Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cowboy Dream - The Winchester 1894

I grew up watching old Westerns. Most weren't original, having been out for years, and seen in reruns, though I always remember Gunsmoke from when I was little. I loved Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive, Palladin, anything with John Wayne. The good guys were known, the bad guys obvious. The heroes rode a landscape of the lever action, the name of their firearm more than a forgotten name, their duty and honor more than a shout of defiance but an honor scratched into every weapon they held. The weapons would show the marks of their courage, etched into the very wood and steel of what they carried, not casually, but with the hurt and pride and grief with which men long since unremembered had died for.

Even as a kid playing cowboy and Indian (I was never anything but a cowboy, let the little sissy girl next door play the schoolmarm). I envisioned myself on a horse, lever action in one hand, reins in the other.

Needless to say, the first time I shot one, the thought that ran through my head was, "gee, John Wayne never yelled "*#($%!" and rubbed his shoulder after.

That first one I shot had some kick to it, with a butt plate that was pretty thin. But it was love at first shot. Sure, one could put a nice recoil pad on it, but did John Wayne have a recoil pad?

All I knew was I wanted one. It's hard to go wrong when designed by John Moses Browning.

The Winchester Model 1894 (also known as Winchester .30-30 rifle, Winchester 94, Win 94, .30-30 Winchester, or simply .30-30) is one of the most famous and most popular hunting rifles made, selling over 7 MILLION rifles. 1894 marks the year of its design the name from the manufacturer , the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. In 1980 it was picked up by U.S. Repeating Arms under the Winchester brand.

The original Model 1894 was produced in .32-40 Winchester, .38-55 Winchester, .25-35 Winchester, .3o-.30 Winchester and the .32 Winchester Special. It was the first hunting rifle chambered for the then-new smokeless powder cartridge. The .30-.30 Winchester, for me anyway, is the cartridge that is synonymous with the Model 1894 Rifle.

Variants of the Model 94, over its long history, also included the Winchester Model 55, produced from 1924 through 1932 in a 24-inch barrel, and the Winchester Model 64, produced from 1933 through 1957 in 20, 24, and 26-inch barrel lengths. A little bit of history from Wilkipedia - the model number 55 was used twice by Winchester, first as a Model 94 variant introduced in 1924, and, later, as a short-lived single-shot/semi-automatic hybrid .22-caliber rifle that self-cocked the hammer each time it was fired.)

So what's the difference between the 1892 and the 1894?
The Winchester 1894 was designed to permit the cycling of longer cartridges than the Winchester 1892 carbines could permit. When the lever is pulled down, it brings the bottom of the receiver with it. That opens up more space and allows a longer cartridge to feed without making the receiver longer, keeping the firearm tidy and size. The mechanism is complex but very reliable. Stripping the action is something that requites multiple stages, a slight bit of swearing and some practice, but it's not impossible for a beginner. Fortunately, from what I have read, it is rare that you have to completely strip the action.

Minuses: If you compare it to its competitors such as the Marlin Model 226.7 and the Marline Model 1894, a "minus" for some would be that Pre '64 Model 94s eject fired cases up and over the shooter's shoulder when the lever is operated rapidly. This precludes a scope mounted to the top of the receiver and comprises the greatest negative of the Model 94 design compared to the solid top Marlin 336, which ejects to the side and which has solid top receivers.

You could do a side mount or scout type, but most simply go for no scope. I have a scope on my Marlin and it was used on last years deer hunt with Og, Mycroft Holmes and Rangebuddy, to great success. But I am undecided as to actually calling this a "minus". Leaving the scope off reduces the weight of the gun as far as hauling it around in the field and it can allow the shooter to sight in more quickly, close or with moving game. Some folks don't want to mount a scope on anything that is going to ideally shoot within 200 yards anyway. Open sights work nicely if you have your sights adjusted and you know your point of impact.

After the early 80's, Winchester modified the firearm so that it would eject the empty shells out at an angle between the original Winchester design and the Marlin design. This made it possible to put scopes in a more normal position, on the top of the receiver. I'm not sure about the change. It was sort of the way I felt when McDonalds changed the Filet o Fish briefly back in the 80's, adding a big designer artisan bun. Better perhaps, but I missed my old, slightly squashed, non yuppified fish sandwich and was happy when they changed it back.

