Winchester Legacy Model 94 .38-55


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

August 2nd, 2005




Winchester. What does that name mean to you? Winchester has for years produced some fine shotguns and bolt action rifles. The Models 12 and 70 are legendary. However, to most people, myself included, the name Winchester means lever action rifles. When I hear some story told of a grizzled old cowpoke toting a Winchester, I know that it means a levergun, even though Winchester produced some of the finest single shot rifles of the nineteenth century.. Winchester means leverguns.

I have Winchester leverguns dating from 1895 up through the little .357 Compact that I bought earlier this year, and I like them all. They always work, and they always work well. The only Winchesters that I won’t buy are the ones produced for several years recently with that butt-ugly crossbolt safety. It looked like an afterthought, which it was. I understand their having to go to something like that, but it is still ugly. Thankfully, they have now moved the safety to the tang, which is a much better place for a safety if you must have one. I have been raised up on the old Winchesters with no manual safety, using the half-cock notch in the hammer for decades. For new shooters just learning to handle a levergun, as much as I hate to admit it, the tang safety just might be better than the old half-cock. It is definitely quieter to slide the safety forward than to pull the hammer to full cock. It bothers some folks to have the levergun cocked with the safety on, but that is the way that we carry shotguns, bolt action rifles, ARs, AKs, and many other types of firearms, and it works just as well on a levergun.  It is simply a matter of training. I’m probably too old to change my ways, and will carry my leverguns the old way, and ignore the manual safety. However, I will teach my grandson to hunt with his Winchester cocked and the safety on.

Winchester is producing lever action rifles today that are much closer in appearance, balance, and feel to the guns of the late nineteenth century. A very good example is their new Legacy rifle. The one featured here is chambered for the good old .38-55 cartridge, which predates even the .30 WCF (.30-30 Winchester). I have long been a fan of the .38-55, especially in good strong rifles. I have had a Chief Crazy Horse .38-55 for a few years, and it is an excellent levergun. The .38-55 is a very efficient cartridge, which is not loaded to its potential by most ammo companies. Buffalo Bore offers two loadings which take advantage of the cartridge’s potential. I have always loaded my own, and use excellent cast bullets from Mt. Baldy with good results., along with a few jacketed bullets that are available. Reloder 7 and H322 are just about perfect for loading the .38-55 up to its potential. If I had to choose just one, it would be H322.

Back to the new Legacy rifle. I first saw one of these at a writer’s function at the 2005 SHOT Show in Las Vegas back in January. The Legacy has a beautifully tapered twenty-six inch octagon barrel. I am glad that Winchester chose to taper the barrel. The balance and feel of the rifle is perfect. It balances just in front of the receiver. The Legacy is fitted with the superb Marbles rear tang sight, which is adjustable for windage and elevation without tools. It is a very good sight for extended range shooting. Thankfully, Winchester has fitted the legacy with the traditional curved steel buttplate. The walnut buttstock has a gently-curved pistol grip, and wears some nice checkering, as does the slim fore end. I like the finish on these rifles. The wood is dark, and the bluing is deep. The curved steel buttplate just looks right on this rifle, and is plenty comfortable with the mildly-recoiling cartridges for which the Legacy is chambered. Out at the range, most of the writers were fooling around with the new Model 70 variations chambered for the latest short magnums. Laying neglected on a bench was a new Legacy .30-30, along with several boxes of factory Winchester ammo just waiting to be burned up.  The bench was set up for right-handed shooters. Being a southpaw, I just stood beside the bench and tried my luck at some one hundred yard paper targets using the barrel-mounted open rear sight. Out at the 300 yard berm was a steel gong. Flipping up the Marbles tang sight, and after a couple of shots to get the sight dialed in, I was connecting with ease on the gong. I just love burning up free ammunition! Immediately after the show, I proceeded to beg Paul Thompson of Browning/Winchester for a sample gun. They are now in production, and I have had the .38-55 here for about a month. During that month, I have had time to get acquainted with the levergun, and am now more impressed than I was at the press introduction.

The Legacy is one of those rifles that has a unique quality that is hard to explain, but easy to feel. With the twenty-six inch barrel, it has a full-sized feel to it, without being overly heavy or bulky. Winchester lists the nominal weight at seven and one-quarter pounds, but the sample rifle weighed eight ounces heavier. The overall length is forty-four and one-eighth inches. The full-length tubular magazine holds seven cartridges. As mentioned already, the gun has heft, but an excellent balance. It carries well in the field. It is handy, but still feels like a rifle.

For accuracy testing, I chose to use the Marbles sight at the one hundred yard range, fully realizing that I would be unable to shoot the Legacy to its potential. While I love tang sights, I do much better work with a scope attached. While the Legacy is drilled and tapped for a scope mount, as are all Winchester 94 Angle Eject models, most who purchase the Legacy will likely opt to use the tang sight, which is a good choice. For hunting accuracy, the tang sight is just fine. With better eyes, I could probably realize better accuracy using the Marbles sight. Shooting the Legacy, I would manage to get a couple of shots pretty close together, always pulling one out of a three-shot group. The group pictured was typical of my shooting that day. With the Marbles rear and gold bead front, one and one-half inch groups were the norm. I was tempted to bolt on a scope for better groups, but I think that would defeat the purpose of buying the Legacy with the excellent tang sight attached. Besides, one and one-half inch groups are plenty accurate for hunting game, and I have about a four-inch wobble shooting while standing upright like a primate. The functioning of the Legacy was perfect with all ammo tested, as expected. Winchester has been building the Model 94 for well over one hundred years now, and pretty much have the mechanics figured out. The only fault that I found with the rifle is the trigger pull, which was crisp enough, but measured just over seven pounds. In my opinion, that is too heavy for a hunting rifle, and will need to be serviced a bit to get the weight down to about three pounds, which is more to my liking.

With the introduction of the new legacy in .30-30 and .38-55, Winchester  is producing rifles of the style that built their great legend. This is the closest thing that I have seen to my beloved 1895-vintage Model 1894 rifle. I truly love the Model 92 and 94 carbines, but these new Legacy rifles have stolen my heart. Hopefully, Winchester will choose to also chamber the Legacy for the .25-35 cartridge as well.

If you like leverguns, I think that you will love these new Legacy rifles. It is a rifle that your great-grandfather would have been proud to own.

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Jeff Quinn


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Winchester's new Legacy Model 94 in .38-55.



Old gun, new's vintage-1895 Winchester Model 1894 in .30 WCF (left), Legacy Model 94 in .38-55 (right).



Forend tip attachment of Jeff's 110-year-old Model 1894 (top) compared to the Legacy Model 94 (bottom).



Author with the Legacy Model 94. The Legacy is perfectly balanced and reasonably light in weight.



Among the features of Winchester's Legacy Model 94 are (top to bottom): curved steel buttplate, sliding tang safety, tapered octagon barrel, and slim-profile checkered forend with "W" logo.





Iron sights of the Legacy Model 94 are excellent, including serrated gold bead front sight (top), V-notch rear sight (center), and Marbles' superb rear tang sight (bottom). The Legacy Model 94 is also drilled and tapped for scope mounts.





The .30-30, middle, and the .38-55, right, are chambered in the new Legacy. Hopefully, the .25-35, left, will be added as well.



Using iron sights, the Legacy Model 94 shoots as well as the author can manage.