Firearm History

Winchester 1894: The First Real Scout Rifle

Winchester 1894 Lever-Action Rifle

When conducting research for this story, I began to realize that the humble and little appreciated Winchester 1894 rifle has seen far more military service that I had thought.

I have always thought of the Winchester 1894 as the original scout rifle compared to Colonel Jeff Cooper’s appraisal of the .30-30 Winchester Center Fire rifle as a ‘poor man’s scout rifle’.

Indeed it was the first to meet the criteria for a powerful, accurate, and reliable defensive rifle and go anywhere, do anything long gun.

Perhaps the scout rifle goal of taking 200-pound game at 200 yards is a stretch for the .30-30 if not the .308, but at the time of its introduction, the Winchester 1894 was a sensation.

The .30-30 shoots much flatter than the .44-40 WCF or the .45-70 Springfield, the two big hunter’s cartridges of the day before the .30-30.

As soon as it became available, the Winchester was adopted by police forces including the Texas Rangers. The 30-30 shot flat and had great penetration.

A bad guy could no longer hide behind a horse or cactus and expect to be safe from rifle fire.

The Model 1894 developed an excellent reputation in the hands of lawmen and was issued to troops as well, although in a much smaller number than the Springfield 1903.

During the First World War, the rifle was issued to soldiers in American logging country to guard the fields. They are now valuable collector’s items known as spruce guns.

The Russians famously used the Model 1895 in 7.62×54 but it is less well-known, the Brits bought a few Winchester 94s and the French purchased many thousands of Winchester 1894 rifles.

Good reliable repeating rifles were worth their weight in gold. Compared to some of the quirky, underpowered French rifles, the .30-30 would have been a great trench fighter, but I can find no documentation of its use.

Winchester 1894 with Scope
This rugged old Winchester 1894 has years of life left in it. Note that the lever offers plenty of leverage for handling the .30-30 WCF cartridge. The proper drill is to press the lever forward not down.

Historical Use of the Winchester 1894

The Texas Rangers and the US Border Patrol used many firearms including automatic shotguns and the .351 Winchester self-loading rifle.

The .30-30 Winchester gave a cool shot to the upper hand in reliability, power and accuracy.

One old-timer told me that operating the lever of the Winchester got more attention than dropping a kitchen tray in a crowded lunchroom.

Some folks’ opinions of what makes a fighting rifle are marinated in ignorance, the Winchester, however, meets two important criteria. It hits hard and it is reliable.

The rifle is fast into action. The lever is pressed forward, not downward, for speed and leverage. The rifle is loaded by a port in the side of the receiver.

The rifle’s ammunition supply may be replenished by quickly adding ammunition as the rifle is fired.

If you believe a smaller number of accurate shots are more important than a flurry of fire, then the Winchester 1894 may be the rifle for you.

Winchester Lever-Action Rifle with Scope
A Bushnell scope gives this rifle greater accuracy potential.

The rifle is not without its detractors and some of them are those that used the rifle in battle.

One Mexican commander appreciated the use of the American ‘cowboy guns’ during the Mexican Revolution but felt that he was at a disadvantage when the other side was armed with the 7mm Mauser.

Reliability and fast handling are no trivial manner but the rifle falls short past the 200-yard mark, no surprise there. Between the wars, the rifle served primarily in law enforcement.

As late as the 1980s, the rifle was issued to troopers and highway patrol in several state agencies. The LAPD had the Winchester up to the Watts Riots and possibly later.

Several state patrols kept the Winchester on hand, often in cruiser trunks, well into the 1980s. On a personal level, I experimented with several rifles over twenty years of driving a police cruiser and the .30-30 rifle was one of them.

When brainstorming the endless possibilities requiring a rifle, the Winchester .30-30 was up to handling the majority of them, and all the realistic ones.

When the older cops that trained me said “30-30”, they put a kind of oral parentheses on it— with respect.

The .30-30 is a better roadblock gun than a shotgun and offers greater penetration than the .223 against sheet metal. It is also a  good choice for putting down injured animals.

