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Massad Ayoob on Guns

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Massad Ayoob


Thursday, January 7th, 2010

My Christmas gift to myself was a carbine I’d always wanted: a lever action Winchester complete with saddle ring. It was the iconic gun of the Western movies. If it was good enough for John Wayne, it was good enough for me.

As a child of the East, not the West, I wasn’t much of a horseman.  The closest I ever came to having one of my own was when I owned a Ford Bronco.  It took a good part of my life to figure out exactly how that damn saddle ring interfaced with the saddle: you never saw THAT in the cowboy movies.

Another New Englander, one C. L. Innis of Westminster, Massachusetts explained it in the July, 1964 issue of Guns magazine, a publication I would later proudly serve as handgun editor. Mr. Innis wrote, “I’m not trying to start a controversy but in my younger days I homesteaded for nine years in Campbell County, Wyoming. My Model ’94 Winchester .25-35 carbine was equipped with a saddle ring as were most of the lever action carbines of strictly civilian calibers that my neighbors had. The popular method of slinging a rifle to the saddle was to run one of the saddle strings (by the horn, either side) through the ring and secure with a single bow knot for quick release.”

My example also an old working gun, and also a Winchester Model of 1894, but in the more common .30-30 chambering. The serial number dates it to the year 1926. This short-barreled rifle’s gray patina indicates that it spent much if not all of its 84 years on this Earth in the woods or on a farm, and so do the many dings on its time-darkened walnut stock and fore-end. It still has the old-style steel crescent butt plate, which can make the mild recoil of the .30-30 actually hurt. Yet its bore is bright and smooth, and its well-worn action works like glass.  I took it to my hundred-yard range, and from my solid Caldwell bench rest table it still kept all its shots in a group the size of a deer’s heart with both 170 grain and 150 grain hunting loads. It had been sighted for the latter, and I left it that way. For the relatively small deer around where I live, a good 150 grain softnose at sedate .30-30 velocity will do just fine.

It’s a piece of history. Every time I handle it, I’ll wonder how many meals it brought from the woods to family tables, for generation after generation.  I hope I can function as well as it, if I ever attain its age.

Got some old classics with stories they could tell, if only they could speak? Share them here in the comments section!

The Saddle Ring sits amidst 84 years of honest wear and tear.

Old rifle plus modern ammunition equals performance that’s more than “good enuf.”

Honest scars and cracks…and a crescent butt plate that does NOT reduce recoil!

Two of millions of Winchester ’94 .30-30s. At left, the saddle ring gun from 1926, and at right, a superb specimen from circa 1955 production.

40 Responses to “BLAST FROM THE PAST”

  1. Roland Murphy Says:

    When my father passed away, I was willed the bolt action single shot .22 Remington he had bought in 1935 at age 12. He paid $6 for it and always liked to joke he preferred the days when guns cost a buck a pound.

    It’s the rifle he taught me shooting and firearms safety on. Dad was away four days a week for work when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, and we both loved those rare summer days when we’d go out to a friend’s farm, fish for bluegills in the stream and plink coffee cans with a couple hundred rounds out of the Remington.

    Those were the days we could and would talk about anything and were an integral part of the old man’s fulfillment of Col. Cooper’s mission on parenting. While it may not be a weapon that won the West, every time I see or handle that old rifle I’m grateful for the way it helped Pop teach me to ride, shoot straight and tell the truth. In terms of cultural history it has next to no value. In terms of my personal history, it’s one of my most treasured icons.

  2. Stretch Says:

    There’s a beautiful old ’94 in .30-30 on the consignment rack at local gun store. On the right sideplate is a plaque with 3 initials. Clearly a well used and honored weapon.
    Why is it on the consignment rack? Hard times for the family? No heirs to pass it to? It’s just an inanimate mass of tooled steel and walnut yet I feel sad to know it’s no longer “home.”

  3. Pete Sheppard Says:

    Not quite the same as a family heirloom, but I have that sense with the milsurp rifles I own. My M1 was a RoK re-import, and the carbine came back from Austria. I also wonder about the SA M1903; it’s s/n indicates it could have been used in WWI.

    The item that really seems to try to whisper secrets to me is my used Ka-Bar. It is a well-used USMC blade. Every time I draw it from its scabbard, I can feel grains of sand. I can’t help but wonder if they came from somewhere near a quaint little sea-side town called Da Nang…

  4. Pete Sheppard Says:

    Didn’t the cavalry have a hook or snap on their saddles for attaching their carbines?

  5. og Says:

    I don’t think you can so much own a weapon like that, as you become the caretaker of it, for a while.

