Monday, January 23, 2006

Goodbye Winchester

I'm sure every gunnie has heard of the passing of Winchester as we know it. Owners of the Winchester name will still make guns under that name in Europe and Japan, but the Winchester 94, 70s, and Model 1300 shotgun are history. This post is dedicated to arguably their most historical and successful product, the Winchester 94.

I bought my Winchester rifle chambered in .45 Colt last March when I was toying around with the idea of Cowboy Action Shooting. I didn’t get around to it last summer, but there’s always next summer. I’ve shot it a few times and enjoyed shooting it. (I also used it in a parody of gun banners.)

I own another Winchester 94 chambered in .30-30. It’s older, built in the early 1970s. Even these were not golden years for Winchester 94s, but better than later ones. When I compare the two, I understand a little bit why Winchester struggled financially.

First the good news. Both rifles are sturdy, reliable, shoulder well, and are great shooters. The bad news is Winchester bowed to political correctness. My .30-30 doesn’t have, thank Vulcan, the awful cross-bolt safety they put on later model. However, the .45 has a tang safety—again much better than the cross-bolt safety, but it would be difficult to install a tang sight should I decide my aging eyes need a peep sight.

Winchester took a classic rifle and then jiggered it up by adding safeties when they weren’t necessary for the rifle’s design and mechanism. They also let quality slide a little (not too badly, but still an inch is as good bad as a mile when you face competition from other gun makers in a small market).

Further, Bill and I were talking with another gunnie on Saturday. He believes Winchester’s greatest mistake was concentrating so much on their new Short-Action Magnums. They made a rifle that reduces the bolt throw by about a half-inch. Big deal.

Michael Bane pointed out that Winchester concentrated way too much on hunters and not shooters (others are guilty as well). The fact that Winchester spent so much effort and money on the Short-Action Magnums while shorting action shooting and other sports proves Bane’s point.

If Winchester’s name is not bought by a quality gun-maker, we gunnies will lose a lot of history. Here’s an elegy to Winchesters written by Stephen Hunter. It was published in the Washington Post of all places (hat tip to Countertop Chronicles). Read it and mourn with me the passing of a great American brand.

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