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The Winchester Model 63

by Paul Scarlata   |  September 23rd, 2010 14

The last decade of the 19th century was a time of great innovation and rapid changes in the firearms industry.


Introduced in 1933, the Model 63 was the first semiauto rifle offered by Winchester chambered for the standard .22 Long Rifle cartridge. It had the square receiver that was a trademark of all early Winchester semiautomatic rifles.

In the military arena, the new bolt-action, repeating rifles firing the recently developed small-bore, smokeless-powder cartridges were all the rage. Even more radical was the number of designers working on semiautomatic and fully automatic firearms.

In 1891, Winchester began an R&D program to develop a semiautomatic sporting rifle. For more than a decade, company engineers William Mason and Thomas C. Johnson examined various operating systems.

Johnson developed an operating system in which a relatively light bolt was attached to a counterweight that balanced it during recoil. Later termed a “blowback” operating system, when a cartridge was fired, the rearward forces of the powder gas had to first overcome the inertia of the bolt, counterweight, and recoil spring, which kept the action closed until pressures had dropped to the point where it was safe to extract the spent cartridge case. It was simple in theory, but the tough part was calculating the amount of force needed to reliably cycle the action.

Johnson located the counterweight under the barrel where it reciprocated inside the hollow wooden forearm. As the bolt reached the limit of its rearward travel, it impacted against a spring-loaded buffer in the buttstock that prevented undue stress to the receiver and also provided forward impetus to the bolt, thereby ensuring proper functioning.

Winchester introduced Johnson’s design as the Model 1903 Self-Loading Rifle, and it was the first commercially manufactured semiauto- matic rifle. It was chambered for a then-new, proprietary, smokeless-powder, rimfire cartridge called the .22 Winchester Automatic. At that time, most companies were still loading the .22 Long Rifle cartridge with blackpowder and/or semismokeless powder, the residue of which made their use in semiautomatic firearms impractical. For this reason, Winchester designed the Model 1903 so that it could only be fired with the .22 Winchester Automatic cartridge.

The Model 1903 was an immediate success, so much so that it encouraged Winchester to introduce a centerfire version–the Model 1905 Self-Loading Rifle. By 1910, most American ammunition companies were offering the .22 LR loaded with smokeless propellant, and in addition to being significantly cheaper, that led to the cartridge being more widely distributed than the .22 Winchester Automatic.

In 1924, Remington executed a marketing coup with the introduction of the Browning-designed Model 24 semiauto rifle chambered for the .22 LR. The folks at Winchester realized that they needed to play catch up. Unfortunately, things did not work out very quickly in that effort, and it wasn’t until 1933 that the basic design was modified to handle the .22 LR cartridge and released on the market as the Model 63 Self-Loading Rifle.

The Model 63 featured an exposed, square receiver that was a common feature of the Winchester Model 1903, 1905, 1907, and 1910 semiauto rifles, and it came with an uncheckered, walnut forearm and pistol-grip buttstock. Early-production rifles had a 20-inch round barrel, but the following year, the option of a 23-inch barrel was introduced. The latter became so popular that the shorter tube was discontinued in 1936.

A 10-round, tubular magazine located in the buttstock was loaded by rotating the magazine end cap–located in a cutout in the buttplate–and withdrawing the inner magazine tube until it stopped. Rounds were then inserted nose-first into the magazine through a teardrop-shaped opening in the right side of the buttstock. Pushing the inner tube back into the buttstock compressed a spring-loaded follower, applied pressure to the cartridges, and fed them into the receiver where the bolt picked them up. Another feature common to the earlier Winchester semiauto rifles was that to chamber a round, one pressed on the knurled end of a rod–called the operating sleeve–that extended from the front of the forearm; this retracted the bolt to charge the rifle or extract an unfired cartridge. Pressing in the operating sleeve and rotating it 90 degrees locked the bolt in the open position.

Unscrewing a knurled bolt at the rear of the receiver allowed the butt/trigger unit assembly to be separated from the barrel/forearm assembly. This made it easier to clean and allowed the rifle to be taken down into a shorter package for ease of storage.

The Model 63 was an attractive rifle, and sales remained steady throughout the 1930s. Manufacture continued into the early 1940s when Winchester refocused its entire production capacity towards the war effort. The model was reintroduced in 1946 with the only notable change being that the receiver was grooved to accept claw-type scope mounts.

Unfortunately, in the postwar period, the production of traditional real-steel-and-walnut .22 firearms became increasingly expensive, so much so that most companies began replacing them with newer designs that increasingly utilized alloys, stamped steel, and plastic components. The Model 63 last saw the light of day in Winchester’s 1958 catalog, after which it was quietly discontinued. A total of 174,692 units had rolled off the assembly line in New Haven.

Test-Firing The Model
Several weeks ago, while visiting with a gentleman who lives next door to my mother, I noticed he had an old rifle sitting there in a gun case. After asking permission to examine it, I found it to be a

Winchester Model 63 that his dad had bought back before World War II for squirrel hunting. It was in very good condition and sported a 1930s-vintage Weaver 2.5X scope. Naturally, I asked him if I could borrow the little gem to test-fire for this report. He readily acceded.

