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WINCHESTER MODEL 71 INFORMATION

Where did the 71 come from in the Winchester Model 71?

By the early part of the 20th century Winchester had moved away from the model introduction year designation of new firearms (i.e. Model 1894, Model 1895, Model 1897, Model 190l) to a sequential designation. The Model 52 was the famed bolt action .22 Long Rifle target rifle. The 53 and the 55 were variations on existing leverguns. The Model 54, introduced c. 1925, was the bolt action big game rifle that was the ancestor of the Model 70. And so on. Some numbers were given to firearms that never moved beyond the design stage. Some were given numbers not in the sequence - e.g. the Model 21 double shotgun.

Winchester moved away from designating firearms by years of introduction (Model 1894) because advertising & marketing gurus had advised the brass that, by the 1920's, any firearm from the nineteenth century (Model 1892, etc.) would be considered too antiquated to purchase by many potential buyers. Indeed, Winchester cut the "18" out of many models for that very reason. The famous Model 1894 became the Model 94. The Model 1897 shotgun became the 97, and so on.

Winchester was hot to bring out a big game bolt rifle in the mid-1930's that would improve on the Model 54. One "camp" of Winchester brass saw levers as obsolescent, & bolt action as the wave of the future. This group was represented by what became the Model 70.

The "Lever Lobby" at Winchester (comprised of older, experienced men with extensive field knowledge) wanted a new big game lever gun. It was a hard sell. The "Lever Lobby" succeeded, however, by putting forward a very convincing marketing case. The new big game lever rifle (which ultimately became the renowned Model 71) was to replace at least two models (the 1886 & the 1895) with just one (the 71) and a raft of cartridges (the .33 Winchester, the .45-70, the .35 Winchester, & the .405 Winchester) with just one (the .348). In the mid-Depression period, that sort of production economy made manufacturing & marketing sense. The .348 was also given a range of bullet weights, such that, on introduction, the Model 71 was touted as "The Universal Big-Game Rifle."

With the help of the German ballistician Gerlich, the Model 71 team made rapid progress in refining the Model 1886 action & fitting it for the new cartridge (.348). As a result, though the 71 was a later concept than the Model 70 (and, hence, had a higher number), it was ready sooner & was introduced when ready. (Originally the .348 was to have been the ".34 Winchester," but, again, marketing dictated the snazzier three-digit "modern" cartridge designation - e.g. .270 Winchester. .257 Roberts, .300 Savage. .220 Swift, .219 Zipper, .218 Bee, etc. That is all, however, another story.)

The Model 71 by any other number would still be as wonderful!!

What was done to improve (perhaps) or strengthen the 1886 in the Model 71 configuration?

Please allow someone who, without fear or favor, regards the Winchester Model 71 as the ultimate big game lever action rifle to reply to this question.

Before beginning, please let me state that some of the last produced Winchester Model 1886's (those made c. 1928-1935, and remember that some of these were made out of barrels on hand and "clean up" parts manufactured well before 1928) share a number of the Model 71's improvements.

Please remember also that Winchester itself considered the 71 to be an 1886. They introduced the Model 71 in 1936 as "The Universal Big-Game Rifle with the New 86 Golden Jubilee Action."

Improvements in the Model 71 over the Model 1886

(1) Steel: Winchester Proof-steel was used exclusively in the Model 71. This is a stronger steel, and it holds blueing better than the nickel-steel of the post blackpowder 1886's (those made c. 1900 on into the early 1930's). Some very late 1886's have Proof-steel, but note the caveat above about earlier parts used in final Model 1886 manufacture. 

(2) Coil Mainspring: The Model 71 featured a new spring steel coil mainspring (vs. the flat mainspring of the Model 1886). This gave a smoother hammer action and decreased tension at full cock.

(3) Butt Stock: The stocking of the Model 71 (and of the Model 64) reflects the work of an NRA design team, whose leading spirit was Colonel Townsend Whelen. The aim of the stocking changes was to increase the good handling characteristics of the 1886 when used with the 71's .348 Winchester cartridge. The buttstock was made larger, with a higher comb, a higher & longer heel (which gave more pitch, which, in turn, gave more non-slip bearing surface on the shoulder). The comb was made large & well-rounded, with both the width & depth of the stock increased. Recoil effect was clearly diminished, and, like a fitted shotgun butt, rapid mounting & settling were improved. I find this to be very true when comparing my 1886 Extra Light to my 71's.