The mid 1990s brought a change from the long-used half-cock notch safety to a cross-bolt safety like the aforementioned Marlins. Yes, they lawyered it up. I'm glad the one I can shoot is an older one. Somethings just don't need "improving.The last ones leaving the factory in New Haven in 2006 before production ceased had tang mounted safeties. In what I'm familiar with, a half-cocked hammer notch serves as a safety. But owning a number of striker fired weapons, I'll say it again. The best safety is between the shooters ears.

Pluses -
You can talk about looks and feed and usability and all of that, but call me a romantic, sometimes you just look at something touch something and you know you love it. You don't need to add up "selling points" You are already smitten.

The 1894 is much this way.

It's easy to pack, tote and will hold its own wet, sandy or dusty. It's pretty darn hard to get a failure to feed with a lever action even in the worst of conditions. The ejection is position, the feel, nimble and quick.

This gun is like that date you bring home that all of your brothers and even your Dad will actually like. It's a gun that makes friends easily. It's a powerful gun that fire's a nicely sized 30 caliber bullet. It can take down a deer with range and power limitations of it's cartridge. It can, if you are as quick as it is, and stealthy, take down bigger game.

For it IS fast. A bit more so than the Marlin 336 and even more so than the Henry and Uberti. Very nice, fast handling rifles themselves, but not as fast as the Winchester 94. The reason is simple, they weigh a lot more and are balanced further forward, which although steadying the swing, slows it.

The range was tested out to about 200 yards. The .30 - .30 cartridge is a good all around cartridge capable of getting that bigger game as well as game at a longer range when fed high performance ammunition like the Hornady LeverEvolution, Cor-Bon DPX Hunter, and Winchester Supreme loads.
Some online reviews have complained about its accuracy. Will you shoot a 1" group with open sights? No, not for this shooter anyway. But it's as accurate as I need it to be for what I intend to do with it, as reliable as any good hunting rifle, IF you treat it properly. Lever action rifles in general need to be stroked like you've done it before. No simpering virginal handling of the thing. Fire the darn thing and enjoy it.

For this "no strong bear paws" shooter, it was a bear to load, but oh boy is it is a pleasure to handle. Clean lines, slender receiver, blued steel and lustrous walnut, perfection of line and balance that you'd expect from JMB. If you can get a hold of a pre-64 94 Carbine, don't let it go. They're more expensive but worth it. But even with the later models, there is a reason it's the best selling sport rifle in history. It earned it.

If you get a chance to fire one, do. If you get a chance to buy one, definitely. There are a LOT of good rifles out there, but this will always be what I picture in my hand when I still have those dreams of riding the range in the wee hours of the night with John Wayne, gun by my side, the feel of justice where strove and sounded the law of the land, for which freedom and safety were the end, and the firearm, the tool.

Though just maybe in my dreams I'll have a recoil pad on it.

It's a bear to load, it hurts to shoot and oh boy is it FUN!!!!!

Other Specs:

Magazine capacity - 6 cartridges
Barrel length - 20" (round)
Twist - 1 in 12"
Sights - Post front, adjustable semi-buckhorn rear; drilled and tapped for receiver sights
Length of pull - 13 3/16"
Length overall - 37 7/8"
Weight - 6 1/2 pounds (7.5 pounds if you add a scope and mount)


  1. I think the Duke used an 1892 but that does not matter. God's holy prophet designed them beautifully and you describe them beautifully. I had an 1894 Buffalo Bill commemorative that I bought at auction and did not know why. It was unfired and still was when I traded it straight up for an 1894 made in 1963 with less than 2 boxes through it. I guess I had some good Karma points in the bank.

  2. a side note... the Rifleman, played first base for the Dodgers before he became an actor. Oh great show, loved it also. Some Dodger fans had been razzing him and one day he came out of the dug out with raw hamburger and began throwing chunks of raw meat at the fans. Guess that's safer then lead.

  3. The first "big bore" I fired was my grandfather's 1894 25-20, when I was six years old.
    Thank God for crusty old grandfathers.

