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Rifle Magazine
May - June 1999
Volume 31, Number 3
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 183
On the cover...
The Ballard No. 7 Long Range .45-90 rifle features
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Rifle Magazine
Product Tests
Winchester Model 94 Black Shadow
Gil Sengel

It is a simple fact that no other rifle has been offered in more varieties than the Winchester Model 94. John Browning never suspected such a thing would come to pass. He was just creating a light lever gun for Winchester that would handle less powerful cartridges than the Model 86. Model 94s were first listed in Winchester's November 1894 catalog. A lot of deer have run through the forest since that catalog was printed. In the meantime Model 94s have been almost discontinued more than once. Since the 1950s virtually every gun scribe in America has made money writing the obituary of lever guns in general or the Model 94 in particular. Yet we can still walk into our local gun shop and purchase a brand new Model 94. So much for expert opinion.

One of these new Model 94s is the subject of this report. No, it's not chambered for a new factory round or an exotic wildcat. The cartridge is the one this rifle has been firing the longest - the .30-30 Winchester.

I realize all shooters over the age of 45 are now wondering what on earth can be new about a Model 94 in .30-30! Really quite a bit, with a touch of the old thrown in as well.

Today it seems everything has to have a name. This new Model 94 is called Black Shadow. It derives from the black composite synthetic buttstock and forearm. A thin black recoil pad is fitted to the stock, as is the base for a detachable sling swivel. Color goes completely through the stock and forearm (rather than being just a surface treatment), so dings and scrapes won't be too obvious. Outer texture is similar to the soft matte produced by bead blasting. A panel of 14-lines-per-inch checkering adorns each side of the pistol grip stock. The forearm is of carbine style, that is it's held on by a band encircling the barrel and front of the forearm. The front stock likewise has cast-in checkering.

Other items of note are a tapered 24-inch barrel, case ejection low enough to allow mounting a scope over the action, four-shot magazine capacity and a plethora of safety features/devices. Weight is only 6 pounds, 8 ounces.

That long barrel, short magazine and pistol grip stock give the Black Shadow a silhouette reminiscent of a Model 55 or Model 64. Both were variations of the Model 94 intended solely as hunting rifles. The Model 55 was dropped in 1936; the Model 64 lasted until 1956. Of course, these rifles had steel forend tips rather than barrel bands. At any rate, the Black Shadow closely resembles and handles like these early rifles. Collectors now have most of the original rifles, but today's woods hunter can get a more weatherproof example of them in the Black Shadow.

We must mention, however, that this Model 94, as well as all 94s made in the last 35 years or so, has undergone mechanical changes to the firing mechanism. Most of these deal with so-called safety features. Obviously, if everyone treated firearms with respect and common sense there would be no need for complex safety devices. Many folks don't seem capable of doing this anymore than they can drive their cars down the road without running into light poles, bridge abutments or each other.


To begin, the Model 94 today has the same trigger-blocking device actuated by the operating lever as did early Model 94s. This prevents pulling the trigger unless the lever is held tightly against the lower tang by the firing hand. A good idea. Gone, however, is the half-cock notch in the hammer. In its place is a rebounding hammer, a hammer-blocking bar that requires considerable movement of the trigger to the rear to get out of the way (effectively giving the rifle a two-stage trigger) and a cross-bolt safety mounted in the receiver. The trigger released at 6 pounds, 4 ounces on the test rifle. Initial take-up required 10 ounces of that.

Since the Black Shadow has the ability to easily mount a scope, that was done for accuracy testing. A new Weaver K4 with matte exterior finish was selected for the task. One could argue less magnification was needed, but the scope and action will soon see another use. Also, the 1.8-inch objective of the K4 is about as large as allowed by the Weaver Pro-View mounts that were used. The rifle weighed 7 pounds, 6 ounces with scope.

Incidentally, this Weaver mounting system is excellent for lever guns. The base and bottom half of each ring are one-piece, eliminating the usual base/ ring assembly. The top half of each ring is held in place by two screws per side. Neat and solid. Fit was perfect on the Model 94's factory drilled and tapped receiver.

Initial shooting involved Winchester and Federal factory loads. At 100 paces, four, five-shot groups averaged 2.52 and 2.73 inches, respectively, with 170-grain bullets. I guess that is what we have come to expect from lever rifles, but I had hoped to beat 2 inches from the bench.

Slugs of 150 grains from both makers were then tried. Neither would stay under 4 inches. Groups were noticeably taller than they were wide. We all know what that means - buttstock bedding.

I removed the buttstock and stared at the inletting. This probably didn't help any. It did, however, show that it's not possible to tell where the tang is contacting the stock on composite material. All the inletting is shiny black!

At a loss as to what to do, the stock was reinstalled. The tang screw was drawn up noticeably more than it had been originally. More ammunition was brought out and the tests repeated. Now the 170-grain numbers registered just over 2.25 inches for both brands. Switching to the 150s proved pretty much a repeat of the first trial. Clusters were perhaps an inch smaller, but not what was wanted.

Being more than a little irritated at this, a 12-inch screwdriver was ground to fit the tang screw. Using both hands on the handle, I was determined to get that tang screw tight - or break it off. It responded nearly one-half turn. Back at the bench groups improved. Winchester 170-grain slugs cut a 2.16-inch average; Federal recorded 2.02 inches. The 150 grainers were now under 3 inches. Bedding still needed work.

It was now decided to see if handloading could help the rifle. Lever guns are one of the few examples today of where hand-assembled ammunition can show itself superior (in the accuracy department) to factory loads. This is not because factory fodder is faulty. It's just that variables like a two- piece stock, short barrel shank, magazine tube hanging on the barrel, etc., seem to cause the lever-action rifle to be more ammunition sensitive than others.

To this end Hornady 150-grain roundnose and 170-grain flatnose bullets were seated over various powders. Charges were those giving factory equivalent muzzle velocities.

In this instance W-748 and H-335 came in first and second with both bullet weights. A charge of 37.0 grains of W-748 gave 2,191 fps with the 170-grain flatnose. Four, five-shot groups averaged 1.55 inches. That's more like it! Using 34.0 grains of H-335 yielded a bit less speed, more muzzle flash and a 1.71-inch average.

Powder weight could be increased a couple of grains when applied to the 150-grain Hornadys. Here the tendency to string vertically still existed, but W-748 averaged 2.08-inch clusters while H-335 showed a 2.45-inch average. Spending time at the loading bench definitely paid off.

All groups fired had the first round placed in the magazine, levered into the chamber and the following four inserted in the tube together. There were no failures to fire, feed, extract or eject. The scope stayed put in the rings as well.

The Model 94 Black Shadow also comes chambered for the .44 Magnum and the .444 Marlin. Just when you thought there could be nothing new in Model 94s, the maker comes up with something else, and I'm quite certain U.S. Repeating Arms Company isn't through yet.
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