The Winchester Model 95

Browning’s Last Levergun
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Winchester’s Model 94 (top) was always more popular than the
Model 95 (bottom) but offered a considerable boost in performance
with chamberings such as .30-06, made possible by its box magazine design.

Although revered for designing such battlefield classics as the Model 1911 pistol, M1919 and M2 machine guns and the great Browning Automatic Rifle, John M. Browning also created such legendary Winchester leverguns as the Model 1886, 1892 and 1894.

But his final lever action, the Model 1895, was arguably his most potent — and distinctive. Although it never reached the popularity level of the immensely successful Model 1894, it was used by many Southwestern lawmen such as Charles Askins and was also issued to the Arizona Rangers. The M95 reached a production level of around 425,000 units in both rifle and carbine configuration.

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The Model 95 was a real step up in lever-action performance. This .30-06 specimen features a 26" barrel.

The Best For Last

The M95, along with the Savage Model 99, constituted a new breed of what can best be described as “high performance” lever-actions, delivering long-range capability above and beyond previous leverguns.

It featured a 4-round internal box magazine, which neatly sidestepped the spitzer bullet prohibition of older tubular magazine models. The M95 was chambered in an array of smokeless chamberings, several with military credentials, including the .405 Winchester, .30-40 Krag, .303 British, 7.62x54R and .30-06. In this regard, the M95 had a bit of an edge power-wise over the M99 Savage’s earlier proprietary options of .300 Savage and .250-3000.

Interestingly, among overseas sales of the M95, Winchester made more than 290,000 in 7.62×54 for Russia during World War I featuring charger guides to enable reloading via Mosin-Nagant clips. Many of the Russian-contract models ended up in the U.S. when Czarist Russia opted out of the war in 1917.

During its initial 1895–1940 production run, the rifle could be had with barrel lengths from 24″ to 48″ while carbine versions featured a 22″ barrel. Our particular specimen — made in 1913 and borrowed from Winchester aficionado John Wightman — had been nicely refurbished and featured a side-mounted Lyman Model 21 aperture rear sight. It has a 26″ barrel and weighed a couple ounces north of 9 lbs.

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A long lever throw — at least in comparison to the M94 — is one of
the Model 95’s hallmarks. The Lyman Model 21 aperture helps
the rifle live up to its potential.

Ouchy

Craig Boddington — arguably an authority on recoil — said the following about the M95 in .405 Winchester in his 2005 article entitled “Bully for the .405.” The story paid tribute to what Theodore Roosevelt referred to as his “Big Medicine,” but also included a cautionary aside:

“The Winchester 1895 is a marvelous piece of machinery. But it’s not without drawbacks. It’s heavy, but, despite its weight, its slender, straight-grip stock with narrow butt and plenty of drop still makes it kick like a fiend.”

We can’t speak for the .405 version, but the .30-06 specimen we got to shoot was plenty energetic in terms of felt recoil, primarily due to the unforgiving steel crescent buttplate and aforementioned stock configuration.

Our initial “get acquainted” blasts were with some elderly surplus GI 150-grain stuff, which was reasonably tolerable in terms of recoil. We then tried some Winchester Supreme 180-grain ETip, which were more “attention-getting” and caused us to abandon any desire to dip into a box of Remington 220-grain Core-Lokt. However, the upside to the good old .30-06 is, of course, an extensive ammo menu.

One quick fix to the recoil situation is to employ Hornady’s Custom Lite 125-grain load which, at a toned-down velocity and bullet weight, is still considerably quicker than the 7.62×39 by a couple hundred fps.

Out of the 26″ barrel of our M95 it averaged a few feet over 2,650 in comparison to the 2,748 average we got from the full-pop 180-grain Winchester Supreme. If you’re a recoil-shy owner of an M95, this would seem to be a pretty good choice for deer at reasonable yardages.

But in all likelihood, relatively few owners of a vintage M95 or the later Miroku-made Browning/Winchester reissues are likely to use it as a day-in, day-out shooter.

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To reduce felt recoil from the steel crescent buttplate,
Payton used Hornady Custom Lite 125-grain loads to
provide a “kinder, gentler” option.

At 60 yards the Model 95 was capable of groups around an inch or so.

Not What You Think

The “shootability” aspect of the M95 is likely to be somewhat of a surprise to levergun shooters used to other platforms. It’s got a long throw, which can be a bit disconcerting if you’re used to a Model 94, let alone a pistol caliber Model 92. And the two-piece lever (which can be tailored for gloved hands) requires considerable straight-down pressure initially to open the action and cycle the beefy rear locking bolt.

To be honest, the Lyman 21 aperture was a bit on the smallish side and the blade front was quite thin — admittedly a “geezerly” visual complaint on my part but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The trigger pull on our test gun was a tad rough at 5 ½ lbs. We elected to do our shooting at 60 yards to see just what kind of results we could expect with the vintage Lyman. The best performer was the Hornady Custom Lite at just a hair over an inch for three shots, with the 180-grain ETips clustering slightly larger. The difference in recoil with the low-recoil stuff was definitely noticeable — and appreciated.

Like many other lever-action fans, I was initially entranced by the distinctive looks of the M95 and by the fact it was chambered for rounds exceeding the velocity potential of such tubular magazine standbys as the .30 WCF, .38-55 and .45-70.

Aesthetically, the Model 95 with its straight grip and Schnabel forend is a fairly graceful rifle, although some would give the nod to the Savage 99 with its streamlined hammerless receiver.

As the virtual godfather of high-performance leverguns, the Model 95 paved the way for Winchester’s later Model 88 and Browning’s BLR, not to mention the Sako Finnwolf and the recently introduced Henry Long Ranger.

Model 95s (both reissue and original) can be found today, although they’re pricey. Expect originals to start at around $1,200 to $1,500 and go on up to several grand for super-minty and/or deluxe specimens. Current Model 95s from Winchester range from $1,469.99 to $1,829.99 depending on grade and feature a tang safety, and — mercifully — a shotgun-style buttplate.

But old or new, the Model 95 is truly an American classic.

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