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Winchester 1894 Rifle and the .32 Winchester Special Cartridge

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A frequent stop and gathering place of kindred souls is the local gun shop. We gather together, those of us with a certain mental telepathy that connects us, and we take a break from work and enjoy rubbing elbows with normal people. Well at least those with similar interests. These interests include shooting, hunting, competition shooting and accumulating firearms.

The author’s personal Winchester 1894 is a great woods rifle even at 67 years of age.

We are drawn to the display cases as aboriginals to a ceremonial fire. A man staring into that case may appear to be motionless and doing as close to nothing as possible, but nothing could be further from the truth. As my friends Darrell, John, and Clay watch this with daily attention their customers are deep in thought.

Finally, perhaps after a number of trips to the shop, they will ask to see something from the case. More often than not, in today’s economy, the piece is laid away for weeks or even months. After all, we all have more guns than we need and less than we want. Some windfall may result in an early acquisition or perhaps the inevitable harrowing of the shelves that occurs at tax time or during the general election will speed the process up. Finally, the lay away ticket is marked paid in full, the paperwork is complete, and the new addition taken home. This is as close to pregnancy and childbirth as a man may come.

Barrel stamp on the Winchester Model 1894

The barrel stamp indicates this isn’t the common 1894 rifle.

One of my rifles was recently brought home after just such as stay. The rifle is a Winchester Model 1894. The Winchester 1894 is the brainchild of John Moses Browning. He was an extraordinary individual and inventor.

The lever action rifle was nothing new but the Model ’94 owes little to previous rifles. Certain rifles in the blue steel and walnut age still call to us. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had a long association with the Winchester rifle. By a trick of fate, the Winchester was used by shore patrols in England in the dark days of World War II when any good firearm was worth its weight in gold.

The rifle was used by both the good and the bad. In my memory is a case in which a night clerk at a motel took out a bad actor attempting to rob the clerk. The night clerk owned one rifle, a Winchester 1894 .30-30 WCF, and he took it to work with him and kept it in a corner.

The man he shot and killed through a car door was the primary suspect in an ambush of a peace officer. However, the majority of my memories are of deer taken with the Winchester 1894 by more hunters than I could name. Like many of you, the Winchester 1894 was my first centerfire rifle.

Hornady LEVERevolution bullet

The Hornady LEVERevolution pointed bullet is the most ballistically efficient bullet ever offered for a lever-action rifle.

None of us are immortal, but John Moses Browning’s memory and his guns seem to be. There have always been and will continue to be more cheap guns than good guns. But a few well-made firearms have become firmly respected trappings, reaching legendary status. The Winchester 1894 combined the popular lever action with a high-powered smokeless powder cartridge.

Wood and steel were the common material in the day, but today the Winchester 1894 harkens back to a time when blue steel and walnut ruled. The Winchester 1866 and Winchester 1873 may have been in action earlier, but the ’94 enjoyed a long life in the West and elsewhere. The .30-30 WCF lever-action rifle was still in use in police work, particularly with highway patrol officers, well into the 1980s and perhaps beyond.

The LAPD issued Winchester 1894 rifles during the Watts riots. The Model ’94 gained wide acceptance shortly after its introduction. While the shorter Model ’92 action had greater leverage for its short fat pistol caliber cartridges, the Model ’94 fired a .30 caliber centerfire cartridge with much greater range and accuracy. If you have ever attempted to sight a .44-40 rifle in for 175 yards, you know exactly what I am speaking of. The 1894 rifle is still in production but it stalled for a while with a hitch in production in 2006 when the Winchester plant in New Haven Connecticut closed. At that point some seven million rifles had been produced.

.44-40, .45 70, .30-30 WCF, .32 WS, and .308 Winchester cartridges

The .44-40, .45 70, .30-30 WCF, .32 WS, and .308 Winchester in comparison.

Advantages of the Model 1894

The Model 1873’s toggle action worked well enough but was not particularly robust. One reason, the military never issued the rifle. Scouts used the rifle and appreciated its firepower. The new lever-action rifle by Browning used a single operating bar in contrast to the dual sliding rods of the Model 1892. The rifle also had a greater margin for safety due to a new firing pin design.

The rifle was smooth and capable but not as fast as the previous rifles. It was more for long range, deliberate fire than the earlier rifles. While many rifles were produced with longer barrels and special stocks the 20-inch barrel carbine was the most common 1894 rifle. The new .30-30 WCF cartridge pushed a 160-grain bullet to some 1,970 fps.

