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For much of my early formative years, the term Winchester Model 1894 defined a clean utility grade lever action rifle that competed with the Marlin Model 336 for the attention of northeastern deer hunters. When I began hunting in 1957, those were the lever action rifles that filled the racks of local sporting good stores and gun shops. Twelve years old, I may have not have grasped the full scope of the situation. Just as I didn’t know that the Marlin 336 I selected, because of its solid top and ease of scope mounting, would not see a scope over its entire sixty years of ownership. Yes, I was thinking the same thing, live and learn.

The Winchester Model 1894, a John Browning design, was the first Winchester designed specifically for smokeless powder cartridges. With minor interruptions, it has been in production for roughly one hundred and twenty four years. Plain and highly embellished, barrel lengths from 14 1/2″ to 36″, takedown and one piece, the Model 1894 has come to mean n a lot of things to a a lot of people. With minor interruptions, the Sporter version has been available since the onset of production in 1894, the 32 Special chamber was added in June, 1902 1).

Winchester Model 94 Sporter

Manufactured

B.C. Miroku of Japan

Item Number

534178192

Caliber 32 Winchester Special
Magazine Capacity 8
Butt & Fore Stock Grade 1 Black Walnut – Satin
Hardware Blued Steel Brush Polished
Barrel

24″ Octagon/Round

Twist Rate

1:16″

Weight

7 lbs 8 oz

Overall Length 42 1/2″
Length of Pull 13 1/2″
Drop at Comb 1 1/4“
Drop at heel 1 3/4″
Sights Marble Semi Buckhorn & Bead
Scope Mounting

Drilled & Tapped

Measured Trigger Pull

4 Lbs 7 Oz.

Safety Sliding Tang & Rebounding Hammer
MSRP

$1,399.99

How do we get to Japanese Winchesters?

Some people tend to get tangled up over the issue of FN Herstal and the Herstal Group, Browning, Winchester, and Miroku and miss the common denominator of  John Moses Browning and the longevity of these relationships.Subsequently, I feel compelled to restate at least a summary of the history of these companies for the stake of understanding.

Browning designed rifles for both the Browning company and Winchester Repeating Arms Company and Miroku began production of an over and under shotgun in 1960 based on a John Browning derivative design. FN Herstal manufactured varying types of Browning products under contract with John Browning dating back to 1896. In fact, John Moses Browning spent much of his mature working with FN Herstal in Belgium, passing away in Liege, Belgium in November 1926. In 1976 when John Val Browning resigned as president of Browning, the company was acquired by Fabrique Nationale, now known as the Herstal Group.

The original Winchester Repeating Arms Company was in operation from 1866 through 1931. The company survived the passing of founder Oliver Winchester in 1880 and it continued to prosper. However, in 1931 excess capacity and oppressive debt resulting from support of World War I pushed the company into bankruptcy. Winchester was then acquired by Western Cartridge, a subsidiary of the Olin Corporation and manufacturer of Winchester rifles continued.

In 1980, Olin left the firearms business, selling the Winchester New haven, CT plant to Winchester’s employees, while retaining the Winchester name. The new company, U.S. Repeating Arms Company, licensed the use of the Winchester name from Olin and continued production of Winchester rifles. The U.S. Repeating arms company failed in 1989 and was soon after acquired by the Herstal Group. In 2006, the Winchester Connecticut factory was closed and manufacturing was transitioned to other Herstal manufacturing facilities; the Model 70 in Browning’s facilities in Portugal and, by 2010, all lever action firearms at Miroku Japan.

In 1960, Miroku began production of a an over and under shotgun that was a John Browning design derivative and sold it into Japanese, Australian and New Zealand markets. Miroku’s direct relationship with Browning began informally in 1962 and then formalized by contract in 1966 for the production of the BL-22, a lever action rimfire rifle. By the early 1970s, Miroku was manufacturing Browning centerfire lever action rifles and Citori shotguns. The production of Browning firearms continued on in 1976 when FN Herstal acquired ownership of Browning. Today, Miroku is a publicly traded company with Herstal owning over 9% of the shares outstanding.