Shooting Winchester Lever-Action Rifle
This young shooter finds the Winchester 1894 .30-30 rifle a useful all-around, go-anywhere rifle, especially for those on a strict budget.

The Canada Rangers still use their Lee Enfield .303 rifles as they transition to a modern Sako ten-shot, .308 rifle. But during World War Two, the Canadian Pacific Coast Militia Rangers were issued the Winchester .30-30 rifle.

It was rugged and familiar to the men. Someone once commented that the Japanese attacks on the West Coast forest only had propagandistic value.

The woodlands were vital to wartime boat and plane production and we were lucky the effect was small. The Pacific Coast Militia Rangers served a vital role.

The rifle hung on for many years and served its role well, but just how good is the .30-30 Winchester rifle cartridge?

The Winchester cartridge is usually loaded with a 150-grain bullet at 2400 fps, which translates to a true 2250 fps in a twenty-inch barrel and almost 2400 fps in the less common 24 inch.

In order to maintain the same point of impact for the point of aim, the hard-hitting 170-grain bullet is also loaded to 2400 fps— which comes out to a true 2150 to 2225 fps in most rifles.

The .308 has a 400 to 500 fps advantage. The 7.62x39mm has a similar velocity but with a 123-grain bullet (the gap narrows if both have 16-inch barrels).

The real advantage with the Winchester 1894 lies in the rifle. The lever-action rifle is flat, handles quickly and almost never ties up. This six-pound rifle is just an inch over a yard long.

When the rifle was introduced, it was very important that the rifle be handy in a saddle scabbard. This handiness transferred well to vehicles, trains and wagons.

The .30-30 rifle isn’t the most powerful or the most accurate, but what it does, it does really well.

World War Two Canada Rangers Winchester .30-30 rifles.
World War II Canada Rangers with their Winchester .30-30 rifles.

.30-30 Ammunition for the Winchester 1894

The Remington Cor-Lokt bullet is a famous game taker with excellent expansion properties and among the best .30-30 loads for deer-sized game and wild boar.

Fiocchi offers affordable, clean-burning and accurate loadings in both the 150 and 170-grain weights. The .30-30 responds well to a careful handloader.

It isn’t difficult to work up accurate combinations and best factory ballistics by a modest amount. The .30-30 is an important part of American history and the Winchester rifle is among our most useful rifles.

An option that is well worth your time is the Buffalo Bore 150-grain load using the Barnes TSX all copper bullet. This load moves the .30-30 up a grade in power and makes for better performance against larger animals.

The problem with the .30-30 really isn’t killing power at all, but shot placement. The limiting factor of iron sights is addressed by adding peep sights or in some cases an optical sight.

The .30-30 rifle is still a great all-around rifle and one that you should be proud to hang on your shoulder.

Old Winchester Lever-Action Rifle
This older rifle features a half magazine. Many special order options were available for a few dollars at the turn of the previous century.

Have you ever fired a Winchester 1894 rifle? What is your favorite lever-action rifle? Let us know in the comments below!

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 (22)

  1. I used my dad’s model 94 (with Williams peep sights) for deer hunting as a teenager and through university, and loved it! It always performed flawlessly, and since I used it in the forest where distance wasn’t a huge factor, it’s power and accuracy were just right. I ended up spending my entire career until retirement working overseas, and typically was not able to arrange my leaves during hunting season. I missed using that model 94! When my dad died, he willed all of his firearms to we five kids. Among other things, I got the model 94 and his old faithful Remington Gamemaster 760 30-06 pump. My dad was an incredible shooter and hunter. He would use the 30-06 for longer distances, and the Winchester for hunting in the forest at closer range. I saw him take a deer with one shot through the heart at 300 yards with the Gamemaster! He later got a newer 30-06 and stored the Gamemaster. He always was very insistent on keeping his firearms clean and in excellent condition. The model 94 he gave me is now 70 + years old, and, although obviously used, it is still in near pristine condition. I can only aspire to be as conscientious as my dad. He was a real pro!

