A Tradition of Bolt Action Rifle Excellence for 140 years.

First Bolt-Action Winchester Rifle - Hotchkiss

The first Winchester bolt action centerfire rifle.

On display at the 2018 SHOT Show were two rifles that are legendary in Winchester bolt action history: the Winchester Hotchkiss (the first Winchester bolt action, developed in the late 1880s) and the Model 54 Winchester (the first true sporting bolt action and the rifle that lead to the development of the Model 70). Both rifles were provided for our display by our friends at the Cody Firearms Museum. 

Bolt-action rifles are in our blood.

In his comprehensive book, Winchester Bolt Action Military and Sporting Rifles 1877 to 1937, the legendary Winchester historian Herbert G. Houze offers a perfect historical overview: "Winchester was the first American arms maker to commercially manufacture a bolt-action repeating rifle . . . from the famous Hotchkiss through the to the popular Models 54 and 70."

He highlights in his book little-known forays in bolt-actions "like the Murata Year 17 Rifle, Model 1895 Winchester-Lee, the Willam Mason Straight Pulls, the T.C. Johnson Model A and B Magazine Rifles, the Pattern 1914 Enfields and much more."

Houze's history covers from 1877 up to the early days of the Model 70. Although 1877 is the beginning of Winchester's involvement in bolt-action rifles, actual production of limited numbers began in 1878. Interpretations of progress on the Winchester-Hotchkiss vary among historians, but Mr. Houze's book is considered very authoritative in this area. 

No firearms manufacture has more experience with bolt actions than Winchester Repeating Arms. If you are doing research on Winchester bolt actions this is a must-have book. MORE INFORMATION ON HIS BOOK IS ON AMAZON. 

Winchester Hotchkiss Bolt-Action Sporting Rifle
First model Winchester Hotchkiss Sporting Rifle shipped from the factory May 2, 1880. Photo courtesy of Rob Semonis.

Original patent drawings of the 1876 Hotchkiss bolt-action rifle.
Original patent drawings of an early version of the 1876 Hotchkiss design prior to the acquisition of the rifle that became the Winchester-Hotchkiss bolt action.

Winchester's first bolt-action rifle was the Winchester-Hotchkiss in 1878. It has the distinction of being ". . . the first center-fire bolt-action repeater to be adopted by any major military."

Winchester has been building world-class bolt-action rifles since 1878.

Winchester began its experience with bolt-action rifles with the Winchester Hotchkiss rifle. The Winchester Hotchkiss was a unique rifle with a number of innovative features. It was originally designed and patented by rifle designer Benjamin B. Hotchkiss in 1876. Winchester purchased the design, did some significant improvements and -- after a short industrialization period --  the rifle was approved by the U.S. Government and a contract was signed. Winchester began producing the rifles at the Winchester Repeating Arms factory in New Haven, Connecticut. A number of rifles were also produced at the Springfield Armory starting in 1878.

How unique was the Winchester Hotchkiss? While it was not ground breaking, it was a good learning experience for the company that virtually owned the lever action rifle business worldwide. The Winchester Hotchkiss had a single rear locking lug that was integral with the bolt handle. It utilized a tubular buttstock magazine quite similar to the successful Spencer rifle of that era.  Different versions were developed (in .45-70 Govt.) for the US Navy and the U.S. Army. This use by the U.S. military, along with purchases by a small number of state militias, made it ". . . the first center-fire bolt-action repeater to be adopted by any major military." Read more about the Winchester Hotchkiss on Wikipedia and at the Forgotten Weapons website.  

Winchester Hotchkiss bolt-action rifle.
The Winchester Hotchkiss bolt-action rifle went through several evolutions. The third model Hotchkiss, circa 1883, is shown here – Photo by forgottonguns.com.

Major John W. Hession of Winchester Showing Model 54 bolt-action rifle.
This photo shows Major John W. Hession of Winchester's shooting promotion division. Hession was a long range shooting expert and is shown holding a new Model 54. Hession held the world record for 1,000 yards at the time of this photo. Original source of photo unknown.

92 years of sporting bolt action excellence.

The Winchester Model 54. Outdoor Life Magazine did a review of "The Most Influential Deer Rifles of All Time" in 2008. The Winchester Model 54 was on the list. In their words, ". . . knowing that any bolt-action rifle would be critically compared to the popular '03 Springfield and Mauser of 1898, Winchester overcame the challenge successfully in 1925 by combining good features from both."

