RIA: Winchester Thumb Trigger Rifle

The Winchester Thumb Trigger rifle was a very inexpensive boy’s rifle developed from the Model 1902. It is a single-shot .22 rimfire bolt action system, on which the trigger was replaced by a thumb-activated sear behind the bolt. In theory, this was to allow greater accuracy by requiring less force acting to disrupt your point of aim when firing. It was also a simpler and thus cheaper mechanism to manufacture. About 75,000 of these rifles were sold, including many exported to Australia, interestingly.


  1. Seem like the thumb-trigger approach could be quite valuable on things like precision rifles.
    Tests would be needed but I hypothesize that there is less muscle movement to trip a thumb-activated sear than with the index finger.

    • Also the fact that the trigger force would presumably be applied directly inline with the barrel rather than on a different plane or nearly perpendicular to it, so even a heavy trigger should not upset the aim very much.

      With all the research showing how the “video game generation” tests out as having much better thumb control than the older generations, it’s a wonder that today’s firearms industry has not *yet* tried to make use of that acquired dexterity.

      • Handling a rifle is different from holding a game console controller. TRUST ME! The guns are MUCH heavier than the controllers.

      • They have check out thumb trigger black Rambo on youtube he shoots an ar15 with a thumb trigger its more like a button pretty cool I could see this application used for a sniper rifle

    • It would also be applicable to improvised arms, such as those made and used by guerrillas fighting an occupation.

      The Vietcong homemade bolt-action rifle firing .30 Carbine ammunition which John Wooters described in GUNS & AMMO magazine back in 1964 was more complicated than this, simply because it had a trigger searage. With only six moving parts total, this one is much simpler.

      One like this could certainly be made from “available materials”, even by hand,in virtually any caliber which the breech lock system could tolerate.

      Don’t forget that several early bolt-action designs, and even more modern “economy” types such as the old Savage 340, relied upon the bolt handle resting against the front of the rear receiver bridge as the only actual locking surface, as did many bolt-action shotguns made by the likes of Mossberg, Marlin, and Stevens.

      The 340, BTW, was chambered for rounds ranging from the .22 Hornet on up to .30-30 WCF. The “bolt handle lock” system, if made of even halfway-decent steel, is stronger than it looks.

      Add in a quick takedown as on this one, making it easy to conceal or transport without detection, and you have a highly practical “guerrilla gun”, suitable for relieving an enemy soldier of his weapon and etc., after first relieving him of his life.



      • just a matter of getting used to your weapon,,,,,,,i have friend who bought two supposedly thumbtriggers,,,,both markings are scripted 1902 but doesn’t say thumbtrigger as mine does,,,,,his are marked s l and extra long,,,,,set up with thumb device also,,,,,,,,were these predicessors of actual model 99 thumbtriggers? looks as tho it;d be hard to find right parts to convert them ,,,,,,thanks bill

  2. I suppose the biggest down-side is that it has no trigger guard. Lean it against something in the field and bang! Also, hand it to someone not familiar with the mechanism, they grab the wrist of the stock and bang!

      • Precisely the point if you don’t want to shoot your friend in the spleen while jumping over logs…

        • An unloaded gun doesn’t kill many rabbits.

          Trust me, if you’re calling this a “boy’s rifle” and selling it to actual human beings that will be stalking game in the field, this is a bad trigger arrangement.

          Of course, any gun is safe when it’s unloaded, but it’s only useful when it’s loaded. And having a gun with what amounts to an exposed sear and unprotected trigger is not a good thing.

          People go on and on about how dangerous the Type 94 Nambu pistol is, but it would be perfectly safe if you only loaded it when you want to shoot, right?

          • And people forget that the safety catch on the Type 94 actually works! Not many hunters run while shooting for good reason. And this piece was likely intended for plinking, not dinner procurement.

  3. Thanks for showing this one, truly very much forgotten. More detail can be found in ‘Winchester .22 Caliber Single Shot Rifles’ by H. Houze. according to that source, there were two versions of this gun, pretty much at the same time. The first one is the Model 1900 and is actually a John Browning design, probably the last design of his they produced before parting company with Mr. Browning. That version (patent #632,094) had a conventional trigger and trigger guard. I’m not sure but this may be the only bolt action he ever designed.
    The second version is the Thumb trigger model, a modification of the Browning design by T.G. Bennet (patent # 632,090). Bennet was the president of the Winchester Repeating Arms Compay. A Yale graduate, and Oliver Winchester’s son-in-law. Normally when son-in-laws take over great businesses it is not a good thing, but Bennet was every bit as equal to Oliver Winchester, and brought the company to even greater heights, retiring in 1916, although one can question the sanity of any Gun company executive for allowing the Browning connection to slip away).

