Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle Part 1

Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle Part 1

The Classic Winchester Model 1894 on air 

By Dennis Adler

The Winchester Model 1894 was not chambered for pistol cartridges, however, the new Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle is compatible with the rear BB (and pellet) loading cartridges from the Umarex Peacemaker pistols making this the first companion CO2 rifle for the Colt revolvers.

The rules were simple. They hadn’t changed in over two centuries. You had one shot with a rifle. By the mid 18th century two shots if you had a superposed swivel barrel or a double barreled fowler. Men like Benjamin Tyler Henry, Oliver Winchester, Nelson King, and John Moses Browning, among others, would change that rule beginning in the 1860s and set into motion the wheels of industry that would lead to the manufacture of the Old West’s greatest lever action rifles, the most famous of which would bear the Winchester name.

While the Winchester Model 1892 and earlier lever action models were offered in compatible pistol chamberings, just as the new Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle, the Model 1894, upon which the Umarex design is based, was developed as a hunting rifle chambered in the new smokeless .30-30 WCF caliber, .25-35 Winchester smokeless, and .32-40 and .38-55 caliber rifle cartridges. As a CO2 model the Umarex is equivalent to the Model 1892 which was available in .44-40 to be compatible with the Colt’s Peacemaker and other revolvers.

The long anticipated Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle is the first “authentic” CO2 model based on an original design by John Moses Browning and loads the BB cartridges from the Umarex Colt Peacemakers like an actual centerfire lever action model. Furthermore, this is the same kind of cartridge interchangeability that helped make Winchester famous from the 1870s to the turn of the century with everyone from lawmen to cattlemen; one cartridge for pistol and rifle. Of course, Winchesters were offered in a variety of calibers but for the Umarex Legends the interchangeability with the Peacemaker BB (and pellet) loading rounds makes this a perfect pairing.

So, the one big concession for the Umarex Legends 1894 design is its compatibility with the Colt Peacemaker BB (and pellet) loading cartridges, and that’s a deviation from the original we can all agree is a good compromise!

Build a Custom Airgun

While Umarex has not branded this new lever gun as a Winchester, the design is very closely based on J.M. Browning’s Model 1894, which was something of an evolutionary design that had its beginning with Browning’s Model 1886. The Umarex is really a benchmark design in its own right by at last giving airgun enthusiasts a lever action rifle that loads, fires and extracts shells the same way a centerfire model would. To really understand and appreciate this new CO2 model and what it entails, a look back at the actual guns that led to this design is worthwhile. Due to the length of the story, this will be a two-part opening today and Thursday, leading into a lengthy evaluation and range tests through Saturday and into next week. Enjoy the ride.

The Winchester Model 1873, shown here in an 1889 photo with Buffalo Bill Cody, was the most famous lever action rifle of the American West. It was chambered to load pistol caliber cartridges but otherwise limited by its design to the size and caliber cartridges it could use.

Winchester’s evolution – From King to Browning

The most significant early designs for Oliver Winchester and the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. were the work of Nelson King (in the early1860s) and later (after 1886) J.M. Browning and Browning Bros., whose lever action designs were among the most successful ever sold by the WRA Co. Winchester’s lever action rifles played a greater role in the tales of the American West than almost any other weapon, save for the Colt Peacemaker. But even the best pistoleros knew when to pick up a rifle. Frontier lawmen more often than not chose the long gun over a face to face confrontation with pistols. Accuracy and capacity were a winning combination no matter who manufactured the rifle, but when it was a Winchester, there was a certainty that it was the best gun a man could carry.

The final development of the Volcanic rifle at Oliver Winchester’s New Haven Arms Co. was the predecessor to the Henry and the similarities are unmistakable.

In 1857, Oliver F. Winchester established the New Haven Arms Co. of New Haven, Connecticut, which owned patents for the Volcanic repeating rifle designs of Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson (yes, that Smith and Wesson). They had developed the Volcanic repeating rifles from an earlier but unsuccessful design known as the Jennings rifle. While working at Robbins and Lawrence (an independent gun manufacturer in Vermont) the Volcanic was developed by Smith and Wesson who then set out on their own, first as Smith & Wesson, and then with additional backing from Oliver Winchester in 1855 as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. The Volcanic would become the foundation for the Henry rifle and later Winchester’s Model 1866. Smith and Wesson sold out to Oliver Winchester in 1857 and used the money to establish Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Massachusetts, and pursue manufacturing America’s first cartridge loading handguns. Meanwhile, Winchester saw promise in the Volcanic design but wanted to make it more than the novelty Smith and Wesson had designed (they had initially built the Volcanic as a small caliber gallery gun for target shooting, what you could call the first BB guns using a small self-contained bullet with a light charge of powder and a percussion primer inside the base), and while it had evolved into something much more by the time Winchester bought them out with chamberings up to .41 caliber, the Volcanic was not ready for the American West.

