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Just about the time my interest in firearms began I well remember then President Eisenhower being presented with the two millionth Winchester Model 94. What a milestone. Winchester's classic lever action deer rifle which began production in 1894 had now reached the 2,000,000 mark in slightly less than 60 years. Now 45 years later, Winchester is fast closing in on the seven millionth Model 1894!
At a time of high tech in every part of our lives, a time when many bolt action rifles feature stainless steel with synthetic stocks and adjustable muzzle brakes with calibers that shoot as far as tomorrow aided by variable scopes that can see the hairs on a game animal all the way out to beyond and then some, the ancient Model 1894 Winchester with its antiquated lever action operating system is about to reach the 7,000,000 mark. That amounts to a lot of steel and walnut being used in sensible calibers by a passel of savvy shooters.
The 1894 Winchester is to long gunners what the Colt Single Action is to sixgunners. Its looks, feel, and performance stir the heart, mind, and soul as no other rifle. Even though it was not yet in existence at the time period depicted by most Western movies, it is still the rifle must of us saw in countless Western movies as we grew up with Roy, Hoppy, and Gene. The Colt Single Action and the Winchester rifle were indelibly printed in the mind of every kid growing up with the B movies of the 1930's and '40s, and the TV Westerns of the 1950's. Perhaps that is why both are still so popular today.
The .30-30 is the caliber most associated with the Model 1894 but it was not the first chambering. In 1894, John Browning's design was brought forth in the black powder cartridges .32-40 and .38-55. Both of these were later resurrected in modern commemorative 1894's. One year later, in 1895, the legendary .30-30 arrived in smokeless form and the rest, as they say, is history. The .30-30 doesn't get a whole lot of respect these days from the high velocity, high energy crowd but it was a real step forward 100 years ago. It is still a great deer cartridge for woods hunters.
Along with the .30-30 came the .25-35, a most pleasant shooting varmint cartridge, and in the right hands a viable cartridge for even larger game. One of the largest critters to ever fall to the hunter's rifle was a stock killing 10 foot grizzly bear killed in Utah in 1923 by a Model 1894 in .25-35 in the hands of Idahoan Frank Clark. In addition to the .30-30 and .25-35 came the .32 Winchester Special and barrel lengths from 14" (no longer legal) all the way up to 36" on special order. The most popular version of the Model 1894 is the "standard" carbine, or the 20" barrel, full magazine tube, straight gripped stock version. The perfect saddle gun. Early versions are marked .30 W.C.F. for Winchester Center Fire, instead of the .30-30 marking found on all current Model 1894's so chambered.
With the advent of the .44 Magnum sixgun from Smith & Wesson and Ruger in the 1950's, the demand soon rose for a companion levergun. Several gunsmiths made a comfortable living converting Model 1892 Winchester .44-40's to .44 Magnum. Then in the 1960's both Winchester and Marlin brought forth leverguns in .44 Magnum with Winchester's being on the tried and true Model 1894. Since that time, the Winchester '94 has been offered in a commemorative version in .44-40, as well as current sixgun cartridge chamberings of .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt.
The Trapper versions of the Model 1894 with 16 1/2" barrels, full magazine tubes, and chambered in .30-30, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt have been very popular as woods guns that pack very easily and also go well with pick-up trucks and jeeps. Their short barrels and compact size make them imminently more practical than a long barreled bolt action especially for the four by four riding farmer and rancher.
Recently the .357 Magnum chambering was added to the Trapper line- up from Winchester and this is certainly a most handy rifle, in my mind second only to a good .22. It also makes a great choice for a "house gun" in areas where handguns are highly regulated.
The Winchester Trapper has been popular in cowboy shooting matches but competitors have been at a disadvantage in those matches requiring 10 rifle shots as the Trappers hold only nine rounds in the magazine when chambered for sixgun cartridges. Most, if not all matches adhere to the safety rule of no cartridge in the chamber at the buzzer, so it is necessary for those choosing the Trapper to load an extra round sometime during the firing sequence.
This problem has now been addressed by Winchester with the appropriately named Trails End version designed specifically for cowboy shooters. Carrying 11 rounds, the Trails End is available in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt. All versions weigh in at 6 1/2 pounds and are offered with the standard lever or the large loop lever made popular by John Wayne first in the movie "Stagecoach" in 1939, and then carried on in most of his movies as well as being featured in the TV Series "The Rifleman" with Chuck Connors.
The large loop looks good but has very little, if any, practical value. Duke and Lucas McCain could twirl their leverguns on the large loop and thus chamber a cartridge with style. A practice guaranteed to get one killed as the bad guy simply cocked the hammer of his sixgun and fired while the levergun was performing acrobatics. Even cowboy shooters, many of whom are inclined towards the flamboyant, will soon find the standard loop lever is much faster to operate than the large loop lever.
The Trails End Model 94 comes equipped with a cross bolt safety that isn't very attractive but does perform a most worthwhile function. You and I may not need the safety but it is most comforting to me to know that everyone else out there has a safety and does not need to feel it necessary to walk around with a round in the chamber without a hammer block safety. It is easily applied and easily placed in a firing mode and should always be used anytime a round is carried in the chamber.
For the past six months I have had the pleasure of using the Trails End for both cowboy shooting and general purpose plinking and just plain fun. Winchester supplied two test guns, both a .44 Magnum with a standard loop lever and a .45 Colt with the large loop lever. I am impressed enough with the performance of both carbines that I will be purchasing both for my personal use so to that end the .45 Colt large loop lever has been replaced with a standard loop lever.
