgot about the rifle in my hands. Settling the crosshairs of the 3-9x scope behind the deer’s shoulder, I squeezed the trigger. The Remington Model 700 in .300 Savage bucked, launching a handloaded 150-grain Sierra spitzer bullet on its way.
Savage Arms Co. introduced its classic cartridge in the Model 99 lever-action rifle in 1921. The upstart round was powerful, intended to deliver ballistics on the heels of the .30-06 Springfield. Factory .30-06 loads pushed 150-grain bullets to 2,700 fps. The .300 Savage was 100 fps slower with the same projectile. The Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 Win was 600 fps slower than .30-06 factory loads shooting the same bullet.
The Model 99 platform was well suited for the .300 Savage. It was rugged, strong, precise and extremely reliable under the most adverse hunting conditions. As a bonus, the cartridge could be easily chambered in America’s newest love interest, the bolt-action rifle. Don’t forget, hunters of the 1920s were just beginning to realize the true potential of bull-strong turnbolt rifles.
It wasn’t long before Savage decided bolt guns were the way of the future and chambered their models 20, 40 and 45 in .300 Savage. Not to be left out or outdone, Winchester subsequently included the .300 Savage in its the popular Model 54 and Model 70 bolt actions. Remington soon followed suit, cranking out a few bolt actions, pump guns and semiautos for the new cartridge. The future looked bright for the .300 Savage.
In Western states where lever-action rifles and carbines ruled, the Model 99 in .300 Savage was right at home. Gun writing guru Jack O’Conner, in his acclaimed “The Rifle Book,” had this to say about the cartridge: “Throughout the West, the Model 99 Savage in the .300 has been a best seller for a good many years. Back about 1941, more .300 Savage rifles were used on an Arizona antelope hunt than rifles of any other caliber.”
O’Conner went on to tell of an outfitter friend who had taken four running bucks with four shots using the .300 Savage. With a burgeoning track record for success and O’Conner on its side, it’s little wonder the .300 Savage was destined for success.
Westerners weren’t the only hunters to discover the advantages of the .300 Savage. Eastern hunters found it ideal for hunting thick cover where bears and big whitetails roam. It offered power and precision, and did so with a minimum of fuss and recoil. Life was good for the .300 Savage.
Then on a dreary day in 1952, Winchester delivered a blow that left the .300 Savage staggering and bleeding, never to fully recover. That was the year Winchester unveiled its newest cartridge sensation: the .308 Winchester.
The .308 Wni case is slightly longer than the .300 Savage’s, 2.015 inches versus 1.871 inches. That doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but the additional case capacity allowed ammo factories and savvy handloaders to push bullets faster than the .300 Savage could safely muster, and do so with excellent precision. Increased muzzle energy and a flatter trajectory were the direct result, and Savage’s little prodigy soon fell by the wayside.
For years, the .300 Savage has clung to life by the barest of threads, and it wasn’t long before gun companies, one by one, dropped this wonderful cartridge from their lineup. Even Savage Arms Co. finally saw the light, laying the nascent number to rest amidst much howling and gnashing of teeth. The rest of the shooting world failed to notice its demise, and if they did, gave it scant notice.
Today, the future of the .300 Savage is again looking bright, thanks in no small part to the ever-increasing numbers of savvy hunters and shooters who appreciate its advantages. New rifles chambered in .300 Savage aren’t exactly growing on trees, but if you care to shop around a bit, locating one isn’t difficult.
Aside from its legendary game-downing abilities, the .300 Savage has an excellent reputation for accuracy, a fact most of us consider a necessity in the field. Over the last 85 years, ammo companies have had plenty of time to experiment with every conceivable load combination, and their investments have paid off. Today’s hunter can choose super-accurate .300 Savage ammo made by Winchester, Remington or Federal with specialty bullets in weights ranging from 150 to 180 grains. If you’re a handloader, creating loads for the .300 Savage is quite simple. A wide variety of suitable powders along with a smorgasbord of premium bullets are available.
Using a .300 Savage is kind of like reaching into the dark recesses of your closet and pulling out an old pair of hunting boots and slipping them on. Sure, they’re a bit run down, but mighty comfortable, and just like the .300 Savage, you know they still have a few miles left in them. If you’re fortunate enough to try a rifle chambered for this wonderful cartridge, by all means give it a workout. You won’t be disappointed.
Reprinted from the August 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.