Airguns of the American West Part 9

Airguns of the American West Part 9

The Walther Lever Action Rifle

A blending of designs that embodies “The Gun that Won the West”

By Dennis Adler

With a sheepskin tied around the stock to disguise the black plastic buttplate and the hood removed from the front sight, the Walther looks very much like an 1894 Winchester. (Shown with a custom holster by Chisholm’s Trail Leather, an Umarex Colt SAA, and “Bohannon” hat courtesy of Golden Gate Western Wear)

With sheepswool tied around the stock to disguise the black plastic buttplate, and the hood removed from the front sight, the Walther looks very much like an 1894 Winchester. (Shown with a custom holster by Chisholm’s Trail Leather, an Umarex Colt SAA, and a “Bohannon” hat courtesy of Golden Gate Western Wear)

The lever action rifle has its origins in the Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson-designed Volcanic rifle, and the short-lived Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, which they sold to Oliver Winchester in April of 1857. They used the money to start S&W in Springfield, Massachusetts, and by the end of the year had introduced America’s first cartridge-loading revolver, the S&W No.1. They had also patented America’s first self-contained metallic cartridge, the .22 short rimfire in 1856, and a year prior, secured the patent rights to the bored through cylinder from inventor Rollin White. Winchester, along with Benjamin Tyler Henry, took Smith and Wesson’s Volcanic rifle design and used it as the foundation for the 1860 Henry rifle. Their new Henry lever action .44 rimfire rifle gained national fame during the Civil War and was carried by former Union and Confederate soldiers, frontiersmen, and lawmen throughout America’s post Civil War Western Expansion.

Benjamin Tyler Henry and Oliver Winchester went their separate ways after the Civil War and Winchester hired Nelson King to redesign the Henry into the improved King’s patent Model 1866 lever action rifle. The 1866, introduced 150 years ago, was the first product of the newly organized Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of New Haven, Connecticut. The rest of that story is woven into the very fabric of the American West.

The Walther lever action is very close in size and weight to the Winchester Model 1894 Carbine. It’s easy to carry and easier to shoot.

The Walther lever action is very close in size and weight to the Winchester Model 1894 Carbine. It’s easy to carry and easier to shoot.

Putting on airs

The Daisy lever action BB rifles have always been “Winchester” inspired including famous models like the Red Ryder, and the Model No. 107 Buck Jones, which really did have “a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” That’s the “made up” model that became the Red Ryder BB rifle described in author Jean Sheppard’s book and the classic 1983 film “A Christmas Story.”

A little more than a decade later, Daisy actually made an authentic looking Winchester Model 1894 lever action BB rifle using a spring action cocking mechanism incorporated with the lever. It was sold from 1996 to 1997 as the “Buffalo Bill 50th Anniversary Model” and it actually had the Winchester name on it. A very accurate looking copy of the Winchester Model 1894, it was essentially the predecessor to the first Umarex CO2-powered Walther lever action model, introduced in 2008. This first version looked almost identical to the latest model shown, with the exception of having a smaller buttplate, (which actually looks like a rubber recoil pad).

Loading the 88 gr. CO2 into the stock begins with unscrewing the buttplate.

Loading the 88 gr. CO2 into the stock begins with unscrewing the buttplate.

The CO2 is inserted into the buttstock and threaded into the CO2 chamber. To tighten it down the included wrench fits around the cylinder for the final turn to pierce the CO2 cartridge. The buttplate is replaced and the rifle is ready to load.

The CO2 is inserted into the buttstock and threaded into the CO2 chamber. To tighten it down the included wrench fits around the cylinder for the final turn to pierce the CO2 cartridge. The buttplate is replaced and the rifle is ready to load.

The buttplate is actually a removable rear cover used to access the CO2 loading chamber. On the first version, a separate CO2 mechanism was housed in the removable buttplate and loaded two 12 gram CO2 cartridges. Running on dual CO2 provided good velocities (average 540 fps with 8.2 grain rifle pellets and 570 fps with 7.0 grain pistol pellets) but the lever gun went through CO2 cartridges like a Texas Ranger levering a Model 1894 Winchester in a shootout with cattle rustlers. In 2011 Umarex came up with a solution by upgrading the Walther Lever Action Rifle’s power system to a single 88 gram CO2 cartridge loaded horizontally and screwed into the CO2 chamber. To accommodate the 88 gram air cartridge the buttplate had to be twice the depth of the older version. While it looks like a modern recoil pad for a large caliber rifle or shotgun, the lever action Winchesters never had them.

