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5 years later; Found a nice Winchester 03 (1903) .22 Winchester Automatic Rimfire
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June 5, 2021 - 4:49 pm
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About four or five years ago I ordered 200 rounds of .22 Winchester Automatic rimfire ammunition by mistake. Rather than resell the ammo I decided to hold on to it until I could find a rifle that could fire it.

I had been looking for a Winchester 03 (1903) rifle ever since, even bid on a few at auctions. None ever fell below $450.00 that was in an acceptable condition and there were always milsurp rifles I wanted more so never shelled out the cash.

After work yesterday I wandered down to the gun shop and there sitting on the rack was a pretty little 03′, when I asked to see it the tag flipped around and a $199.99 price nearly yanked the eyeballs out of my head. I figured there had to be something wrong with it. Inspection and questions and while I am far from an expert or even well versed on these rifles, I found nothing wrong. The rifle is in excellent condition for being 115 years old. It was manufactured in 1906 according to the serial number.

Since I’m working at the range tomorrow, she will be coming with me.

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June 5, 2021 - 5:19 pm
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The price you paid is appropriate for that rifle.  I suspect that you are not aware of the fact that the barrel is not original to the rest of the rifle.  Specifically, a 1906 production rifle originally had a barrel marked “MOD 1903” (see the attached picture).  Winchester shortened the model designation to “03” many years after your rifle was manufactured.

 

S/N 35920 35920.jpgImage Enlarger

Bert

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June 6, 2021 - 3:52 am
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Bert H. said
The price you paid is appropriate for that rifle.  I suspect that you are not aware of the fact that the barrel is not original to the rest of the rifle.  Specifically, a 1906 production rifle originally had a barrel marked “MOD 1903” (see the attached picture).  Winchester shortened the model designation to “03” many years after your rifle was manufactured.

Hi Bert, Thank you for the information! You are 100% correct, was not aware that the barrel is not the one that originally came with the rifle. I’m not so familiar with Winchester rifles, this makes only the fourth that I have in my collection. Was it common to sent these rifles back to have the barrels changed? 

I’m guessing the barrel was changed at the factory by looking at the stamps on the barrel and receiver. Would you happen to know what the stamp rear of the trigger guard was for? see pictures. 

https://usabaker.files.wordpress.com/2021/06/win-03-stamps.jpg?resize=160%2C160Image Enlarger

As far as price goes, I have never seen one of these in California for less than $450.00 at gun shop shows or gun shows. Auctions I’ve seen them go around $300.00 but by the time you add in the shipping $30.00 and then the FFL transfer fee $100.00 it’s still at $430.00

I was eyeballing another at a gun store here in no so great condition he has it lists as follows;

Winchester 1903 .22win Semi Auto TakeDown Rifle. These rifles were used at Shooting Arcades at Fairs, semi auto and easy takedown. It has a lot of wear and tear. $495”  I was glad I waited and got the one I did.

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June 6, 2021 - 3:59 pm
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It took many years of searching for a nice M1903. Most all well used up. I now have an early M1903 that has a minty bore, 98% blue, even down to the original blued bolt. Glad I waited, as this one is a collectors prize.  Big Larry

 

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June 6, 2021 - 4:17 pm
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The stamped marking behind the trigger guard is an inspector’s stamp for fit, finish, and function. It is certainly possible that this rifle was returned to the factory for a new barrel at some time, but the only way to know for sure is to contact the Cody Firearms Museum records office and purchase a Factory letter for the rifle. Factory letters are available for serial numbers 1 though 39999. If the letter shows a “R&R” (Return & Repair) with a work order number, the odds are very good that it was rebarreled by Winchester.

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June 6, 2021 - 5:11 pm
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B[email protected] said

Was it common to sent these rifles back to have the barrels changed? 
  

 

Hi Busabaker,

Yes, it was relatively common for the barrel to be changed on the 1903, although not necessarily at Winchester.  I have never really looked into the “why” but I have noticed MANY more mail order replacement barrels installed on the Model 1903 than any other Winchester .22 rim fire, including the Model 1890.  I suspect it has to do with the cartridge, maybe someone else can shed some light on the cause.

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June 7, 2021 - 9:08 pm
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Big Larry said
It took many years of searching for a nice M1903. Most all well used up. I now have an early M1903 that has a minty bore, 98% blue, even down to the original blued bolt. Glad I waited, as this one is a collectors prize.  

Larry, she is a beautiful one 🙂 

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June 7, 2021 - 9:10 pm
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Bert H. said
 but the only way to know for sure is to contact the Cody Firearms Museum records office and purchase a Factory letter for the rifle. Factory letters are available for serial numbers 1 though 39999.   

