I was recently fortunate to find a Rossi R92 lever action. It’s tough to find a decent lever action at a reasonable price these days! Trust me on that. I had been scouring the gun stores in my area searching for a lever action. Not just any lever action, mind you; but one with a 16-inch barrel. I was after something light and maneuverable that handles quickly and easily. I had a specific hankerin’ for a lever gun that met those criteria.
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It’s my friend Nate’s fault. I’d recently handled his Marlin Youth .30-30 lever action and it reminded me how much I love a short lever action carbine. That cool, little gun made me painfully aware of the lack of such a carbine in my own inventory. So, it’s his fault. Regardless, I felt the need to rectify this shortcoming in my arsenal at once.
The hunt was on. I searched the internet with nary a clue nor a lead. To put it bluntly, I couldn’t locate one single Marlin 336 Youth Rifle in the United States! How could this be?
Unfortunately, Marlin recently closed their doors. They were taken over by Ruger, who has begun production of Marlin lever actions. There was a problem that I ran into with this, though. You see, a Ruger lever action can be had in any caliber you want these days, as long as that caliber happens to be .45-70. The issue is that I have zero desire to own a .45-70 at this time.
Finding an affordable lever action from another maker was difficult for me, as they were all out of my budget. A couple of years ago, there were a few lever actions in most gun stores in my area at very modest prices. That situation is no more. For some reason, people are clamoring for lever guns, and prices have skyrocketed.
In the local gun shop, I spotted a Rossi R92 lever action carbine on the shelf. Hefting it, I noted that it was a .357 Magnum caliber. For quite a while, I’d wanted a lever action in that caliber, and here was one right in front of me. I also noted how nice the wood is on the stocks. The hook was set and I had to have it. After a little horse trading and check writing, the rifle was on its way home with me.
The company was founded in 1898 by Amadeo Rossi. In December of 1997, BrazTech International began importing Rossi Firearms into North America. Rossi’s rifles are manufactured in a plant in Sao Leupoldo, Brazil, and Rossi is still run by the same family who started the business 131 years ago.
The R92 is basically a copy of the Winchester Model 1892, featuring two locking lugs. The overall length of the little carbine is 33.7 inches. Weight is 5.7 pounds with a 16-inch barrel. Sights are the buckhorn variety and are adjustable. The capacity of the tube magazine is eight rounds. The stocks are Brazillian hardwood, and a curved, metal butt plate adorns the butt of the stock. Caliber is .357 Magnum/.38 Special. Ejection is out of the top of the receiver.
Why a Lever Action?
I’ll not deny that there was a bit of nostalgia involved. After all, many of us enjoy cowboy guns, which remind us of the Old Westerns that we watched as kids. And there’s just something about firearms made of wood and steel. Sure, I have all-black guns that feature plastic furniture, and I like them. But there’s just something classic looking about a lever gun.
And I realized that I’m kind of burning out with the “black guns.” While I still love them, I wanted to round out my stable a bit. One fellow writer referred to this as “AR Fatigue.” I found that to be a witty, accurate term!
Another reason why owning a lever action makes sense is that it’s not currently on the radar of the gun banners. No one’s trying to ban them, quite unlike semi-auto firearms, which seem to be the focus these days.
People living in states where semis have already been banned can really benefit from owning a lever gun. We can defend the house pretty well using a lever action, even if it’s not as sexy as an AR-15.
Speaking of defense and legalities, if we’re ever forced to use a firearm to defend ourselves, which would you rather have the prosecutor hold up in court, a lever action hunting rifle or an AR-15? I guarantee that using the hunting rifle is going to be far, far less inflammatory and damning than the semi-auto “weapon of war.” The courtroom is all about appearances, and we want to appear as tame and good-natured as possible. The last thing we want to do is give the prosecution anything to run with that will make us appear to be a lunatic. People just don’t usually get upset when they see a “cowboy gun.”
Also, it’s possible to run the lever gun quickly, achieving a respectable rate of fire. That’s useful for defensive purposes, whether facing predators with two or four legs.
While it’s true that the capacity isn’t as high as a magazine-fed semi-auto, the R92 holds eight rounds. Not too shabby, really. And the tubular magazine can be topped up as we go along via the side loading gate.
Quite a few problems can be solved with eight rounds of Magnum ammunition. We have to ask ourselves exactly what we’re expecting out of the platform that we’re using, and if our expectations are realistic.
