Recently I went to Cody, Wyoming to shoot a nighttime suppressed PRS match. The day before the match I detoured over to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West which is home to the Cody Firearms Museum. The Center of the West houses five museums but I was really there just to check out the guns.
I had heard a lot about the museum from friends who had been there; after going, it did not disappoint! The museum features over 800 years of firearms history, with more than 10,000 items on display, covers 40,000 square feet, and is visited by close to 200,000 people a year. I expected to mainly see a lot of guns, historical and unique, but the Cody Firearms Museum is much more.
The museum is set up to engage not just a lifelong firearms enthusiast, but also for someone who knows almost nothing about guns and wants to learn. Once you pass the initial display at the entrance the education begins.
The first exhibit shows and explains different types of actions. Lever, bolt, single, double, and more. There are interactive demo guns where visitors can try actions like a lever action or bolt action. The lever action is super slick and smooth, a result of being cycled hundreds if not thousands of times a day.
More learning displays are close by. One explains how to determine your dominant eye and what that means. Timney Triggers sponsors a display where you can dry-fire AR-15s with a few different triggers from mil-spec to competition. Other displays show how rifling works and the physical effect of rifling on a bullet. You can look through different sighting systems with rifle peep sights, an Eotech red dot, and telescopic scopes. If you don’t know anything about firearms you can learn all of the basics here.
Ashley Hlebinsky was the Museum curator from 2015-2020 and Project Director for the renovation in 2018. She told me about education at the museum. “We built the museum with education in mind. When you display a lot of guns, the gun people will come. We wanted people to come and be able to learn something new. We actively tried to find things that would surprise people. The safety component was also really important to us. We might be people’s only interaction with firearms in their lifetime. We felt that we had an obligation and opportunity to provide safety information.”
Ashley currently works as a consultant in the areas of firearms history and museums as well as an author, TV producer, and co-founder of the University of Wyoming’s Firearms Research Center.
One of my favorite displays is the factory cutaway wall. Many readers have probably seen a factory cutaway Glock 17, Beretta 92, 1911, or other common pistols. The museum has these but some really unique cutaways as well. M2 select-fire carbine, 1895 lever action, 1910 semi-auto sporting rifle, M-16 A1, and my favorite, the Browning Automatic Rifle!
One display highlights competition shooting throughout history from the mid-1800s to today. Another is a replica of an 1800s gun store, complete with vintage guns, ammo, tools, and random trinkets like gun-company branded flashlights and rollerskates.
The John Browning display is really cool. Many of his gun designs are displayed as well as a timeline showing when Browning designed which guns and his history working with Winchester, Colt, FN, Remington, and Stevens.
Museum curator Danny Michael told me about the most unique gun on display, the Burton Machine Rifle. Designed in 1917 it shoots the .345 Burton cartridge. It was never produced but it was about 30 years ahead of its time. It featured twin detachable box mags, an intermediate cartridge, select-fire capability and it is man-portable. This is the only known example and only two other guns were known to have been chambered in the same caliber. “Its like what most people think of with an STG-44, but 30 years earlier,” Michael said of the rifle. “If it didn’t exist physically no one would likely know it was ever made.”
Today most guns are made with precision CNC machines but way back when it was done by people on manual machines. One room of the museum is filled with turn-of-the-century machines used to make guns in the Savage factory.
If you like military firearms there is a display dedicated to military arms from around the world. Czech VZ52 rifles from the 1950s, box mag fed select-fire M1 Garands, a Soviet SVT-40, a Polish wz. 28 in 8mm Mauser, a Japanese take down paratrooper rifle in 7.7mm Arisaka, Liberator pistols, and modern guns like the M-16, G3 and Glock 17.
If you love the artistic nature of hand-built pretty guns there is an entire room dedicated to the crazy engraving of high-end presentation guns. The bizarre gem here is the Lincoln Head Hammer Rifle. A breechloader in .44 caliber with a bust of President Lincoln’s head on the hammer. Other cool guns are a President Reagan-themed 1964 lever action and a German wheellock musket from 1596 with an ivory stock and amazing engraving.
The ground floor is filled with great displays of various themes, the American West, post-WW1 military, post-WW2 military, prototypes, hunting, and more. There is also a basement level with a lot of variations of the same pistol or rifle as the models progressed through the years.
The coolest part of the basement is the Gatling Gun. It’s a model 1883 that was modernized in the 1940s. The story as told to me was that the military wanted a faster-firing machine gun for fighter aircraft. Some crafty engineer took the hand crank off the Gatling Gun and replaced it with an electric motor. The change took the gun from 300 rounds per minute to 6000 rounds per minute. This was the prototype for today’s Vulcan Cannons that adorn many aircraft. It is also the great granddaddy of the king of aircraft cannons, the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger that adorns the A-10 Warthog tank killer. BRRRRRRRTTTT!
The museum is also full of oddball designs. An organ gun from 1700, a radial 4-shot flintlock pistol, a 4-barreled duck foot pistol, tons of wheeled and radial repeating rifles and pistols, revolver rifles, and a few pepperbox pistols like the gun in the original Clue boardgame.
The museum’s research branch can also help you obtain information on your own guns. They have manufacturing records for Winchester, Savage, Marlin, Ithaca, and LC Smith. The archive contains information on more than 15 million serial numbers. For a nominal fee, they will look up the info and send you a “book report” on your gun.
Curator Danny Michael describes the museum this way. “The museum is not necessarily just for firearms enthusiasts; we think the history on display is important for everybody.”
No matter what niche of the firearms world you like, you can see and learn more about it at the Cody Firearms Museum. With all the education displays it’s great for newcomers as well. Cody, WY also sits close to the Eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, making the museum a convenient stop on your Yellowstone trip. If you are in the area you owe it to yourself to take a day to see it. If you are traveling with the family, and they don’t care for firearms you can send them to the other four museums while you nerd out on gun stuff. For those who want to get the most out of their trip, the museum offers guided group and individual tours, contact the museum for more information.
***Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!***
Would love to get information on my colt ssa 1873 made in 1874 with ivory grips my pride and joy the museum is on bucklist
Danny and Ashley have an informative and funny podcast: History Unloaded. They are between seasons now but past episodes are available. The mueum’s website has a link.
We were there in 2005 took two days to see most of the museum. The gun making shop was of great interest to me as I spent 40 years as a toolmaker. They have added so much more.
It’s on my Bucket List
I was there years ago. I would love to visit the museum once again!!
We visited the museum a few years ago while on a bus tour. The museum is truly amazing. Sadly, we only had a few hours and that is not enough. If you have a chance, don’t miss it and spend a day or two and take a lot of pics.
I’ve visited that museum and enjoyed all parts of it. it’s easy to spend days touring it.