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Win 94 (44 Mag) Shoots Extremely Low

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by D.B. Cooper, Mar 18, 2019.

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  1. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    I have a Winchester 94 in 44 Magnum that is shooting extremely (2-3 ft) low. My uncle bought this rifle new in 1977 and never fired it. I go it from him 5 years ago unfired in the original box.

    The gun shot okay with the buckhorn sight. I had to put a spacer under the ramp to elevate it beyond maximum to get it to shoot to point of aim at 100 yards, but once I did, it shot small groups. I recently replaced the rear buckhorn sight with a Williams Foolproof aperture sight. Once I did that, it shot low. I eventually filed the front sight down to a nub, primarily trying to get the stupid ball/bead off the front post.

    A gunsmith recently gave me this plastic front sight and installed it on the gun. I was supposed to go shoot the rifle and clip off the upper parts of the plastic post until I got the right height at which the gun would zero, and then the gunsmith would install the right height front sight. I never got there. I fired 100 rounds 240 grain SWC "Cowboy" loads (from HSM) through it and all but the last 10-15 rounds missed the 2 ft square target frame entirely at only 50 yards.

    It took a lot of guesswork, but what I've confirmed is that the gun is currently shooting about 12" low and 12-14" to the left. I have the rear sight aperture cranked way up high and hard to the right. That little plastic front sight is cut way down, almost to a nub again. I'm using the top, right corner of the target frame as a point of aim, but I'm hitting in the left and bottom half of the target frame. It's also absolutely horrible shot groups-all over the bottom of the target frame.

    What gives?
     
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  2. AABEN

    AABEN Member

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    Your gun will shoot low at 50 yards
     
  3. .308 Norma

    .308 Norma Member

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    Bent barrel? A buddy of mine had a brand new Winchester 70, 416 Rem Mag that was printing about a foot high at 100 yards. He had run out of adjustment on his scope, so he asked me to pull the scope and shoot it with its open sights. I lowered the rear sight all the way down. Same thing - about a foot high at 100 yards.
    My buddy ended up sending the rifle back to Winchester, and they fixed it by installing a new barrel.
    BTW - that was my one and only experience shooting a 416 Rem Mag. I've always considered myself fairly recoil tolerant, but that beast was too much for me! After 3 shots, I was shaking so badly I wasn't sure that I'd even be able to put a 4th on paper.:eek:
     
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  4. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    Not THAT low. We're talking about a foot, not inches.

    I thought of that, too, but I've had shooting pretty close to dead on in the past, using the factory rear sight.
     
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  5. Riomouse911

    Riomouse911 Member

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    Man, that’s waaay off.

    I’d start small and clean the bore well in case it’s all leaded, check all the screws for tightness, check the Williams sight to be sure it’s on straight and screws are tight, nothing is bent, etc.

    I know Henry’s will often need a new front sight when aperatures are added, but I'm not sure if Winchester’s have as big an issue as Henry’s do. (I put a receiver mounted Williams aperture sight on my M94 AE Trapper .44 and it’s on point with no changes.)

    (If possible) Try to shoot the same loads you were shooting earlier when it was shooting better to see if everything has shifted or if it’s just the new loads that affect it this way.

    If these all check out and it’s still that far off it may need to visit a gunsmith to fix the woes.

    Good luck!
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2019
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  6. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    I think that you may be chasing two different problems at once here.

    First the group size:

    When you initially fired this rifle with the buckhorn sights at 100 yards, were you using full power factory .44 magnum loads?
    You do say that although the rifle was shooting somewhat low, it did shoot small groups. If these were .44 magnum factory loads, then I would assume that these would have been copper jacketed soft points or hollow points. Probably 240 grain.
    However, when you shot it with the 240 grain cowboy loads, the grouping became horrible. These loads would probably be loaded with a plain base lead bullet.
    If this all sounds correct, then the poor grouping may be a result of going to a low velocity bullet (around 1000 FPS Cowboy) from a high velocity bullet (1600 FPS Factory). From what I can determine your 1894 probably has a 1:38 rifling twist, which is fairly common in .44 magnum carbines. It's a holdover from the 1892 Winchesters in .44-40 and Henry also uses this twist in it's .44 Magnum Big Boy.
    This twist would stabilize a 205 grain bullet at around 1250 FPS (factory .44-40 cartridge) okay, but it doesn't stabilize 240 grain bullets well at Cowboy ammo velocities. This could be the source of the group size problem.
    On the other hand, the depth or type of rifling that your rifle has may also be the problem. If it is quite shallow, then it may shoot poorly with lead bullets. I'm sure that Winchester was only concerned about the rifling working okay with factory .44 magnum rounds back in 1977. Jacketed bullets will still grip shallow rifling well. Perhaps the slow rifling twist AND the shallow rifling are both the problem.
    I would switch back to the magnum jacketed factory loads for the rest of your testing until you solve the low bullet impact problem.

