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Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Jeff's Outfitters" Ladder Sight on the Savage 99E

Reproduction Carbine Rear Ladder Sight. Originally used by Winchester (73,86, 92 & 94), Marlin and other manufacturers. Requires 3/8” dove tail.
Jeff's Outfitters

I mentioned earlier that my ‘99’s rear dovetail was cut crooked and I didn't think I'd be able to use this sight on it. Well, I dug that sight back out and noticed that there was a LOT of meat on the dovetail. A light came on...I was going to have to fit it anyhow, so why not 'fit it crooked the other direction' to make up for the funky dovetail? So I gambled sixty bucks and it worked. I'm sure somebody with a calibrated eye can find a half-degree or two of discrepancy, but it's significantly better than before.

The first order of business of course was to get it to shoot and changing the back sight resulted in some experimentation with various front sights- which further resulted in nearly a box of nice WW .308 factory loads being sent to POI's ‘other than the selected one'.
When the rain finally broke I was able to get in enough shooting, to get the windage ironed out. Just at dusk I shot the neck off a laundry jug, and hit another one about an inch lower, at 210 paces. About a half-dozen similar containers have now been exploded at this distance, from various improvised rests. I believe that satisfies my requirements for 'hunting zero'.

As it worked out, the big V 'hunting notch' got cut down to a little v. It works nice with a fine 'ivory' bead, using the same basic sight picture as my 1911- level across the top. It is fast and natural for an old pistolero.

Now for a few more photos…

The old 99E in all its budget glory; thin brown Decelerator pad, Michael's swivels, Three-Dollar gunshow sling and Jeff's Excellent Ladder Sight:

The Winchester Ladder sight from Jeff’s Outfitters was nicely machined, finished and bore a dark, even blue that was even better than the ad photo. Of course, getting it from ‘there’ to ‘here’ required some hammer & file work; the sight's dovetail had to be re-cut at the proper angle to compensate for the crooked dovetail, in the Savage's barrel. It is nothing that a little cold blue won’t fix.

Some of that ’file work’ included bringing the top of the hunting notch down about 0.020, so it would regulate at 200 yards. Please note that the dovetail lock screw, shown in the photo below, was also perfect when I received it. These screws have a very fine slot in them. While I had a screwdriver on hand that fit it, the bit was brittle and when it broke it buggered that screw- so that screw got some corrective file work, too. I managed to get a little oil on one side of the notch in this pic, which looks odd. Otherwise, the sight's finish survived the installation just fine. I figure I’m about one light file stroke from a perfect 200 yard zero with the hunting notch, and once that's confirmed I'll apply touch-up blue to the sight..

The fine, ‘long range’ notch works perfectly with a 1/16 ivory bead, over a 15 ¾” sight radius. The elevation mast is clearly marked in precise increments, and the long-range notch is held in place by a strong leaf spring built into the notch itself. Please excuse the filings that I forgot to blow off the sight;)

And finally, this pic illustrates why the 99/.308 suited me better than a traditional ‘woods gun’. It’s about 250 yards to the evergreen tree-line just above the barrel, at the right of the frame. I killed a decent 8-point out of there last year, at about 212 yards. The trees just below the skyline are nearly 400 in the center of the frame, and an easy 550 off to the right. The deer, coyotes and an occasional bobcat seem to think this is an amusement park. Of course we would get ‘closer’ to shoot at any of them, but 200+ yards is a normal shot here and 350 isn’t out of the question.

Happy Sabbath to you all & I hope your Easter Sunday is great!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The 99E's First 'Fly in the Pancake Syrup'...

I mentioned earlier that I'd mounted a fine front bead on this gun, to replace the 'witch nose' that came on it. The existing front sight sat pretty far to the right, so when I mounted the new one I centered it neatly in the ramp. To get the rifle 'on' however I had to move the rear sight far to the left, to the point that the sight even hung slightly out of the dovetail. I didn't think much of it at the time, because bent sights are a common malady with old guns that have seen some use. With the initial chronograph work done and the aforementioned ladder sight on the way, I decided to yank the old rear sight out and see how badly it was bent.

I've got an old drill sizer that has a nice machinist's rule built into it. It is 0.020 thick, about 3x6 and has four perfect, square edges on it. Using that device, I checked the 'bent' rear sight several different directions and it checked straight- and perfectly square to the sight's dovetail. This was not looking good. I was having visions of bent barrels or off-center sight ramps, and my 'bargain 99' going across the table at the next gun show.

