Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle Part 3

Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle

The Classic Winchester Model 1894 on air Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

By Dennis Adler

With an open spread from the Winchester catalog dated March 1897, you can see the various models of the 1894 that were available. The most modern lever action rifle of its time, the 1894 was originally chambered for rifle cartridges and not compatible with pistol cartridges like the Model 1892 before it. Umarex made that one noteworthy change to allow the CO2 model to use the same BB loading cartridges as the Peacemaker.

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.

The Walther lever action (introduced over a decade ago) is very close in size and weight to a Winchester Model 1894 rifle, but made some concessions in design to accommodate the use of pellets, and in later versions like the example shown from 2016, the use of a large 88 gram CO2 cylinder. The large buttplate was required for the CO2 design.
For the Walther Lever Action test back in 2016, I had shot both 10 meter and 15 meter tests from a standing position. The front sight hood was left on for the range tests to reduce glare. Best groups from 10 meters and 15 meters measured 0.75 inches and 1.22 inches, respectively.
To load the Walther lever action you press in on the rifle’s loading gate, the loading port pops open and you insert a loaded 8-round rotary magazine. This was the great compromise and what began the call for a cartridge loading model shortly after the Umarex Colt Peacemakers were introduced.

Umarex Cowboy Lever Action vs. the Winchester Model 1894

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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.

This year Umarex delivered its first cartridge-loading CO2 model to the U.S. market. The Legends Cowboy Lever Action is a faithful reproduction of the Winchester Model 1894 and has the same approximate weight, balance and operation as a centerfire model. We are two steps closer to CAS with airguns.

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.

As the illustrations from the Winchester catalog show, Browning’s designs for the Model 1892 (left) and Model 1894 were quite different, with the 1894 using a model specific lever action designed for longer cartridges in rifle calibers, as opposed to the 1892 which was designed to use shorter pistol caliber cartridges. The Umarex is an amalgamation of both…
…looks exactly like the 1894 design but chambers the same cartridges as the Peacemaker. The design is nevertheless completely based on the J.M. Browning Model 1894 as evidenced by the finger lever and open action. As for the finish used on the Umarex, it is fairly close to the current Winchester Model 94 carbine.

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.

The Umarex Legends Cowboy lever action operates the same way as an 1894. In this photo with the finger lever down, breech bolt open, and a cartridge having been pulled from the magazine and ready to chamber, the breech bolt has cocked the hammer and at the rear you can see the back of the firing pin extending. The rectangular slots on either side of the breech bolt, near the back of the receiver, are for the locking bolts.
When the finger lever is closed the breech bolt moves forward and chambers the cartridge. The two locking bolts return to their place behind the breech bolt and the gun is ready to fire. The Umarex Legends design uses a tang-mounted safety which is similar to the safety used on current Winchester Model 94 rifles.

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.

Inside out

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).

The Spencer repeating rifle was more popular with the U.S. military during the Civil War due to its rugged construction and an internal magazine loaded through the buttstock, which was regarded as superior to the Henry for use in the field. It loaded seven Spencer .56-56 cartridges. The loading system for the Umarex CO2 cartridges is similar to this design.
The buttplate is removed and used to unscrew the long seating screw (shown attached to the hex head tool built into the buttplate). This also has an O ring (green) and when tightened down causes both CO2 cartridges, loaded back to back, to be pierced creating an air chamber within the stock. Air is then fed to the CO2 valve body inside the receiver.

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.

With the Umarex, the entire buttplate is removed by rotating the lock in the center and pulling the buttplate off to expose the CO2 chamber in the bottom. The CO2 are loaded into the chamber (they drop all the way in, the second was left exposed for the photo) and the seating screw used to seat and pierce the second CO2. The first cartridge, loaded nose first, is pierced by a cap at the other end. The air chamber in the stock is connected to the valve body in the receiver through a series of fittings, O-rings and a flexible tube.

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.

The Legends Cowboy Lever Action Rifle loads and functions like a Winchester Model 1894.

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 Umarex Legends is not a heavy rifle weighing just 5 pounds, 11 ounces empty. The .30-30 Carbines were pretty lightweight as well averaging around 6 pounds, 8 ounces empty. The sights on the Umarex are copied from the original-style Marble Arms front sight and adjustable buckhorn rear.
And here it is, the most important feature of the Umarex Legends Lever Action Rifle; a fully operating cartridge ejecting action.
The spent BB (or pellet) shells can be ejected a fair distance depending upon on how fast you work the lever. I went slowly here allowing the shell to fall just to my right. I also did some faster work and shells flew several feet to my right. I actually stood on a large drop cloth to keep rounds from getting lost in the grass around the photo set. Your surroundings are something you will have to think about when shooting the rifle, not only for safety but also for finding the ejected shells on the ground.

Velocity checks

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.

I shot the first tests with the new Umarex Legends Cowboy Lever Action from 10 meters just as I had shot the original Walther Lever Action Rifle test in 2016. At 10 meters the Walther had placed 8 rounds at 0.75 inches. I put 10 from the Umarex smoothbore into 1.625 inches with a best 5-shot group at 0.5 inches.

