September 10, 2020
Introduced in 1939, the Winchester Model 74 is an intriguing self-loading rimfire. The receiver is built on an 8.5-inch-long steel tube. An inch in diameter, the tubular receiver houses a simple blowback-operated bolt and is fed by a tubular magazine housed in the buttstock.
Unlike most vintage semiautomatic rimfire rifles, the Model 74 allows the bolt to be removed from the rear of the receiver, enabling easy maintenance and allowing the bore to be cleaned from the rear. These rifles can be spotted from a distance because of the squared-off rear of the action, which gives them a look nearly akin to the “humpback” appearance of the classic Browning Auto-5 shotgun.
Uniquely, the safety is a flat, knurl-ended crossbolt dovetailed into the top of the receiver. A petite charging handle rides in a slot machined into the left rear of the action, in a very ergonomic position. Situated directly above the trigger, its placement allows a right-handed shooter to simply rotate the shooting hand at the wrist, snick the charging handle rearward with a hooked fore-finger, and let it drop to chamber a round.
For its first year of production, the Model 74 was available only in .22 Short. In 1940, a .22 Long Rifle version was added. The “Short” was discontinued in 1952, and the entire line was dropped from production in 1955. According to Blue Book of Gun Values, 406,574 were made during the 17-year run of the Model 74.
Back in the day, the rifle retailed somewhere between $18.45 and $19.25, depending on options. It was available with the “open rear sight” shown on the rifle spotlighted here, as well as with a “peep rear sight.” A .22 Short “Gallery Special” had a shell deflector. Late models featured a dovetail on top of the receiver for mounting a scope.
The Model 74 has a bit of unique war history. It saw service in Great Britain as a training rifle, and later over 600 were fitted with scopes and suppressors and issued to coastal British Resistance forces when it appeared that a German invasion was imminent. Their task? An undercover, close-range war from behind enemy lines, targeting enemy officers and sabotaging the German campaign.
Model 74s are uncommon, if not rare, and are known for their idiosyncrasies and for their accuracy.
To load a Model 74, twist the magazine handle housed in the buttplate counterclockwise to unlock it and draw the magazine tube out of the stock. Drop cartridges into the angled loading hole in the right side of the stock. Keep the barrel pointed at a downward angle so gravity pulls the shells into the magazine tube. Sometimes it’s necessary to jiggle the rifle a bit. When adequately charged (up to 14 rounds), replace the magazine spring tube.
Pulling the charging handle back and letting it drop feeds a fresh cartridge into the chamber. Importantly, most literature on the Model 74 warns against functioning the charging handle to cock it with the safety in the “engaged” position. In fact, rifles originally came with a warning note included in the box. Apparently, the safety detent spring gets caught on the bolt and will lock up the action. Often, shooters destroy said spring while attempting to clear the action, and replacements are difficult if not impossible to find.
That’s one of the idiosyncrasies of the Model 74. Another is its three-piece firing pin assembly, which is prone to breakage if the rifle is dry-fired. Unfortunately, there’s no bolt catch to hold the bolt open when the magazine is empty, so unless the shooter counts shots, the rifle is often dry-fired when it runs empty. And let’s be candid: Who counts shots when a herd of jackrabbits is underfoot?
With a fresh cartridge chambered, the crossbolt safety may be engaged. Slide the safety left to disengage, press the trigger to fire. Repeat until empty.
I borrowed the rifle featured here from a friend. He had received it as a gift from his father, who had recently purchased it. Aside from that, I know nothing about it other than what I can interpret from examining the rifle.
From its appearance, I don’t believe it’s been fired much or used hard. The rifle was built in 1941, but there’s very little wear on the bluing, and from what I can tell, the finishes are all original. Aside from a couple large dings in the left side, the stock is in very good condition. The only sign of rust is on the buttplate, which likely picked up the very light freckling while left leaning in a closet corner for a decade—or three.
All the moving parts function smoothly and show little to no wear; the bore is bright; and everything appears to be original. This rifle was either loved and babied or not appreciated much and simply stored for most of its nearly 80 years.
While shooting it with his dad and his own son recently, my friend shot it extremely well and became quite enamored with it. Because my friend thought it was so cool, his dad gifted it to him.
At the range, I charged the Model 74 with a handful of CCI Stinger cartridges and fired a five-shot group on a 25-yard target. To my surprise, four of the five shots landed in a tiny 0.27-inch cluster. The rifle ran flawlessly and was easy to fire accurately. Following groups were nearly as good, and the zesty 32-grain CCI bullets (typically better known for impressive terminal performance on small game than for accuracy) averaged just 0.52 inch for a series of three, five-shot groups.
Impressively, the budget-priced American Eagle 38-grain HP and the high-grade SK 40-grain Flatnose Match loads I tested did just as well, averaging 0.53 and 0.45 inch respectively. And that’s with iron sights and middle-aged eyes! This is one superbly accurate vintage rimfire.
Winchester Model 74 Specs
- Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms
- Type: Blowback-operated autoloader
- Caliber: .22 Long Rifle
- Magazine Capacity: 14 rounds
- Barrel: 24 in.
- Overall Length: 43.75 in.
- Weight, Empty: 6.38 lbs. with scope and sling
- Stock: Walnut
- Length of Pull: 13.62 in.
- Finish: Gloss blue metal, satin wood
- Sights: Adjustable U-notch rear, brass bead front
- Trigger: 4.63-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Two-position crossbolt
Winchester Model 74 Accuracy & Velocity