Shorty Austin, (George Eads character in “Monte Walsh”) wrapped the buttstock of his Winchester lever action shotgun with a sheepskin to soften the recoil. You can do the same with the Walther lever action rifle to disguise the wide black buttplate.

Shorty Austin, (George Eads character in “Monte Walsh”) wrapped the buttstock of his Winchester lever action shotgun with sheepswool to soften the recoil. You can do the same with the Walther lever action rifle to disguise the wide black buttplate.

While not a Winchester licensed rifle, (thus no Winchester branding on the gun), the design is purely 1890’s lever action style right down to the saddle ring on the left side of the receiver. In overall appearance the lever action air rifle has the look and feel of a real .30-30 Winchester Model 1894 Carbine. It has an elevation adjustable buckhorn rear sight, and windage adjustable dovetailed front sight, with a removable hood. The stock and forend are walnut, the rifled steel barrel and magazine tube are polished and handsomely finished in a deep blue black, which is contrasted by a matte black finished receiver and tang, hammer, trigger and lever. It would be nice if these were polished as well and had the same shine as the barrel and magazine, but the flat look is pretty darn good. The quick visual tells are some minor design variations from the Model 1894, the slightly greater space between the barrel and magazine tube, and the positioning of the barrel band too far forward at the end of the forearm, rather than about 1-1/2 inches further back. And of course, the black buttplate is a bad visual, too. But there’s a quick fix for that, by making a leather cover that wraps over the butt of the rifle stock and laces tight underneath. There are a few available on the market but the Walther lever action has a pretty tall comb, so those made for a Winchester might not fit. You can also use a wrap of sheepswool tied with leather thongs, like the character Shorty Austin (played by George Eads) did with his Winchester lever action shotgun in the 2002 remake of “Monte Walsh.”

To cover up the wide black buttplate, the author took a page from the 2002 version of "Monte Walsh" and wrapped the back of the Walther with sheepswool like Shorty Austin did with his Winchester lever action shotgun.

To cover up the black buttplate, the author wrapped the back of the Walther with sheepswool like Shorty Austin did with his Winchester shotgun in “Monte Walsh.”

The top of the Walther’s receiver has a look very similar to the 1894, which used the same vertical locking bars designed by John M. Browning for the Winchester Model 1886. The top of the air rifle’s receiver also comes back like the bolt mechanism on the 1894 to re-cock the hammer when the lever is operated.

In design the back of the air rifle’s locking mechanism resembles the two vertical locking bars used on the Winchester Model 1894. The air rifle also has the crossbolt safety at the back of the receiver like late model Winchesters.

In design the back of the air rifle’s locking mechanism resembles the two vertical locking bars used on the Winchester Model 1894. The air rifle also has the crossbolt safety at the back of the receiver like late model Winchesters.

The lever action design is based on the Winchester, and the top of the air rifle’s bolt comes back just like a Model 1894 to cock the hammer on the down stroke.

The lever action design is based on the Winchester, and the top of the air rifle’s bolt comes back just like a Model 1894 to cock the hammer on the down stroke.

Internally, the airgun’s lever action is used to rotate the 8-shot rotary magazine inserted into the right front of the receiver and cock the action. This 8-round magazine is cleverly inserted by pushing in on the loading gate as though you were loading a cartridge into the magazine. Instead, the loading port for the cast alloy rotary magazine pops open. Insert the loaded magazine and push it closed flush with the receiver. You need to work the lever action to cock the rifle and ready the first 4.5mm pellet to fire.

To load the Walther lever action you press in on the rifle’s loading gate…

To load the Walther lever action you press in on the rifle’s loading gate…

…the loading port pops open…

…the loading port pops open…

…and you insert a loaded 8-round rotary magazine.

…and you insert a loaded 8-round rotary magazine.

From that point on, the air rifle operates just like a .30-30 Winchester Model 1894 Carbine. You have to work the action smartly but that becomes second nature, just like handling a cartridge-loading lever action Winchester. It also has a frame-mounted crossbolt safety, which was used on later 1894 Models. As for the sights, they are easy to use, and the Walther delivers airgun accuracy equivalent to a lever action Winchester rifle.

