Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle
By Dennis Adler
Up until the new Umarex Legends model, the only western lever action CO2 rifle was the Walther pellet firing model which uses an 8-shot rotary magazine inserted into the firing mechanism at the front of the receiver (Part 9 of my “Airguns of the American West” series in the September 2016 Airgun Experience columns), and this is a considerably more expensive gun with an MSRP of $500. The Walther lever gun uses an 88 gr. CO2 cartridge loaded into the stock and rather than a wood grained injection molded stock and forearm like the Umarex Legends model, the Walther uses high grade walnut. But you pay for it and even while the Walther has a rifled steel barrel and excellent accuracy, it still can’t hold a candle to the experience of loading 10 shells into the magazine and ejecting spent shells from the new Umarex 1894-based model.
Umarex Cowboy Lever Action vs. the Winchester Model 1894
What the Umarex offers is, albeit with a smoothbore barrel, a very close CO2 version of an actual Winchester Model 1894. When you get into the finer details of the new design, the earlier Walther lever action quickly falls from grace with its oversized buttplate and rotary pellet design; nice, very nice, but not “authentic” in the way it operates, except for the lever action. And that is a perfect place to begin comparing the Umarex to an actual J.M. Browning 1894 design. We’re not doing a shooting comparison, a .30-30 against a BB really isn’t practical but comparing everything else is.
The Browning-designed Winchester Model 1894 has a distinctive lever action profile unique to this model, and it is accurately reproduced in the Umarex. As previously noted, Browning redesigned the frame, lever, and action for the 1894, which was built to use longer rifle cartridges, rather than chamber pistol caliber rounds like the 1892. As the old Winchester factory illustrations show the bolt locking system is different, angled rather than vertical, and the lifter and lever have been redesigned to accommodate the longer Winchester .30-30 smokeless cartridge and longer .38-55, .32-40 and .25-35 Winchester rounds. A .30-30 cartridge is 2.550 inches in length with a .308 inch diameter bullet. The 1892 was designed to work with the .44-40 Winchester cartridge, which has an overall length of 1.610 inches with a .427 inch diameter bullet. The .44-40 worked in both pistols and rifles and this is the technical goal of the Umarex Lever Action which, while using the 1894 design, chambers cartridges like the 1892, allowing the interchangeability of the Umarex Colt Peacemaker BB and pellet rounds with the new lever action rifle.
In overall length a .30-30 Model 94 Carbine measures 38 inches with a 20-inch barrel. The Umarex measures 38 inches in overall length with a 19-1/2 inch barrel (taking into account the recessed .177 caliber muzzle within the .30-30 barrel). Length of pull (middle of the trigger to the end of the buttstock) on the centerfire gun is 13.5 inches. The Umarex measures 13.526 inches. And in weight, the Umarex tips the scale at 5 pounds, 11 ounces, the .30-30 Model 94 Carbine at 6 pounds, 8 ounces.
When you look at the overall design, loading method and operation, the Umarex is as close (save for not having a rifled barrel) to an actual Model 1894 as a CO2 rifle can get, though there is one interesting external difference. The 1894 Carbine used a steel band around the barrel and forearm and another around the barrel and magazine tube just forward of the front sight. The Umarex uses the design of the 1894 Sporting Rifle, which did not have a steel band around the barrel and forend. The Umarex also uses a single connecting band between the barrel and magazine 3-1/2 inches back from the muzzle, which again is like the Model 1894 Sporting Rifle. It is not incorrect for a Model 1894 rifle but different than the original Carbine.
Interestingly, in order for the 1894 design to work as a CO2 model Umarex has used a little of the Spencer rifle design as well. (The Spencer was the most successful of the Civil War-era repeating rifles). With the Umarex design, you remove the buttplate and load two CO2 cartridges into a chamber inside the stock that is similar to the cartridge magazine loading system from the Spencer (see photos).
Once the two CO2 cartridges are loaded back-to-back (one tip up the other tip down), the seating screw, which has its own O ring seal and puncturing pin, is placed on top and tightened down with the hex head tool built into the buttplate. The CO2 from both cartridges is released inside the air chamber. This is the same design used for the Umarex MP40 sub machinegun CO2 magazines, but as applied to the lever action rifle it is all internal.
How the air is transferred to the pellet cartridge is as ingenious as John M. Browning’s breech bolt design, and Umarex uses the bolt as part of the CO2 firing system. The CO2 is moved from the stock through a pipe that comes up into the receiver and connects to the valve body. This is the key component for releasing the CO2 and is positioned directly below the breech bolt and in direct line with the firing pin. The Umarex breech bolt is actually hollow underneath and covers the valve body. When the hammer strikes the firing pin in the breech bolt, the pin is driven forward, hits the release behind the valve body and CO2 is sent directly into the rear of the chambered cartridge. When the lever action is worked the breech bolt moves back over the valve body allowing the spent shell to be ejected and a new round to be chambered when the action is closed.
While the bolt, locking system and lever action work exactly the same as in John Browning’s 1894 design, the internal workings of the air rifle are far more complex (and require more parts) than the centerfire model. The Umarex uses an assortment of O rings throughout the connections running from the air chamber in the stock to the valve body in the receiver. Because so many O rings are involved it is important to use either Pellgun oil or RWS chamber lube on the tip of each CO2 cartridge every time you load CO2 to ensure lubricating and protecting the multiple O rings throughout the system. There are more than half a dozen different sized O rings and over 20 individual components in the CO2 system alone. In comparison, there are 81 parts, including the stock, barrel and magazine in an 1894 Winchester Carbine, and more than 100 parts in the Umarex Legends Cowboy Lever Action Rifle, including the stock, barrel and magazine. There’s a lot going on in there!
The factory rated velocity for the Umarex Lever Action Rifle is 410 fps. This is not an overly impressive number for twin 12 gram CO2 cartridges and a near 20 inch-long barrel. According to my ProChrono chronograph, a fresh pair of CO2 cartridges will send an Umarex Precision 5.1 grain steel BB downrange at an average velocity of 452 fps, with a high of 463 fps, and a low of 441 fps for 10 consecutive shots. So, the Umarex actually does better than the factory spec 410 fps average. That’s very good news for shooting at greater distances.
Trigger pull on the test gun was a smooth, almost effortless 2 pounds, 12.7 ounces average. I made sure my BBs were well seated into the rear-loading Peacemaker BB cartridges (a little push with your thumbnail to make certain they are in below the rim of the retainer) and did one quick accuracy test from 10 meters to see how the Legends Cowboy Lever Action shoots. I left the sights as is and shots hit a little low but grouped tightly into 10 rounds at 1.625 inches with a best 5-round group at 0.5 inches (cluster of four shots at about 6 o’clock with two overlapping, plus first hit above that group). The one round that went right at about 4 o’clock opened up the total group, which otherwise is nine rounds at 1.0 inches.
Next week we’ll conclude with accuracy tests out to 45 feet and a run with Peacemaker pellet cartridges to see how well the smoothbore can do with lead and alloy wadcutters.