If you lived through the 20th century it could be said you existed in a period of the greatest human advancement. Be it medicine, aviation, automotive or electronics, in no time in history have we come so far yet by comparison basic firearms technology remains relatively unchanged. Now before you shout me down, let me qualify that statement. A hundred years ago we basically had the metallic cartridge case as used today – powder, primer and projectile – pretty much perfected. Sure, there have been improvements in all those components but the concept of design remains unchanged.
It’s the same with your rifle ‑ we may have synthetic polymer stocks, modern metallurgy and hi-tech finishes such as nitride coatings, but most basic action designs are almost the same. By contrast, look at today’s telephones against those of 100 years ago and there’s no comparison. That aside, many firearms designs from 100 years ago are just as effective and relevant in the current age and although basic principles may have remained the same, advancements in ammunition components, manufacturing methods and especially in optics have greatly improved firearm effectiveness.
Of course even where some formats may be dated, certain firearms’ popularity continue due to historical themes and the public’s desire to relive the past. Be this in shooting sports like Western Action, historic re-enactment or even just collecting, demand has in some cases with even some of the most obscure firearms of the past been remade by modern replicators. Likewise some iconic designs have never been out of vogue, clones of the Winchester rifle of 1892 a great example of this and, as such, I was quite keen when offered a look at one such example in the Rossi 92.
The Winchester Model 1892 came about when John Moses Browning was contracted to come up with a more compact version of the large-frame Winchester 1886 which he’d previously designed as a replacement for the Winchester 1873. The story goes Marlin had just released a firearm which Winchester were concerned could take some market share so T.G. Bennett, then Winchester vice-president, offered Browning a $10,000 bonus if he could deliver a working prototype within 90 days, increasing that to $15,000 if he could complete the task in 60 days. Browning upped the ante, offering to have it done in 30 days for $20,000 or he’d hand it over for free. Needless to say he met the deadline and Bennett had to pay up.
The Model 1892 was an instant success and although technically it was its predecessors in the Models 1873 and 1866 which were the guns that truly ‘won the West’, it would be the Model 1892 which wore that mantle on the silver screen. This is because the Winchester 1892 became the lever-gun of choice for movie Westerns with all Hollywood studios in that golden age of cinema. John Wayne, first swinging his large lever-loop Winchester 1892 in John Ford’s 1939 Western ‘Stagecoach’, would be a feature he’d adopt throughout his illustrious career.
My personal favourite Western exposé using the Winchester 1892 is The Rifleman TV series which ran from 1958-1963. Shot in black and white it stars Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, the quintessential all-American Western hero, a chisel-jawed widower and rancher raising his boy Mark (Johnny Crawford) on the Western frontier in the 1880s.
Besides ranching he spends his time saving his local town and neighbours from robbers, rustlers, outlaws and any other ne’er-do-wells who appear in each half-hour episode. McCain’s the fastest man in the West with a rifle (again a large lever-loop Winchester 1892) which he carries exclusively over a pistol, and the intro to each show sees him strolling down the town’s dirt strip firing rapidly from the hip as the overture builds and the voice-over man declares ‘The Rifleman!’ – great stuff.
Back to the Rossi 92 and I guess to call it a clone of the original wouldn’t be technically correct. The basic action layout and mechanical toggle is much the same, only with minor changes to simplify manufacture (reducing cost) and to meet legal requirements such as for a safety catch than anything else. Patents would have long expired so little other reason exists for such modifications.
The most obvious tweak is in the receiver profile with the Winchester having a step down where the lever hinges, while the Rossi is straight. Likewise, the Rossi uses a coiled hammer spring and the Winchester a flat spring. The actual safety is a small flag/lever incorporated into the rear of the bolt just forward of the hammer spur which, when activated, blocks the hammer from striking the firing pin. It doesn’t prevent hammer fall and can only be engaged with the hammer in either the half- or full-cocked position.
The Rossi as tested is the stainless steel Puma Carbine version in the hard-hitting .44 Magnum chambering. It sports a 20^ barrel with a full-length magazine tube holding 10 rounds, other variants available with barrel lengths of both 16^ and 24^ having eight and 12-round magazine capacities respectively. Rounds are fed into the magazine via a spring-loaded gate on the right of the receiver and cycling the lever introduces a new round from the magazine and extracts and ejects spent rounds from the chamber.
The rifle is stocked with a straight-grained hardwood and lightly varnished, fit and finish surprisingly good for a lever-action rifle in this price range with all inletting displaying tight and even gaps. The buttstock has a curved metal buttplate in matching stainless steel which, although traditional and atheistically pleasing, may not be appreciated by those shy of recoil, especially .44 Magnum when using full-powered and factory loads.
Again staying with tradition, sighting is via a steel front post with gold bead and Buckhorn-style ramp rear sight. The barrel is tapped and threaded between the receiver and the front barrel band so the rear sight can be drifted out and replaced with a supplied 118mm Weaver-style rail for optics mounting. The Model 92 design is a top ejector so any optic must be mounted in this forward position Scout Rifle-style with either a long eye-relief scope or red dot optic.
Straight out the box with the action tight, working the lever was a little clunky. I understand the Rossi 92 to be a rifle which greatly benefits from use, with the action smoothing out once run-in. For those who don’t want to wait, tuning by polishing of the mating surface can lead to more immediate improvements but naturally this should be left to a qualified gunsmith. Make no mistake, the action is not unpleasant to use and the tightness is reassuring of good tolerances in manufacture. I only raise this to note it may not be silky smooth out the box but in time, or with work, it can be.
The rifle weighs 6.2lb (about 2.8kg) and is compact and easy to carry. As supplied there are no sling attachments but I’m sure should they be desired, after-market options would be available (a real cowboy will simply slip it into the rifle scabbard attached to his saddle). In use the Rossi 92 is a lot of fun to shoot but if you’re recoil shy avoid full loads in the .44 Magnum or, better still, get yours in .357 Magnum which can also be used with .38 Special – both are lighter in recoiling.
Accuracy-wise these aren’t benchrest guns but are fairly respectable for what they are and placing shots in a saucer-sized circle at 50 yards with iron sights shouldn’t be an issue for a capable shooter. So think less MOA as Minute of Angle and more MOP or ‘Minute of Pig’ which is exactly, outside of lever-action competition disciplines, the more likely practical use for a rifle like this chambered in .44 Magnum.
For a bit of fun I drifted the rear sight off and fitted up the rail so I could mount an Aimpoint H-1 Red Dot. This type of set-up makes for a compact, fast-handling pig rifle for thick scrub or lignum and it would be equally at home mounted across the handlebars of your motorbike or quad when chasing hogs across the plains. The red dot sight certainly made ringing steel plates at 100m a fairly simple task and extended the Rossi’s range.
If you’re looking to play cowboy the Rossi 92 is also a popular choice for starting out in Western/Single-Action disciplines, more commonly chambered in the .357/38 option. Either way the rifle is a good workhorse option for those wanting to enjoy both lever-gun heritage and another legacy of John Moses Browning.
Rifle: Rossi SS Puma Carbine
Trigger: Single stage
Calibre: .44 Magnum
Capacity: 10-round tubular magazine
Barrel: 20^ round profile (508mm)
Twist rate: One in 30
Sights: Beaded front, Buckhorn rear blade
Length of pull: 12.75^ (324mm)
Metal finish: Stainless steel
Stock finish: Laminated
Weight: 6.2lb (2.8kg)
Length OA: 37.2^ (945mm)
Price guide: $1000-$1100 (approx.)