Introduction: Zombies beware!
For some folks, lever-action rifles conjure up classic Westerns like "The Searchers" and "True Grit." For me, though, lever-actions are the quintessential zombie guns. After all, Ben used a Winchester 94 in the original "Night of the Living Dead,"
and Peter wasted marauding bikers wth a Savage 99
in "Dawn of the Dead." It was this undead nostalgia that prompted me to pick up the relatively inexpensive Rossi Model R92.
The Rossi 92 is a clone/reproduction of the Winchester 1892, a lever-action designed by John Moses Browning as a scaled-down version of the Winchester 1886. The Rossis have gone through various importers through the years - my Rossi 92, and all new Rossi 92s as of December 2010, are manufactured in Brazil by Taurus and imported by Braztech.
There are other options for those seeking a lever-action rifle chambered in .357 Magnum. The Marlin 1894C is popular, and the best choice for those who wish to mount a scope over the receiver. There's the Henry Big Boy, a tube-loading design that's considerably heavier than the Marlin and Rossi actions. You can also still buy an actual Winchester-branded '92; these are made in Miroku, Japan. If you're on a budget, though, the Rossi is about $150 cheaper (and easier to find at the moment) than the 1894C, and much
cheaper than the Miroku '92s (which run close to the $1000 mark). Like most things, though, you get what you pay for...First Impressions: Rough around the edges
I found the Rossi 92 to be a quick-handling little rifle, especially since I opted for the 16" trapper-style carbine; when held in one hand, the barrel doesn't even touch your shoetops, let alone the floor. The point of balance is right at the receiver, too, which is just about ideal for a long arm. The lever-action also makes the gun thin and slim compared to big, bulky semiautomatic carbines like the AR and AK.
Despite this handiness, I noticed several areas where the Taurus/Rossi factory cut corners on the gun. Unlike the real-deal Winchesters, the Rossis have plain flat fore-ends and crude-looking barrel bands. Unsurprisingly, mystery hardwood is used throughout. On the positive side, the finish on the barrel and receiver is serviceable, and I found the adjustable semi-buckhorn sights to be clear and simple to use.The Action: More hitches than a trailer park
I had heard from anecdotal reports that some Rossi actions were smoother than others. I must have gotten one of the rough ones, because my example had noticeable hitching, especially near the end of the down-stroke (when the next cartridge is lifted into position to be fed into the chamber). A rough action is not only less fun to shoot, it detracts from reliability and messes up your sight alignment when you cycle in another round.
The Rossi 92s come with the top-mount safety that everybody seems to hate. It isn't the most positive safety I've ever used, but it didn't really bother me, especially since the other controls on the gun worked fine. I thought my rifle's trigger was pretty crisp, and I didn't detect any major ergonomic problems with the hammer or the lever.Range Report: Isn't this thing chambered in .357 Magnum?
After inspecting and cleaning the rifle, I took the Rossi 92 out and put it through its paces. As an initial observation, the rifle kicks more than you'd expect with .357 loads. The long barrel allows the bullets to develop several hundred feet per second more velocity compared to a handgun, so typical 158 grain loads can reach muzzle velocities of 1700 fps or more (roughly 1000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy).
First, the good news - I found that the Rossi readily fed all manner of .38 Special cartridges, including my own handloads (158 grain LRN, 158 grain LSWC, and 125 grain JHP bullets) as well as Remington 125 grain SJHP. Accuracy wise, I regularly shot 3" groups at 50 yards with my .38 Special handloads (seated, but not in a mechanical rest).
The bad news? The Rossi 92 was very, very picky about feeding .357 Magnum cartridges. In fact, Remington 158 grain SJHP simply would not feed in the gun, even after decreasing COAL with reloading equipment. The round would jam into the top of the chamber when you tried to close the action. Here's an illustration:
Shorter .357s with a more rounded bullet shape seemed to do better (though there was still the odd fail-to-feed). On the right is the Remington 125 grain SJSWC, which fed okay; on the left is the Remington 158 grain load that simply could not be cycled through the gun:Second Range Report: And there was much rejoicing
Taurus guns have a reputation for inconsistent quality control - one gun might be a complete basket case, while the one right next to it is unfailingly reliable. Wanting to test this theory out, I returned the Rossi 92 at my local gun shop and obtained a replacement. Immediately I could tell that the new gun's action was slicker and tighter - even the shell carrier angle looked different. I headed to the range again with high hopes.
Hallelujah! The second Rossi 92 worked fine with several types of .357 Magnum, including the Remington 158 grainers that were literally impossible to feed in the first one. I only shot about 50 rounds through the second Rossi, so the jury's still out on whether or not it's reliable enough to bet your life on in a fight. For me, it's certainly good enough for low-level cowboy action shooting and range fun.Conclusion
Can I recommend the Rossi 92? Well, yes and no. After shooting both Rossi 92s, I really can't even believe they were made on the same assembly line, much less that they were identical examples of the same model.
That is, if you get a good Rossi 92, it will probably do everything a lever-action .357 can be expected to do, especially considering the price. If you slick it up and get it tuned by a good gunsmith, it might even work for serious cowboy action competitions and self-defense. If you get a lemon, though, like I did, you'll definitely have to send it back in. In short, pick your poison, pay your money, and have fun popping some zombie brains...