“Crazy Horse would have been in front, alone, standing out in that kaleidoscope of shifting color by his apparent plainness. He would have worn only his breechcloth and a single hawk’s feather in his hair…He carried his Winchester lightly.” (Stephen E. Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer)
When the Sioux warrior Crazy Horse stood looking out over the area known as Little Big Horn, he carried a Winchester lever action rifle. So did Pat Garret and Billie Bonnie, as did the groups of men known as Texas Rangers and U.S. Deputy Marshalls.
In each of their hands, the Winchester rifle was devastating – whether on battlefields, cattle trails or the dusty streets of towns. Though an earlier model Winchester was the weapon of choice for Garret, Crazy Horse and others, the John Browning-designed Winchester 1892 is the model best known to millions-upon-millions of Wild West Show attendees, moviegoers and television viewers.
When Annie Oakley broke flying targets with a Winchester lever action, she did so with a smooth-bore Model 1892. Whether Chuck Connors wielding his rapid-fire repeater in The Rifleman or John Wayne blazing away in True Grit, they were firing customized Model 1892s.
OK, so there weren’t really any projectiles issuing from either Connors’ or Wayne’s rifles, but as a kid I sure could imagine that there were.
Returning to real-world applications, the fact that Winchester’s lever actions were chambered for popular handgun cartridges provided the advantage of carrying a single type of ammunition for rifle and revolver.
For example, the cartridges in the iconic photo of Billy Bonnie, a.k.a. Billy-The-Kid, appear to be the widely-used caliber, .44-40. In addition to the advantage of having one cartridge for two firearms, the design of the Winchester lever actions resulted in an extremely fast-pointing and easy-handling long gun that could generate substantial firepower.
These characteristics were (are) perfect for fighting from horseback and for short-range hunting. Though Texas Ranger,Jim Gillett ‘applied’ his Winchester lever action against criminals, he also reflected on hunting with the same .44-40, thus stating, “I have killed almost every kind of game that is found in Texas, from the biggest old bull buffalo to a fox squirrel….”
I wonder about the wisdom of Jim Gillett’s use of his rifle on a ‘bull buffalo’, but as Craig Boddington has pointed out, the .44-40 “…at close range will kill deer today as well as it did in 1873.”
When Turnbull Restoration’s Mike Nelson asked about my desire to review one of their ‘Turnbull Finished’ rifles, I was, to put it mildly, delighted. Already having worked with one of Doug Turnbull’s’s Custom Reproduction Model 1886s, I had a good idea what was in store.
Unlike the Model 1886, the 1892 Deluxe Takedown is a stock factory-made Winchester rifle that’s been “Turnbull-ized.”
I would be able to handle an exquisite firearm that would bring the 19th Century episode known as the ‘Winning of the West’ into the here-and-now. When Mike specified that the rifle they would be sending was a Winchester Model 1892 Deluxe Takedown rifle, chambered to .44-40, I was even more pleased.
My pleasure was two-fold: first, I had never handled a Takedown rifle, let alone a ‘Deluxe’ version; second, I had never fired a rifle chambered to this iconic caliber. I was being given a two-fer for my bucket list.
When I opened the box containing the 1892 Takedown at my local gun shop, this is what I saw: bone charcoal case hardening coloration on receiver, lever, hammer, butt plate and forend cap that is the ‘tell’ indicating time spent in the Turnbull workshop.
There was also the era-appropriate rust bluing on the octagon barrel and magazine tube as well as a hand-rubbed oil finish on the Grade 5/6 walnut stock that shades the wood with that classic Winchester red.
What I could not see, but would experience later when I carried out my rangework, was the tang safety conversion that restored the half-cock safety as was found on original 1892 rifles.
Likewise, adjustments were made by the Turnbull gunsmiths to lighten the mainspring thus softening both the action cycling and trigger pull. The resulting rifle looks and feels like the original Winchesters carried by Crazy Horse, Garret, Bonnie, Gillett, Oakley and, yes, even Connors and Wayne.
Not Just Another Pretty Face
One of the things that I wondered was whether the .44-40 handgun cum rifle cartridge, and the era-correct steel butt plate on the Model 1892, would combine to make the rifle a menace to my shoulder. I realized that using 200-grain Winchester hunting loads for my rangework probably wouldn’t help matters. With all of that in mind, I strapped on my gel pad before pulling the trigger for the first time. I needn’t have worried. The Turnbull-ized Winchester was wonderfully mild in the recoil department. In fact, it was so much fun to shoot that before I knew what was happening, I had run 30+ cartridges through the rifle.
