THE WINCHESTER MODEL 1895
The Winchester Model 1895 is, for me at least, the medicine gun for many different types of hunting. I think it a fabulous design & rifle.
It is, however, absolutely not the same action as the 1894. Like the 1894, it is a John Browning design. Like all the Browning designs for the classic leverguns, William Mason of the Winchester firm made Browning's brilliant theoretical model into a firearm that could actually be manufactured & which worked well.
The 1894 design proved to have a sufficient reserve of design strength that, with a nickel steel barrel, it could be used for smokeless cartridges (e.g .30 WCF & .25-35), though it was introduced with blackpowder cartridges (.38-55 & .32-40). The 1895 was designed, from the outset, to be used with smokeless cartridges (although, interestingly, it was introduced with 2 blackpowder cartridges & 1 smokeless). Specifically, it was designed to be used with the then revolutionary .30 Army (the .30-40, .30 US Army, .30-40 Krag - all the same cartridge).
In the 1890's, Winchester was well aware that smokeless was coming, and they wanted to be on the crest of the marketing and, hence, the design wave. They made the Model 1885 single shot available in .30-40. This was the first sporting rifle for a smokeless cartridge in America. The real prize, however, would be a repeating rifle that could handle the .30-40. The U.S. Army's tests had evolved at the Springfield Arsenal a cartridge, vaguely derived from the .303 British, that became, after several revisions, the .30-40. It was chambered in the Krag military rifle.
At Winchester's behest, Browning made the design that became the Model 1895. It featured a non-detachable box magazine, which gives the 1895 its characteristic appearance. (Elmer Keith, who didn't care for the aesthetics of the Model 1895, memorably likened it to "a poisoned pup, ripening in the sun.") That magazine could handle higher pressures (c. 46,000 psi, though various sources differ on the exact maximum) than the tubular magazine leverguns. The box magazine also made possible the use of spitzer & semi-spitzer bullets - the points did not rest on the primer of the cartridge ahead.
The Model 1895 was introduced in 1895 (patent granted November 5, 1895) & about 287 were made that first year. Early rifles have a flat-sided receiver &, hence, are called "Flat-Sides," which are very attractive to collectors. The initial offerings were .30-40 and two blackpowder numbers, the .38-72 and the .40-72. With the two latter, Winchester was hedging its bet on smokeless powder. The .303 British was added in 1898 & sold quite well in Canada. After about 7,200 Model 1895's were made, the slightly stronger scalloped receiver, which is the familiar one for the 1895, was introduced. This is the "Second Model."
Other cartridges were introduced, as follows: the .35 WCF (1903), which is a grossly underrated & highly effective big game cartridge, the .405 Winchester (1904), which gets the lion's share of the press (pun intended), the .30-03 (1905), & the .30-06 (1908). Much, perhaps most, of the early sporting use of the .30-06 was in Model 1895's. In 1915-1916, 293,816 musket configuration Model 1895's were made for Imperial Russia to use on the Eastern Front in World War I. These were in 7.62x54 Russian. They were used extensively in the Russian Civil War (Whites vs. Reds) and later by the Finns against the Russians in 1939.
Total production of Model 1895's is stated to be 426,754 - as always, give or take a few thousand. About 75% of the non-Russian production was in .30-40. The 1895's came in rifle, carbine, & musket configurations. There was an NRA Musket for competition. A Model 1895 won the Wimbledon Cup in 1896 or 1897. There were various custom options, as was usual with Winchester at that time, but fewer than with, say, the Model 1886's.
The Model 1895 carbines were the "official" longarm of the famed Arizona Rangers. One bad guy shooting from behind a large pine tree was drilled through the gizzard by a military "solid" round that shot through the tree. (The .30-40 is justly famous for penetration, particularly with the 220-grain load; velocity-weight relationship is maximized for penetration.) Pancho Villa's men loved the 1895's. There are some surviving 1895 carbines marked "7th Cavalry," The Army bought 10,000 .30-40 carbines, which saw action in various places including the Philippines & the Relief of the Peking Legations. The Army brass did not like them (the difficulty of working the lever while prone was one objection), & they gave way to the Springfields when the switchover was made to .30-03 and then .30-06.