(4) Butt Plate: The butt plate design was slightly, but significantly, altered with a slight hollow and a checking pattern to help hold the butt in place during working of the lever while the rifle remained mounted at the shoulder. Again, I find this retention at the shoulder effect very marked.

(5) Pistol Grip: The pistol grip, with its short, deep curve, gives better support & positioning for the trigger hand and, so, helps increase speed in operating the lever. I personally like straight grips on two-trigger shotguns, but, with a powerful lever rifle, I much prefer the pistol grip. Compare the two and see if you don't think Whelen was right.

(6) Semi-Beavertail Fore-end: This bigger fore-end with its rounded profile helps in controlling the rise of the 71, particularly with 250-grain loads. Remember that many 71's were used in the Alaskan & Canadian backcountry in wet, muddy, & snowy conditions. Something really to get a grip on was a huge plus for the class of riflemen I shall call "ultimate users."

(7) Bolt Peep Sight: The 98A bolt peer sight is a very elegant and useful improvement in sighting options. Not all 71's have it.

(8) Magazine Tube Length: The "two-thirds" length of the magazine tube (present on some 1886's) improved overall handling, balance, & appearance.

(9) Beveled Locking Lugs: The bevelled locking lugs give a useful "pop down" safety indicator of overloads.

(10) Machining Quality: Examine & compare for yourself. The 1935-1941 DeLuxe's are the cream of the Model 71 crop, and they represent an apogee of Winchester's attention to detail & quality in manufacturing line lever rifle production. (Please, I am speaking of production rifles - not the special crafting of "Highly Finished Arms.")

(11) Trigger Pull: Compare for yourself. A special stoning step was added in the manufacturing process.

(12) Bow Swivels: Model 71 came with the NRA improved shooting sling, attached by quick-detachable bow swivels.

(13) The "Jam-Proof" Action: The feed was adjusted from the 1886 to accommodate the .348 cartridge, which feeds like the proverbial greasy sausage, even in a dirty or rusted rifle. (The Model 71's were used hard in rough conditions by backcountry riflemen who knew what a lever rifle should be at its best and absolutely needed to be when Mr. Grizz burst out of the slide alders.)

(14) The .348 Cartridge Itself: The .348, as an actual using cartridge, is a magnificent design, incorporating Gerlich's advanced ideas. I pause briefly to crepitate in the general direction of the overblown "back pressure" arguments that have been advanced against the standard .348.

(15) Weight to Power Balance: Optimized in this magical rifle.

(16) Lyman Gold Bead Front Sight: Supplied as standard, with hood.

(17) Quality Touches Throughout: As but one example, look at the checkering or cross-hatching on the hammer of the 1935-1941 De Luxe Model 71's

Those are all that I can think of at the moment. I shall cogitate on the others.

Model 71's forever!

***********************

A really great article on the wonderful handling characteristics of the Model 71 is Karl Bosselmann's "The Ergonomic 71," which appeared in "Gun Digest 1991," pages 179-183. There is a photo which makes clear the reloading simplicity that the "upside down" feature offers to left-handed shooters. This is characteristic of many lever actions, but it is especially smooth in the 71 (due to (a) specially careful machining of the port and (b) the shape of the .348 cartridge which facilitates entry).

Please allow me to do my best on the "long tang" vs. "short tang" distinction.

The Model 71 was to be Winchester's ultimate lever action rifle. It was to improve upon the Model 1886 and replace both the Model 1886 and the Model 1895. It was to be the vehicle for introducing the new Gerlich-inspired .348 Winchester cartridge, which was, in turn, to replace in the big-game field at least four Winchester cartridges: the .33 Winchester & (the no longer available in new rifles) .45-70, both of which had come in the Model 1886, and the .35 Winchester & the .405 Winchester, both of which had come in the Model 1895. From the Winchester firm's point of view, this was an excellent marketing & manufacturing strategy, as 1 rifle & 1 cartridge would now replace 2 rifles & 4 cartridges. It would also wholly trump Remington, who, with the fine Model 141 "Gamemaster" in .35 Remington, had gambled that Winchester would simply keep with the .33 Winchester (comparable to the then loadings of the .35 Remington) and not do a whole, new, much improved cartridge. The timing was right, as the Model 71 would be introduced as the Great Depression appeared to be winding down & people were starting to buy new rifles. (This was the lull before the so-called "Roosevelt Recession" of 1937-1938.) Indeed, Winchester also planned to replace, at the same time, the Model 54 with the superior Model 70 (superior also to the Remington Enfield-based bolt rifles), so they would have both lever & bolt guns "covered."

