Tag Archives: winchester

Big Bore ’94 XTR .375 Winchester 1894


This story has been a long time in the making. More than twenty years ago, my best friend walked into a local gun shop looking for a Big Bore 94 XTR chambered in .375 Winchester. I’ll spare you the details about why he was looking for that specific rifle, but he was surprised to find they still had one back on the shelf, still new in its original box. Perhaps more importantly with the original price tag on it as well.
He brought the rifle home, and it would soon become part of the random collection of guns that we would shoot every weekend we could. I made him promise that he would never sell the rifle unless it was to me, but with the closing of the Winchester facility in the early two-thousands, the value and demand for rifles like that one went up significantly. And much like other 90’s fads, the old Winchester fell from favor. At the time I couldn’t pay what it was worth on the market, so despite my broken heart, it left with brown Santa for the state of Wisconsin. I never forgot that rifle, and have longed for one like it since.
I recently made the find of another Big Bore 94 nearly identical to that one. And I knew that the universe had brought it back to me, so out came the credit card.

The Model 1894

The iconic Winchester Model 1894 has long been revered as a game changer. Over the long century that it has been manufactured, countless game animals have been taken. Chambered in a great many differing cartridges, but very commonly seen in 30-30 WCF. The gun feels fresh out of the old cowboy movies most of us watched growing up.
The Big Bore line of 94’s has a much shorter lifespan, they were made back in the 70’s and 80’s timeframe, before Winchester’s demise. The rifle uses the same lever action as other model 94’s but uses typically larger cartridges like this .375 Win, or something like a .44 Magnum.
The rifle I bought is like new, but almost the same age as me. And much like me, there are certain advantages of being manufactured back in the seventies. The rifle is simple, no safety or locking devices are built into it. It uses the old half-cock safety, and the cartridges are fed through the feeding ramp on the right side of the receiver.
It has a fine set of iron sights, but this rifle also came with an offset scope mount and a similar vintage Bushnell 2-8 power scope mounted. Something I wasn’t sure I would like, but I was certainly willing to give it a try.

Custom made ammunition featuring 200 gr bullets

The .375 Winchester

The .375 Winchester is a rimmed straight-wall cartridge. It’s derived from the old 38-55 cartridge from back in the late nineteenth century. The more modern .375 Winchester running on smokeless powder can push two-hundred-grain bullets around the 2400 FPS mark, which isn’t an insignificant thing. I always dreamed about using this rifle for a sneaky deer hunt, putting the moves on a nice buck deep in the forest. This year instead, I plan on using the Winchesters big 200 grain bullets on a bull elk. The deep and dark woods where we pursue elk in the fall are ideal for a rifle and cartridge like this.

The Ammunition situation

A quick look at the ammunition market gave me the too familiar discomfort that you have likely experienced in recent years. Boxed ammunition for this rifle was outrageous, topping six dollars a round. Even unloaded brass was more expensive than I would allow myself to spend, so I decided to roll some of my own loads. As it happens, I had a set of RCBS dies in my inventory, and a few boxes of Sierra 200 grain flat-point bullets. I could fashion the brass from the large volume of 30-30 cartridge cases I had accumulated over the years. With some sizing grease, some trimming and cleanup, I was quickly manufacturing my own .375 ammo.

To the field

It had been more than twenty years since I’d shot a .375 Win, so I couldn’t wait to see how this dream gun from the past would perform. After testing a few of my handloads for safety, I started shooting at the fifty-yard-line. I was quickly reminded of why I liked this gun all those years ago, its small size and easy handling characteristics make it a piece of cake to shoot. And yet when the hammer drops, there is a deep thunderous roar that lets you know this isn’t a 30-30.
I made some scope adjustments, to correct the zero of the rifle with my loads. I decided to zero it at about seventy-five yards, for the following reasons which may or may not be mistaken; This is certainly not a long-range rifle, the flat-nosed bullets are nowhere near as efficient in flight as our more modern bullets. And despite their muzzle velocity of near 2400 FPS, much of that velocity is spent by the time it reaches two-hundred yards. I figured that though I could shoot beyond three hundred yards, I probably wouldn’t with this rifle. And even more likely it would be used inside a hundred yards, the thick forests where our elk hide can get you into archery range if you are sneaky enough.

After zeroing my rifle, I set to getting good with it. Chances are I was going to have to use it quickly, so I spent a lot of time drawing the rifle, shooting at a pie-plate-sized target before reloading and repeating the shot. I did this until I felt comfortable enough to bet my hunt on it.