Are we taking on the zombie apocalypse? Going into a combat zone? Repelling home invaders? Making our rounds on the ranch and maybe protecting livestock from predators such as mountain lions? There are a lot of different scenarios, depending upon our lifestyle. The truth is, the lever action can cover a wide array of bases.
Handling the Rossi
A major driving factor for me wanting this carbine so badly is the handling characteristics. With that 16-inch barrel and short stock, it shoulders quickly and easily. That means, when operating in a house or vehicle, it will be handy and convenient to maneuver with. In addition to the small stature of the carbine is its light weight of just over 5 1/2 pounds. That’s light!
All of these factors make the R92 a joy to carry. When moving through doorways, the carbine corners effectively thanks to that short length. To say it’s a joy to handle really is an understatement. It’s one of the Rossi’s main claims to fame.
For a “Truck Gun” or a saddle scabbard gun, this little carbine truly shines. It’s so slim and compact that it stores easily. Personally, I’d find comfort in having a little carbine like this in my vehicle. Those living in even more rural communities might appreciate such a rifle as well.
In years gone past, lever actions were commonly found in police vehicles, especially rural ones. Many a cop or deputy sheriff relied on the extra power of the lever gun when things went sideways. I’d be willing to be that there are still some lever actions in service in police cruisers out there, even in this day and age of Black Rifles.
Pistol calibers generally are lacking when it comes to stopping attackers because of their low velocities compared to rifle bullets. When we put that same round into a carbine, things become turbo-charged. Velocities suddenly take on a different level of performance.
Length Is A Factor
A common belief exists that it’s better to have a longer barrel because this adds velocity to bullets. And that’s true—up to a point. With the .357 Magnum and .38 Special, a 16-inch barrel increases muzzle velocity when compared to handgun-length barrels. However, when the barrel length is extended to 18 inches, the bullets actually slow down when compared to the 16 inch barrel.
Here are some ballistics from the .357 Magnum in a 16-inch barrel. These are just a few rounds from major manufacturers to give us an idea of velocities that can be achieved through the Rossi. The velocity figures that follow were furnished by BBTI (Ballistics By The Inch):
- Cor Bon 125 Grain JHP in 16-inch barrel: 2,119 feet per second. From a 4-inch barrel, this same bullet reaches 1,496 FPS.
- Federal 125 Grain JHP in 16-inch barrel: 2,015 feet per second. From a 4-inch barrel, this load reaches 1,511 FPS.
- Federal 158 Grain Hydra-Shok JHP in 16-inch barrel: 1,741. A 4-inch barrel from this one yields 1,332 FPS.
We can see a significant increase in velocity from handgun-length barrels to rifle-length barrels. That velocity increase really adds to the projectile’s effectiveness. At rifle velocities, bullets cause far more tissue disruption in flesh.
How about for the .38 Special? Now let’s take a look at those velocities and see what we can expect in the little carbine:
- Cor Bon 125 Grain JHP in a 16-inch barrel: 1,261 FPS. From a 4-inch barrel: 996 FPS.
- Federal 125 Grain Hydra-Shok JHP from a 16-inch barrel: 1,252 FPS. From a 4-inch barrel: 954 FPS.
- Speer 135 Grain Gold Dot HP from a 16-inch barrel: 1,315. From a 4-inch barrel: 1,027.
Obviously, the velocity increase with the .38 Special isn’t as dramatic as with the .357 Magnum, but it’s still significant. No, the 16-inch barrel doesn’t allow the carbine to turn bad guys into a pink mist. But it definitely elevates the velocity of the projectiles into a far superior level of performance than a handgun.
Aside from defensive purposes, the Rossi would be useful for hunting small to medium game. Hand loaders can especially take advantage of the .357’s capabilities. I’ve known many people who have taken deer-sized game with the .357 Magnum, so it’s a definite possibility.
These days, there is a plethora of ammunition from all the major makers out there. Even some of the .38 Special rounds loaded to +P pressures can give surprising performance.
Cowboy action shooters also routinely use lever guns in their competitions with some amazing dexterity.
That brings us to our next subject: technique. The lever needs to be operated smoothly and smartly. As it gains popularity, training classes are popping up around the country for shooters wanting to get the most from their lever action rifles.
