The Trapper-Which One?


by R.K. Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

June 29th, 2009




Over the years, firearms manufactures have offered any number of special editions and special models. Perhaps none have enjoyed the success of Winchesterís short barrel rifle, the Trapper. The Trapper is basically a 16 inch barrel Winchester Model 94. It is standard in most other areas except that the barrel is the shortest allowable legal length. While the most popular caliber by far for the Model 94 has been the .30-30 Winchester Center Fire, there have also been a number of Trapper rifles produced in .44 Magnum. It is interesting to compare the two. I realize that folks who like the .30-30 love and the same goes for .44 fans. But if the chance comes to obtain one of these hard to find rifles, perhaps an understanding of the two types will be helpful.

First, we have to ask: why a Trapper at all? A rifle with a shorter barrel is not as ballistically efficient. The powder does not burn as completely, often producing not only less velocity, but also a tremendous muzzle blast as powder burns outside the barrel. The shorter sight radius limits accuracy. What is the advantage? The rifle is shorter, lighter, and considerably easier to handle quickly. A Trapper may be carried slung across the chest on a well made sling. The lever action rifle is short, light, flat and friendly to either left or right hand use. The Trapper models build upon this lightness and improve upon this attribute even more. In short these are darned efficient little rifles.

Since the ranges at which the Trapper will be used are predictably short, the loss of velocity from the short barrel doesnít mean much. The .30-30 loses as much as two hundred feet per second from the shorter barrel. The .44 Magnum gains considerably as compared to a handgun. The .30-30 remains the long range cartridge. Even though the barrel is shorter than the standard 20 inch rifle, the Trapper is still darned accurate to 100 yards. It is no mean feat to fire a three shot group that averages four inches or so. This is with my favorite .30-30 load, the Winchester 150 gr. Power Point. The .44 Magnum won't equal that standard.  Six inches at 100 yards is what we may expect from the .44 caliber Trapper. Winchesterís 250 grain Silvertip is a first class load that gives good effect on game per my research. As for power, that is a good question. The .30-30 has more range. In my experience, which includes dropping a 280 grain boar hog on its butt with a single 240 grain JHP, while the .44 Magnum has more knock down power to 25 yards or a little further. The Winchester 240 grain JHP breaks well over 1600 fps from the Winchester Trapper. Thatís power. Frankly, if you are looking to be shooting at ranges greatly exceeding one hundred yards, you donít need a Trapper; you need a rifle with a 20-inch barrel.

At this point, the sad fact is that both Trapper calibers are hard to find. The .30-30 is the most common. I occasionally see a short barrel Marlin of the Trapper length but they are also a rarity. The Marlin has the tighter action. Correspondents in Alaska tell me the Winchester is praised for its greater reliability, and its open action as compared to the Marlin is responsible for this. But the Marlin is the more accurate, and we can prove that at the range.

Recently I have been able to test, fire, and handle two good Trapper rifles. The fact is either will put all of their shots into the same hole at 25 yards or so. When the distance gets to fifty yards more concentration is needed. In the brush or woods 50 yards may be a long shot. The Winchester lever action rifle is fast into action and very slick in handling. It is true that the pistol caliber lever action rifles have more leverage and that faster manipulation is possible. These include the various .357s, .44s and the .454 & .480 Ruger Puma. But no one has ever accused the Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 of being slow into action!

I think that if I had the choice I would choose the .44 Magnum trapper. The slightly greater speed due to the greater leverage is one factor, but I simply like the .44 Magnum cartridge. I have lots of brass and a Super Blackhawk revolver. I have seen what the .44 Magnum will do. But there is nothing wrong with the short .30-30.


The Winchester doesnít have a feed ramp. The cartridge is spoon fed into the chamber by means of a shell carrier. But just because the lever action is feed reliable, you cannot be sloppy. Both calibers demand care. The .30-30 rounds must be full length resized. Neck sizing is not viable. In .44 Magnum a heavy crimp is demanded. A medium or roll crimp that works with some revolvers will not necessary feed in the Winchester. Care in loading is needed. I donít think the 180 to 200 grain bullets are best. I have used the Magnus cast 240 grain SWC for practice, loaded to about 1,000 fps in the .44 Special case. This would be a fine small game load. For serious use, the Hornady 240 grain XTP is ideal. In .30-30 the 150 grain is the ideal bullet. I use a good charge of IMR 3031 and all of my loads are put up on RCBS dies.

In short, the Trapper rifles are great rifles well worth your time to appraise. While they are currently out of production like other good Winchester lever action rifles occasionally we strike gold and find a good used version. Good luck and good shooting.

Another optionó

The Legacy Puma is a copy of the Winchester 92, but with modern metallurgy. The Puma is chambered in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and the mighty .454 Casull and .480 Ruger calibers. They are not true Trappers, and they are not as slick as the Winchester. But sometimes they are what we have. The Puma is a bit hard to sight in properly, but this is true of pistol caliber carbines in general at ranges of 100 yards or more. The .454 version is brilliantly accurate with Cor Bonís DPX loading.

If you want to keep shooting, support the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation.

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


The .44 Magnum Trapper is a rare bird these days. This one belongs to Gospel music singer Paul Jordan.



The Puma in .454 Casull is a powerful carbine with good performance. Leverage is excellent, making followup shots rapid.



The standard Model 94 isnít that unwieldy! This one if fitted with XS aperture sights.



This is the authorís Legendary Lawman Winchester with 16 inch barrel. This is a keeper and a shooter!