Setting the standard: Winchester's Model 1892 perfected the pistol-caliber lever action.

Author:Venturino, Mike

My first article upon signing up with GUNS was a piece on my all time favorite Winchester lever gun--the Model 1873. Now I'm going to tell you why the Model 1892 Winchester was better. Am I contradicting myself? No way. There's a big difference between favorite and better!

The Winchester Model 1892 was lighter, stronger, faster and more reliable. During the Model 1873's 1/2-century production span (1873 to 1923), about three quarters of a million guns were sold. In a similar production life (1892 to 1941) about one million Model 1892s were made, so for every three 1873s, there were four 1892s. Perhaps their plentitude accounts for Hollywood using so many in the movies, even when said movie was set decades before the Model 1892's advent.

By 1892 Winchester had been making lever guns firing pistol-size cartridges for 26 years, and to say that they were popular with American gun buyers is a drastic understatement. Between 1866 and 1892 Winchester had sold about 400,000 Model 1866s and Model 1873s combined. Such sales can only be considered enormous considering the population of the United States at that time.

Power Boost

The Model 1866 was chambered for the puny .44 Henry rimfire round and the Model 1873 was made for .44 WCF, .38 WCF, and .32 WCF, which everyone today calls .44-40, .38-40, and .32-20. Despite what we modern hunters think about "adequate deer cartridges," the old-timers merrily blasted deer with all of those relatively tiny rounds. But, by 1892, smokeless powders were making their advent, and Winchester knew the toggle-link design of their older lever guns weren't up to snuff for the pressures these new propellants could generate. They were willing to let the old .44 Henry wither and die, but not the three pistol-size WCFs.

Timing favored Winchester, because starting in the mid-1880s the firearms designing genius John M. Browning went to work for them. With other engineers he first came up with the huge Model 1886, which was Winchester's first successful lever gun chambering true rifle cartridges. The Model 1886 used twin locking bolts, which rose at the rear of the bolt making a much stronger system than the old toggle link design. It was but a small project to reduce the 1886's size and make a brand new lever gun chambering the old Model 1873's WCF cartridges. Actually John M. Browning (& company) deserves a hearty atta-boy for coming up with a radically new lever gun yet maintaining the Winchester look so familiar with gun buyers. (If nothing else that benefited movie makers of a later era.)

The 1892 Debuts

When introduced, the Model 1892 had to have made quite a stir. At that time the average deer rifle (rifle--not carbine) weighed about 81/2 to nine pounds or more. Eight and one half pounds was catalog weight for a Model 1873 rifle. Conversely the new Model 1892 rifle weighed only 6 1/4 pounds. Incidentally those weights are for 24" round barrels. Add a half pound to each for octagon barrels. For comparison purposes note that a Model 1873 carbine with 20" barrel weighed 7 1/2 pounds but a Model 1892 carbine weighed a mere 5 3/4 pounds. That doesn't sound like much to us pickup and SUV drivers, but it dam sure made a difference to horseback travelers!

And what did all this lightness...

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