The Model 1895's in .30-06 had some difficulties with bolt face peening & setback (sometimes resulting in excess headspace) when factory loads in .30-06 were upgraded & pressures increased. That is not true for the other chamberings. The modern reproductions/replicas - the Brownings from 1984, the Winchester/USRAC/Miroku models from the 1990's through the present - all do fine with the .30-06's, and the 1990's vintage .270 Winchester chambering.
The 1895 is top-ejecting, &, as a result, scope mounting must be to the side & can be awkward. (Cheek harder!) An extremely popular factory option was the addition of the Lyman Model 21 receiver sight, which later, with a wheel for windage adjustment, became the Lyman Model 38. Charging the magazine with any of the rimmed cartridges must be done carefully. The rim of each succeeding cartridge must NOT get behind the rim of the cartridge below or the Great Mother of All Jams will result. (Tedious when the big bear is approaching rapidly.)
The modern 1895's can stand somewhat more pressure than the originals (1895 to last cleanup in 1940; technically discontinued in 1936). That is due to better steels. The design, however, remains the same, which is rear-locking. So, this is not the rifle for extreme hot-rodding. As
has been rightly said, there can be some slight increase in velocity. As with all Winchesters of the period, the heavier bullets seems to work best, and it is often hard to get on the paper with the lighter ones. The Winchester ballisticians designed (& throated) around one "ideal" bullet weight for each cartridge - 250-grain in .35 Winchester; 300-grain in .405 Winchester, etc. That is not to say that other weights can't be made to work. It takes tinkering & possibly front sight adjustment. Ken Waters wrote an excellent article on the Browning .30-40 for "Handloader" in 1985; it is worth looking up. The .30-40 is perhaps most flexible with bullet weights. My Browning handles 220, 200, 180, & 165-grainers all quite nicely. My favorite in the 200-grain Nosler Partition.
The .405 Winchester in the modern persuasion is an excellent rifle. The shotgun butt helps tame the recoil, which is pretty much exaggerated anyway, especially if you are accustomed to heavy .45-70 loads. I recommend a Buffalo Arms Model 38
receiver sight and a good recoil pad to make a reasonably comfortable as well as accurate rifle for big game.
The Hornady factory ammunition is accurate. It comes in both flat point & semi-spitzer. The pointed version does not have a tremendously better Ballistic Co-Efficient, but it will stretch the range and downrange energy a bit. I like the blow struck by the flat point, & most uses of a .405 will not be at distant ranges. The Hornady bullets (available for handloading) are better constructed than the original Winchester bullets, which were close to fragile - better for lion than for heavy boned big stuff. The Hornady cases have really pleased me. Hats off to Winchester/USRAC/Miroku & to Hornady for reviving a great gun. It is better than it was!
The workmanship on all the Miroku-made revivals is superb, in my opinion. I don't like the fore-end shape (preferring the original), but it works. The 1990's & after versions have a tang safety & a rebounding hammer. I do not greatly mind those; others do very much. The 1984 vintage Brownings have the traditional half-cock; they are in .30-06 & .30-40.
My personal preference is for the .405 over a heavy loaded .45-70, but I am sure that others will have differing ideas. The .45-70 lends itself better to heavier bullets (e.g. 400 & 405-grainers, as well as the factory Cor-Bon 350-grainers & the big 500-grainers).
Again, speaking personally, I think that the pick of the litter among the 1895 revivals is the 1984 Browning .30-40. I hope that Winchester will make a run of .30-40's, and I hope that they will choose to make the 22" barrel carbine version (something a little different!), which was the King of the Saddle Guns.
In re-reading the above I believe I should make a few corrections & additions.
(1) The Winchester Model 1895 is able to function at a higher pressure not simply because of its box magazine, which my earlier post seems to state, but because of its whole design, of which the box magazine is but a part. Better steel was a key component.