    A hunter who carries such a rifle, keeps it well maintained, uses it to feed his family, and then passes it on to the next caretaker- that, to me, is one of the High Callings of a rifleman. Very nice, boss.

  6. Keith Jurey Says:

    A very nice gun showing loving care during all its years, the screw heads are really great for a rifle of this age and use.

  7. Matt Says:

    Look for the out-of-production about 4-5 years 336Y youth model ideally proportioned for women. Some full-size guys prefer it to the full-size 336 too.

  8. Shane Morris Says:

    At supper tonight with a dear family friend, he suggested it might be time to trade his old J-Frame snub he bought as a teenager (he’s now in his early 70s) for some newer iron.

    I gently suggested to him that the old .38 was priceless. It was carried for decades before any government entity “granted” concealed carry and it is completely unmolested, save honest wear on the bluing and walnut stocks.

    After I offered my thoughts, he confided he thought I was right. I’m only forty, but I’ve foolishly let several old guns slip away to fund pieces I just “had to have,” which have subsequently gone away themselves. The Colonel was right…its o.k. to give away cherished guns, but never to sell them. Its much too like selling human beings.

    p.s. The money I spent in 1999 to take LFI I in Winimac, IN is still the best money I’ve ever spent on the well being of my loved ones.

  9. Thomas Murphy Says:

    Great present Mas. I have a lever gun on my list too though I don’t know if it has to have a ring but I do have a scabard ready for it (and of course a horse and saddle). Jim Scoutten showed a great Model 97 pump that he had restored. I say well done.


  10. Richard Francher Says:

    This was my wife’s Great Grandpa, wish we knew what the tags ment??
    If I remember…it was made in 1915 or 1916.
    Any guesses on what the tag mean??????

  11. Jack Zeller Says:

    Mas, I have always loved those guns but never owned one..when I was eight I excitedly told my neighbor who was 80 years old that i was saving up for a 30-30. He asked why and I boldly told him “it’s killed more deer than all the other guns combined” This old timer looked down at me critically and replied “yup, and wounded more too”. I asked him what he hunted with and he said ‘Ought-6. So thats what I saved for and used ever since! Good post!

  12. Mas Says:

    Richard, just a wild guess, but each “brass tack” might be the “point count,” the number of tines on the rack of each given buck taken with the rifle.

  13. William Says:

    Nice post, Mas. I own a WWII M-1 Carbine that I’ve had since the late 80’s. After getting it a much needed trigger job, it became a favorite plinker even more so than my 10/22. But my vote for old and historical is my S & W Combat Magnum (Model 19) .357 Magnum. Pinned barrel, recessed chambers, Serial number 50KXXXX (any ideas on year of manufacture, anybody?) blued steel, lots of honest holster wear on the end of barrel and the cylinder. When I hold it, sometimes I wonder if Bill Jordan carried this one.

  14. william c Says:

    Very nice Mas, I have one in my collection, not quite that old.Yours is certainly more of a collectble than mine, none the less, as firearms enthusiest, we should all have at least one in our collection. Mine is in .45 long colt and qualifies for Cowboy action shooting competition. Best to you all and happy New Year.

  15. rob Says:

    My father gave me & my brother Winchester model 94’s 30-30’s for Christmas is 1985, w/brass plates on the stock stating such. I just had my local gunsmith put ghost ring sights on mine last year. Even though our Winchesters are post 64, i sure wouldn’t take anything for them, way too much Love & history! God bless America!!!

  16. Mas Says:

    Great responses, gang.

    Don’t stop now!

    William, I’m working just from memory here, but my clouded old guy recollection tells me that Bill Jordan owned (of several of the Combat Magnums he conceptualized) Serial Number 600,00l. I believe it was the first of the serial number “run” for that model in the mid-1950s, and the folks at S&W for that reason always said, “Bill got Serial Number One.”

    To date yours, check a copy of The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson by Nahas and Supica. They often have them on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or Borders.


  17. Pete Says:

    Neat article. I collect the old S&W top break revolvers, and I really wish they could talk. However, my favorite “old gun” is an M-1 Garand. Bought it from DCM back in the day when they were $125, and have certainly gotten several thousand bucks worth of good shooting from it. American soldiers equipped with this rifle in WWII and Korea had the finest infantry weapon in the world. Accurate, reliable, rugged, easy to field strip, highly effective cartridge, and 8 aimed shots in a short time (2″ group at 100 yards). I have used this at military-type shoots (timed events with pop-up targets) and would not consider myself poorly armed against any modern “black rifle” out there. Fine old weapon – 65 years old and still works as well as it did on the day it was built.

