The Winchester Model 1895

By Chuck Hawks

Winchester Model 1895, 2005 version
Illustration courtesy of U.S. Repeating Arms Co., Inc.

The Winchester Model 1895 rifle was the last rifle designed for Winchester by John Browning. It was introduced to the public in 1896. Like earlier Winchester lever actions, the 1895 ejected spent brass out the top of the receiver. In other ways this new big game rifle was a departure from previous Winchester rifles. The most important of these probably being that it was designed from the outset for smokeless powder pressures, not adapted to them as the 1886 had been.

The 1895 was not only stronger than previous Winchester lever action rifles, it also had a fixed box magazine that allowed it to safely use high intensity cartridges with pointed bullets. As a result, the Model 95 is most often seen in calibers such as .30-40 Krag, .303 British, 7.62x54R, .30-03 and .30-06 Spfd. It was also chambered for the powerful .35 Winchester and .405 Winchester cartridges, and became famous as a rifle for hunting big and dangerous game.

The early "flat side" Model 1895s (below about serial number 5000) had flat sided receivers, but soon the receiver was revised with extra steel surrounding the bolt and only the lower receiver scalloped to reduce weight. At the same time the shape of the external box magazine was revised with increased rear to front slope for a more streamlined profile. The standard Model 1895s had two-piece levers and one-piece magazines. Various rifle, carbine, and musket versions were offered. Barrels for civilian use were produced in lengths from 22" to 36".

In addition to Model 1895 hunting rifles, a considerable number of 1895 military muskets were produced with barrels of 28" and 30". During the period 1915-1916 the Russian Empire ordered some 293,000 muskets in caliber 7.62x54R for their military to use in the Great War (World War One). Smaller numbers of muskets were produced for the U.S. Government in .30-40, and for the U.S. Army National Rifle Assn. in .30-06.

The Model 1895 was also popular with law enforcement types during its glory days. Texas Rangers, Pinkerton Agents, U.S. Border Patrol officers, County Sheriffs and other lawmen were often seen and photographed with their Model 95s.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit spent nine months during the years 1909-1910 on an extended African safari. Roosevelt's exploits on the Dark Continent were extensively covered in the American media, and Winchester supplied rifles and ammunition for the safari.

Teddy and Kermit shot a wide variety of African game using Winchester Model 1895 lever action rifles, one in .30-40 and three in .405 Winchester. Teddy favored the .405 for large and dangerous game, particularly lion, and also used it for Cape buffalo, rhino and elephant. He called it his "big medicine" or "medicine gun" and the terms stuck, forevermore associated with the .405 Winchester cartridge and the Model 1895 rifle.

When I was a young shooter Model 95s were fairly common on the used market. In the early 1960s they were not collectors' guns, just old hunting rifles. While produced in a number of calibers, most of the M-95s I have seen were in either .30-40 or .30-06 calibers. I considered purchasing one of those used M-95s (I wish I had), but the rifles weight and reputation as a hard kicker dissuaded me. In addition, there was no provision for scope mounting.

The Model 95 in all variants had a reputation as a rather nasty kicker despite its substantial weight (approximately eight pounds, empty). This was due to plenty of drop at comb, a curved "rifle" style butt plate and a rather small butt plate surface area. All of these design elements tend to amplify perceived recoil. Of course, the Model 95 was chambered exclusively for powerful cartridges.

After the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression, the sales of sporting rifles, especially the more expensive models like the Model 95, plummeted. By then the tastes of North American hunters were changing and the Model 95 was facing stiff competition from Mauser pattern bolt action sporting rifles, including dirt cheap surplus M-1903 Springfield rifles and Winchester's own Model 54. It was time to either update the Model 95 or discontinue it altogether.

I wish that Winchester had chosen the former tactic, adding provision for scope mounting, decreasing the drop at comb, increasing the surface area of the butt and making a flat "shotgun" style butt plate standard. Unfortunately, such revisions were probably not feasible given the economic realities of the time and production of the Model 95 ceased after 1931. By then almost 426,000 had been built.

In 2001, an astonishing 70 years later, Winchester brought back the Model 1895 as a limited production rifle. Model 1895s have been made available in limited quantities in the famous .405 Winchester caliber. In 2005 a non-catalog takedown version in .405 was offered. Hornady is providing factory loaded ammunition in .405, so Winchester's lever action "big medicine" hunting rifle is again available to discerning sportsmen.

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.