I also spent a good amount of time shooting supported at targets 100 yards out. After that, a 15-inch target at 260 yards was easily hit when supported. The old Winchester felt just as good as it always had, and I was quite confident that if I could get within 200 yards of an elk, I could hit it right.

Accuracy with this old rifle shooting my hand loads averaged around 2 inches at 100 yards. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it did a little better with some more load refinement. That is something I intend to try between now and October.


If you also like to occasionally dabble in more traditional guns, the way I chose to go is not a bad one at all. I love the classic design and smooth operation of this old Winchester. There just seems to be something alluring about the old straight-wall cartridges and these classic levers.

The positive control of the lever-action gives great reliability and finesse to the shooter, which is probably why these rifles are still going strong more than 100 years after their release. I cannot wait to get back into the silent forests this fall, silently skulking on soft black dirt with my palms clutching the hand-checkered walnut from the old New Haven plant. Look for me there.



Continue Reading Here…

Winchester Model 12 Shotgun


I don’t find every old firearm to be interesting, but there are the occasional ones that grab my attention for any number of reasons. The Winchester model 12 just happens to be one of the few that did pique my interest, and today I’m here to tell you a little bit about my experience with it.


The Model 12 is a pump action twelve-gauge shotgun, iconic in that it has the classic features that make a pump-gun so appealing. And it may not be the first, but it certainly trained generations how to shoot airborne game among many other things. The Model 12 was also used by the US Military, making it an actual war weapon unlike your AR 15.
My father grew up shooting an old model 12, barely a teenager when it was given to him by my grandfather he used it for hunting pheasants and ducks in the marshy wetlands beyond grandpas pasture. As a child I remember seeing Dad tinker with it amongst his other guns.

The model 12 uses traditional wooden furniture, with an easily identifying ribbed front grip. A shallow rib runs the length of the barrel, with a targeting bead on the muzzle end. The barrel itself is a thirty-inches long and has a three-inch magnum chamber. It features a familiar safety at the front of the trigger guard, and an action release just behind it. The tubular magazine holds six 2-3/4 shot-shells, and it is clamped to the barrel at the front of the tube.
I looked up the serial number and if the internet is to be believed, this gun was manufactured in 1917, making it a hundred and five years old.

In the Field

After some inspection and thorough familiarizing myself with the gun I decided it was time to see how it shoots. I loaded up some clay targets and a few boxes of shells and headed to the hills. The family and I spent a good part of the afternoon shooting the model 12, smashing clays and pumping fresh shells through the gun.
This model 12 in particular appears to be in pretty good shape, and yet we did have just a few hiccups with it. The trigger on the gun doesn’t reset when pumped, you can literally hold the trigger down and pump shot after shot like the old western revolvers. A couple times it felt as though the trigger followed the bolt home and didn’t go off, leaving a dead trigger. This is likely as much a result of my children’s inexperience with shotguns as anything. On a couple occasions the bolt felt stuck in battery, requiring an extra shove from me to extract the spent shell.
Despite these hiccups, we still had a great afternoon on the mountain. The barrel was made way before interchangeable chokes, so you get what it came with as far as that goes. I imagine it is set fairly tight, as the shot pattern seemed much smaller than I expected. This made shooting the hand-thrown clays a whole lot more challenging. We were shooting one-ounce loads from Winchester and Fiocchi, both using 7.5 shot.
I am certainly not the best wing-shooter, but I did feel like I was cheated out of a few hits by the model 12. Shots I am very confident I’d of made if I were shooting one of my guns. Continue Reading Here…



Winchester Model 12 12-Gauge Pump-Action Shotgun
The older design also features a fixed choke, likely a fairly aggressive one from my shooting so far

The Model 12 has plenty of history. If you are a collector, that may weigh heavy on your selection. Personally, I have no use for guns that I’m not going to shoot. So, it has got to be useful to fit in my safe.

The Model 12 could be perfectly useful for the right kind of shooter. The same pheasants that my father hunted as a youth could still be hunted with this gun, as could the doves and chukars that live on the dry desert hills above my home. The 3-inch chamber would probably work great for shooting turkeys if you so choose, depending on how it patterns.

Shop 12 Gauge ammunition here
Winchester Model 12 12-Gauge Pump-Action Shotgun
The gun offers a pleasing age, history, and simplicity

The gun is simple, and the no-frills construction also lends itself to a fairly lightweight. The older design of the gun could also use some modern touches. The recoil pad isn’t particularly forgiving, something the kids noticed a lot more than myself. I imagine it would become more noticeable if I’d been shooting 3-inch shells. The few malfunctions we experienced could be from the 100+ years of use, resulting in some wear. It also could have just needed a little TLC. Regardless, I’m confident that some simple maintenance from a qualified gun plumber could fix it right up.


