October 22, 2020
Just how popular is the Winchester Model ‘94 rifle? Serial number 1,000,000 was presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1927, while President Harry Truman received rifle number 1,500,000 in 1948 and President Dwight D. Eisenhower was given number 2,000,000 in 1953. Consider these numbers: Through the last 126 years of production, Winchester has sold more than 71/2 million ‘94s. That equates to some 160 rifles sold each day through a century. So many ‘94s have been produced that one in every 44 Americans could own one.
Part of the Model 94’s mass appeal was its accessibility. Designed by John Browning, the Winchester ’94 was the first American sporting rifle built for smokeless powder cartridges. Initial offerings included .32-40 and .38-55, but by the spring of 1895 it was offered in the then-new .30-30 cartridge making the combination an immediate success.
Launched at the 2020 SHOT Show, Winchester announced a limited run of the Model 1894 Deluxe Short Rifle reviewed here, a collectible shooter.
A Touch of Class
A feature that sets the new Model 1894 Deluxe Short Rifle apart from the more pedestrian versions of the ’94 is the color-case hardened finish covering the steel receiver, lever and forearm cap. Each of these guns bears a rich pattern of blues, yellows and browns on the metal, and that makes each of these guns distinct. And the color-case hardened finish is complimented by a Grade V/VI walnut straight grip stock and forearm. The wood is exceptional, with bold grain patterns and a deep oil finish. The bolt slide, trigger and barrel are polished blued.
As beautiful as Model 1894 Deluxe Short Rifle is, it’s also still a ‘94, meaning its beauty is tied to functionality. Eighteen line-per-inch (lpi)-cut checkering covers the forearm and small of the stock, which adds class and practicality that isn’t often found on modern guns. It’s just enough texture to ensure a comfortable grip without being overly aggressive.
If you’ve ever handled a Model ‘94, you already know just how good this gun feels. It’s a rifle that’s ready to spring to the shoulder.
It was balanced to swing evenly. Guns & Ammo’s test sample weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces, which is only 1 ounce heavier than Winchester’s specifications, and more likely due to variations in wood density. The 20-inch button-rifled barrel gives the Deluxe Short Rifle a balance point that’s perfectly centered at the front of the action.
The ‘94 Deluxe Short rifle forgoes a modern rubber pad and wears a more traditional buttplate that’s fitted flush all around to the stock. The hard buttplate design stands in stark contrast to contemporary hunting rifles often featuring cushy recoil pads, but it adds to this gun’s classic look.
This limited production levergun is chambered in .30-30 Winchester or .38-55 Win., neither of which are particularly punishing in terms of recoil. The .30-30 barrel features a 1:12-inch twist rate, while the .38-55 has a 1:15-inch twist inside the bore.
In terms of the action, the Deluxe Short Rifle is largely unchanged in terms of its function and design. Dropping the lever releases a cartridge from the tubular magazine, and a lifter assembly elevates the cartridge behind the chamber. Simultaneously, the top portion of the receiver and bolt slide rearward. An extractor on the top of the locking bolt pulls the cartridge’s rim, and an ejector mounted at the bottom of the bolt face sends the spent case hurling through the cutout portion at the top of the of the receiver. The rearward movement of the bolt also cocks the hammer. Returning the lever up closes the bolt and, when the safety catch is pushed up, the gun is ready to fire the next round.
The ‘94 Deluxe Short Rifle has a capacity of seven rounds, and the cartridges are loaded into the tubular magazine through the side gate on the right side. It’s a smooth design that always works. It was durable enough to stand up to the earliest smokeless powder cartridges, and was far stronger than earlier Model 1873 with its toggle-link action design.
There are a few features on ‘94 Deluxe Short Rifle that weren’t present as part of Browning’s patented design. The hammer spur on this ’94 is drilled to accept an extension, and a scope can be mounted on the gun’s receiver.
Mounting an optic on a top-eject ‘94s requires some careful work, and many would say that it detracts from this model’s classic styling. A peep sight is another possible option for those who don’t want to significantly alter the look or feel of the gun, but the buckhorn sights (a feature that remains from the original intent) still works well for most applications if you have the vision to align the narrow channel at the base with the gold bead sight at the front.
