Winchester Model 94 Sporter Rifle by Miroku - Better than ever!
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
In 2010, after several years' absence, Winchester reintroduced the Model 94 Angle-Eject (AE) lever action rifle as a limited edition special. Engraved and gold trimmed, relatively few of these specials were made and they were priced beyond what the average shooter and hunter could afford. Now, for 2011, regular production Model 94's are finally available. The new Model 94 may lack the decoration of the 2010 limited editions, but it is still a very handsome rifle with a traditional polished blue and walnut finish.
Model 94's (from 2010 onward) are produced in Japan by Browning/Winchester's longtime partner Miroku and the barrels are so marked. Miroku is best known for producing the Browning Citori O/U shotgun, the standard of comparison among O/U's, and is probably Japan's preeminent gun maker. We reviewed one of the last U.S. built Model 94's, a .25-35, just weeks before production in New Haven was shut down. While aesthetically a beautiful rifle, that was the worst Model 94 we had ever handled, roughly built and poorly fitted. It was easy to see why the Model 94 had fallen on hard times, as pride in workmanship was obviously absent. That rifle was built by people who clearly did not give a damm.
The new Miroku built Model 94, on the other hand, is the best made and most refined Model 94 we have handled since the pre-'64 model was discontinued. In fact, it may be the best Model 94 ever. This is one case where moving production overseas served to improve the product. Of course, Japan is a first world country renowned for high technology and fine workmanship. The Japanese economy is the second largest in the world, so it is not as if the Model 94 is being built in some third world sweatshop by slave labor.
The new Model 94 is offered in two Models and barrel lengths. There is a 20" round barrel Short Rifle and a 24" Sporter rifle with a half-round, half-octagon barrel. Both have full-length magazines and terminate the forend in a black steel cap, rather than a barrel band. We have always preferred this forend treatment, because we believe it is an aid to accuracy.
Both models have full-length magazines, deeply blued metal parts and straight hand, oil finished, black walnut stocks. The Short Rifle comes with a flat "shotgun" type butt plate, while the Sporter features a steel crescent "rifle" butt plate. The butt stock and forend of the Sporter rifle are checkered in a traditional point pattern.
The action is the familiar angle-eject version of the Model 94, drilled and tapped for low and over-bore scope mounting. Iron sights are also supplied, a buckhorn rear sight and Marble gold bead front.
The Short Rifle is chambered in .30-30 only, while the Sporter can be had in either .30-30 or .38-55 caliber. We strongly suggest that .25-35 and .32 Winchester Special be added to the Sporter's chamberings. (Especially the latter, as Hornady has introduced LeverEvolution ammo with spitzer bullets in .32 Special.)
The Model 94 reviewed here is a regular production Sporter in .30-30 caliber. It uses the latest AE action with a tang mounted slide safety. Any manual safety is superfluous on a Model 94, since the hammer safety notch of the original John Browning design served well for about a century. A separate manual safety is doubly superfluous on the latest AE action, which incorporates a rebounding hammer. However, the Model 94's tang safety is a minimally intrusive version of these government and tort lawyer mandated devices. It does little harm and can be ignored, unless you want to mount a tang mounted peep sight.
Speaking of peep sights, the left side of Model 94 actions is no longer drilled and tapped for receiver sights, which is a shame. Another, and more serious, oversight is the failure to provide mounting studs for quick detachable sling swivels. A hunting rifle needs some provision for mounting a sling.
On the other hand, the top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. Since the Sporter is most definitely a hunting rifle, we took advantage of this to mount a gloss black Leupold VX-3 1.5-5x25mm scope on our test rifle. We used Weaver bases and blued, low height, Leupold QRW quick-detachable rings. (The quick-detachable feature is unnecessary, but we had the rings on hand, so we used them.) Mounting was straightforward and the result is one sharp looking hunting rifle. Needless to say, the Leupold VX-3 scope is a top quality optic that performs flawlessly. (A full review of this scope can be found on the Scopes and Sport Optics - Reviews index page.)
With the scope and mounts, our rifle weighed 8.25 pounds (empty). Rifles weighing between 8.0 and 8.5 pounds are in what we would call the medium weight class. They are generally much more pleasant to shoot (and often more accurate) than lightweight rifles, without being a great burden to carry in the field.
Due to its 24" barrel, the Sporter rifle balances about ¾" forward of the receiver, making it slightly muzzle heavy. The effect is to steady the rifle from the offhand shooting position, or over shooting sticks. It also makes for a very smooth swing when leading running game. We are not fans of shooting at anything, particularly game animals, from a standing position. However, if you must do it, the Model 94 Sporter is the right rifle for the job.
The action of this Miroku built Model 94 is nicely fitted and operates smoothly. Obvious care was taken during assembly. Externally, the barrel, receiver and other steel parts are polished to remove all traces of machine work. The bluing is well done, if not up to Browning high luster blue standards.
Out of the box, the trigger of our M-94 Sporter consistently released between 4.0 and 4.25 pounds, as measured on our RCBS trigger pull scale. There is considerable light take-up, but the actual trigger pull releases with a clean break. This trigger pull weight is only a little heavier than it should be and far better than the trigger of the last New Haven made Model 94 we reviewed. It is also better than the triggers supplied in most new bolt action hunting rifles.
Our test rifle's walnut stock is considerably nicer than average. We would not call it high grade wood, but it shows an attractive grain pattern with dark streaks. The butt stock has a subtle upward curve from receiver to toe. This raises the comb slightly to better accommodate users who prefer telescopic sights.
