Winchester Model 94 .32-40

Jul 7, 2007
Anyone own/shoot one? Got kind of a long story here that is sort of emotional to me as it is about my Dad and also to a degree my Mom. It all came to my mind today as I was cleaning my guns so I thought I would post about it...

The Winchester Model 94 in .32-40 was my Dad's favorite gun( note - this was John Wayne's favorite gun too ). My Dad hunted with one as a 10-12 year old near the end of the Great Depression( he was born in 1925 ). He was able to borrow one from a friend of the family whenever he wanted and he would go off hunting and shoot what he could to help feed them. He had to buy his own ammo which he did odd jobs for. Things like raking yards, shoveling snow, working after school at the local chicken farm, etc... He always wanted to own one when he got older as an adult but he never did buy one; passing on the chances he had. He always put what we( his family )needed and wanted first and him buying a gun he would seldom use was not a priority. He had his shotgun to hunt with and it was enough for him.

Move ahead now to the fall of 1993 and me trying to help my Mom come up with a great Christmas present for my Dad. She was really sick by then( blind, diabetes, etc... )and couldn't do things on her own/get out so I was helping her. I suddenly thought of how badly he had always wanted a Model 94 in .32-40. When I mentioned it to her she almost couldn't contain her excitement as she then remembered all the times he didn't buy one because he put the rest of us first. So, she said go get him one. I was like "Mom, it isn't like I can just run down to the local convenience store and grab one". It would take some work.

Unfortunately, Winchester stopped making them way back in the late 1930's( approx. 1938 - ironically it was pretty much right around the time my Dad stopped using the one he always borrowed as a kid ). Ammo mfg's stopped making ammo for the .32-40 in the early 60's as well. My work was cut out for me. Old 94's like that went for a lot of money back then even in poor shape and what good would the gun be without ammo to shoot? I really wanted to do it for my Dad and also for my Mom.

I hit every gun show in the area for a year+ and there were always tons of 94's but not in .32-40. The few I did find were collector grade and way out of my price range. Called and/or visited every gun shop I could think of over that time as well and even had them call around for me to try and find one but I came up empty again and again. At least I found an ammo source for it if I ever could find one. A local shop would reload some for me if I brought them some Winchester .32 Special brass they could use( has to be modified but can be used - my Brother actually owns a Winchester .32 Special so I had access to brass ). No gun itself though anywhere. The internet was newish back then and I wasn't online at all so it isn't like today where you can search using the internet to make it easier.

Frankly, after a year+ of looking to no avail I had about given up even though I promised my Mom I would keep looking. Then the miracle happened. Some friends and I were on our way up to their camp in the mountains of NH in like Feb/March 1995 and we stopped at this little shack of a gun store like we always did when in the area to look around. I wasn't even thinking about the gun for my Dad. We just stopped to see what he had while nearby. As I got to the very back of the store, there in the rack of used guns, I saw what clearly was a very old, and pretty rough, Model 94. No way it was a .32-40 I told myself so I didn't even pick it up at first. I actually was halfway out the door when I said what the heck I am here may as well see. So I asked the owner who was behind the counter what caliber the old Model 94 in the rack out back was? You could have knocked me over with a feather when he told me it was a .32-40!

I immediately ran out back to look and sure enough it was what I had been looking for. Well, sort of. Unfortunately, it would need some work. The stock and forearm wood were okay if a little worn. I could save them. The metal was really worn without a trace of bluing left anywhere. Luckily there was no rust, just a little minor pitting in a few places. So that was not a problem as it could be reblued( note - this was to shoot and use not to be a museum piece so restoring it was okay ). The big issues were it was missing the metal cap for the forearm and it had the wrong magazine tube. At some point in it's past the magazine tube was replaced and it had the short carbine style tube not the full length one it originally came with. I didn't care about that as I was sure I could find the parts as they should be interchangeable with other Model 94's of the period( or hoped I could ).

