Loading Vintage Savage Rifle Rounds
They May Seem Obsolete, But All Deliver
Pretty Darn Good Performance, Even By
Today the four Savage rounds named the .22 Hi-Power, .250-3000, .300 and .303 are rarely chambered in new rifles, but over the past century they’ve appeared in millions of rifles, both in North America and Europe. It’s probably safe to say, however, most appeared in the famous Savage Model 99 lever-action before production ceased in the late 1990’s.
a collector’s item, but even most collectors prefer to shoot theirs, and there’s a certain status in shooting 99’s chambered for the Savage cartridges. If somebody wants to shoot their .22 Hi-Power or .303, however, handloading is almost a necessity; no North American company manufactures this ammunition anymore.
The .22 Hi-Power is still fairly common in Europe, where it’s called the 5.6x52mmR. The original load was a 70-grain bullet at around 2,800 fps, making the round just about perfect for roe deer and other smaller game, and the rimmed case works well in break-action guns, especially drillings. Norma, Sellier & Bellot and Wolf all make ammo, and Norma makes brass, and all are sometimes imported here. But even if none of those are available, the .22 Hi-Power is basically the .25-35 Winchester necked down, so cases can be made by simply running .25-35 brass into a .22 Hi-Power die. In a pinch, cases can even be made from .30-30 brass, though intermediary dies are necessary due to the significant decrease in neck diameter.
Bullets aren’t a problem, either, even though the groove diameter of .22 Hi-Powers is a nominal 0.227 to 0.228 inch. Hornady offers a 0.227-inch diameter 70-grain InterLock spire point, though this bullet doesn’t always shoot very accurately in Savage rifles because it’s primarily made for the European market, where many more rifles are presently used. Most European rifles have rifling twists of around 1-turn-in-10 inches, while the original Savage rifles have nominal 1:12-inch twists. I emphasize nominal because older Savage 99’s were rifled on sine-bar machines, and the twist could vary somewhat. Many old Savages won’t totally stabilize the Hornady bullet, though some will.
If not, common 0.224-inch bullets shoot well in Savages with decent bores. Often, however, .22 Hi-Power dies won’t hold 0.224-inch bullets firmly. One solution is to remove the expander ball from the sizing die, leaving case necks tight enough to hold the smaller bullets, though this requires a separate de-capping die. You can also neck-size Savage cases in a .22-250 die.
The .303 was the original Savage cartridge, appearing in the Model 1895 in that year. The case is similar to but not identical with the .30-30, and in the past decade or so several companies made .303 Savage cases—including Bertram, Norma, and Privi Partisan. Winchester produced ammo until a few years ago, and factory loads can sometimes still be found, but the older ammo is starting to become so valuable to collectors it doesn’t make sense to shoot it up.
In a pinch, cases can be made from .220 Swift or .30-40 Krag brass. Swift brass is easier, since it only needs to be necked-up, trimmed and sized, but some 99’s won’t eject the cases reliably, since the rim is about 0.04-inch smaller in diameter. I once made .303 cases from Remington .30-40’s, turning down the rim considerably and the base of the case slightly, trimming to length and outside-turning the neck. They worked fine, but obviously required considerable work.
Other than the case problem, the .303 Savage is easy to load. Despite the name it uses 0.308-inch diameter bullets, and the powder capacity and pressure level are the same as the .30-30 Winchester. In fact, I once measured the water capacity of fired Winchester .303 and .30-30 cases with a 170-grain Speer roundnose seated to the cannelure, and they came out exactly the same to 1/10th of a grain!
Just load typical .30-30 bullets with .30-30 data and you’re good to go. Due to the 99’s rotary magazines you can also use spitzer bullets, though they don’t shoot noticeably flatter than roundnoses at typical iron-sight ranges. (I don’t remember ever seeing a scoped .303, though undoubtedly some exist. Today, most Savage lovers consider it a crime to scope an old 99.)
Most newer .250-3000 Savages have 1:10-inch twist rifling and can
stabilize bullets over 100 grains. Eileen Clarke took this non-typical
Wyoming pronghorn with a custom .250 by Charlie Sisk with a 115-grain
The .250-3000 is so good rifles are still chambered for it on occasion, both by factories and custom gunsmiths. Remington makes ammo, and Remington and Winchester make .250-3000 brass seasonally, but it’s often scarce. Many handloaders, however, neck up .22-250 brass, both because it’s abundant and because the quality is usually better. Ammo companies tend to use case-forming dies for low-demand cartridges even after they start to wear out, but replace dies for popular cartridges more frequently. The shoulder angles of the .22-250 and .250-3000 are slightly different, but not enough to matter. Just run ’em into a .250 die and load ’em up.
The only difficulty with loading the .250 is the varying rifling twist rates. Early 99’s used a 1:14-inch twist, adequate for stabilizing the original 87-grain bullet, and a 1:14-inch will also stabilize shorter 100-grain spitzers such as the Speer Hot-Cor, along with the 117-grain Hornady roundnose. But the slow twist can be marginal with longer 100-grain spitzers—or even the Speer and Hornady. Due to the aforementioned variability of sine-bar rifling, one of my old 99 .250’s actually had a 1:15 twist, and wouldn’t stabilize any spitzer over 87 grains.
Most .250’s made after about 1960 have 1:10-inch twists—but not all. (I once owned a Model 70 Winchester “Lightweight” from the 1980’s, with the traditional 1:14-inch twist.) A 1:10-inch twist will stabilize any 100-grain bullet, even the Barnes Tipped TSX, and most 115- to 120-grain bullets, though I’ve never gotten the fanciest accuracy with heavier bullets. That’s really no big deal, since accuracy’s always been adequate for big game out to normal ranges. In bolt-action rifles, powder charges can be increased a couple of grains. Such loads aren’t dangerous in 99’s, but can cause sticky extraction, and cases will stretch enough to be ruined after a few firings.
The .300 Savage presents the fewest reloading problems of any of the Savage rounds. Federal, Hornady, Remington and Winchester still make ammo so brass is relatively easy to find. The standard 1:10-inch twist stabilizes any bullet suitable for the round, and due to the moderate case capacity dozens of powders work well.
Cases for the .303 Savage are the hardest to find,
but can be made from .30-40 Krag brass.
The only problem sometimes encountered is with handloaders who decide they must turn their .300 Savage into a more powerful cartridge. When the little round was introduced in 1920, its ballistics were meant to approximate the pre-World War I ballistics of the .30-06, but back then it was easy due to rapid advancements in smokeless powders. Today it can’t match the .30-06 or even the .308 Winchester.
However, newer powders can provide slightly more zip for the old round. One of my favorite all-around combinations is Alliant Reloder 15 and a 165-grain bullet for 2,600+ fps. This may not sound like much in the 21st century, but for those hunters who never shoot big game beyond 250 or 300 yards, it will do the job on elk or moose or most other animals around the world.
Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through www.riflesandrecipes.com, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness
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