  4. When I have to deal with some Foreign Person who asks "What makes America so Special", I can point to an 1894 and say "An American made that, there are millions of them in the hands of our families,most were used to feed those same families, and you do not want to be on the Wrong End of it if you mean to harm those families". After looking at the pictures, a very few of them ask "How do I get one?" I say: "It's simple. Become an American, and buy as many as you want". God Bless John Moses Browning.

  5. I don't think we got Palladinover here in the UK But we definitely got Gunsmoke,Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive, Branded, The Virginian and best of all IMO Rawhide.

    For some reason lever actions have never been that popular here in Europe. Where the Mauser type bolt action has reigned supreme since 1892. Although I have to admit to a great personal hankering for a Winchester86 in 45-70. Yet another JMB design.

    As a dense cover, fast handling brush punching rifle and calibre, I don't think that there is much to beat it.

  6. I have a 94 that was made during WWII , There is a special feeling when I load her , put on a flannel shirt , and take a walk around the farm ! Oh and for some reason the pleasure seems to double if I wear my cowboy boots , and hat ! : ) SMIBSID

  7. You wrote, "Even as a kid playing cowboy and Indian (I was never anything but a cowboy, let the little sissy girl next door play the schoolmarm). I envisioned myself on a horse, lever action in one hand, reins in the other."

    Annie Oakley?????

  8. My affection for the '94 approaches obsession, even to the point of liking to carry my SRC in the squirrel woods, loaded with squibs ("N" grains of Unique, tissue-paper tuft, and a 90-grain cast bullet to fly at something like 1,100 fps mv).

    It's reasonably accurate within 50 or 60 yards, doesn't mush up the whole animal, and falls to earth close enough to add a little safety factor to Rule 4.

    When I decide I need a full-monte cowboy day I also wear a "buscadero" rig with a three-screw Ruger .22 and my older Stetson. Then I go afield hoping I don't meet anyone I know.

  9. A classic firearm if ever there was one. I picked up a broken pre-64 some years back from a pawn shop that was going to break it up for parts and I repaired it. It runs so reliably that I often carry it while hiking now in place of the heavier AR-15 that always seems to frighten the tree-huggers. No one has a problem with the old Winchester though, even though it hits just as hard as that AR at reasonable ranges. My only complaint with it is that when I fire it as fast as Wayne and the others did, it gets powerful hot. I never saw Chuck Connors burn himself on his rifle.

  10. I have a "Searschester" I picked up cheap (Winchester 94 marketed with Sears logo). Great little gun - not exactly a traditional setup on mine though. Original owner had butchered the buttstock (cut it off at one time and then glued a block back on) so I put a ramline stock on it for my young son to hunt with. Cut down on the recoil considerably. I too have a receiver sight on mine.

  11. Bearing in mind these guns were designed for rudimentary mass production methods. How interchangeable are the internal and external components.

    What I'm asking is. Could an amateur but mechanically capable gun owneri.e knows one end of a drill press from another, can strip and rebuild an engine, produce an accurate and functioning rifle out of say 3 scrappers. Assuming that at least one of the 3 had a decent barrel.

  12. My late father bought one new in 1950, a huge financial commitment for him at the time.. That rifle put a lot of meat on our table over the years. He had a disdain for hunting seasons; he and his brothers were subsistence hunters. The rifle was lost in a fire and replaced with a Model 70 30.06.

    Be careful carrying one with a round in the chamber. Dropped on the butt from a high enough distance can cause it to fire, safety or no safety. The firing pin in a well used one protrudes enough that the force of the cartridge forced backwards is enough to ignite the primer.

  13. I'm just not as tough as John Wayne, so I put a recoil pad on mine. Its an early 1980's model,with a receiver sight and no
    extra safety.

  14. When I was growing up in LA (thats Lower Alabama) I had a good freind of my grandfather's who collected the Model 94 Winchester. He lived in an old post Antibellum home and his pride was his "Winchester Room". Along with every bit of paraphenalia selling Winchesters on the 20x30 ft room walls was floor to ceiling horizontal racks of Winchester 94s. He had some that we couldn't even really breath on because he had paid over $3k for the real collector editions (and them was early 1970 dollars!).

    I begged and begged to shoot them, ALL of them but I got away with a 94 .30-.30 when I was around eight years old. Damn near tore off my shoulder, but the fit and feel was wonderful. Sadly after he died, his widow sold of the collection piecemeal at a time, the house is still there, not one Winchester remains.