From the numbers, you will see that the Models 70 & 71 were considered a "one-two punch" technological & marketing initiative. The 70 was supposed to come out first, but the 71 was ready a bit earlier. The .348 Winchester, which was first called the .34 Winchester (renamed at the suggestion of Phil Sharpe), was probably ready in late 1934-early 1935. The first Model 71's were manufactured in late 1935 (& I guess, but cannot prove, that there were earlier prototypes & Model 1886's chambered in .348, as they tinkered with the 1886 to produce the final Model 71 "Golden Jubilee" action).

The .348 cartridge is a whole story in itself. We are discussing the Model 71 action, so I shall simply say that (1) the Winchester Proof-Steel metallurgy and (2) the changes in the Model 1886 action to make it a Model 71 were, at least in part, to take advantage of opportunities offered by the new cartridge. Above all else, the .348 is designed to feed smoothly. Yet, it is also a higher pressure affair than either the .33 Winchester or the .45-70 (in standard, not +P loadings of both), producing more velocity & energy. The Winchester engineers, influenced by Gerlich, had a great deal of faith in a large capacity case (remember that the remote ancestor of the .348 is the .50-110 case), combined with a "small" bore, "fast" bullet. (Yes, .348" was small to them. Small for a dangerous game rifle, that is.) They didn't come out with the 250-grain loading until Elmer Keith & Townsend Whelen sounded the trumpet in Zion. Read some of Winchester's original advertising material, and you will see that they had great confidence in the 200-grain bullet on big stuff. They climbed down from that perch only gradually.

Now, better steel could hold more pressure. There was also a major mechanical change involving altering the ejector of old Model 1886 design so that the firing pin (and the primer area) were not included in the ejector surface. This also contributed to allowing regular, steady use of higher pressure loadings.

All that (whew!) is preliminary to saying that the Winchester 71, billed as "The Universal Big Game Rifle," was to be given absolutely first-class treatment in manufacture, and that it would need to handle high pressure, higher velocity (= more recoil) loadings very securely. Winchester didn't want a "kicker," whose reputation for punishment would turn off buyers. So, they decided to use the Whelen-NRA stock design that they had already put on the Model 64. As I mentioned in an earlier post (& as several others seconded), the Whelen design, combined with a thicker fore-end, made the Model 71 a very "eumatic" rifle.

Somewhat as a "side-bar," I would like to say that the mid-1930's were a wonderful time to produce a supreme rifle. The factory machining capacities were at an advanced state (relative to 20 years before), there was better steel technology, and there was a work force skilled in combining state-of-the-art machinery with semi-hand work. This is a little off point, but you can also see the same thing with classic cars. The 1930's were the brief moment of the truly brilliant "big" Packards, the Model 90 Cadillacs, the Phantom III Rolls-Royces, etc. Machinery & craftsmanship existed, really for a tragically brief time, in a marvelous equipoise.

Winchester wanted the stocking and the strength of the stocking - I emphasize the latter, the strength of the stocking - to be absolutely right. They wanted the Model 71 to be built like a battleship (this was also the period of the ultimate battleships), but not to handle like a battleship. The original, "long tang" Model 71 was their first "go" at this. They wanted dampened recoil, excellent balance, and absolutely NO stock cracking!

From the first manufacture in late 1935 through late (September) 1937, the Model 71 was the "long tang, short comb" model. This is from serial number 1 through serial numbers c. 12,500, with a very few long tangs appearing as late as serial numbers c.17,000. Why the spread on the end date? It is because, as always with Winchester, available parts were used up to fill new orders. There is no clear, absolute cut-off point. The upper tangs of these earlier guns are 3 7/8" in length. The later (post-September, 1937) Model 71's have the "short tang, long comb" configuration. The tang is 1" shorter.

Collectors love the original "long tang, short comb" variation for at least two reasons. (1) It is the "rare" variation, and rarity affects collecting value. It is also the "original" variation. (2) The checkering, finish quality, wood-to-steel fit, etc. are all superior on these early rifles, when compared with the postwar (1945-1957) Model 71's. BUT, the superior "build quality" (factor 2) is NOT because these early rifles are "long tang, short comb" configuration rifles. It is because they are PRE-WAR rifles. The drop-off in build quality (which is not tremendous; the 1945-1957 Model 71's are still excellent rifles) takes place when production is resumed after World War II. You can see the transition in the (relatively) few rifles finished during the war (doubtless from existing parts). I believe that the magical moment in time passed, when many of the Winchester production people either did not come back after 1945 or returned to a different business & production climate.

