||Our good friend, outdoor writer Jim Matthews, who publishes the newsletters "California Hog Hunter" and "California Bucks," as well as produces the online "Weekly Outdoor Report" for the Turner's Outdoorsman stores in Southern California, recently provided the following sad news in his January 19th, Weekly Outdoor Report:
I talked with the Winchester firearms staff at the recent SHOT Show in Las Vegas and they confirmed that it was a purely economic decision.
In addition, all the Model 70 & 94s were gone from guns stores within a couple of days after the news came out.
Winchester Ceases Production of its Most Famous Rifles
Outdoor News Service
Two of the most famous sporting rifles in history are no longer going to be made.
The U.S. Repeating Arms Company announced Tuesday that it would close its New Haven, Conn., facility where the Winchester Model 70 and Model 94 are made and cease production of these two historic rifles along with the Model 1300 shotgun.
The terse press release said the "decision was made after exhausting all available options," and that the plant would close effective March 31 this year.
The Model 70, first announced in 1936, was known simply as The Rifleman's Rifle to three generations of American shooters and hunters. The bolt-action repeater is one of the most famous sporting firearms ever made and more than two million have been sold. The Model 94 lever-action repeater, first introduced in 1894 and often called "The Gun that Won the West," has been made by Winchester continuously for over 100 years. With over 6 1/2 million produced, it is the most popular lever gun ever made.
"It's a financial, bottom-line situation," said Scott Grange, a spokesman for Winchester in Morgan, Utah. "We have tried for 10 years to make this plant profitable, but we have not been able to do so. We were losing money with each gun we made."
The closure affects about 160 Winchester employees, including everyone in Winchester's custom shop.
There were rumors in the industry that the Model 70 would be made overseas in Belgium by FN (Fabrique National), and that the Model 94 and Model 1300 shotgun would be made in a Russian facility, but that was categorically denied by management in Utah.
Grange confirmed that Winchester was deluged by firearm distributors across the nation wanting to buy all of the remaining inventory of Model 70s and Model 94s, knowing they would be the last American-made models of these historic rifles, even if manufacturing resumed overseas in the future. Prices of guns on dealer shelves were expected to jump significantly in the coming days and weeks as news reached consumers, especially for the Model 70.
Retail prices for the various versions of the Model 70 rifle range from $500 to over $800, in standard grades, to over $3,000 for custom shop models. Many retailers sold standard grades below retail to be competitive with discount chain stores, but prices are expected to climb higher as demand outstrips supply.
When the Model 70 was first introduced, it cost $62 in 1937, or an equivalent of about $850 adjusted into today's dollars based on the Consumer Price Index.
"The Model 70 and Model 94 are icons that you never thought would be gone," said Kevin Howard of Howard Communications, which works with Winchester and Browning. "I know they have worked and worked for a long time to make it a viable operation, and it just hasn't worked out."
While no one from Winchester would discuss why the New Haven facility could not produce firearms at a competitive price, there were contrasting voices from industry insiders that blamed unionized labor, on one side, or management that refused to reposition the products and sell them at a higher price point.
The one side of the argument says that exorbitant union labor costs and benefit packages have made it impossible for Winchester to manufacture guns that have the level of craftsmanship, quality, and price as equivalent guns made overseas. They argue that American consumers will not pay an additional $200 to $400 for a rifle just because it is American-made. Turning a profit has been a problem for Winchester at its New Haven plant for decades. Olin, which still owns Winchester ammunition, dumped the firearms side of the company in 1980 because it couldn't make a profit, and it would have sold the business earlier but John Olin was a gun enthusiast. The firearms company has changed hands three times since then, all because of profitability woes.
But some suggest that Winchester management is locked into believing that it has to compete at a price point with firearms that are less expensive to manufacture and made overseas where labor is cheaper. These enthusiasts argue that if Winchester would have positioned the Model 70 and Model 94 as the premium products in their categories, simplified the product line to the high end, and reduced production volume, they would have been able to sell them at a higher price point and make a profit on each gun.
Some of us tend to believe both arguments are valid and that both sides deserve a share of the blame for America losing two of its finest, home-grown sporting firearms.
The following was a follow-up in the January 25 edition of the Weekly Outdoor Report.
THE LAST, BEST MODEL 70s: Last week, I reported the sad news that Winchester Model 70 and Model 94 rifles would no longer be made in this country, if at all ever again. Virtually all of the final Model 70s from the Winchester custom shop in New Haven, Conn., which is closing March 31 this year, have been purchased by Turner's Outdoorsman, the chain of 13 stores in Southern California. These Model 70s are the epitome of the gunmaker's art featuring custom stocks, barrels, and incredible fit and finish. The fact that they will also be the last American-made Model 70s also gives them an incredible collector value.
Turner's owner Don Small said he wasn't sure what models and calibers would be available, or the pricing, but collectors, shooters, and hunters who want one these final guns in the Winchester Model 70 line should check with their nearest Turner's store in the coming weeks for pricing and model availability.