I mentioned earlier that a major attraction of the Winchester lever actions for lawmen, outlaws and hunters alike was the firearm’s ability to point like a well-fitted shotgun. I found the 1892 Takedown does just that.
I did not need to reposition my cheek on the stock after cycling the action; the rifle kept pointing at the target, seemingly ignoring that it was being held by inexperienced hands. The fact that the rifle and ammunition were forgiving of my novice status is reflected in the groups obtained using a fieldrest at both 50 and 100 yards.
Takedown is quick and easy. With the lever open, simply open the takedown lever at the front of the magazine tube, rotate it a few times, then twist the barrel assembly about 1/4 turn to separate it from the receiver. That’s all that’s needed to convert the 41-inch rifle into a very compact, portable package.
The photo illustrates two of my best groups from targets placed at the 50 yard mark. Though not pictured, my groups at 100 yards averaged 4 inches in diameter. The accuracy at both distances is more than sufficient for both uses for which the Winchester lever actions were designed – killing game and enemies.
With the accuracy of the Model 1892 confirmed, I investigated the muzzle velocity and energy of the Winchester ammunition. I had in mind to carry the 1892 on upcoming deer/feral hog hunting trips.
The average MV and ME of ~1100 f.p.s. and ~600 ft-lbs, respectively, might suggest some doubt as to the effectiveness of the cartridge for deer-sized game. However, as testified to by legions of .44-40 owners, its flat-nosed bullets are extremely hard hitting.
I won’t be trying to stretch this rifle or load into a 100+ yard hunting device. But that’s not its purpose. It should be perfect for the thick hardwood stands of my adopted state of Georgia – but probably not the huge food-plots.
This is a rifle that has a primary place in the history of the United States. The Winning of the West involved resilient men and women of many nations and tongues who required tools like the Model 1892 Winchester to put food on their tables and provide protection against those who meant them harm.
Holding this rifle stirs a lot of emotions, in particular, awe towards those who were strong enough to journey into a hostile wilderness. I’m equally excited as I contemplate carrying this rifle after big game, a rifle made oh-so-true-to-history by Turnbull and his craftsmen.
Specifications: Turnbull Finished Winchester 1892 Deluxe Takedown Rifle
Action Type: Lever
Caliber: .44-40 Winchester (.44 WCF…also comes in .45 Colt)
Capacity: 12 rounds
Barrel Length: 24”
Weight: 7 lbs, 8 oz
Stock: Grade 5/6 walnut with a hand-rubbed oil finish
Sights: Marbles gold bead front, buckhorn rear
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
This rifle is a stock Winchester lever gun made truly beautiful by Turnbull to accurately reflect the historical period in which they first appeared.
Fit and Finish: * * * * *
Bone charcoal case hardening coloration on receiver, lever, hammer, butt plate and forend cap, with era-apposite rust bluing on the octagon barrel and magazine tube. Takedown was quick and easy.
Accuracy * * * * *
Fantastic accuracy for the .44-40’s historical application…putting down big-game and enemies at 100 yards or less.
Ergonomics * * * * *
At 7 ½ pounds, this rifle is extremely easy to both carry and hold at shoulder level while waiting for an animal to take that step into the open. The overall balance, ‘off-the-rack’ fit of the stock, and smoothness of the reworked action allowed quick re-acquisition of the target while working the lever.
Reliability * * * * *
There were no chambering issues with any of the different cartridges I ran through this rifle. I don’t expect there to be any when I take this Model 1892 into the whitetail woods either.
Overall * * * * *
I have high expectations for Turnbull products. This Model 1892 Winchester did not disappoint. The fact that it shoots like dream, but doesn’t kick like a demon (mixed metaphors), make this rifle a wonderful shooting experience. This rifle allows the shooter to dream of the Old West.
A note of thanks to the following folks, without whose generosity this review would not have been possible: Mike Nelson, Paul Downs and Doug Turnbull from Turnbull Restoration (https://www.turnbullrestoration.com); Tom McElwayne (owner of Shooters Den https://www.facebook.com/ShootersDenUS); Tracy Ledbetter (owner of Gun Racks for Less – https://gunracksforless.com); and Lilian Camalet (owner of 4StableSticks® – https://4stablestick.com).