It’s best to keep the rifle shouldered and on target while operating the lever, going straight down and back as efficiently as possible. We need to be mindful, while operating the lever, to keep our trigger finger out of the trigger guard. It’s easy for that finger to slip in there while we’re distracted with the operation. Don’t make that mistake.
The proper technique allows fast shots to be administered, especially with pistol calibers.
Fit And Finish
I’ve heard a number of people criticize Rossi as having poor fit and finish. To be honest, I just can’t see it, at least with the carbine that I bought. And while I’m mentioning it, Rossi did not send me this firearm, I forked over every cent out of my own pocket; it’s 100% my rifle.
The finish on the metal is really nice. At first, I strongly preferred getting a blued version, but I simply could not find one. When you see one of these rifles on the shelf, you grab it if you’re serious about getting one. You snooze, you lose!
At this point, that stainless finish has really grown on me. Both for its appearance and the fact that I don’t have to worry about rust nearly as much as the blued version.
The fit between metal and wood is more than acceptable. No, it is not perfect, nor is it polished and ready to enter a show. This is a tool, albeit one that gives pride of ownership because it is quality.
While I’m on the subject of the wood, it is a Brazilian hardwood that has a reddish finish, and I must say, I find it seriously attractive. The stainless steel seems to set it off even more, making it pop. It is not varnished, but rather rubbed with oil. Is it perfect? No. Does it look awesome to me? Yep!
Some parts could use a little polishing. Namely, the loading gate. The edges are sharp, and combined with the extremely strong magazine tube spring, can make loading rounds a chore. If the spring were not quite as strong, it would help a lot. I’ve seen people “fixing” this issue in videos by cutting off part of the magazine spring, but I am not about to do that! Rossi made the spring the way they did for a reason, and I’m not an engineer, so it’s staying the way it is.
Honestly, the loading gate is my only complaint. I have a feeling it will wear in as the rifle is used. It’s not an end-of-the-world issue, just an irritation.
The rear sight is a buckhorn, with the front being a post with a brass bead embedded. To be blunt, I have a hell of a time seeing the sight, especially in low light. I can’t say this is a fault of the rifle or of Rossi—instead, I have to grudgingly admit that my eyesight is changing with age, and it’s not fun.
A friend suggested getting a set of Skinner Sights and mounting them. Skinner offers peep (aperture) sights that will likely suit my eyes far better. I’m going to get a set and see how they improve things.
Home on the Range With the Rossi R92
What’s it like to fire the R92? It’s seriously fun! For those who don’t care for recoil, they are going to love this one! Shooting the .38 Special loads, the piece has the recoil of a .22 Long Rifle. Adding full-power .357 Magnum loads does not increase the recoil very much. It’s not much more than, say, a .223.
Muzzle blast is also very tame. These are all huge advantages if you’re ever forced to fire the rifle indoors, such as in a defensive situation. It’s a huge asset to not have a massive muzzle blast to ring your bell and a muzzle flash to blind you.
Accuracy was good, all things considered. What are the things to consider? The fact that I had a devil of a time seeing the sights. And I was using targets that had outlines so light that they were difficult to see at 50 yards. The angle of the sun was hitting those targets hard, which made those faint outlines even more difficult to see.
But the little carbine delivered! Headshots at 25 yards were child’s play. Chest shots at 50 yards were equally easy. Even with the .38 loads, accuracy was really good. My shooting position was sitting or standing; there was no bench to wring out the accuracy. Had there been a bench, groups would have been smaller. As it was, groups at 50 yards were about four inches or so.
As I get more time to play with this carbine, I will stretch the range to over 100 yards and see how it does (I absolutely know it will excel). New sights will undoubtedly help matters.
Reliability was almost 100%. The only issue was when I used .38 Special ammo that was a good bit shorter than full-length .357 loads. The feed bars allowed one round to pop out of the top of the chamber (ejection with this carbine is from the top). Aside from that, there were no issues with reliability. If you plan on using .38 Special ammo, try to get rounds that are close in length to the .357 Magnum, which will increase reliability.
All In All
In the end, I’m tickled pink with this carbine and wholeheartedly recommend Rossi! The price at the place where I bought it was $659. That was at least $400 less than any other lever guns I ran across lately, and many were far more expensive. It’s light, handy, accurate, pleasant to shoot, and fun! And since it’s a lever-action, its nostalgic and does not usually upset people.
This little rifle is a winner. It’s a diamond, but it’s not in the rough.