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The 300 Savage: A (Nearly) Perfect Mid-Range Hunting Cartridge

The old Savage 99 in .300 Sav is still one of the greatest deer rifles of all time. But that won’t stop the cartridge’s very long, very slow demise
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300 savage
The authors Savage 99 in .300 Savage. Photo by Alex Robinson

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In many ways, the .300 Savage is the perfect medium-range, big-game cartridge. It fires either a 150-grain or 180-grain bullet at practical velocities and does so without generating uncomfortable recoil. It brings plenty of terminal performance to cleanly kill deer, elk, bears, and moose to ranges of about 300 yards. It was chambered in a wildly popular rifle that was handy in the woods and a joy to shoot. It’s acceptably accurate for hunting purposes.

But as we head toward the .300 Savage’s 105th birthday in 2025, we continue to witness the cartridge’s long, very slow demise. That’s because in 1952 an even more perfect medium-range, big-game cartridge was introduced—the .308 Winchester.

Happily, the .308 hasn’t killed off the .300 Savage even after all these decades. So before we get into why the .300 Savage is inevitably headed for that great deer camp in the clouds, let’s dig into what made it great and why it’s still effective today. 

300 Savage Specs and Ballistics

300 savage specs
The .300 Savage is a compact, .30-caliber cartridge.

Photo by Alex Robinson

  • Year Introduced: 1920
  • Parent Case: .250 Savage
  • Bullet Diameter: .308 inches
  • Neck Diameter: .339 inches
  • Case Length: 1.871 inches
  • Overall Length: 2.60 inches
  • Case Capacity: 52.5 gr H2O
  • Max Pressure: 47,000 psi
  • Bullet Weights: 150 grains; 180 grains
  • Velocity: 2,630 fps with 150-grain bullets; 2,350 fps with 180-grain bullets

Here’s a look at ballistics data of the two .300 Savage loads, one with a 150-grain bullet and one with a 180-grain bullet. Both are input with a 200-yard zero and a 10 mph wind speed. As you can see, both bullets shed velocity and energy very quickly after 300 yards. 

300 savage ballistics
Here’s a glance at .300 Savage ballistics with a 150-grain bullet and 180-grain bullet. Both tables are set for a 200-yard zero and 10 mph crosswind.

Federal Ammunition

History

Modern riflemen might look at the ballistic performance of the .300 Savage (aka .300 Sav) and scoff. By today’s standards this geezer might seem slow and underpowered. I just can hear my fellow Millennial hunters commenting now: “That’s cap, my 6.5 Creed has more energy at 300 yards.” 

And they are right. But to understand what makes the .300 Savage cool you must understand the niche it was designed to fill. Back in 1920, Arthur Savage intended for the cartridge to provide similar ballistic performance to the .30/06 but from a short action platform. According to the Ammo Encyclopedia: “In this they succeeded and the .300 Sav became a popular choice for medium game hunting.”

300 savage vs 30/06
From left: .300 Savage, .30/06 Springfield, .30/30 Winchester.

Photo by Alex Robinson

More specifically, Savage wanted a sexier .30-caliber round for their Savage Model 1899—that iconic lever-action rifle with an internal hammer and rotary magazine that would become known simply as the Savage 99. The idea was to increase velocity in a short case, so they necked up and slightly shortened the .250 Savage case, and the result is a cartridge with a steeper shoulder (30 degrees) and a very short neck (.221 inches). 

The .300 Sav was a more potent .30-caliber option for the Model 1899, which was previously chambered in .303 Savage (among others). The .303 Savage fired a 180-grain bullet at only 2,140 fps. 

Lever-actions still ruled the day, and now Savage had a cartridge/lever gun combination that would smoke the .30/30 Winchester and even approach .30/06 performance in bolt-action rifles (or at least the .30/06 performance at the time). Remember that the original military .30/06 cartridges firing ball ammo propelled a 150-grain bullet at 2,700 fps, or only about 70 fps faster than the .300 Sav. 

Hunters loved the Savage 99 chambered in .300 Sav and business boomed for decades. Savage reportedly sold almost one million 99s until they ceased production around the late 1990s. 

As for the .300 Savage cartridge, it took a big hit in popularity when the .308 Winchester was introduced in 1952. Also a short-action cartridge but with more case capacity, the .308 brings more velocity, more energy, and less drop at distant ranges than the .300 Sav. Even Savage saw the writing on the wall and chambered the Model 99 in .308 Win. Plus, there was no stopping the trend of hunters favoring bolt-actions over lever guns. 

savage 99
The Savage 99 in Scientific America.

Via Wiki Images

Even though a variety of bolt actions were chambered in .300 Savage, today’s popular production rifles are no longer chambered for the cartridge. With the rise of modern cartridge design, you can find far better options for mild recoiling cartridges that are effective at the longer shooting distances often required in Western big-game hunting. 

A few years ago I was at a media event at Savage’s headquarters in Massachusetts and a writer asked the company’s CEO: When would they be bringing back the Savage 99? The response was something like, probably never. The design of the rifle was too complicated and required too much hand fitting to efficiently produce in large quantities at a reasonable price today, they said. So there will be no new 99s in .300 Savage. 

But you can find them on the used market easily enough. And because of the great streak that the .300 Savage and Savage 99 had for decades, you’ll still find many of the rifles being put to use in deer camps all over the Upper Midwest and Northeast.  

