Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle Part 2

Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle

The Classic Winchester Model 1894 on air Part 2 Part 1

By Dennis Adler

Whether in 1894 or 125 years later the Winchester Model 1894 is still one of the finest lever action rifles made. Winchester manufactured Model 94s continuously until 2006. The Model 94 rifle was reintroduced in 2011 and the carbine in 2013. The carbine currently retails for $1,200. The Umarex CO2 version is a comparative bargain at an MSRP of $249.99. (The holster worn by the author with a hand engraved Adams & Adams Umarex Colt 5-1/2 inch CO2 model is a copy of Tom Horn’s cartridge belt and holster from the same period as the Model 1894. The holster was reproduced from the original design by Chisholm’s Trail Leather)

The one big complaint about Winchesters in the 1870s had been the limitations of the design for chambering more powerful cartridges. The military wanted a Winchester that could fire the .45-70 Government cartridge used in the single shot Springfield Trapdoor rifles and carbines carried by the Army and mounted troops. Hunters also wanted a more powerful Winchester repeater for taking large North American game. Still, among lawmen, and just about anyone who owned a Winchester, few disparaging words were spoken, especially about the Model 1873.

Although the Model 1873 Winchester offered superior firepower in terms of rounds per minute, the U.S. Army chose to arm the majority of its troops with the single shot Springfield Trapdoor rifle and carbine throughout the 1870s and early 1880s. The Trapdoor rifle pictured is a U.S. Springfield Model 1879 Saddle Ring Carbine with a 25-1/2 inch barrel chambered in .45-70 Government. The Carbines were manufactured from 1879 to 1885. (Photo courtesy Rock Island Auction Co.)

More powerful than an 1873

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An early Winchester advertisement for the new Model 1876 noted that: “The constant calls from many sources, and particularly from the regions in which the grizzly bear and other large game are found, as well as the plains where absence of cover and shyness of game require the hunter to make his shots at long range made it desirable to build a still more powerful gun than the Model 1873.”

In order for Winchester to offer a larger caliber rifle for hunters, the Model 1876 used an enlarged 1873-style receiver allowing the use of longer and more powerful cartridges. The 1876 was a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt. (Teddy Roosevelt period clothing courtesy of Orvis and Guns of the Old West. Gun courtesy Taylor’s & Co.)

Chambered for cartridges that were substantially greater than the Model 1873 could handle, the Model 1876 was introduced at our Nation’s Centennial Celebration at Fairmont Park in Philadelphia. Originally offered in Winchester’s proprietary .45-75 WCF caliber (smaller than the .45-70 Government cartridge but with a nearly equal 350 grain lead bullet backed by 75 grains of powder), two new cartridges were added in 1879, the .45-60 and .50-95 Express, the latter for big game hunting. In 1884 Winchester added the .40-60 cartridge with a 210 grain bullet in a tapered case. This round was popular with coyote and wolf hunters and became the third most popular chambering for the 1876.

With the J.M. Browning designed Model 1886, Winchester entered a new era in its design with a rifle capable of chambering a wide variety of calibers including the .45-70 Government cartridge which had long been sought in a Winchester repeater. Browning redesigned the receiver, action and bolt achieving a larger caliber rifle in a size no greater than the Model 1873. (Photo courtesy Rock Island auction Co.)

Although consumer sales for the 1876 were brisk, Winchester was once again disappointed by the U.S. government as no military contracts resulted; the Ordnance Department was set on a rifle that could chamber the big .45-70 Government cartridge. This was not possible since the Model 1876 was merely a slightly larger version of the Model 1873 design and still could not chamber the longer Government round. The longest cartridge the 1876 could handle was 2.25 inches. John M. Browning stepped in with his solution in 1886.

The old toggle link design (bottom) used in every Winchester design since 1866 was gone. Browning’s Model 1886 introduced a new receiver, lever action, breech bolt, and locking system. The breech bolt was the top of the receiver and also eliminated the need for the dustcover.

Browning had been designing rifles for the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Since 1879 and the 1886 was his first large caliber lever action model. He completely redesigned the Winchester’s frame, bolt shape, locking system and lever to work more efficiently, be stronger, and also chamber the longer .45-70 Government round.

Receiver length had been one of the key issues that stalled Winchester’s development of a lever action rifle to chamber the .45-70. The toggle link action that had been used in every Winchester since the 1866 moved horizontally with the lever, driving the round bolt to the rear to cock the hammer while the spent shell case was extracted, and then forward with the closing of the lever to chamber a new round. The horizontal movement of the toggle link in relation to the size of the receiver limited the length of travel and the size of the cartridge case that could be loaded or extracted. It was also too fragile to withstand the chamber pressures that would have been developed by a .45-70 Government cartridge. While no one at New Haven was thinking beyond traditional Winchester design, Browning felt no such limitations. His new lever action worked with vertical locking bars to secure the larger rectangular bolt. The vertical locking bars were stronger and also required less space to operate creating a receiver that was actually shorter than the Model 1873 Winchester’s yet capable of chambering the .45-70 cartridge.