Benjamin Tyler Henry redesigned the lever action, frame and magazine, as well as developing the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge for the rifle. The brass framed Henry gained fame during the Civil War with its 16 round capacity. Up against single shot muzzleloaders it was vastly superior and many a skirmish was won by Union soldiers armed with Henrys.

Benjamin Tyler Henry (who had also worked with Smith and Wesson on the Volcanic) was hired by Winchester to be superintendent of the armory and take charge of redesigning Smith and Wesson’s Volcanic rifles. In October 1860, Henry succeeded, patenting the first magazine-fed, breech-loading, lever-action rifle. Vastly improved from the Volcanic’s design, the Henry gained fame during the Civil War, but was still not quite as hardy a gun as Winchester believed it could be. The Henry had flaws; an open magazine tube that exposed the cartridges and loading mechanism to the elements, a very laborious loading method, and it lacked a wooden forend to protect the shooter’s hand from the heat of the barrel generated by rapid firing, the one thing the Henry could do exceptionally well, dispensing 16 rounds before needing to reload.

With the new Model 1866 lever action, developed by Nelson King for Oliver Winchester’s new Winchester Repeating Arms Co., the shape of things to come was firmly established. King had improved upon Henry’s design by creating a closed magazine under the barrel, adding a loading port in the side of the receiver, improving the action lever, sights, and adding a wood forend to protect the shooter’s hand from the heat of the barrel. In the 1866 you can see the form of Winchester repeaters that would become famous in the American West from the post-Civil War era to the turn of the century.

It took Winchester until 1866 to build a better and more reliable model and designer Nelson King, who joined Winchester as superintendent of the armory after Winchester split from Henry in 1865. The two had battled for control of the New Haven Arms Co. after the Civil War. Henry got control; Winchester got Nelson King, withdrew his financial backing and established the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. The Model 1866, which bore the stamping King’s Patent, became the first of the legendary Winchester lever action repeating rifles. You should actually thank Smith & Wesson for creating the Volcanic Gallery Guns, without which none of this would likely have happened!

The Model 1873 was produced in a variety of chamberings compatible with Colt revolvers including .44-40 (pictured) .38-40 (which was an unusual designation as it was a .40 caliber bullet with 38 grains of powder).The 1873 was also chambered in .32-20 and later in calibers down to .22 rimfire (beginning in 1894).

Nelson King’s improvements to the Henry included designing a loading chamber in the right side of the receiver and totally enclosing the cartridge magazine running under the barrel, thus eliminating the Henry’s greatest drawback. He even managed to increase the rifle’s cartridge capacity to 17 rounds. The 1866 was a grand success. More than 100,000 were sold over the next 32 years, but even while the brass framed 1866, popularly known as the “Yellow Boy” was still selling, Winchester unveiled the now legendary Model 1873, the most famous rifles of the American West. The variations in calibers for the 1873 eventually expanded from .22 rimfire to .32-20, .38-40 and the most popular .44-40, all of which were pistol calibers. Barrels were round or octagonal, and lengths of 20-inch, 24-inch, and 30-inch. The Model 1873 was produced until 1919 with more than 720,000 sold. Was it the gun that won the West? If sales are any indication, it won something!

In Part 2 we continue the evolution of Winchester’s lever action models with a look at John Moses Browning’s contributions leading to the Winchester Model 1894, and today’s Umarex Legends Lever Action model. 

9 thoughts on “Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle Part 1”

  1. Nice to see some cowboy duds and the new lever rifle. While not a historically accurate pistol caliber rifle, it follows the historical path of evolution of an existing design. On this case going to a revolver compatible round makes sense. Hopefully more designs will follow but this is the logical starting point . Not using the same cartridges as the Umarex Peacemaker, effectively closes the Remington and Schofield revolvers out. Touché Umarex. The proof will be in the shooting, but hopefully this will open the corral to Western airgun shooting.