The wood to metal fit is decent, but all the wood has been left a bit proud. The satin oil stock finish is smooth with the wood pores properly filled. The three panel, machine cut checkering seems to have been done at 18 lpi; a little coarse for our taste, but it provides a functional gripping surface. The checkering wraps around the forend and the grip panels are sufficiently generous. A nice walnut stock like this reminds us that if God had wanted us to have plastic stocks, he would have made plastic trees.
The .30-30 cartridge, introduced in the Winchester Model 1894, is so popular and has been around for so long that not much need be said about it. It is seldom included in lists of "all around" cartridges today, yet it has proven its versatility for harvesting all types of CXP2 and CXP3 game for some 116 years at this writing. The most common, factory loaded, flat point bullet weights are 150 grains and 170 grains, while Hornady's FTX boat-tail spitzer bullet used in their LeverEvolution ammo weighs 160 grains. All of these loads offer a maximum point blank range (+/- 3") in excess of 200 yards. The Hornady LeverEvolution load's MPBR is 232 yards when fired from a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" over bore. While it is indeed a fine woods cartridge, a scoped .30-30 rifle can reach well beyond typical woods ranges when necessary. Those who refer to the .30-30 as a "100 yard deer cartridge" simply don't know what they are talking about.
As usual, we did our shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor range south of Eugene, Oregon. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Bob Fleck and Jim Fleck did the test shooting, assisted by Gordon Landers and Rocky Hays. Our standard rifle testing distance is 100 yards and that is the range at which we shot our recorded groups. All of our shooting was done from the shoulder over sandbags at a bench rest. We fired three-shot groups for record with two brands of factory loaded ammunition, all we had on hand at the time. These were Winchester Super-X loaded with 150 Silvertip bullets and Hornady LeverEvolution loaded with 160 grain FTX bullets. Our range day with the new Model 94 was overcast with a high temperature of 61-degrees F. There was a crosswind gusting at 10-15 MPH.
After bore sighting the rifle, only two shots were required at 25 yards to get the Leupold scope adjusted to put our first shot at 100 yards on the paper. Two shots at 100 yards sufficed to center our subsequent 100 yard groups. Total ammunition required to sight-in, four rounds. Accurate adjustments are one of the benefits of the Leupold VX-3 that save money in the long run.
Shooting Results at 100 Yards
This time Jim shot the best group, using Winchester Silvertip ammunition. Remember that these were the first shots ever fired by this rifle at a shooting range. We believe that the already acceptable accuracy will improve after 200 or so rounds have been fired.
All five of the Guns and Online staff on hand commented on the Sporter's smooth action, but no one liked the crescent butt plate for shooting from a bench rest. This style of butt plate is best when the rifle is fired from the offhand standing position. Jim and Bob thought that the Sporter subjectively kicked harder than expected from an 8.25 pound .30-30; Chuck found recoil mild. Rocky, who likes a thick, high comb, felt that the stock had too much drop for use with a scope. During our range session, we had no malfunctions of any kind.
We generally avoid comparing the featured gun to others in our reviews. We think reviews should focus on the firearm being reviewed, not be used to diminish competing products. However, in this case we are going to make an exception. Winchester 94 and Marlin 336 lever actions (the recent Mossberg .30-30 is a Model 94 knock-off and the Henry .30-30 is based on a Marlin type action) have generally been lumped together by outdoor writers. Both are lever action, tubular magazine .30-30's that typically handle better than a bolt action rifle, which may be why they tend to be considered together. In fact, though, there are significant differences that we feel it appropriate to mention here, now that the Model 94 is again available.
The Marlin 336 action features a solid top receiver, side ejection and a round bolt. It is recognized as a strong, accurate action. The Marlin 336 variant with a 24" barrel and steel forend cap is the XLR. (You can find our review on the Product Reviews page.) It is fabricated (mostly) from stainless steel, comes with a round barrel, half length magazine (five rounds) and wears a gray laminated hardwood stock. It is the most weather resistant .30-30 lever gun on the market. Marlin XLR stocks have pistol grips and thick, beavertail forends. The 336XLR is not cheap, but it is less expensive than the Model 94 Sporter.
The Winchester 94AE is an open top action, which makes it lighter and more petite. The open top receiver also makes it much easier to single load cartridges or clear a jam. It is just as easy to mount a scope on a Model 94AE as it is on a Marlin 336, so that is no longer a consideration. The Sporter comes with an elegant half-round/half-octagon barrel and a full length magazine (eight rounds). Winchester stocks, including our Sporter test rifle, tend to straight grips and slender forends.
The Sporter's half-round/half-octagon barrel is heavier than the XLR's barrel and the Sporter's full length magazine holds three more cartridges. The scoped weight of the two rifles as tested is nearly identical, but the Winchester Sporter has a weight forward balance and the Marlin XLR balances farther back. The Sporter stock is much less bulky than the XLR stock. The result is a noticeable difference between the feel and handling of the two rifles. In appearance, the 336XLR looks quite modern in stainless steel and laminated hardwood, while the 94 Sporter is traditional in blued steel and walnut. The Winchester's polish and finish is superior, which, along with the half-octagon barrel and walnut stock, justifies its higher price. (They are both attractive rifles, but to our eyes, the Winchester easily wins the beauty contest.) Our Model 94 Sporter and 336XLR test rifles came with good triggers that released at 4.25 pounds.
The bottom line is that the Winchester Model 94 Sporter differs significantly from the Marlin 336XLR. Despite this, as hunting rifles, both fulfill the same role and are competing for the sportsman's dollar. What we suggest, if you are shopping for a traditional lever action hunting rifle, is to try both a Winchester and a Marlin before making a decision. The Winchester Model 94 is definitely back, and it is a great rifle!
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2011, 2012 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.