  18. EN Says:

    My first long gun was a Savage 99 in .308. It was a great rifle, but well used before me, and it never got much use as my interest turned to other guns. Many years later my sons got pre lawyer Marlin 336s in good ole’ 30-30 on their 13 Birthdays. The Winchester Levers may be classics but cleaning and maintaining (not to mention a preference for side ejection) Marlins is much easier in my opinion, although both my boys were disappointed at the time. They would have preferred much more expensive bolt guns, or Winchester levers, but that was my choice for their first gun and since I was buying…

    Today they both love their Marlins. My oldest can’t get enough Marlin lever actions and my last gun purchase was an 1894. I wanted it in .45 Long Colt, but all they make now is .44. This old design has given me so much confidence that each night it sits beside my bed loaded with 8 rds of .44 special and ten more of leverrevolution on the stock. These days (and maybe in those days) I’m not the greatest marksman in the world (old eyes and shaky hands) but armed with that 94 I can hit within four inches offhand at 75 yds with the right ammunition. Many don’t care too much for the 94’s square bolt, but it’s served me well and is now the gun I trust the most. Funny how a man can have a gun case full of polymer, plastic, SS, custom this and that, but find his true love is a $300 elderly design that’s largely ignored by even the most ardent lovers of levers.

  19. Firehand Says:

    I think Cavalry used a baldric with a snap at the bottom; it looped over one shoulder & around the body, and you snapped it to the ring; that way if you needed both hands you could drop the carbine and not lose it.

  20. David D. Says:

    Your saddle ring’s a beauty alright, and I share your affinity for the lever guns! I believe your particular 94 sports a “carbine style butt plate”, and if I’m not mistaken it was one of the three styles Winchester regularly offered on the Model 94’s. A second style was the even more severe steel crescent of their “rifle” models and the third was their “shotgun style”. Of the three styles the rifle model was the worst offender in the recoil department biting severely into one’s shoulder with every shot. The carbine model was somewhat milder in comparison with it’s moderate and less severe crescent. And finally the shotgun style with it’s overly long, wide, and flat plate was the mildest recoiling of all. My understanding was that the standard models came supplied with the butt plates of their respective namesakes, but could be special order requested on any model if so desired. I’ve been fascinated over the years as I learned of all the variants of the Winchester lever guns, (and I’m certain I’ve still much to learn).

    I’ve gifted a number of lever guns to my brothers over the years, both Winchesters and others, but have managed to currently have three Winchesters still in the safe. A Trapper model chambered in .44 Magnum equipped with XS’s ghost ring receiver sight. A standard 20″ .30-30, Model 94 carbine equipped with a 1×4 Circled Dot reticle scope, (acknowledgement to my fading eyesight). And finally a 24″ Rifled Musket model with an adjustable folding ladder rear sight and gold bead front with a carbine butt plate instead of the rifle styled full crescent. I no longer shoot this open sighted 94 as well as I use to but can not bring myself to change out the beautiful ladder sight, instead now choosing to limit myself to my “new” somewhat shortened effective range.

    These three Winchesters will go no where else during my lifetime, they are home!

  21. EC Whitey Reese Says:

    While still in the military, 1951, and just married, I headed to town with our first subsistance check in hand. The idea was a few groceries, but danged iffn I didn’t return home with a brand spankin’ new Winchester 94 30-30. Still fire it on the range occasionally, and yes, it still fires much better than I can fire it !! I also picked up a new Winchester 94A model recently, just two months before Winchester announced the 94 would no longer be manufactured. But the first one is my favorite.

    I recently added a M1 Garand to stand beside my M1 Carbine. I fire the Garand most every week, and each time it brings back cherished memories of survival, usually with a hidden tear. The Garand and Winchester 94, two great rifles that in my opine will never be matched again !!

  22. Tom Young Says:

    I have a few milsurps that I wonder about sometime, what it might have felt like to fire at someone, not in anger, but because you were told to do it.

    Have three guns that were passed down from my grandfather as well. Sometimes I look and hod them and think of him. I was only 7-8 when he died and have few memories.

    Enjoy your ‘old’ gun.

  23. Bob Says:

    Great Post, brought out a flood of memories. My Mom purchased a Mod 94 in the even less popular caliber of .32 Win Spec for my Dad when I was an infant, back in the early 50’s. That gun has had probably well UNDER 200 rounds down the bore and it looks like it. 20 years ago Dad gave me that rifle and now it is time to get it out and add some more trigger time to the glorious old timer. My wife is even looking forward to shooting the “Cowboy gun”. Thanks Mas

  24. Armed Geek Says:

    I have a couple I would never part with. Several years ago now I came across a Browning .22 auto “top-loader” – the shells are placed in the magazine through the top of the wrist of the stock instead of through the side of the butt. On the barrel it is stamped “.22 LONG RIFLE SMOKELESS ONLY”.