  2. I I own a 1874 Winchester 38/40 octagon barrel it’s fires beautifully. Any recommendations on cleaning? Or do I just leave it. It’s only been cleaned once since I had it.

  3. I own a 94 that i purchased from my grandfather when I was 16. I put a fixed power side mount scope on it and had a gunsmith old timer friend help with some minor adjustments. Bench sighted it 1 inch high at 100 yards. Shoots awesome. Dropped a doe once at 188 yards with Rem Core lock 150s. Had some friends hunting with me who still dont believe I was sitting in my stand that far away. I love the light weight rifle. I have other choices but find myself taking it with me on hunts every so often and always becomes a conversation when other hunters see it.

  4. I wrote a whole 4 paragraphs on my mint, .32 Winchester Special but I got timed out fo EFF it. It was a good gun I inherited from my Dad that my daughter sold ( along with my brand new 870 Remington deer gun ) both for $200.00 when they were worth close to$1,600-$1,800.00. All for meth amphetamines.

  5. Been using a Winchester 94 for a brush gun and a Remington .270 for open areas. I love them both but, every time I pick up the 30-30 I feel like I stepped back in time.

  6. Great article on this fine rifle. I am a very fortunate recipient of a Model 94, with 24″ long octagonal barrel & curved butt plate, that my grandfather passed down to me. I confirmed through the William F. Cody Museum that the serial # on my rifle shows that it was manufactured in 1914. The first time I fired it I was 10 years old. I am almost 60 now & I still shoot the rifle 3 to 4 times a year, with my sons & other gun-enthusiast family members. It’s ‘dead spot on’ with open iron sights at 200 yards. Fun & relative inexpensive to shoot & very nostalgic for a variety of reasons.

  7. 94 30 30 excellent Lyman 57 A receiver sight (I think that is correct ) and 200 rounds of ammunition
    George Lawrence Bandito bandoleer made for 88 rounds loaded 60 30 30 and 28 44 Magnum and 28 357 magnum…really nice back up for a deputy

  8. I owned a ’94 .44 magnum that I really loved. It hit hard and was very accurate with only iron sights. Sadly I lost this gun more than 30 years ago due to the irresponsibility of my oldest son….

  9. As a youth was priveledged to be among those who used , well used, weapons from pre 1900s’ through 1950s by those using gram’pas or dad’s handle downs and In Northern woods thick forest if a man bought a new hunting rifle it was usually A Winchester, Marlin or Savage lever gun, and their kid got the old thuty-thuty or 32 cal.
    That is not to say all thosebWinchesters were in 30-30 because many many were of older and today are longer in production or scarcer than hens teeth calibers.
    My mentor was A Native American who carried a Winchester lever in 30-30, even though back then the Marlin, either model, was more accurate and I learned from him just why the hell there waz a notched ramp blade under buckhorn sights, and we used that knowledge to accurately drop bear at over 250 yards with the 150 grain rounds.
    No bs of hold over or under, know where round hit by the hump in that blade.
    Later years, to show off, I never trusted Winchester ammo so used Remington, to hit targets in kill zones out to 400 yards; and yes the 150 0r 170 grain packed enough oomph at 400 to drop deer bear or moose, although I never attempted to take anything over New England White tail or West Coast blackmail over 200 and a bit,; Although like I said , I seen it done during bear management in Apple orchards, all by moving elevation ramp.
    I, until eyes require scope, using new Hornady leveroition tips use to extend range of both 30-30 from 150 to 250 yards, and my 45-70 marlin out to tad bit over 300 using open or peep sights both within practical and ethical ranges.
    Once if anyone asked what weapons I would want co.e hard times, not SHTF bs of today, I would of said my Winchesters, ex military target 22, model 97 12 ga pump, and, yup my 1930,s manufatured model 94 in thuty-thuty.
    What’s that saw said by old men, “Not as good as I once was, but good once as I always was”, while my three choices are as good today as they always were back then, and will continue to be long after those who bought and used them are long gone.

