Barra 1866 Cowboy

Barra 1866 Cowboy

Doing things the old way Part 2

By Dennis Adler


Entry-level pneumatic air rifles are nothing new; take the Crosman 760 Pumpmaster for example, which has been around since 1997 (and sells for $35), the popular Daisy 880 (which has been in production for 30 years) and newer guns, like the 2014 Umarex NXG APX, a very high-tech design, selling for $69.95, that, like the Barra 1866 is capable of up to 800 fps with 10 pumps, and is a very similar design for operation and loading. I could go on with older and newer models based on similar designs, and more expensive multi-pump pneumatics like the Benjamin 397S at $269.95 (a more upscale model that only shoots pellets in .177 or .22 caliber), but I’ll tell you what you won’t find, anything that looks like an old brass-frame Winchester Carbine.

At a quick glance, the Barra looks a lot like a copy of an 1866, it has the same basic profile and the finger lever is well designed to look like a Winchester. The octagonal barrel was used on Deluxe 1866 models, so that is technically correct as well. Where the design begins to deviate is with the edges of the receiver and the wrist of the wood grained plastic stock, which are too squared off and should have rounded contours.

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Why would I want this?

Three words: simple, inexpensive, fun. From the outside, the Barra 1866 is in its own design niche, and is done well enough for the competitive price that even with operating features similar to modern bolt action multi-pump pneumatics like the NXG APX, still looks Old West enough to be used as a cowboy plinker, and 800 fps is not bad if you want to work the pump 10 times.

The internal design the Barra 1866 and this very modern Umarex NXG APX are almost alike. The exterior of the 1866 is a very clever disguise for an otherwise contemporary multi-pump pneumatic air rifle.

OK, it’s interesting looking, but is it any good? Considering what’s inside and how it works, it should be as good as good as the Umarex NXG APX, only with an old style adjustable buckhorn rear sight (found on many Winchester lever action rifles of the period) combined with a clever front sight that simulates the old dovetailed sights on Model 1866 rifles (only it’s not dovetailed). What’s clever is a small peephole through the top of the front blade, allowing light from the target to show though and provide something that approximates a bead front sight, unless, of course, your target has a black center, like most 10-meter targets. A lighter colored target or a tin can gives you useful illumination. It is a little odd, but either way the front sight is easy to get on target.

The Barra uses a traditional buckhorn rear sight which is adjustable for elevation. It is a simple, timeless deign that has been used on rifles since the 19th century.
The front sight is mounted on top of the barrel, rather than dovetailed like an 1866, and has a small peephole in the top that allows light to shine through, and depending upon the target, illuminate like a bead front sight.

The basic shape of the Barra 1866 is Winchester-like, but don’t put it next to an 1866 Winchester because the Barra’s brass colored receiver and the wrist of the wood grained plastic stock are too squared off, as is the forearm, and the butt doesn’t have enough of a crescent shape. The closest thing to a Winchester is the octagon barrel which mimics Deluxe 1866 models; otherwise the Winchesters had round barrels. Nevertheless, the Barra shoulders nicely and feels comfortable in the hands. This is a simple air rifle that would be fun to take along on a weekend camping trip because it doesn’t need anything else but ammo, and with up to 800 fps on tap, it might even come in handy. (And there’s always those empty pork and beans cans!)

Squaring off the receiver, which is brass plated injection molded plastic (just like the grilles on most cars today are chrome plated injection molded plastic), and the narrow wrist of the stock are big departures from 1886 design, but the gun still feels good in the hands and shoulders easily. The small door at the top left of the receiver is to pour in up to 50 BBs.
No crossbolt safety for the 1866, the hammer is the safety, again pretty clever. When it is cocked (as shown) the red dot is exposed and the gun is ready to shoot. The hammer doesn’t drop when the trigger is pulled; it remains cocked until you push it forward to put the gun on SAFE.

For a low price air rifle, Barra has been very thorough with its instructions, both in the well illustrated and comprehensive 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 inch, 12-page full color instruction booklet, as well as having the basic steps of handling and loading the gun cast into the left side barrel flat ahead of the receiver. For an entry-level air rifle, it’s pretty well thought out.

All of the safety warning info and the 6 steps in loading and firing are molded into the polished barrel flat.
The bolt action is very similar in design to the NXG APX and with the handle pulled to the rear a pellet can be inserted and loaded when the bolt is closed. When loading BBs, the bolt must be pulled to the rear and by tilting the barrel up; a single BB will drop from the opening at the left side and be held in place by the magnetic tip of the air nozzle until the bolt is closed.

Saturday, we will chronograph BBs and 7.0 gr. wadcutter pellets, and check out 10- meter accuracy.

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