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Wiltz: A gift suggestion for the outdoors enthusiast

Just before the Thanksgiving weekend Christmas shopping got underway, there was a story in the paper about how much the average adult spends on Christmas gifts. I was shocked. People are far more generous than I imagined. Then it went on to talk about how much people spent on themselves for Christmas. It was in the $400 range. I've never spent money on myself for Christmas, but if I did, it wouldn't be on clothes. I'm thinking more in the line of something firearms-related.

A few weeks back, this column featured a photo of two of my collectible Colt pistols. My readers enjoyed that photo and the little piece on Wild Bill. I've enjoyed owning those pieces of history, but I went through much of my life only dreaming of such collectibles. How does one get started? Maybe that Christmas fund would be a good place to start.

I'll guess that the typical sportsman begins with a shotgun, a high-powered rifle for deer, a .22 for plinking, and perhaps a handgun for home defense. When the time finally comes for that first collectible, what should it be? Without any hesitation whatsoever, I'd recommend a Winchester Model 1894 rifle. Let's begin with a little history.

Back in 1885, John Browning, the gun-building genius from Utah, went to work on a new lever-action rifle for Winchester as Winchester's Model 1876 had become more or less obsolete. Browning's new Model 1886 was a huge success for Winchester. Winchester then offered Browning $10,000 if he could design the same gun in a shorter action in three months ... or $15,000 if he could do it in two. John Browning's counter proposal? For $20,000, he'd do it in a month. If he was late, it would be free. Browning's new rifles became the Model 1892 followed by the Model 1894.

The first Model 1894's came out in .32-40 and .38-55 calibers — both black powder rounds. In 1895, the Model 1894 was offered in .30 WCF (or Winchester Centerfire, better known as .30-30) and .25-35, both smokeless powder rounds. Winchester never looked back. The Model 1894 became legend!

My first bit of advice is absolutely critical: Make sure your Model 1894 was made before 1964!

I'll make a little chart for you.

1894-1899: Serial numbers 1 — 183371

1900-1909: Serial numbers 204427 — 505831

1910-1919: Serial numbers 553062 — 870762

1920-1929: Serial numbers 880627—1077097

1930-1939: Serial numbers 1081755—1101051

1940-1949: Serial numbers 1142423—1626100

1950-1959: Serial numbers 1724295—2401555

1960-1963: Serial numbers 2469821 — 2586000

Even if you don't care about guns, keep the above numbers in your wallet. The next time you're at an auction, you'll be in the know.

For a collectible, you don't want a post-1963 serial number beginning at 2700000. When people talk Winchesters, they talk pre-1964. The model 1894 is a top-eject rifle. For this reason, many scope mounts went on the left side of the receiver. Scope mount holes were drilled. Avoid rifles like these.

I have my reasons for liking the Winchester Model 1894 or 94. Buy wisely, and your 1894 will accrue in value. .30-30 ammo is readily available, and reloading components are readily available. You can shoot it! When you see a trophy buck at 250 yards, the .30-30 is marginal. But, you know those doe tags that come with your "any deer" tag? A doe hunt with an 1894 is pure nostalgia!

Finally, a quick word about the shows you see on television from Hollywood. They have no qualms about stooping to lies to promote more gun control. An example? I was watching a cop show a few nights ago when the officers involved were lamenting the number and kinds of guns on the street. They went on to say that many of the guns were hand-assembled from component parts that didn't require serial numbers. They called these guns "ghost guns."

The frame or action of any gun will have a serial number. We don't need another gun law, but we do need to enforce the ones we have.

Have a great Christmas, and make that prayer at your table on Christmas Eve and Day very special.