Winchester Model 12 12-Gauge Pump-Action Shotgun

Winchester Model 12

Time hasn’t passed in vain with this old shotgun. But it still has much to offer anyone with a taste for classic American firearms. The feel of the century-old craftsmanship definitely has its allure, and slamming the action shut on a live shell speaks volumes to the old refrain, “They don’t build them like they used to.”


Winchester Model 70 Target

As time passes, both our guns and our tastes evolve. Perhaps our shooting styles change a bit and a gun we were once giddy over has fallen to the back rack of the safe, perhaps never to come back out except to be sold. Or maybe that favorite rifle got tuned up with a new barrel and scope, maybe a dashing Cerakote paint job and a better trigger. Either way, the firearms of days past seem to lose their luster as new ones are brought to market. But a rare few seem to hold on to a charming and nostalgic following, today we are talking about one of those.

The Model 70
The Winchester Model 70 has been perhaps America’s most prolific bolt action rifle. Generations of hunters and other marksmen have put the various configurations of the Model 70 through countless trials.
The ninety-degree bolt action of the Model 70 has been used in too many configurations to mention here. Both long and short actions are made, featuring a bolt-shroud three position safety. And a simple and robust trigger that is well known for immaculate breaks.

The Target Model
The Model 70 Target was available in an assortment of calibers but they had the same features. A high quality heavy profile barrel, and a wide and flat-bottomed walnut stock. The rifle also came drilled and tapped for a variety of sighting options, you could either mount a scope like the Unertl scopes that were often seen on these rifles in the past, or aperture sights that were mounted to the receiver and muzzle. I believe the military version of the rifle as used by legendary shooters like Hathcock, was very similar in construction, using a more streamlined and less obtrusive stock. Continue Reading Here…

Rebuilding a Hunter

Originally published October 2012

The Rifle

In the year 1960, the Winchester Repeating Arms company was busy building guns. Of the many firearms they manufactured that year, one was a Model 70 Westerner in .264 Winchester Magnum. As luck would have it, a short time later, after returning from Korea, my maternal Grandfather purchased the rifle. Of the many guns Grandpa owned through his years, he always spoke fondly of his old .264 “manglem”.

My Grandfather in Korea

Grandpa had promised the rifle to my father many years ago, and as anyone would, Dad looked forward to owning such a fine piece of equipment. What my Grandpa couldn’t have known, is how that same rifle would bring the family together in the Utah mountains more than 50 years later.
Dad was a dedicated father and hunter, as far back as I can remember, I have the fondest memories of Dad bringing home deer. And as I grew up, he would take me on as many adventures as life would allow. These trips into the Utah wilderness helped shape my love of the outdoors, and have become a source of deep appreciation and joy for my son and daughter, as well as our whole family.

My Father, myself, and my son the morning he shot his first buck

The .264WM is a hot rod for sure, and Grandpa loved to shoot it. This combination was unhealthy for a cartridge with an appetite for barrels. So as you can imagine, after all these years, the throat had been thoroughly eroded, and the barrel was no good. The rifle sat in Grandpa’s gun safe for years, collecting dust.

The Hunter

My Dad lives with diabetes and has so since he was a child, as time has passed, his illness has taken its toll on his body. And the last decade or so, his health has limited his ability to hunt as he would like. And unfortunately he is not getting any younger.
In December 2010, Dad found himself on the kidney transplant waiting list. His energy was gone, and his kidney failure was showing more and more in his everyday life. We watched painfully as he seemed to get worse and worse. The man I had always looked up to was dying slowly before my eyes. So when I was approached with the possibility of donating a kidney, I literally leapt at the chance.

Risking one’s own life to save a loved one is an easy decision to make, but when the time comes to follow through such a choice, I can tell you it is scary.
Luckily, I was a match, and was able to donate one of my kidneys to my father. It was my first encounter with a surgeon, and my opinion of surgeons remains the same after the fact, that is to say, I don’t look forward to their company.

A long and very painful recovery on my part was aided by the brightened eyes, and happy face of my father. Who seemed to be recovering faster than I. After a few hiccups, Dad seemed to be on the road back to health.
After ten months of healing for the both of us, Dad came along with the rest of the family on the hunts (elk,deer). Unfortunately we had a bad hunting year and didn’t have much to show for it. And as life would play out, almost a year to the day after Dad and I hobbled out of surgery, Grandpa passed away. Dad inherited the .264 Winchester not long after.
Several months later, Dad and I looked into the old Winchester. It wasn’t a good prognosis, the many years of packing around the mountains and riding in a horse scabbard had left the old rifle looking pretty haggard. And it didn’t get any better on the inside, the bore was scorched, and no amount of cleaning or lapping was going to make this gun shoot.

