The Winchester 94 Cross-bolt Safety

By L.F. Combs

What was Winchester thinking? They take one of the most recognized guns in history, a rifle many people recognize just from its outline, and they grow it a wart.

The cross-bolt safety is probably the worst addition ever made to the rifle. John Browning, the designer of the Model 94, probably did a back flip in his grave when Winchester pulled this one. I have liked the Winchester 94 ever since I purchased my first one for its easy handling and history. Not to mention it just plain did the job. Yes, maybe not as slick as some of the guns that came later, but it did the job.

I have always thought of the 94 as a no bull type of gun. That is until the wart. I first experienced this safety when a hunting buddy and I decided we missed our 94's that we had sold some years before, a move I regretted the moment after the money had changed hands. We had gotten caught up in the fallacy that we needed more power.

When I first looked at the new version of the Model 94 I was uneasy about the safety. I really missed the look of my first 94. I had just about decided to forget the new ones, and try to find an older model used in a gun shop, when the sales lady at the local Kmart discovered the two guns they had in stock had back to back serial numbers. Then all the recent information about accidents replayed in my head. I reluctantly decided to try it out, and we laid out the $220.00 each for our new rifles. These were Winchester Model 94 Rangers in .30-30 caliber. Plain Jane guns.

I took mine straight to the range to try it out with the Winchester 170 grain Silvertip ammo I had purchased with the rifle. On my first attempt to shoot the gun I discovered a problem. I would have to get use to popping the safety to the fire position. I used up the box of shells, but this problem turned into something I could not work out. After I forgot the safety for the fifth or sixth time I came to the conclusion that my no bull hunting gun was not so bull free. I had to rid my gun of this blemish. That or get rid of the gun. I refused to loose another chance at an animal, or even a soda can because of this ugly design flaw. I would either fix this or go to the Winchester plant and kick the person responsible for this new "improvement" right in the rear.

My first task was to understand how the wart was fastened to the gun, the insides of this growth. I first checked the owner's manual to see if there was any information that I could use for this task, but it just told me how the safety was to be used. I think I already knew that part; I just couldn't remember to push the thing off before trying to pull the trigger.

As with any project, I then looked to the web for help. After a few minutes searching I found out how to remove the safety. You will need a tool for this. It requires one paper clip. Yes, a paper clip. Won't even cost you a penny. Straighten it out and you are ready to begin.

First, make absolutely sure that the gun is unloaded. Then cock the hammer and push the safety to the left. You will see, on the right side of the rifle, little holes in the cross bolt. Line up the holes and push the paper clip in until you feel the retaining spring compress all the way. This will take a little wiggling, but just take your time. Push the cross bolt to the left side of the gun while holding the spring compressed. The bolt will eventually work past the pin, and slide completely out of the gun.

You will have to work at this. It is a little tricky because the paper clip is in the hole. The trick is to release the bolt from the pin as you pull the clip out of the hole and push the safety out. Be very careful, for as the bolt comes free the retaining pin spring will come out. You need to catch this, and the pin. You may want to put the safety back in the gun at a later date, so save the parts you remove.

After the safety was removed I had to address a problem as bad as the appearance of the safety. Namely, the holes left in the sides of the receiver. What to do with these?

I had read a great deal on what others had done to correct this problem. They either just left the holes or threaded them. If you thread the holes you will have to blue the threads before you put a screw in place of the safety. This seemed like a lot of trouble. What if I wanted to sale this gun someday? I might need to put the safety back on the gun. The threads might cause a problem with the function, not to mention the look of the gun. When the safety is put back in the threads would be seen. What to do?

This proved to be the hardest part of the project. I searched the web, gunsmiths, gun smithing sites, and just about every gun shop I could find. I even called the company to see if maybe they had something that might work. The woman was very polite as she told basically that I was out of luck because they where afraid of being sued. They couldn't help with this problem, but she did tell me they had come out with a new tang safety. A whole lot of good that does me.

I couldn't come up with anything. It looked as if I was going to be stuck with either threads and screws or the holes. I was, however, determined not to give up. I did what I have done many times before when at a loss for a solution; I went to the hardware store to see what I could find. If I couldn't find a solution, I would just have to thread the holes like everyone else.

At the store I looked through drawer after drawer of knobs, screws, and this or that. Just as I was about to go home to dig out the tap and die, I found the solution to my problem. So simple and so easy. A box that read "1/4 inch nylon hole covers." They were even black to match the gun, but would they stay in when I fired the rifle? Would I have to drive to the hardware store after every shooting trip? Only one way to find out.

"Try it, stupid." That's me talking to myself, not to you. I went home and slid them into the holes. Looked good. Better than the safety or a hole in the receiver. The field would be the test of my little project, so away I went.

I did this project in 2000. I have yet to replace the nylon hole covers. I have done this same project, and more, to my other Winchester 94's. My trapper in .357 Magnum has had a great deal of work done on it, all by me. The hole covers on it have been in place since 2003 with nary a problem. I now own the Ranger that my buddy purchased as well. The hole covers have been in it since 2004. To date I have never had to replace a cover, or had a problem with the overall safety of the rifle.

This little project cost me a total of $1.50 per gun, including gas to get to the hardware store. Not bad for a wart removal. A doctor would have charged a whole lot more.

Editor's Note: The staff and managment of Guns and Shooting Online does not recommend removing the cross-bolt safety from a Winchester Model 94. If you choose to do so, the responsibility for safe operation of the firearm is entirely yours. DO NOT remove the crossbolt safety unless you fully understand the safe operation of the rifle without the cross-bolt safety and are willing to accept sole responsibility for your actions.

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by L.F. Combs and/or All rights reserved.