So I negotiated the price with the owner and in the end got it for under $300( had to come back later with the $$$ to get it - really nice guy - set it aside for me )and called my Mom from my friend's camp the moment we got there( no cell phone then ). I had the gun and an ammo source now all I had to do was get the gun restored. If I was lucky she could give it to him for Father's Day.

There was an old time gunsmith in the area back then who worked out of the basement of his house. I figured if anyone would be able to help me restore it right he would. He actually had the parts I needed except for the long magazine tube itself. I had to make a lot of calls but I finally found one that was new in the box even though it was some 60+ years old. The gunsmith even had developed a bluing technique that looked like the old arsenic bluing originally used on the gun. While he worked on the metal components I took the wood home and cleaned it all up and made it look good. I actually found a bunch of ammo for it( new and reloads )so there was now plenty of ammo for Dad to use.

The gun was ready for Father's Day and my Dad got very emotional when my Mom gave it to him with a small card that thanked him for always putting the family first all those years. We took it out into the woods behind my Brother's house and let Dad shoot. My Brother, Uncle, and I also took some shots. My Dad took 3 shots. The 3rd so perfectly centered I couldn't believe it. I suppose I should have as he was a marksman in the Army but he had never even handled that gun until that day and in just 3 shots he dead centered it.

That fall my Dad took the gun out deer hunting a few times but never had a shot he would take. I think it was the only time my Mom ever was hoping he would shoot something to be honest. He took it a few more times over the next few years before deciding he really didn't want to shoot another deer and stopped going. The only time he ever shot the gun as it turns out was the day my Mom gave it to him but I know that gun meant the world to him.

Mom passed that following January of 1996. I am telling you a higher power helped me find that gun so she could do that for him before she went home. While Dad never used it much he would often look at it in my gun cabinet or take it out and wipe it down and hold it for a while. He passed it on to me when he stopped hunting but I always said no it is yours. So, he left it to me in his will and it officially passed to me in 2014. I don't do much with it myself other than take it out and clean it 2x's a year. I hunted with it a couple times but I was always paranoid I would damage it. I did take it targeting shooting a lot for a few years as it is one sweet shooting gun but eventually I even stopped that to conserve the limited ammo I had/have left.

It is now officially retired along with his 1947 Stevens Model 311 SXS 20g shotgun he loved so much which was the 1st, last, and only gun he ever bought for himself. I shot a lot of upland game with that gun but like the Model 94 it now stays in the gun cabinet as a memorial to my Dad. I know shooting them is also a way to remember but for me keeping them safe and just having them to hold, look at, and remember the good times over is what matters to me. I am sure I will shoot them both a few more times but it won't be often.

I was cleaning the guns today which is what brought all of this to my mind. Sorry for the rant.

Oh, almost forgot. The .32-40 was made in 1897. We used the serial number on it to figure out when Winchester made it. Still shoots just as good today as it did almost 120 years ago when it was made.
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Great story. Good on you for keeping the old ones running and remembering your family like that

Pass it on to someone who will care too

Pop has sold almost all his stuff, but I gave him an M1 a few years ago, seeing as he carried on all through WW-II in the South Pacific... He got emotional and now keeps it safe in his gun locker. He's 97 now and can't shoot, but he can remember ...

Only a couple of his battery remain. His Rem 870 that will go to my sister. And his old single shot 22 that will go to my nephew. That's all OK as I'm covered in what I need.

Not to get political, but the gov't does not realize what old firearms mean to families... They are not shooters, they are family heirlooms.

Yeah, I suppose they figure into the total count for statistics, but they are not doing anything bad, and they are reminding folks of what our fathers and forefathers went through ... They all come with stories and history
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Great story! I used to own a Winchester .32 Special that my grandfather gave me when I was about ten years old. I lost the gun to a house fire in 06.
Those are nice old lever guns. I have an early Marlin 1894 in 25-20 Winchester. Was my grandfathers gun. He used it way back in the 20's and 30's to hunt pronghorn out west.
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Very cool thanks for posting. I thought for a minute it was going to turn out that it was the same Winchester he used to borrow and he recognized it when you gave it to him.