New Winchester Model 94: How Big Can it Go?

Winchester just announced that it is making a new version of the Model 1894 lever gun — the Trails End … Continued

Winchester just announced that it is making a new version of the Model 1894 lever gun — the Trails End Takedown. This is cause for any fan of these traditional rifles to raise a glass skyward. After witnessing the slow-motion implosion of Winchester’s plant in New Haven, Conn., and the brief discontinuation of production of the M94, this kind of good news is reason enough to break out the 12-year-old Scotch.

The 1894s are currently being made in Japan and cost enough to support a daimyo’s geisha habit. These new guns list for $1,460 — a far cry from the $300 1894s in .30-30 I lusted after as a kid.

The new takedown version comes in two calibers: .30-30 Win. and .450 Marlin.

Clever readers might puzzle a bit over this last bit info. How is it the M94 can be chambered in .450 Marlin when for years we’ve been told that it couldn’t handle the .45-70 Govt.? After all there’s hardly a tissue paper’s worth of difference between the two cartridges. They shoot .458 caliber bullets, have nearly identical case and overall cartridge length, and with stock ammo the .450 Marlin generates more velocity and energy. What gives?

Two things really. The .45-70 Govt. is a rimmed cartridge and that rim diameter is .608 in. The .450 Marlin is a belted cartridge (which was the source of much griping when it was introduced by Marlin and Hornady in 2000) and its rim diameter is .528 in. (The rim on the .30-30 Win. is .506 in.) So that extra bit of brass around the rim is what prevents the .45-70 Govt. from being offered in the M94.

Or does it?

The second bit of this mystery is that years before the 1894 appeared on the scene, John Browning had designed the M1886 big-bore lever gun, which was chambered in .45-70 among others. Because Winchester already had this strong lever gun in its lineup, and later added the 1895 lever gun — another big bore action — the company never seriously looked at putting larger cartridges in the M94 platform. From a research and development point of view it was considered a nonstarter.

So could the M94 be modified to safely handle the .45-70? Perhaps. But at this point we still don’t know.