Firearms

King of the Lever-Action Rifles: The Winchester 1895

Winchester 1895 rifle with an open box of Winchester Dear Season XP .30-06 150-grain ammunition

Lever-action rifles have been an important part of my life since I purchased my first .30-30 WCF Winchester Model 1894. I’ve owned quite a few lever-action rifles since then. Some took game, others rode in the trunk of a patrol car, but most were for recreational shooting. After a lifetime, it seems, with the lever-action rifle, I finally acquired the model I feel is the greatest of the Winchester lever-action rifles — the Winchester 1895.

The Winchester 1895 is an interesting piece of history. Like many older rifles that have been properly cared for, the 1895 is still viable for everyday use. That is, if you obtain an original. There are modern versions as well. The Winchester 1895 is a great hunting rifle for moderate range. It isn’t a rifle that may be fitted with an optical sight, so old-fashioned hunting with iron sights are the rule. As for emergency use, any gun or rifle can be a lifesaver.

Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle chambered in .30-40 Krag
This is an original Winchester 1895 in .30-40 Krag.

A Bit of History

The history of the Winchester lever-action rifle is a fascinating study involving names such as Henry and Smith and Wesson. The Smith and Wesson Volcanic pistol was developed into the Henry rifle and then the Winchester 1866. That’s pretty simple, but it sums up the development leading to the 1873 rifle. The toggle-action Winchester 1873 was an immensely popular and influential firearm. Many of us believe that the toggle action of the Winchester rifle was adopted by Maxim for use in his first machinegun. The toggle was quite efficient and an important engineering advance. Then came one of the strongest lever-action rifles ever, the Winchester 1886.

The lovely, light, and fast-handling Winchester 1892 was a popular rifle, but the 1892 was only chambered in pistol caliber cartridges. The 1892 has plenty of leverage in its short action for rapid fire, but power is limited. The Winchester 1894 chambered the powerful .30-30 WCF bottleneck cartridge — a round regarded as pedestrian by modern shooters but a sensation in its day. The Winchester 1894 is easily the most widely used lever-action rifle ever designed. While it is a good rifle, the power of the .30-30 WCF was limited compared to the military rifle cartridges introduced around the same time.

Winchester and John Browning saw the new age of powerful, long-range, smokeless powder cartridges. The 7.62×54 Nagant and .30-40 Krag were in use before the 1894 rifle was introduced. The .30-30 WCF simply paled in comparison, but it was good enough for most of us for many years. Winchester decided to build upon the popularity of the lever-action rifle with a rifle that would chamber a more potent .30 cartridge. The Savage 99, I am certain, put pressure on the ’94 in sales.

Browning’s newest rifle had to chamber a bottleneck cartridge with a pointed bullet. That meant that an under-the-barrel tubular magazine was out of the question. Otherwise, the pointy bullet nose would contact the primer of the following cartridge in line. These demands led to the Winchester 1895 rifle.

The receiver had to be strong enough for the increased pressure. The goal was to design an American lever-action rifle for a European-style cartridge. Browning designed a reliable, single-column magazine placed under the receiver giving the 1895 rifle a unique look. It isn’t obvious at first, but the spring that powers the magazine continues beneath the barrel and into the forend.

lever-action rifle with the lever in the open position
It appears as if the guts of the rifle are coming out as the action is operated.

Those with an eye for detail will note that the notches in the magazine, and the loading block in the bolt, are closely related to the controlled-feed action of the 1911 pistol. At the time, most high-power military cartridges — such as the .30-40 Krag — used a rim for headspace. (The .303 British and 7.62×54 Russian, also chambered in the 1895, were similar designs.)

This must be understood, as it is important for function that the magazine be properly loaded. The cartridge is pressed into the magazine with the cartridge case head depressing the follower, and the head is placed to the rear and under the magazine feed lips to properly seat the cartridge. The massive bolt of the 1895 t locks at the rear with the Browning design cross-bolt locking lugs.

Since the .30-40 Krag was our military cartridge at the time, most Winchester 1895 rifles encountered are chambered for the .30-40 Krag. The .303 was the big seller in Canada. The famous .405, while an exciting number, wasn’t produced in the quantity, but the .30 rifle was.

reap aperture sight on a rifle with a hammer
Browning’s aperture sight is a great choice for the 1895 rifle.

