The Winchester Model 72 ( A Boy And His Rifle Part V)


I picked this up last week. The Winchester Model 72 is one of the two Winchester vintage rimfires I have wanted for many years, The other being the Model 69A. Both come with peep sights and are essentially the same gun except for one thing. The 69 takes a detachable magazine, the same used by the Model 52 and Model 75 and the Model 72 uses a tube magazine.

For background I am going to let Dyspeptic Gunsmith fill in the background and add a few comments of his own.

“Production of the 72 started in 1939, and was a response to dealers wanting a “boy’s rifle” which was a .22 bolt action with a tubular magazine. Today, we all would ask “Why a tubular magazine over a detachable box magazine?” The Model 69 had a “clip” or detachable stacked magazine and preceded the 72. Why the tubular magazine?

Glad you asked. A DBM has a real problem trying to feed .22 Long Rifle, Long and Shorts interchangeably. With a tube magazine, you can stack .22 LR’s, Longs and Shorts in the tube on top of each other in any order you want, and then just cycle the bolt as you want. They all feed. They all go ‘bang’. They all extract and eject. They don’t all make the same noise, however. More on that later. You also cannot lose a tube magazine. It’s attached to the rifle. This is a consideration when you’re a father or uncle, buying a .22 rifle for a young lad who is prone to dropping things in the woods.

The 72 came with a 25″ barrel, and the barrel was screwed into the receiver (as I recall from one I’ve worked on). This was notable, because in the quest for cost-reduction in .22 rifle manufacturing, some gun makers of the post-WWII era would make the receiver be part of the barrel steel. ie, the barrel and receiver (which was a tubular receiver) were all machined from the same bar of steel. This can make a gunsmith look pretty damned silly when he tries to remove the barrel from the receiver, only to discover that won’t ever happen.

The 72’s were not serial numbered (as I recall), ( he is correct )so dating them might be a tad tricky. There were two models of the original 72 made – one with a LR chamber (in which you could use Long or Shorts as well) and a “gallery gun” which was .22 Short only. It was marked on the barrel as such. They had a magazine that ended a bit less than 8″ from the muzzle or the other, longer magazine that ended about 6″ from the muzzle. They were available with open or aperture rear sights.

Production was discontinued in 1941 as Winchester tooled up for WWII. Production resumed in 1946, and continued until the 72/72A were discontinued in 1959. I think over 161,000 of the 72/72A were made.

They’re plenty accurate for the original price of the rifle – a less expensive, “boy’s rifle” that was used for plinking, squirrel/rabbit hunting and the like. Rifles like the 72, when used with .22 Short ammo, were nearly silent. I killed all manner of raccoon pests with a 72 and Shorts/CB caps when I was a kid.

Now lets take a look.

Above you can see the excellent target type sights for the rifle. The rear fully adjustable rear peep and the hooded front post. Capable of some very fine shooting as opposed to the lame open style barrel mounted sights found on the majority of “boys rifles” from since the dawn of time.

Windage is adjusted by loosening the rear peep, this lets you slide it to the left or right. Not as nice as a redfield rear and takes a little trial and error to know how much to move it but it very workable. It’s more of a set it and leave it alone deal. I think adding a mark on the black piece with a file would allow repeat return of your zero once you set it. Elevation ins made with the small screw forward of the peep on top.

As you can see, it press against the receiver to move the sight up and away or to lower it. Very simple but not repeatable. But once it’s set, its set. The safety is seen on the right side .

The stock of the rifle feels like it should be on a centerfire rifle. This is back when they made them like they still gave a shit and took pride. It shows. The rifle feels like a target rifle. Like most “boys rifle’s ” from the day its realistically too big for a boy. Unless the “boy” is a 17 year old. That’s OK though. It makes it just right for adults.

I took it out and did some shooting to see what the zero was like and how it might group.

From 30 yards it did pretty good with Remington bulk standard velocity ammo. I will need to tweak the zero just a hair to get it dead on. Range dog was not impressed much though.

I will follow up with a part 2 in a few days once the weather allows me some time on a bench and we will see how my stock refinishing job turned out.


    • I have one that my dad gave me that he got from his dad. Still pops 22LR rounds all day long like it’s nothing. If you take care of these things they last forever.

  1. My wife came home the other day and said casually, “oh honey could you get the guns out of the car for me.” I said “Yeah right”. I find on the back seat hidden in a blanket an old 30-06 deer rifle made from a Mauser ’98 with a scope and a Winchester model 72 also with a scope 5x. and no provision for iron sights. No dovetails, the Winchester proof mark off to the side. I found some experts at rimfire central (Jeffrey Abendschien) and discovered that my 72 was manufactured between March of 1938 and March 1939, because there was a forward stop pin added to the Mod 69 and mod 72 in march 1939. Mine does not have this pin and it looks like yours does not either. My scope is strange because it has the 8x rear mount that was being developed at the time exclusively for the Mod 74.

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