Two 30-30 Lever-Action Rifles: Winchester Vs. Ted Williams
In 2010, Winchester re-introduced the 30-30 lever action Model 94 in a Short Rifle version. But can it beat a gently used 50-year-old Sears 100?
There was time when every deer hunters’ gun rack held a 30-30 lever-action rifle, and red buffalo plaid was the only choice in a hunting coat. There are those hunters who still believe the 30-30 lever action is the ultimate rifle for a still hunter working in dense cover. The rifle’s light weight, ease of use, simple open sights, and fast follow-up shots make it a sensible choice for shots from 15 to 100 yards.
Over the years, numerous manufacturers have built 30-30 lever actions — Winchester, Marlin, Stevens, Mossberg, Savage, and others. In great-grandpa’s day, hardware stores and department stores with thick catalogs also sold 30-30 lever-action rifles. These department-store rifles were made by these gun manufacturers but were sold under the store’s in-house brand names, often at a lower price than their name-brand cousins.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Sears, Roebuck and Co. contracted with Winchester to build a 30-30 lever-action rifle similar to Winchester’s Model 94. Sears called it the Model 100 or Model 54. Ever mindful of marketing opportunities, Sears signed baseball great Ted Williams to endorse its outdoor products. Ted’s signature appeared on everything from outdoor clothing to rifles. In particular, there was a Ted Williams Model 100 rifle, a dead ringer for the Winchester Model 94.
Because we’re always hunting for bargains, we wanted to compare a used Sears Ted William’s Model 100 to a current-production Winchester Model 94 Short Rifle. Both of these rifles are designed around the iconic Model 94 first built by Winchester in 1894. It was the first centerfire rifle to use a then-new smokeless cartridge, the 30 Winchester or, more commonly, the 30-30. How would a 50-year-old Sears thutty-thutty match up with a brand-spanking new Shorty? Pretty dang well, as we explain below.
Winchester Model 94 Short Rifle No. 534174114 30-30 Win., $1230
In 2010 Winchester re-introduced the Model 94 in a Short Rifle version, a plain model that is reminiscent of the millions of Model 94 carbines the company produced a quarter century ago. Of course, the Short Rifle rollmark indicates manufacture in Japan rather than New Haven, CT. We thought it would be interesting to test this new Model 94 against a gently used Ted Williams Model 100. Both rifles were manufactured by Winchester and have similar features. We soon discovered the big differences between these two rifles were cost and safety features.
The safety enhancements to the new Model 94 were obvious. A thumb safety was nicely placed in the tang of the receiver so the traditional lines of the rifle were not sullied. The hammer was a rebounding type, so there was no half cock. It also used a trigger stop where only a fully closed lever allows the rifle to be fired. The Sears had this feature, too, as do many models of Winchester lever actions. Old-timers who tested the Short Rifle snorted with distaste at a Model 94 having a safety and rebounding hammer. It was blatantly not traditional, but the feature did make the rifle safer to use. The action was smooth, and like all Model 94s, would get slicker with use.
The bluing on the new 94 was superb. The wood seemed adequate. The owner of the rifle had hunted with it in the rain, and the stain on the buttstock looked like it was washing off, but we didn’t ding it for that. The Winchester and Sears both sported flat polymer buttplates that were quick to shoulder and did nothing to absorb recoil, but the 30-30 round is not punishing, and a heavy hunting coat does a lot to absorb recoil. The Short Rifle’s receiver was tapped for scope mounts, and empties were ejected to the right and not up and over like traditional Model 94s. Back in 1980s, Winchester called this “angle eject.”
At the range there was not a single failure. Cartridges were easy to feed into the magazine tube, and the bullet noses were not chewed up when we cycled them through the action. Old Model 94s at times could mangle the bullet nose, and this new Model 94 fixed that issue.
At 50 yards using a rest, we were able to achieve very tight three-shot groups using a scope. The hammer was tapped for a hammer extension. The scope was removed so only open sights were used in the test data. A Marbles front sight with a brass bead and buckhorn style rear sight offered a traditional sight picture.
We expected MOD (minute of deer) accuracy and were pleased at how a range of old-school soft points and newer all-copper Barnes and LEVERevolution Hornady bullets performed. For example, with the Hornady rounds, we were able to get a 0.5-inch group using open sights at 50 yards. We also noted the new Winchester achieved higher velocities than the older Model 100.
Off the bench, we fired some field simulations. As expected, the Short Rifle was fast to shoulder and acquire a target. Follow-up shots were likewise fast, and it was easy to cycle the rifle on the shoulder.
Our Team Said: The Short Rifle was nicely built. The safety features were smart additions, even though purists were not happy. They did concede safety was important. Big knock: Most testers thought the price was far too much and knocked it down for that. If you want a new Model 94 that’s similar to your granddaddy’s rifle, this is the one to buy.
Sears, Roebuck & Co.Ted Williams Model 100, $199-$350
We found the price of Model 100s on Gunbroker.com ranged from less than $200 to close to $350 for a pristine specimen. This gently used carbine had nice wood. A plastic cap covered the end of the forearm. The state of the metal finish was like most Winchester rifles of that era. The metallurgy was a bit off, and the receivers often present white scaling.
Most of our shooters liked the way the rifle’s hammer worked. Some had learned many moons ago how to silently cock a hammer and during hunting used the half cock. These were the testers who felt the safety on the new Short Rifle felt odd. Still, most saw the safety features as enhancements.
When cycling cartridges through the action — the only way to unload a lever action like these — the Model 100 did chew a bullet nose. Like the Model 94, the Model 100 had Marbles sights. The rear sight had screws to loosen and position a small plate with the rear sight groove. At the range the Model 100 grouped similarly to the Model 94. Cycling was smooth and second shots were easy to perform.
Our Team said: The guns performed similarly, excepted our shooters dinged the Model 100 for not having a safety. If you want a 30-30 just like granddad’s, this was the rifle to buy — and you would save hundreds of dollars in the bargain.
Written and photographed by Robert Sadowski, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers. GT