Gun Review: Winchester Model 94

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Winchester’s Model 94 Trails End Takedown

My first real deer rifle was a Winchester Model 94 30-30 and with it I harvested my first deer, a white tail doe. While that was almost half a century ago, it is just a fraction in time considering this rifle was introduced back in 1894. And what a history it has been, including the fact that there are now over 7.5 million in existence. Wow! That is a lot of rifles. I also discovered, when delving into the history of the 94, that Winchester actually introduced a takedown version one year after its initial production. Now that surprised me! All in all, this little lever action has had quite a history, but that is a story for another day.

 

From a historical perspective, I was somewhat disappointed when Winchester stopped making the 94 in 2006. However, I was pleased to see its reintroduction in 2010 and, in particular, when they introduced the Trails End Takedown version in 2012. I have used various takedown rifles over the years and believe they have a place, or a unique niche, in the hunting world. As an example, while on a cougar hunt in BC a few years back, a takedown was just the ticket to carry in my backpack while I traversed the many miles needed to follow a pack of cougar hounds over hill and dale. With that in mind, I was delighted to test this rifle for not only the aficionados of the 94, but also for any hunter who wants or is looking for a rifle that they can easily store or transport – be it in a vehicle, aircraft, boat or backpack.

 

Trails End Takedown 30-30

The first thing I should point out is that the Takedown is available in both a 30-30 and the .450 Marlin. However, despite the appeal of testing the .450 Marlin, I opted for the .30-30 for a two reasons: first is my long-standing history with the .30-30. Second, but more importantly, I saw it as an opportunity to test the variety of modern factory ammunition that has evolved for this cartridge. There are only two commercial choices for the .450 Marlin, and Hornady makes both.

The 94 Takedown looks and feels just like my old 94, as the style has remained essentially unchanged. It still has a very decent walnut stock, authentic straight grip with a highly polished blued barrel and action. But there are differences, and for me the most notable is that mounting a scope on my old 94 was not an undertaking for the faint of heart, whereas with the Angle Eject receiver on the new version, it is no longer any more of an issue than mounting a scope on a centerfire rifle.

Now there is also a top tang safety situated behind the hammer, a feature I really appreciated not only for the added safety it provides, but also for its user-friendly ease of access. While on the subject of safety, I must mention another feature that took a bit of getting used to. In order for the rifle to fire, the breech must be fully closed. To ensure that it is, the 94 has a trigger stop, which is situated on the bottom tang so that the finger lever has to depress it fully before the rifle will fire. It is not a safety, but is there to ensure that the breech is fully closed.

The hammer is now drilled and tapped for adding a knurled hammer spur extension, which will aid the shooter in cocking and de-cocking the hammer when a scope is mounted on the rifle. The new 94 also boasts a Marble Arms front sight and adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight.

While there are a number of other features that I could mention, such as its triple-checkered button rifled barrel and articulated cartridge stop, I would, however, like to cut to the chase and get right to what sets this 94 apart from a standard 94 and that is it ability to be broken down into two equal halves. Now this is where I went looking for some breakdown instructions to have been included with the rifle, but no such luck. And as I certainly didn’t want to make a procedural mistake in something as critical as breaking this rifle down, I did some research and finally found out how it is done. I will briefly detail the process in three steps. It is really very simple once you understand the sequence.

  • Step 1: This involves the pivoting lever that lies flat against the magazine tube, the only visible difference from a standard 94. The lever, once it has been extended to 90 degrees, is used to initiate the next step.
  • Step 2: Rotate the magazine eight turns to disengage it from the receiver.
  • Step 3: Once the magazine tube has been removed, all that is required is to rotate the barrel/forearm 90 degrees from the receiver, which will then, with the rifle’s interrupted thread design, disengage the barrel/forearm from the receiver. For reassembly, just reverse the process.