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.

Not a bad start for the Umarex Legends Cowboy Lever Action. From 10 meters I put five out of 10 rounds into 0.5 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.

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

  1. This is a game changer, as the Peacemaker was. Glad the velocity is better than listed. If the valve system can be tweaked it could hit 575 to 600 fps . I am betting alloy pellets will move out quicker than bbs with greater range and accuracy. It would be smart to hold out for a rifled barrel version, but lack of self control will win out and I will buy one as soon as available. If possible I would suggest lower cost plastic shells for the rifle. Next up should be the European issue weathered finish , brass receiver version, 16 inch large loop trapper, and Mare’s Laig. Stay tuned this should be interesting . It is better to shoot good than look good, but you pulled off both.

    • I’m all for the rifled barrel version but that may be awhile and pellets will do well even in the smoothbore. A weathered version will likely appear sometime next year, seems to be Umarex practice to save the weathered finish guns for a second go around and personally I would want both (did the same with the Model 712 Broomhandle and P.O8). Brass frame would be really wrong for an 1894. John Wayne large loop would be great for a special edition even though Wayne’s was an 1892, but the hot ticket for me, you and just about everyone else would be a weathered finish Mare’s Laig with the 9-inch barrel and large loop lever. Steve McQueen fans chime in!

      • Not a fan of brass framed 94 but some like them and Winchester did an 1894 Commemorative brass frame rifle years back. I would prefer 1866, 73 and 92 air rifles but doubt that will happen. Happy this one is here. Looks like arrival date has been moved up to 12/19. Hope that is true. My trigger finger is itchy

    • Thanks, it is easier now days to shoot good than it is to look good. I keep trying. Mare’s Laig would be great, but to make the stock shorter it would have to live with only one 12 gram CO2 cartridge. But with a 9 inch barrel, probably would be good enough. I’m not going to hold my breath but I know the tooling exists overseas to build it.

  2. There are probably more than a few shooters who ran out and bought bbPeacemakers and now wish they had the more accurate pellet versions . As you have shown pellets can be accurate in smoothbores .Seems like there might be a market for rifled pellets.

  3. Looks like the bottom will fall out of the Walther lever action market. Number of O rings is a cause for concern thinking about the problems I have had with my 1911. Does it look easy to get into for repairs?
    I would not go for a rifled version myself it is too easy to block the barrel as the pressure gets low. BBs do not get stuck.
    Is there any sign of a shotgun to complete the cowboy action trio?

    • Derek, no it is not easy and I have the parts schematic and exploded views (sorry can’t share those) and unless you can disassemble an air rifle I wouldn’t open this one up. Over 100 parts in the 1894 model. As for a double barrel CO2 hammer gun, nothing on the horizon, but the internal mechansim of the 1894 looks like it could be adapted to a Winchester style lever action Model 1877 shotgun. I wish!!! No doubt manufacturers have realized by now that the western CO2 market is one model away from creating an entirely new class of airgun competition in CAS.

  4. It would make sense to get an airgun shotgun, a coach gun , a lever or both, to promote cas, cowboy airgun shooting. Umarex would be smart to get moving. Action matches would consist of two revolvers, lever rifle, shotgun. Seems like a big market share waiting to happen

  5. There is a German airgun fan site forum with 800+ messages on this air rifle (and even more on a thread about the Umarex Peacemakers). Using ‘Simple Translate’ addon for Firefox I can read the English translations very well, far better than translations these tools provided just 2 years ago.

    They favor of the Walther pellet gun over this gun for two reasons: Picking up empties and the lack of a wooden gunstock. (More than one message says German consumers are far more willing to pay for real wood than Americans). For some reason Germans call pellet guns ‘diabolo’ guns. They call the Walter lever “WLA” and the Umarex lever “CLA” (Walther Lever Action and Cowboy Lever Action).

    • Diabolo refers to the pellets, diabolo guns, i.e. pellet guns. I can see the reason for the Walther in competition since you have to pick up your empties with the Legends Cowboy Lever Action, and you don’t want to let them go missing at $9.99 for 6 rounds. But I think here, in the U.S., cowboy shooters will live with not having wood stocks and forends for the fun of actually loading cartridges into the lever action, and even having to pick up the spent shells afterward. Cowboy Action Shooting has been very popular in Germany for a long time. Europeans love the American West.

    • Bill:

      Me too, but to be honest it would drive the cost up considerably and not add anything to the gun’s accuracy. The look of the wood grained molded stock is pretty good, so wood is probably not apt to be a priority. How well a pair of 12 gr. CO2 cartridges could push a .22 alloy wadcutter is a more interesting prospect considering the lever gun in 4.5mm is exceeding factory velocity specs with BBs and alloy pellets!

  6. While I don’t care for a brass receiver, some do and I have seen videos of a brass framed Walther version in European matches. I would prefer the weathered finish. It is strange that Umarex set this rifle up for mid 400 fps velocity, the MP 40 select fire gets about the same velocity while operating a blowback mechanism and shorter barrel. Still a milestone in airguns

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