Browning’s design paid off in a lucrative overseas contract. The Russians received some 250,000 or more in 7.62×54 caliber. These are collectors’ items today and most are well used. History tells us they fared well on the battlefield.

The 1895 rifle was not exactly the sensation the 1894 was. Still, it held on in sales. After the adoption of the Springfield 1903 rifle by the military, the 1895 was also offered in .30-06 Springfield. There is period literature referring to the Model 1895 not handling the Springfield cartridge well due to the high pressure. I have no personal experience with this version of the 1895 rifle.

Just the same, the similar 7.62×54 Russian gave no problems that I am aware of. Since period reports alluded to headspace difficulty and set back of the bolt with the rimless .30-06 caliber, the rimmed Russian round may be superior in that regard. Modern Winchester and Browning rifles in .30-06 and .405 have proven durable and reliable.

.308 Win. case head, left, rimmed .30-40 case head, right
The .308 Win., left, is more modern than the rimmed .30-40, right.

My Winchester 1895

The rifle illustrated was manufactured in 1902. It features a 24-inch barrel, crescent butt plate, and iron sights. It is in good shape for the mileage and certainly safe to use and fire as well as being accurate. The rifle saw not only hunting use but much use by police agencies.

The 1895 rifle saw action with the Arizona Rangers. The rifle earned an excellent reputation for ‘shooting hard’ and for penetration. The Rangers tested the rifles by shooting through giant cactus and found it far superior to the .30-30 rifle. The Army seemed to dislike the Winchester because it was difficult to use in prone firing — an important military consideration. However, the adoption of the 1903 Springfield by military spelled the end for lever action in military service.

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While the 1895 Winchester was not designed to be fed from a stripper clip, neither was the Krag Jorgensen. The Springfield 1903 rifle was fitted with a stripper clip, after the Mauser rifle. The 1895 Winchester is not as accurate as the Springfield 1903, so…

Just the same, the 1895 rifle is an accurate rifle by any standard and capable of a good, sustained rate of accurate rifle. It is less well suited to military use than the Springfield. However, in my opinion, the 1895 rifle was ideal for mounted peace officers.

I had considerable experience with the Winchester 1894, but some familiarization was needed when handling the 1895 rifle.

hand loop on the Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle
The Winchester 1895 action lever may be adjusted for gloved hand use.

 I mentioned the differences in strength and the manual of arms compared to the 1894 action. Additionally, the two-piece lever takes some getting used to. If pressure is not applied straight downward, the action will not open. But then the lever must be arced forward. The hammer features a half cock notch for safety. Just the same, unless the rifle is at the ready for critical use, simply levering the rifle action to make it ready is perfectly acceptable.

When using a lever-action rifle, the initial unlock is accomplished by pressing down and forward. In this manner, the lever-action rifle may be handled quickly and smartly with accurate fire. The 1895 is a very smooth rifle. The long throw of the action is necessary due to the powerful cartridges the 1895 chambers. As a result, leverage and speed are not in the same relative class with the 1894 rifle.

When firing the original 1895, the experience is pleasant. .30-40 Krag recoil doesn’t strike eddies into the shoulder, but the cartridge has an excellent reputation for killing power.

Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle resting on the ground against a tree
The Winchester 1895 is a relatively light, fast-handling rifle.

My late uncle Arden Williams hunted with a bolt-action Krag rifle and often commented on its effect. The original 220-grain military load was praised for its penetration. There was no shortage of wound potential. It was greater long-range accuracy that motivated the move to a lighter bullet at higher velocity and which resulted in the .30-06 Springfield.

As for the .30-40, this cartridge broke over 2,000 fps with the 220-grain loading. Today, the makers offer a 180-grain JSP loaded to 2,200–2,300 fps (depending upon barrel length). It is a catch phrase that judicious handloading may increase both the power and accuracy of a loading.

My philosophy in handloading has been to develop loads sensibly, but less hot than factory loads. The shooter and the rifle profit from this course. Practice is more pleasant, and accuracy is often increased. I will load the cartridge to its potential for hunting use, but otherwise lighter loads are the norm. Since I adopted this course, I was able to use handloads in the Winchester 1895 that I had previously worked up for the Krag Jorgensen .30-40 bolt-action rifle.

adjustable rear leaf sight on a rifle barrel
The original sights feature an adjustable leaf.

