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The .22 Savage Hi-Power and other mistakes
by Harry O 

Somewhere in the Pacific, late in WWII, my father traded for a pair of Japanese 7.7mm bolt action rifles and shipped them home. Both had the chrysanthemum markings ground off as required and he had the papers to make it legal. One was an early-war model with nice machining, a uniform browned finish, a monopod, a complicated "airplane" rear sight, and a bolt cover that rattled every time I cycled the action. The other one was a late-war model that did not have the extras, had a two-piece glued stock that was coming unglued, and it almost looked like the barrel was threaded on the outside. I guess by then, they did not bother to do anything more than rough machine the outside. 

My father never shot them. When I got old enough (in the early to mid-1960's) he agreed to let me try the better of the two. I bought 5 rounds of ammo at a gunshow (at an outrageous price – at least compared to .22LR’s) and tried them at the range. It kicked a lot more than my fathers 30-30. Besides, there are very few guns that are more ugly than an Ariska. I did not care for it at all. He agreed to let me trade them off for something I wanted more. 

I was looking for something that I could use for medium and small game. I could use his 30-30 for deer (or maybe move up to his .270 Winchester in a few years). For small game, I liked my Marlin 39A in .22LR, but wanted something that would reach out farther. Eventually, I ran across a Savage Model 99 takedown model in .22 Savage Hi-Power caliber. A centerfire .22; just what I was looking for. It was in exceptionally good condition with rich bluing, great wood, and sharp checkering. It obviously had not been used very much. I have always liked lever actions and this was a particularly good looking one. The owner was willing to trade. So, I traded both Jap rifles and some cash (I think it was $40) for the gun. 

No tools were needed to dismantle the gun. The forearm had a small "T" shaped metal piece on the bottom. You moved it forward or backward slightly and the forearm would come unlatched and it could be removed. Most of the take-down Savages I have seen in recent years are missing this piece. It was never intended to be left in place like some people evidently did. It was intended to be kept in the gun cabinet except when you needed it to unhook the forearm. It did not lock in place and could easily fall out as you walked through the woods. And, it looks like a lot of them did. After the forearm was removed, you grabbed the barrel and rotated it 1/3 of the way around and then pulled it forward. The barrel had relatively few, very large, almost square, interrupted threads. This gun went together and came apart smoothly, but without any looseness that could be felt. It looked and felt like a winner. 

The first minor problem was getting ammunition. No place in town had any. Things were not like they are now. The only mail-order house that I knew of back then was Herter's and, according to their catalog, they did not have any either. I went to a gunshop near home and the owner agreed to order some ammunition for me along with a set of reloading dies, as long as I paid in advance. It took about 2 months for the ammunition to get here and 3 months for the dies. 

The ammunition was four boxes of CIL-Dominion brand from Canada. A total of 80 rounds. That is not very many, but I knew I would have some reloading dies soon. I took a box to the range and used a little more than half of it to sight in. The groups were neither outstanding nor terrible. I did notice that there seemed to be a stretch mark halfway around the case, about 1/4" above the rim. I had never seen that before, but instinctively knew that it was not a good sign. 

When I got the dies, I started sizing the cases. The first one cracked completely through during sizing. Definitely not good. I tried the others. Some cracked and I was afraid of the others. I tossed them all away. I took the gun to a nearby gunsmith and had a talk with him. He suggested that it had excess headspace. I took the gun apart for him and he looked at it a while. Then he said that with the large, square, interrupted threads, he could not set it back one thread and rechamber it like most rifles. There was nothing he could do. He suggested that I try shooting a few cases straight up so that they would fireform in place instead of stretching. I tried that without any success. I think the firing pin drove the cartridge forward regardless of where it was pointed. I had not heard at the time (and nobody told me about) the trick of loading long bullets set forward to engage the rifling. I later found out that it might not have helped anyway. 

I did learn that you could form 25-35 cases or 30-30 cases into .22 Savage Hi-Power cases. I didn't have any 25-35 cases, but there were plenty of 30-30 cases around. I sized the 30-30 cases directly with the .22 Savage sizing die. I lost a number cases that way, but it was no big deal since I got most of them free and the rest were inexpensive. It worked best to take it slow, back out often, and use a good lube. Don't worry about lube dents. They disappear on firing. I also tried annealing. A light anneal helped, but too much annealing was just as bad (or worse) than no annealing. It would have probably worked a lot better if I had a short .25 or .270 caliber sizing die to use between the 30-30 and .22 Savage, but I didn't. The only one I had access to was a .270 Winchester sizing die and it was too long to use on the 30-30 case. 

The necks were thicker than normal when I got done reducing them down to .22 caliber. I did not have anything to machine them with, but that was not a problem anyway. The .22 Savage Hi-Power used 0.227" to 0.228”OD bullets. There were none to be had unless I was willing to wait for months for a special order again. I had waited long enough. I wanted to shoot it NOW, so I used readily available 0.224"OD bullets. The thicker neck and smaller bullets more or less compensated for each other. I love it when a plan comes together. I used cannelured bullets and crimped them solidly because I could not count on uniform neck tension. When I shot them, they were no more accurate nor less accurate than the factory loads. Keep in mind that the factory loads were nothing to brag about. 