  10. I became the proud owner of a pre 63 model 1894 a few years back when my father decided to trim the guns he owned down. I took my first elk with this rifle in 1976, as it was a great woods and brush gun. Sure, that 200 yard effective range for the .30 WCF limits its use, but it fills the role it was designed for very well, even a 100+ years later.
    The 94 also fits into the John Browning Legend, as he designed and worked out the 2 step solution that allowed longer cartridges to be used in a lever action. The actions from earlier lever guns were limited to short cartridges.
    Like the Mauser action, the lever action holds an important and still relevant place in firearm history.
    And they’re still a fun fun to shoot.

  11. I’ve used the ’94 Winchester 30-30 rifle in almost all but one deer hunt back in the early 1970s. After carrying the M1 Garand 30-06 in the army I sure enjoyed carrying the 6 pound ’94. It was accurate, reliable and deadly even at about 400 yards. Got one deer at that range once. Have not hunted in about 40+ years but when I did, this rifle was a pleasure. Back in 11958 I bought a Winchester Model 1988 – 308 caliber. This rifle was incredibly accurate! Bought it for black bear hunting in Wisconsin but never made the trip due to financial problems…not enough money. 🙂

  12. I own an 1894 model with a side-mounted scope, very much like in the pics above. Like Don, above, it was a gift I received when I was about 14, and could finally join my father and his deer hunting buddies. It was originally owned by my step-grandfather, and according to the serial #, it was manufactured sometime in the 1930’s. Shoots flawlessly, light and easy to carry, and I have taken many deer with it. Still a great rifle for being nearly 90 years old.

  13. Excellent gun for it’s intended purpose and will usually hit anything you can reasonably get in the original sights. Also a great gun if you hand load as you can load anything from a 113 grain bullet in front of a few grains of pistol powder or a 150 or 170 grainer over a case full of Trail boss to introduce a young shooter to rifles or just really fun plinking , up to max load for hunting. Very versatile rifle that many people forget or are too young to know killed LOTS of deer and more than a few elk ,bear, lion and a few moose ! A 150-170 grain soft nosed or all lead bullet moving at good if not warp drive speeds is going to anchor just about anything it is well placed in. As the author says, the real plus is the ease and speed of the transport and use of this American icon.

  14. The first gun my father gave me was a ‘94. It was 1964 and it was not the “classic” that in later years that I wished it was, but at 16 I was over the moon. It replaced an old Savage 99 in .22Hp. Compared to that heavy fat old Savage the 94 was a dream to carry. I reloaded thousands of rounds over the years and when Hornady introduced the FTX bullet it greatly introduced the performance of the cartridge compared to round or flat nosed loading. While they sometimes have feeding problems I find that if you only put 4 or 5 rounds in the mag they work through it ok. I love my 94 and think of y dad when I carry it over 50 years since he gave it to me for my 16th birthday

  15. My first rifle was a Winchester 30-30 Canadian Centennial that I purchased at a sporting goods store in Salt Lake City in 1966. It had a 20″ octagonal barrel and was so much to fun to shoot. A friend and I would go jack rabbit hunting in the hills southwest of the city. It was a very accurate shooter and I “blew up” many a jack rabbit. I also hunted deer in the eastern Utah mountains. I sold the rifle to my brother-in-law many years ago – wish I had it back. I recently purchased a beautiful, new Model 1873 in .357 magnum. I love lever action Winchesters!!

  16. My first hunting rifle was a ’94 in 30-30 and I shot my first deer and antelope with it. I have the rifle now that my Dad passed away. My great grandfather bought it brand new and it has been passed down through the family. It holds a special place in my heart because of that.

    Though it is not a good cartridge for long shots over 200 yards it is excellent out to 200 yards and every shot I have ever taken at game within 200 yards have gone down immediately because of the the power this has. That sure makes it nice not to have to track a wounded animal.

    As long as I can buy ammunition for this rifle, it will be one of my favorite rifles to have on hand. I know it is a very trustworthy rifle that will remain with me and my family for a very long time.