Accuracy

300 savage accuracy

The other reason that you’ll find 99s in .300 Savage in action as deer hunting guns is because they are still ideal for most whitetail scenarios. An old, used 99 in .300 Savage was my very first deer rifle (I started deer hunting just as the 99 was taken out of production). My dad chose the 99 for me because of its close range effectiveness, its manageable recoil, its handiness in the stand, and because he wanted me to learn how to shoot iron sights. It didn’t hurt that he had found a used one at a good price. After I had killed a few deer (and maybe missed a couple) with open sights, we eventually had the receiver drilled and tapped for mounting a scope. I have fond memories of that rifle being a tack driver, at least by the standards we hold for vintage rifles and first deer guns.

Recently, I decided to revitalize my old rifle with a new LPVO. I mounted a 1-6X24 Leupold patrol on the gun and took it to the range along with a few boxes of ammo to see if it actually shot as well as I remembered. 

I shot eight five-shot groups and recorded an average group size of 1.878 inches. Not bad. I shot two loads: Remington Core-Lokt PSP and Federal Power Shok, both in 150 grains. I found my rifle liked the Core-Lokts just a little better, printing an average group size of 1.7 inches with that ammo. 

Will this kind of accuracy win me a precision rifle tournament? Certainly not. But it’s more than enough for deer hunting in the woods where most shots will be inside 100 yards. For reference, if the rifle were able to keep up this accuracy average, it would land right in the mix with the top affordable .308 rifles. In terms of accuracy it would even compete with some modern mid-priced rifles (see staff writer Tyler Freel’s in-depth review and accuracy testing of the best mid-priced rifles in .308).  

My point is that I don’t feel disadvantaged when I take my old 99 into the deer woods. No, it won’t outshoot the high-end rifles and the optimized cartridges of the day, but I don’t need it to.

Read Next: Best Lever Action Rifles 

Ammo Availability

See It

As we approach the .300 Savage’s inevitable sunset, finding ammo for it isn’t as easy as it used to be. While Remington, Federal, Winchester, and Hornady all list .300 Savage factory loads in their offerings, I could only find available options from Remington and Federal. 

When I was a kid, I could walk into any sporting goods store and find a few boxes of .300 Savage, but that’s no longer the case. As a little experiment, I recently called all the big sporting goods stores in my area of Minnesota to see if any of them had .300 Sav in stock. Not a single one did. I was able to easily find Remington and Federal ammo available online, but only 150 grainers. Also, .300 Savage ammo now costs about $70 per box.

Cynics will say that ammo companies are too busy shoving new cartridges down our throats and don’t spend enough time making ammo for the rifles we already own. But  as our shooting editor John B. Snow says, the reality is just the opposite. Ammo makers produce what’s selling, and these days the .300 Savage has fully transitioned from a go-to hunting load into more of a novelty round. After all, those of us who have rifles chambered in the cartridge don’t shoot them that often. 

“I have a case of .300 Savage, and that will last me for the rest of my life,” Snow says. 

300 Savage vs Its Competitors

For a time the .300 Savage sat nicely between the .30/30 and .30/06, but eventually the .30/06 Springfield pulled away as its performance was improved with more modern technology. Then the .308 arrived on the scene and outdid the .300 Sav in all metrics. Today, there are more intriguing cartridge choices than all four of these old codgers, but for hunting purposes they all still get the job done. Here’s how modern 150-grain versions of each cartridge stack up against the .300 Sav. 

300 Savage vs 30/30 Winchester

300 savage vs 30/30
The .300 Savage (left) vs .30/30 (right).

Federal Ammunition

300 Savage vs 308 Winchester

savage vs 308
The .300 Savage (left) vs .308 Winchester (right).

Federal Ammunition

300 Savage vs 30/06 Springfield

300 savage vs 30-06
The .300 Savage (left) vs .30-06 (right).

Federal Ammunition

Old Timers Love the .300 Savage (and I Do Too)

Who knows how much longer the .300 Savage will hang in there, but we should hold off writing its eulogy. For the time being, the .300 Savage remains as undead as the old gun writers who love it and the rifle it was chambered for.  

300 savage deer rifle
The author’s first deer, taken with a Savage 99 in .300 Savage.

Photo by Alex Robinson

“The first big-game rifle I ever got my hands on was a Model 99 in .300 Savage,” wrote Field & Stream’s legendary rifles editor David E. Petzal. “The 99 combines most of the virtues of a bolt action with the strong points of a lever gun. How do you beat that?” 

“Yes, I adore the Model 99 — and in truth can’t say I’ve ever needed more cartridge for hunting on this continent than our first .300,” wrote longtime outdoor writer Wayne van Zwoll.

“Even in my early years of hunting in the late sixties, lever actions seemed to fill the gun rack in every deer camp. The most popular was the Winchester Model 94, usually in .30-30, and this rifle dominated the deer woods. While the 94 was the gun for the masses, the gun guys, the hunters who ‘knew stuff,’ had a different pick. The Savage Model 99 rifle was often their choice,” Bryce M. Towsley wrote for Outdoor Life.

For a lot of hunters in the Baby Boomer generation, the Savage 99 in .300 Sav was the rifle of their childhood. Even though I’m two generations younger, it was for me too. No amount of ballistic advancement will water down the nostalgia we feel for that rifle and cartridge. 

However, when I look ahead a decade from now, I don’t see my daughter hauling around a 9-pound, .30-caliber rifle on her first hunt at the family deer camp. But maybe after she’s killed a few deer (and missed a couple, too) she’ll want to shoot that old 99 in .300 Savage. I’ll have a few boxes of ammo saved for her.