    Second, the low bullet impact problem:
    This rifle shot low to some degree even with barrel-mounted factory buckhorn sights set to maximum elevation, but a shim DID get it to shoot to point of aim at 100 yards, using (I assume) the 240 grain .44 magnum factory loads. Since these were factory sights, it should have been possible to zero the rifle without a shim under the notched elevator ramp.
    It was suggested that the rifle might have a bent barrel, and I suppose that it is possible that it has a slight curvature, but I think that the effects would be more extreme.
    However, maybe it is just the muzzle crown that is wonky. Perhaps the crown isn't perfectly square to the axis of the bore, but the crown itself is cleanly made. Or, maybe the crown is square to the bore, but it has been has been dinged. While it might maintain accuracy, such crowns could consistently direct all bullets up, down, right, or left. It is possible that having a gunsmith recrown the barrel would correct the issue, but you wouldn't know until you try.

    One more possibility occurs to me. The tubular magazine and the fore end. Since the magazine tube is clamped tightly to the muzzle of the rifle, it can and does affect point of impact. Perhaps the magazine tube and the fore end are applying a lot of pressure to the barrel. Loosening off the barrel band at the front sight ramp should allow the magazine tube to move freely a bit and so have very little affect on the barrel.
    Also, perhaps the fore end has warped over time, or always was too tight. You should remove the fore end barrel band to see if the fore end is warped or pressing tightly on the barrel. If so, some wood removal in the barrel channel could help.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2019
  7. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    I think you might be a genius. You've suggested a lot of stuff I wouldn't have ever considered.

    To answer your questions with more details.

    Actually, no. The only other ammo I have fired in this gun were handloads. 312 grn hard cast WFN with a gas check over 22 or 23 (I forget now) grains of H110. My reloading mentor, long since moved to the lower 48, said they should be pushing 1600 fps MV, (as you surmised below) although I've never chrono'd them. Those shot probably 3" @ 100 yrds to point of aim (or acceptably close thereto) with the plastic shim under the rear sight.


    Agreed. For a time I loaded the same type of bullet (240 grn SWC) for my revolver, and they were a flat base with no provision for a gas check.


    Agreed. Those are easy to come by up here. I do have some "Cowboy Load" 200 grn RNFP ammo; I wonder if that would provide better result than the 240s.

    As to the remainder of your advice, I'm going to try the different ammo first and then work my way up from cheapest/easiest to most costly/difficult. I'll likely start with the forearm stock. Recrowning is the last thing, but I don't think I'll need it. I think your comments on the projectile weight and velocity for rifling twist are going to prove prophetic. It will be at least week before I can get back to the range to find out.
     
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  8. GooseGestapo

    GooseGestapo Member

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  9. jmr40

    jmr40 Member

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    I bought a used Ruger Blackhawk in 44 mag years ago that I couldn't get zeroed. Moving the rear sight until it almost fell out of the mount still wouldn't get it close. Looking closer you could see the barrel wasn't lined up with the frame. Either the threads in the frame or on the barrel were not cut straight. The small shop where I bought it took it back and refunded my money. They returned the revolver to Ruger who I'm sure made it right. But I never asked what the outcome was.
     
  10. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    I used the Federal Ballistics Calculator to play around with velocities and bullet weights for a 100 yard zero.
    While bullet weight and bullet nose shape (240 grains to 312 grains, hollow point, round nose, flat point) affects it slightly, mainly it is only muzzle velocity that affects the trajectory to any significant degree for .44 magnum (or .45 Colt, or .357 magnum).

    So, for your 312 grain hand loads the 50 yard mid-range rise for a 100 yard zero would be about:
    +1.9" for 1400 FPS muzzle velocity.
    +1.7" for 1600 FPS muzzle velocity.
    I would think that these would be well within the adjustment range of your factory buckhorn sights, and probably also with your Williams Foolproof rear sight with the factory bead front sight.
    As I recall, when I mounted a Williams receiver sight on an 1894 Winchester .30-30 carbine, I didn't have to replace the front sight to zero it at 100 yards, or use either extreme of the elevation adjustment. It was just somewhere in the middle.

    I also sighted a Marlin 1894 .44 magnum carbine in at 100 yards with the factory buckhorn sights once, using Speer 270 grain jacketed soft point hand loads, which were loaded with 17 grains of Alliant 2400. Consulting my Lyman reloading manual, 18.3 grains would have given me around only 1475 FPS, so my loads were only around 1375 FPS probably. Yet, these were within the range of the factory buckhorn sights. The group measures less than 2" wide, though it seems strung out to 5" vertically. Probably due to the heating and expansion of the barrel with the magazine tube being fastened to it.