    Since it was made long before high velocity .22 ammo, I stick with standard-velocity – Remington sub-sonic hollow points will cut a very tight cloverleaf at 25 yards.

    Another is a 1970 vintage Ruger .45 Convertible that I bought from my mentor in shooting and reloading. The bluing is worn around the edges of the .45ACP cylinder, and the left side of the barrel is shiny from many thousands of miles riding in a holster aboard tractors, trucks, and ATV’s around my family’s farm.

    The third and final is a gun I bought from a dear friend after he sold his gunshop and retired to be near his grandkids. It is a customized M14-3 S&W that has had the barrel re-lined and been fitted with a M17 .22 cylinder re-chambered for .32-20. He had this done many years ago when you could still get the parts for the conversion. It has the smoothest action and lightest SA pull I have EVER seen on a S&W.

  25. Bill Says:

    My wife inherited her father’s Smith and Wesson Model 3 break top DA revolver in .38 S&W cal a couple of years ago. She learned afterward that it had been given to him by his father, who kept it in his nightstand. I’ve fired it a few times and it will stay with us until her son decides he wants it. It’s not a given that he’ll get it any time soon, he has two teenage sons and no one in the household has any handgun safety training.

  26. Matt Says:

    “A Trapper model chambered in .44 Magnum equipped with XS’s ghost ring receiver sight.”

    XS ghost-ring sights are a real improvement on lever-action rifles!

  27. Scott Says:

    I’m the proud owner of a Remington Rolling Block No. 1 built for the Argentinian Army in 11mm Spanish, an odd .43 calibre rimmed cartridge that all but duplicates .45-70. It was given to me by a dear friend who, unfortunately, shed his mortal coil a couple years ago, but the rifle itself is an interesting piece. It’s in pretty good shape, considering its age, probaly 80% to 85% finish, with a stock containing only minor dings, with one exception. On the port side of the lower forward stock are three large and very deliberate “hashmarks.” Although I don’t know the history of this piece, from the research I’ve done, the Argentinians used many Remington No. 1s to deal with their “native problem,” each “solution” being referred to as a native being “Remingtonized.” So, who knows, this rifle may have been involved in such action.

  28. Nick Says:

    I’ve got a 1954 Model 94, the 32 Special variety…considered to be appropriate for black bear as well….it kicks like a mule but is light and easy to handle in the woods. I like this gun quite a bit for dense woods.

  29. RNH Says:

    My father gave me his 1954 dated Model 94 in pretty beat up shape. I sent it to Ashley Emerson, who re finished the wood, installed ghost ring sights and a scout mount. It now hangs over my desk with a full butt cuff of Hornady Leverevolution 160 grainers at the ready. I believe the Winchester 30-30 is the American AK. Always ready, simple and reliable, with a great all around cartridge in a handy package. Every house should have at least one!

  30. Ken W Says:

    I treasure the Savage Model 1895 chambered in 22 Hi Power that was my maternal grandfather’s saddle gun, with the worn spot on the side of the stock from rubbing on the side of the horse for years.
    Lever guns are great for stand up and saddle shooting.

  31. SteveP Says:

    In 1975 my father gave me a ’94 in .30-30 and I used it to kill many deer. It wore a Leupold 4x EER scope mounted on the barrel in a Leupold mount.
    When my son was 4 times were tough and I had to sell it and a couple of other guns so he could have Christmas. I’ve always regretted having to do that and wanted to replace it.
    I hate the angle ejects and looked for a long time for a top eject in good shape. I finally found one and installed a Williams receiver sight on it.
    It and my Garand are my favorite rifles.
    When I go hunting I take the ’94 and a nice custom R700 30-06. I use the ’94 if I’m going to be in a place where the shots will be under 150 yards, the ’06 for longer shots. I’ve killed several deer with the ’94 but still haven’t killed one with the ’06.

  32. Arky Les Says:

    In the late ’60s or maybe early ’70s I was visiting family in central Mexico. I was on the road between Guanajuato and Silao and the Mexican cavalry was on maneuvers. Out of nowhere on my left was a single mounted cavalryman momentarily stopped deciding where he would go next. His rifle [an M1 carbine] was slung around his neck and right shoulder by a single loop-sling with a spring clip to the saddle ring. I think I’ve seen Fredric Remington paintings of US Cavalry with a similar slinging method.