The 30-30 cases lasted for the initial shot and one or sometimes two reloads before they cracked during sizing. Still not a very long lasting case, but at least I could afford to keep feeding it 30-30 cases. I thought about saving up for a scope, but the mediocre accuracy of the gun and the time that it took to keep it supplied with cases was such that I decided to cut my losses and get rid of the Savage. It took a few years, but it wore me down. 

Fast forward to just a few years ago. I bought Ken Waters' "Pet Loads" book, a reprint of his articles that were published in Handloader magazine. After reading about all the calibers I was actively loading (and learning something new about each one of them), I turned to the calibers I was no longer loading. The very first one was the .22 Savage Hi-Power. Mr. Waters article started out with; "The .22 Savage High Power is the most frustrating, exasperating, even obfuscating (I had to look that word up) rounds that I've ever had the misfortune to tangle with." He went on to say that he shot three Savage Model 99's for the test and ALL THREE of them gave stretch marks with factory ammunition at the very same place mine did. Also, all three were fixed barrel versions, not takedown like mine. He had all of them checked out and they did NOT have excess headspace, either. Mr. Waters' had a theory that the base of the case (diameter) was made too small when compared to the chamber. Why this was done is anybody's guess.

My theory is a little different. My brother-in-law has a Model 99 in .22 Savage Hi-Power (fixed barrel version) that he had completely rebuilt a few years ago. He inherited it from an Uncle who raised him. The rifle had been used a lot and not stored very well. It was the only thing he ever inherited, though, so when he had the extra money he found a gunsmith to rebuild it, refinish the wood, and reblue it. While this was being done, the gunsmith told him that the bolt face was not quite square. As part of the rebuild, the bolt face was squared up. The gun now looks almost as good as the one I had. And, the rebuilt rifle does not stretch cases. Of course, neither one of us know for sure if the rifle stretched cases before it was rebuilt. From all the information I have, though, I believe that for some reason, the jigs and fixtures for this gun were a little bit off. A number of them were probably built with off-square bolt faces. That is what I think caused the stretching. Remember, this is just my theory. 

Back to Ken Waters’. He tried forming cases from 25-35 cases and still had the same problem. Then he tried forming them from 30-30 cases. He had a little better luck with them since the case/base diameter was 0.003" larger than the factory loads. They lasted for the initial shot and one or two reloads. After trying 0.227"OD bullets, he also tried .224"OD bullets. He got about the same results as I did. Not as bad as you would expect, but not very good either. He ended the article with; "With close observation and careful handling, the .22 Savage High Power can furnish both pleasurable and accurate shooting. IT IS NOT, HOWEVER, A GOOD CHOICE FOR THE CASUAL HANDLOADER" (emphasis is mine). I think he was being charitable. 

So 25 years after I got rid of the gun, I felt a little better about it. It was not just me. 

Flashback to the past again. I took the gun to a citywide flea market at the civic auditorium shortly after I decided to get rid of it. I put a sign on it, "for sale or trade" and walked around. I doubt that you could do that now. A guy came over and looked at the gun. He had a Judson Supercharger for a 1200cc, 40hp VW Bug. It just so happened that I owned a used 1962 1200cc VW Bug at the time. According to the instructions that came with the supercharger, all the pieces were there; blower, pulley, oil jar, low profile air cleaner, offset carburetor linkage, carb jets, and the hardware to bolt it all together. We started dickering. I had a higher price on mine than he had on his. He did not want to throw in any money, so I kept the reloading dies (he was not a reloader anyway) and also kept the ammunition (I had even offered him the ammo at a discount). We traded even up. 

I ran into the same guy again several months afterward. He was a little bit miffed. He said that I didn't tell him that he couldn't get ammunition for it. I said that I still had three boxes of original factory ammunition left. They were the same ones that he had turned down before and I was willing to sell them for what I paid (which was higher than my earlier offer to him). He refused again. Talk about stubborn. I wonder if he ever got to fire it. 

I put the Judson Supercharger on my Bug along with a J.C. Whitney extractor exhaust and a camber compensator (another $40 or $50 at the time). It completely changed the car. It went from something that could not get out of its own way to something that could just barely keep from getting run over by little old ladies in 6-cylinder sedans. I still had to stay out of the way of V-8 sedans, though. The car would do 92 miles-per-hour flat out, up from a little over 70mph before supercharging. Driving a VW at 92mph must be a lot like balancing on a unicycle at 92mph. Twitchy, especially in gusty wind, but its the kind of thing you do when you are young and stupid. The engine got totally worn out in about 20,000 miles of supercharging (about 55,000 miles since new). It was in need of a total rebuild, but nothing ever blew. The clutch was pretty well shot, too. It was fun while it lasted. 

Right then I was set to enter a big-name college. They had so many people apply that year (the babyboom generation goes to college) that they raised the tuition 10% or so at the last minute. I couldn't have a car as a freshman anyway. So I removed the supercharger, sold it and the car separately. Also sold my reloading outfit and my guns except for the Marlin 39A and an H&R .32 Long revolver. I was just able to make up the difference. That was my biggest mistake. The next year, they raised tuition 10% or so again. Part time work during the year and my summer job fell short. I had nothing left to sell. I transferred to a local college and finished my degree, but I no longer had the two Jap rifles, the Savage Model 99, the VW Bug, the Judson Supercharger, my reloading equipment, my other guns, or a degree from a big-name college. 

Oh, well. I still have the memories

Harry O







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