I figured a good way to check the barrel and ramp mounting was to back out two plug screws in the receiver, line the slots up with the barrel,and then lay the machinist's rule in the screw slots...once that is accomplished, you have theoretically established the centerline of the receiver. You then sight down the straight-edge and see if your front sight is leaning off to the left or right of it. I was relieved to find my front bead practically halved, when sighting down the straight edge. This confirms that the front sight ramp is mounted correctly, dead-on with the top centerline of the receiver.

There was only one place left to look and that was the rear dovetail itself. Squaring the long straight edge in the bottom of the dovetail revealed that it was significantly out-of-square with the centerline of the barrel, and it was consistent whether the front or rear edge of the dovetail was checked. I'm guessing this gun was made the day after the 1970 Christmas party, and that maybe the guy on the dovetail cutter that day had a bad hangover- or maybe a lampshade still on his head?

This of course ain't the 'end of the world'. The problem only manifests itself with rear sights that extend back from the dovetail. A fold-down leaf sight, such as the Marble's offering, would put the sight leaf directly over the dovetail and the problem would scarcely be noticeable. Mounting a receiver sight would get around it entirely. I haven't decided which yet but I'm sure of one thing- this rifle is not a candidate for a ladder sight, and I'll have to re-live my misspent youth with another gun. Oh well. Ammo & component prices are ridiculous, and I'll probably save quite a bit by avoiding shots at 5-gallon buckets, 600 yards distant.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

More Early Shooting with the Savage 99

I fired a few more shots this AM to get an idea of what I might expect in accuracy/velocity from this .308 with its 20" barrel. Shooting was done early with the temp hovering at 16 degrees and a 10 mph west wind in my face. Yes, it was cold enough to be distracting and all the other standard excuses apply- iron sights, old watery eyes, old glasses, too much coffee, etc.

I have been buying up a few boxes of Winchester 150 grain Power Points. Bejing-Mart has an ample supply at the moment and they are priced within a few cents of WW .30-30 ammo using a similar bullet. This provides some 'get acquainted' ammo and WW's rifle brass has worked fine for me in other calibers; Power Point factory loads have been sure killers on game.

Winchester rates this particular .308 load at 2820 fps, no doubt from a 24" test barrel. From the 99's little 20" tube, my Chrony BetaMaster says '2708 fps' average for three shots, six feet from the muzzle. I am not in the least disappointed. I have a light, handy .308 that still produces within about 100 fps of Winchester's figures, for their 150 grain factory load. I believe I can live with that. It also tells me that I can stick with the 150 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips I have been loading in .30-06, and still expect good results on deer within any practical hunting range for the .308 cartridge. I scoot this same bullet to 2944 fps from Peg's .30-06 and it is a grenade on chest shots, inside 250 yards. 'Toning it down' to 2700+ from the lil' Savage won't hurt the performance on game at all.

The three chronographed shots, plus a couple of others, were also directed at an 8" picnic plate 210 yards downrange. The 99's creepy trigger caused me some aggravation and a couple of the shots were called flyers. The good news is that I called the flyers correctly, and that the three 'good' shots were kind enough to herd themselves into 2 3/4" inches. This is plenty good under the conditions and consistent with my best, repeatable 200-yard shooting using iron sights, under the best of conditions. The logical conclusion is that my Savage 99 has all the accuracy potential I can use. I'm kind of anxious to get a good piece of glass on it, to see what it's capable of.

But I wouldn't think of glassing any rifle until the irons are entirely sorted out. I shot a little high today, which is of no consequence since the rifle is awaiting a new rear 'ladder' sight.

I'm generally pretty practical about my guns, but I made a little exception in this case. Some of the best fun I had as a kid was with old military Rolling Blocks, Springfields & SMLE's, hammering stuff way out there using the ladder sights. So, I've decided to add a little something to make this a 'fun gun' as well as a practical one. Once that is on and centered I'll match up a front bead that will get it 'on' at 200 yards. Then over time, I'll shoot at various ranges it out to 800 yards and mark correlating index points on the elevation slide. Shots beyond 350 yards will be relegated to 'fun' shooting.

So far, so good. I'm getting respectable ballistics and accuracy from a classic rifle design, which requires almost nothing in additional reloading components or equipment to 'keep it fed.' It's about to get a classic sight added to it. I think the 'cool factor' may be headed right off the chart.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The 99 Savage 'Magic Gun'

This particular specimen is the 99E-for 'economy'-but I don't care. I've always had an affinity for 99's and it finally caught up with me the other day. They are not exactly 'svelte' but they do a lot of things pretty darn well- and they suit my style of rifle work to a "T".