    For H110 with this 270 grain bullet, 21.5 grains results in 1623 FPS according to the manual, so your 312 grain hard cast gas check bullet should be around 1550 FPS to 1600 FPS with this powder charge, or 1600 FPS or more with 22 or 23 grains. Though 21.5 grains is listed as maximum for the 270 grain bullet. But then Lyman seem to be pretty conservative with their maximums. So, if your 312 grain hand loads were as claimed, they should have zeroed with the factory buckhorn sights.

    I guess that all things considered, with factory 240 grain loads (or duplicate hand loads) running around 1500 or 1600 FPS, and no actual problems affecting the point of impact, I think that you should have been able to zero the rifle with the factory buckhorns on the rifle, and probably also with the Williams Foolproof.

    So, I dunno. Loosen off the front barrel band enough to let the barrel move a bit, and check to see that the fore end hasn't some weird extreme warping, and then try it with another front plastic front sight and the 240 grain factory loads. If the problem goes away then maybe that's all that it was.

    It would also be interesting to be able to try the buckhorn sights again with the original front sight and the 240 grain factory loads, after checking over the fore end and barrel band.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2019
  11. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    I'm thinking this option as well; I still have the old rear sight. (I also have a replacement original front sight.)

    I don't know if this is useful, but, according to HSM, their 240 grn 44 mag cowboy load muzzle velocity is 1150 fps. Their website doesn't say from what length barrel that is achieved, but it does specify that particular cartridge as a "handgun cartridge." (And it shot very well from my 4.2 Redhawk.)
     
  12. adcoch1

    adcoch1 Member

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    The bore on some 44 rifles is a bit generous as well, which shows up A LOT when shooting plain base cast that isn't larger than the bore by a couple thousandths. A gas check would possibly mask this issue a bit. It sounds like too tight of a barrel band though for part of it. My Rossi was doing this a bit until I loosened the barrel band a speck. Also, buckhorn sights suck in my opinion and are really hard to shoot groups with. Hope you can figure it out, cause a good shooting 44 levergun is a blast!

    Another thought, could you be flinching in anticipation of recoil a little bit? Might account for shooting erratically.
     
  13. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    That is interesting. I looked at their website and they list two .44 magnum loads, both listed as "handgun". The 200 grain load being much slower than this 240 grain load. Most of the other loads listed as "handgun" (.45 Colt, .44 Special, etc.) all seem to have typical factory or slower handgun velocities. But, perhaps that IS the velocity from a revolver or a handgun length test barrel. If so, then in a 20" barrelled rifle, these would develop around 1500 FPS. (Comparing the same load for handgun and rifle in my Lyman 48th Edition reloading manual.)
    It could also be a typo, and 1150 FPS IS the rifle velocity. 1150 FPS seems pretty high for a Cowboy load in a handgun, and it's higher than any of the other Cowboy handgun loads that they list. But maybe they increased the velocity with the 240 grain bullet deliberately so that it would also perform well in a rifle with that slower 1:38" twist that so many have. But, it's all pure pure speculation, I know.

    However, they seem to shoot poorly in your rifle, while those 312 hard cast gas check bullets at around 1600 FPS shoot well.
    Why? It could be that the Cowboy loads are fairly soft lead and strip in the rifling at 1500 FPS, and that your rifling is shallow, also causing stripping. Or, they are only actually moving at 1150 FPS from the muzzle, which is on the slow side. Hard to say without really confirming everything. One thing though. If the bullets are dark in color and you can easily cut into a bullet with your thumbnail, then they are fairly soft and not hard cast. Hard cast bullets seem to stay silver-colored and are hard to cut into with your thumbnail.

    In the Redhawk, these loads would stabilize just fine, whether the velocity was 1150 FPS or even 800 FPS. Your Redhawk revolver has a 1:20" rifling twist, which is designed for handgun velocities, and most .44 magnum revolvers will shoot .44 Special loads just fine. Also, every Ruger revolver that I ever owned had deep cut rifling that shot great with even fairly soft lead bullets cast from salvaged .22 LR lead, even at lower velocities. The Blackhawk in .45 Colt has a 1:16" twist, presumably because factory loads are around 850 FPS with a 250 grain bullet, but 1:20" would work quite well too at 800 FPS, I would think.
     
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  14. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    Now that you mentioned it, that probably is a typo. I shot close to a thousand of those in my revolver at USPSA matches at steel targets. One, they don't recoil much more than my lighter handloads, and two, they don't seem to be tearing up steel targets.
     
  15. zeke

    zeke Member

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    While i like levers alot, it would be rare to get one where the sight slots were actually square/level with each other, or with the receiver. Or if the barrel looks squared up to the receiver. When i get a new for me lever, the first thing is to look at the sights from an elevated position , or heaven forbid from the front sight forward to try and line them up in the center of the barrel. Nothing more annoying to me then to have the poi shift sideways as the rear sight is elevated.
     
