Like most boys my age (of course I’m not a boy anymore) I grew up enchanted with cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, the old west and mountain men. Television heroes like The Lone Ranger, and movie heroes like John Wayne brightened my days. And it seemed to me like every one of those cowboys had a lever-action rifle of some kind. So, throughout most of my childhood I pictured myself on horseback, single-handedly slinging the rifle down and back up by the lever to feed in the next cartridge – because I had to hold the horse’s reins with the other. As I got older reality set in, but my fascination with the lever-action didn’t dwindle. Just after I turned 18 I went out and bought my first Winchester 94.
Now in all those movies I had never once seen a cowboy or mountain man rub his shoulder after shooting the rifle. In fact, it almost looked like he could do it one handed. So you can imagine my (uneducated) surprise when I fired that first .30-.30 round. I was all of five feet ten inches tall and weighed (soaking wet) maybe 140 pounds. The butt plate on the rifle was a thin strip of plastic. No padding. Ouch. Those days are a few years past and I’ve a little more organic padding of my own (can you say, “fat” and some muscle?). I’ve learned more about firearms and improved my shooting techniques so I’m not getting hit quite so hard. And I still have a Winchester 94 .30-.30 lever-action rifle in my gun safe. Since it’s the only weapon I have that I consider usable for hunting anything other than squirrel and rabbit, I thought I’d take a look at it for this week’s review.
I’ve got SIX older brothers who all hunt. Lately they’ve been bugging me to come up and go hunting with them. What I have in my gun safe is two Remington 870 pump shotguns and a collection of Marlin rifles that actually belong to my kids. The only rifle I have that I’d consider hunting deer with is the Winchester 94 .30-.30 lever action. Mine’s not tapped for a ‘scope so I’d have to do it with open sights. To me that means getting awful close to the deer to make reliable shots. Since no one sells “sneak in a bottle” I’d prefer a rifle with a little longer range. What I’ve learned from my brothers is that patience does pay off and open sights work just fine if you know where the point-of-impact is and you’ve got your sights relatively well adjusted.
Throughout the years there have been a number of different Winchester 94s manufactured. Shorter barreled versions; various calibers, etc. I have a Winchester 94 Traditional. The data on it is as follows:
Action: Lever Action, Single Shot
Capacity: 6 in the tubular magazine
Sights: Open Iron
Weight: 2.8 pounds (unloaded)
The Winchester 94 Traditional is also (currently) available in .44 Magnum and .480 Ruger. The Winchester 94 Ranger, a slightly shortened version, is available in .30-.30 and .357 Magnum.
Like I said above, I’ve always enjoyed the “romantic” feel of the lever action rifle. Although I’m well past my youthful years of “make believe” it still sometimes occurs to me that carrying this rifle makes me look more like John Wayne. Of course, I know the reality is far from that, but that is the kind of feel the lever action has for me.
The only thing I don’t like about my Winchester 94 is the fact that there is no recoil pad. I know I can fix that by simply installing one – I just never have taken the time to do so. In all of its calibers, the Winchester 94 is manageable as far as recoil is concerned. It’s easy to carry, pack, strap on an ATV, etc. Mine has performed well wet, dirty, sandy, etc. I’ve never had a failure to feed (damned hard to get with a lever action) and it has always had a positive ejection.
They seem to cost a little more now than they did when I bought my first one a little more than twenty years ago. That one cost me $185. My most recently purchased Winchester 94 cost me $285 – used at a gun show. New retail looks like it’s around $400. But the gun is worth it.
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