I hope you are being patient with me, as I am only now coming to why Winchester changed to the "short tang, long comb" configuration.

This is my own view, based on handling many different Model 71's. You will see much "received wisdom"/uncritical praise for the original "long tang, short comb" version. I believe that is due to the better finish & attention to detail. I very humbly & respectfully DEFY anyone to shoot a long string with the short comb (necessitated by the vaunted long tang!), in comparison with the longer, second style comb, and tell me that the first version handles better. It doesn't - the end.

For the Winchester people in 1937, the handling of the Model 71 was everything. Why would you buy a 71 over a 70? The levergun handled better (especially when compared to a scoped 70); that's why. Fantastic handling was the 71's raison d'etre. So, when reports from the field came back on the original version of the stocking, the Winchester folk needed to make a choice. Do we really need that long tang to reinforce the neck, as was done on quality Purdey or Holland & Holland dangerous game double rifles? Or will the 71 work with a more conventional tang, so that we can put on a longer comb? In the result, they went with the latter, and, I believe, rightly so. Also, the "short rifle" (mistakenly termed "carbine") 20" version appeared in 1937 (and lasted only until 1947). Consider the appearance of that "short rifle" with a long tang & short comb. Ooooh! Aesthetics is at least something, after all.

Therefore, I said,  that "the pick of the litter" on the Model 71's are those rifles (and "short rifles") made from 1937 through 1941. This group has the rifles with both the superior stock design and the superior pre-war finishing of wood, metal, fit, etc. I regard those rifles as absolutely the apogee of Winchester's big game lever rifles.

There are two very good analyses of the Model 71 that I highly recommend to you. You can still order them, as back issues or photocopies, from Wolfe Publications. Perhaps you already have the first: Ken Waters, "Classic Rifles: Winchester Model 71," in "Rifle," September-October, 1976, pages 51-53. Ken Waters (the model of what a gun writer should be!) includes in that article a very thorough discussion of the mechanical changes that make the Model 71 superior to the Model 1886. (In answer to your other question, there were, to my knowledge, no mechanical changes that accompanied the change-over from the "long tang, short comb" to the "short tang, long comb" c. September, 1937 and thereafter.

The second article is Jim Scott, "Model 71: Golden Jubilee Winchester," in "Rifle" also, May-June, 1974, pages 16-19 & 52-53. This second article has many very helpful photos (by Les Gard), which show the differences between the "long Tang, short comb" and "short tang, long comb" versions. Please remember, though, that all pre-war 71's are not "long tangs."

***********************

The Model 71 is a "cause" for me. I plan to write a book on it, & I am frankly hoping that Winchester/USRAC/Browning/Miroku will at some point do another re-issue of this historic & truly great rifle. Since it seems that there is always a slightly "new wrinkle" on any re-issue (doubtless to preserve the collector's value of the earlier re-issue by not affecting the rarity factor), I would suggest a useful new variation. How about a 22" barrel Model 71, splitting the difference between the 20" and 24" versions? There was never an original in that configuration, but it would make for a very practical and well-balanced rifle.

Here are a few reading recommendations. Right here on this magnificent Leverguns website are two fine articles by Jim Taylor, which you have doubtless already seen. "The Model 71 Winchester and the .348 WCF Cartridge" contains links to exploded views of the Model 1886 and the Model 71, which enable the reader to examine the subtle changes from one to the other. It also has a link to "The Browning 71" by Miles Fortis, which provides information on the different barrel threads in the originals versus the Brownings. The other article is on hunting with the Model 71 - and on the 71's use as a saddle gun.

A fine piece is Steve Gash's ".348 Winchester Browning Model 71: Update with Slower Powders" in "Handloader" 214, December-January, 2002, pages 34-39. Dave Scovill's "Winchester Model 71" in "The Legacy of Leverguns," pages 66-71 & 110 is quite good, as is the brief note by Ken Waters in that same publication, pages 104-105. Very helpful instructions for the Disassembly/Reassembly of the Model 71 are found in J.B. Wood's "Sporting Rifle Take Down & Reassembly Guide" (2nd edition, 1997), pahes 422-431.