  16. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    This was the winning ticket, right here.

    I just got back from the range. I started it out with a good laser bore sighting in at 25 yrds. I zeroed at 50 yrds. using 200 grn RNFP "cowboy loads. Shot pretty good. Pushed the target back to 100 yards and got 3-4" 3-shot groups (strung horizontally) 2-3" left of point of aim. Shooting HSM Bear loads, 305 grn WFN (wow what a difference in recoil!) I got smaller groups but 6" low and 6" left at 100 yrds., but the point is this: it shot light weight, lower velocity ammo acceptably well, and it shot heavy weight, higher velocity well. Slow, heavy bullets are a definite no-go.
     
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  17. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    So now that I'm back to useable group sizes, I still have the shooting low problem. In an earlier post, I mentioned a plastic front sight, from which I was supposed to trim material until I got the rifle zeroed. That has failed. As of right now, I have the Williams FP rear sight cranked to maximum elevation. (The rear sight actually fell off the mount. I currently have just enough threads in the mount to keep the sight aperture affixed to the mount. Even at that, the entire assembly is slightly loose on the mount, like a kid with a loose front tooth.) I also have the windage cranked to maximum right. Yet, I'm still not fully zeroed to point of aim. I've also trimmed the front sight down to the point that it's almost a nub, not much higher than the factory front sight after I filed it down to a nub doing the same thing last year. With the sights as they are currently, The 200 grn bullets hit left, but elevation is correct. The 3015 grn bullets hit low and left. I have no more adjustments that I can make on either front or rear sight. I still haven't tried loosening the fore end stock etc.
     
  18. Picher

    Picher Member

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    I'd send it back to the factory. If that's not possible, I'd think about carefully bending the barrel. The problem with that is that it may affect how the forend fits, so it may need to be adjusted, as may the magazine tube (which should have been removed before bending the barrel. A gunsmith may be the best person to do the bending, but most would want to replace the barrel instead, which may be the best thing, provided crooked receiver threading isn't the culprit.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2019
  19. HB

    HB Member

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    Are sure you needed a taller front sight? If the rear is maxed out in its highest position then the front sight should be maxed out at the lowest position.

    HB
     
  20. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    I never said I needed a taller front sight; I need a shorter front sight. I've been cutting the front sight down shorter and shorter. There's not much front sight left to cut. It's almost down to a nub.
     
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  21. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    It's odd that the higher velocity HSM bear loads are hitting lower and further left than the low velocity 200 grain Cowboy loads. You would think that they would shoot higher. But I suppose that individual loads might have their own peculiarities.
    Those HSM bear loads are doing around 1700 FPS in a 20" barrel from what I researched, so that should be no problem elevation-wise.
    I think that I would go back to the factory iron sights and see how they shoot with the HSM bear loads. Apart from having to use a small shim, they did zero with those handloads you were using initially. And, maybe the velocity of those handloads was lower than you thought.
    If zeroing is no problem with the factory iron sights, then maybe you have a barrel alignment problem with the receiver and you may be stuck with barrel-mounted sights.
    If so, then Marbles buckhorn sights might be the best answer. They are much better quality than the stock Winchester sights, and you could probably find a post front sight to match instead of a bead. More sight whittling though.
    But, I wouldn't discount the fore end and barrel band. It doesn't sound like this is the problem but it wouldn't hurt to check.
    I'm pretty much out of ideas.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2019
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  22. PapaG

    PapaG Member

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    I have the same gun, from the late sixties or so. The rifling looks like Marlin microgroove and I have never been able to get lead to shoot worth beans. Jacketed, up to 240 grains are great. Gas checked, 215 to 245 grains are ok only up to about 1200. Fast loads, not logically, often shoot lower as there is less muzzle rise though I find this more often in handguns.
    I'd loosen the bands, put the buckhorn back on and see if it returns to original performance.
     
  23. ACES&8S

    ACES&8S Member

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    Are you sure that isn't supposed to be my rifle??? Because it sure sounds like the kind of problems I have, like impossible
    problems with unreasonable circumstances, you must have got mine by mistake.
    Just wait, I bet it will be a record of some kind, you will be in the book alongside my many records with my photo &
    puzzled expression.
    This site has been a great help to me & solved several for me,,,, good luck.
     
  24. D.B. Cooper

    D.B. Cooper Member

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    Well I dropped it off at the gunsmith this afternoon. Told them to check barrel to receiver alignment. I suspect they are going to install a new front sight and tell me to go back to the original buckhorns. They've got a 2-week backlog, so I'm sure I can find another gun-related project until then.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2019
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