Any animal in North America could be taken cleanly with the heavy bullet at 100 yards or so. The present factory 180-grain loads are accurate and reliable. For handloading, the 180-grain Hornady bullet may be pushed to 2,300 fps with 46.0 grains of IMR 4350. I wish I could give a list of handloads that work well. But this loading answers my needs, so I have not developed others.

From the iron-sighted Winchester on a good day, the .30-40 handload will group three shots into just less than two inches at 100 yards. The occasional brilliantly-smaller group indicates the rifle is more accurate than the shooter. Larger groups tell me something as well.

With the 180-grain load, a ballistic calculation shows that by sighting the rifle in to strike four inches high, in relation to the point of aim at 100 yards, the Winchester is on the money at 200 yards. This makes for a useful all-around rifle. There isn’t a lot of choice in factory loads, but what is available, works well. That said, I would not seek out an older rifle to use.

Crescent shaped butt plate on a rifle stock
A crescent butt plate finishes out the stock.

It is great fun and if you have an older rifle on hand, fine, but there are better choices. Is the 1895 rifle practical today? You bet. The good handling qualities of the lever action are represented in this rifle. These include a good natural balance point, fast handling, and the simplicity of an exposed hammer.

The rifle is completely reliable and needs little maintenance. It was proven in the American west, in the hands of lawmen, and in action in the Great War. Anything the .308 will do at close range, the .30-40 will accomplish. As a roadblock gun or for perimeter defense, you could choose a worse rifle. The Winchester 1895 is a piece of history and a working rifle all in one.

Winchester 1895 Specifications

Caliber: .30-40 Krag
Barrel length: 24 inches
Overall length: 42 inches
Magazine capacity: 4 rounds
Weight: 8 pounds, 2 ounces
Length of pull: 13 inches
Drop at comb: 1 5/8 inches

Another Option

Recently, I was able to acquire a new production 1895 rifle chambered in .30-06 Springfield. Given the modern steel and quality manufacture, if ever there was a worry concerning the .30-06 and 1895 rifle combination, they are banished with this rifle.

browning 1895 lever-action rifle, right, profile
The Browning 1895 is a beautiful rifle.

The rifle is marked Browning. Of course, this is a modern Winchester 1895. Quality is superb. The finish is deep blue, and the furniture is gorgeous. The action is smooth — very smooth indeed. Feed reliability is excellent. Best of all, the Browning 1895 features a rear peep (aperture) sight. I have spent quite a bit of money adding aperture sights to older Winchesters, in some cases adding the Lyman receiver sight. This rifle is leagues ahead of the original in that regard.

As for accuracy, this rifle is faster to an accurate snapshot due to the sights. At a long 100 yards, I have fired several three-shot groups that fall into two inches. This is quite a shooter and a great hunting rifle. As an emergency rifle, you may just call it a scout rifle of sorts. In the end, the Winchester 1895 rifle is an interesting rifle in the historical sense but among a very few rifles designed before the turn of the previous century that remains not only viable but a frontline rifle.

Lever-actions rifles always bring out a lot of love here on the The Shooter’s Log. The author chose the 1895 Winchester in .30-30 WCF as his favorite. Share your favorite lever action in the comment section.

  • top down view if a rear sight on a rifle barrel
  • Front bead sight on a rifle
  • close up of the action on the Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle
  • Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle chambered in .30-40 Krag
  • Crescent shaped butt plate on a rifle stock
  • hand loop on the Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle
  • Winchester 1895 rifle with an open box of Winchester Dear Season XP .30-06 150-grain ammunition
  • reap aperture sight on a rifle with a hammer
  • adjustable rear leaf sight on a rifle barrel
  • browning 1895 lever-action rifle, right, profile
  • .308 Win. case head, left, rimmed .30-40 case head, right
  • Schnabel type forend on a rifle
  • close up of the hammer on a lever-action rifle
  • Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle resting on the ground against a tree
  • close up show wear on an Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle
  • lever-action rifle with the lever in the open position
  • Winchester 1895 lever-action rifle with the lever partially open

