A blast from the past, Winchester’s newest incarnation of the Model 92

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1983

To say the Model 1892 was an instant hit when it was introduced would be an understatement. Luminaries ranging from Annie Oakley to Arctic explorer Admiral Robert Peary (who carried a Model 1892 on his trek to the North Pole) employed the new rifle. The firearm also became hugely popular in both South and Central America, as the nascent nation states developed. In the US, the ’92 found a home with hunters, campers, law enforcement officers and ranchers.

In popular culture this lever action Winchester became synonymous with the old West.

Throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s it took on a role in prime time TV shows such as “Rawhide,” “Wagon Train,” “Have Gun. Will Travel,” “The Wild, Wild West”, “Gunsmoke” and other Westerns.

If we fast forward to the third decade of the 21st century the latest incarnation is alive and well.

It’s now made in Japan, by Browning/Winchester’s venerable partner Miroku which has been manufacturing firearms since 1893. Japanese workmanship is first class and the Miroku folks have done an exquisite job on this rifle which sports a deep finish and a rich walnut stock.

The high level of machining and hand finishing is evident. The wood/fit interface where the stock and buttstock meet the receiver are perfectly mated. 

Made in Japan, by Browning/Winchester’s partner Miroku, which has been manufacturing firearms since 1893.

A 21st Century Winchester

With modern manufacturing processes, I would venture to say this has to be the most refined Model 92 ever produced. (Obviously, Winchester is not going to lend their name to anything remotely substandard).

Right out of the box, one throw of the lever and you can feel how silky smooth the action is. Of course, this is not a replica of the original 1892. Nearly 130 years after the original design it looks identical but with modern CNC machines and all the technology available today it’s a slightly different animal.

There are new features engineered with safety in mind. 

First off there’s a top tang mounted safety that acts as a hammer block. Purists may recoil at the sight of this but so what? If you don’t like it, ignore it. The other addition is a rebounding hammer. When you fire the gun and discharge the cartridge, the rifle will automatically be put into a half cock position which will prevent an accidental discharge.

Fit and finish are first rate. (Note tang-mounted safety on the right hand edge of the photo).

Other than those two items, it functions just like any model 92. If you cycle the lever action resolutely, up comes the carrier, a round is placed in the chamber and you’re ready to fire. Note that because it’s a top-eject gun the case may fly just about anywhere, sometimes plinking you in the head. (Compared to an AR-15 or for that matter a semi-auto pistol, the brass is not going to fly too far away).

Shooting Lever Guns is Fun

Shooting the ’92 is downright fun.

These sentiments were echoed by my FFL, Mae Shiroma who operates X-Ring Security here on Oahu. Says Mae, “My father gave me a lever action in 22LR when I first started shooting. I learned to shoot from small caliber to larger calibers like .38 special, 357 magnum, and .44magnum. I still love to shoot them.”

Normally I post targets on reviews but as one writer aptly stated, with semi buckhorn sights, this is not going to be confused with a bench rest rifle. Nor should it. If you wanted to add an aperture sight, there’s a plethora of aftermarket products available but that’s probably the subject of another story. At least for now, I’m quite happy with the current set up.

Everything on the gun is hand-fitted. The bluing is splendid.

At under 100 yards, which is what this rifle is meant for, the gun is plenty accurate for my purposes, which is whacking the gong. (Not a lot of recoil with the 38 Special or .357 rounds which is also quite nice).

In Hawaii it’s also perfect for pigs or Axis deer.

Finally, what about shooting the rifle, in particular, the trigger?

It breaks nicely/cleanly but it’s on the heavy side–in the neighborhood of about 5 1/4 lbs. As I alluded to earlier, it’s not a bench rest rifle. The “traditionally” standard trigger comes with the territory. A gunsmith or a talented enthusiast could lighten it up. (See this link). That said, I’m okay with it.

I will appreciate the rifle for what it is. A blast from the past…expect to pay in the neighborhood of $940 for this modern, piece of history.

The semi-buckhorn sights do take a bit of getting used to. I practice with my gong at 100+ yards.

Reloading

One of the joys of owning a rifle chambered in .357 is that you don’t have to load rifle cartridges, which is for me is a loathsome task. You can use either jacketed, hard cast gas-checked or polymer coated bullets for this rifle.

That said, lever guns such as the ’92 can be finicky when it comes to cartridge length and bullet shape. You need to figure out what OAL the rifle is comfortable with as well as the shape of the projectile. Otherwise, there will be issues in feeding, particularly when it comes to putting a larger than 158 gr bullet in a 357 magnum case.

I started with 158 gr bullets (from Zero) which is what I’d ordinarily use with Model 27 Smith & Wesson. They fed perfectly.

This 158 gr jacketed projectile from Zero over a Starline case will feed perfectly.

However, I wanted to experiment with larger bullets. I wanted to jack up the kinetic energy and obtained some 180 gr bullets from Missouri Bullet Company. I’d been ordering bullets from these guys for years and was not only impressed with the product but the integrity of management.

I’ll explain. There was an instance years ago where I overpaid and got an email to the effect from them, explaining that I’d overpaid and credit would be added to the card. You might say, “Of course, they were honest and did the right thing”. That’s true, I’d answer, but unfortunately you can’t always count on that.

