Winchester Model 94 Sporter .25-35 Rifle

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Winchester Model 94 Sporter
Illustration courtesy of Winchester Repeating Arms.

This is the third in our series of reviews of new Winchester/Miroku Model 94 rifles and we apologize in advance for having to repeat some of the information contained in the Model 94 Sporter .30-30 Rifle and Model 94 Sporter .38-55 Rifle reviews. Not everyone has read those previous reviews, although they should! If you are sure you know all about the new Model 94 Sporters, you can skip the section "The Winchester Model 94 Sporter Rifle" below.

The big news for 2017, and the reason for this review, is the reappearance of the .25-35 cartridge in the Model 94. The .25-35 was first Introduced in 1895, along with the .30-30, for the Model 1894 rifle. It became one of the popular and enduring Model 1894 rifle calibers, along with the .30-30, .32 Special and .38-55. All of these cartridges are based on necked-down versions of the basic .38-55 case. The .25-35 uses standard diameter .257 inch bullets.

The .25-35 is one of the mildest (in terms of recoil and muzzle blast) of the effective deer and pronghorn antelope cartridges. It shoots much flatter than the short range, low recoil deer cartridges, such as the .300 Blackout, .357 Magnum, .44-40, etc. that are available in various carbines and rifles.

The Hornady LeverEvolution .25-35 factory load launches a 110 grain spitzer bullet at a catalog muzzle velocity (MV) of 2425 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 1436 ft. lbs. The remaining energy is 1162 ft. lbs. at 100 yards and 930 ft. lbs. at 200 yards. The G&S Online rifle cartridge killing power score (KPS) is 14.4 at 100 yards. Zeroed to hit dead-on at 200 yards, the midrange trajectory is about +3 inches. This is our preferred .25-35 factory load for hunting Class 2 game. (Actual chronograph results for this and three other .25-35 factory loads are near the bottom of this article.)

Reloaders with .25-35 Model 94s can drive the traditional Hornady 117 grain InterLock RN bullet at muzzle velocities up to 2404 fps using CFE 223 powder. See the Hodgdon 2017 Annual Reloading Manual for load details. The pressure of this load is listed as 36,100 CUP, which is below the SAAMI MAP of 38,000 CUP.

Old folks with creaky shoulder joints, beginning, young, female and recoil sensitive shooters in general should discover (or rediscover) the .25-35. So should experienced shooters with hearing, shoulders, retinas and other bodily parts damaged by loud, hard recoiling rifles.

The Winchester Model 94 Sporter Rifle

The Winchester Model 94 Sporter is produced in Japan by Browning/Winchester's longtime partner Miroku. These Miroku built Model 94s are the best made and most refined Model 94s we have handled since the pre-'64 model was discontinued. 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. It is not as if the Model 94 is being built in some third world sweatshop by slave labor. This is a high quality product throughout.

The Sporter uses the latest angle eject (AE) action, drilled and tapped for low and over-bore scope mounting. For 2017, the available calibers are .25-35, .30-30 and .38-55 Winchester. Please, Winchester, add .32 Winchester Special and complete the traditional Model 94 caliber offerings.

The 22 lpi checkered, straight grip stock and fore end are fashioned from black walnut. Unlike the other current Model 94 variants, the Sporter features a steel crescent "rifle" butt plate. The fore end terminates in a blued steel cap, rather than a barrel band.

Our test rifle's standard grade (Browning/Winchester Grade 1) black walnut stock is nicer than average. It shows an attractive grain pattern with dark streaks, as have the stocks of the previous Model 94 Sporter rifles we have seen.

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 good, with all of the wood left a bit proud to allow for shrinkage and future refinishing. The satin stock finish is smooth with the wood pores properly filled. The three panel, laser cut checkering provides a functional gripping surface. The point pattern checkering wraps around the fore end and the grip panels are generous.

The Sporter comes with a 24", half-round/half-octagon, button rifled barrel and a full length magazine that holds eight cartridges. An adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight and Marble flat-faced brass bead front sight are mounted on the barrel in dovetail slots.

The action of this Miroku built Model 94 is nicely fitted and operates smoothly. Externally, the barrel, receiver and other steel parts are polished to remove all traces of machine work. The deeply blued finish is well done.

Winchester is proud of a number of the new Model 94's more subtle features that enhance operation and function. Some of these represent a return to the old (pre-1964) way of doing things.

Among these features is a rebounding hammer, an excellent safety feature. Notable, too, are the round locking bolt trunions that reduce friction, lever slop and ensure smoothness of the lever throw, as per the original Model 94 design. The edges of the lever are radiused for a smoother feel. The lever slot has been improved for smoother operation; it is now more like the original design. There is a relieved area under the bolt (where the top of the hammer rides) for smoother operation when cocking. The loading gate is again being machined from steel, rather than stamped, and the edges are radiused for easy feeding. The cartridge stop inside the action is articulated, allowing cartridges to feed smoothly with no misfeeds or double feeds under the carrier.

