A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Savage 87A

Every once in a while, even a savvy pawnshopper gets beat, or at least falls to the siren song of a firearm that is going to be a bum deal. Such was the case when I drove fifty miles to visit a dusty Mom & Pop pawn shop I heard was closing down. Click to enlarge Pop had a couple of overpriced Smith & Wesson revolvers for sale. No doubt he was planning on keeping them, but he wanted Ma to think he was trying his best, so he had them underneath the glass. Along the long gun rack were a few shotguns and a tube magazine fed 22 rifle. I asked to have a look at the rifle.

It was a Savage 87A, and the cooling vents surrounding the bolt intrigued me. "Damned fine rifle, that is...." ventured Pop. I turned the heavy rimfire rifle over in my hands, noting the knurled bolt screw at the rear, the bolt knob with concentric circles cut into it, the dovetailed front sight with a brass bead. The serrated trigger was light. The walnut stock was in decent shape, well oiled and polished, although the usual nicks from a life afield were present. The barrel still had the brownish tinge of bluing long gone, with a few blood spots near the muzzle. Testimony of a rifle used to put wounded game down once they were located. I asked Pop how much he wanted. Click to enlarge"Sixty-seven dollars, plus tax," he grinned.

Now I don't know about most folks, but it's difficult for me to walk away from a sub-hundred dollar gun. This rifle had the option of shooting .22 longs, .22 shorts, and the option of locking the bolt to use it as a bolt action type rifle. I paid the money and thanked the man. That night the Savage received the first cleaning it had experienced in years.

The next day I took my old rifle to the range. It was decently accurate, but failed to feed often enough to frustrate me. When the 75 year old Savage did cycle, it was a strange experience compared to newer 22 rifles. The old girl chambered the next round in a slow motion ker-chunk that you could chronograph with a stopwatch. One of the old gray range hands informed me "That's an old one. It's supposed to cycle like that boy." I diagnosed the feeding problem as the shell lifter, and ordered another one from Numrich.

I fitted and installed the new part, and the feed problem improved but never totally disappeared. I still keep the rifle. I'm reluctant to trade off an unreliable rifle without informing the recipient. I also enjoy shooting it occasionally. For $75, I figure that's enough reason to keep it around.

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Anonymous GrantCunningham said...

Re: the feed problem - how many different types of ammo have you tried? Did the rifle misfeed with all of them?

-=[ Grant ]=-

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Seth from Massachusetts said...

If I recall correctly, what that rifle does is lock the bolt open until the trigger is released, then it closes on release.

Sort of a "bang, click, bang, click!"

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Kristopher said...

My first rifle was a Model 87a that my father abandoned in my grand-father's closet when he became too politically correct to own a firearm.

Mine also had a tendency to drop a round under the loading feed lever. This generally happens when there is a round in the chamber and the bolt is lowered. The next round in the magazine has to pop out, the mechanism won't let it stay in place ... so it gets dumped under the lifter mechanism.

A kinda funky design ... basically, any FtF error results in a round stuck under the feeder.

Replace your extractors, and make sure they are perfect. There are two of them, and they are NOT identical. Try swapping them once, in case some goofball mixed them up earlier.

Be aware that this rifle has a tendency to double when worn. If you notice this, fix it immediately.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Very nice looking. Only issue I would have with it is the 'vents'. As I see it, it lets dirt and junk get right into the action - in that second picture it looks like you can see right through to other side.

Other than that, I agree about the old style firearms with machined parts. I love old bolts and receivers and such that have machine marks on them. Sign of a slower time.

Have you tried feeding different ammo through to see if anything shoots and feeds better?

4:59 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

The old girl does exactly as Kristopher aptly describes. Jams underneath the lifter.

I have tried three different types of cheap ammo. I have not tried shorts.

George, yes, the vents go all the way through.

I'm not desperate to make the Savage 100% reliable, I have other 22 rifles for that. It's just a pleasant diversion for me.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My 87A doesn't jam like that unless I do something, can't remember what it was. Something akin to locking the bolt back before loading the tube.

Great old gun. Try replacing the magazine tube spring. They were weak to begin with. After that, try the recoil spring.

And watch your left arm, especially when firing from a bench. You'll end up with little bits of burning powder embedded in your skin.

On the plus side, since I figured out how not to jam up the lifter, it's been through over two thousand rounds with no cleaning and no jams.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous GrantCunningham said...