(2) There is not perfect agreement on what pressure a Model 1895 will withstand as a standard working pressure. Mattern, quoted by Waters, says 46,000 psi; Keith (1936) says 47,000 psi, but also that a lower figure is needed for regular use if headspace difficulties are not to develop. These are important questions for
those who might want to establish safe maximum loads, if they should ever work with original 1895's, as opposed to the new versions. Phil Sharpe's great handloading tome (1953; 3rd edition, 2nd revision) has much more .30-40 data than present sources - doubtless because there was more use of .30-40 rifles (primarily Krags) then. I am NOT at all recommending using outdated loading data, but I do note that the highest pressures given were at 43,000 psi. That would have been for Krags as well as Winchester Model 1895's, and the latter are generally thought a bit stronger. Winchester did proof tests on the .30-40 Model 1895 at 60,000 psi, but that was, of course, not a service load. The modern Miroku-made 1895's, both Brownings & Winchesters, do fine with current .30-06 & .270 factory loads, many of which probably well exceed 47,000 psi.
(3) Firearms historians are still trying to clear up official US Army use of the Model 1895. I stated in my long post that the Army bought 10,000 carbines; I should have said 10,000 muskets - although some of the order may - I emphasize "may" - have been in carbine configuration. The order of 10,000 was made in 1898 at the behest of General Nelson Miles, then Commanding General of the Army, who wanted to get the maximum number of .30-40's into the hands of troops for the Spanish-American War. Regulars and the Rough Riders had Krags; most other Volunteer units still had the .45-70 Trapdoor Springfields. The 1895's were too late for the Santiago campaign, although a number of .30-40 carbines were in the hands of officers as their private weapons. (This was correctly shown in the 1997 film "The Rough Riders.")
A total of 100 1895's were sent to the Philippines, tested there, & deemed inferior (for military use) to the Krags. They were returned to the US & sold to an arms dealer in Boston &, thence, to the public. The remaining 9,900 were disposed of in 1906 & were sold primarily in Cuba for military use there. All this information appears in various sources (e.g. Madis), but is not absolutely secure. For example, did units use the muskets/carbines between 1898 and 1906? Where? By whom? Or did they just sit in storage?
It is reported that an arms dealer in the 1950's bought 1895 carbines marked "7th Cavalry," which had been taken from Pancho Villa's men & stored in Mexico City for decades. If anyone knows more about that, I would appreciate the information. There was a great deal of Model 1895 use along the Mexican border in the period 1900-1920 by Mexican units, by the Arizona & Texas Rangers (supported by photographic evidence), &, it seems, by some US Cavalry units. Were those reported Cavalry 1895's issue weapons, or were they officers' private arms? Was there a 7th Cavalry mark or stamp??? There are lots of interesting corners to poke around in for those interested in the 1895's. Here's another: did Troop L of the 6th Cavalry really carry 1895's at the relief of Peking in 1900? I realize a lot of this only concerns history buffs.
(4) When Winchester/USRAC/Miroku made 1895's in .270 Winchester in the 1990's, I was not interested in a chambering that was (1) unoriginal and (2) for an excellent long-range cartridge that would benefit greatly from the scoping that the 1895's top ejection made awkward. So, I had a .270 rebored & rechambered to .35 Whelen. The Whelen is the .30-06 necked up to .35
caliber, of course, and the .270 is the .30-06 necked down to .277. So, the feed from the magazine was just fine. I recommend this conversion highly. Hamilton Bowen did the work for me, & he did it to his usual extremely high standard. Z-Hat in Wyoming also does such conversions & makes takedowns, too! Dave Scovill developed the powerful .375 Scovill cartridge, and there is also a .411 Hawk. These thumpers have been used with great success in Alaska. So, there is a lot one can do with the new 1895's if a very powerful rifle is desired.
You might want to consider that route, as opposed to the maximum load route for the .405's. Cost, of course, is an issue. Other possibilities would be the .338-06 (now "legitimated") and the old .400 Whelen (the latter requiring very precise work to avoid headspace problems - probably not worth it). Ken Waters made a Browning .30-40 into a .35 Winchester. This is the same principle as the .30-06 to .35 Whelen conversion, since the .35 Winchester is the .30-40 lengthened, shoulder moved forward, & necked up to .35 calibre. I also see that Buffalo Arms can supply .35 Winchester ammo made in the Bertram brass, as can several other semi-custom loaders. Mr. Waters wrote a good article on this conversion & on the .35 Winchester in the November, 1990 "Handloader" - very much worth finding & reading.
