Elsewhere in this magazine, Joseph von Benedikt states that the Winchester Model 1873 was the most “popular lever action of its time.” Something like 720,000 were produced. With more than 7,000,000 sold, the later Winchester Model 1894 (which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year—see the sidebar on page 28) has often been called “the most successful lever action of all time.” But this article is about the Winchester Model 1895, and even though it wasn’t the most “anything” of its time, it was the first-ever lever action with a non-detachable, integral, single-column box magazine built into its receiver rather than a tubular magazine under the barrel. Although less than 426,000 were made during the Model 1895’s original production run, it was an innovative rifle and was well received by those riflemen who favored a lever action.
The Model 1895
If we accept that gun designers become more knowledgeable as they gain experience, then it is reasonable to think that an experienced gun designer’s last designs are the culmination of what he has learned from his earlier designs. John M. Browning (1855–1926) is often referred to as “America’s greatest gun designer.” He received 128 patents covering more than 80 separate firearms—everything from single-shot rifles through autoloading pistols to fully automatic machine guns. He designed at least five lever-action repeating rifles—including the Model 1886 Winchester, the Model 1892 Winchester, and the Model 1894 Winchester—and the Model 1895 was his last. I’m not qualified to say that the Model 1895 is Browning’s greatest achievement, but undoubtedly, he put all of his accumulated knowledge into it.
Browning designed the Model 1895 at the direction of the decisionmakers at Winchester who wanted a rifle that was specifically strong enough for firing the then-new smokeless-powder cartridges and would accommodate the pointed Spitzer bullets that were becoming the choice of hunters. A tubular magazine required the use of bluntnosed bullets because in a tubular magazine a pointed bullet could ignite the primer in the round ahead of it and cause a catastrophe.
Oddly, though it was initially chambered for the smokeless-powder .30 U.S. (a.k.a. .30-40 Krag, .30 Army), the Winchester Model 1895 also was chambered for two blackpowder cartridges: .38-72 WCF and .40-72 WCF. The design was created from the ground up for smokeless-powder cartridges, and later options included .30-03 and .30-06 Springfield, .303 British, .35 Winchester, and .405 Winchester. Also, the Russian government purchased close to 294,000 Model 1895 muskets chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge, and I have seen a vintage schematic of the rifle that listed the .236 U.S. Navy (a.k.a. 6mm Lee Navy) as one of its chamberings.
The first 5,000 or so had a smooth-sided receiver, but in 1896 that was changed to the more familiar scallop-sided receiver. Much like the earlier Model 1894 Winchester, the Model 1895 utilizes a rear-locking bolt. Unlike the Model 1894, the Model 1895’s lever is linked to the trigger in a manner that the trigger moves down and then back up as the action is cycled.
The Model 1895 ejects spent cartridges out the top of the receiver, so it doesn’t lend itself well to the use of a riflescope. But remember that when the rifle was designed, riflescopes were not in wide use by sportsmen. An aperture rear sight could be installed by attaching it to the left side of the Model 1895’s receiver. Two buttstock shapes were offered: a curved crescent type and a flat shotgun type.
From 1896 until 1931, 425,881 Model 1895s were produced with barrel lengths from 22 inches to 36 inches and magazine capacities of four or six rounds depending on the cartridge. As with most Winchester rifles, special features and embellishments were available at the customer’s request.
No article on the Model 1895 is complete without mentioning U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. More than any other person, he made the Winchester Model 1895 famous. He used the rifle in .30-40 Krag during his Cuban campaign and his ride up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War (1898) and one in .405 Win. for his legendary African safari (1909–1910). He also used it on many North American hunts.
The Texas Rangers and the Arizona Rangers used Model 1895s. Mexican bandit Pancho Villa was known to favor the Model 1895, and according to one source, some Model 1895s were used by U.S. troops in the Philippine-American War (1899–1902).
From 1995 until 2010, Winchester produced limited runs of the Model 1895. And in 2019, the company is once again offering it.
Today’s Model 1895
The current Model 1895 is offered in two chamberings: .30-06 and .405 Win. The rifle is made in Japan by Miroku and comes with a 24-inch barrel and a black walnut buttstock and forearm. The buttstock has a straight grip and a shotgun-style steel buttplate. Length of pull is 13.25 inches. Drop at the comb is 2.88 inches, and drop at the heel is 3.63 inches. The forearm is a Schnabel type, and it and the grip area of the buttstock have nicely executed cut checkering and a soft satin finish. The barrel and receiver are blued.
Somewhere in its history, the Model 1895 was given a tang safety and a rebounding hammer. The current version has both features. The hammer is blued and so is the trigger. The internal magazine holds four rounds. The receiver is 1.35 inches thick measured at the top rear. The barrel’s diameter is 0.72 inch at the muzzle, and the muzzle crown is recessed slightly. The rifle weighs 8.0 pounds.