After disassembling it and removing several decades of dust and dried lubricant, I took the Model 63 out to my gun club to fire it. Considering its intended role, I thought it would be fitting if it was fired at what I considered normal squirrel-hunting distances. Accordingly, I paced off 40 yards and set up my targets. Loading the tubular magazine was fast and fumble-free, and I then hunkered down behind my MTM Predator rifle rest to see if the little Winchester could do what needed to be done.

While the rather ancient Weaver scope provided a crystal-clear sight picture, the extra-fine crosshairs required considerable concentration. However, thanks in large part to a very crisp trigger, I was able to fire a series of well-centered, five-shot groups that ranged from just smaller than 1 inch to sligh
tly larger than 2 inches in size. While functioning was excellent with the Federal, Remington, and CCI ammo, the rifle showed a distinct lack of familial loyalty with the Winchester ammo. I was unable to ascertain if the repeated failures to feed were because of the hollowpoint bullets or the lower velocities and consequent lower operating inertia.

With the accuracy work done, I spent an enjoyable hour or so shooting soft-drink cans at 25 and 50 yards until I ran out of ammo. And except for the functioning problem with the Winchester ammunition, I was very impressed with the Model 63. I have rarely found a .22 rifle that I didn’t enjoy shooting, and the Model 63 was no exception. After all, at least to my way of thinking, a .22 rifle equals fun!

  • Terry Blosser

    I have a mod.63 that is drilled and tapped for a weaver side mount scope. It was my grandfathers and I do not know if it came that way or was modified. It is a 23" barrel with a dovetail groove for a standard rear sight.
    If anyone knows please let me know.

  • guest

    just my own personal opinion, but as an owner of a 63, the one I grew up with a long time ago and the one I'd take to war anytime, putting a scope on a 63 is a sacrilage lol. just my opinion. If I can't hit it with my 63…it must be time for air support

  • another guest

    I haven't seen a lot Model 63. I saw one for sale the other day at Bob's Gun Shop in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. It looked just like the one above with the scope. Based on another website the serial number number indicates it was made in 1947. I resisted. I"m one of those guys with more guns than I need but not as many as I want. And my wife gave me "that look."

  • hein sarian

    i have a mod. 63 also but sad to say i lost the tubular magazine. if anyone knows where could i get replacement pease let me know.

  • Paul

    http://homesteadparts.com/shopcart/Winchester_63….

    For replacement parts for the 63. They offer a magazine tube for about $26. I haven't actually ordered anything from them but that's were i have found the most parts on one online store. I also have a 63 that was my Grandfathers he bought it back in the 30's before the war and handed it down to my dad who told me it will be mine someday. I learned to shoot with that rifle and i have picked off a lot of squirrels and pigeons on the farm with this gun as well as a few racoons who wondered on to our yard. I can't wait to call this gun my own. The only problem is that it has been fired so much that the ejector piece is all but worn out.

  • Rick

    I was very fortunate on on recieving mine ,my sister husband had a 12 guage shotgun who tried taking it apart & the trigger fell out so he asked me if I could put it back together again. So I did , he had a dried up .22 with him that was full dust , he said it had been under his bed for about 7 sears he had never used it cause he didn't care for .22caliber so I asked him how much he wanted for it he said for helping him with his 12 guage he said $50 bucks. Winchester Model 63 made in 1956. This was of course I found out after I cleaned it and oiled it. Then i looked on the internet and to my suprise I found out the value ,I called my sister to tell the rifle is worth a lot more than I gave her.She said don't worry about it she knew I would get better use out of it. This is a fun rifle to shoot , it's one of my favorite from my collection.

  • Joey Bolz

    Just recently bought a Taurus copy. Gotta sweet one.

  • jeff

    Thanks for input about Winchester ammo and the 63. Mine was my dad's, probably a wedding present. Came off the line in 1941. Been having ejection problems recently using Winchester ammo. Will try Federal and see if the problem continues.

  • Bob

    I have a Winchester model 63 in excellent condition with a 23'' inch barrel and grooved receiver. The gun also has a very pretty American walnut stock and forearm. I've owned the gun for over 50 years and very few rounds have been fired through it. I am interested in its value.

  • Derekandrews

    I am trying to get my hands on one in South Africa. Anyone out there that is willing to sell their rifle?

  • CRP

    This thread has been extremely helpful. I inherited a rifle when my grand father passed 10 years ago. Not being a "gun" guy, I didn't know what I had until a friend looked at it (and others). He was very interested in buying this and another. Needless to say, I will be holding onto this one!

  • Neil Phillips

    I own a model 63 Winchester 22 long rifle that was my fathers. I decided to take it apart to clean it and am having trouble it back together.Breaking it down by removing the exposed screw at the rear of the barrel was no problem. I then removed the spring loaded tube at the forward end of stock that is used to load the first round into the chamber. I can not get this piece back in place. Can anyone tell me how? Thanks for your help.

    • Raymond Draten

      Mrs Phillips,on the spring loaded tube on the tube at the end part there is some what like a pin that go in the tube from one side to the other,When this pin is push to for in the tube it will not match the lot in the back of the rifle.

      • Dick1959

        Grammatically, your response makes absolutely NO SENSE. Proofread your text…

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