All current Model 94s come with a top tang mounted slide safety. A manual safety is 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 allow cartridge in the magazine to be ejected through the action with the safety on.

A serious oversight is the failure to provide mounting studs for quick detachable sling swivels. A hunting rifle must have provision for mounting a sling and Winchester should immediately remedy this oversight.

Sling swivel studs are available from the aftermarket. The front stud clamps to the magazine tube in front of the fore end and the rear stud screws into the butt stock a couple of inches forward of the toe. You can get them from Brownell's. (Different generations of Model 94s have different diameter magazine tubes, so measure and verify before you order.)

Specifications

  • Item number: 534178175
  • Caliber: .25-35 Win.
  • Barrel length: 24", half-octagon
  • Barrel contour: Sporter
  • Magazine capacity: 8 rounds
  • Twist: 1 in 8"
  • Sights: Semi-buckhorn rear, gold bead front; receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounts
  • Stock: Grade 1 American black walnut
  • Stock finish: Satin
  • Checkering: 3-panel, 22 lpi
  • Metal finish: Brush polished and blued
  • Chamber finish: Polished
  • Overall length: 42.5"
  • Length of pull: 13.5"
  • Drop at comb: 1.25"
  • Drop at heel: 1.75"
  • Empty weight: 7.5 pounds (8 lbs. 6 oz. w/scope)
  • Accessories supplied: Owner's Manual, gun lock, offset hammer spur for use with scope
  • 2017 MSRP: $1399.99

The action of this Miroku built Model 94 is nicely fitted and operates smoothly. The visible internal parts are well finished. The hammer spring seems a bit heavy, making for a heavy hammer draw, but ignition is positive.

Externally, the barrel, receiver, lever, trigger and other steel parts are brush polished to remove all traces of machine work. The deep, hot bluing is even and looks good.

The trigger of our M-94 Sporter released between 5.75 and 6.25 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 pull weight is about twice as heavy as a hunting rifle trigger should be and there is absolutely no excuse for such a heavy trigger in a Model 94, which has a simple trigger/sear engagement. Owners who actually intend to hunt with their new rifle will have to shell out the bucks to have a gunsmith fix the trigger, which is absurd for a $1400 rifle.

While the gunsmith is at it, the spring that determines the force required to overcome the lever safety, which ensures that the action is fully closed and the lever all the way up before the trigger can be pulled, should be lightened. The spring in out test gun was so heavy that it took conscious thought to keep the lever all the way closed so the trigger could be pulled. Such heavy trigger and lever safety springs are simply unnecessary and can easily result in missed opportunities in the field.

The supplied offset hammer spur threads into the side of the hammer, which in much nicer than clamping over the top of the hammer spur. Unfortunately, firing and dry firing tend to cause it to loosen. To prevent loss, coat the threads with Loctite blue and screw it in very tight. We wrapped a couple layers of old tee shirt rag around the hammer spur and used vise grips to reef it in. Now, it stays put.

The Leupold VX-3i 1.5-5x20mm Riflescope

Our friends at Leupold supplied a VX-3i 1.5-5x20mm riflescope for our M94 Sporter test rifle. We used Weaver bases and medium height rings to mount the scope and everything went together easily, as expected. Conveniently, the mounted riflescope cleared the buckhorn rear sight, which we were able to leave in place. This is one advantage of a riflescope with a sensible objective lens that does not require a front bell.

The scope and mounts brought the weight of our empty rifle, still lacking a sling, mounting studs and swivels, up to 8 pounds 6 ounces. With the scope in place the rifle balances about an inch forward of the receiver.

The VX-3 series has been the backbone of Leupold's riflescope line for several years. These fine scopes are built on one-piece, one inch diameter main tubes, as one inch mounting rings are more widely available than rings for 30mm tubes. Nevertheless, they have good windage and elevation adjustment range. The eyebox is generous, as is the eye relief and the mounting latitude.

These factors are often overlooked by less experienced riflescope manufacturers, but not by Leupold, where almost all of the employees are also hunters and shooters. (How can workers making riflescopes in places where the private ownership of firearms is illegal or very strictly controlled--think Red China and Europe--really understand the products they are producing?)

VX-3i scopes are designed to be extremely durable, but also lightweight. They therefore have a less detrimental affect on the balance and handling of the host rifle, which is especially important with a slender, fast handling rifle like the Model 94.

4x to 5x is enough magnification for shooting deer and antelope out to at least 200 yards with deadly accuracy, which is as far as we recommend stretching the .25-35 cartridge. The VX-3i 1.5-5x20mm is a good match for any of the Model 94 calibers and we used the previous generation VX-3 1.5-5x20mm scope on our Model 94 Sporter .30-30 test rifle.