Thank Bert! I going to request it right now. 🙂

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June 7, 2021 - 9:42 pm
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JWA said
I have never really looked into the “why” but I have noticed MANY more mail order replacement barrels installed on the Model 1903 than any other Winchester .22 rim fire, including the Model 1890.    

JWA, thank you. How can you identify that a rifle has a replacement barrel? Well I mean a Winchester made barrel that is.

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June 7, 2021 - 10:17 pm
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When I was at the range yesterday I was able to fire the rifle for the first time. I used Aguilla 22 Winchester Automatic ammunition. Even with my bad eyes that really had a hard time with the iron sight, shooting off-hand, I was still able to hold a 2.360″ 10 round groups at 30 yards. It’s me that’s making the groups that big not the rifle. I should have shot it off a rest or prone I guess.   But just the same it is a truly accurate rifle. 

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June 8, 2021 - 1:54 am
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My friend JWA, advised me not to shoot mine as it is an early 2nd year rifle with the bronze firing pin. I bought a bunch of Aguila ammo for it before he told me not to shoot it. I also collect vintage ammo, and I bought a minty sealed box of very early ammo for it. $150 a box. I think I got mine off Guns International. One of the nicest, unaltered, m1903’s I have owned. I did once own a rare US marked M1903. They are pretty much unobtainable now. One up for sale now for $5,500.  Big Larry

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June 8, 2021 - 4:28 pm
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[email protected] said

JWA, thank you. How can you identify that a rifle has a replacement barrel? Well I mean a Winchester made barrel that is.  

The mail order replacement barrels have a circle “P” instead of the normal circle “WP” proof mark near the receiver.  You can also sometimes use the the version of the barrel marking (like Bert did on your rifle) to determine if the barrel is a later vintage.

I have seen many 1903’s with the single circle “P” proof which indicated a field replacement.  I also have seen a lot of 1903’s with pipe wrench marks on the barrels from “less equipped” owners.

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June 8, 2021 - 4:31 pm
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Big Larry said
My friend JWA, advised me not to shoot mine as it is an early 2nd year rifle with the bronze firing pin. I bought a bunch of Aguila ammo for it before he told me not to shoot it. I also collect vintage ammo, and I bought a minty sealed box of very early ammo for it. $150 a box. I think I got mine off Guns International. One of the nicest, unaltered, m1903’s I have owned. I did once own a rare US marked M1903. They are pretty much unobtainable now. One up for sale now for $5,500.  Big Larry  

Yep, normally I am firm advocate for shooting anything in the collection but it would be a shame to break a firing pin in your very nice early example since the early style bronze firing pins are unobtainable.

I will loan you one of my later 1903’s so you and Tom can burn up your Aguila ammo.

Best Regards,

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June 10, 2021 - 2:32 am
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Thanks my friend, but I have two M63’s that are near the same rifle, and much cheaper to shoot. No need to shoot my M1903. If I ever find a nice, later, rifle, I will buy it and shoot up the Aguila ammo. Cannot shoot your rifles at Brunos.    Big Larry

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June 13, 2021 - 12:42 am
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JWA said

Yep, normally I am firm advocate for shooting anything in the collection but it would be a shame to break a firing pin in your very nice early example since the early style bronze firing pins are unobtainable.

So the reason not to shoot is the material the firing pin is made out of, I was wondering what the reason was. Mine is steel so I have no worries 🙂 but should I get another I’ll know to look at the firing pin. Thank you for the information.

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June 13, 2021 - 12:45 am
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JWA said

The mail order replacement barrels have a circle “P” instead of the normal circle “WP” proof mark near the receiver. 

Mine is marked with the WP 

Thank you again JWA

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June 13, 2021 - 11:40 pm
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[email protected] said

JWA said
The mail order replacement barrels have a circle “P” instead of the normal circle “WP” proof mark near the receiver. 

Mine is marked with the WP 

Thank you again JWA  

No worries on your steel firing pin, shoot away!

Always glad to help, I love the .22’s

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March 10, 2023 - 10:20 pm
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I have my grandfathers Mod 1903. I recently bought a Teslong digital bore scope and found the bore in terrible shape. After researching I found that although the powder for Win Auto was smokeless the primers were corrosive. A nice barrel liner and chamber reamer was obtained and now I have a well worn Mod 1903 with a minty new bore. As a toddler I was schooled on this rifle and put many a rabbit in the freezer for grandma. PS I also have a Mod 63 (the reissue in 22lr) for plinking.

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March 10, 2023 - 11:08 pm
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Bruce H said After researching I found that although the powder for Win Auto was smokeless the primers were corrosive.

  

First non-corrosive RF priming was Rem’s Kleanbore introduced Nov. 1926.  Now all you have to do is find ammo for it!

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