Webster’s College Dictionary defines “classic” as: 1. serving as a standard of excellence; 2. characterized by simple tailored lines in fashion year after year.
Few would argue against the lever action being considered a classic on both counts of the definition, especially on this side of the Atlantic, where the lever gun symbolizes so much in the American psyche.
The Winchester Model 1892 was made from 1892 to 1931, with some special editions available right up until World War II. Slightly over 1,000,000 units were produced. The Model 92 quickly developed a reputation as one of the slickest, smoothest, easiest-handling lever rifles ever to come out of Winchester’s factory.
Its use in Hollywood Westerns in the hands of John Wayne, Chuck Connors and Steve McQueen made it an icon— despite the fact that the Winchester 92 debuted after the closing of the American West frontier. The true levers that “won the West” were the earlier Models 1866 and 1873. Nonetheless, the 92 became an indelible icon of Western mythology through its use in hundreds of movies and TV shows, standing in for its older siblings.
Hollywood studios purchased the Model 92 in quantity because it was in regular production until World War II and looked sufficiently like Old West Winchesters to substitute for valuable antiques. The Model 92 preference was further reinforced because in calibers .44-40 and .38-40 it could fire, along with the Colt Single Action Army “Peacemaker” revolver, the standard blank cartridge of the day. Hollywood appreciated the logistical advantage of having a rifle and handgun utilize the same cartridge just as the real cowboys, settlers, lawmen and outlaws had.
Single-action revolvers and leveraction rifles have experienced a resurgence of late, as symbolized by the popularity of shooting events and associations catering to members who cannot resist the allure of firearms connected with the American West. The svelte Model 92 lever action chambered in a pistol caliber is the poster child of this movement. Companies such as Rossi realized the potential clientele involved and moved quickly into producing firearms to fill this expanding niche.
Rossi was founded in 1889 by Amadeo Rossi. Over the years, Rossi has led the way in producing affordable products without sacrificing quality or accuracy. That tradition has grown for over 115 years, along with the company and the Rossi family. In December 1997, Braz- Tech International L.C. was created as the exclusive importer of Rossi firearms in North America. At the same time, Forjas Taurus, S.A. purchased the rights and the equipment to manufacture Rossi handguns. Rossi is still run by the same family that started the company in 1889.
Rossi offers the M92 in various chamberings and styles besides the one evaluated in this article. Calibers include .44-40, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull, and .357 Magnum. M92s are available in blue and stainless metal with different barrel lengths and configurations as well as numerous stock and sight options.
The Rossi M92 reviewed herein utilizes John Browning’s lever design as originally displayed in the Winchester Model 1892, but with the interesting twists of being chambered in the modern .44 Magnum pistol cartridge combined with stainless steel construction.
The superb feel generated by the Rossi M92’s minimal width and light weight, combined with near-perfect balance and 8+1 capacity in a mildly recoiling package cannot be denied.
Initially the bolt of the Rossi M92 was a bit tight. The lever action smoothed up quickly during range and field tests and is a credit to Rossi manufacturing techniques. Positive functioning was never an issue.
Rossi has fitted the M92 with a 16- inch stainless round barrel. The handy rifle weighs less than five pounds, offers 8+1 capacity, and measures 33.5 inches in total length. The Rossi M92 is equipped with sturdy adjustable iron sights—classic “buckhorn” rear ladder style combined with extended front bead—and a crescent-shaped buttplate. The overall appearance of the Rossi M92 is pleasing, thanks to a blending of the stainless steel barrel and receiver enhanced by an attractive grade of wood used for the handguard and stock.
The Rossi M92 handles great, with excellent portability befitting a slim fivepound lever-action rifle. I find it hard to fathom that anyone using the Rossi M92 .44 Magnum is undergunned or at a marked disadvantage when hunting deer-sized game or pressed into a defensive or survival situation.
