Somewhere about 20 years ago, I
realized a fatherly shadow was ever present smiling down upon
his many offsprings. That shadow over the Model 70ís, of course,
being the Model 54 Winchester-Winchesterís first successful bolt
action centerfire rifle.
One book and a few magazine articles
have covered the history of the Model 54 in considerable depth.
I will only present the highlights of this background here.
The Model 54 Winchester, after three
years of designing, was made available to the public in 1925
with production taking place for only eleven years, 1936 being
the last. During this short span, approximately 50,000 rifles
were manufactured in ten catalogued calipers. Various references
somewhat disagree on actual production figures, one indicating
as many as 52,000 rifles were produced. Obviously, the
depression our country suffered during this period certainly
held new gun sales down considerable. According to some
references, a few rifles were assembled with left over parts up
until the advent of World War II.
The eleven year production span
brought forth the birth of several new calibers and created
chambering for some others that were previously not available in
American made rifles. The Model 54 Winchester was catalogued in
ten calibers: .22 Hornet, .220 Swift, .250 Savage, .257 Roberts,
.270 Winchester, .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and
three metric calibers 7X57 MM, 7.65X53 MM, and 9X57 MM. The two
chamberings that first made their appearance in the Model 54
Winchester are the .220 Swift and .270 Winchester. I have always
found quite interesting and a bit puzzling why Winchester
decided to bring forth the .257 Roberts and .220 Swift during
the last year of Model 54 production with the great Model 70
already on the drawing boards and soon to follow.
Chamberings other than the ten listed
were available on special order. These include .25-35
Winchester, .32 Winchester Special, .35 Whelen, and possibly a
few others. During the hard times in the late 1920ís and early
1930ís, buyers of rifles were not prone to paying for special
order items. Consequently, very few Model 54ís were produced in
other than the ten listed chamberings.
Among the Model 54ís in my own modest
collection, I feel very fortunate to own one of the special
order rifles in .25-35 Winchester. This rifle was purchased new
by a man in Sacramento, California where a blacktail buck fell
to one of its bullets. The second owner lived in Oregon and took
a nice mule deer with it. After leaving itís owner in Oregon, a
dealer in New York obtained it. I purchased it from him; and,
yes, I have taken a whitetail deer with this unusual rifle. This
special order chambering was relatively easy for Winchester to
provide since there were a fair number of .30-30 rifles
produced. The .25-35 Winchester being simply a necked down
version of the .30-30 case, functioning was not a problem.
Looking back over the list of
calibers available in the Model 54 Winchester, isnít it quite
remarkable that eight of the ten calibers remain in production
today in various rifles? A large number of new cartridges have
made their appearance since 1936 and a fair number of those have
already vanished from production lines.
Produced prior to popularity of telescope sights, the Model 54
Winchester was not factory drilled in the rear receiver bridge.
The bolt lift was too high and the safety would also interfere
if low scope mounting was attempted. Scope mounts providing high
mounting were available from Herters and Stith utilizing the
factory drilled and tapped holes on the front receiver ring and
left side rear of receiver. The primary purpose of the left rear
holes being the mounting of a receiver peep sight. Another
method of mounting a scope on a Model 54 was to utilize the
dovetail notch for a target scope block after removing the rear
sight. A second target scope block was then installed on the
front receiver ring. Photograph illustrates this method.
Wishing to use my Model 54 Winchester
for deer hunting, I devised my own method of mounting a
conventional scope without altering the rifle which would result
in lowering its value. An inexpensive receiver sight was used on
which a scope base was attached after removing the aperture
slide. A scope base was attached to the factory holes in the
front receiver ring. A high see-through mount was then installed
to provide clearance for bolt lift and safety operation.
Although the stability of such an arrangement may be questioned,
I experienced no problem keeping groups under 2Ē at 100 yards,
plenty good enough for in the woods deer hunting.
Perhaps there is a strange mystique
about deer hunting with a Model 54 Winchester. A whitetail doe
with antlers was taken with my Model 54 standard grade in .30-30
caliber. A part-albino buck fell to my Model 54 .270 carbine.
Another whitetail buck (8-pointer eastern count) with a split
left ear fell to a Model 54 in my collection.
Anyone who wishes to instill a little
more challenge in their deer hunting by utilizing open or peep
sight would do well to look into using a Model 54 Winchester.
They would find the feel of these fine rifles to be very
appealing. I thoroughly enjoy hunting with my Model 54ís and
feel honored to be carrying Winchesterís first successful bolt
My eyes do not permit the use of open
or aperture sights any longer. That is why I developed the
previously mentioned method of scope installation.
Of all the ten calibers, I have found
the 9X57 MM to be the finest, in the woods deer medicine. Quick
humane kills without the messy vessel rupturing effect that is
evident with higher velocity calibers are normally the case.
