The Model 1895 represented a significant departure for Winchester, which had long been in the business of lever guns at that point. It was the first lever-action rifle they would ever produce that featured a box magazine in lieu of the tubular magazines the company had used on all its prior lever action rifles.
This was also the last lever-action rifle that John Moses Browning would ever design, as he focused his genius on semi- and full-auto receivers exclusively in the following years. For this rifle, he would utilize the same rear locking bolt used in the Winchester Model 1886.
Browning built it strong to withstand the increased pressures of smokeless powder cartridges that were making there way into commonality at the time. Though it was the strongest lever action Browning ever devised, it is relatively weak by modern standards.
Throughout its 45-year production run, the 1895 was chambered in .30-40 Krag, 7.62x54mmR, .303 British, .30-03, .30-06 Springfield, .35 WCF, .38-72 WCF, .40-72 WCF, and .405 Winchester. The change from a tube to a box mag meant the rifle could do what other lever actions couldn’t: safely utilize ammunition with pointed or spitzer type bullets.
In a tubular magazine where ammo is stored tip-to-primer under tension, pointed bullets are a big danger, because a strong enough jolt can cause the tip of a bullet to activate the primer ahead of it, causing a nasty explosion in the gun. For this reason, lever guns were long limited to round-nosed bullets until Hornady came out with its LEVERevolution ammo in recent years.
The Model 1895’s box mag held four rounds, which made for a total capacity of five when the tube was stuffed, the same as a 20″ barreled rifle in .30-30 with a tube mag.
Perhaps the most famous proponent of the 1895 was Teddy Roosevelt, who took two chambered in .405 Winchester with him on an African safari in 1909. He referred to the 1895 as his ‘”medicine gun” for lions when recounting a tale about going after a lioness at dusk in his book African Game Trails.
The gun never saw any real service with the United States military, but Russia ordered a great number of Model 1895 rifles as the First World War broke out.
Approximately 300,000 M1895s were manufactured in 7.62×54mmR for the Russian Army between 1915 and 1917. Uniquely, these lever guns also had a charger guide, which permitted reloading using the same stripper clips that were used to stuff the bolt-action Mosin–Nagant.