(4) Let me make an appeal: Enthusiasts for the 1895 where e'er you are, when next you have contact with Winchester/USRAC for any reason, put in a plug for more runs of the 1895. They have the tooling, & Miroku does it well. Time for carbines, .30-40's, & maybe a .35 Winchester!
Good shooting to all!
More on the .35 Winchester
The .35 Winchester is a winner. Even Elmer Keith really liked it! I have found the Bertram brass to be O.K.,
but expensive. The thick rim works fine in my .35 Winchester, which is an older original, made in 1903. If you don't care for the Bertram, you could try the (quite expensive) Kynoch factory ammo, but I believe that they have now begun to use the Bertram brass as well. I have not had a lot of luck with the redrawn .30-40 brass made into .35 Winchester brass. Others' mileage may differ. You might want to talk to the folks at Buffalo Arms about their various options for .35 Winchester brass & ammo.
In Ken Waters' 1990 "Handloader" piece on the .35 Winchester, he reported that his .30-40 cases redrawn to .35 Winchester failed him - in some instances, after one firing! That has paralleled my own experience. I suppose it all depends on who does the redrawing, how, and what loads are then fired in them.
Your point about chambers that are just a hair big & case stretching is well-taken. In that same Waters article on the .35 Winchester, he stated that, in his Browning .30-40 rechambered & rebored to .35 Winchester, case expansion was considerably less with identical powder charges than in an original Winchester Model 1895 .35 Winchester. His gunsmith provided a tight, very accurately dimensioned chamber; the original chamber was, in comparison, sloppier. I have experienced this same thing myself, as I had a Ruger No. 1S .218 Bee rechambered & rebored to .35 Winchester. (That's a nice way to get a strong, elegant .35 Winchester today.) The chamber in the Ruger is just a tad tighter than in the well-used 1903 production Model 1895 .35 Winchester. The Bertram cases do stretch more - not problematically more - in the Winchester.
When Winchester made the originals of these big levers - the Model 1895, the Model 1886, the Model 71 - was there a conscious decision to make the chambers just a tad generous?
In those palmy days, there was less handloading (& the makers were not too keen on handloading). There was also a lot of use of the big levers in real life, rather dirty, not easy to clean your rifle, hard usage situations. Some of those rifles were going to knock around for months in canoes up in the Canadian North. Did they allow for the possibility that rifles that would absolutely, positively have to go bang & then function - or someone might get 'et (or shot) - could be little under-maintained and, hence, would need some fudge factor? I think that the radical taper, greased sausage shape of the .348 cartridge suggests that kind of design consideration. Then, did the new production models follow the dimensions of the originals? These are questions & speculations only.
If you were given any 1895 of your choice, which caliber would you choose and why? I've wanted an 1895 for years and am on the brink of getting one. I vacillate between the 30-40 and the 30-06, but I've read that the 30-06 can stick in the action. Is this true?
Great question! My answer: a 1984 vintage Browning .30-40.
(1) The 1984 Brownings are made of superior steels in comparison to the original production (1895-final cleanup in 1940) Winchesters.
(2) The Brownings appear to have a bit more accurately dimensioned chambers.
(3) The Brownings, in comparison with the later USRAC Winchester's, do not have the rebounding hammer & the tang safety. Simpler mechanism; less to go wrong. Also, the half-cock notch is the original design. The Brownings work like an original; you have an 1895, not an almost 1895.
(4) To me, the Brownings have a more dynamic feel than the later USRAC Winchesters. (I own, use, & like both; I am speaking of very subtle comparative advatages.)
(5) The Brownings are just newer than the originals & likely to be in better condition. A well-used original can be "tired" - with headspace issues, wider chambering (both of which stretch cases; the former of which can be dangerous), possible holes drilled for old offset scope mounts, internal rust, stock alterations, cracks, or general wear, etc. A 100-year old rifle as a daily user can just have issues - not always, I recognize. I also own & shoot originals.
(6) Original 1895's in good condition have risen dramatically in price in recent years. They are expensive. You can get a very nice Browning for $800 or, with luck, less.