    I got a smile when you mentioned the "non virginal handling" of the beast; it's a machine, treat is like one. Work that lever like you mean it!

    Thanks for a trip down the dusty halls of history!

  15. I'm Lever-Addicted. Never seen one I didn't want to own... I've been known to single handedly drive up prices on them by paying the ransom required to liberate it from someone else's safe.

    Plus they come in so many different calibers. My current favorite is 38-55, the parent case for the 30-30. Soft shooting but that 250 grain bullet has plenty of smack left when it gets there.

    We have a monthly Levergun Silhouette match. WAY Fun!!! I'd highly recommend anyone with a levergun to give it a try.

  16. Wonderful write-up. I can't argue with the facts - the .30-30 and a Model 1894 is a great combination...

    ... but it's one that's not for me.

    I've owned two, one pre-'64 (1953, iirc) and one post-'63 (1973ish). The pre- went back to its former owner (his son found out he sold it!) and the post- was sold on down the line to finance another acquisition.

    The earlier one felt better to me and had a smoother action, but neither one really spoke to me. I've shot other leverguns since that first one, and the truth is this: I like them. They're neat guns. But they're, generally speaking, not the right guns for me. (A stainless Marlin .45-70 Guide Gun with a large loop, however, would fit nicely in my safe.)

  17. Yup, it's a '92 in the Duke's big paw.

    An interesting thing about the '94is that it was chosen, after much testing, to become the standard weapon of El Salvador's elite guerilla hunting unit. Light and handy, it was more likely to be carried in the rain forest, rather than being slung over the shoulder.

    They discovered that a '94 with Ghost Ring sight got on target and got off the first shot faster than any other rifle.

    I've been looking at one just like that over in Newington Gun Center. Do you think my Model 99 Savage would be jealous?

  18. I'm probably gonna regret this, but I have to say, I cannot feel any recoil from the 94. I mean, compared to an 06 boltie or the K31, the lever is the gentlest recoiling centerfire rifle I ever shot. Your mileage may vary.

    If they were deer-legal in Indiana I'd never shoot anything else.

  19. Beautiful rifle! I do not have one but I do have one of its little younger sisters!

    Thanks for the pictures!

  20. That's a beautiful rifle. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Regretably, I don't have any lever guns in my collection. May have to change that status.

  21. I wish like heck I had the foresight to have purchased a Trapper length in 30-30, but I'm very happy to own a .357 chambered model. Even own the updated XTR in .307 Winchester - priced THAT lately? Omigosh.

    Very handy guns, those 94's, very often spelled 'deer rifle' quite a bit ago. A new deer hunter could choose far worse than these 'antiquated' guns.

  22. Now ya done gone and motivated me to write my own rifle piece...with credit to you, naturally.

  23. "... Could an amateur but mechanically capable gun owner,i.e knows one end of a drill press from another, can strip and rebuild an engine, produce an accurate and functioning rifle out of say 3 scrappers. Assuming that at least one of the 3 had a decent barrel."
    Simple answer is yes. I have six such "project" 94s. The hardest part is making sure the headspace is correct. However, that is also doable for the home 'smith.

  24. I love the lever guns....especially those in the pistol calibers! I adore the Marlin 1894 in .357mag.


  25. "Simple answer is yes. I have six such "project" 94s. The hardest part is making sure the headspace is correct. However, that is also doable for the home 'smith."

    Care to explain how you do that? Set the head space that is.

  26. Hi, Brigid,
    I just found your site -- very nice!! You've done a great job of describing the joys of the model 94, and your photos are outstanding! You mention the 94's being a "bear to load."

    If you're not already using this method, it can make loading much easier. As you insert the first cartridge, don't push it fully into the magazine. Leave the rim protruding about 1/2" out of the loading gate, and hold it in place with a finger on your left hand. Insert the next cartridge, pushing the first in and leaving the second's rim protruding as before. You will find that not having to depress the loading gate with cartridges already in the magazine makes loading quick and easy. Hope this helps, and keep having fun with one of the greatest rifles in history! John

  27. My 94 was a gift from my Much Better Half. Chambered in .45LC. If I need more range/power I've a Winchester 1895 in .30-06 with a receiver sight as in your photo. I too grew up on TV westerns and John Wayne. I wore a star with "Deputy" on it (Richmond, VA SD)and a badge with "US". Neither job lasted long but doubt I'd have taken them were it not for Matt, Bat, and Wyatt.

