Winchester Model 94A .44 Magnum


by Paco Kelly

photography by Paco Kelly

January 9th, 2006




It's a Winchester Model 94 with a designation "A", but it looks like a shortened Model 64. It has an 18-inch barrel, and a little over half-length magazine tube. It is compact, short and very handy, and with Garrett's Hammerhead 310-grain Magnum ammo is is exceedingly deadly.

We have known for years that just about everything in the "Lower 48" states that walks on four legs has been taken with the .44 Magnum cartridge in handguns. It wasn't too long ago that it was the "King of handgun cartridges" in power. With the advent of the .454 Casull cartridge and the Freedom Arms single-action in 1983 the .44 Magnum lost its status as the "King", but it did not lose any of its great power.

The came a plethora of heavy and powerful handgun rounds, each trying to eclipse the other. Each trying to take over the handgun hunting market. And unfortunately, as a result many new shooters were, and are, under the impression that the .44 Magnum is too light for anything larger than deer or small black bear at close range - which, as a friend once said about a Chevy Super Sport we were admiring, "If it had BMW stamped on it, everyone would want one..." I have a very good friend who has used his .44 Magnum handgun to punch Elmer Keith's classic 250-grain load through both sides of a large bull elk.

Many hyper-power handgun chamberings are bought these days just so folks can have the latest whizz-bang "Most Powerful Handgun In The World"...oh, Clint! What you started with that phrase! But that's all right, it is fun to own things like that, and that's what we shooters are all about. But just because the .45, .475, and .500 chamberings, along with their handguns, are out there, doesn't mean that the .44 Magnum has somehow become less effective.

I'm not down on our new hyper-power calibers, I just don't want a generation of shooters coming up thinking that the .44 Magnum is diminished somehow. If they did, that would lead them to not try it, or add it to their hunting equipment.

I have said this in print before: my first choice is not the .44 caliber, it is the .45 caliber, but I own a number of guns chambered for the .44s, and I enjoy the .44s very much. I hunt with them, I shoot them at the range, I play with them, and I occasionally carry one of my heavily-loaded .44 Specials for personal protection. Of all the complements I can give the mighty .44s, the biggest is this: I am taking them to Africa in March of 2006. My Winchester Big Bore in .444 Marlin, my Winchester Model 94A in .44 Magnum, and my Ruger .44 Magnum Hunter handgun are all going with me.

And all this long wind brings me to the topic at hand: the Winchester Model 94A.

As nice a handgun cartridge as the .44 Magnum remains, when chambered in a rifle the .44 Magnum attains a completely different level of power. Where the handguns with heavy .44 Magnum ammo can produce 1200-1300 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, rifles can give twice that level, with up to 2400-2500 foot-pounds of muzzle punch.

Let's take the absolutely fine Garrett 310-grain Hammerhead load as an example. From a handgun it is rated at 1350 fps, and with every 7-1/2" barreled handgun I've used with this ammo it has exceeded that stated velocity. But let's take the 1350 fps as read - a 310-grain bullet at 1350 fps gives 1255 foot-pounds of muzzle energy; fired in an 18" barreled rifle Winchester, this same ammo gives 1880 fps for 2433 foot-pounds of muzzle punch. A .30-30 with a 170-grain bullet at 2300 fps gives just under 2000 foot-pounds, and a 150-grain .30-30 bullet at 2500 fps from the 20-inch rifle gives just under 2100 foot-pounds. No, I'm not saying that the .44 Magnum is better than the .30-30...I'm just trying to pull the thinking about the .44 Magnum out of the "handgun level" and put it into the "rifle level" where it belongs. Like I said, from a rifle it is a whole other world of power. Also, let's not forget that there are a number of ammunition manufacturers out there who load the great old .45/70 to a top load of a 300-grain bullet at 1800 fps. Hopefully, I've made my point!

The Winchester 94A weighs in at just 6-1/4 pounds without a scope, though the rifle is an "Angle Eject" model and is tapped for scope mounts. The wood is not fancy, but it is a good grade of straight grained Black Walnut with a semi-pistol grip. I know many don't like pistol-grip stocks, but I prefer them, and again this one is a semi-pistol grip so the die-hard "straight-liners" will find it comfortable.

The action is the tried-and-true Winchester Model 94 - this action, with minor changes, is the same one John Browning designed 112 years ago. The half-magazine tube is stylish, much like the trim Winchester Model 64s of years ago. The half-magazine holds six rounds, and if we are in the brush with one in the chamber and six in the magazine and can't get it done with seven rounds, then maybe it's time to take up golf.

This is a slick little addition to the Winchester line, and at approximately $250 less than a comparable Marlin levergun in my area of the country. For those .44 Magnum handgun lovers, this is the perfect rifle to go with their handgun. It reminds me of wood smoke and campfires, of the sudden snap of a twig in the dark, and reaching for my Winchester just like my ancestors have done for more than a century.

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Paco Kelly


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Winchester's Model 94A in .44 Magnum - a fine-looking, fine-shooting rifle.



A fine load like Garrett's 310-grain Hammerhead helps make the .44 Magnum a fine big game cartridge.



Winchester's Model 94A makes a perfect companion rifle to a fine .44 Magnum handgun, such as Paco's early Smith & Wesson N-frame .44 Magnum, with ivory grips and the rare 5" barrel. This sixgun is doubly precious to Paco, as it was a gift from his close friend, legendary gun writer John Taffin.