If the problem is consistent over several types of ammo, the first place to look (as counter intuitive as it may seem) is the nested spring set in the bolt.

Both springs must be of the same length - if either (or both) is less than 5 inches long, replace it (them.) If they are short, you'll have all manner of FTE/FTF.

As someone else mentioned check the extractors and the ejector.

Use an extremely light oil; some people run the 87 series with a dry lube, as even medium weight oils seem to slow the bolt sufficiently to cause feeding issues.

The design works best with high velocity ammo; hyper velocity is not a good choice, and standard velocity rounds often fail to completely cycle the bolt. One fellow of my acquaintance tells me that Winchester Xperts work well in the 3 examples he owns.

Neat gun!

-=[ Grant ]=-

7:27 PM  
Blogger be603 said...

You didn't get beat -- did just fine. I s'pect any number of us would take if off your hands at that price just for the novelty of it.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Thanks for the info Grant! I will definitely try your suggestions!

10:27 PM  
Blogger Trent said...

I was going to say what Kristopher said... nvm a buddy of mine has one of those, its a lot of fun to shoot and super accurate for what it is.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Depicts said...

I owned one of these when I was 15, back in the early 60's. I sold it for $10 to raise the money to buy a Savage 24 O/U .22 Mag/ 410.

Of all the guns I've ever sold, I can honestly say that this is the only one that I don't care is gone.

A gunshop near me has two of them, both for $60. There is so much dust on them I don't know if they would ever fire again.

Not that it matters, I never enjoyed mine anyway. When it wasn't jamming, it was playing machine gun. It was a pain in the butt to clean.

I still needed more than my single shot Remington Targetmaster though, so I did get a repeater. A Marlin 39 takedown, and though it didn't have a front sight when I got it, I still liked it more, and shot it better, than that Savage 87.

Good luck with it Xavier. Keep it around. If you ever have a bad storm that starts blowing over your trees, you can pound it into the ground and use it to tie ropes to keep your tree standing. It also makes a great club, if it isn't too heavy.

Different strokes for different folks. Glad you like it.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweet memories....I cut my teeth with this rifle, bagged many tin cans with it. My brother,sister and I had to use it with the bolt locked, or else it would go full auto, which was fun until the tube spring couldn't keep up, then dad would be mad because clearing the bent live round under the lifter was a chore. We shot shorts, longs, long rifles through it. I ended up with most of my dad's guns, but this is the last one left that I haven't traded or sold.This rifle makes a great training gun, using it as a bolt gun. Wouldn't a 10/22 with this feature be great?

12:13 PM  
Blogger Will said...

I have one of these. Yep, the bolt doesn't close until the trigger is released. Kinda seems strange.

And even after a good cleaning it's a jam-o-matic. Empties don't like to eject, might have to try different ammo with it.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First gun I ever shot, but I too have to confirm that they aquire a "burst" setting as they wear.

5:13 PM  
Blogger The Freeholder said...

I have a Savage 6D that functions the same as your 87A, with the exception of the FTFs. Mine works fine. It's only problem is that it's had so many rounds through it and been poorly cared for (I don't care what anyone says, you have to clean .22s) that it can hard shoot minute of tin can at 50 yards.

But it's still a cool old gun.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous jimbob86 said...

My dad had one..... I learned to shoot with it. It occasionally had problems ejecting, but was plenty accurate.

The bolt knob eventually broke and we could not find a replacement part....

9:53 PM  
Blogger Corsair, The Mostly Harmless said...

My First Rifle!

My Grandfather gave me his old Savage 87 when I wanted to take Hunter Safety classes. First gun I ever fired. Still have it, cleaned and oiled in the back of the locker. My family wern't hunters, and it was a shock to my Mother when I wanted to learn to shoot. We NEVER had guns in the house, and even after acing the safety course, she made me store the rifle with the bolt removed.

The first time My Dad and Grandfather took me out to teach me the basics of shooting, i felt a bit like "Scout" in To Kill A Mockingbird when I learned that both my Father and Grandfather were expert rated marksmen. My Dad with the M14, and my Grandfather with the M1. It had just never came up in conversation before that, I guess..

LOTS of memories wrapped up in that old 87.. I'm looking forward to teaching my kids to shoot it in the not-too-distant future..

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Jeffrey Grimes said...

