The dream rifle . . . and suddenly, there it was.
Anyone who has spent much time with me has heard about a rifle I was going to have some day. It’s a rifle I’ve had in mind for many years, but it is not available commercially, and the base rifle to build it from is on the expensive side.
I have always loved Winchester lever actions. When I was a small child, my father’s Winchester Model 71 kept us in fresh meat (there were no stores or any way to ship perishables into our village). Friends’ fathers had Winchester 1895s, and no one I knew who had one was ever in a hurry to get rid of it. My dad almost bought an 1895 in .303 for me when I was nine, but it was in rough shape and I chose a beautiful little Model 70 featherweight carbine in .243 instead.
Later, when I did get an 1895 Winchester, I learned why no one ever wanted to part withone. While I would gladly own any ’95 Winchester in any of the factory calibers, my heart was set on a union between John Browning’s sleek rifle and Col. Townsend Whelen’s creation.
The .35 Whelen is one of those cartridges that just seems right. It seems sepecially right for the ’95 Winchester, which has never been factory-chambered in that caliber. This means that a .35 Whelen 1895 Winchester is a re-barrel or rebore proposition.
So my plan was to get a .30-06 1895 rifle and rebarrel it to .35 Whelen. To do this I had three options for the base rifle; and original 1895 (pre-1940s) in .30-06 or .30-03, a 1980s Browning re-run in .30-06, or a current Winchester re-run in .30-06 or .270 Win. I quickly ruled out the idea of using an original rifle. The steels used in the early 1900s were not as strong as the steels used today, and many of those old .30-06 rifles have fired a lot of rounds, possibly heavy loads, for many, many years. Above all else, though, I do not like the idea of messing with a piece of history. My preference was to try to avoid the current Winchester production as well. I have a current Winchester 1895 saddle ring carbine in .30-40 Krag; a beautifully built rifle that shoots like a dream, but the tang safety and rebounding hammer are an annoyance to me. That left me looking for one of the 6,000 standard-grade .30-06 rifles built under the Browning name in the 1980s.
Occasionally I would check the auction sites and local gun stores for an affordable rifle, and sometimes I would see one for a really good price – just when I couldn’t afford it. Over the years I have watched the price of those Browning 1895s steadily increase. I kept checking, planning to snag one eventually, shoot it in .30-06 until I could afford a barrel, then shoot it in .30-06 until I could afford to have the barrel installed.
So a couple weeks ago, I was sort of skimming over the auction sights again, without really any money to spend, and suddenly, there it was. On Gunbroker was a nice looking Browning 1895 – already chambered in .35 Whelen!
Of course, I could not afford it.
There it was sitting at $675 for days on end and I could not afford it.
My wife, however, was insistent, so when the auction ended at just over $800, she was on the phone with the seller, debit card in hand.
The rifle arrived last Friday and I was surprised by it’s condition. My initial assumption was that the the description was slightly inflated, but the photos were deceptive and the rifle was basically like new; better than described. The original barrel has been rebored and re-crowned and the original caliber marking has been neatly removed and replaced with a very clean, professional “.35 Whelen” marking. The bore is a mirror. There is no sign that the rifle has been fired since the re-bore, so at the most it has only had a few shots through it and a thorough cleaning of the action and bore. The first five or six times I cycled the action put more wear on the lever and mag body where the lever rides than was on the rifle when I took it out of the box. Finish on the stock is beautiful.
From looking at the rifling, my guess is that it will shoot great. If not, I still paid less than I am seeing .30-06 rifles go for, so I am no further behind if I have to rebarrel it. I expect this one will shoot fine.
The Browning rifle is built the same way as the originals (but not to exact dimensions), so the action and trigger are noticeably nicer than the current Winchester rifles with their rebounding hammers and extra parts. It has the current style forend, which I do not like, so I will probably do some reshaping eventually to mimic the originals. I considered replacement wood of a fancier grade, but this is a rifle that will be used extensively, so it might be a waste. The buttplate is a thin, flat, slick-faced, sharp-cornered little beast that seems to be eyeing my shoulder maliciously. Bony guy that I am, I should install a recoil pad. I have a checkered shotgun-style buttplate that I ordered as a Model 71 buttplate, but it turned out to be too narrow. It is the right size for the 1895. The purist in me leans toward the steel buttplate, but my practical side is pushing for a buttpad. Tough decisions.
The rear sight dovetail has a filler blank in it, and there is a Williams receiver sight mounted. It looks way too modern. The sight is in new condition and has no marks on it, so I will pull it off and sell it to partially fund a Lyman type 21 style sight. The originals are quite expensive and better suited for an original rifle, so I will go with the Providence Tool Company reproduction. I have one on my 1886 Winchester and it is a great sight.
One of the local shops had one box of Remington .35 Whelen ammo on their otherwise empty shelves, so I will be taking it out to see how it shoots while I wait for some better ammo to get here.
I’ll let you know how it shoots.