They continued detailing that the Model 54 was ". . . offered in a full range of popular calibers from the .22 Hornet to the .30/06, the Model 54 raised the bar on rifle accuracy and incorporated distinctive features and styling that were later inherited by Winchester's Model 70."

Two interesting facts pointed out in the article were that the .270 Winchester was introduced as a new cartridge in 1925 and first offered in the Model 54, .and the Model 54 was offered in a heavy-barrel sniper model, most of which were chambered in .30/06."

The famous Model 70 was an improvement on the Model 54 which is impressive when you consider that the 54 was clearly one of the best bolt-action rifles available at the time in the world. 

80 years making the most revered bolt-action of all time.

Bolt-action of the Century. When most people think bolt-action Winchesters, they think Model 70, and for good reasons. The Model 70 has been repeatedly revered as "The Bolt-Action of the Century," and has established itself as the rifle all other bolt-actions are judged by. Generations of bolt-action experience went into the Model 70 and the same can be said for today's new generation Winchester bolt action, the XPR. 

The bolt action for a new generation of hunters.

Jump forward 135 plus years to the new XPR. The XPR is the latest in a long line of groundbreaking bolt-actions from Winchester Repeating Arms, and continues our tradition of creating innovative rifle designs. You can believe it when we say “We Know Bolts,” because we’ve been building world-class bolt-action rifles since 1878.

Creating the first factory bolt-action rifles built specifically for hunters and shooters.

By the end of World War I, bolt-action rifles built for use in the military were widespread. And with the return of American soldiers after the war the idea of using a converted military bolt-actions for hunting, such as the 1917 Enfields and 1903 Springfields, started in popularity. Winchester's superb designer, Thomas C. Johnson, responded with a series of prototypes which culminated in 1925 with the Model 54 Winchester. The Model 54 went on to become the first successful factory production bolt-action rifle built solely for the civilian market. A great deal was learned in a few short years and in 1936 Winchester's team, lead by Johnson, introduced the bolt action rifle that is considered by nearly all as the greatest sporting rifle of all time: the Winchester Model 70. The breakthrough design not only incorporated the best design features of military rifles, it also was sporting-specific, with new sporting calibers and the ability to more easily accommodate telescopic sights. All this took advantage of the Model 70's inherent accuracy and easy, reliable function. READ MORE AT NRAMUSEUM.ORG. 

Model-E-2536 bolt-action rifle.
According to the Cody Firearms Museum this Model-E-2536 is the T.C. Johnson prototype that likely preceded the sporting Model 54. The 54 was the basis for the legendary Model 70. Photo -- Cody Firearms Museum.

Using advanced materials and the latest manufacturing technology results in an accurate and rugged hunting rifle that will get the job done every time. And while the XPR is priced just right for today’s hunter, it’s no entry-level, bottom-of-the-heap budget rifle. The XPR is packed with features and details that are usually reserved for rifles costing hundreds more.

T.C. Johnson's experimental bolt action rifles
T.C. Johnson's experimental bolt actions done at Winchester during WWI and shortly after. Photo, Cody Firearms Museum.

Winchester made a significant contribution during WWI. In addition to producing over a half-million 1917 Enfields for the war effort, Winchester continued a process of improvement, research, and development.

As researched by Danny Michael, the Assistant Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, the P14 Enfield and the M1917 along with the 1903 Springfield "became the basis for a series of experimental rifles at the Winchester factory. Thomas C. Johnson worked at the center of the project beginning in the summer of 1914. By the end of the war, Johnson built a full range of experimental rifles that led to his post-war designs."



Additional Reading.

Don't miss our series of articles on Winchester bolt action rifles and the new XPR.

Copyright Winchester Repeating Arms, 2017. Photos are used with permission, from Winchester Repeating Arms archives or in the public domain. The source of several photos is not known or certain. Special thanks, as always, to the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center for information and archive photos. The Cody Firearms Museum -- and its associated historians and massive archives -- is likely the world's top resource on the development of Winchester Repeating Arms Bolt action rifles. Series written by Winchester Repeating Arms bolt-action rifle enthusiast and staff writer, Scott Engen.