Got one just like that. My also seems to be working in "slow motion" compared to every other semi-automatic 22 cal. I have ever shot or owned. It therefore doesn't get fired as much as the Remington 550 (best 22 ever made) or the Marlin (i.e.jammomatic)

5:06 PM  
Blogger mjd said...

I have one of these re-branded as a Springfield. It functions as described -- the bolt remains open after firing a round until the trigger is let off, then closes. Mine runs like a top, and is surprisingly accurate.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats is a nice rifle if you can get it all wrung out. I have the stevens version.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

neat old rifle no problems with any of mine(11) have any part you could ever need on hand for all varients
on recevers or barrels

12:51 PM  
Anonymous "JT" jtprevatte@yahoo.com said...

I have one of these in my gun cabinet. I did not know the history of it as it was handed down through the family. I am glad I read your post about it. Mine is quite reliable. I am going to try and research it further. Do you know of a way to find out the age of one?

8:53 PM  
Anonymous TheCoachZed said...

I have one of these as well. I have put a few hundred rounds through it and had a failure to fire due to decades of cleaning neglect by the previous owner, but that's the only problem. I like the gun. The sights are pretty accurate, it's more "rifle" sized than a lot of .22s, and I only paid $80 for it. It's also very convenient to clean, and mine is easily taken down.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

If the tab that controls the lifter height is not adjusted correctly you will get the jambs you mentioned (rounds feed below the lifter). Take the action out of the stock and adjust the tab so that when the lifter is in its upper position (the position taken with the bolt back) it blocks rounds from feeding below it. Also, the feed ramp spring must be in good condition to eliminate double feeds. Email me if you have questions. bradcdavis00@yahoo.com

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have one of these guns. IIRC the bolt needed a slight delay to function properly. I seen one guy modded a perfectly working 87A to not use the "click-clack" operation and it jammed every shot

12:06 PM  
Blogger Instructionset said...

A few years ago I got a coast to coast 288N which is a Savage 87J. I didn't know anything about it at the time and the bolt wouldn't lock back when the trigger was still pulled (and I didn't know it was supposed to). It jammed constantly. I tore it down, cleaned it and put it together probably 10 times until it suddenly started working correctly. the bolt locks back, and if I don't let off the trigger too quickly, it cycles perfectly fine. Maybe 1 jam in 500 rounds.

I think its a great rifle. A bit odd, but it does the job.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

damn good gun.

7:52 PM  
Anonymous glock18dude said...

i just got one from a garage sale.. paid 40. still needs cleaning..

ok pls email me with more info on how to operate the gun. just the basic...
is this auto loading ?
how do shoot it in semi ? or single
does it feed on shorts, long or lr . the markings on mine says lr only... but i saw some info online that it shoots shorts..

Can u dry fire it ? without ruining the internal parts.

i also have a marlin 60 with 18 shots. that i bought last year form this farmer in Washington state. that one is a keeper.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is the gun i grew up on and that is how it is suppose to cycle that way.

what type of ammo are you using because if you are using the .22 short it has a tendency to jam when using the semiautomatic it should not jam if you are using longs it should cycle a little smother but it will still be slow because of the bolt locking in place when the trigger is still pulled.

i sold my original one though i have fired thousands of rounds through it and is has only jammed twice on me.

also as far a paying $75 that is the top price for a pristine gun of that model. though even in that condition you could still get $50-60. i just bought me a new one about a year ago i paid $90 for it though it had been re-blued and had a new polymer stock with a scope mount on it, so i was happy. i got $57 for my old one and it had a cracked stock the only reason i treaded was to get the stock fixed i was looking at $150. however even with a cracked stock i still had a quarter inch grouping at 50 meters

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted said"
I have my dad's it is accualy a western field and it has a detachable mag. It started feeding problems in the early 90's. I disassembled it and soaked it for a day in lacquer thinner then a thuorgh scrubbing. the chamber I put 0000 steel wool on a small brass rod thick enough to just fit and a lot of oil. Put in elec. drill and cleaned chamber. Shoots as good as new and no feeding problems.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does one stop it from going full auto? I have one and do not know where to begin.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cowboy here,
I have the Belknap 964 variant of this gem. Got it free from a coworker. So dirty it wouldn't cycle. Cleaned it up and it works perfectly. Not as good as my Winchester 69a, but good for everyday.

3:00 PM  

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