No more did the western hunter have to memorize hold over or hope for the best. The new cartridge shot amazingly flat. While the .44-40 was credited with killing more men—good and bad—than any other caliber in the old west, the .30-30 put more game on the table. The rifle was particularly praised in the far reaches of the continent such as Alaska for faultless reliability.

Old Winchester Silvertip ammunition box

The Winchester Silvertip is a fine deer load that has been a mainstay of hunters for many years.

My first centerfire rifle was a .30-30 and a Winchester. We just called the Winchester a .30-30, just as we called the Colt 1911 a .45. Very few other types were seen. The Winchester 1894 suffered indignity in 1964 with production changes that were not as severe as those of the Winchester Model 70, and these changes were meant to cheapen production.

Pre ’64 rifles, such as the one illustrated, are treasured for this reason. The modern Miroku produced rifles are at least as accurate and reliable, however. The new gun also features a washer to tighten the action. The original action was plenty tight. When firing the rifle off hand, remember, do not push the lever down but forward for fast and efficient operation.

My Favorite Winchester

While the .30-30 Winchester was popular and served for many years, some shooters asked for a more powerful cartridge. Yet, with the rear locking bolt of the lever action rifle, the Winchester ’94 could never equal the .30-40 Krag service cartridge. Winchester introduced a cartridge that was billed as an improvement over the .30-30 but which offered less recoil than the .30-40 Krag cartridge. The .32 Winchester Special features a .321-inch bullet and greater powder capacity. Introduced in 1901 the .32 Winchester Special was moderately popular but never achieved the popularity of the .30-30 WCF or the competing .35 Remington. Using IMR 3031 powder and the Hornady 170-grain #3210 bullet, my handloads have delivered good accuracy and consistently clocked 2,200 fps with maximum loads. This flat point bullet hits hard and offers reliable expansion.

Front post sight on the Winchester Model 1894

The front post is easily picked up and allows windage adjustment.

Hornady’s Interlock bond features a crimp that ensures the bullet holds together during expansion. This is important during short-range hunting when the bullet strikes the game at relatively high velocity. Hornady also designed the Secant ogive that provides the most efficient profile possible for velocity retention at longer range with a flat nose bullet. The .32 Winchester Special is more powerful than the .30-30 by about 10 to 15 percent. Most riflemen will find the .32 Winchester Special is more accurate than a similar .30-30 WCF rifle, although this may be difficult to prove without optics.

Accurate, powerful and with modest recoil, the .32 Winchester Special is a great all around woods gun. Modern ammunition technology has made the rifle even better. Hornady introduced the LeverRevolution line of cartridges some years ago. The lever-action rifle had previously not been compatible with pointed bullets. The nose of the Spitzer-type bullet, set on the primer of the cartridge ahead, could result in a detonation under the forces of recoil.

Flat nose bullets were used in lever-action rifles for safety purposes. (A few enterprising souls handloaded hot Spitzer loads for the .30-30 and loaded one in the chamber and a single round in the tubular magazine.) Hornady’s LEVERevolution bullet features a polymer tip on top of a pointed bullet. This ingenious design allows the use of ballistically superior loads.

modern Winchester 1894 Deluxe

This is a modern Winchester 1894 Deluxe. While pricey, this is a great rifle.

The .32 Winchester Special offering, in the LeverRevolution line, breaks a solid 2,410 fps with a 160-grain bullet. I cannot do this with a handload. With quality handloads, the Winchester will often print a two-inch 3-shot group at 100 yards and about 2.5 inches with most factory loads.

The Winchester 1894 illustrated was delivered in 1948. It is as light, handy, flat, and fast handling as any ’94 but chambers a harder hitting cartridge. Much of the appeal of such a classic rifle is the history and the looks—blue steel and walnut. However, the practical efficiency of this combination for many chores cannot be overlooked. Classics become classic because they work, and the Winchester 1894 .32 Special is no exception.

Do you own a Winchester Model 1894? What is your favorite lever-action caliber and cartridge? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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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!



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43 Comments

  1. Have a Model 94 carbine in .32 Winchester Special, aquired from my wife’s uncle when he passed. It was his father’s deer rifle, mf’d. in 1920-21 per the serial #. Still shoots fine; haven’t gone to the range in a while though. I’ll be experimenting with the LeverRevolution ammo as well as the flat nosed when I do go.

