The Winchester Model 74 is a rifle. Specifically, it is an 'economy' model of semiautomatic rifle which was introduced to the U.S. market in 1939, firing a .22 Short cartridge. In 1940, a version was offered which took the still-familiar .22 Long Rifle cartridge; the .22 Short version was discontinued in 1952, and the .22 LR in 1955. Over 400,000 of these guns were sold.

In 1941, the Model 74 (its full name was the 'Winchester Model 74 Automatic (Self-Loading) Rifle') was sold at retail for approximately $18.50, although this varied by a up to a dollar either way depending on which caliber and which sight option you wanted. Both calibers were available with either an elevating peep sight for accuracy at range or an open 'sporting' sight for smooth and quick use in the field. With so many of these manufactured, they can be found today in used markets with little effort. Depending on their condition, prices range from around $100 to over $500.

I was digging through my Dad's house recently (well, digging through the closet in my room in Dad's house) and I came across one of these. I recalled it, because he had given it to me a decade or so ago - he mumbled something about "my gun when I was younger" and handed it over in a crumbling leather sheath. I opened the sheath and found a slightly rusted, frozen solid gun, its stock dull and dark. I remember sitting on the porch of the house, knowing almost nothing about how guns worked (especially self-loaders) but being willing to learn. I had a bottle of Rem Oil, a can of WD-40 and some Break-Free, along with some polishing cloths and various small brushes and tools from the cleaning kit I used to clean our more modern Savage-Anschütz .22.

The Model 74 is fed from a tubular magazine in the stock. There is a gate (a hole drilled in the right side of the stock at an angle) for feeding in cartridges. The magazine follower - a long tube with a spring-loaded plunger at the end - is unlocked in the butt and withdrawn far enough to clear the gate, and cartridges can be dropped in bullet-first. When the last bullet remains visible in the gate, the tube is reinserted, and the spring inside it will lock the cartridges up against the bolt and feed them into the chamber when their turn comes.

The bolt of this gun is a little unusual. It is in two pieces, and it can be extracted from the gun by depressing the button safety - which slides across the rear of the action, behind the bolt - all the way to one side and sliding the bolt out the rear. This makes cleaning it relatively easy.

The problem is that the way the bolt is constructed, it is fairly easy to "dry fire" the gun, and when you do, it is very easy to damage the firing pin. These pins are apparently hell to find these days, and I recall vividly that when I took the bolt apart (managing to do it without losing any pins or springs, which is a miracle) there were indentations on the bolt surface which indicated that at some point in the gun's past, the action had been fired with the firing pin misaligned from the chamber - causing it to actually punch a notch in the metal of the bolt. Ugh.

I remember, ten or twelve years ago, that I got it to fire, but I never got it to load properly. I'm not sure why. But I intend to revisit this gun, and to fully disassemble it, and maybe see if Gun Mentor and I can get it to work properly. That'd make me happy.

The Model 74 wasn't just a civilian plinking rifle. During World War II, as part of Lend-Lease, a number of these rifles were sent to the United Kingdom. They were used for two purposes - first, for training soldiers through the use of much cheaper .22 LR ammunition, rather than full-caliber Lee Enfields. The second, though, was more interesting. When the UK expected to be invaded by the Third Reich, during the Battle of Britain, British 'guerrilla forces' were set up. Each coastal county facing the Continent had a roughly 500-man force, dubbed 'Auxiliary Units' of the British Resistance Organisation. Soldiers in these units would be hidden, along with supplies, in underground bunkers and would wait for invasion forces to pass them by before surfacing and beginning a harassment and sabotage campaign.

One of the weapons they were given was a consignment of some 660 Model 74 rifles, modified with telescopic sights and silencers. These were to be used by trained snipers to kill German unit officers and sentries quietly, as well as (if necessary) for hunting for food supplies.

This gun is an integral piece of American shooting history from the mid-twentieth century. I hope I can get it to work; it's a light, small, easily-held rifle - and I'd love to see it shoot again. I'll update this node once I get a chance to work on it and (hopefully) shoot it.

Update:

I got the gun apart. It doesn't look too bad, actually. The action seems to work; all moving parts move except for the bolt retaining rod and bolt spring which are gummed/rusted in place. I am soaking all the metal bits in Hoppe's No. 9 for the night (and a couple of bits in Break-Free where threaded parts are stuck) to see if that lets everything work loose. Here's a picture of the gun. From top left clockwise, the parts are: magazine follower, bolt assembly (containing the bolt sections, extractor, firing pin, sear, timing rocker, operating slide and several springs and pins), the barrel in the top center with the mounting lug on the bottom and the cartridge acceptor at the bottom back, two buttplate screws, the stock and trigger, and the internal magazine assembly.

I also have a smidgen of an idea of what might have been causing it to misfeed. The magazine assembly comes through the butt and into the are just above the trigger at an angle. The cartridge acceptor (the black piece sticking out of the bottom of the barrel) is a ring attached to a small ramp which feeds the bullet into the chamber when the bolt is back. Underneath the magazine assembly, seated inside the butt, is a small but stiff spring which holds the magazine up against the acceptor. It is possible that this spring has weakened over time, and the magazine is no longer being held firmly in alignment with the bottom of the barrel. I'll test this hypothesis when we re-assemble the gun.

Update II:

It turned out that the problem was more serious. At some point in the past, this gun has been dry fired and I myself did so once while cleaning it. During one of those times (and it could have been me) the firing pin rotated and struck the chamber lip. The firing ping is not supposed to rotate, as far as I can tell - it's in two pieces but they're not supposed to spin relative to each other - so there is additional contributory cause. The upshot, though, was that the reason the gun wouldn't load to battery was because that pin strike at the chamber lip had created a tiny divot of metal into the chamber which was blocking the bullet from entering.

I ordered a replacement firing pin and a chamber ream and we'll see how that goes.

Update III:

Finally got time to sit down and work on the 74. Using the chamber ream, I managed to clear the chamber of obstructions. A round will now smoothly seat in the chamber. Next step will be to replace the firing pin with the new one I received. This one has two sections just as the original does; however, this one will not allow the two sections to rotate. In addition, however, the end of this pin is a constant cylinder where the original pin was spatulate, ending in a squared-off punch. We'll see if this pin works as-is, or if it will need some modification.

Sources:

Historic Arms Resource Centre: Miniature-Calibre Rifle Research Site (UK)
The History of Winchester Firearms 1866-1992. Henshaw, Thomas; Winchester Press, Clinton NJ, 1993. pp 121-122.

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