Winchester Model ’94—The Rifle That Won the West

By Dave Dolbee published on in Firearms

Who does not own or wish they owned a Winchester Model 1894? Most gun collectors consider Winchester Repeating Arms as the firearms manufacturer that “Won the West.” Among the top performers were rifles such as the Model 1866, 1873 and 1876. Then, along came a man by the name of John Moses Browning. Isn’t it amazing to see how many stories start with John Moses Browning revolutionizing a new design?

Winchester Model 94 Trails End Takedown

Winchester Model 94 Trails End Takedown

John Browning was the father of many of our most famous rifles and pistols, and many more have key elements based on Browning’s numerous designs. As for legendary Winchester rifles, Browning was responsible for the Single Shot 1885, Model 1886 and Model 1892. However, in 1893, he outdid himself with a new Winchester model, the lever-action rifle that would become known as the Model ’94.

Pre- and Post-1964 Model ’94s

When discussing the Winchester ’94, you’ll often hear of “pre-1964” Model ’94s with a certain reverence—and “post-1964s with a certain disdain. There is a bit of credence to this differentiation, though not perhaps not as much as some of the salespeople behind the counter would have you believe.

Winchester Model 94 loading port

Loading is easily accomplished by feeding the rounds through the port on the right side of the rifle. To chamber a round, pull the lever completely open (finger off the trigger of course) and close it again.

The pre-1964 Winchester ’94s feature graceful lines, fine walnut stocks and forearms, and plenty of steel. The combination made it the best-selling sporting rifle of its day. However, the forged steel parts were expensive to make, and by the early 1960s, 70 years after its introduction, the Winchester ’94 was reaching a price beyond the means of the average hunter’s budget.

This left Winchester in a quandary. Its best-selling rifle was about to become unaffordable. The solution was to substitute a stamped sheet metal and roll pin design for those same parts that had long been made of forged steel. In addition, the steel buttplate was swapped for one made of plastic and the traditional bluing seen on the barrel and receiver was traded for a less durable finish.

The new models with their more inexpensive parts came off the production line in 1964. Down range, the new models shot every bit as well as the pre-’64 models. Perhaps they were not as pretty, but they were said to shoot just as well—or so said Winchester’s factory representatives, anyway. Many consumers disagreed. Yet it wasn’t a debate about accuracy that caused the rifle’s reputation to take a hit, rather it was the sturdy construction, durability and fine lines that reduced the public’s clamor for the Model ’94—and made the pre-’64 models instant classics.

With the public clamoring for the oldies but goodies, Winchester made significant strides and improved the aesthetics of the post-196r Model ’94s during the following years. But while the Model ’94 did in fact regain much of its standing in the eyes of shooters and hunters, today the pre-’64s own the hearts of collectors and enthusiasts alike.

Winchester Model ’94 and Competition Shooting?

Winchester Model 94 top ejection

The Model ’94 ejects the spent shells (or live rounds during unloading) from the top of the gun’s receiver.

So that’s the history. You will not find one thing wrong with today’s Model ’94, and it remains a very popular gun for hunting and plinking.

Since this was one of the guns that “Won the West,” you also might think it would have a prominent place in the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting, but that’s not the case. Costumed competitors in the action-shooting sport of CAS accuse the Model 94’s long action of being too “clunky” and somewhat unrefined. Cowboy Action Shooters favor rifles with actions they can cycle fast enough to put 10 rounds on five targets in less than 10 seconds. That would be a tough task for most Model ’94s. Thus, while the ’94’s action and it’s .30-30 cartridge are well suited to a properly placed shot on medium-sized game such as deer, the same cannot be said of action shooting.

The Modern ’94

Today, Winchester sells the Model ’94 in four configurations and three different calibers including .30-30, .38-55 and .450 Marlin (the last is known as the Model 94 Trails End Takedown). The .30-30 is still the king of three calibers in which the rifle is offered, and a fine choice for deer-sized game.

