The Old ‘94

The reputation of my old Model ‘94 Winchester 30-30 lever action lives on.  Over the years in which I have used the old ’94 for deer hunting, it’s reputation as being a point and shoot rifle has been well established and this last season the old ’94 once again proved it has mystical powers of accuracy.  To clarify a bit, I have always maintained that if I point the rifle at a deer, when I pull the trigger the old ’94 will assure the bullet finds the deer.  A bit of history about the rifle goes a long way in verifying it’s reputation.

My first deer hunting experience happened many, many years ago when I was 13 years old.  Being the youngest of three boys in the family, I was always last at the age restricted activities and had seen both my brothers bring home a deer on their first hunt.  (To this date however, I have no idea if my brothers actually shot the deer or if our dad did and let my brothers claim the deer.)  I carried an old.410 break action single shot on my first hunt, with my dad right next to me in a ground stand.  Back then, the season was a four day, either sex season and the deer population was waning quickly.  In the four days of hunting, I can honestly say I didn’t miss a deer, but that’s only because I never saw a live deer.

My memory of this first hunt, although unsuccessful, will ever remain vivid and I knew immediately that I would be a life long hunter.  Over the winter and through the spring and summer following that first hunt, I saved my money to buy a rifle of my own.  Although the .410 I first used was used by my grandfather, father and two brothers to shoot deer, I knew I need my own rifle.  As the leaves began to fall from the trees and the weather started cooling, my dad took me and my life’s savings to the local hardware store to shop for my rifle.  My spirits were quickly dampened when I flipped the price tags on the rifles on display and realized I was many dollars short of becoming a new rifle owner.  However, the hardware store owner, known as one of the meanest persons in town, walked up to us and asked what he could do for us.  After explaining my desire to buy my own rifle, he asked how much money I had saved and I reluctantly told him seventy-five dollars.  I will never be able to be sure if the store owners’ deep thoughts and sincerity was in fact genuine, but he took us to the back room of the store and produced a used Winchester Model 94, 30-30 caliber and said I could buy that rifle with the money I had saved.  I walked out of the hardware store a proud owner of the most famous cowboy rifle in history.

The next season my brothers and I became part of a hunting group that stayed at a farm in the country.  On the second night of hunting, an older hunter who also hunted with a much newer 94 lever action offered to trade me for my old 94, “even up.”  I was young and naïve, but also somewhat suspicious as to why would anyone want to trade something much newer for something old.  Over the weekend, I learned about pre-’64 Winchesters and that my rifle was definitely one of the hand made rifles that carried a collectors value.  No trade ever occurred, but because of the decreased deer population,  no deer was harvested by me.

The following year deer hunting season was closed due to a low population in the deer herd and then Minnesota moved to the “bucks only” season and again I didn’t get a chance to shoot at anything.  Finally, five years after purchasing the old ’94, I took a large six point buck that walked directly under my tree stand during a late November sleet storm.  From that point forward, the old ’94 has proudly taken many more deer, but it’s history and performance has created special bragging rights.

As hunting improved in Minnesota as a result of the bucks only seasons, we began to see many more deer.  With many more deer, more shooting opportunities presented themselves and the reputation of the old ’94 as a point and shoot rifle became well established.  Some notable iron sight shooting included taking a buck with a 123 yard, through the woods shot, downing a wounded buck with a butt shot, dropping an eleven point buck with a front brisket shot, and many, many quick shots where numerous deer were hit high in the front quarter which dropped them on the spot and resulted in very minor damage to the meat.  I came to claim the old ’94 was a “one-shot, one deer” rifle.

With my eye sight beginning to wane, the ’94 was sadly replaced a few years ago with a Winchester Model 88, still a lever action, but a side eject chamber that allowed for a scope to be mounted on top.  The 88 has successfully taken deer for me, but I always have taken the ’94 with me for a back-up.  Truthfully, it just isn’t deer hunting without the old ’94 close by.

My hunting stories with the ’94 were well accepted with those who hunted with me in the past, but I quickly found when I changed hunting camps that the stories about the old ’94 were taken as hunting tales with the new group of hunters instead of fact.  This last year, all those doubts have vanished after I took the old ’94 with me on an afternoon of still hunting in the snow covered forest.

Snow, strong winds and below zero temperatures challenged the hunter in each of us during the antlerless hunt in Wisconsin during the second week of December. On the last day of the season, with the weather warming, I decided to still hunt a small parcel of woods and took the ’94 because it is easier to thread through brushy areas than any other rifle I own.  As I was heading out of camp, I jokingly stated that since I had the ’94, all I really needed was one bullet, which was countered by, “yeah, so prove it.”

The feel of the ’94 in my hands was reassuring as I quietly made my way through the woods, intent on spotting a deer.  Although the sun was shining brightly, the mature forest I was trekking through offered very little sun light through its canopy.  Surprisingly, there was very little deer sign through the freshly fallen snow, which concerned me.  After an hour plus of still hunting, I had made it about 1,000 feet and saw the bright sunlight in an area where logging had removed most of the mature trees.  I realized as a result of an earlier episode of hunting in the morning that the deer were going to be in the sunlight because of the warmth if was providing.

No sooner than this thought passed through my mind, the head of a deer popped up over the ridge I was approaching and I stopped in my tracks.  As the deer dropped its head to eat, I looked for a nearby tree so I could support my rifle, but there was nothing close by.  The deer brought its head up again and this time I sensed a bit of apprehension as its ears moved as if zoning in on a distant noise.  My chance to shoot was now or never, but I still could only see its head and a tiny portion of its neck.  Slowly I brought the ’94 to my shoulder and aimed for that little bit of neck as I slowly squeezed the trigger.   As the woods exploded with the repercussion of my shot, the deer disappeared from my sight and I was immediately discouraged.  Two or three steps toward the ridge however, revealed the deer had dropped on the spot and it was clear that the old ’94’s reputation would never again be challenged.  As it ended up, the one shot I took was a forty-three yard, free standing shot with iron sights that placed the bullet directly in the center of the neck.  I walked up to the deer, gave the old ’94 a kiss and thanked it.  The old ’94 is back on the top of the gun rack and has earned that position with me forever.

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