  2. Nice article. At 12 my Dad bought me a break open 12 gauge to hunt with; got my first and only woodcock with it that fall. But he saw a sale on Winchester 94 NRA Centennial 30-30’s at a local shop and bought one for my older brother and I. Got my first dear with it that year and many more after. But it started my love of lever action rifles. There is just something that feels so good with that flat gun. I own many now from a Henry 22 and Rossi 357-44’s through 30-30’s and my new favorite Marlin 45-70’s right up to Browning 270-308 and 300 win mag. I am always looking through the racks at my local gun shops for lever action rifles. I never considered a 32 before although almost got a 35 a couple years back. Time to look for some nice older levers. Happy Hunting and Shooting !

  3. My favorite calibers for my 1894 rifles and carbines are both the 25-35 and the 38-55. The 25-35 caliber is a pleasure to shoot and a game downer deluxe.

  4. I own and enjoy a Model 1894 in .375 Winchester. The Winchester company has not made this particular caliber rifle ceasing production in 1994. The rifle fires a large caliber round and has the recoil to match. I have found .38-55 ammo to be similar and have been told that you can chamber these rounds in the 375 rifle. I believe this to be stupidness the 38-55 cartridge is .60 thousandths of an inch longer than the 375 cartridge. I have purchased 38-55 ammo and disassembled the cartridge, Trimmed the case to 375 length and loaded them to 375 specs. They work OK but that is because I have not been able to buy commercially loaded 375 Win ammo. The rifle will drop any North American game animal and many African large animals. I have harvested Elk, Deer and bear with my rifle. The bear was self defense. To say the ’94 in 375 is a bruiser is an understatement and I trust it when I am in dangerous bear territory.

  5. What about the Big Bore? I have a fine .375 Wimchester and it is a site to behold. Ive had this rifle 40 plus years and though I don’t get to fire it that often I still find it difficult to get ammo. What is the reason for this is my question. Would you do a feature on this 1894..?

  6. I own this very weapon! ’94 lever action chamber in .32 Spl.I have used it for everything from wild boar, deer, and black bear. It was my father’s, he got it in 1920, and according to the SN # , Windchester says it is valuable as a collector model, but to continue to use it if I wanted to. At my current age, I will just put it back in the gun cabinet .

  7. I am going on 74 and my first deer rifle A new Winchester Model 94 32 Special. On sale at Sears for 98.00. It was given to me new, at 12 years old as A incentive to bring my school marks up to pass the grade, {It worked].I come from upstate NY., the Adirondacks. What we all loved about Fall was the start of Deer season. Remember, I was only 12, [could not hunt legally in N.Y.] but we owned 30 acres, that was my family’s homestead and we use it for a Camp. Lots of good memories of hunting w/ that gun. Still have it and in excellent Cond. Also have 3 Model 94 30 30’s, one w/ saddle ring. All Family pieces. Have A number of other Rifles of various Cal., [all Family Pieces] but the 32 Special is still my special one.

  8. My 94 was made sometime between Coolidge and Truman based on the serial number. It has gotten many deer for me and even a 7 point bull elk with one shot at about 100 yards. Due to a snow storm left the elk rifle at home and went deer hunting, then came across the elk. I use a peep sight as it is faster than a scope for me. Though I have used other rifles for big game the 30/30 Mod 94 still makes me remember the thrill of many hunts.

  9. I own an all original model 94, 30-30 cal and would have to say it is my favorite rifle to shoot. It’s in great condition. Year of manufacture is 1965.

  10. I have one in 38-40, it is a great gun! I shoot it every once in a while, but it is a family heirloom and as such, it is mostly a safe queen. It belonged to my great grandfather, a man I never met.

  11. I have an 1894 chambered in .30-30 that it was made in 1920, and it still shoots great, it is well made, robust and quick to the shoulder. It has the letter B branded in the stock by the old man I bought it from many many years ago, a real classic.

  12. I found my first 1894 Winchester while looking at a pawn shop for various guns to restore. Looked as though it had been riding around on a dusty pickup seat for years. Purchased it for $650, took it home and simply cleaned it. It’s beautiful, serial no indicated it was built in 1941. Had it professionally appraised at a value of $3,3450. Wife asked I would sell it. Hell No!!!

  13. Indeed, the ’94 is a great rifle with a rich history and a long time favorite of millions. I have three of them myself; two in 30-30 and one in 38-55 (made in 1985). They look great hanging on the wall, which is good because I won’t shoot them anymore. I recently took a trip which included a stop at the Cody museum. Drool City!! What a collection!