 

Model 94 Trails End Takedown specifications:

Calibre: 30-30, also available in a .450 Marlin

Barrel length: 20 inches

Overall length: 38 inches

Length of pull: 13-and-a-half inches

Drop at comb: One-and-a-quarter inches

Drop at heel: One-and-three-quarter inches

Weight: Six pounds, 12 ounces

 

Optics and mounts

Initially, I thought that I would mount a dot sight on this rifle. But after some re-thinking I decided that in order to maintain the use of this rifle’s iconic iron sights, I should utilize the ideal match – a Leupold 2.5-8x36mm scope with the uniquely designed Weaver See-Thru mounts. I could not have found a better pairing for the 94. However, I must admit that prior to actually mounting a scope with the Weaver See-Thru mounts, I had a couple of potential misgivings. First, would the mounting height give the rifle an ungainly look? They did not. Or, would I have difficulty finding a sight picture? I did not. In fact, I found the mounts very easy to install and they proved to be exactly what I was looking for as they offered structural integrity, as well as offering very easy visual access to the 94’s iron sights.

I best begin my discussion of the scope I used by stating that because of timelines and my decision to use a traditional scope rather than a dot, I went with an older model Leupold VX lll 2.5-8x33mm that I had on hand. Still a great scope, but as Leupold has upgraded this model to the new VX3, it would be unfair to discuss any of the features of the older scope other than to mention that it still carries Leupold’s Lifetime Warranty and, despite its age, it is as good as it was when I acquired it 20-plus years ago. Without a doubt, it is one very tough, dependable scope that will continue to provide a lifetime of use.

 

Leupold VX lll 2.5-8x36mm specifications:

Length: 11.4 inches

Weight: 11.6 ounces

Tube diameter: One inch

Field of view at 100 yards: 37-3-13.7

Eye relief: 4.4 to three-and-a-half inches

 

Test results

I will begin by stating that I liked this little lever action – is was lightweight, fast on point and would be ideal in heavy cover for hunting white tail or hogs. And broken down it would be very easy to pack into just about anything for transport, to just about anywhere. Or, if you opted for the .450 Marlin, what a bear stopper it would be.

The 94 loaded and cycled easily with no glitches in either loading or in ejecting spent cartridges cases, despite the mounted scope. The only problem I encountered was, at times, I forgot that I had to fully depress the finger lever against the bottom tang, in order to depress the trigger stop, so that the rifle would fire. In the field, when a big buck is departing for pastures unknown, that might be a problem until it became second nature.

On the range, I was on target at 20 yards with the first shot and it only took one more shot to put it on paper at 100. As far as the older Leupold, despite its age, it performed flawlessly during the entire test. It was sharp from edge to edge with plenty of contrast.

Finding ammunition for the 30-30 was nary a problem, as I was able to test eight varieties of factory ammunition from the primary companies, including Federal, Winchester, Hornady, Remington and Barnes. However, I must admit that when thinking back to how my old 94 shot with the ammunition that was available at the time, I was not quite sure what to expect from the new model. Well, I was pleased. For a lever action, it shot very well. See the attached test results for specific details, but in a nut shell none of the 100-yard groups exceeded two inches, with the average hovering below one-and-a-half inches, with one group that even bettered one inch.

For deer, I would look no further than the Winchester Supreme 150-grain Silvertip or the Hornady Lever Revolution 160-grain FTX and, if hunting game that needed a bit more punch, such as hogs, Federal Premium 170-grain Nosler Partitions would be an excellent choice.

 

Range test results:

Ammunition                                                                                  Advertised velocity                  Group size

                                                                                                             (feet per second)                   (inches)

 

Winchester Supreme 150-grain Ballistic Silvertip                    2,390                                                 One-and-a-half

Winchester Super X 170-grain Power Point                               2,200                                                 One-and-three-quarters

Hornady Lever Revolution 140-grain Monoflex                        2,465                                                 One-and-three-quarters

Hornady Lever Revolution 160-grain FTX                                 2,400                                                 One-and-a-half

Federal Premium 170-grain Nosler Partition                            2,200                                                 Three-quarters

Barnes Vortex 150-grain TSX FN                                                 2,335                                                 One-and-five-eighths

Remington Express 150-grain Core-Lokt SP                             2,390                                                 One-and-seven-eighths

Remington Express 170-grain Core-Lokt SP                             2,200                                                 One-and-three-eighths

 

Note: Groups were three shots at 100 yards.

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