On January 17, Herstal of Belgium, who owns U.S. Repeating Arms, pulled the plug on its New Haven factory, thus ending 140 years of Winchester rifle and shotgun manufacture in this Connecticut city. At its peak during World War II, Winchester had employed 19,000 workers in an immense series of depressing brick buildings. That number has since declined to 200 workers, all of whom will lose their jobs when the plant closes its doors on March 31.
While other Winchester rifles and shotguns will be produced elsewhere, this spells the end for the iconic Model 70 (the Rifleman’s Rifle), the legendary Model 94 (the classic lever-action deer gun), and the completely undistinguished Model 1300 shotgun. Sad? Yes, but nothing lasts forever. Just ask the 30,000 workers to whom Ford is about give the green weenie.
So, here are some points to ponder:
Winchester/New Haven started dying in 1964 when it brought out a complete new line of lousy guns, nearly all of which failed. Shooters never forgive and never forget, and the damage that this junk did to the name helped to drive it into the grave.
A few weeks ago, I shot a brand-new Model 70 that was the most inaccurate big-game rifle I’ve fired since I got into this business. It was a piece of junk. How much other junk did they send out the factory door?
There is a glut of guns on the market because the number of hunters is declining, and guns never wear out. In order to be competitive, gunmakers have to be either very good or very cheap, and Winchester was neither.
Savage came back from the dead because it was able to build very good rifles at competitive prices. That’s because its president knew something about guns and showed some leadership when it counted most. Other countries seem to be able to build very good factory guns that don’t cost a fortune. Look at any firearm built by the Japanese firm of Howa, or Finland’s Tikka, or Italy’s Benelli. The U.S. seems to be losing that ability, just as it can no longer make competitive automobiles.
The Model 70 is 70 years old. It was a great rifle, but there are better rifles now. The Model 94 is 112. It is an antique whose time has long, long past. Let the dead rest. The Model 1300 began as a lousy gun and improved into an undistinguished gun. Enough already. They had their day, and now they are done.