(7) For all the reasons discussed earlier the .30-06 (let alone .270) with modern factory loads (at higher velocities & pressures than the .30-06 velocities & pressures c. 1908, when the Model 1895 was first chambered in .30-06) is operating near the ceiling of the Model 1895's pressure design capacity. Yes, the new ones have better steels. Better steels are not the whole picture; the Model 1895 design is essentially the same. Are you going to shoot your 1895 a lot? Are you going to do a lot of reloading for it? If you answer "yes" to those two questions, I would say get the .30-40. If you will use the rifle for occasional fun, for sighting in, & for yearly hunting trips, then the .30-06 would be absolutely fine.
(8) The .30-40 is the original Model 1895 cartridge. The rifle was designed around it. (Yes, I know about the two blackpowder numbers. The rifle was designed around the .30-40.) The 1895 handles the .30-40 really well.
(9) The .30-40 at SAAMI 40,000 cup offers a substantial pressure margin, when compared with the .30-06 at 50,000 cup. The .30-40 also is a rimmed cartridge, with the accompanying headspacing advantages.
(10) The .30-40 is an underrated cartridge. It is a very balanced load & offers low recoil & pleasant shooting. It is easy on the shoulder. With heavy bullets (180, 200, & 220 grainers), it operates at velocities which maximize penetration, even with non-premium bullets. The Remington factory load (180-grain PSP Core-Lokt @ 2430 fps) is fine ammunition, & it is readily available.
(11) Though the .30-40 is not a big bear cartridge, neither is the .30-06. Both have served successfully; yet, there are many better alternatives. On other game, the .30-40 does the job, with a little less drama. One is less likely to be tempted to pressing the .30-40 into doing "everything."
(12) Though the .30-40 is at its best with the heavier bullets in the throatings found in original Model 1895's (& military Krags), the Browning throatings enable you to work up quite accurate 150-grain, 165-grain, and even 125/130 grain loads. Hence, there is a lot of versatility. Most folks don't shoot varmits with an 1895, but, if you were so inclined, the .30-40 is easier-going in that role than the .30-06.
I'll stop there. Just my opinion! Good luck in picking!
You ask about pressure limits for the
Winchester Model 1895. In order to answer, please let me do a little initial
"First Generation" Model 1895's
Produced by Winchester from initial introduction late in 1895 through final
factory clean-up in 1940.
"First Model, First Generation"
These are the "Flatsides" so much desired by (some) collectors.
Roughly, they are the 1895's with serial numbers from 1 through about 5,000. As
always, Winchester used up available parts, so you may see a Flatside with a
serial number that you wouldn't expect. You can always tell that it is a
Flatside, however, because of the obvious - a flat sided receiver.
These First Model, First Generation/Flatside Model 1895's are the weakest of all
Model 1895's. Briefly, they are the original, defective Browning design, which
was quickly found to be unsatisfactory and which was re-vamped by William Mason
& others at the Winchester factory. Their handiwork was the following:
"Second Model, First Generation"
The Browning design had many wonderful attributes. For example, it handled
pointed/spitzer bullets and, in the .30 Army/.30-40, higher pressure cartridges.
It was, however, a radical departure from previous Winchester levers, including
those designed by Browning himself. There were some "kinks."
Fundamentally, the length of the unsupported bolt was too long. Also, the
locking of the bolt was completely at the rear, as opposed to about two-thirds
of the way along, as with the Models 1886 and 1892.
To remedy this design weakness, William Mason, Plant Superintendent Tilton, and
other Winchester designers, engineers, & factory supervisors, who were used
to taking Browning's brilliant conceptual models (often supplied to Winchester
as wooden models) and making them production ready, had, in 1896, to make
substantial changes. In the great rush to get to market with a repeater that
would handle the then "miracle" cartridge, the .30 Army/.30-40,
Winchester had launched the Model 1895 before sufficient refinement had been
done on the original design. (The same thing happened with the Model 1893 pump
shotgun, which had to be redesigned & reintroduced as the familiar Model
The changes made, which converted the "First Model, First Generation"/Flatside
into the "Second Model, First Generation," were, very briefly, the
alteration of the receiver from a flat sided configuration to the very familiar
fluted-side receiver and the alteration (& size reduction) of the bolt &
how it locked up. The fluted receiver gave needed rigidity to the long bolt
travel run and the rear lock up improvement also added to the overall strength
of the new, revised design. Other improvements included a two-piece firing pin
retractor and an unique two-piece lever with a more positive latch system. Over
the early years of production, many flat springs were also gradually replaced by
round wire springs.
