I been hunting deer since I was 10 and I'm 55 now. I started out with a Winchester 94 in 38-40, it was my Grandfather, Frank Beckwith's gun, whom I am named after. You see I was the youngest son of five so when I turned 10 guess who got the old heavy boat anchor with open sights to lug around the woods!
After two years of using the old Model 94, my older brothers guns, Alan and Jim's they became available from the family gun cabinet as they were off in the military in the Vietnam War, so I started grabbing their guns when I could, they were Savage Model 340 bolts in 30-30 with open sights which I never cared for that much. By 1974, I started using my oldest brother Jerry's gun, he was in college at the time and his Winchester model 100 in .308 was available for a couple years. I threw that gun to the curb for it's constant jamming issues and the loss of an awesome buck. In 1976 my father announced he was all done hunting because Dad's knees, back, gout and heart just wasn't in it anymore and he used my turning 16 and being able to hunt alone now as his ticket out of hunting with his boys. So I decided to give my Dad's Savage 99 a try and at age sixteen fell in love with the balance and feel of it when carried in the woods beating the hillsides as a free spirit unleashed from adult supervision tracking and chasing whitetails on my own. I shot a couple deer with that gun and decided I should look into actually owning my own guns rather than using family guns. I guess I was growing up!
My first gun purchase was a Marlin 335 in 35 Remington at age seventeen and although it was a nice feeling rifle to carry and hold, I didn't care for the hammer firing mechanism of that model and make so it was off to Kittery Trading Post to by a Winchester Model 70 in .270, an old hunting friend swore by his and I needed to give one a try for myself. It just didn't feel good carrying in the woods tracking deer and it wasn't quick enough for me for follow up shots and one day the bolt caught on some thick thorn bushes and pulled the thorns into my hands and that was the last day with a bolt action for me in Maine woods.
I then inherited my other Grandfather's gun, whom I am also named after, Edwin Pinkham, (Steven Edwin Frank Beckwith, we all share the same Birthday!) which was a Remington 742 Woodmaster in .308, which also faithfully jammed on a regular basis, but I did shoot a few deer with my one shot semi for a couple more years!
It was 1980, I had been hunting for ten years now and off to K.T.P. I went to attempt to find my ultimate hunting gun. I still liked the Savage 99 of my fathers, it was the Featherweight model but the only issue I had with the older 99's was the way they loaded and unloaded with it's rotary magazine design it was a pain in the butt to unload, you have to eject each shell every time you were done using it and chase your bullets underneath all the fall leaves and snow. At K.T.P. I looked at the Browning BLR clip version in .308, a truly sweet gun, but it was way out of my price range. I then stumbled among the miles of guns at K.T.P. across a Savage Model 99C (clip version) it was a slightly used gun for $150, I had enough money to buy that and a Bushnell 1.5 x 4.5 scope on it! (In 2014 that old Bushnell scope was replaced with another 1x5 variable scope, the focusing barrel threads rusted through and broke in my hands when adjusting it not bad for a cheap scope!) It's now been 35 years with the same gun in my hands and this makes it hard for this seasoned hunter to make a change to anything else, although I know there are a few great guns others use!
I did buy another great lever action one day from a guy needing some cash, which I hold equal respect for as I do the Savage 99's and that was the Winchester model 88 in .308, it is also a beautiful handling firearm for deer hunting in Maine's woods. But it stayed in the gun cabinet every hunting season and the Savage was what I always grabbed when I headed into the woods, finally one day the poor old Winchester 88 paid some bills for my family as it had increased greatly in value from when I bought it.
I have spent thirty five years with a Savage 99C in my hands it's been through more beatings than most guns will ever see, and it still works and shoots like a dream! The only non-lever action gun, ever made, that I would consider changing to would be the Remington Model 760 in .308, I have always liked this gun and love the feel of a pump action. It's probably why I love my pump shotguns for turkey hunting, from my Browning to my Mossbergs! So for me, it's a hamerless lever action or a pump for my big game hunting!
To each his own when it comes to the feel, action, and preference of a hunting rifle, it's not about what is the best caliber, highest quality or the most popular manufacturer of a hunting weapon! It's what carries, shoulders, and fits you as an individual that works consistently without flaws in adverse hunting conditions, that what makes your gun of choice the best gun out there!