I love the fact that you squeeze near-06 ballistics into a package that carries about like a 94...speaking of which, I could never quite warm up to that 94AE so it got horse-traded into this one. Where I hunt these days 350 yards is a reality. Last hunting season, I caught myself wishing for something that shot flatter/hit harder than the Winchester, out beyond 200 paces. You can sling a 99 too, without worrying that the lever will flop open. A fine bead, some swivels and a set of mounts will make this one field-ready in short order. I think in reality this is pretty close to what Jeff Cooper envisioned with his Scout Rifle concept.

Me & the Savage 99 have a history togther. I had one in .308 about 23 years ago but the mount holes were drilled just enough out of line that it would kick the scope loose in about 10-12 rounds. I used it with irons anyway and clean-killed a chicken stealing fox with it at a shade over 350 yards- on the run. It just kept making good shots for me so the 99 has held 'magic rifle' status ever since. Suffice it to say that am glad to have one standing in the corner again.

I've had a couple of evenings to fiddle with this thing now...the stock & forend were both loose, so I peeled 'em off and put a little oil where no oil had obviously been for several years. Both the striker & sear had grunge/corrosion on them, so I ran a hard stone across them just enough to clean that up. This alone helped the trigger quite a bit.

The front sight on this 99 was a nasty-looking bronze affair; bead looked like a witch's nose and kind drooped off like it'd been bent. It was also way too tall, per the Marble's chart. I dug around and found a .310 white bead that fit the ramp, but the dovetail was oversize so the needle-punch & Loctite were needed to correct that. The bore & chamber were swabbed & both look good. The gun was reassembled and stood in the corner, muzzle down.

I ran the first five rounds of WW 150 Power-Point down the pipe this AM, just to get the irons halfway zeroed. The range road is too muddy to haul the table & trappings down there, so I was shooting seated on a 5-gallon bucket, using the wobbly 1x3 yardage stakes as a 'sort of' rest. I was using a Champion '100-yard Smallbore' target with an 8" bull, with a little red dot in the middle.

I fired one round off the 25 yard stake, which lit 5" out at 2:00. The rear elevator was all the way down so I yanked it out & tapped the sight a tad to port. I held real careful at 6:00 on the bottom edge of the red dot & fired again. A .30 caliber hole appeared in its exact mathematical center. Yee-haw!

Encouraged, I packed my bucket & trappings back to the 100 yard stake and sat down. That stake is wobbly but I shot twice anyhow. The end product was two holes in the black, 2" above and 2 1/2 " either side of the red dot. I was glad they were bulls- and the way I was wobbling around I can hardly blame the rifle for the spread. Hmm... 2" high at 100 should be about right for 200... believe I'll recut the bottom notch in the sight elevator to allow the rear blade to bottom out, unencumbered.

It was time to see if all this theory would actually translate into 200-yard hits, on three-dimensional objects. My back sidewalk is a shade over 210 yards from the target frame, so I set a blue, 100 oz. laundry jug on the ground directly in front of it. With one round left in the magazine, I trudged up the muddy clearcut toward the house.

I have an old dilapidated folding table out back, whch serves as my 'portable outdoor workbench & game butchering table'. One of Peg's little antique benches got commandeered for a place to sit. I hadn't brought anything out to shoot over, but there was a 1# coffee can of Briggs & Stratton parts nearby and it served as a place to rest my hand & the forend. Only then did I discover that I had placed the jug in such a manner that I could only see the bottom half of it, against the grass. The top disappeared against the assortment of targets & stuff stapled onto my backstop.

At this point laziness saved the day...I wasn't walking 400 yards just to move that blasted jug. So I acquiesced to 'the passing of time' and fetched an old pair of prescription specs. At least I could see enough of the jug to put the bead on it now, which is what I did as I carefully pressed the trigger until the recoil surprised me. The sights looked right, the table didn't collapse and my coffee-can rest didn't fall over. I was at least confident that I had hit the backstop, instead of killing a tree in the scrub timber behind it. I levered the last empty out and left the rifle open on the table.

Scanning the ground for a low or wide impact, I approached my target. Seeing none, I walked up on it and found a neat, 30 caliber hole in the jug, about 2" up from the bottom and 2" right of center. I probably yelled 'YES!!!' but won't admit to that unless someone has video... it ain't every day you swap front sights, and within five shots you are punching head-sized targets at 200 yards.

I told you these 99 Savages were magic guns ;)