My point is that relationships within Winchester, Browning and Miroku companies have been in place for over a hundred years in some cases, with the most junior, Miroku, in place for over half a century. Miroku has producing sporting firearms for hunters since 1893. It is notable that In the early 1930s Miroku business was focused on harpoon guns for the Japanese whaling industry rather than firearms, they did not make firearms for the Japanese military during WW II 2).

The Winchester Model 1894

Like the Models: 1885, 1886, 1890, 1892, 1895. and 1900 the Winchester Model 1894 is a John Browning design. Where the Model 1886 was designed for long, large bore black powder rifle cartridges and the Model 1892 was made for big bore, black powder revolver cartridges, the Model 1894 was designed for long length, smaller bore, smokeless powder cartridges. The Model 94 does not have the dimensional capacity to handle the 0.608″ rim of the 45-70 Gov’t cartridge, but it does comfortably handle the 0.532″ rim of the 450 Marlin and its 47,862 PSI maximum average pressure. The current Model 1894’s receiver is machined from solid billet and is of the angle eject design.

Above, Model 1892 top image, Model 1894 bottom. The Model 1892’s side locking bolts move perpendicular to the bore. The Model 1894’s rear locking bolt moves with the bottom of the receiver and locks with a 10° rearward cant relative to the bolt’s longitudinal axis, but parallel to the rear surface of the breech bolt. The Model 1894 differed from the Models 1886 and 1892 in that the bottom of the receiver is hinged and toggles the motion of the lever to allow a longer bolt stroke within a compact receiver length. Side ribs on the breech bolt make for smooth bolt travel and locate and hold the bolt to bore centerline.

Above, the large locking bolt behind the breech bolt on the Model 1894. Also not a bad view of the tang safety and rebounding hammer. The old half cock position hammer was replaced by a rebounding hammer system. Essentially, the system prevents the hammer from moving forward and contacting the firing pin until the trigger is depressed.

From the full cock position, with safety off and trigger squeezed, inertia will carry the hammer full forward and it will strike the firing pin. With the safety on, the hammer will fall to the rebound position, physically blocked from contacting the firing pin. With a round in the chamber, and the hammer lowered to the rebound position with the safety on, squeezing the trigger will result in no hammer movement, but the hammer can be brought to full cock and released with a trigger pull.

The 1 1/4″ drop at the comb and 1 3/4″ at the heel may seem a lot by modern standards, but they create ideal geometry for using open and peep sights, the most typical configuration the rifle would see. The receiver is, however, drilled and tapped for scope bases/mounts. The crescent butt plate is comfortable and the 32 Special recoil is modest enough to not cause concern.

Something notable about current Winchester lever gun production. They have some of the nicest black walnut stocks. Not super fancy in a way that would dissuade use, but enough to give each rifle distinct personality. The satin finish gives the rifle an understated elegance and the bordered 22 lines per inch checkering at the buttstock wrist and forearm add to that look and provide excellent gripping surfaces. The forend cap gives the rifle a more finished look than wood poking out from a barrel band.

The 24″ barrel is half hex and half round which gives the rifle an 1894 period look. The length of the barrel is the same as the industry test barrel length so velocity of factory ammo is very close to chronograph readings. There is always some surprise when a short barrel saddle carbine is shot over a chronograph, 30-30 WCF, 32 Winchester Special or similar is 10% or more of the velocity is missing. Not the case… in this case.

The Winchester Model 1894 Sporter is supplied with semi buckhorn rear sight and fine gold bead front. I read where people have a head explosion over using them but, like many things today, people don’t take the time to understand them. These are semi buckhorn because there is greater separation at the… ears than full buckhorn. The bead is aligned with the small notch at the bottom of the rear sight for close work, mid way up the ears for mid range work and between the top of the ears for long range work. The rear sight elevator adjusts to define near, mid range and long range yards. The sights are drifted for windage correction.

For punching holes in targets with open sights, I have 50 yard eyesight… 100 yards at least for deer size targets. The metallic sights are appropriate for a traditional lever action Winchester and I think they are okay for woodland hunting. I tend to mount FireSights on my lever action rifles, but always retaining the original for future reinstall.

The 32 Winchester Special… About that

The 32 Winchester Special was introduced as a smokeless powder cartridge. The intention was to offer a cartridge with higher velocity and kinetic energy than the 30-30 WCF, by firing the same weight bullet at higher velocity. The original velocity difference was approximately 10% greater than the 30-30 Winchester. How does that look today?

