Pump-Action Perfection: Winchester'™s Model 61 Rifle

Winchester's Model 61 was a popular pump-action .22 rifle that was made from 1932 until 1963. This is a "Standard Model 61" with a round barrel.

Winchester was the first American company to offer a practical .22 pump-action rifle, the Model 1890. Designed by John Moses Browning, the Model 1890 aped Winchester's lever-action rifle with a tubular magazine under the barrel, an exposed hammer, and top ejection. It was an instant success and set the standard for all .22 repeaters that have followed.

The Model 1890 was followed by the equally successful Models 1906 and 62, each of which were based upon the 1890 rifle, and production of the Model 62 continued until 1958.

In 1909, Remington introduced the Model 12 pump-action .22 rifle, which used an internal hammer that allowed the receiver to be very streamlined and well sealed against the entry of moisture and debris. In 1915, Marlin introduced a similar hammerless .22 rifle, the Model 32. Sales of both proved very brisk.

While sales of the Model 1890 and 1906 remained steady, some began to comment that Winchester's pump guns looked a bit "old fashioned." In an attempt to attract new customers during the dismal days of the Depression, Winchester's marketing department decided that the company needed a "modern" hammerless, .22 pump rifle in the catalog.

The resulting Model 61 Hammerless Rifle was released on the market in 1932.

The Model 61 utilizes a streamlined receiver with the ejection port on the right side. When the forearm is pulled to the rear, a single action bar pulls the bolt down, unlocking it from a mortise in the top of the receiver. As the bolt travels to the rear, it extracts and ejects the spent cartridge case and cocks the hammer. As the bolt moves rearward, the next cartridge in the magazine enters the receiver and rests on the cartridge lifter.

Pulling the forearm forward activates the cartridge lifter, aligning a cartridge so it can be chambered by the forward-moving bolt. As the bolt goes into battery, the rear is cammed up by the action bar, locking it into the receiver mortise.

The magazine tube is loaded by rotating the knurled tip of the inner tube and pulling it forward, exposing a loading gate on the bottom of the outer tube. Cartridges are inserted base first and then the inner tube is pushed back in, whereupon a spring-loaded follower inside of it pushes the cartridges to the rear where they can be picked up by the lifter.

A pushbutton safety is located at the front of the trigger guard, and a bolt release catch is at the rear, left side. All Model 61s are takedown rifles, and unscrewing a large-headed, knurled, captive screw at the left rear of the receiver allows the barrel receiver/stock trigger unit assemblies to be separated for cleaning or storage.

During its production life the Model 61 was offered with octagonal and round barrels, straight- and pistol-grip stocks, and long and short forearms. They could fire the .22 Short, .22 Long, and .22 Long Rifle rounds interchangeably. Factory options included "single caliber" rifles chambered for .22 Short, .22 LR, or .22 WRF only; smooth-bore guns chambered for the .22 Shot cartridge; and special sights, finish, stocks, engraving, and gold or silver inlays.

There are three recognized variations of the Model 61. The first was the "Pre-war Model 61" with a plain, walnut, straight-grip stock; a flat, shotgun-type buttplate; and a smaller, grooved forearm. The next version was the "Standard Model 61," which differed by having a longer and more robust, grooved forearm. The third type was called the "Magnum Model 61," and this model differed in that it was chambered only for the .22 WMR cartridge and also had the larger grooved forearm.

The Model 61 is loaded through a gate in the tubular magazine.

As did its predecessors, the Model 61 proved to be a popular rifle, and production continued until 1963 with over 340,000 units leaving the New Haven, Connecticut, factory.

Shooting The Model 61
For this report I test-fired a Model 61 that belongs to my good friend Butch Simpson. It is a Standard model with a round barrel, pistol-grip stock, and long forearm. Overall condition is VG+, and it is mechanically perfect with a bright bore. The pump action operates very smoothly and has a short stroke, which facilitates fast follow-up shots.

I fired it with three different brands of .22 LR ammo on targets set out at a "small game" distance of 35 yards. The little Model 61 showed a definite preference for heavier, slower-moving bullets, and as the projectile weight went up and the velocity down, the groups consistently shrank. I had a number of failures to feed with the Federal ammo that uses a truncated cone-type bullet, but other than that, as long as I kept shucking the forearm, the Model 61 kept putting bullets downrange.

Just for fun, I scrounged a half-dozen empty shotshells from the trash bin and scattered them on the 25-yard backstop. I then used up the rest of the ammo making the little plastic things dance around. Hey, I checked my contract and nowhere does it say I can't have some fun while I'm working!

The Model 61 is a fitting example of the classic pump-action genre: light, accurate, rapid firing, reliable, and fun to shoot.

All Model 61s were takedown models and could be easily disassembled for cleaning and storage.

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Winchester Model 61 Accuracy

AmmuntionVelocity (fps) 35 Yard Accuracy (in.)
.22 Long Rifle
Federal Classic 31-gr. HP 1381 1.75
CCI Mini-Mag + V 36-gr. HP 1237 1.50
Wichester Wildcat 40-gr. Lead 1132 1.13
Notes: Accuracy is the average of three, five-shot groups fired from an MTM Predator rest. Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 10 feet from the gun's muzzle.

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