Winchester Model 1894 .25-35 WCF Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The rifle that is the subject of this review belonged to Guns and Shooting Online Support person Suzie Patterson's Grandfather. According to its serial number, it was manufactured in 1907. At that time the .25-35 WCF was a reasonably popular combination deer, antelope and small predator cartridge, although .25-35 rifles and ammunition sales never approached the levels attained by the .30-30 and .32 Win. Special. Still, it was chambered in Winchester, Marlin and Savage lever actions for nearly half a century. It was sufficiently popular to be copied by Remington during the first decade of the 20th Century, when Big Green introduced a line of rimless cartridges for their early pump and autoloading rifles. These Remington rimless numbers were ballistically identical to the .25-35 (.25 Rem.), .30-30 (.30 Rem.) and .32 Special (.32 Rem.).
The Remington rimless cartridges are now obsolete, but Winchester still loads .25-35 ammunition, as do some of the specialty ammo makers, such as Stars & Stripes. Occasionally someone turns out a few rifles in the caliber. We reviewed a .25-35 Winchester Model 94 Trails End in 2005. We would like to see Winchester chamber their new Model 94 rifles in .25-35 and suggested exactly that in our recent review of a new Model 94 Sporter. (See the Product Reviews page for the reviews of both these Model 94 rifles.) We would also like to see Hornady include the .25-35 in their LeverEvolution ammunition line, loaded with a 117 grain FTX boat-tail spitzer bullet at over 2400 fps, which should be easy to do with modern powders.
We like the .25-35 because it represents the lowest level of recoil in a cartridge suitable for hunting deer and other medium size CXP2 game. The present Winchester factory load launches a 117 grain flat point bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2230 fps, with 1292 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (ME). The velocity/energy at 100 yards is 1866 fps/904 ft. lbs., over the 800 ft. lbs. minimum usually recommended for deer hunting. At 200 yards, the numbers are 1545 fps/620 ft. lbs. The maximum point blank range of that load (+/- 3") is around 200 yards.
These numbers are not impressive compared to the .243 Winchester or .257 Roberts, but they compare favorably with other minimum recoil deer cartridges, such as the .357 Magnum and .44-40 fired from rifles. In fact, the .25-35 delivers as much energy at 200 yards as the .357/180 grain factory load does at 100 yards or the .44-40/200 grain factory load can muster at the muzzle. Seen in that light, a young or recoil sensitive beginning hunter could do worse than a .25-35 rifle.
According to the "Rifle Recoil Table," the .25-35 normally produces between six and seven foot pounds of recoil energy in rifles weighing 6.5 to 7.5 pounds, or about half the recoil of a .30-30 fired in the same rifle. That is similar to the recoil of one of the short 6mm bench rest cartridges, only the .25-35 shoots a fatter bullet that is almost 50% heavier.
We occasionally get mail asking what cartridge we recommend for young (10-12 year old), recoil sensitive shooters anticipating their first deer hunt. If modern rifles and ammunition were available, the .25-35 would definitely be at or near the top of our list. If you agree, please send a note to Winchester Repeating Arms, Henry and Marlin asking for .25-35 rifles and to Hornady and Winchester Ammunition requesting modern .25-35 factory loads. Our sport desperately needs rifles chambered for moderate, low recoil cartridges suitable for beginning hunters.
The rifle that is the subject of this review is in very good condition and would serve a beginner nicely. Unfortunately, due to collector demand for old Model 1894 rifles in calibers other than .30-30 and .32 Special, its fair market value puts it out of the typical beginning hunter's price class. Few dads would be willing (or able) to spend so much money for their 12 year old offspring's first centerfire rifle.
As one might expect of a rifle manufactured in 1907 by one of the greatest arms makers of the time, this rifle is built entirely of forged steel parts and walnut. It was carefully assembled by skilled workers. The bore of our test rifle is somewhat worn, but shiny and in generally good condition.
Safety is provided by a hammer safety notch. When the chamber is loaded, manually lower the hammer from the full-cock position until it engages the safety notch (about 3/4 of the way down). This is easy to do. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction while you are lowering the hammer. Yes, the hammer can be forced by a perfectly directed, very heavy blow, such as from a carpenter's hammer, but so what? That is not going to happen in the field.
In addition to the stock sights, this rifle wears a folding, tang mounted peep sight. This is probably the fastest type of iron sight ever devised for a hunting rifle and considerably easier with which to shoot accurately than the standard open sights. It is especially good for middle aged shooters whose eyes have lost some of their power of accommodation.
We were interested in getting this .25-35 to the range for some shooting. Our friends at Winchester Ammunition kindly provided 100 rounds of Super-X .25-35 ammunition for this review, for which we are very grateful. Please support them by buying and using their products.
As usual, we did our shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rests with target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards, but we confined our shooting to 100 yards, a long way for iron sights and our aging eyes. The bulk of the shooting was done from a bench rest over sandbags by Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks and Rocky Hays.
The results were excellent. We found the old rifle capable of shooting 2" to 2-1/2" groups, when we did our part, using the tang mounted aperture sight. (Neither Chuck nor Rocky have any use for semi-buckhorn open sights.)
Chuck and Rocky found the recoil to be low and this, of course, promotes good shooting. Suzie, who is not an experienced rifle shooter, had previously fired her grandfather's rifle and thought it kicked pretty hard, although she was able to keep her bullets on the target.
This merely illustrates that rifles in common calibers experienced shooters are inclined to take for granted (.30-30, 7mm-08, .260 and others of that ilk) may be beyond the ability of inexperienced shooters to shoot without flinching. The .25-35 may well be all a beginner can handle and clean kills result from proper bullet placement, not raw power.
We all came away from our range session impressed with the gentle .25-35 cartridge and the accuracy of this turn of the 20th Century Model 1894 rifle. As mentioned above, our sport desperately needs hunting rifles chambered for moderate, low recoil cartridges suitable for young (and old) shooters and it just doesn't get any better than a sleek lever action rifle chambered for the .25-35 cartridge.
Note: A review of a recent production Model 94 in .25-35 may be found on the Product Reviews page.
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