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (15)

  1. Mr. Campbell, I enjoy reading your articles on The Shooters Log. They are informative, detailed and entertaining. I also have a love for lever action rifles. I would like to request an article about rifle scopes. Maybe you have written about this before but a new article would be most appreciated. I am very confused trying to understand all the different magnifications. It used to be a big deal mounting a scope to your lever or bolt action rifle but now days with rail systems it is plug and play. My problem is trying to understand what is right for what I want to accomplish. What is the right scope for my use? From a 1×8 to 4-28x56mm and all in-between the numbers are very confusing to me. I thought that a 1×8 would magnify an object 8ft away to look like it is 1ft away. Maybe you could explain the meanings of all the numbers so people like could better understand. I know I am commenting on your blog and I hope this reaches you. If any other readers want to comment or reply, all are welcome. My email is rmsummers01@yahoo.com. Thanks all!

  2. Great read Bob!
    I have my Grandfathers 1895 in 30-40 Krag. I have fond memories shooting it in the Az Desert when I was a teenager. Pretty hard finding ammo now days. Maybe Rem will bring back the cartridge once they get up to speed.

  3. I was handed down a .32 WS ’94 lever action rifle by my dad a few years ago. It’s an early or mid 1900s rifle (circa 1909 or 1913), depending on whom you consult online. My dad got it from a rancher in the greater L.A. area back in the late 50s when L.A. still had a few rural areas around. He blued it, so it looks incredibly pristine…like new. I never fired it again until…a few years ago when my dad simply asked me over the phone if I wanted it after I asked him about it when I saw it under his bed. He had been out of town for a while when I went into his room and noticed the rifle in a protective sock under his bed. I then stocked up on 2000 + rounds of .32 WS ammo because it was already a pretty rare round that sometimes was in stock but only at Bass Pro Shop. After it sold out it took months or even more than a year until they would restock it on their shelves again. I would buy a few boxes here and there, especially online. I haven’t shot at all for several years, so I don’t know if that round is still sold in stores. I have more than enough .32 WS ammo to shoot if I want, so I don’t worry about stocking up on more.

  4. I’ve had my Model ’95 since my 13th Birthday(63+ years). Mine is a saddle-ring carbine(22 in.) made in 1915, .30/40. I’ve killed 7 deer & 2 elk with 180g spire-point bullets. I sighted it in at 200 yards, and the cow elk was dropped instantly at 275 yards with a heart/lung shot. I love my ’95!

  5. I love my 1866 44-40 Yellowboy. My only regret is that it is difficult to find ammo thus limiting my practice time.
    With its short barrel I have no problems getting through tough terrain.

  6. I like the .30-40 cartridge, but the Browning 1895 in .30-06 would be a nice companion to my Marlin 1895 .45-70. And to complete the set, Savage 99s in .308 w/pistol grip stock and .303 Savage with a perch belly stock. And then… to be continued LOL

  7. A Savage 99 is much better Lever Action rifle than the 1895. The new BROWNING/HENRY LONG RANGER models are even better yet. In prior blogs I talked about using modern technology to recreate “old” firearm designs. I do think that the model 1895 is not such a great candidate versus what could be done with “updating” the Savage 99. Modern Investment Casting technology means a Savage 99 receiver could be produced effectively. Even an Injection Molded Carbon Fiber (Nylon) PA 6/6 “Frame”, with a Steel “Receiver”, (Think modern POLY frame handguns.), would be possible with a “modernized” Savage 99 design. Barrel would screw into the Steel “Receiver”, and “Bolt” would lock up against the rear of the “Receiver”. What would be the balance of a Savage 99 traditional Receiver would be the 30% CF PA 6/6 “Frame”. Anyone else have a suggestion?

  8. It was good to see Henry come out with lever actions chambered in .223, .243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Win called the Long Ranger. They have detachable magazines and are drilled and tapped for scope mounts or the rail of one’s choosing.

    Just waiting for Henry to build one in .350 Legend so I can hunt deer with it in my home state.

  9. Add the Savage 99s with their rotary magazines and tang safeties[ambidextrous] and made in the USA .Too bad they weren’t offered in 30-06

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