September 09, 2022
By Layne Simpson
Winchester advertisements in 1955 for the new Model 88 described it as the bolt-action rifle with a lever. It was a play on three rotating locking lugs at the front of the bolt that engaged shoulders machined into the steel receiver. The front-locking design virtually eliminated momentary bolt compression and receiver stretch during firing, as rear-locking actions made by Winchester, Marlin and Savage experienced.
Upfront breech locking was a first in Winchester lever-action centerfire rifles, but the idea was not exactly new among modern sporting firearms, as it had appeared on the Model 760 slide action introduced by Remington in 1951. The Model 88 was priced at $136 versus $104 for the Model 760, $69 for the Winchester Model 94 and $112 for the Savage Model 99. At the time, the Remington rifle in .270 Win., .280 Rem. and .30-06 had a huge following among hunters, and Winchester had not offered a quick-shooting rifle capable of handling the .30-06 since production of the Model 1895 ended in 1931. The time had come to catch up with the competition, and since the shorter .308 Win. was almost as good as the .30-06 and a better fit in the plans of Winchester design engineers, it was chosen for the Model 88. The .243 Win. was added in 1956.
The .308 Win. and .243 Win. were excellent choices for the Model 88, but a .308 case necked down for 7mm bullets fell short of .280 Rem. performance. And since the Model 88 could not handle anything longer than the .308 Win., the decision was made to go wider. Giving the new .284 Win. a rebated rim of the same diameter as the .308 simplified rifle production, and designing it with a body diameter only slightly smaller than the .300 Win. Mag. allowed the new cartridge to hold enough powder to match the velocities of the .270 Win. and .280 Rem. The .284 was added to the Model 88 in 1963.
One more gap was ultimately filled. In a hunting world replete with rifles wearing telescopic sights, sales of the grand old Model 71 lever action in .348 Win. had really dropped off. With plans to cease the Model 71’s production in 1957, Winchester necked up the .308 case for 0.358-inch bullets and introduced the .358 Win. in the Model 88 in 1956. Advertised velocities for 250-grain bullets were 2,350 fps for the .348 and 2,250 fps for the .358. They were actually closer because in real life, as the .348 seldom reached 2,300 fps with a bullet of that weight. Moving on to deer bullets weighing 200 grains, claimed velocities were 2,350 fps for the .348 and 2,530 fps for the .358.
Bullets in the .348 have tube-magazine-friendly flat-nose profiles, but the box magazine of the Model 88 made it possible to load the .358 with pointed bullets for delivery of about 20 percent more energy downrange. I have hunted a great deal with the Model 71 and the Model 88, and I still have both. In addition to being a bit more accurate, the Model 88 is better suited to wearing a telescopic sight. The Model 71 has a better trigger, and with a Williams aperture sight attached to its receiver, it is an honest 250-yard deer, elk and moose rifle.
Compared to other Winchester lever-action rifles with open-top receivers, the receiver of the Model 88 does a better job of enclosing internal parts. That, along with a close fit between the body of the bolt and all edges of the ejection port, pretty much eliminates the entry of mud, snow and debris while in the field. And except for the angle-eject version of the Model 94, other Winchesters eject fired cases toward the sky. The Model 88 flings them to the right, allowing the low mounting of a scope. The side of the receiver is also drilled and tapped for aperture-style sights made by Lyman and Williams.