  17. I have been shooting a30- 30 for over 50 years. Shot many white tailed deer with it. I like it best for in the woods because of it fast action and handling.I used the 170 gr. speer hot core bullets, until recently, and now reload with the hornady 160 gr ftx bullets and lever lution powder.Both my guns are the marlin 336 carbine, one old one open sights, one 70s vintage with a redfield 2-7 widefield scope. As old of a cartridge it is, its still a vary good and capable deer rifle.

  18. I realize that your article is about the 30-30 version of the “94”, but that wasn’t its only caliber choice.

    I had the chance to fire the first rounds through an original Winchester 1894 in 38-55 caliber back in the 70’s. It had been purchased brand new by my brother-in-law’s grandfather and never fired. He kept it in a trunk in his storage building for no one seems to know what reason. Along with it was a box of original Winchester ammo, which for historic (and safety due to it being about 40 yeas old) sake we never fired. I hand loaded some loads for it and we went out to the range and had some fun. I used smokeless powder rather than the original 55 grain black powder load and it fired beautifully. It grouped in about 2 inches at 50 yards with its iron sights and was very easily managed compared to my normal custom built Mauser 98, rechambered to .308 that would make your shoulder sore after an afternoon of shooting “hot hand loads”.

    I also own a Rossi Model 92 (clone of the Winchester 1892, but was notorious for rough part castings and hard action operation) in .357 magnum pistol caliber. It became my knock about “brush gun” after I smoothed the action to make it as smooth as the Winchester was right out of the box. It feels almost identical to the Winchester 94 in 38-55, but fires a lighter bullet at higher velocity. My chrono tests showed my hand loads to be: 158gr .357magnum @ almost 1800. fps (due to the longer barrel than a pistol) The 38-55 was loaded with 255 grain lead flat nosed bullets @ about 1400 fps. I didn’t do any hunting with the 38.55, but my .357 magnum drops white tail and wild hogs easily at up to 100 yards, so I would assume about the same for the 38-55. The only real difference I saw was that my faster moving .357 bullets had a flatter trajectory and about 2″ less bullet drop at 50 yards.

  19. A Lever action 30-30 was the first center fire rifle I purchased and has been a mainstay among my rifles for 50 years. Highly effective at reasonable realistic woods distances on deer and hogs. Too bad the Hornandy 160 gr “pointed” bullet lever load wasn’t given some coverage in thr article. It is a evolutionary load for 30-30. Used the Remington 170 gr load for years until the Hornady load came out.

  20. I have several 94s-in 30-30 and 32win and 25 win
    I has rear peep sight. Others semi or full buckhorns. I also have a model 62 in 30-30. I would have loved one in 32

    I first shot a model 62 in the late 50sand finally found an “as new” one

  21. I love my 30-30’s. I have a couple of old pre-crossbolt safety Marlins. One is a straight grip “Texan.” I like the Marlins better than the “94.” I guess it is mostly jyst personal preference. They are both excellent shooters. I have owned “94’s” and they too were excellent shooters.
    I have a preference for rimmed cartridges. Call me old fashioned but I have a “94” chambered in 25 35 too. I also have a three 30 40 Krag rifles and of course a pair of truly excellent SMLE .303’s.
    I don’t shoot the SMLE rifles because they are in truly excellent condition. I do use my Krags. They are also excellent shooters that has been overlooked by shooters everywhere. Mine were professionally converted to “Sporters” and one looks like it is a factory built carbine. (Great Truck Gun). I like the fact tgat the Krag can be continually reloaded just like the 94 and is flatter shooting with a little more oomph. Reloading for my rimmed calibers has allowed me to make the 30-40 really shine within safe pressure limits but I digress.
    My Marlin Texan carries an LER glass so it truly is a “scout rifle” especially loaded with Hornady LeveRevolution 160gr.
    Peace

  22. Was my 14th Birthday present and served me well on deer hunts in VT and Maine as a kid. The gun I cherish most next to an old Fox Sterlingworth passed on by my grandfather. It ain’t pretty but it always gets the job done.

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