Working Winchester 1892 Rifles

John Browning’s smaller version of the M1886 and M1873 replacement for pistol-caliber cartridges remains popular today.

by RK Campbell

Most of the information about the Winchester Model 1892 rifle in this article also applies to the foreign-produced Puma rifles and a few others. Some of the generalities also apply to the Winchester 1894 lever action rifle. These rifles are often used in cowboy action shooting. Many are found in the hands of people who simply appreciate old steel and like to shoot lever action rifles. Others use the rifles as an important part of their hunting battery. The Winchester 1892 is accurate, reliable after a few fixes, and fires the .32-20 WCF cartridge. With about the same energy as the .30 Carbine but with a heavier bullet, the .32-20 is still useful for coyote and other small game.

The first thing before working on these older guns is to conduct some research and understand their individual qualities. When a customer declares his gun won’t shoot we have to understand the basis for complaint. Can he shoot? Was the gun previously accurate? Modern replicas are accurate with jacketed and hard cast bullets, sometimes, but the older rifles such as the original M1892 chambered in .44-40 have specific parameters that must be met for accuracy.

A modern shooter using hard cast bullets may find the WCF cartridges less accurate than legend suggests. In the early days, firearms sometimes had less consistent bore diameter and this greater disparity makes for poor accuracy. Rifles were more likely to be off specification than handguns, which insured feed reliability even with a dirty chamber and the less-than-perfect ammunition of the period. Bullets then were soft (usually forty parts lead and one part tin) and bumped into the grooves easily on firing. Harder alloys are popular today, producing fine accuracy in most firearms and reducing leading. Softer alloys may make less accurate bullets but with proper bullets WCF cartridges are accurate.
Read more in the November 2016 issue.

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