What makes this handy rifle more popular than ever these days is its ability to wear a scope. Scopes were not a common accessory in the 1800s, when the rifle was first introduced. Browning designed the original Model ’94 to eject the fired cases out of the top of the rifle’s receiver and over the shooter’s shoulder. That was fine for its day, but pretty much precluded the use of a scope. Thank goodness invention is the mother of necessity. Today you can shop for an offset scope mount (also known as a “scout-type” mount). A scope mount of this configuration places the optic forward of the ejection port, over the barrel of the gun. Winchester also makes a Model 94 AE, the AE standing for “angle eject.” This configuration ejects the empty case out to the side of the gun, allowing the user to put a more conventional scope mount on the rifle.

Whichever Model ’94 you choose, you’ll be shouldering a piece of long gun history and own a rifle worthy of passing down to the next generation. The Winchester ’94 proved the perfect design for the USA’s first smallbore sporting rifle cartridge. Well over century later, that rifle in its famous .30-30 cartridge is still a favorite of thousands of shooters and hunters.

Are you a Model ’94 fan? Share your best Model ’94 story in the comment section.

SLRule

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (53)

  • Blake

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    I acquired my 94 in 30-30 back in 1974. It is a post 64 model, but it is a great shooter, one I will never part with. The way I got it is kind of comical. My father was owed some money by one of his truck drivers, who was always broke. Anyway my father saw the gun in the cab of his truck, reached in and took it. He then told the driver they were even. And all was good.
    Anyway it has been probably 30 years since I last shot the beast. It kicks like a drunk mule, so I keep it cleaned and stored.
    I also have 92 in 25-20. Now that is a fun gun to shoot, ammo is hard to come by, but am looking to reload.

    Reply

  • Le kenobbie

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    I have one I got in 1961 in a pawn shop. I paid 50$ for it. Big money back then. It is one of those made by hand and not machined! It shoots well, but I have only shot it 6-8 times. I keep it for nostalgic reasons and maybe a SASS shooting.

    Reply

  • John

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    I have a model 1894 that was originally purchased by the Calumet and Arizona Company (later became Phelps Dodge Corporation). Exact date of purchase is unknown, but was reportedly for the purpose of placing armed guards on the company’s copper smelter in Douglas, Arizona, during the Mexican revolution fighting at Agua Prieta, Sonora, across the border from Douglas. Evidently, there was concern that Pancho Villa would attack Douglas in retaliation for his perception that the US had supported General Calles, causing Villa’s failure at the second battle of Agua Prieta on Nov. 1, 1915. My rifle was discovered in an unopened crate along with several others in the late 1960’s during renovations at the Phelps Dodge offices in Douglas and my father was able to purchase it and subsequently gave it to me. The rifles were still wrapped in brown paper with a light coating of cosmoline, and aside from the probable test rounds at the factory, has never been fired. I was unable to verify the date of manufacture, since older Winchester records were evidently destroyed in a fire a number of years ago. It is a beautiful, octagonal barreled piece.

    Reply

  • Dean McGinnes

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    Wandering through the twice-annual Mt. Dora, Florida Amtique Extravaganza, I spotted an octagonal (or hex, I get them confuses) barreled beauty. The bluing was worn, the wood looked well-used, but the bore looked fairly good. It just had that “right” look. The serial number was from 1911, and he wanted 500 bucks. That beauty went home with me. Can’t hit anything beyond 50yds with that Buckhorn sight, but it feels so good to shoot! Bought it about a dozen years ago, and it will go to my youngest grandson. Thanks John Browning. May just take it to the deer woods on Nov. 30 to celebrate Mr. Winchester’s birthday.

    Reply

  • Mark

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    I bought a limited run 94 in .357 magnum back in 2001 I think it was (maybe 2000), I used it for cowboy action shooting and had the insides polished by a reputable gunsmith who specialized in cowboy guns. I ran 10 hits on 10 targets in 9.6 seconds, anyone who says the 94 isnt suited for cowboy action doesnt practice enough period. I sold that gun when I quit competitive shooting and boy do I regret it! I tried looking for another rifle but to my dismay they are made in Japan now and cost more than 1600.00 dollars, never will I support Winchester till they bring the 94 back to American production facilities. Mine was made in the USA and was a perfect machine! My SASS handle back then was BlueIron from MN.

