I assume every hunter has a favorite rifle. I know I do.
I’ve had lots of rifles that were special to me over the years. But one particular rifle is definitely my number one. It doesn’t have good long-range accuracy-it wasn’t designed for shooting great distances. It’s a one of a kind, and it really is beautiful. It’s special because my friend Ron Coburn had this rifle custom made for me at Savage Arms. The rifle is a Model 99 Savage chambered in .300 caliber.
A long story goes with this particular rifle, as with any favorite gun. Since I was a child, my favorite rifle was the Model 99 Savage. My father hunted with his all the time and I can remember that I wanted one of those lever guns forever. Maybe it had something to do with watching cowboy movies.
But time gets away from us all and I sure didn’t have a need for a Model 99, as I have several safes full of different guns. But every time I’d be cruising through the local gun shows, I’d spot old 99’s and I’d reminisce about the good old days. It seemed like every time my father would fire his model 99 he’d lay an old buck out.
Ron Coburn is the CEO of Savage Arms and I am fortunate enough to work for him. His leadership and vision is a model for others and he is hands on with the development of new Savage products. While many firearm manufactures have seen a decline in business over the past few years, Savage has seen increases year after year. Many understandably attribute this growth to the Savage product line. First and foremost, I attribute it to Ron Coburn.
I was invited years ago to the Savage factory by Ron to build my own rifle. I could have built any Savage I wanted to – that is, any Savage that was currently in production. I asked at that time if I could build a Model 99, but the answer was no. 99’s haven’t been in production in years.
Ron had invited me to actually build my own rifle so I knew first hand what it took to do so. From the recoil pad to the muzzle, I put a Model 116 Weather Warrior in .270 caliber together (with some help from his factory machinists) and have taken lots of animals, big and small, with it. Most recently, I took a moose in Alaska with it on video.
On a hunt several years ago, Ron joined me to go after Javelina using a bow. Ron was not a bow hunter at the time, but that just goes to show you how determined Ron is at experiencing all kinds of hunting. He’d seen me “arrow” different animals over the years and knew it must be exhilarating so he thought he’d give it a try. Although he didn’t succeed in getting a Javelina that trip, he did surprise me by giving me my prized rifle.
My wife and Ron had conspired to get the rifle made and he’d brought it down to the hunt for a surprise without me knowing it. Ron did surprise me all right and I will never forget how happy I was when I opened the box.
Ron told me, “This is the last model 99 Savage that will ever be built. I brought back the man that used to build them in order to build it for you. Because some of the parts used to build this rifle are no longer available, we had to machine them from scratch.” I gave him a big bear hug and admired the gun.
The Turkish walnut stock has the most beautiful grain and finish on it. The safety mechanism and trigger are gold, and on each side of the receiver, it is engraved. On one side in the deep blued receiver it has a beautiful bull elk on it and on the other side a mountain lion. He even had my signature engraved on the side of the action.
I told Ron that it was so beautiful that I couldn’t ever use it because I’m tough on guns. I told him, “I’ll scratch it or mess it up somehow. I can’t use this gun. It’s going into my safe and I will forever cherish it.” He reply shouldn’t have surprised me, “If you don’t use it then you can’t have it. If you get a scratch on it, send it back and I’ll fix it. I gave it to you so you will use it.”
With that said, I made plans – I wouldn’t use it unless Ron and I were hunting together and it seemed only fitting that I hunt elk and mountain lion in order to honor the engraving on the gun. In New Mexico on a hunt where Ron joined me, I took my first animal with my new Model 99. It was a nice bull elk and was a fitting way to break in my model 99.
After that hunt, I cleaned the rifle and put it in the safe and only took it out occasionally to fondle it. Each time I held the rifle I looked at that engraving of the mountain lion. And I knew that I needed to finish breaking the gun in some day and I couldn’t do it unless Ron was on the trip with me.
Savage is always coming up with new innovative products that literally change the way other firearm manufacturers build their guns. Example: the Accu-Trigger revolutionized triggers by having a safe simple trigger that could be easily adjusted without the need to see a gunsmith. The Accu-Stock features a composite stock that is molded around an aluminum rail making the fore end where it doesn’t flex at all and the receiver is seated in an aluminum channel where it doesn’t have any movement in the stock at all. This combination of Accu-Stock and Accu-Trigger has made Savage the most accurate out of the box production rifles I have ever shot.