    • According to “John M Browning; American Gunmaker” Winchester approached Browning about a cheap .22 because flowbert rifles were intruding into Winchesters sales. Johh sent over 3 or 4 models he had already designed but not previously sent to Winchester and included a new design that according to the book was so simple (bordering on crude) that he knew Winchester would never make it but Winchester patented them all and paid him for the designs. The idea was not to just make a good rifle, but to own the patents on all other competing designs… If the Winchester rifle was good but cost $5 and the crude rifle was functional but $2 Winchester would still lose a large number of sales to the crude cheap alternative. Browning himself described it as building a wall of patents around the Winchester rifles to protect Winchester from competition. That is why there were so many lever guns Browning made and sold to Winchester that were never made, if Marlin had come up with those designs then Winchester would have to compete. Great book, it also describes John’s early 40/70 machine gun which ran a 200 round belt flawlessly at the Colt factory in a demonstration before some military brass… proving Ian is almost right, before smokeless powder no one could make a working machinegun; no one except John Browning.

  4. According to Barnes, the .22 Extra Long cartridge was introduced about 1880, and was used Remington, Ballard, Stevens, and Wesson single-shot rifles, the Winchester Model 58 bolt-action, and S&W revolvers, in addition to this one. It was dropped by the ammunition makers in the mid-1930s. Using the same 40-grain outside-lubricated lead bullet as the Long rifle, it held 6 more grains of black powder.

    Barnes also notes that while somewhat more powerful than the .22 Long Rifle, it was not noted for any particular inherent accuracy. Smokeless powder loads (which would have been used in this rifle) were ballistically almost identical to regular .22LR.

    Barnes states that since the only difference between this and the other .22 rimfires is case length, .22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle can all be fired in a .22 Extra long-chambered arm,like this one.

    In terms of range and power, the standard .22 Long Rifle of the last 120+ years up to today is probably superior, even without resorting to a hyper-velocity “Stinger”, etc.



  5. The simplicity can be attributed to Browning. Winchester allegedly commissioned this rifle as competition to the very economically-priced Flobert .22 single-shot being imported from France. Browning, with his habit of making any one part do three jobs, rose to the challenge. (As a side project he also submitted a model so simple that the trigger, breechblock, and firing pin were all on piece! He described it as so simple as to be dangerous.) I suspect Bennett learned simplicity of means from his fifteen-year relationship with Browning.

    Bennett refused (actually sat on, until Browning withdrew it) Browning’s automatic shotgun for several sound reasons: it would compete, and make obsolete, much of Winchester’s regular shotgun line; there was not yet any imaginable use for such a weapon; it would take some major tooling up and marketing expense to make it move. FN was willing where Winchester was not and Remington not able due to the death of its president.

    All this data from “John M. Browning, American Gunsmith” by his son, John Browning, and Curt Gentry.

  6. Though seeming simple and practicle, using in repeater shoulder guns in heavier caliber, thumb triggering may cause injuries and even automatic discharge through the inertia of holding hand and recoiling firearm.

    • I found that also somebody make scaled down version of this rifle:
      notice that lack of trigger guard is positive from (functional) miniature point of view – if you would scale down whole rifle with trigger guard it would be hard to use, but if it has not trigger guard there is no problem.

  7. Per question of Mr. Daewoo: US Patent 511,677 granted 12/26/1893; an extension of the breechblock protrudes downward and back 20 degrees into trigger guard to form trigger. Breechblock pulls back and down for loading. Pulling trigger snaps entire piece up and forward to discharge cartridge. Four different prototypes were sold to Winchester but never manufactured.

    • Fantastic! I wonder if one of them is at the Cody museum? Quick! Somebody give Ian a call!

      This is great, it’s like the great granddaddy of the BSA Ralock, or any open-bolt gun with the firing pin fixed to the bolt. ^__^

    • Mr. LDC hits one of my favorite single-shot .22 designs, that of J. M. Browning in 1893:
      Practically a zip gun, but I expect it probably would work pretty well. Someday I’ll try my hand at building one! Here below is the J.M. Browning patent for the Winchester 1900:

      As far as safety goes, this rifle has to have the sear manually cocked before firing, so clearly the intent was not to load it until the lad or lass was at the spot where the tin cans, rabbits, etc. were available. One of the features of my 1920s Husqvarna salongsgevär is that the bolt is opened, a cartridge inserted in the chamber, the bolt closes under considerable tension as a cock-on-closing design, but the main spring is held by an automatic safety. This has a little thumb-operated lever that must be depressed to release the mainspring and allow it to move to the sear and trigger. A bit slow, but certainly much safer.

  8. My grandpaw introduced me to the thumb trigger .22 at about age 7. We hunted mostly birds and an occasional rabbit and lots of target practice on cans etc. I still have the gun today at age 69 and shoot it on occasion . There has never been a safety issue with the gun always carried with a round in the chamber.

  9. I inherited one of these guns. I’m thinking of selling and would like to know which is the best way to sell it, and how much is it worth. Just would like an idea of what to ask for and how to go about selling it. Thanks L.M.

  10. I owned one of these many years ago and gave it to a friend when I left Bendigo in 1985, it worked ok but had a new bolt made for it as was getting a bit loose in the action, a lovely little piece from days gone by.

  11. Father, born 1910, Canada, was given a thumb trigger 22 when he was,I think, 10. He gave it to me when I was 11. Still have it. I always liked the feature of being able to break it down into two components for ease of transporting.

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