The sights consist of a Buckhorn-style rear and a Marble’s gold-bead front. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation via a traditional elevator. The left side of the receiver is drilled and tapped for a side-mount aperture sight.
Shooting Times received one chambered for .405 Win. Our sample’s wood-to-metal fit was decent, and the action worked as slick as can be. The trigger pull was nice and smooth, and it averaged 5 pounds, 12 ounces, according to my RCBS trigger pull scale.
Loading the Model 1895 is slightly different than the procedure for other lever-action rifles because rounds are loaded through the top of the receiver rather than through the side. With the safety in the “On” position, open the action by fingering the lever forward. Place a cartridge through the open receiver in a vertical position, base-first, and position the base against the magazine follower just forward of the magazine feed guides. Depress the follower with the cartridge and begin to angle the cartridge so that the point lowers toward the front of the magazine and the base starts under the magazine feed guides. Move the base rearward under the magazine feed guides. The spring action of the follower will pull the cartridge down and into position. Slide the cartridge back to make sure the base is seated against the rear of the magazine and that the bullet point has proper clearance at the front of the magazine. Insert the next cartridge in the same manner, pushing the cartridge base down onto the preceding cartridge.
In the event that you need to unload your Model 1895 without firing it, the action can be cycled with the safety “On” to chamber and then eject the loaded cartridges one at a time. With the safety “On,” the hammer is blocked from striking the firing pin. For safety’s sake, keep your finger off the trigger when cycling the action. Again, the trigger assembly is linked to the lever and moves as the lever is cycled.
The .405 Winchester
Winchester introduced the .405 Win. cartridge in 1904, and it has a straight-wall case with a rimmed case head. The bullet diameter is 0.411 inch. Cartridge overall length is 3.1748 inches, rim diameter is 0.5429 inch, and rim thickness is 0.0728 inch. The cartridge case holds about 74 grains of water, and typical powder charge weight is between 46.0 and 63.0 grains depending on the loading. The cartridge uses Large Rifle primers. The SAAMI maximum average pressure is 35,000 psi. The round typically pushes a 300-grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps, producing a muzzle energy of 3,224 ft-lbs and a recoil energy of 30 ft-lbs. It’s a real thumper—on both ends!
Factory-loaded .405 Win. ammunition is pretty hard to come by these days. Winchester doesn’t list it, but Hornady has one loading. The Hornady loading is part of the company’s Custom line of rifle ammunition, and it carries a 300-grain InterLock SP bullet. Its factory-rated muzzle velocity is 2,200 fps. Also, a few boutique ammomakers, including Old Western Scrounger, Buffalo Arms Co., and Hendershots, offer the .405 Win. loaded with cast or jacketed bullets. I ordered some of the Hornady ammunition from deguns.net, and it arrived at my door a few days later—which I think is excellent service.
On the Range
With the ammo and rifle in hand, I spent a pleasurable afternoon at the range finding out how accurate I can be with an iron-sighted rifle that churns up a lot of recoil. I wear trifocals (obviously, my eyes aren’t the best), and I do not enjoy heavy recoil. In fact, I had been nursing an injured shoulder for a week before I headed to the range. Shooting a relatively lightweight, heavy-recoiling rifle that has a pretty straight buttstock from a benchrest using iron sights is a challenge. Luckily for me, I have a Caldwell Lead Sled, so I loaded it up with about 50 pounds of counterweight and proceeded to shoot three, three-shot groups for accuracy at 100 yards. My first group measured a clean 2.00 inches. Incredibly, two of the shots were touching. The second group was even better, measuring 1.88 inches, and again two of the shots were touching. The third group was the largest: It measured 3.83 inches.
The Hornady 300-grain InterLock SP ammo produced excellent extreme spread and standard deviation numbers. Average velocity measured 12 feet from the gun’s muzzle was 2,151 fps. Plugging that figure along with the bullet weight into an online bullet energy calculator shows an energy of 3,082 ft-lbs. The results show the .405 Win. is certainly powerful enough and accurate enough for hunting any big-game animal in North America.
As for the recoil, 30 ft-lbs is hefty. It’s about twice the recoil of the average .30-06 load with a 150-grain bullet, and it’s a bit more than the recoil of the .45-70, .444 Marlin, .300 Winchester Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, and .375 H&H. It’s tolerable, but it’s definitely not enjoyable.
If I were going to buy a new Model 1895—and I’m certainly considering doing just that—I think I’d opt for the .30-06. But no matter which chambering you choose, the Winchester Model 1895 is a wonderful woods rifle, one with America’s greatest gun designer’s most innovative features and an interesting heritage.