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January 24, 2006

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So long (at least partly) to the Big Red W

On January 17, Herstal of Belgium, who owns U.S. Repeating Arms, pulled the plug on its New Haven factory, thus ending 140 years of Winchester rifle and shotgun manufacture in this Connecticut city.  At its peak during World War II, Winchester had employed 19,000 workers in an immense series of depressing brick buildings. That number has since declined to 200 workers, all of whom will lose their jobs when the plant closes its doors on March 31.

While other Winchester rifles and shotguns will be produced elsewhere, this spells the end for the iconic Model 70 (the Rifleman’s Rifle), the legendary Model 94 (the classic lever-action deer gun), and the completely undistinguished Model 1300 shotgun. Sad? Yes, but nothing lasts forever. Just ask the 30,000 workers to whom Ford is about give the green weenie.

So, here are some points to ponder:

  • Winchester/New Haven started dying in 1964 when it brought out a complete new line of lousy guns, nearly all of which failed. Shooters never forgive and never forget, and the damage that this junk did to the name helped to drive it into the grave.
  • A few weeks ago, I shot a brand-new Model 70 that was the most inaccurate big-game rifle I’ve fired since I got into this business. It was a piece of junk. How much other junk did they send out the factory door?
  • There is a glut of guns on the market because the number of hunters is declining, and guns never wear out. In order to be competitive, gunmakers have to be either very good or very cheap, and Winchester was neither.
  • Savage came back from the dead because it was able to build very good rifles at competitive prices. That’s because its president knew something about guns and showed some leadership when it counted most. Other countries seem to be able to build very good factory guns that don’t cost a fortune. Look at any firearm built by the Japanese firm of Howa, or Finland’s Tikka, or Italy’s Benelli. The U.S. seems to be losing that ability, just as it can no longer make competitive automobiles.
  • The Model 70 is 70 years old. It was a great rifle, but there are better rifles now. The Model 94 is 112. It is an antique whose time has long, long past. Let the dead rest. The Model 1300 began as a lousy gun and improved into an undistinguished gun. Enough already. They had their day, and now they are done.

Comments

Jerry Adams

Amen, Brother

MIke Thompson

I have owned several Model 70's, still have a 1300, and bought a Marlin Guide Gun INSTEAD of a Winchester. While the 45-70 Trapper was pretty awesome, the Marlin was a much better quality gun, and it showed. My 1300 is a second hand one, and it shoots just fine. Not pretty, just shoots fine. My Mod.70 Heavy Varminter in 22-250 was THE most accurate factory rifle that I have EVER owned, and my Mod. 70 Featherweight 7 x 57 mm was a GREAT rifle, but all the others weren't. It is still a shame that our country is losing the Winchester part of our heritage. I hope SOMEONE buys it and brings it back.

Britton Haldeman

I own a Model 94 chambered in .30-.30. It was my grandads and thats why I love it. I enjoy shooting it and it's fairly accurate. I've never owned another Winchester and probably never will. It's sad that they let the product go to hell.

I enjoy reading your articles and rants.

Thanks

Randy Miller

I have never owned a Winchester. I think it is sad that they are killing an American Legend like that but, as they say with other things
"crap in crap out" I am happy with my Savage and my Browning rifle.

Stephanie

I know that it's good to get new guns out on the market, and there is sweet guns for a good price on the local shelves, but I can't seem to shake the idea of no more Winchester 94 or 70....

Bill Lester

What drivel. I can't speak for recent/current Model 70's (don't like turnbolt guns) or 1300's (I'm a Remington 870 guy from way back), but I can vouch for a whole bunch of levergunners who would agree with me that the 94 as presently manufactured is at least as good as any EVER to leave New Haven. Visit any web forum where leverguns are discussed and you'll find a shortage of complaints levied against the 94. Far fewer in fact than with another levergun manufacturer's products. And the Winchester is cheaper too for comparable guns. Recently introduced models such as the Legacy variants had waiting lists for delivery...believe me, I know firsthand.

No, USRAC's misfortunes have a lot more to do with poor marketing and labor relations than they do quality.

Charlie

Too bad the USA, can't do a better job on all manufacturing of goods. I bought a Model 23, way back in 1981, wanting to own an American double gun... unable to pick up a Remington 3200, I went for the Winchester.. since we already owned two model 12s, and a lever action 30.30 and .22 mag, I didn't hesitate to pick one up...Then I read the stamped print on the barrel...made in Japan... Nice gun, but I was not impressed with our USA firearm manufacturing. What the heck!

Ken Errickson

It's hard to believe that Winchester will be closing their doors. Being a Winchester fan from way back, I can only hope that a group will buy the company and bring back the classics. There will always be a market for Model 70's, 88's, 21's, 12's and on and on.

Bring back the quality, beauty, functionabily, reliability and build the guns that the shooters and hunters want, the market is there!

Somehow I do believe that my collection of 88's just trippled in value.

Carl Ferrarese, Sr.