With the Trails End one has three sight options. Standard is a rear sight with a white diamond for easy sighting and adjustable for elevation by moving up and down on a ladder mated with a post front sight. For windage, either sight can be tapped to the right or left to sight in a for a particular load. A second option is the use of a scope by utilizing the drilled and tapped holes in the top of the frame for Weaver mounts. The left side of the frame is also drilled and tapped to accept receiver, or 'peep' sights. The latter two options are not allowed in cowboy shooting, however a fourth option is the use a tang mounted peep sight as supplied by Lyman. It requires the drilling and tapping of a hole in the tang but can be the answer for cowboy shooters who have trouble seeing the standard sights.
For testing the Trails End, both the .44 Magnum and the .45 Colt were scoped to remove as much human error as possible. Weaver scopes got the call, with a 1.5-3X on the .44 and a 4X on the .45 Colt. Groups were fired at 50 yards with four shots being taken with each load and the best three measured. This gives this shooter a throw away shot and removes the pressure of trying to shot a really tight group.
Many of the local cowboy shooters purchase their leverguns with an eye on also using it for close range hunting as we have general seasons on both mule deer and elk as well as a spring and fall season for black bear. With this in mind both the .44 Magnum and the .45 Colt were tested with cowboy shooting type loads, that is loads that are well under 1400 fps muzzle velocity as well as full bore hunting loads with both standard and heavy weight bullets. Both leverguns performed admirably with both standard and hunting loads.
Normally I would not use round-nosed bullets in tubular magazines and I certainly do not recommend them as there is always the possibility that a round can be set off in the magazine by the primer being hit by the nose of the round behind it. This normally requires considerable recoil. The round-nosed .44 Specials tested produce very little recoil however there is also the chance of a discharge by dropping the rifle hard on the butt and setting off a round by inertia. In a testing situation from the bench there is very little possibility of this occurring but be forewarned.
Remington's 246 grain .44 Special bullet at 867 fps placed its three counting shots in 1/4" at 50 yards! That means that center to center the group was less than the caliber being used. This is phenomenal accuracy especially from a levergun that many believe is inherently inaccurate. It isn't. Six different cowboy loads were assembled in .44 Magnum brass using both Bull-X and Fusilier bullets with excellent results. With loads in the 1,000 to 1,200 fps range, the average group size was just barely over one-inch! Again, notable accuracy. See the accompanying chart for powder and bullet details on these loads.
Four hunting loads through the .44 Magnum Trails End yielded an average group size of 1 1/4". Loads used were Garrett's 310 grain semi- wadcutter Keith bulleted factory load at 1520 fps, Winchester's Partition Gold 250 at 1700 fps, and two reloads, Fusilier's 250 grain gas check Keith and 300 grain flat point both over 10.0 grains of Unique for 1400 and 1300 fps muzzle velocity respectively.
Switching to the .45 Colt, one simply finds the same song, second verse. For cowboy shooting, Black Hills, Hornady, or Winchester factory ammo with do fine, while Federal's 225 grain lead semi-wadcutter hollow point will serve for cowboy shooting as well as varminting with a muzzle velocity of 1100 fps and 1/2" grouping at 50 yards.
Switching to cowboy shooting reloads, it was impossible to find a bad load, and when I got to the old favorite Elmer Keith .45 Colt bullet, Lyman's #454424, a 260 grain semi-wadcutter plain base, I was most pleasantly surprised as it did not matter whether loads were assembled with Unique, Universal, or WW231, accuracy was excellent. This bullet crimped over the front driving band yielded 960 fps with 8.0 grains of Unique, 870 with 7.5 grains of Universal, and 1150 with 7.0 grains of WW231. Average group size was 1 1/8" for three shots.
My favorite hunting load in the .45 Colt for use in heavy framed sixguns such as the Ruger Blackhawk has long been a 300 grain bullet over 21.5 grains of either H110 or WW296. Using RCBS's excellent Keith- style gas checked 300 grain bullet #45-300SWC-GC over 21.5 grains of H110 yields a muzzle velocity of 1400 fps from the Trails End .45 Colt and shoots remarkably well with groups at one-inch. This is just the ticket for close range work on deer, and black bear, even elk.
Both the .44 Magnum and .45 Colt Trails End Model 94's from Winchester are deserving of high marks whether destined to be used for cowboy shooting, or hunting, or both. They are perfect companions to sixguns in the same chambering as all the loads tested were first and foremost tried and true sixgun loads that also performed exceptionally well in these leverguns. The Trails End Model 94 in big bore sixgun chamberings can well take its place alongside the many great versions of the Model 94 that have been offered over the past century plus.
WINCHESTER 94 TRAILS END .44 MAGNUM
BARREL LENGTH: 20" GROUPS: BEST 3 OF 4 SHOTS @ 50 YARDS
SCOPE: WEAVER 1.5-3X CHRONOGRAPH: OEHLER MODEL 35P
.44 SPECIAL LOADS:
.44 MAGNUM LOADS:
WINCHESTER 94 TRAILS END .45 COLT
BARREL LENGTH: 20" GROUPS: BEST 3 OF 4 SHOTS @ 50 YARDS
SCOPE: WEAVER 4X CHRONOGRAPH: OEHLER MODEL 35P
*Bullets crimped over front driving band
This article was originally posted on www.sixguns.com