One of the neatest new rifles to appear this past year is a take-down version of the iconic Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the Model 94–having always preferred the Marlin–but this latest iteration has me looking at it in a new light.
Not being a firearms historian, I was surprised to learn that it was just one year after the gun’s introduction in 1894 that a take-down version of the gun was announced. Generally speaking, major modifications to a new gun aren’t done until after it’s been around for at least a few years.
Anyway, this legendary rifle set many firearms-industry milestones over the 106 years it was in continuous production, among them being the first commercial sporting repeater to be chambered for the .30-30 WCF–the first smokeless powder sporting cartridge. It was also the first commercial sporting rifle to reach one million units in sales, then two million…then three, and so on to where there are now more than 7.5 million of them out there, making it the number one best seller in history.
Production of the Model 94 ceased in 2006 (along with the equally iconic Model 70 bolt-action rifle), when U.S. Repeating Arms was acquired by Belgium-based FN, which already owned Browning. It took a few years for the new owners to reorganize, and in doing so moved Model 70 production to their Columbia, SC, facility where they make machine guns for Uncle Sam. Production of the 94 went to the Miroku folks in Japan, with whom they already had a long standing working relationship.
Production of the 94 resumed in 2010, and there are now three versions of the gun listed in the 2012 catalog: the Sporter, the Short Rifle, and this year’s newcomer and our subject gun, the Trails End Takedown (TET). One of the reasons I found this rifle of interest is the fact it is being offered in.450 Marlin chambering–a caliber that the Marlin people themselves dropped from production in 2009! It’s a situation dripping with irony because it’s a cartridge developed specifically for Marlin by Hornady
to be the most potent cartridge ever offered in a traditional lever-action rifle, yet they no longer chamber for it, and their arch rival does!
There have been many variations of the 94 over the years, and the take-down version is one of the most sought-after by collectors because it’s an ingenious design. But then you’d expect nothing less from John Browning, the guy who designed it. The TET looks like any other Model 94 except that at the
front end of the under-barrel magazine, just beneath the front sight, there’s a 2” long lever that lies flat against the tube. That lever pivots on a pin at its front end allowing it to be rotated perpendicular to the barrel. In that position, the lever is used to rotate the magazine tube, which is coarsely threaded at the receiver end. It is the threaded end of the magazine tube that unites it with the receiver. After eight counter-clockwise turns of the magazine tube with the action open, the tube disconnects from the receiver, allowing the barrel/forend unit to be rotated 90 degrees and pulled free of the receiver. The interrupted thread principle is use to mate these two components.
The quality of the machining, metal finish and wood-to-metal fit on these Miroku-made guns are excellent. Add to that the fact that several minor improvements are made, making this the best Model 94 ever. The loading gate, for example, is machined steel with radiused edges–a feature found on the original gun, but changed in the post-1964 years. All cross pins are solid steel instead of rolled, and the cartridge stop is redesigned to ensure there’s no chance for mis-feeds or double-feeds beneath the carrier. The tang-mounted slide safety adopted in the last year of domestic production is retained in the new gun; it’s so much more convenient, safer and silent than the half-cock hammer position.
On reassembly, if the magazine tube isn’t turned enough revolutions, it sticks out beyond the muzzle. And when it’s flush with the muzzle, the lever must be rotated to where a small projection on its top surface engages a slot in the underside of the barrel, so reassembly is about as foolproof as it can be.
The gun weighs 6 1/4 lbs., and overall length with its 20” barrel is 38”. There are two features unique to this particular model and chambering. Up front at either side of the ramp front sight are 5 vent holes–a muzzle brake. The .450 Marlin delivers a pretty good punch to the shoulder in a gun this light, and the brake helps in that regard. Also, the positioning of the vents in the upper half of the barrel reduces muzzle jump, allowing one to get back on target faster for a repeat shot. Also standard on the .450 Marlin-chambered gun is a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad–a much-appreciated accessory when shooting off the bench!
Naturally, these new 94s are based on the Angle Eject receiver that allows scope mounting directly above the bore–a feature that was lacking for nearly a century, and where Marlin always had a leg up on Winchester. For testing, I mounted a Nikon 1.5-4.5×24 variable in Millett rings on Weaver base, which is a good match considering the .450 Marlin is a short- to medium-range cartridge. With the Nikon aboard, the hunt-ready rig weighed 7 1/4 lbs.
If you’re not a handloader, your choices in factory ammo are limited to two loads, and they’re understandably both by Hornady. There’s a 325-grain FlexTip, and a 350-grain Flat Point Interlock. Both loads are appreciably more powerful than the old .45-70. Indeed, the 325-grain load generates 3570 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy, while the 350-grain load generates 3425. That’s roughly 600 ft. lbs. more than a standard .30-06 pushing typical 165- or 180-grain bullets. In a 7 1/4 lb. rifle, that means you’re looking at roughly 45 ft. lbs. of recoil, which is like shooting a 9-pound .375 H&H Magnum!
My range results yielded five, 3-shot groups with the 325-grain load that averaged 2” at 100 yards, which I thought was very good. The spitzer-like shape of the Flex Tip bullet provides a trajectory flat enough that with a +3” zero at 100 yards, it’s only 2.5” low at 200. As for the 350-grain Flat Point Interlock load, I was shocked to see my first 3-shot group measuring 0.54”! That was the best of the five groups, but the largest of the next four groups was 1.2”. That’s pretty amazing for a traditional lever-action rifle that was designed 118 years ago!
To my way of thinking, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a rifle/caliber combination better suited for those whose work takes them into big bear country. I’m talking guides, trappers, timber cruisers, bush pilots, anglers, etc. It’s not the gun I’d choose if I were hunting big bears, but as a personal protection weapon for those accidental, close-quarter encounters, this is the kind of gun I’d want. With those seven shots, you’ve got 25,000 ft. lbs. of energy at your disposal as fast as you can work the lever. No bolt gun can match that kind of firepower.
The Model 94 Trails End Takedown, which is also available in .30-30 WCF, is a bit pricey at $1,460 in either caliber, but it is beautifully made and of higher quality than any previous Model 94.– Jon R. Sundra