In the perennial deep-freeze that is Antarctica, some of the explorers’ camps are preserved as if in time capsules. An early American camp can be visited. In a supply shelter one can see stacked boxes of .50-110 Winchester Continue reading The Big Lever Action
Winchester Repeating Arms recently announced the return of “The Gun that Won the West”–the Model 1873 lever-action rifle.
Consumers can now own a genuine Winchester Repeating Arms Model ’73 with an oil-finished walnut stock, classic blued steel crescent buttplate and 20-inch round barrel–just like the original.
Other features include a full-length magazine tube, semi-buckhorn rear sight with Marble Arms gold bead front sight. There is a steel loading gate and receiver rear tang that is drilled and tapped for a tang-mounted rear sight. The Model 1873 is offered in .357/38 Special chambering. Suggested retail price is $1,300.
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
Anyone younger than 50 will be forgiven if the name “Levermatic” means nothing to them.
This was a rifle produced by Marlin in the 1950s and ‘60s that can be charitably described as “ill-starred,” but it is one that is still intriguing after all these years. And if, like your obedient correspondent, you spent your youthful years studying the 1965 Marlin catalog when you should have been learning trigonometry, then the story of the Levermatic is worth hearing.
No one will ever know what moved Marlin, maker of the multi-million-selling Model 39A lever-action .22, to design the Model 56 as a rival for its own star. But that’s what Marlin did.
The 39A was a traditional lever rifle with a tube magazine – highly attractive in those days when the horse opera dominated the airwaves, and everyone was thinking cowboys and Winchesters.
The Model 56, conversely, had a one-piece stock, a box magazine, and a mechanism whose chief boast was a “short throw” lever that could supposedly be manipulated by flexing your fingers, with your hand never leaving the stock. It was named for the year of its introduction.
The next year came the Model 57, with a tubular magazine, and later a model to accommodate Winchester’s new .22 Rimfire Magnum cartridge.
So it was no surprise, when Remington and Winchester each announced a new small-rifle cartridge in the spring of 1961, that Marlin decided to adapt the Levermatic to chamber them. The cartridges were the .22 Remington Jet and the .256 Winchester Magnum. Both were based on the necked-down .357 Magnum cartridge, and both were billed as “combination” rounds that could, like the .32-20, be chambered in either a handgun or a rifle.
Oddly, neither Winchester nor Remington chambered a rifle for their own creations; instead, they sent them out the door to make their own way in the world, like Oliver Twist.
Smith & Wesson did adopt the .22 Jet, creating the Model 53 “Dual Magnum” double-action revolver to shoot it. This revolver came out around 1962, and lasted until 1974.
Ruger created its “Hawkeye” single-shot lookalike of a single-action revolver, with a pivoting breechblock in place of a cylinder, and chambered it for the .256 Winchester. They made 3,300 of them (and created an instant collector’s item) before throwing in the towel.
The only riflemaker to take any interest was Marlin, which adapted its Levermatic action to the two centerfires and the result was the Model 62. Although it was slated to be made in both the Jet and the .256, only one Jet (a test model) is known to exist. It was sent to Ken Waters and Bob Wallack for a test article for Gun Digest. The .256 Winchester did go into production, however, and Marlin made some 8,000 of them.
In 1966, Marlin added the .30 Carbine chambering and began phasing out the .256 Winchester. Another 8,000 .30 Carbine Model 62s were made before the rifle was discontinued completely in 1971.
With only two handguns and one rifle originally chambered for these cartridges, they did not last long on the ammunition lists. Winchester stopped making .256 Winchester around 1990, and the .22 Jet was gone from Remington’s list by 1993. Today, both are strictly handloading propositions. Although factory Remington brass is still available, .256 Winchester brass will never be made again; apparently, Winchester destroyed the dies. It can, however, be easily fashioned from .357 Magnum brass, with a two-die forming set from C-H Tool & Die.
Owners of Marlin Model 62 Levermatics generally fall into two categories: Those who would not part with them, and those who want to sell because they can’t find ammunition. So, while not exactly common, they are not collectors’ darlings, either.
What a Levermatic is, though, is the source of a lot of fun shooting. Once you have a supply of .256 brass, ammunition making is easy and economical, and the Levermatic is a very accurate, well-made rifle. Noise is mild, recoil nonexistent, and you can stalk squirrels and ground hogs to your small boy’s heart’s content, regardless of your age.–Terry Wieland