Rifle|July - August 2020

Dave Scovill

It was brought to my attention shortly before the new year began that the Winchester Model 95 would be celebrating its quasquicentennial, 125 years since its introduction in 1895. Four years ago in 2016, Winchester celebrated its sesquicentennial, 150 years since Oliver F. Winchester acquired the company and introduced its first rifle, the Model 1866. The comparison was interesting because it only took 25 years for Winchester to go from a black-powder, lever-action rifle fashioned from gunmetal (brass alloy) and iron to heat-treated nickel steel for the much more powerful smokeless cartridges.

Of the first cartridges introduced in the Model 95, two were black-powder numbers, the .40-72 and .38-72 WCFs, along with the smokeless .30 U.S. (aka .30-40). The .303 British was added in 1898, the .35 in 1903 and the .405 WCF in 1904. The .30-03 and .30-06 Springfields were added in 1905 and 1908, respectively. The Russian order for 293,818 7.64x54 muskets took two years to fill in 1916/17.

Having used all but the British and Russian cartridges that are quite similar in the smokeless lineup listed for the first generation Model 95, the .35 WCF factory load with the 250-grain roundnose slug at roughly 2,200 fps is likely one of the most useful overall, from deer and black bears to moose, for modern-day hunting, since it has been used effectively from its introduction against all North American big game.

The .405 WCF was made famous by President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt on his 1909 African safari, and it still retains an almost mythical reputation as a big-bore hunting rifle, albeit most folks who have managed to locate a first- or second-generation rifle have complained bitterly about recoil. One can only conclude that modern writers are softer than Teddy, or the general reputation of older lever actions as somewhat weak and underpowered has been peddled by folks who have never fired a bigbore Model 86 or 95 and certainly never hunted big or potentially dangerous game with one. Then too, the first generation crescent steel buttplate was the same size and style that graced the less powerful Models 73, 92 and 94 rifles, and by any rational comparison contributes to the .405’s reputation as a “mule kicking &%$#@*.”


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July - August 2020