The 71 Winchester has a lasting impression.
Winchester’s last, great lever gun hit the market in 1936 and essentially represents the firm’s final attempt at convincing the American hunting market that the bolt gun wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The 71 wasn’t much of a leap forward in design; it’s basically the 1886 Winchester with better steel and some improved springs, but it was a big ol’ lever gun and it had a hot new chambering.
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At the time, the .348 Winchester cartridge was a real flat-shooting cannon. With a .50 Sharps case for a base it held plenty of powder and could chuck out 200gr bullets at 2500fps, keeping pace with 30-06 loads of the day while offering heavier bullets and more energy.
A lot of folks loved the 71 — even died-in-the-wool small bore guys like Jack O’Connor got sweet on it — and for a while it looked like the lever gun was going to make a comeback.
Sadly, several factors came together to put a damper on the 71’s popularity. Production of the gun had to be put on hold during WWII as commercial arms took a back seat to military arms production.
After WWII Winchester resumed production of the 71, but costs had increased considerably and the rifle wasn’t really in the price class of the average consumer anymore.
The final and inevitable nail in the 71’s coffin was the fact that Americans really had embraced the bolt action rifle to go along with their telescopic sights. By 1958, the 71 was out of production and Winchester began devoting themselves to the production of bolt guns like the Model 70.
Happily, the 71 didn’t just go away in 1958, and today it enjoys a heck of a semi-retirement.
Seeing as the 71 was the last gasp of Winchester lever guns, the prices on these fine rifles has remained fairly low over the years compared to other Winchester arms that are considered more collectible.
Granted, Winchester only produced about 50,000 Model 71s (and many of them have been converted to wildcat cartridges), but the fact that they’re not “cowboy guns” has held their prices down considerably.
The pot is sweetened here by the fact that a 71 is still a great hunting rifle and one that you can take out in the woods chasing game without weeping when the rain hits it.
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I picked up a 71 a few years back in near-perfect condition for $1,600 dollars (yes, it set a new personal record for length of a layaway plan) and have taken two elk with it so far. This rifle is a real live Winchester big bore lever gun that I can still take hunting.
Maybe it’s not a “cowboy gun,” per se, but I sure feel like Tom Horn when I’m lugging it around, not to mention the fact that the .348 puts down elk like a lightning bolt.
My 71 isn’t the deluxe model and lacks any factory extras so the price was a little lower, but the higher-end models will still only run you about $2,000 with a little dickering. If you’ve always wanted a big bore Winchester from the golden age of lever guns, the 71 is probably the best choice on the used market today.
Other than having people look at you a little funny when you ask for .34 caliber bullets, there is no downside to these cool old guns. The last Winchester lever gun was, in my opinion, the best they ever made.
Featured image via WinchesterGuns.com