I own a couple of custom rifles that have been made for me through the years and neither of them will out-shoot my new Savages.
One of Savage’s newest rifles is the model 11 Lightweight Hunter. This lightweight rifle is perfect for the hunter that struggles to carry heavier guns. Weighing around 5 1/2 pounds, this model 11 rifle is a tack driver.
Each year Ron and I try to get together and spend some time hunting. No matter where we go, or what we go for, it is always fun and always an adventure. This past February, the hunt we planned on doing was a mountain lion hunt.
All arrangements were made and we met up in the high country of Montana. This hunt would prove to be challenging beyond measure. Waist deep late winter snow had moved the deer herd to lower ground and locating a lion track proved to be next to impossible.
This hunt was the perfect place for Ron to use the new Savage Model 11 Lightweight Hunter. It was also the perfect place to complete breaking in my Model 99.
The plan was Ron was on deck first. After he downed a lion (or left without one), it would be my turn. The weather was perfect but after two days of covering literally hundreds of miles looking for a track off snowmobiles, Ron’s time was up. He had to head back to the east coast for business. But I had two days left.
Ron boxed up the Model 11 and gave instructions for the outfitter to ship it back. He wished me luck and was off. The next day proved much the same as the first two days. No lion tracks.
Day four things changed. The outfitter took off around 4:00 am on a snow machine looking to find a track. By 6:30 he burst through the door and said, “Get your stuff. We got a hot track.” By 9:00 am the dogs were running on the cats trail and within minutes we could hear they’d treed the cat. Now the hard work began. We had to get to the dogs.
By 4:00 pm we made it to them and the cat was perched about 20 feet off the ground on a horizontal limb. Getting to the tree was exhausting and I kept thinking that maybe if I was carrying Ron’s Lightweight Model 11 I wouldn’t be so exhausted. Literally, every ounce counts when you are in country like that. But I’d made a decision to complete breaking in the Model 99.
We caught our breath and got the video cameras rolling. It was chaos beyond belief. Dogs were going nuts and their bellowing was deafening as it echoed through the canyon walls. I pulled the model 99 out and suddenly felt like stepping back in time. I opened the action and quickly shoved the short cartridge (it was chambered in .300 Savage) into the chamber and slid the safety on. “Don’t shoot until the cat offers a good shot, I don’t like people shooting them when they have their shoulder blade covering up their vitals,” my guide said.
The dogs were tied to the closest tree in order to protect them should I make a bad shot. The last thing a hounds man wants to do is to allow his dogs to quickly jump in on what could be a wounded and quite pissed off mountain lion. This is especially true with archery lion hunters. Arrows may not get a clean pass through and an arrow shaft and broadhead sticking out of an animal poses a huge risk for dogs.
The dogs were now tied, but they certainly weren’t quiet. They knew what was about to happen and they were loving it. They’d waited seven hours for us to make it to them and they were worked up big time. When the lion presented the shot I squeezed the trigger and the lion fell instantly and landed within a few feet from the base of the tree. The guide was yelling over the sound of the dogs for me to get ready and shoot again if necessary. I instinctively reloaded the Model 99 and never had to take my eye off the target. The lever action allowed me to keep target acquisition without any down time.
There was no need for another shot. The lion was now dead. The dogs went wild and were now bellowing like never before. They were released and they all joined together over the dead lion celebrating our good fortune.
I too celebrated by kissing my Model 99 and falling to the ground to catch my breath. What an incredible experience. I only wish Ron could have been with me. But I can assure you that I will be rubbing it in that I got to shoot his cat. I can also assure you that we are already discussing plans for another trip soon.
My Model 99 is now fully initiated into my gun collection and although I’d love to use it more often, it appears that my next “must-shoot” rifle is going to be Savage’s Model 11 Lightweight Hunter.
We are making this hunt into one of our programs and it will broadcast nationally on Pursuit Channel. Our shows also broadcast 24/7 on our website @ keithwarren.net.