Unless you’re a lifelong student of them, it can be hard to keep all of the details of the Winchester lever-action rifles straight. So, here’s a “cheat sheet” of important facts and figures. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it’ll make sure you don’t confuse a Model 1876 with a Model 1894!
In addition to the information below, a good visual reference for the different models is the shape of their loading gate (with the exception of the Model 1895, which is completely different). Take a look at the photos to see what I mean.
WINCHESTER MODEL 1866 LEVER-ACTION (above)
Approx. 170,000 made, 1866-1898. The first gun made under the Winchester name, the 1866 introduced a loading gate on the sideplate. Because of its distinctive brass frame, it was called the “Yellow Boy” on the American frontier.
WINCHESTER MODEL 1873 LEVER-ACTION
Approx. 720,000 made, 1873-1919. It was sometimes called “The Gun That Won the West” and was the first Winchester to use centerfire cartridges and to have an iron frame with a removable sideplate. Standard configurations included the 20” round barrel carbine, 24” octagon or round barrel rifle, and the 30” round barrel musket. Standard chamberings included .44-40 (.44 WCF), .38-40 (.38 WCF), and .32-20 (.32 WCF). Between 1884 and 1904, .22 rimfire was an additional available caliber.
WINCHESTER MODEL 1876 LEVER-ACTION
Approx. 63,800 made, 1876-1897. A bigger version of the Model 1873, it features a larger and stronger receiver to fire rifle cartridges like the .45-77 WCF, .50-95 Express, .45-60 WCF, and .40-60 WCF. It was also the first Winchester model to offer a pistol grip style buttstock.
WINCHESTER MODEL 1886 LEVER-ACTION
Approx. 160,000 made, 1886-1935. This model was capable of firing more powerful cartridges suitable for big game, such as .45-70, .45-90, and .50-110, making it popular with hunters in the American West. Lightweight takedown versions were also available for this model.
WINCHESTER MODEL 1892 LEVER-ACTION
Approx. 1,000,000 made, 1892-1945. Essentially a scaled down version of the Model 1886, the Model 1892 was the first Winchester designed for smokeless powder. It was chambered for the same lower-powered cartridges as the Model 1873, plus .25-20, with the .44-40 cartridge being the most popular chambering. The ability to fire 5-IN-1 Blanks made it popular in western TV shows and movies, such as True Grit and The Rifleman.
WINCHESTER MODEL 1894 LEVER-ACTION
Approx. 7,000,000 made, 1894-2006. More than 80% of all Model 1894s are chambered for the .30-30 cartridge. The combination of the Model ’94 and the .30-30 became the quintessential American deer rifle during much of the 20th century. This made the Model 1894 the first commercial sporting rifle to sell more than seven million units.
WINCHESTER MODEL 1895 LEVER-ACTION
Approx 425,000 made, 1895-1940. The Model 1895 was the first Winchester rifle to incorporate a box magazine below the action that was designed to accept high-powdered spitzer cartridges. They were loaded on top of one another instead of tip-to-primer in a tubular magazine, as used on previous models. This made it possible to load the pointed spitzer bullets into a Winchester lever-action rifle without worry of accidental primer detonation.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.