May 01, 2023
By By Joseph von Benedikt
It could be said that Winchester’s Model 71 was the last great traditional lever-action design. Introduced in 1935, it was adapted from Winchester’s Model 1886 and featured a new cartridge. Named the .348 Winchester, the new cartridge was intended to be a do-all round ideal for anything from deer to moose.
Interestingly, the Model 71 is the only traditional Winchester lever gun not named for the year it was introduced. Instead, being the next rifle model introduced after the bolt-action Model 70, it was labeled the Model 71.
You can read more about the .348 Winchester cartridge on page 40 of this issue. Here, I will just say the cartridge was potent. Recoil proved to be more than the average deer hunter wanted to deal with, but Alaskan and Canadian hunters adopted the heavy-hitting, fast-cycling lever action and its .348 Win. cartridge wholeheartedly.
Some experts consider the Model 71 to be the most refined of all the traditional lever-action designs. It was known for smooth function, thanks to quality craftsmanship and the tapered .348 Win. cartridge. There was a rifle model with a 24-inch barrel and a carbine with a 20-inch barrel. Both could be had in Deluxe versions. The model was discontinued in 1957, with almost 50,000 rifles manufactured during its 22-year run.
In 1986 Browning (now a sister company to Winchester) made a limited run of about 13,000 Model 71s in its Miroku, Japan, manufacturing facility. The carbine shown here is one of them. According to aficionados that own both original Winchesters and the Browning guns, the Brownings are every bit as well made, and they actually tend to shoot more accurately.
More recently, Winchester reintroduced the Model 71, this time labeled with the traditional Winchester name. Again, however, these recent firearms were made by Miroku.
The Model 71 features a robust but streamlined action. It’s very strong. According to firearms expert Doug Turnbull, the ’71 action handles high pressures better than the ’86 courtesy of a very small degree of angle engineered into the vertical locking lugs. Designers discovered that while entirely safe, the higher pressures generated by the .348 Win. cartridge could cause the standard 1886 action to stick slightly. Machining a trace of taper into the lugs solved the issue.
Like the originals, the Browning Model 71 ejects empty cases straight up, so it’s not suitable for use with a scope. However, the left side of the action is drilled and tapped from the factory for a receiver aperture sight.
The sights are quite traditional. The front is a bead with a removable hood, and the rear is a semi-buckhorn with a step-type sight elevator.
I found my Browning Model 71 carbine on the used shelf in Big Ray’s sporting goods store in Kodiak, Alaska. As you can see, it’s in prime condition and shows only a few small dings.
It was priced right, and since it was for sale in Kodiak, I thought that added a certain amount of instant cachet. All that was known about it was that it had been left on consignment by a local gentleman, along with another customized Browning Model 71 that had been rebarreled and chambered to .450 Alaskan.
Because the boat taking me to Sitka for blacktail deer hunting was waiting, time was short, so I bought it, and my friend Austin Brown bought the one in .450 Alaskan. Unfortunately, the shop didn’t have ammo for either gun.
Once I got home, my hard-core search for ammo and reloading components was disappointing. New dies were out of stock everywhere. I found some old Hornady dies on eBay and bought them. Starline, thankfully, had plenty of cases in stock, and I ordered 100. And although no place seemed to have component bullets, a call directly to Barnes Bullets’s headquarters turned up a few 220- and 250-grain Originals. To my delight, Cutting Edge Bullets had 175-grain Lever Raptors in stock. I lost no time assembling some test loads.
Incredibly, Travis Larson, my boat captain friend, of Alaska Premier Sportfishing, actually dug up a few boxes of 250-grain Buffalo Bore ammo and 200-grain Hornady FTX LEVERevolution ammo and very kindly sent them my way.
On a cold January morning, I settled at a benchrest to work out the Browning Model 71. As I loaded and cycled the carbine for the first time, I got the distinct impression it had never been fired. There were no burnished working surfaces inside the action. The edges of internal parts were sharp. Too sharp. Case rims tended to hang slightly after being inserted through the loading gate. Such issues usually burnish out after a few dozen rounds are fired.
The rifle proved to be delightfully accurate from the shooting bench. The results are shown in the accompanying chart. Thanks to a tasteful pistol grip and very good ergonomics, snap-shooting the Model 71 showed that it feels good in the hands, mounts well, and points naturally. Trigger pull weight is a bit heavy, at 5 pounds, 2 ounces, but it’s quite crisp and beautifully consistent.
Recoil is robust but not objectional, thanks to the carbine weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces. The balance point is an inch or two aft of the receiver front, making it perfect for one-handed carry while strolling Idaho’s elk country or maneuvering through Alaska’s alder thickets. I put the value of my pristine Model 71 at about $1,400.
Model 71 Specification
- Manufacturer: Browning Arms
- Type: Lever-action repeater
- Caliber: .348 Winchester
- Magazine Capacity: 4 rounds
- Barrel: 20 in.
- Overall Length: 38.3 in.
- Weight, Empty: 8.13 lbs.
- Stock: Walnut
- Length of Pull: 13.25 in. (increased to 14.7 in. with vintage slip-on recoil pad)
- Finish: Polished blued barrel and receiver, oil-finished stock
- Sights: Semi-buckhorn rear, bead with hood front
- Trigger: 5.13-lb. pull (as tested)