Highly recommended is Gil Sengel's "Cartridge Board: .348 Winchester" in "Handloader" 177, October-November, 1995, pages 14-15 & 44. Please allow me to quote Mr. Sengel's magnificent peroration on the Model 71 which ends that piece:

"Thus ends the technical history of the .348 Winchester. Please pardon us when we say all of that really has little to do with the "real" history. You see, the story of the .348 WCF can never truly be told due to its unique purpose. Designed solely as a powerful hunting cartridge for the finest big bore lever gun that has ever been, its history was played out in dim woods and along forested streams of the cold country. Dark spruce, black water, and white snow have felt its concussion in places where weather was bad and ranges short. Elk, moose, and big bears knew its report, too, but the only witness was the north wind.

"Those who brought this rifle and cartridge into being were some of the last men to know what relying on a rifle really meant. Not head hunting, not killing, but slipping as through a curtain, alone, into a land that is big, beautiful, and totally unforgiving. A good canoe, a favorite pack frame, a big Winchester with receiver turned dull silver from wear by countless pairs of mittens are all part of this history.

"Then the sudden violent shaking of the brush. A blood chilling half-growl, half-roar paralyzes mind and senses. Quick flashes of brown transform into a slobbering face of teeth and gray guard hairs standing erect, accented by eyes turned red with hate for reasons know only to itself. As death closes the final few feet, there comes, somehow, the crashing thunder of a Model 71 - again and again.

"Yes, the .348 Winchester truly belongs to another era. It was created for a place that is part fiction, part reality, part memory. Unfortunately, we have never been allowed to glimpse very much of it."

Perhaps I am, indeed, an incurable Romantic, but such a piece of writing gives hope that the era of great gun writers is not wholly passed.

There are also articles by Dave Scovill & John Kronfeld (though I differ from some of Mr. Kronfeld's views on .348 "back thrust" and the superiority of the Ackley Improved version of the .348) in Wolfe's "Big Bore Cartridges" anthology. As always, Snooky Williamson, in "The Winchester Lever Legacy" (1988), which can still be ordered from Buffalo Arms in Sandpoint, Idaho, tells it as he sees it in "348 WCF," pages 187-198. There is good information in George Madis's classic "The Winchester Book," (1985 edition), "The Model 71," pages 345-347, which is well-illustrated with photos of Model 71's. Still another good article is Charles Suydam, "Cartridge Board: .348 Winchester" in "Handloader" 107. January-February, 1984, pages 10 & 46. The old grand classics, Jack O'Connor, "The Rifle Book," (especially the 1949 edition; O'Connor had & used a 71), Elmer Keith, "Keith's Rifles for Large Game," Francis Sell's books on deer hunting, and Townsend Whelen's The Hunting Rifle (1940), all have useful notices of the Model 71 and the .348 Winchester cartridge.

Interestingly, in the nowadays denigrated "brush buster" tests, conducted by both Jack O'Connor and Francis Sell, the .348 Winchester prevailed. (Pardon me while I pull on my asbestos union suit!)

Alas I do not have at hand any references to the Model 71 in "American Rifleman," although there is doubtless good information there - somewhere. 

Elsewhere on this Leverguns website, you will find Jim Taylor's fine article, "The Model 71 Winchester & the .348 Cartridge." About halfway through the article is a link to another article, "The Browning Model 71," by Miles Fortis. That second article, which has photos of both the Winchester and the Browning barrel threads (which differ), states that it is not possible to interchange original Winchester and 1987 Browning barrels, as the threads are, indeed, different.

To my best knowledge, any Winchester Model 71 barrel will successfully interchange with any other Winchester 71 barrel, and, similarly, any Browning 71 with any other Browning 71. I have not personally been involved in such a project, but I have seen two in their completed stage (both going from 24" to 20"). So, my answer is offered to you only on "information & belief."

For what it is worth, I have not usually found the 80 fps difference in muzzle velocity that one would normally expect between the 20" and 24" barrels. I am sure that powder selection (slow burners vs. medium burners vs. fast burners) could realize a substantial velocity gain for the 24" barrel (if you think 60-100 fps significant), given sufficient load development.  Browning and Winchester rifles differ in the velocities they give. Some find the Winchesters faster (comparing 24" barrels with 24" barrels, and 20" with 20", of course), but most find the Brownings faster. I do not think that it is possible to make a valid generalized statement on this.

Given that velocities are not radically different, I usually recommend choosing the barrel length that the prospective user believes to possess the better handling characteristics. In any case, most users are well advised to shoot their 71's with their original barrels for a while before deciding to change. The Browning barrels, as the Miles Fortis article relates, are really "in there!"

Again, I repeat my plug for a new run with 22" barrels.

Godspeed!

Redcoat
aka Rev. J. Kevin Fox
redcoat300@hotmail.com

 

 

 

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