The Walther has a shorter 18.9 inch barrel, is slightly longer at 39.2 inches and weighs 6 pounds 3 ounces.

The Walther has a shorter 18.9 inch barrel, is slightly longer at 39.2 inches and weighs 6 pounds 3 ounces.

In comparison, a .30-30 Winchester Model 1894 Carbine (based on the current production model pictured) has a 20-inch barrel, measures 38 inches in overall length and weighs 6 pounds, 8 ounces. The Walther has a shorter 18.9 inch barrel, is slightly longer at 39.2 inches and weighs 6 pounds 3 ounces.

In comparison, a .30-30 Winchester Model 1894 Carbine (based on the current production model pictured) has a 20-inch barrel, measures 38 inches in overall length and weighs 6 pounds, 8 ounces.

In comparison, a .30-30 Winchester Model 1894 Carbine (based on the current production model) with a 20-inch barrel, measures 38 inches with a 13-1/2 inch length of pull and overall weight of 6 pounds, 8 ounces. The Walther lever action has a shorter 18.9 inch barrel, slightly greater overall length of 39.2 inches with a 14-1/2 inch length of pull and weighs 6 pounds 3 ounces. The .30-30 Carbine has a capacity of 7 rounds, so the air rifle is actually one round better at 8. (Of course, with a chambered .30-30 round and another loaded into the magazine, all things would be equal). Overall, in detail and handling, it’s very close to shouldering a Winchester lever action.

Putting lead on target

Trigger pull on the test gun averaged 4 pounds, 2 ounces with 0.438 inches of take up, light stacking and a crisp break, making the rifle easy to hold on target. To test the Walther lever action I selected 4.5mm RWS Meisterkugeln Professional Line 8.2 gr. lead rifle pellets. These are 1.2 gr. heavier than the Professional Line pistol pellets. With the 88 gr. CO2 cartridge, the Carbine’s average velocity is factory rated at 630 fps with 7.0 gr. pellets. The heavier 8.2 gr. Meisterkugeln rifle pellets chronographed at an average of 556 fps to 564 fps with an ambient outside temperature of 82 degrees.

The author shot both the 10 meter and 15 meter tests from a standing position. The hood was left on the front sight for the range tests.

The author shot both the 10 meter and 15 meter tests from a standing position. The hood was left on the front sight for the range tests.

The tests were shot from a measured distance of 10 meters (33 feet) and again at 15 meters (49.5 feet) from the target. The best accuracy for 8 rounds measured 0.75 inches at 10 meters, and 1.22 inches from 15 meters. Average 8 shot groups were 1.95 inches from 15 meters and 1.1 inches at 10 meters, and overall it was easy to keep groups clustered under 2 inches at POA from either distance. Every shot was fired from an un-rested standing rifleman’s position.

Best groups from 10 meters and 15 meters measured 0.75 inches and 1.22 inches, respectively.

Best groups from 10 meters and 15 meters measured 0.75 inches and 1.22 inches, respectively.

While the Umarex Walther lever action is not a 100 percent accurate CO2 version of the Winchester Model 1894, it is extremely close in design and operation. With a little sheepswool, and losing the hood over the front sight, it gets even closer if you’re a stickler for Old West authenticity. Since it’s the only game in town, if you’re looking for a 19th century lever action to round out your air cowboy gear, best deal yourself in.

Coming up in next week’s final Airguns of the American West article, “The Guns of John Wayne.”

A word about safety

Blowback action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts and this is one reason why they have become so popular. Airguns in general all look like guns, blowback action models more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.

26 thoughts on “Airguns of the American West Part 9

  1. To me the 94 was more of a footnote in the American West. While this is a nice lever gun , I look at it as a first generation replica air rifle. The oversize butt pad is a turnoff as is the 88 gm cartridge. It is time for a 66 ,73 and 92 lever rifle to replace it. The technology is there to have an actual cartridge feeding rifle , that hopefully will be coming down the trail.