As far as we can tell, the previous VX-3 and new VX-3i scopes work and feel about the same. The main improvement seems to be in the new Twilight Max light management system. As explained by Leupold, this is a triad of three performance elements: effective light transmission, glare reduction and contrast/resolution.

The VX-3i gives you maximum transmission of the entire visible spectrum, not just midday light. It has blackened lens edges and internal baffles to reduce internal reflections (plus, of course, full multi-coating). Superior optical design and proprietary lens coatings take resolution and contrast to the highest limits to allow resolving low contrast details in heavy timber.

We were doing our test shooting in the middle of a summer day, so some of these advantages did not come into play. However, the accurate and repeatable Leupold windage and elevation adjustments certainly make sighting-in a test rifle with three different types of ammunition easy. Believe me, we have wasted much time with riflescopes lacking precise adjustments, but never with a VX-3.

Focusing the VX-3i to the shooter's eye is accomplished by turning the ocular bell and, once focused, securing the setting with a knurled jam ring. This is the traditional method of focusing American made riflescopes, although we must admit that in this area we prefer a separate, European style, fast focus ring, which is especially convenient if more than one shooter must use the rifle.

Our test scope came with the standard Leupold Duplex reticle, the first and still the best of its type. We prefer simple, easily seen reticles and the Duplex is exactly that. No calculating or interpretation required. Just sight-in your hunting rifle for the maximum point blank range of your cartridge/load (200 yards in the case of the Hornady LeverEvolution .25-35 110 grain factory load), stalk within range, put the intersection of the cross-wires in the center of the animal's heart/lung area and squeeze the trigger. Then, the hard work of field dressing your trophy begins.

Shooting the .25-35 Model 94 Sporter

This is only the second new .25-35 rifle we have had the opportunity to review, so we were anxious to put the M-94 Sporter through its paces. Our friends at Hornady kindly supplied us with some of their excellent LeverEvolution factory loads using a 110 grain FTX spitzer bullet, which we deeply appreciate. Without such support, many Guns and Shooting Online reviews would not be possible.

In addition, we purchased from Graf & Sons their house brand .25-35 factory loads (manufactured by Hornady) using a 117 grain jacketed soft point RN bullet. Graf & Sons also had Sellier & Bellot .25-35 ammo in stock, so we ordered some of it, too. It is loaded with a 117 grain jacketed flat point bullet. This is good quality ammo from the Czech Republic and the boxes are marked "6.5x52R," the European metric designation for the .25-35 Winchester cartridge, which has long been used in Continental single shot rifles, double barrel rifles and drillings.

Thus provided with ammunition, we headed for the Izaak Walton shooting range south of Eugene, Oregon on a beautiful summer day with a high temperature of 77 degrees and only moderate wind gusts. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays, Jim Fleck and Bob Fleck handled the shooting chores.

As usual with a centerfire rifle, we did our shooting for record at 100 yards from a bench rest using a Lead Sled DFT to keep the rifle steady. There isn't a lot of recoil to tame with an 8.4 pound .25-35 rifle, but the Lead Sled always helps for high volume shooting. However, the Sporter's crescent rifle butt plate is not a good fit for the Lead Sled's butt rest, so care must be taken when fitting the rifle into the sled. We fired three shot groups for record at Champion Redfield Sight-In targets.

100 Yard Shooting Results

  • Hornady 110 gr. FTX: Smallest group 1-5/16", Largest group 2-1/8", Mean avg. group size = 1.84"
  • Graf & Sons 117 gr. RN: Smallest group 1-9/16", Largest group 2-5/8", Mean avg. group size = 2.16"
  • Sellier & Bellot 117 gr. FP: Smallest group 7/16", Largest group 3-1/8", Mean avg. group size = 1.69"

AVERAGE GROUP SIZE WITH ALL LOADS = 1.97"

Rocky shot the smallest and most consistent groups. The heavy trigger pull apparently bothered him the least when shooting from the Lead Sled.

We did our target shooting with the scope set at its maximum magnification of 5x. Chuck commented that the intersection of the reticle cross hair obscured the center part of the target's small orange diamonds, at which we aimed, probably subtending about an inch. This would not be an issue aiming at a game animal, or a larger target bull, but he figured it decreased his aiming precision (thus increasing his group size) by about an inch. No one else voiced this complaint.

Jim shot the largest groups and was most vocal in criticizing the heavy trigger, although we all found the trigger pull completely unacceptable. Jim also had the most trouble with the lever safety and its unnecessarily stout spring, although it bothered all of us.

In addition, Jim also criticized the magazine follower spring as unnecessarily forceful. When feeding cartridges into the magazine in succession, as one should do with a traditional lever action rifle, there is a tendency for this spring to shove the previous cartridge partially out of the loading port. Jim does most of his deer hunting with a Marlin Model 336SS lever action, so he is not a stranger to lever action rifles.