  28. And the action sounds solid as a bank vault when you work it.


  29. You could use that rig inn our woodland stalking over here, more than welcome anytime you are passing to give it a try!

  30. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your piece on the 94's.

    I bought my first 94, (a1967 model - no safeties), earlier this year.

    So far I've had it reblued, the receiver case hardened, added a saddle ring (necessity for a cowboy gun lol), refinished the stocks, and added a full buckhorn rear site. I also had the front site changed back to the stock site with hood. Now to find a second 94 so the first won't get lonely. Maybe one with an octagonal barrel and Lyman sites?

  31. ah, this gun is so beautiful. i have had several '94's and 92's over the years and keep a couple for annoying pests. my two favorites are a plain 94 carbine with a receiver sight that is my companion in the hog infested woods of lower Alabama. also another 94 that was rather inexpertly reblued by a kitchen table gunsmith who apparently didn't know that the receiver is a different alloy from the barrel. the receiver is now, no joke, Barney purple.

  32. Critter - thanks. It's a personal favorite. That and a 1861 Navy Colt, and a pristine Swiss Mauser. Thanks for visiting.

  33. I have a Marlin 336c that is way older then me and I am no longer a youngster...double nickels this year.

    It is in 32 Win Special and has taken many a deer.
    Whenever I uncase it at the range it gets a fw looks, has a 4x scope on it..Old eyes that never were really good.
    And the I shoot it and casue afew jaws to drop..

    I reload for it and enjoy the heck out of it.

    My next lever? I would like one in .38 spec/.357...just because (I reload that also!)
    Nice write up!!!

  34. Chuck Conners used an 1892 Winchester SRC in "The Rifleman." Richard Boone used an 1892 Winchester SRC Trapper in "Have Gun-Will Travel." Steve McQueen used an 1892 Winchester SRC Mares Leg in "Wanted Dead Or Alive." John Wayne used an 1892 Winchester SRC in "Stagecoach," "Hondo," "Rio Bravo," and "True Grit." The Winchester that left an impression on you from movies and TV was the 1892, not the 1894.

  35. cicero - thanks for the history. I was in grade school or younger when those were out so my memory it only impressions, not great detail.

  36. My father bought a Canadian Centennial Model 94 Carbine in 1965 in LA! His only regret was that he didn't purchase the number matching rifle to go with it! It is a beautiful rifle that I have fond memories of!

    Some time ago my father lost sight in his left eye, he still had his shooting eye for a few years though! A few years after that his right eye started to get worse and rendered him unable to see objects in the distance!

    Three Christmas's ago he gifted me his beloved 30-30! Is was a very emotional moment for both of us!
    I try and shoot it as often as I can and usually I try and go through a box of ammo but after about 8 rounds the shoulder starts to get sore! Lol

    One of the greatest gifts he's ever given me!
    Thanks Pops

  37. I know, responding to a nine year old post, but I'm not alone in that, and it brought back memories.

    I grew up hunting with my dad's 1955 Model 94. (Even borrowed it my senior year in college for hunting season. I kept it leaning in the corner of my dorm room behind a book case. The top of the barrel just poked up above the book case, but I had a decorative blanket on the wall that reached two inches below the book case top. The powers that be would have freaked out knowing that was there for those two months.)

    I bought a used 1974 model in the mid-80s. Sold it about 1999 to buy a 35mm camera.

    And then, three years ago, found a 1951 model at the fun store that someone had "customized", by drawing large diamonds on both sides of the stock and under the handguard with a magic marker (and then not even opposite each other). Nostalgia struck, and I bought it. And then realized that in the intervening years my ability to see tiny front sights in buckhorn rear sights had waned.

    Still, I stripped the finish and sanded out the ink, and refinished the wood. Made it pretty again. I replaced a couple of buggered screws, and added a Marbles tang peep sight. I've recently worked up a load that is fairly close to the old 30-6-100 load that Remington offered at the turn of the 20th century. It's a hoot to shoot, with very little recoil.


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