  2. A BB cartridge-loading 1873 lever action would be the dream gun. Just have to deal with finding those ejected shells on the ground if the design actually comes out. As to the 1894, it is a matter of opinion as to its place in Western history; it was a late comer, but hardly a footnote. The glory, of course, always goes to the 1873 and the big John M. Browning designed 1886, but the Model 1894 still earned it spurs in the hands of Southwest lawmen and cowboys well into the early 20th Century. The Wild West was still pretty wild along the boarder states with Mexico, and in the Oklahoma oil fields well into the early 1920s.

    Dennis Adler


  3. Probably the award for movie and TV rifle would go to the 92, even if it was in a movie that took place in 1875. To me the 94 is a slower to cycle rifle cartridge platform. Had a 45 Colt in my early SASS days but traded it in for 1873 , 92 Winchesters and Marlin 94 s. My only remaining 94 is a 38-55 with an 18 1/2 barrel. Would really like to see 73 and 92 platform air rifles. Another possibility would be a Colt Lightning pump


    • All very good ideas. A Colt Lightning pump would really be an interesting design to explore. As to movies, John Ford was the most famous for making period westerns with John Wayne that featured Colt revolvers and Winchester lever action rifles that didn’t exist at that point in time. Film makers still do it today. If you’re going to set the time of the film in 1869, and even mention it no less, don’t arm your characters with 1873 Colts and 1892 Winchesters! The latest culprit was the History Channel’s 8-part series on The American West. In some segments they just couldn’t seem to get the events and the guns right. In others they were spot on. Makes you wonder how they can spend so much to make a documentary-style mini series and overlook using the right guns.


  4. One thing I always enjoyed was the accuracy of period firearms in Tom Selleck westerns. Although I sure would like a 24 shot Peacemaker like Kevin Costner used in Open Range!


    • I agree that the 2nd generation Walther Level Action that has the oversized butt stock pad greatly spoils the appearance of the airgun rifle…unless hidden somehow, as suggested here. I have been fortunate in securing a ‘well maintained’ Walther Lever Action of the 1st generation from its original owner. Most all of them become ‘keepers’… and rarely show up for sale. It has the blued receiver (not painted black) and of course the very slender butt plate thus less conspicious. I am in the process of shaping an accurate sized wooden addition to be placed in front of the Forend Barrel Band to ressemble more accurately the 1894 rifle appearance. By the way…the stocks are not made from Walnut but from Beech wood. I’m sure Umarex will concur on that.


      • Yes, you are correct, it is a walnut stained finish over less expensive Beech wood. Sturdy and looks good. It is simply referred to by Umarex as a wooden stock. By the way, that first generation Umarex is a definite find! They also offered a polished stainless version which would be another find.

        Dennis Adler


    • Well I have actually talked to both of them over the years, in fact, Tom Selleck wrote the Introduction to one of my books, and he is a stickler for details in his westerns. During the filming of Monte Walsh he insisted that all of the actors and extras wearing gunbelts have cartridges in all of the cartridge loops, even if they were on the back side of the belt and they were wearing a coat. He reasoned that if a wind came up or the jacket flew open in a scene he didn’t want the audience to see empty bullet loops! Yes, he is that much of a perfectionist. As for Kevin Costner, I interviewed him a couple of times for articles on westerns and he admitted to leaving the shot of him firing one gun more than six times in the scene (he also directed Open Range), because it flowed so smoothly. At least he had the right guns!

      Dennis Adler


      • Here we go again. New Magnificent 7 takes place in 1867 but Denzel is packing Colt Peacemakers , Ethan Hawke using aWinchester73 or 76 . They must have pre production samples!


  5. another option in Old West lever rifles , is the hard hitting 22 cal pellet Crosman 99. Looks more like a 73 sporting rifle . Hits hard and is accurate. I have 2 , one needed to be resealed , but that was a few years ago. Holds co2 well now and gets you at least 45 shots per co2 cartridge. It has two settings for power. Just working the lever brings the hammer back around halfway and probably gets in the 350 fps range , fully cock the hammer and you get 475-500. I know one person who killed a squirrel with it in his attic so they hit pretty hard.



