Thursday, January 24, 2013

Browning Model 71 and the .348 Winchester

As with most cartridges created by the big firearms firms, the .348 Winchester had its foundations in marketing. Winchester had a problem. First, soldiers returning from the great war were enamored of the bolt action rifle and the ballistics of the .30-06 cartridge. Second, there was a desire to continue with Winchester's "trademark" line of lever-actions. So, the ideal thing would be to put .30-06 ballistics in a lever-action. Apparently, the Model 1895 just hadn't done it for the public with a magazine that was right where the balance point meant that one should put one's hand when carrying the gun.

I have a Browning 1895 and I think it carries well enough but it doesn't feel in the hand the way that shooters were accustomed. Although the 1895 was chambered for the .30-06 cartridge, I have read of accounts of lengthening headspace and problems with the cartridge in the rifle. I don't know if those reports are true or if they really impacted sales. Another problem was that the 1895 didn't look right with that magazine. I don't think that bothered performance oriented users, one sees the rifle in almost universal use in some law enforcement circles. Then, too, a lot of the production of the gun came during the first world war and went to the Russian military.

Winchester had other problems as well. The continuing depression meant that there wasn't a desire to put a lot of money into development of another rifle or cartridge. So, Winchester made what they thought would be a double good move and modernize the 1886 rifle (i.e. redesign it internally to reduce production cost), continuing what they'd begun with the 1886 extra lightweight in .45-70 and .33 Winchester, while at the same time improving the ballistics of the .30-something cartridge with the .348 Winchester.

A .50-110 cartridge case was modified with taper (for easy feeding while retaining good case capacity) topped with 150-250 grain bullets and chambered to a slightly modified 1886 rifle dubbed the Model 71. Ballistic realities intruded to defeat the popular acceptance of the 150 and 250 grain bullets and the 200 grain bullet at about 2500 fps from the 24" barreled rifle came to dominate sales. The current Winchester .348 factory load (if you can find it) uses a 200 grain Silvertip bullet (SD .236) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2520 fps from a 24" barrel. The muzzle energy (ME) of this load is 2820 ft. lbs. The figures at 200 yards are 1931 fps and 1656 ft. lbs. The trajectory of the Winchester factory load looks like this: +1.4" at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, -3.4" at 200 yards, and -9.2" at 250 yards. The big case meant that one could easily attain these .30-06 sort of ballistics while keeping pressures relatively low and the tapered case ran through the action with ease. The power of the cartridge ensured that it had a following among hunters of the largest game but it wasn't too powerful for use on whitetail deer. This made the cartridge just popular enough to hang around, sometimes just barely, since it was introduced in 1936. Sometimes it seems that the wildcatting and reforming uses of the brass were the only reason that production of the .348 cartridge continued at all but it has and in 1987 Browning saw fit to bring back the rifles in 20" and 24" barreled versions. This is the rifle I finally acquired.

Browning made 4,000 20" carbines and 3,000 24" rifles in standard grade, and 3,000 of each in deluxe grade. Made by Miroku in Japan as were the Browning 1892, 1886, and 1895 rifles and carbines, these are excellent firearms. Fit and finish is outstanding. The wood is lacking "figure" but that's fine on a working firearm where the sturdiness of the stock is far more important than appearance. These rifles, produced by adoptees of the metric system, do not have the same threads on any of the threaded parts as on the Winchester Model 71 so parts aren't often interchangeable.

Seller's photo of the Browning M71 Carbine
My "rifle" is the "carbine", i.e. it has the 20" barrel. I am one of those oddities of the shooting world who likes the shorter barrels and is willing to accept the ballistic limitations one gets. It has the feel of a bulldog between the hands. The stock seems to fit me well and the sights naturally align with the eye when the gun is shouldered. It seems heavier than my Browning 1886 SRC. Like the 1886, it will soon have a Williams Foolproof receiver sight.

- The Model 71 Winchester and the .348 WCF Cartridge by Jim Taylor
- The Browning M71 by Miles Fortis

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