J.C. Higgins Model 50 & 51

By Jon Y. Wolfe

The J.C. Higgins Model 50 was the creation of the Sears and Roebuck Co. in the early 1950s. Although not manufactured by Sears, the giant retailer was certainly instrumental in their creation and importation. Information on these rifles often conflicts so I have included information derived from the predominant consensus and my own findings of fact.

The Model 50 was originally produced by Belgium's Fabrique Nationale using a commercial 98 Mauser action and 22 inch chrome lined barrel from High Standard. The chrome-lined barrels were limited to Models 50 and 51. Later models included the Model 51/51-L built on the FN and Husqvarna actions, Model 52 by Sako, and the last Model 54 by Browning.

Some report that the later Model 51 was simply an imported Husqvarna 640 and the Model 52 was simply a relabeled Sako L46. It is true that Husqvarna used FN actions on the 640, but the barrel and wood on the Model 51 are different than that found on the HVA 640.

The rifle was advertised and sold through Sears and Roebuck Co. and each rifle's barrel was marked as such. All variations included a model number on the left side of the barrel just at the end of the forearm, and a code that corresponds to the date of manufacture. For example, mine is stamped 583.100. The rifles were only chambered in .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield. Mine is chambered in .30-06.

Overall length is 43 inches, it has a healthy 13 3/4 length of pull, and the original model 50 was supplied with a no frills walnut stock without checkering. Sling swivel studs and a polymer butt plate were standard. Subsequent models, like the Model 51-L that I own, have a walnut stock with a full wrap around cut checkered forearm and a raised check piece.

The bolt is the traditional controlled feed type with a one piece polished bolt body, one-piece firing pin, and a two-position short-throw 45 degree safety to accommodate the use of a scope. The bolt handle is consistent with the "Second Pattern FN Action" in that it sweeps back to allow clearance for a scope. The bolt head has the traditional two locking lugs and the rear safety lug. The extractor is large and prominent. Each bolt was electro penciled to the rifle using the last three digits of the serial number, which was located on the right side of the receiver. The bolts used on these FN Belgium made actions are of the highest quality and durability.

The drilled and tapped receiver, hinged floorplate, trigger guard, and magazine follower are all made from milled steel. The floorplate has a button release for emptying the cartridges, and the trigger is grooved for a positive feel. The trigger mechanism on the Model 50 is heavy but there is minimal creep. I've talked with some folks who replace them with the Timney 98FN Sportman 101, which requires a little modification of the inletting and no safety modification.

The barrel comes with open sights and is 22 inches long. It has a sporter contour that tapers to .5 inch diameter at the muzzle.

All reports on the accuracy of J.C. Higgins Model 50s and subsequent variations have been favorable. In addition to its inherent accuracy, the Models 50 and 51 came with chrome lined barrels, thus adding to the useful service life of these rifles. Weight is 8 1/2 pounds bare and unloaded.

The overriding consensus regarding the J.C. Higgins Model 50 is that it's a rifle worth holding on to if you have one, and worth seeking out if you do not. Prices are generally suppressed because of the department store association. Despite this, it is among the finest hunting rifles ever mass produced. This point is emphasized by the fact that these can be bought at bargain prices. Expect to pay between $200 and $400 depending on condition and how much the seller knows about this fine rifle. If one were to build such a gun today using the same FN action, the price would easily exceed $1000.

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Copyright 2005 by Jon Y. Wolfe and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.