I am working on a book on the Model 1895 which goes into all that in detail, but
that's a sufficient explanation for present purposes.
The "Second Model, First Generation" takes in all the Model 1895's
from serial number c. 5,000 (when the fluted side receiver first appeared) to
the first end of production (c. 1940) with serial numbers around 426,000.
Your reworked Russian musket was made c. 1915-1916 and is a "Second Model,
First Generation." Indeed, about 69% of First Generation production (about
293,000 weapons) is made up of the Russian muskets for the Tsar's embattled (and
The pressure maximum for Second Model, First Generation (i.e. fluted side) Model
1895's has never been perfectly agreed upon. Mattern states 46,000 psi. Elmer
Keith states 47,000 psi, but also that loads at that level were too high for a
steady diet. The .30-03 and .30-06 cartridges were problematic in the Model 1895
because they operated at higher pressure levels. When velocities in the .30-06
were upped in the 1920's, the .30-06 chambering became even more problematic,
since pressures increased. These pressures were not such as to cause
catastrophic failure of the rifle. What happened was that the bolt face became
peened around the firing pin, and the softer steels of the early 20th century
were gradually set back by compression. Eventually, this led to excessive
headspace. It was not only the introduction of the Model 54 bolt action in
.30-06 (and the new .270) in 1925 that caused Winchester to discontinue the
.30-06 chambering in the Model 1895 after 1926. The Model 1895, as then
manufactured, was simply not up to the .30-06.
So, you are working with a rifle that, in repeated use, can safely handle
something in the 44,000-45,000 psi range. Not all authorities will agree with
those numbers, but I believe that they are reasonable. Remember that all First
Generation Model 1895's are now old. Their parts were made in 1932 or before.
Few, if any, are made of Winchester Proof Steel. The Russian muskets, in
particular, often saw hard service. I strongly advise that any First Generation
Model 1895, particularly those in .30-03, .30-06, and 7.62x54R Russian, be
carefully examined, especially for headspace, by a gunsmith familiar with such
rifles before any of them are fired.
"Second Generation" Model 1895's
These are the Browning labeled Model 1895 reproductions made by Miroku in Japan.
There were 6,000 Grade I (field grade) .30-06's, 1,000 High Grade .30-06's,
2,000 Grade I .30-40's, and 1,000 High Grade .30-40's in this Second Generation
single run, made in 1984. The steels are modern and much better, but the design
remains the Second Model, First Generation redesign as Mason et al left it in
1896. Ken Waters did extensive load development with a Second Generation High
Grade .30-40 and also converted a Grade I .30-40 to .35 Winchester. His very
sensible conclusion was that the Second Generation/Browning Model 1895's would
handle higher pressures than the First Generations because of their superior
steel, but that caution and moderation were in order, because the design
remained the same.
Anecdotal evidence is that Second Generation .30-06 users have had no
difficulties with their rifles when using factory-loaded ammunition or
handloaded ammunition which keeps to factory pressures (usually a little below
SAAMI maxima, but that is a whole story in and of itself).
"Third Generation" Model 1895's
These are the current production Model 1895's, put out by USRAC, with Winchester
labeling, but made by Miroku in Japan, as were the Second Generations. Beginning
in 1995, with fits & starts, these rifles have appeared in .30-06, .270
Winchester, and, most recently, in several runs of .405 Winchester. As with the
Second Generation, the workmanship shown by Miroku is excellent.
The design of these Third Generations is different from the Second Model, First
Generation. The most obvious changes are the rebounding hammer and the tang
safety. Some emphatically do not care for these liability-driven design
alterations - I shall leave it at that, as the debate has raged hot & heavy
Again, anecdotal word is that .30-06 and .270 users who employ standard pressure
loads have had no difficulties with these Third Generation rifles. The SAAMI
limit for the .270 is, if memory serves, even a bit higher than the .30-06.
Conclusion: If you
want to run pressures high in a Model 1895 Winchester, do so in a Second or
Third Generation, preferably a Third. Please be very careful with high
pressures in any First Generation, even Second Models, even late production.