The .33 Winchester (.33 WCF)

By Chuck Hawks

In the year 1902 the Model 1886, the strongest of the Winchester lever action rifles, was adapted to a new smokeless powder medium bore cartridge called the .33 Winchester (or .33 WCF, for "Winchester Center Fire"). The famous Model 1886 was produced for many years, and is covered in my article "Winchester Medium Bore Lever Action Rifles." Winchester also offered the .33 WCF in the Model 1885 falling block rifle (still being produced in limited numbers), and Marlin chambered their original Model 1895 lever action for the cartridge.

The .33 Winchester was the first Winchester smokeless powder medium bore cartridge. Like most subsequent Winchester medium bore cartridges, it was a combination deer and elk cartridge. Today the .338x57 O'Connor wildcat fulfills a similar role, and offers somewhat higher performance.

For a time .33 Win. factory loads were offered by Winchester, Western, Remington and perhaps others, but it never became very popular. The Winchester factory load used a 200 grain soft point bullet at a MV of 2200 fps and ME of 2150 ft. lbs.

In 1936 the 1886 and the .33 WCF cartridge were replaced by the Model 71 rifle and the .348 Winchester cartridge. In 1940 .33 WCF factory loaded ammunition was discontinued by the major manufacturers and the cartridge became obsolete.

Today, a specialty ammunition manufacturer might be able to provide new .33 WCF cartridges. Stars and Stripes Custom Ammunition would be one potential source, as they seem to be able to supply practically anything a customer is willing to order, and in virgin brass. There is a link to Stars and Stripes on the Guns and Shooting Online Links Page.

The .33 WCF is based on a rimmed, bottleneck case with a 16 degree, 15 minute shoulder angle and plenty of body taper. The rim diameter is .610" and the overall case length is 2.105". Maximum cartridge overall length is given as 2.69". The .33 WCF used .338" diameter bullets, the same size used in today's .338 Magnums. This was a departure from the .333" bullets used by most British .33 caliber cartridges.

The Model 1886 in .33 Winchester was before my time, but around 1963, while out squirrel hunting, I met an old timer named Jack. Jack must have been in his late 70's at that time. He lived alone in a cabin in a remote wooded canyon. We became friendly acquaintances, as I hunted in the area of Jack's canyon on several occasions.

One day, knowing I was interested in guns, Jack showed me his hunting rifle. It was a Winchester Model 1886 in .33 Winchester, the first and only time I have encountered an original M-1886 still in use.

Jack kept his .33 loaded at all times, but admitted that he was low on ammunition and having trouble finding more. (By that time .33 WCF ammo had been discontinued for over 20 years.) A year or two later I happened to spot a somewhat faded box of brand new .33 Winchester cartridges on the shelf in a small country store, and I immediately thought of Jack. That was the only new box of .33 Win. cartridges I have ever seen.

Reloading data is still available, and .33 WCF cases can be made from .45-70 brass. According to the sixth edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading the .33 Win. can drive a 200 grain Flat Point bullet (SD .250) in front of a starting load of 35.1 grains of H4895 powder at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1700 fps. A maximum load of 45.1 grains of H4895 will drive the same bullet to a MV of 2200 fps, the same as the old factory loads. At the latter velocity the trajectory should look like this: +2" at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, and -5.2" at 200 yards. These Hornady loads were developed using Remington cases and WLR primers and were tested in a Winchester Model 1886 rifle.

Unfortunately, production of the 200 grain Hornady Flat Point bullet, the only jacketed bullet suitable for the .33 Winchester of which I am aware, was discontinued around 2002. When existing stocks are exhausted .33 WCF owners will presumably be forced to cast lead bullets if they wish to keep shooting their rifles. The .33 WCF seems to be a "candle in the wind," soon to be found only in collections.

Note:This article is mirrored on the Rifle Cartridges page.

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Copyright 2005 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.