Browning’s next model was the 1892, a scaled down version of the 1886 chambered for .44-40 to be compatible with Colt’s and other revolvers. The 1892 was also chambered in .38-40 (a cartridge that had found favor with lawmen), .32-20 (another that lawmen liked for its lighter recoil and favorable velocity), as well as .25-20 for small game hunting and a relatively scarce .218 Bee caliber. The Model 1892 has become one of the most famous of all Winchester models and a popular gun for westerns including John Wayne’s famous spin cocking scenes in the 1939 John Ford film Stagecoach and in Wayne’s role as Rooster Cogburn in 1969’s True Grit.

Browning was just getting started back in 1886. John and his brother Matt routinely brought new designs to Winchester each year, one of which was for the Model 1892, a lever action destined to become as famous on the American Frontier as the Model 1873.

Intended as a successor to the 1873, the 1892 was offered in pistol calibers of .32-20, .38-40, and .44-40 though other lesser produced calibers were offered including .25-20. The Model 1892 was available as a Rifle, Carbine, and Musket, with 24-inch, 20-inch, and 30-inch barrel lengths, respectively plus a .44-40 “Trapper’s Carbine” variant with shorter barrel lengths, most being 15-inches but as short as 12 inches.

This cabinet card shot in Perry O.T. (Oklahoma Territory) of some handsomely dressed Oklahoma lawmen with their Winchester lever actions shows the popularity of the rifles in the 1880s.

The Model 1892 also utilized Browning’s 1886 breech bolt (or breech block if you prefer) and lever action design with twin vertical locking bars. In operation the bars moved within the mortises in the sides of the receiver and the bolt, and coupled with an angled lifter, the rifle was able to chamber longer cartridges. The Model 1892 also laid the groundwork for Browning’s next design, the Model 1894, which remained in production throughout the 20th century with sales totaling in the millions. Winchester still sells a line of Model 1894 rifles and carbines to this day.

And we arrive in 1894 with John Browning’s latest model (he kept them coming so that Winchester was always ahead of its competition), a further improvement of the 1886 and 1892 lever action, bolt and locking design. The 1894 was a sporting and hunting rifle designed for Winchester’s new smokeless .30-30 WCF round as well as other hunting calibers. It was not compatible with revolver calibers like the Model 1892. (Photo courtesy Rock Island Auction Co.)
This is the real deal, a 2018 Winchester Model 94 carbine. The gun has a deep dark blue finish on the receiver and barrel not too different from the dark blue black finish on the new Umarex Legends Lever Action model.

The 1894 design

With the Model 1894, Browning took the next step in Winchester’s evolution by redesigning the lever, action and lifter with a flat plate at the bottom of the breech, which distinguishes the Model 1894 from preceding or succeeding lever actions. It was also the first model designed for smokeless powder cartridges. Some might say the 1894 was less elegant looking, lacking the rounded contours of the 1892 receiver and having a straight profile to the bottom. It also used a new angled locking bolt that allowed the finger lever to move further and chamber the new .30-30 Winchester (or .30 WCF) cartridge introduced in 1895. This has become the quintessential cartridge for American sportsmen and the Model 1894 one of the most popular lever action rifles in history. This is the gun that inspired the new Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle.

The rear loading BB cartridges (or pellet cartridges) from the Umarex Colt Peacemakers are used in the Legends Lever Action rifle, which has a capacity of 10 rounds in the magazine plus one round chambered for a total of 11 shots. The .30-30 Carbine had a capacity of 7 rounds plus one chambered. 

In Part 3 we continue a detailed comparison of features between the Umarex Legends and Winchester Model 1894 and begin chronograph and accuracy tests.

3 thoughts on “Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle Part 2”

  1. Looking at the picture with you packing a single action Colt and a lever action rifle, there should be a caption. If you armed with these firearms , pity your enemy. I stand by my opinion, there are few situations that cannot be handled as well today with these firearms as they were 140 years ago.

  2. When movies were invented, Hollywood of course wanted to standardize all revolvers and rifles used in filming to prevent accidents. And even more important was to standardize ammunition.

    Hollywood studio prop department storage racks were filled with Winchester 92’s and Colt SAA’s. And with a cartridge that would fit all calibers of either gun: the famous 5-in-1 black powder blank. This round fit 38-40, 44-40, and 45 Long Colt revolvers, and 38-40, 44-40 rifles (there were no 45 LC Winchester 92’s). Hence the name 5-in-1.

    In True Grit, John Wayne filed down the front sight to prevent accidentally skimming his nose when twirl cocking his 92 on horseback with reins in one hand, rifle in the other. Such an injury would delay filming, very costly.
    Chuck Conners was even taller, with longer arms, I can find no mention of him having done that.

    Early Hollywood often (but not always) had gunsmiths alter rifles and pistols when the script called for another type of weapon, possibly when the film was set in another time frame. Very extensive modifications to wood and steel so that it might seem improbable but underneath it’s looks, the gun was still a 92 or SAA. Even for instance when the revolver was supposed to be a double action, it was often was a SAA in disguise. Sometimes 92’s even masqueraded as muzzle loaders!

    I have 5 lever action cartridge guns, the Rossi 92 being a favorite. Easy to see why the Win 92 was so popular.

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