The modern ’94 also has a tang-mounted safety. Sliding the safety forward on this ‘94 reveals a red dot indicating that the rifle can be fired. This replaced the half-cock feature on the original ’94 rifles and, thankfully, the crossbolt safety that was standard on production Model ‘94s made between 1992 and 2002. The current tang safety is less obtrusive and doesn’t illicit the same hate from traditionalists. There is also a tab that projects from the bottom of the pistol grip that prevents the rifle from firing unless the lever is closed.
The sub-7-pound ‘94 Deluxe Short Rifle has an overall length of 38-inches and a length of pull that measures 13½ inches, making it suitable for a broad range of shooters. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $1,849 for either chambering, which isn’t cheap, but the Deluxe Short Rifle’s wood, fit and finish explains this model’s higher price.
At The Range
If you’re accustomed to shooting bolt guns with 2-pound triggers, the Winchester Model 94’s trigger will take some getting used to. There’s some take-up before the trigger comes tight, and while the trigger break wasn’t excessively heavy — 5 pounds, 8 ounces, on average — it’s not a target trigger. However, for most of the tasks for which the ‘94 is suited, the trigger is perfectly fine. It wasn’t so heavy that the trigger made shooting groups from the bench challenging, but trigger feel certainly factors into a rifle’s accuracy potential. At the range, G&A tested five different loads at 100 yards from the bench, and the average group sizes measured between 3 and 4 inches. The best group measured 2.85 inches, and most of those groups were in the 31/2-inch range. To shooters brought up firing bolt-action or benchrest rifles at that distance, these numbers will seem unimpressive, but when you’re working with buckhorn sights (and your own proclivity with buckhorn sights), those groups are perfectly expected from a ’94 of similar configuration. The average whitetail has a vital zone of roughly 6 to 8 inches so consistent 31/2-inch groups will produce clean kills of deer at 100 paces, so long as you are steady.
We also fired a group at 200 yards for comparison. At that distance, the average was 8 inches for three shots. The maximum effective range of this rifle on deer-sized game is probably limited to 150 yards or so. The buckhorn sights on the ’94 do adjust using a classic ladder design that can elevate or lower the rear sight based upon which “step” supports it. It’s a rudimentary design, but one that can be adjusted in the field without tools.
This ‘94 may not be as versatile for hog hunting as many rifles designed since, but it is a better tool to carry when sneaking into a sounder of pigs than the average bolt gun. Split times improve when you learn to grip and pull the short rifle against the shoulder with the forend and grip without breaking the sight plane. Having two anchor points on this rifle and allowing the shooting hand to operate the lever allows for quick shooting as many hunters, ranchers and pioneers would attest. Though a ‘94 may never match the accuracy of a match rifle off the bench, there are few centerfire rifles that allow quick close-range shots off-hand, or follow-ups.
Not only does the Model ‘94 have an impressive reputation on hunting game, but its handling characteristics also make it a suitable home-defense option. A recent Guns & Ammo study highlighted the cartridges most in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, reserves of the .30-30 were almost depleted across the country, so we’re clearly not the only ones who think the .30-30 is effective for personal protection.
While the Winchester ‘94 is well over a century old in it’s development, the design has held up remarkably well and is making a comeback (perhaps because it isn’t a black-colored semiautomatic). It’s a product of the firearm era of when ambitions were aimed at getting as close to game as possible before firing, instead of seeing how far away one could shoot. We’re glad that Winchester feels this all-American design deserved special treatment in the form of the Deluxe Short Rifle because it serves as an excellent reminder that these leverguns are fun and versatile. No gun collection is complete without at least one Model ‘94. Seven-point-five million gun owners can’t be wrong.
Winchester Model 1894 Deluxe Short Rifle Specs
- Type: Lever action
- Cartridge: .30-30 Win. (tested) or .38-55 Win.
- Capacity: 7
- Barrel: 20 in., button rifled
- Overall Length: 38 in.
- Weight: 6 lbs., 13 oz.
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
- Stock: Walnut Grade V/VI; oil finish; 18 lpi checkering
- Finish: Color case hardened/polished blued
- Sights: Buckhorn (rear); gold bead (front)
- MSRP: $1,850
- Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms, 800-333-3288, winchesterguns.com
Winchester Model 1894 Deluxe Short Rifle Performance
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