Back in 1903 Winchester came out with a new rifle, using something called an “Inertia Delayed Blowback” operating system. Why didn’t they just call it a simple blowback semi-automatic? Because before the introduction of the Model 1903, nobody had seen such a gun – the design was brand new (read the full history here).
New or not, it was an instant hit. And the rifle design was so good that – with some minor modifications – it was used until 1958. The biggest of those changes was to reconfigure the gun from shooting the proprietary .22 Winchester Automatic to the much more common and popular .22 long rifle. This change came in the 1930s, and from 1933 on (until 1958 when it was discontinued) the rifle was designated the Model 63.
There were a LOT of these rifles made. And they were well enough made that it is still pretty easy to come across one at your local gun shop, at an estate auction, or online in decent shape. Or perhaps you might inherit one from a family member – how I came to have one in my safe. No, I didn’t inherit it – my wife did. Her dad had picked it up used sometime in the 60’s. It hadn’t been abused at all, but it also had seen a lot of use and not a lot of care in the intervening decades. I tracked down the serial number on the gun and found that it dated to the early 50s.
The Model 63
The Model 63 is a pretty basic gun by modern standards. It has a tube magazine, positioned such that the tube runs the length of the rear stock. You turn the rod end in the buttstock and pull it back, feed rounds in through a port in stock, and then push the rod back into the stock and lock it in place with a twist. It’s about as simple as can be. Easy to use, easy to maintain, nothing to get lost.
You charge the chamber by pushing back on another short rod at the front of the forestock, and the bolt can be locked back with a simple twist of that rod. There is a cross-bolt safety behind the trigger. It can be taken down by turning a knob at the back of the receiver until the stock comes loose. There is a simple low notch rear sight and an extended-post front.
That’s it. There really isn’t much more to the gun. Oh, you can find some that has a groove for mounting a scope (they weren’t called ‘optics’ back then). And who knows what kind of other little modifications owners might have made over the years. But the basic Model 63 is just that: basic.
Basic, and very, very, functional. Like I said, the one sitting here next to me wasn’t babied at all before it came into our possession. Oh, I cleaned it up, oiled the stock and whatnot, but didn’t do anything special. And it shoots like a charm.
I was honestly surprised when I went to look up the barrel length on the Model 63 prior to our using it last year for the Ballistics By The Inch .22 tests. Although the barrel is 23 inches long, it doesn’t feel like it. That’s because when you pick up a Model 63 it doesn’t feel large at all. In fact, I thought of it as being basically like my little Ruger 10/22 carbine with a 18.5-inch barrel. And overall, the two guns are very much the same, with the Model 63 just a couple of inches longer and a bit heavier (about 1.5 pounds).
Even being some 60 years old, the Model 63 we have is a solid little gun. Everything is still tight, though there is wear on the bluing, scratches on the wood. And it still shoots just fine – perfect for plinking.
I’ve never really tried to test it for accuracy, to be honest, but I can hit tin cans at 50 yards without effort, and usually pop them at 100 if I’m having a good day. I don’t think that I’ve ever had a problem with the gun not firing or feeding any brand of ammo.
What to do when you find one…
Some old Model 63s can go for a pretty penny, depending on their condition and who the previous owner was. But like I said, there were a lot of these guns made, and you can still find real deals on good used ones. Online auctions are running somewhere around $1000.
If you come across one at a price you can afford – or if you inherit one from family or friend – cherish it as a piece of history. And don’t hesitate to shoot it, if it hasn’t been abused.