    I’ve seen Mexican cavalrymen guarding public buildings with BARs slung in a similar manner. [No, I don’t think I would want to go horseback with a BAR tied around my neck.] So that is how I’ve seen saddle rings used.

  33. john Says:

    I suppose my favorite “old gun” is a pre-war S&W .357 Magnum with a then non-standard 4″ barrel and King sights. As many readers doubtless know, pre-war .357s could be ordered with any barrel length and commercially available sights.

    This old gun shows a great deal of holster wear but almost no mechanical or forcing cone wear at all. Must have been shot mainly with .38 Spl. wadcutters but carried daily for many years, most likely by a PA state trooper or other law enforcement officer.

    Its pre-war S&W “long-action” DA trigger make it the fastest and slickest operating of all the many S&W revolvers I’ve owned. It’s also the most accurate center-fire revolver I’ve ever owned, with the sole exception of a phenomenally accurate very early Ruger three-screw Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum.

    I’d like to think it has a tale or two to tell, but probably not, just being a much-carried old pre-war Smith that I’d never sell or trade.

  34. Stan Says:

    Cleaning from the muzzle end, the only practical way I know of, CAN damage the crown, anyone know of a good way of cleaning barrel safely WITHOUT having to do a take apart of the rifle which is best left to a gunsmith or somebody with lots of good tools.

  35. Matt Says:

    “My father gave me his 1954 dated Model 94 in pretty beat up shape. I sent it to Ashley Emerson, who re finished the wood, installed ghost ring sights and a scout mount. It now hangs over my desk with a full butt cuff of Hornady Leverevolution 160 grainers at the ready. I believe the Winchester 30-30 is the American AK. Always ready, simple and reliable, with a great all around cartridge in a handy package. Every house should have at least one!”

    Consider the Marlin 336 – or its variants, particularly the 336Y – for that role instead. More rugged – and much easier to scope or put ghost-ring sights on if you want.
    Yes, every home should have at least one .30-30 – because the ammo is so widely available and so inexpensive.

  36. J.D. Ricks Says:

    I have a model 94 in 30/30 that my grandfather purchased new in 1939. He paid $30.00 for it in the local hardware store. It’s taken down a lot of mule deer.
    Just for fun, try loading up some 150 gr. cast lead rounds over 6.5 gr of TRAIL BOSS cowboy action powder. She acts like she just reunited with an old lover!

  37. Will A Says:

    I agree with Firehand and have also seen pictures of a cavalry baldric with a snap for attaching to the ring.

    One of the first long arms I bought as an adult was a Rossi copy of the Winchester ’92 in .44 mag caliber to match my sidearm and the first thing I did with it was to attach a saddle ring.

    I’m also a fan of top break revolvers.

  38. Paul Says:

    Lucky lucky lucky…..*#&&@@

    While I have a few guns made in the ’50s, I don’t have one made in the ’20s! Used to have a Colt ’03 made in 1912 or so but stupid me, I sold it off.

    Great present Mas.

    If only it could talk.

  39. MALTHUS Says:

    [A]nyone know a good way of cleaning barrel safely WITHOUT having to do a take apart of the rifle?–Stan

    Three little words: Hoppe’s Bore Snake.

  40. John in ME Says:

    Sweet rifle Mas. I love the model 94.

    My Dad bought a Winchester model 69a and a Winchester model 94 in 30/30 around 1952. He taught my four brothers and I how to shoot with the .22, and as we reached deer hunting age, we all took turns hunting with the 94. One of my younger brothers claimed the 30/30, but I managed to secure the .22 for myself. I recently came across a model 94 in 30/30 that was manufactured in 1953. It was so close to my Dad’s old rifle, I just had to have it. Not long after I picked that one up, I came across another model 94 also manufactured in 1953, chambered in .32 Special. It was pretty much the twin of my earlier purchase, so I had to “re-unite” them.

    This past Thanks-giving, my Dad was over, and I showed him the two carbines I had found. He was more interested in my M1 Garand which I had purchased through CMP. He then related something I had not known. He was in an advanced ROTC program back in college, where he learned to field the M1. He was quite proud of the fact that he never caught his thumb in the action. He ended up being discharged because of a medical condition, so he didn’t finish. If he had, he would have gone to Korea.

    Of course, I had to show him my M4-style AR, which he seemed impressed by. We may have to schedule a trip to the range when it gets a little more tolerable for outside activities. Maybe we can teach each other a thing or two.

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