  14. I own three, pre-64 Model 1894 Winchester carbines, all chambered in .32 WS. One of the rifles is unfired, the others are both grade 80+. One is a flat band model dating from the late 1940’s. They are my favorite firearms.

  15. I bought my first gun, a model ’94, in the 1970s (30-30) while in the service. Had previously been NRA-trained as a teen with .22LRs. In the AF, I liked the ’94 better than the M16 for non-combat use. It sat for some 35 years while I concentrated on career. Upon coming back to shooting, it was sluggish and wouldn’t load into battery. Like me, old oil gets thicker. Gunsmith’s oiling fixed the issue, and now it’s still fun to shoot. Mine had a peepsight installed at the factory rather than the traditional notch. Accurate and reliable, I love the feel of wood instead of polymer. Will pass it on to my son when I go.

  16. I picked up a 1916 94 rifle a few years ago. Had a beautiful piece of “lumber” on it but the bore was pretty much gone. Sent the barrel to Randal Redman and had it rebored and rifled to a .358 groove diameter and throated for .35 caliber bullets. I had a local engraver Modify the “.30 WCF” read .35-30WCF. I shoot a lot of cast pistol bullets out of it and it handles .358 rifle bullets just fine. Great rifle.

    Also own a 1952 94 in .32 Spl that belonged to my Grandmother. She shot a lot of deer with that old rifle in SE Missouri in her day. Walnut and blue steel make me tingle.

  17. I own 2 rifles in 32 Winchester Special. 1 is a Winchester model 94 and the other one is a Marlin 336. I hunt with both and have killed several deer with both. I wouldn’t trade them for nothing.

  18. i own a 94ae in .307 win, a sweet-performing load thats getting hard to find but as soon as im set up for reloading i ll be ok

  19. 25-35 take-down rifle. 44 inches total length with 25 inch Octagon barrel. Narrow fixed front gold bead sight. Adjustable Rear sight V notch. No buckhorn. Top of barrel between sights reads: Manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Next line: New Haven Conn. U.S.A. Patented August 21, 1894
    Between rear sight and receiver: 25-35 W.C.F.
    Left of rear sight: Nickel Steel Barrel Second line: Especially for smokeless powder
    On receiver tang: MODEL 1894 Second line: WINCHESTER Third line: Trade Mark

    Dad bought from pawn shop in Walla Walla, WA in 1936 for $15. Killed many, many deer and coyotes when he had it. I killed my first elk in 1964 with this rifle. I inherited 1998.

  20. I have a model 1894 30-30 that my grandfather gave to my father went he return home from WWII. Later it was pass down to me as my first Center fire. love that gun.

  21. I have a carbine with full length magazine, and rifle butthe (curved, ) and pistol grip with curved lever.
    I’ve never seen another one like it.

  22. My first centerfield rifle was a Winchester 94 made in 1952. I bought the gun from a friend of my brother-in-law for 50.00 in 1965 when I was discharged from the Navy in 1965. I still have this great old gun and plan on passing her on to my grandson.

  23. My personal lever action is savage 99 I have one 30/30 one 300sav and my favorite is 284 they all shoot very
    well closer to 1.5″ groupes the 284 shoots 1″ 5 shot groups with ease

  24. In 1963 I was traveling a lot & needed a hand gun. I traded
    my Winchester 30/30 for a S&W model 15. If I had known
    then what I know now, I would still be kicking myself around
    the block.

  25. My wife got me a 94 15 years ago for Christmas. It is chambered in 357mag so I could shoot it and a pistol both. I am still waiting for the pistol! I love shooting the 94 with the 357mag. It is accurate and smooth without a hard recoil. Not sure how it will preform in hunting larger game. It feels like the perfect medium power load.

  26. My uncle was a registered guide in Maine. On his advice, my mother bought my father a model 94 chambered in 32 Winchester Special for Christmas in 1957. I shoot it occasionally and it groups quite well at 75-100 yards. While I own other firearms, I consider them tools. The model 94 Winchester is the only one I’d never part with.