A very interesting note concerning
the 9X57 MM comes to mind. This caliber requires bullets of .356
diameter, not .358 as does most other 35 caliber rifles. When I
decided to develop a load for my 9X57 MM, bullets were obtained
from a custom bullet maker. None of the major
bullet-manufacturing firms could provide them. The 200 grain
semi-spitzers ahead of 49 grains of 3031 developed a
chronographed velocity at approximately 15 feet averaging 2,486
F.P.S. This equals velocity attainable in the .358 Winchester, a
proven superb deer hunting cartridge itself.
Another of the cartridges for the
Model 54 Winchester I would desire to comment upon in regard to
handloading is the 7.65X53 MM. My very first case when run
through the resizing die resulted in a broken decapping pin.
This is where I discovered that most of the 7.65 MM ammo out
there is berdan primed. If you intend to reload your brass, make
sure boxer primed cases are what you purchase.
I did find the 7.65 MM a very easy
cartridge to load for, after obtaining the proper cases. No
problems came forth in reaching a good accurate bullet-power
combination. Speaking of bullets, here again, the handloader
must be aware of the bore diameter. This is not a .30 caliber!
Bullets of .311 or .312 diameter must be utilized if any
semblance of accuracy is to be obtained. I found a 150 grain
Sierra .311 diameter bullet ahead of 49 grains IMR 4350 to work
to my satisfaction.
The Model 54 Winchester was presented
in several configurations, most of which were carried over into
the Model 70ís. Styles included: Standard Grade, Carbine, Super
Grade, Target Model, and a few others of very limited
The standard grade rifle is of course
the most common. It was initially supplied with a schnable fore
end stock with ďEyeĒ swivel bases and well-executed finish with
checkering. About midway through the manufacturing period, the
stock was changed to what is termed ďNRA StyleĒ, with a fuller
forearm and different overall shape with checkering and swivels
similar to the later Model 70. Barrel length was 24Ē except for
the late arriving .220 Swift which sported a 26Ē tube.
The carbine version was very unique
with its 20Ē barrel and uncheckered, finger groove forearm stock
and no sling-swivel provisions. Carbines were fairly common in
.30-06, .270, and .30-30 calibers. I feel very fortunate to own
a carbine in .250 savage caliber, the only one I have ever seen.
Super grades are quite scarce in
Model 54 Winchesters, there again too expensive for the time
period. My own super grade in .257 Roberts Caliber is very rare
and prized possession. Other than a much slimmer profile, it is
very similar to Model 70 Super Grades.
Other versions of the Model 54
include the heavier barreled and stocked target or snipers
rifles, both of which were quite limited in numbers and seldom
Stainless steel barrels were an
option at extra cost. These stainless barrels were provided with
a strange black finish that resembles a high quality paint,
being entirely different than the finish presented on the later
Model 70 stainless barrels.
Various other special order options
were available and were listed in early catalogs. One of the
most unusual of these was the omission of the rear sight notch
on the barrel boss. Why anyone would pay extra for this feature
escapes me! Even if the buyer intended to use only a receiver
sight, one would think he would desire to retain the choice of
open rear sight or receiver sight, especially since it cost more
to omit it! The photo of my 7.65X53 MM illustrates this feature.
Even though the majority of readers
will not be gun collectors, I desire to touch upon the
collecting appeal presented by these fine rifles. As previously
mentioned, there are only 50,000 or so Model 54ís out there.
After many discussions with other Winchester collectors, the
general consensus seems to be that no more than 15,000 exist
without some form of alteration performed on them. Many Model
54ís have been altered for scope use over the years. Many others
suffered stock shortening for various types of recoil pads. Some
were disassembled and the actions used for custom rifles.
Rarity of certain calibers bring high
tickets, the 7.65 MM and 9X57 MM at the top of the list. These
two calibers are very rarely seen today, most of which are
cherished in collections.
It would seem very strange indeed that most Winchester
collectors do not hold the Model 54ís in as high regard as the
Model 70ís. Production figures on the Pre-64 Model 70 Winchester
are nearly 600,000 compared to the 50,000 Model 54ís. Why arenít
the Model 54ís much more valuable and sought after than the
Model 70ís for this reason alone? You tell me!
The Model 54ís I have used over the
last 20 have all exhibited very fine accuracy. These rifles were
essentially all built by hand by craftsmen at Winchester who
took pride in their work. Close attention was obviously given to
fitting of parts, stock inletting, and all the other little
things that were important pertaining to accuracy and
appearance. One needs not be a collector to appreciate these
Hunting with one of these fine old
Model 54 Winchesters is an experience I am ever thankful I did
not miss out on during my life. Just simply carrying one of
these great rifles into the woods will stir ones memory and
allow us to remember good hunts from the past.
Many thanks to Wayne Miller for being
our featured displayer for the September 2003 meeting. Consider
being our featured member displayer for January or May 2004.