Winchester, the death of an American Icon.A legend in it's own time. Sad. This is what can happen when the French purchase an American Gun co. Who's next??? Browning??? Also owned by the SAME FRENCH CO.

Rob Scroggins

I have a model 1400 shotgun that my father gave me, I will keep it because of thatbut it is nothing real spectacular. I pride myself on having never sold a gun that I have bought since I was twelve years old, but I did sell a model 94 when I was much younger because I couldn't hid a barn while standing inside. I believe the Marlin model 336 is a much better gun for the money. I will miss the Winchester company as part of Americana.

Ryan C.

I know winchesters arn't cheap or the fanciest guns around, but they worked. I am 15 and my first big game rifle I bought only a year ago is a Winchester Model 70 Feather in .270 WSM and am honored to say I own, and will forever own a Winchester. The news hit me as hard as just about anything can short of a human death. I love my gun, the company, and the legend.

WILL TERRY

Shucks this ain't nothing new !!! This is the third time winchester had gone tits-up. The first time it was bailed out by Western ammunition, the second time by USRAC, and we're gonna see it a third time I do believe.

Hobie

I'm with Ed. The M94 will be picked up if only by some sort of bean counters who will want to milk the nostalgia angle. Will it work? Depends on quality and cost and marketing.

I understand the M70 is being replaced by a FN variant. Not that I particularly care about bolt guns.

Hobie

Actually, that's Will I'm on board with... Of course, if I can't read, maybe you shouldn't believe me...

Collin Kelley

You are very right about being competitive. Too many people in this country have forgotten about the importance of quality in their pursuit of the almighty dollar. It catches up with you in the end as it has with Winchester. I just bought a Stevens 22-250 made by Savage. I spent not even half of what I would have spent on a Winchester, and the accuracy is still amazing.

Brian Haines

I own a 94 chambered for 307 and I have shot many a deer with it. Sure it's not the most accurate gun around but like many others, I enjoy the 'western' feel about it. Since I don't load my own ammo, I just hope that I can continue to purchase some. A sad day.

.45colt

I need to put on my boots.... What a shame for the AMERICAN RIFLEMAN. the 94 is far from dead, it survived for all these years because of it's great design. in spite of being strangled by the rebounding hammer/saftey. Too bad the owners of u.s.r.a.c. have been out to lunch for so long.what a load.

Ross Hudson

I didn't know that Winchester was owned by a French company. Probably because I don't own a Winchester Rifle at this time. But Winchester is an American icon and belongs to Americans. I hope someone from America buys it. As far as I'm concerned, the French deserve to lose it. Our heritage and craftsmanship doesn't belong to the French or any other country.

cole

I have owned a few winchesters in my 18 yrs and none of them has held up to Remington and even Savage. Winchester has had their run and now it's over. Thank God for their the companies who still remember quality and not quantity.

Mike Diehl

I've never fired a Winchester that could group well but then I've never fired one made before 1964. My Ruger 77 groups very well, and when I purchase another rifle it will be a Ruger or a Savage.

Jim L. Brown

I have shot a pre-64 Win.Mod.70 calibered in .270 for 43 years now. I have killed all kinds of game with it and have the confidence of knowing it always hits what I shot at and kills it dead! I have collected many rifles and the only ones that impress me as much as the Mod.70 are my Marlin 336SS Guide Gun calibered in .45/70 and my Rem Mod. 7KS in .7mm-08. The only other rifle I love that just plain 'feels good' is ALL of my Savage 99's in any caliber...
It's still too bad about Winchester's demise - I hear the earth shaking as John Wayne rolls over in his grave.
jim

Hunter

Ithaca is closed. The American made Winchester is history. We need to support the American firearm industry which produces firearms that protect us and allow us to hunt. The United Nation's plan for a disarmed public is our future if we don't prevent it at home.

George Steiner

I've just put an order in for a Model 70 Featherweight in 6.5x55 (Thanks David)because Ruger stopped making them.

We'll see how it shoots.

John James

I own a few Winchesters. Those made in Japan an 1886 and an 1892 have excellent fit and finish. Those made in New Haven a 94-22 and 94 Legacy in 38-55 have inferior fit and finish. The 9422 had to be sent back out of the box for repairs. Now one could argue the Mirukos are more expensive and that is why they are better made but that is not the the case, my Legacy cost about the same or more than the 1892. I personally shyed away from American made Winchesters not because of price but because of quality. IMHO American made Marlins are much better quality than American made Winchesters. It has got to be tough when the rifles you made a 100 plus years ago command much higher prices than those you sell in the present. Perhaps some 94s will come out of the Japanese factory. Maybe I will pick one of those up.

Mark Spisak

This is sad news. I guess us Winchester fans are few. But I own several model 94's, 2 bolt guns and 2 shotguns. They have never let me down in the field and besides a sight repair no other work on them has been needed in years. My 2 bolt guns will shoot as good as anything else anyone has dragged to the range and always hit what I aimed at. Maybe I was too much of a traditionalist but I didn't alway need the newest and fanciest. Besides it is just a shame to see the grand old name pass on.




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