I was quite surprised by the Rossi M92’s accuracy. The Black Hills Ammunition, Hornady, and Winchester .44 Magnum loads kept groups under two inches at 50 yards. This included 210-grain, 240-grain, and 300-grain jacketed bullets. The Rossi’s trigger release measured six pounds and exhibited minimal creep before releasing.
It is a valid argument that the Rossi M92 .44 Magnum augments personal defense or sporting armaments with its ability to maximize accuracy out of .44 Magnum loads beyond what typical revolvers or semiautomatic handguns chambered in .44 Magnum could provide.
Though the .44 Magnum is no longer the king in terms of pure power, it is the established benchmark for pistol-caliber hunting cartridges. Sure, the .454 Casull surpasses it in terms of delivered payload, but all pistol calibers pay homage to the .44 Magnum by comparing themselves to it.
Manufacturers know that hunters and shooters are totally familiar with what the .44 Magnum brings to the table in terms of power. If a properly constructed bullet from a .44 Magnum placed in the correct location does not do the job, then no other pistol cartridge will likely be successful either.
The Rossi M92 was tested from the bench for accuracy, and from barricades, fallen trees and other obstacles to get a better appreciation of its handling and performance. Steel targets were smacked with ease out to 150 yards from either standing or field-expedient rests.
I decided to use Echo Valley Training Center’s new “jungle walk” range for further evaluation by placing targets at random locations along its 250-yard long by 50-yard wide meandering riverbottom location. Each shooter would move along the jungle walk and engage targets as discovered at various ranges using field-expedient firing positions. Overall, this proved realistic of actual Rossi M92 use, and frankly a lot of fun.
The distinct sound of a 240- or 300-grain bullet smacking steel is gratifying. The M92’s eight-round tube magazine was handy to recharge as needed based on firing rate. No malfunctions were experienced.
The Rossi’s safety selector is located on the rear of the receiver. The safety makes no audible noise when operating it—an important consideration for hunting or defense. This may not be politically correct, but the manual safety was ignored for the most part during testing, once it was verified that it functioned correctly.
The Rossi M92 generated nearly 1,500 feet-per-second (fps) across an RCBS AmmoMaster chronograph with 240-grain bullets and 1,300+ fps with 300- grain loads. Based on 1,500 fps, a 240-grain .44-caliber bullet that is zeroed for 100 yards will be approximately 1.5 inches high at 50 yards and seven inches low at 150 yards. It arrives at 150 yards with 770 foot pounds of energy.
CRITERIA FOR JUDGING WEAPONS
The .44 Magnum chambering should not dissuade users from the M92 and will not if given a rational chance. Indeed, many will find the .44 Magnum a better choice than standard “cowboy” chamberings due to its power and consistency. More and more premium load options are coming on line for the .44 Magnum, starting with Black Hills, Hornady, and Winchester.
It is often assumed that only the most current weapons offer any real tactical or sporting utility. This is unfortunate in that it encourages people to think weaponry is a substitute for mindset, training, and proficiency. A weapon should be judged by the following criteria: handling, lethality, firepower, and effective range, not just by when it was created or how much it costs. All these characteristics combine to create a weapon that allows a user to defend himself across various engagement distances.
At the end of the 19th century, the M92 was the AR/AK of its day, with its pistol-caliber chambering and relatively high capacity. Would it be the optimal choice today? Of course not, but this does not totally discount its capabilities if someone turned to it out of necessity.
Right or wrong, the Rossi M92 will not stir up the same visceral reaction when fielded as compared to an AK— and prudence can be the better part of valor in certain situations. While hard to quantify, there is little doubt that a rifle like the Rossi M92 is sure to draw a different level of scrutiny than a modern rifle will if deployed or carried in a rifle rack. Whatever roles it is considered for, whether hunting, personal defense, and/or sport, the M92 fits the bill.
What role is the Rossi M92 intended to satisfy? As with most things related to firearms, the answer depends on individual missions and desires. The Rossi M92 chambered in .44 Magnum is a rifle that can serve in multiple roles. With its ability to attract users from a variety of backgrounds, the M92 should prove a popular offering from Rossi.