Somewhat frustrated and depressed about the project he’d waited to have all those years, Dad kind-of gave up on it.
I asked him if I could play with it for a while to see if I could get it to shoot. I wasted no time, and had a  Douglas  barrel blank  shipped out. A 5A contour eight-and-a-half twist, 6.5 barrel was just what the timeless Winchester needed. I had a friend cut it at 24 inches, and had the muzzle threaded and a fine brake installed. While he worked on that, I went to town on the old piece of walnut that had lost most of it’s finish.


Dad continued to keep up on his regimen of healthy living, with a healthy balance of trips to the gun club mixed in. He had his stability under pretty good control by this point, and as I had done for the last two years, I put him in for the Utah hunts we would go on that year.

My Dad was of the old school, not a trophy hunter exactly, but not the kind of guy who would shoot little bucks. He liked to let them get bigger, although I never knew what ‘big enough’ was.

My brothers and I hunt the same mountain Dad did, and Grandpa did, and Great Grandpa did, but times have changed and its not as easy to find those big deer anymore. But we knew they were there, and that’s all the motivation a guy needs.


Though old school is one way to describe my Father, he also has a thing for high performance and advanced technology. So I decided to improve on Winchester’s original design. The old walnut needed a modern touch, so I started carving. A more vertical pistol grip was needed, the stock was shortened, and a soft recoil pad replaced the original butt plate. A beaver tail-ish front end was added to the stock, and the channel was opened up to receive the new, heavier barrel.

All this plus a glass bedding job, texturing of the grip areas, and some Duracoat in a desert camo pattern brought this relic into a more modern age. I topped it off with one of Dad’s scopes mounted in some  Weaver  Tactical rings, added a bi-pod, and off to the range I went with a handful of different test loads.


My goal for this gun was to be a deer and elk hammer on anything inside half a mile, and to do so, I needed to shoot high BC bullets at .264WM speeds. I tried both the Berger140 VLD and the Barnes 140 Match burner. Both gave good results at 3100fps, but the Barnes a little better, and the price point was a plus. So I loaded up a couple boxes of what shot best (easily sub MOA) .

On the first trip into the field, using a chart I’d calculated, I made easy first round hits at 500 and 850 yards. I knew I had a winner in my hands, and couldn’t wait to hand it back to Dad, who had no idea what had transpired since he turned it over to me. A man of reserved speech, his reaction was priceless. Wide eyes and smiles and he kept repeating all day: “what a sharp looking rifle!”

Since the original overhaul, Dad’s .264 has had several optics upgrades, better optics help older eyes. Dad used the rifle to take his first mature bull at 500 yards, you can read that amazing story here

Return to the Hunt

As the deer hunt started that cold October morning, I had very high hopes. We had spotted several bucks in our little canyon last night, and here it was just moments before shooting light. Dad had worked his way down a ridge line with us, and we sat atop some large rocks, overlooking a spectacular view of the high Rockies.
The deer were moving, and we spotted several, but none of them had impressed me as a shooter for Dad. And they didn’t give us a shot anyway, so we kept glassing.
After several shots were heard nearby, and hunters moving about, my hopes were waning. But fate had plans for us that morning.
As the light crept over the top of the mountain peaks, my brother suddenly spotted a deer right below us. The steep angle of the mountain made it feel as though were directly above him. I looked through my rangefinder and all I saw was the antlers, at 264 yards it was surely the biggest deer we’d seen that morning. Dad quickly moved into a position on the rock’s edge, and steadied his new rifle over his pack. We all stood there, silently waiting for the shot.

I watched through my spotter as the sharp crack of the rifle went off, the intense silence broken by the sound of the bullet ripping through the cold and thin mountain air. As we all watched in suspense, the bullet struck the deer just behind the left shoulder and exited behind the right. The downward force knocked the deer right to the ground, and with punctured lungs, his life ended right there on the brushy hillside.


Overcome with excitement and joy for what had been a long time coming, we exchanged high fives and shoulder punches. I knew the stars had to align for my dream to come true that day, but I’d had been feeling our luck building as the pieces fell into place. It was the first deer Dad had killed in 21 years, it may not have been the biggest deer, but for us it was the most memorable. Sharing the excitement with three generations of family that morning, we will never forget that rebuilt hunter and his rebuilt gun.

We’ll be putting in for this year’s hunt soon.

Dad with his two oldest grandsons