  27. I have a Winchester Centennial 66 30-30 Rifle 20 ” barrel, Just bought it in the original box the action had been closed for the entire 50 years, Had the original flex securing it in the packing, I bought it to shoot as I wanted a real Winchester not made with Japan stampings or the ridiculous slide pin safety the newer ones made have. Cleaned it thoroughly and took it shooting it fired well but when fully loaded would tend to turn the cartridges sideways during cocking on some cycling. I attribute this to lack of use and needs to be loosened up.. Would like comments on this. P.S. Had a long time love with this particular type of rifle as my father had a pair of them when I was a boy a 26” and a 20” with matching serials..

  28. I have an 1894 chambered in 44 mag. It is actually my favorite firearm. I load it with Hornady’s LEVERevolution and it is quite accurate out beyond 200 yards. It is also nice that it uses the same cartridge as my S&W Model 29.

  29. While I own several lever action rifles, and enjoy shooting them all, I own an 1894 trapper in 44 magnum. It is one of the “angle eject” carbines circa early 90’s. It’s a very compact and lightweight rifle that handles well and is pleasingly accurate with ammo it likes. I bought it new and it has served me well for the last 25+ years.

  30. I have a model 94 Winchester, caliber .30-30 made in 1958, and re-chambered in 1964 to .30-30 Ackley Improved, I suspect, by P. O. Ackley himself. Had I known that his shop, at the time, was only about 100 miles south on I-25, I would have delivered it personally and perhaps met Mr. Ackley. The modification adds roughly 10% to the muzzle energy of a standard .30-30 without significantly increasing chamber pressure or force on the bolt. Additionally, the use of the new Leverevolution powder behind a 160Gr. Hornady FTX bullet adds about another 6% to the muzzle energy.

    This does not make it a .308 Winchester but it does significantly improve the cartridge that revolutionized sporting rifles at the dawn of the smokeless powder era. The only real drawbacks to the modification are that one must hand-load brass fire-formed in the re-chambered rifle to gain the 15% increase in energy, or suffer a loss of about 5% of the energy in a standard .30-30 factory load, AND, any modification of a gun of historical significance will reduce the value of the firearm to collectors.

  31. 11 years older than my Father would be today, his 1925 spent more time in the gun safe saddle ring, made its way to the range last fall. A newly acquired 1969 / 1894, with a factory prepped peep sight receiver, made its way into the 2017 deer woods. Affixing a deer tag and collecting a coyote, both with irons, overshadowed many a scoped rifle harvest. I enjoyed carrying both classic .30-30’s last year a great deal indeed.

  32. We have an 1894. Started life as a Montana deer gun in 1906. Was given to my son and I from a good friend who had inherited it from his father and before from his father. This rifle led me to ‘reloading’ as my son who had just been diagnosed with cancer was not up to shooting factory loads comfortably. We have had great enjoyment with this rifle even to this day!

  33. i am 77 years old.
    i got my 30/30 Winchester when my dad passed away back in the 90’s.
    this Rifle was bought when my dad was born in 1912 by my Grandpa.
    this Rifle has taken just about every game animal in this country.
    this Winchester will be passed down to one of my kids when my time comes.
    and with it’s family history i would NEVER SELL IT FOR ANY PRICE.

  34. I still use a 30-30 for deer but my old 38-55 will do much better for moose up to 100 yards . Hard to get shells for the old 38-55.

  35. I own an 1894 Winchester…S/N shows mfg 1908. It has the iron buck horn sights. I am now 77 and hunted when young kid in 1940′ and after with this 30-30. I can dust a gnats ass at 100 yds with this rifle. But I have been using open sights like this all my life so its what you are used to. Cheers.. I get confused trying to focus with scope. Need to use for awhile I am sure.

  36. My Model 94 Winchester 32 Special was made in 1896 according to the serial number. My dad got it from his father who, during the great depression, had it given to him by the Lumber Camp owner/operator, who told him it was an old gun and had no value. It was given to him to be able to shoot deer to supplement the food supply in the camp. You see my grandfather was a camp cook during the depression. When my grandfather went to give it back, he said it was his to keep. My grandfather was not a very good shot, but my father usually harvested everything he shot at. My father shot it so much, and harvested so many deer with it that he wore out the original Octagon barrel. The projectiles would tumble, and hit the targets sideways. He really cherished that gun, and sent it back to New Haven, to get a new barrel installed on it. It came back as a 32 special. I think the original barrel was chambered in a 32-40, but my dad never specified the original caliber. (He is no longer with us.) He passed it on to me and it is now my favorite gun. I used it to hunt many times, and it is a joy to carry, and hunt with. Very accurate shooting also.

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