September 23, 2010
By Joseph von Benedikt
Oliver F. Winchester 200-year commemorative rifle.
By Joseph von Benedikt
The anniversary rifles honoring Oliver Winchester's two-hundredth birthday have classic styling: Straight grip, crescent buttplate, 24-inch half-octagon barrels and buckhorn sights. Caveats to modern design are the angle eject and tang safety.
Those of us who heralded the return of the Model 70 Winchester have awaited — with bated breath — the reintroduction of the legendary Model 94 lever-action. It was with mixed feelings that I read a recent press release from Winchester Repeating Arms announcing a Model 94 for 2010.
It's a limited edition, anniversary rifle. A set of rifles, actually. Beautiful. I got my hands on one long enough to prove that much to myself. My feelings were mixed because only a few serious shooters would have the wherewithal to own one.
There are, as I mentioned, two versions: A Custom Grade replete with gold inlay and extensive engraving, and a High Grade with toned-down but still extensive decorative work. Both have lovely walnut stocks; the Custom Grade is built on Grade IV/V walnut, the High Grade on Grade II/III. The Custom Grade rifle sports, in the finest old tradition, the words "One Of Five Hundred" in gold inlay on the barrel, as well as "Two Hundred Years, Oliver F. Winchester" and the dates "1810-2010" on the right side of the receiver. Mr. Winchester's signature graces the top of the bolt, also in gold.
The right side of the receiver is engraved with a likeness of Oliver Winchester, as well as the words "1810-2010, Two Hundred Years" and "Oliver F. Winchester." On the Custom Grade these inscriptions are inlaid in gold.
Speaking of 500, only that number of Custom Grade rifles will be available, and they come in a two-gun set along with a High Grade rifle. Said High Grades will have the gold signature on the top of the bolt, but the other inscriptions are engraved rather than gold inlaid.
Lucky for those of us that want a new Model 94 to shoot, a limited number of High Grade rifles will be sold individually. I obtained a sample for a very short time — but it was long enough to do some shooting and get a basic feel for it and a few photos.
The left side of the receiver is engraved with the Winchester Repeating Arms logo and full-coverage scrollwork.
My feelings were also mixed because of the words "Made in Japan" marked on the barrel. Not that I have anything against Japanese rifles — they tend to be well made and provide above-par accuracy. No, it was more because Winchester Repeating Arms Co. is an American icon, and the reintroduced Model 70 is built here in the U.S.A. Why not the Model 94? Perhaps we will find out in the future.
Well, as they say, the proof is in the pudding, and the imported version is very nicely made. Certainly better made than the last of the Model 94s to come out of the U.S.R.A.C. plant before it closed. And as long as it performed well at the range and in the hands, who am I to argue with where it's made?
The Model 94 High Grade the author tested holds 8 rounds in the magazine and loads, feeds, and functions beautifully.
And perform it did. The loading gate gulped an extraordinary amount of .30-30 cartridges (8) courtesy of a full-length magazine tube, the action levered those shells smoothly into the chamber, and accuracy with the buckhorn sights was good at 50 yards. I was able to keep 5-shot groups consistently in the 2-inch range, which, though not spectacular, was pretty good considering that a persistent wind was impolitely jousting with my bullets. One note: 50-yard point of impact was, with the ammo I had on hand, about 8 inches high and right of point of aim. Said ammunition was Hornady's LeveRevolution load, and the rifle may have printed closer to point of aim with a more traditional round- or flat-nose projectile.
At any rate, adjusting windage would be no problem — simply drift the rear sight in its dovetail. Bringing the elevation down could be more of a problem, as I had the step-adjustable rear sight on its lowest setting. The notch would have to be filed deeper or — a much better option — the front sight replaced with a taller version. But as I said, I'd try some other ammo types first, and would be surprised if one didn't print much closer to point of aim.
The rifle shouldered nicely and pointed naturally in spite of the deeply curved classic style rifle buttplate, which tended to dig into my shoulder while shooting offhand unless I was mindful to keep the buttplate snugged out a bit further on my shoulder than I typically do. I must say, though, that any other type of buttplate would have been out of place on a rifle with such classic lever-action rifle lines.
Speaking of configuration, the rifle was just about perfect, at least in my humble opinion. Pistol grips aren't my cup of tea on a lever-action, and this has none. The barrel is 24 inches long, sporting a lovely half-octagon, half round profile, and is rifled with a fairly fast twist for a .30-30 WCF: 1:10 inches. The fore-end is slender and feels perfect in the hand, and has a nice cap plated with a silver nitride finish, which is the same finish as is used on the receiver.
A safety sits unobtrusively on the rear tang, the only place I'm really ok with a safety on a lever-action, though it complicates mounting a tang sight — which this rifle fairly begs for.
The 24-inch barrel has classic half-round, half octagon styling, a high-polished blue finish, and the figured walnut fore-end is tastefully capped with german silver.
What would I change about the new Model 94 rifle? I'd make more, a lot more. And I'd make 'em without embellishment for those of us who spend more time with our rifle in the deer woods than admiring it in the gun cabinet.
Lastly, I'd bring back its little brother — the most legendary levergun of all. I'd build a Model 94 carbine, replete with 20-inch round barrel, steel checkered carbine buttplate, straight grip, ladder-style sight, and yep, I'd put a saddle ring on it.
When will the anniversary rifles be available? Starting in the second quarter of 2010, you'll start seeing them. If you want a set badly, it would behoove you to contact Winchester (winchester-guns.com) and place an order.The Custom Grade rifle will retail at $1,959, the High Grade at $1,469.