We all agreed the heavy trigger pull and heavy lever safety spring problems must be corrected, as well as fitting detachable sling swivel studs, before this rifle can be considered field ready. Immediately after the conclusion of this review, Rocky Hays, our G&S Online staff gunsmith, took the Sporter in hand to get it ready for the coming deer season.

The rifle's crescent butt plate contacts the Lead Sled's vertical butt rest only at the toe. There is a gap of maybe 1/4 inch between the heel of the stock and the Lead Sled. We suspect this increased the rifle's jump when it recoiled and increased the size of our bench rest groups. This is not a factor when the rifle is fired from the shoulder, as a crescent butt plate is intended to be used.

Chronograph results

With less previous experience than we would like with the .25-35 cartridge, about a week after shooting the Sporter test rifle for accuracy, we returned to the range to chronograph four .25-35 factory loads. These included our last five rounds of Winchester Super-X 117 grain Power Point ammo (catalog MV 2230 fps), which was left over from a previous article. Unfortunately, we did not have enough Winchester ammo to shoot it for accuracy in the test rifle.

The other three loads we chronographed were the three featured above in our accuracy results. To reiterate, these were Hornady LeverEvolution 110 grain FTX (catalog MV 2425 fps), S&B 117 grain jacketed flat point (catalog MV 2208 fps and Graf & Sons 117 grain InterLock RN (catalog MV 2225 fps).

Since we only had five rounds of Winchester Super-X, we chronographed five rounds of the other brands of ammo to keep the results consistent. Rocky, in charge of the Chrony, set it seven feet from the muzzle to approximate as close as possible the actual muzzle velocity. Here are the results:

Hornady LeverEvolution 110 grain FTX

  • 2436
  • 2508
  • 2492
  • 2565
  • 2538

    Average Velocity = 2508 fps

Graf & Sons 117 grain RN

  • 2200
  • 2197
  • 2246
  • 2289
  • 2152

    Average Velocity = 2217 fps

Sellier & Bellot 117 grain FP

  • 2124
  • 2132
  • 2112
  • 2106
  • 2097

    Average Velocity = 2114 fps

Winchester Super-X 117 grain PP

  • 2313
  • 2249
  • 2242
  • 2333
  • 2326

    Average Velocity = 2293 fps

As these chronograph results make clear, from the hunter's perspective, the Hornady Lever Evolution load is the first choice in killing power. The traditional Winchester Super-X ammo, second in velocity and killing power, remains a valid option.

The Graf & Sons ammo, loaded by Hornady, fell only 8 fps below its advertised velocity seven feet from the muzzle per our Chrony and undoubtedly exceeds this at the muzzle of a test barrel. However, a .257 caliber 117 grain bullet at 2230 fps scores only 11.9 at 100 yards according to the G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula, making it sub-100 yard North American deer cartridge. We consider 12.5 the practical minimum killing power score (KPS) for hunting Class 2 game.

Only the S&B load fell well below its claimed velocity. Although the most accurate loads in our Winchester Sporter rifle, it is the least desirable choice for the deer hunter.

Conclusion

The Winchester Model 94's open top action makes its receiver shorter, top to bottom, than its Marlin 336, Henry .30-30, Henry Long Ranger and Browning BLR competition. It also makes clearing a jam easier, in the unlikely event one should occur. Ditto regarding loading a single cartridge directly into the chamber.

The rifle's petite motif is carried through with a slender fore end and straight hand butt stock. The Winchester Model 94 Sporter is the best looking lever action hunting rifle on the market today and it feels best in the hand. Due to its 24" half-octagon barrel and the weight of its full length magazine tube, it is also probably the steadiest to shoot from the offhand position.

Please, Winchester, fix the heavy trigger pull, excessive lever safety spring and provide detachable sling swivel studs on all Model 94 rifles. A rifle in this price class should not exhibit such easily corrected flaws six years after its introduction. Is anyone listening at Winchester?

The .25-35 cartridge has been absent, with rare exceptions, from the modern shooting scene for too long. We applaud Winchester for returning it to the Model 94 line, where it belongs.


RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY

  • Make and Model: Winchester Model 94 Rifle
  • Type: Hunting rifle
  • Action: Lever, repeater
  • Stock: Black walnut
  • Caliber Reviewed: .25-35 Win.
  • Best Features: Tubular magazine can be loaded without taking rifle out of action; Half-round barrel; Nice walnut stock; Excellent finish and workmanship; Fast repeat shots; receiver drilled and tapped for scope bases; .25-35 caliber.
  • Worst Features: Heavy trigger; heavy lever safety spring; lacks sling swivel studs.
  • Overall Grade: B (Good)




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