Cartridge Product Bullet
Weight
Grains
Rated
MV
FPS
Rated
ME
Ft.Lbs
32 Special Winchester Super X 170 2250 1911
30-30 WCF Winchester Super X 170 2200 1827
32 Special Hornady LeverEvolution 165 2410 2129
30-30 WCF Hornady LeverEvolution 160 2400 2046
32 Special Federal Power Shok 170 2250 1911
30-30 WCF Federal Power Shok 170 2200 1827
32 Special Remington Cor-Lokt 170 2250 1911
30-30 WCF Remington Cor-Lokt 170 2200 1827

Winchester recommends both the 32 Special and 30-30 WCF for deer and black bear hunters. Hornady recommends the 32 Special and 30-30 WCF for deer and elk hunters. Federal lists their products, 32 Special and 30-30 WCF, for medium size game – deer. Remington Core-Lokt ammunition carries no game application classification. For the stated performances, I could see where applications would be the same.

There are currently four factory loads generally available for the 32 Winchester Special, twenty nine for the 30-30 Winchester. Subsequently, the 30-30 WCF equivalents of the 32 Special loads were selected for comparison. Today, the velocity difference between 32 Special and 30-30 WCF is no great than 50 fps for factory ammunition.

The loss of performance separation over the years is probably the result of factory load level decisions rather than specification. The idea of increasing bore size, while maintaining constant bullet weight and pressure will yield a higher velocity is true. In fact, it is one of the justifications for the 338 Federal over the 308 Winchester. Restoration of the 32 Winchester Special might be found through handloading. The 32 Winchester special has slightly more powder capacity that the 30-30 WCF, 45 grains versus 44, and operates at the same SAAMI spec Maximum Average Pressure as the 30-30 WCF, 42,000 PSI, measured by transducer method.

I have no defensive case for the 32 Winchester Special case to make here. I am not routinely a 32 Special shooter, but I am curious to investigate the differences. The Winchester Model 1894 Sporter is available in 32 Winchester Special, 25-35 Winchester, 38-55 Winchester, and 30-30 Winchester, so the rifle is available without the 32 Special.

And after the blah, blah, blah came the gunfire…

Two types of ammunition were selected as being representative of the other types available. Winchester Super X was the standard and the Hornady LeverEvolution offered a velocity upside and a more streamlined bullet shape for greater retained velocity/energy.

The Winchester rated at 2,250 fps from a 24″ test barrel, clocked 2, 241 fps over the chronograph. The Hornady LeverEvolution rated at 2,410 fps, also from a 24″ test barrel, checked 2,397 fps over the chronograph. That is closer than most factory ammunition compared to recorded live fire.

I decided to accomplish the first accuracy check with the rifle’s metallic sights, because that would seem the most typical configuration for a hunter or even for a range outing for this type of firearm. I also decided to shoot at 50 yards as noted earlier.

Targets below, Hornady LeverEvolution top, Winchester Super X bottom. The Hornady group measured just about 5/8″, the Winchester group was 1 1/2″ center to center farthest holes. I’ll take responsibility for the Winchester group as it was at the end of the day shooting, eyes were straining and it was not helping my concentration. My intention is to assemble some handloads, mount a scope to separate the rifle’s performance from my performance and run some targets and reshoot factory ammo.

Impressions?

The Winchester was easy to shoot. Recoil was modest as noted earlier. Balance is good, but with that long barrel out front, it is clearly not a lightweight. That said, the rifle’s weight is steadying, making it surprisingly easy to shoot off hand; one elbow down, one elbow out, take a breath and let part of it out and squeeze off a shot between heart beats. Operating the lever with the rifle at the shoulder is comfortable. The Winchester Model 1894 Sporter is an interesting, well made firearm. I’m looking forward to the rest of the project.

1) The History of Winchester Firearms 1866 – 1992, Henshaw. Winchester Model 94, Renneberg. Winchester – An American Legend, R.L. Wilson.
2) A Brief History of Browning and the Legendary Miroku Factory.
Browning Historic TimelineWhere are Winchester Firearms Manufactured.  The History of browning Firearms – Miller.