    • Kade, it is a 5-1/2 inch Umarex Colt hand engraved nickel model in a 7-1/2 inch holster custom made by Chisholm’s Trail leather. It is a copy of the holster Common wore in the TV series Hell on Wheels. Back in the day, guns and holsters didn’t always match up; you might get a new gun and have your old holster and the two might not have the same barrel length. It was just a likely to find a 7/12 inch Colt with a couple of inches of barrel sticking out the bottom of a 5-1/2 inch holster. Early on, a lot of ex-Civil War soldiers rolled the flap of their Civil War holster over, cut a slit in it and pushed the pouch through to make the flap into a belt loop. Then cut the throat down to make drawing the gun faster. This is one of the origins of the first drop loop holsters. And this was the style of holster Anson Mount used in Hell on Wheels.

      Dennis Adler



    • It would certainly be possible for a 4.5mm pellet caliber match with pistol and rifle. This is something you can also do on your own in a SASS-style format timed match for practice, since everything works essentially the same.


  6. Surprised nobody has done it especially in England where we are limited to black powder revolvers but it avoids all the range and licensing complications we have here. Unfortunately my new Walther has had to go back to Armorex as it had a fault releasing gas only intermittently.


    • That should fall under your warranty. Likely a faulty gas seal. In the U.S. Umarex USA is very good with repairs, I imagine the same is true with Walther in the UK. There is an old saying that nature abhors a vacuum. Seems like someone in England should look into organizing a SASS stype Cowboy Shooting group that uses Western airguns. That should happen here as well in the U.S. Everything is built on consumer enthusiasm, and Western airguns are growing in popularity, only a matter of time.


  7. Got my Walther back this week courtesy of armex here in the UK. cannot praise their service enough.
    Got the Walther CO2 adapter set so I can use 2 small bulbs and unscrew the cylinder without loosing the gas. I also set my local leather pro at work making me a butt cover and scabbard.
    I agree with hawk that an extra piece of wood would be an improvement both to improve the appearance but also I could do with a bit more length for my arm.


    • I totally agree. A wood or wood finished butt stock cap would look a lot better. Maybe Umarex will get the message from consumers and make another change to the rifle. It is a separate part, so should not be cost prohibitive.



    • I’m doing this from memory since I don’t have the Walther rifle, but if you open the loading port you expose the breech end of the barrel. You need a rammer that is the correct size for a 4.5mm barrel, there are cleaning rods available. Push the rammer down the barrel gently forcing the jammed pellet(s) toward the breech end (you may need to use a rubber or leather mallet to add a little force) and then push each pellet back to where it is exposed at the barrel breech (with the loading port open). You should be able to pull the pellet out or it may even fall out. That’s how you would remove a bullet (lead ball) caught in the barrel of a black powder pistol (of course with the cylinder or barrel removed), but same basic idea. Failing that, it looks like your gun is going to need another trip back to armex.


  8. I did eventually get the barrel unblocked after buying cleaning rods and also a system using a self tapping screw which got out some and then broke off inside the rifle. I had to strip down the barrel which was quite easy and then heat the barrel until the lead melted.
    Since then its been a bit uphill as I have had problems with the Walther CO2 adapter which has leaked and also trying to get the magazines to either retain the pellets prior to loading or in the case of the RWS Hobby sportsline to actually get them to fire out of the magazine. I do not find that little tool supplied can push them in far enough. Maybe they will get easier with use .
    So far I find at least one pellet in eight will not leave the magazine.


    • Derek, I think you now have more experience disassembling and cleaning that lever action than anyone I know outside of Umarex. I wish I had some sage advice for you but it seems you have experienced just about every problem there is with that rifle. I’d find one brand of pellets that work best and stick with them, I’d even go so far as to recommend trying alloy pellets which are lighter weight. As for the CO2 adapter, I have never tried one, always have used the 88 gr. power, so if anyone out there has had a similar experience and can offer some advice, by all means put in your two cents.


  9. Used the Walther for about 8 months and found the CO2 adapter is best unscrewed after each use as it retains its pressure that way. After use unscrew till there is a hiss and you can then leave it in the butt.Only remaining problem is the magazine where 2/3 pellets remain stuck in each magazine. Not sure why . There is plenty of pressure; enough to flatten pellets against the metal ducks.Sometimes manually rotating the magazine seems to help..


  10. Solved the Pellet problem. Bought some new magazines and they work perfectly.. The problem is the serrations on the magazine which are damaged and cause a mis- feed.



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