    • We will see how well the smoothbore does at 25 feet and out next week. As for the future of the Legends Lever Action there will certainly be a rifled barrel model somewhere down the trail, but even the smoothbore can shoot 4.5mm wadcutters, so we will also see how well it does with lead and alloy . What I have discovered during the photo sessions on the Guns of the Old West set is that the ejected shells can travel pretty far depending upon how much effort you put into levering the action. I actually shot over a drop cloth outdoors so I wouldn’t lose any of the Peacemaker shells in the grass! They do tend to vanish. Indoors it is not a problem. Once a double barrel CO2 hammer shotgun arrives (I hope soon) the door will indeed be open to create CO2 CAS matches and that will raise the airguns to an entirely new level of entertainment and shooting skills. As for closing out the Schofield, that is a shame because it is a great gun. The Crosman Remington runs a distant second. But for now, Peacemakers rule the roost. Pretty much another page from history!

  2. I love the article and have preordered the rifle!

    But I think there is a typo in the article: “Up against single shot muzzleloaders it was vastly superior and many a skirmish was won by Union soldiers armed with Henrys.”

    Actually the Henry rilfe was vastly inferior to the single shot muskets of the civil war period due to it’s sadly very limited range. The Henry would be very useful if a small number of soldiers so armed could sneak in close to the enemy. Such sneaky raids were accomplished sometimes here and there from time to time.

    But at the ranges most armies faced each other during that war, the Henry could not put any rounds whatsoever upon the enemy who would be at that time laying down volley after deadly volley back with their rifled musket muzzleloaders throwing huge 500 grain .58 cal. conical bullets for great distances. The effective range of the .58 minie used in those muskets was a full 250 yards.

    • Yes, you are correct about effective range, and bullet grain weight. This is one reason the Ordnance Department ordered so few Henry rifles duting the war. However, not so much a typo but a matter of fact, Union troops armed with the Henry had an advantage of sustained firepower and at closer range a tactical advantage as well with the Henry’s proven accuracy. It was not the first, or even second choice of the Union, but the Henry often proved its worth in battle. It was a flawed design but nothing at the time was faster to fire or held more cartridges.

    • I must disagree. The Henry was akin to theM1 Carbine, and comparing the Henry to the long range muzzle loader is like comparing the M1 Carbine to the M1 Garland. The Henry like the little Carbine was for close quarter and guerilla warfare , not standing in lines lobbing rounds over 200 yards plus. For what is was designed for , the Henry with its 15 rounds of rapid firepower, was more than adequate. I remember reading of a battle between a cavalry scouting force and a large number of native Americans. Troopers were armed with single shot Sharps rifles , but they were able to hold out due to a single civilian scout armed withaHenry, who brought a couple of cases of ammo along. He fired over a thousand rounds in the course of the battle.

  3. I think you are both correct if your opinions are taken within the context of the period. As I noted in my book, Guns of the Civil War, “Chief of Ordnance, Brigadier General James W. Ripley regarded Winchester’s new lever action rifle as less than suitable for combat because it had an open follower slot on the underside of the magazine tube…General Ripley felt, and rightly so, that the bottom of the magazine channel being open to the elements could cause a problem if it became impacted with dirt. And in fact, the Henry did have a propensity to jam if not carefully maintained. It was also heavy…’the weights of the arms with the loaded magazines [is] objectionable’ wrote Ripley to U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in December of 1861. Ripley was convinced that no better weapon could be issued to soldiers in the field than a single shot rifled musket. Still there were numerous reports from the field of Union troops armed with Henry repeaters (most often at the personal expense of the troops, their commanding officer or unit), repelling a superior force due to the Henry’s sustained firepower. Other reports of Henry rifles having been decisive in turning a battle in favor of Union forces. A trained shot with a Henry was as good as a dozen men with a single shot rifled musket at the .44 caliber rifle’s effective range.

    • It may be screaming but no one is going to listen because Umarex sort of got it right with the deep blue black finish. The Model 1894 did not come with a casehardened receiver, they were blued the same as the barrel. There were many hand engraved and gold inlaid receivers, perhaps some casehardened ones on special order (but I’d have to research that to know for certain), but a weathered finish for the Legends model sure would be nice!

      • Not many Winchester 94s left the factory with casehardened receivers, but it would look nice. Here is a picture of my case colored alloy frame Chiappa LA 322 22lr, so it can be applied to an alloy frame. If not a weathered rifle with an Adler cascade colored receiver would look great. Picture won’t upload

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