Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle
The Classic Winchester Model 1894 on air Part 2 Part 1
By Dennis Adler
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.
More powerful than an 1873
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
In Part 3 we continue a detailed comparison of features between the Umarex Legends and Winchester Model 1894 and begin chronograph and accuracy tests.