    Reply

    • Awgiedawgie

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      If you found new Winchesters made in Japan, they weren’t Model 94s. The new Model 94s (any of them made after the 2006 closing of the New Haven plant) are made in Belgium (either that, or they’re counterfeit). Their quality is as good as any other post-1964 editions, but none of the post-1964s can compare to the pre-1964s. The Winchester Models 92, 95, & 96 are the ones made in Japan, and licensed by Browning.

      Reply

    • James H

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      I beg your pardon, but the Model 94 is now manufactured in Japan by Miroku, a partner of Browning/Winchester. Production of the ’94s resumed in Japan in 2011. They manufacture the Sporter, Short Rifle, and Trails End Takedown. Their quality is said to be as good or better than any made since 1964. There are several links including Wikipedia” to the partnership you can look up on the Internet by entering “Winchester model 94 2011″ or more specifically “Winchester model 94 2011 chuckhawks” for a good breakdown. I will say if you meant that the new Model 94s are “reproductions” that would be correct; however, that does not mean they are not Model 94s. They are imported to the U.S. by the Browning Arms Company.

      Reply

    • Awgiedawgie

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      I stand corrected. And with all due respect to Chuck Hawks, I didn’t even bother to read his article, because my own misinformation came from reading someone else’s reputable (or so I thought) article that stated that the 94s were supposed to start production in 2010 in the Belgium plant. And maybe they did, or they didn’t, I don’t know. But after seeing two different articles that contradicted each other, I went straight to Winchester’s website and looked up where their guns are made. It seems the Super X3 shotgun and the Model 101 over/under are the only Winchester guns produced in the Belgium plant.

      Reply

    • Me

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      And once again….Auggie doesn’t know WTF he’s talking about….Shocking isn’t it? NOT…

      Reply

  • Lu

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    I found a good condition pre 64 94 at cabelas a while back . It wasn’t what I was looking for at the time but the deal was to good to pass up so it when home with me. When I got it home I found out it may have never been shot! The bore was perfect and the groups I got from it was amazing 1.25 moa! My fends dad seen it at the range and fell in love with it so I couldn’t say no so I sold it to him for what I payed for it. I look at a 30 30 as a total dad’s gun and it fits him better then me besides I have my dad’s Marlin 336 from way back and I hardly shoot it so the winchester will get more love from him anyway

    Reply

  • Tod

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    In the early 1990’s I acquired a secondhand model 94 chambered in .44 magnum as a companion for a 629-1 Smith revovler I had. The carbine (or perhaps, short rifle) is a very Plain Jane variant (labelled ‘Ranger’) with a 20” round barrel, unremarkable hardwood stocks, hard plastic butt plate, semi-buckhorn rear sight, hooded front sight, and a full length magazine tube that’ll shoot all week. No saddle ring. No oversize loop. No crossbolt or tang mounted safety, thank you very much. Does have that trigger block which requires the lever to be all the way up before she’ll fire. Does have a rebounding hammer. Plenty safe without extra buttons to remember. The rifling appears to make about one half a turn over that 20” length, making the twist rate a traditional (don’t ask me why) 1:38. She hadn’t been been broken in when I got her, and her action was a bit… crunchy… but after some judicious polishing (mostly of the underside of the bolt) and some hours cycling the action in front of the TV, she runs about as smooth as a model 94 possibly can. Will she ever be a Cowboy Action racing machine? No. Certainly not with me driving, anyway. But she will feed and fire just about any bullet profile I’ve tried so far, LSWC’s to 300 grain XTP’s (loaded long), and will chamber (single shot style, mind you, not fed from the magazine) those monstrous Buffalo Bore 340 grain hardcast rounds that are forbidden to the Smith. She’s an angle eject, too, from an era when that was not noted in the serial number, which is in the middle 5 millions, and so she’s drilled and tapped for scope mounts or a ghost ring sight. If you’re getting the feeling I’m fond of this gun, you’re right. I am. Very.

    Reply

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