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Winchester's Classic Model 94 Lever-Action Rifle: It's History

Take a look at the famous Winchester Model 94 and how it holds up today.

Winchester's Classic Model 94 Lever-Action Rifle: It's History

Winchester’s Classic Model 94 Lever-Action Rifle: It’s History (RifleShooter photo)

No knock on Marlin, but say “deer rifle” and most folks will envision Winchester’s ubiquitous straight-gripped carbine Model 94. After a couple of years with a 336 Marlin, I finally laid hold of a Model 94 and fell instantly in love with its slimmer, sexier lines. The Model 94’s credentials need nothing in the way of embellishment. Designed by John Browning, it was the first smokeless “high powered” American sporting rifle, with more than 7.5 million made.

Most of us are familiar with the carbine version—20-inch barrel, full- length magazine, 6.5-pound weight. But it’s easy to forget there were different variations of the Model 94 platform that didn’t exactly fit the description of saddle gun. I recently had the opportunity to shoot two versions of Winchester’s classic that were made 67 years apart. When you stop to consider the production lifespan of most hunting rifles, this in itself is something beyond remarkable.

Winchester Model 94
The 1897-vintage Model 1894 rifle was chambered to many cartridges. (RifleShooter photo)

1964 VIntage Model 94

The carbine was of 1964 vintage, and I was able to shoot it alongside an 1897-vintage 26-inch octagonal barreled rifle. During its 1894-98 production run, it was chambered to .25-35, .32-40, .32 Special, .38-55 and, of course .30-30—or rather .30 WCF (Winchester Center Fire), as the cartridge was then known. It could also be had with a round barrel in 24-inch length as well as in takedown configuration.

In deference to its age, I shot the rifle with Hornady Custom Lite 150-grain InterLocks, which clocked 2,100 fps. That was fairly close ballistically to the original 160-grain/1,970 fps .30 WCF load in vogue when the rifle was made. And that—along with the fact that it weighs nearly a pound and a half more than the shorter carbine—made shooting with that steel crescent buttplate actually more pleasant than shooting the carbine’s “kinder and gentler” shotgun-style buttplate.


My carbine, having enjoyed the advantages of over half a century of metallurgical improvement, happily digested the latest in current loads including Winchester Super-X 150-grain, Federal Hammer Down 150-grain, Hornady Full Boar 140-grain Monoflex, Hornady 160-grain FTX  and Buffalo Bore 190-grain Heavy jacketed flatnose. I didn’t mess with the rifle’s buckhorn sights, but on the carbine I installed a Lyman 66A receiver sight and paired it with a Skinner Sights flat-top post front sight that replaced the original bead front. Many shooters, me included, prefer to set a target on top of a post instead of using a bead that can subtend too much of the target.

Groups at 50 yards with the Lyman sighted carbine and brass Skinner blade ran from just under an inch to around an inch and a half. Things also improved considerably when I unscrewed the small aperture and shot it as a ghost ring. Shooting the octagonal barrel, 1897 rifle version and its buckhorn sights was a bit more challenging. Groups at 50 yards ran around two inches. While this may have dismayed me 20 or 30 years ago, I’m more than happy with it now. Model 94s have never been renowned for varmint-rifle triggers, but the carbine was a quite manageable 2.5 pounds. It had just enough take-up and creep to keep it well out of the “breaking icicle” class of cliche, but all in all, not bad. The rifle’s trigger, although four ounces heavier than that of the carbine, was a bit more crisp, exhibiting less takeup.

This particular carbine had done serious downtime in someone’s garage before I acquired it, and it sported some “freckling” as a result. I think a rebluing on this one may be in order. The carbine’s certainly earned it. As is, value-wise it’s worth somewhere north of $700 and south of $1,000. So how about the older rifle’s well-worn 19th-century patina? Well, you don’t have to be an originalist to agree that it’s just fine “as is.” I’ve seen similar specimens on the auction block bring $1,700 to $2,000—sometimes more.


What Are They Worth Today

Winchester Model 94
Miller modified his Model 94, built in 1964, with a Lyman receiver sight along with a Skinner front post, which is hidden beneath the sight hood. (RifleShooter photo)

Obviously, pre-1964 Model 94s in good shape command a premium. In ’64 the company replaced billet forged receivers with sintered ones and cut corners on smaller parts like using stamped cartridge lifters. But despite these changes, performance wasn’t adversely affected, and I’ve seen used 1970s–1980s specimens run from $1,000 to $1,200 or slightly higher depending on condition. There are also a lot of commemorative special editions out there, too. Some of them can be pricey. Current specimens—in traditional saddle-ring carbine trim made by Miroku in Japan since 2011—run around $1,300. It’s available in deluxe sporting, carbine, sporter, short rifle and Trails End takedown versions.

You’ll pay more for takedown and longer rifle variants. They’re nicely done, although hidebound traditionalists may squawk about the tang safety. Most agree it’s a far more desirable setup than the dished-out button safety on the side of the receiver that came into play on later American-made specimens.




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