"An Old Favorite"
Model 88
Caliber .308

Dec 11, 2004

Corey picks up a "blast from the past."
Back when Corey was 8 or 10 years old he eyed Dad's Model 88 and thought it was the nicest deer rifle he'd ever seen. That should tell you something about this guy's style and approach to life as a single digit kid. The "88" always held fond memories. With the recent departure of a customized Remington 7600 deer rifle (to me), he remembered a friends Model 88 he had made an offer on 3 years ago. "If you ever want to get rid of it, I'm the guy."   So, with a phone call, and a long days wait, he made the deal. His friend didn't use the rifle and knew it would be going to a good home. Tonight the rifle will be picked up, cleaned, fondled and tomorrow it will jump into action again.

"Life is good !"

And it gets even better. Corey picked the gun up tonight (12/11), brought her back to the garage and checked the serial number. It was a first run model made in 1955! It looks like hand-checkering and sports a Lyman peep sight. I'll check it out at the garage tomorrow.

I checked it out tonight (12/12) and it's a fine rifle with a lot of character. Grandfather bought it new, passed it on to his son, then he passed it on to his son. Now Corey owns it and it's legacy continues.
The rifle fired and functioned great this morning. The peep sight was removed. The original iron sights are just fine for now. This rifle will probably be sporting a Bushnell Elite 3200 FireFly 3-9 x 40mm for next hunting season as well as a reduced length of pull.

Made from 1955 until about 1973, the Mod 88 was a departure for Winchester lever big-bore rifles, in that it had a one-piece stock and detachable 5-round magazine. In operation, it has a rotating bolt -- in other words, it's a bolt-action rifle operated by a lever. The Model 88 was available in other calibers (.243 Win, .284 Win, .358 Win), but the .308 was by far the most popular. Over a quarter of a million were made.

Check your Winchester serial number here.


In the early '60s, when my pals and I were impatiently awaiting the opportunity to buy a deer license, the rifle we all wanted was the Winchester Model 88 lever action.

Among the adults in our little farm community who let us tag along on deer hunts were a couple of traditionalists toting Savage 99s, and one oddball character who used a Winchester M70. But the model 88, make no mistake, was the hot setup.

The Model 88 appeared in 1955, the last design in the distinguished line of Winchester lever action rifles. Whether it is the best depends on what is important to you. Certainly it is best suited to modern trends.

A Truly Modern Lever-Action
The box magazine of the M88 permits the use of ballistically efficient spitzer bullets. The design allows a scope sight to be mounted low and over the bore. Lockup is at the front of the bolt, with locking lugs rotating into recesses in the receiver as the bolt is closed.

Though the design lacks the camming action of bolt rifles to help chamber and extract dirty or oversize cases, the M88's bolt locks up with the same strength and rigidity as bolt actions.

Accuracy is usually good. With a quality scope and good ammunition, three-shot groups of 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches are a reasonable expectation. My .284 has produced five-shot groups under an inch, though I wouldn't claim to do so on demand.

The M88 is a handsome rifle with sleek lines. The 22-inch barrels have the same trim profile as those of the Model 70 Featherweight with a very short shoulder, then a smooth taper to the muzzle. Most M88s weigh from 6 3/4 to 7 pounds, depending on caliber and wood density. By today's standards it's more of a medium than lightweight.

Post '64 Versions
The M88 was spared most of the 1964-era "improvements" of other Winchester models. Having owned several and examined many others I see no difference in terms of overall fit and finish, metal polishing and bluing, or action smoothness.

The obvious difference is in the stock. Earlier models had hand-cut checkering on grip and forearm. Checkering quality on early rifles wasn't too bad, but got progressively worse and by the early '60s was quite dreadful.

Stocks from 1964 on had a rather florid, stamped-in basket weave and acorn pattern. The carbine models, introduced in 1968, had plain uncheckered stocks and to my eye are the most attractive of all. Better no checkering than bad checkering.

The M88 was first offered in .243 and .308 Win., the latter being far the more popular. The .284 Win, was designed specifically for the M88 (and the semiautomatic Model 100) to provide .270 Win, ballistics in a short case. My favorite M88, and the one illustrated here, is a late-production model in .284.

The other M88 I want is a carbine in .358 Win. Unfortunately it will have to be a custom job as the .358 cartridge was only offered in standard rifles, and dropped after 1963. They command big bucks on the used market. Nearly 284,000 model 88s were made before production ended in 1973. I'd love to see it come back, but realistically that's not going to happen.

Less Than Perfect
The Model 88 had its faults. The trigger moves with the lever and the resulting linkage to the sear results in a rather spongy, creepy trigger break. If you want to see your gunsmith turn pale, waltz into the shop with an M88 and ask for a crisp three-pound trigger.

The one-piece stock is quite thin through the action area. I wouldn't say it's easily broken, but I have known it to happen and replacements are not easy to find. It's not the easiest rifle to take down and reassemble.

Advantages over a bolt action? Well, repeat shots are a bit faster. There's no bolt handle to catch on brush, or on clothes when the rifle is slung. It makes a flat, slick package in a saddle scabbard.

Okay, these aren't big advantages. But sometimes I want to remember what it was like to be 12 years old, dreaming of someday owning the, same rifle as the adults I admired and respected. That's when I take my Model 88 hunting. Those were good days. They still are good days.

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