RETROSPECT: Snapshot: Winchester’s Rimfire Rout

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Once upon a time there was a .22 Rimfire Ammo War. Two cartridges vied for supremacy, and this one lost. Read more!

Winchester 1903
Image courtesy WinfieldGalleries.com.

SOURCE: NRA Publications, American Rifleman, by Mark A. Keefe

It seemed like a good idea at the time. When the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. rolled out its graceful, 10-shot semi-automatic Model 1903 rifle, it wasn’t entirely clear that the .22 Long Rifle would become the most dominant rimfire cartridge of all time. Back in 1903, smokeless powder was still a relatively new thing in commercial firearms, and Winchester was concerned that blackpowder .22 Long Rifle cartridges would be used in the Thomas Crossley Johnson-designed Model 1903.

To keep blackpowder .22s from gumming up the works in the blowback-operated, tubular-magazine-fed Model 1903, Winchester decided to chamber the gun for a new rimfire cartridge, the .22 Winchester Automatic. It featured a proprietary case and an inside-lubricated 45-gr. bullet. When Winchester commissioned this piece of art to promote the then-brand-new Model 1903 and its brand-spanking-new cartridge, the company thought it had a winner on its hands.

Winchester 1903
Image courtesy WinfieldGalleries.com.

But Winchester lost the battle — and the war — against the .22 Long Rifle. The company waved the white flag in 1933, and its Model 1903 became the Model 63 — chambered in .22 Long Rifle. No factory guns for the .22 Winchester Automatic cartridge have been produced since the 1930s. And Winchester now makes billions of .22 Long Rifle cartridges every year, but no .22 Winchester Automatic. That said, Aguila Ammunition has done special runs of .22 Winchester Automatic for the more than 125,000 Model 1903s made.

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