To the hunter in the field, probably the only thing better than a powerful and accurate rifle is an improved version.
In the latter part of 1935, when Winchester discontinued its Model 1886 after producing almost 160,000 rifles, the manufacturer capitalized on the frontier favorite by lightening and updating the classic lever gun.
Its replacement, the Model 71, was a simplified, strengthened, half-magazine refinement, chambered to handle the then-new .348 Winchester Center Fire (.348 WCF) cartridge, which was designed especially for the Model 71. Although the Model 71 made its public debut on New Year’s Day in 1936, factory records reveal that delivery to the company’s warehouse stock was as early as November 2, 1935.
Since that time, Winchester’s Model 71 has been considered a hunter’s classic. Although production of the rifle ceased in 1957, with 47,254 produced, lever gun fans have coveted the Model 71, both for its handsome lines and famous lineage. Now Mike Harvey of Cimarron Fire Arms brings back the much admired Model 71 as a .45-70 replica. The rifle is manufactured in Italy by Pedersoli, the producer of many quality replicas, including the 1874 Sharps, Springfield Trapdoor and Remington Rolling Block rifles, the Kodiak Mark IV double rifle and a number of fine muzzleloaders.
Like Winchester’s originals, the sleek Model 71 weighs about eight pounds and features a 24-inch, blued round barrel with the classic underbarrel, tubular half magazine that holds five cartridges (a 19-inch “Hogzilla Killa” model holding four rounds is also offered). The rifle sports the 71’s traditional pistol grip stock, an adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight and a beaded blade front sight with hood (the receiver is drilled for an optional receiver sight). The stock is European walnut. Producing the M-71 reproduction in the readily available and powerful .45-70 chambering makes good sense since the .348 WCF cartridge is no longer made and finding old stock is difficult.
Cimarron’s “Classic” M-71 features a handsomely blued receiver and pistol grip butt cap on an attractive, straight-grained stock. Its “Premium” M-71 boasts of a beautiful color case hardened receiver and pistol grip cap, mounted on exquisitely figured select grade, hand-checkered walnut.
For several months, I tried out the Premium Model 71. This past September, I took it with me on a hunt guided by Byseewah Safaris in Namibia, in southwestern Africa, during which I killed a world class, 38-inch horned gemsbok (Oryx). I used this rifle to fire a variety of ammo, including Black Hills Ammunition’s reduced recoil cowboy loads using a 405-grain lead bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1,250 feet per second (fps) and Garrett’s 420-grain, Super Hard Cast Hammerhead ammunition in two different loads—one that moves out at 1,350 fps (my African load) and another that boasts of a muzzle velocity of 1,650 fps. All loadings showed excellent accuracy. This rifle’s thick rubber butt pad reduces felt recoil, making shooting stout loaded .45-70s a pleasure.
If you want a classic lever-action rifle that traces its history from the Golden Age of hunting of the mid-20th century back to the Old West, then give Cimarron’s Model 71 some consideration. It is one heck of a lever gun.
Phil Spangenberger has written for Guns & Ammo, appears on the History Channel and other documentary networks, produces Wild West shows, is a Hollywood gun coach and character actor, and is True West’s Firearms Editor.