They also happen to make excellent bullets. In fact you can use their 158 cast bullets for the 357, with no feeding problems.

Missouri Bullet Co offers both Polymer coated (left) and standard cast 180 gr (right) bullets. The Polymer bullets run cleaner and are becoming quite popular.

In addition to standard cast bullets for the last few years they have offered projectiles with the “Hi-Tek” polymer coating from J&M Specialty Products in Australia. 

There are several advantages to using bullets with a polymer coating. First off, instead of waxy lubes, the bullet no longer needs a lube groove. That means no waxy gas check gunk fouling up your gun or, your seating and crimping dies.

The coating also reduces or eliminates exposure to lead during handloading. You don’t have to wear surgical gloves when handling the bullets, which is what I always do with standard cast bullets. The Hi-Tek coating reduces exposure to airborne lead particles when shooting as well as smoke, which is diminished or eliminated. 

I loaded 180 gr bullets (in background) with Starline 38 Special cases. (The 180 gr bullets loaded on a 357 case would not feed).

There’s really no downside to this coating but you do have to be careful over crimping (as you would a plated bullet) to prevent scraping the surface which exposes the lead and leads to (no surprise) leading.

Is there a difference in accuracy? According to an article in NRA Shooting Sports which actually compared wax lube and polymer coated 9mm Missouri Bullets, the polymer bullets grouped significantly tighter that the wax lubed bullets at 25 yards.

Suffice to say, I’m sold on polymer bullets.

I tested a bunch of 357 loads, primarily with Western Powders and both Accurate #7 and #9, worked perfectly for the 158 gr bullet.

Unfortunately the 180 gr Missouri bullets atop a 357 case didn’t feed properly.

Accurate #7 is my go-to powder for 158 gr bullet in the 357.

The way around this was to load them on 38 Special cases. I made up some dummy rounds and the bullets fed perfectly.

Naturally I had to adjust for the load.

There are no published loads for the powders I was using for 180 gr bullets but thanks to Don, the Ballistician, at Western Powders, I was able to locate data for 173 gr SWCs (for 38 Special) for Accurate #2 and #5. I was conservative with the recipe and lengthened the OAL slightly for the 180 gr bullet.

Soon the gong rang with the sound of 180 gr Missouri bullets. The larger bullet is also effective at knocking down silhouette plates.

My go to brass is always Starline. In this T&E I used both 38 Special and .357 cases. The main thing is to use good quality brass to maintain uniform quality rounds. Don’t use range brass or your accuracy will suffer.

Redding’s Premium die sets are excellent, especially if your loading brand new brass with cast or coated bullets.

One last tip. When loading new brass I find that using Redding’s Premium dies to be critical.

Using Redding’s expander die will create a properly sized bell on the rim. This is important, especially with new brass. Their (carbide) expander die creates a smooth entry radius followed by the precise expanding diameter to accommodate the bullets. This also makes a perfect bearing surface in order to seat the bullet.

This helps correctly align the bullet with the center line of the cartridge case which positions the projectile for proper contact with the seating micrometer. The last step creates a flare to further open the case mouth. This is key for cast and coated bullets which can easily be damaged during the seating process.

Note that the above links for dies, brass, powder, etc point to Brownells. (That’s where I do my one-stop shopping).

The harness is clean and secure on the end of the buttstock. The hardware such as the swivel is first class. A “Chicago” screw is used to adjust the strap’s length.

Adding a sling

I would suggest you get a sling for your Model 92 especially if the rifle is destined for range duty. (Obviously it wouldn’t be a bad idea of you were a hunter as well). It’s simply easier to manage that way and you’re not going to get as easily fatigued. 

I’ve become a big fan of  RLO Custom Leather which has pioneered a “no-drill” design for it’s slings.  Instead of adulterating the stock with screws and the like, RLO uses a harness on the buttstock. To mount the sling you get hardware such as swivels, a magazine tube clamp and a hex wrench. 

Adding the harness is literally a snap.

Essentially, all you need to do is place the harness over the butt stock and snap it on. (There are two snaps which secure the harness). Likewise, the tube clamp is easily attached with a screw. (They provide the Allen Wrench). The next step is to attach the swivel by means of a spring-loaded pin. 

Finally, adjust the (1 inch wide) strap length by means of a “Chicago” screw. There are three adjustment holes approximately 1-1/4″ apart.  I needed to add an extra hole, which was not a big deal. The whole thing will take you all of 20 minutes to assemble/attach on a bad day. The sling is available in Chocolate Brown, lighter Saddle Tan and Charcoal Black. All are made from quality 5/6 ounce veg-tan leather hides.

Conclusion

I don’t think you can go wrong with this Model ‘92. It’s fun to shoot, aesthetically pleasing and with the RLO sling it’s easy to manage.

It’s easy to mount the sling. RLO provides all the parts. Even I can do it.

What’s not to like?

Well, Winchesters are more expensive compared to brands such as Rossi which can be less than half the price. There’s a reason for this. The Winchester is hand-fitted and labor in Japan ain’t cheap. Thus this rifle is not to be confused with some mass-produced firearm assembled in the tercer mundo. If you want first rate quality, you have to pay a bit more.

I think it’s worth it to have the real McCoy or in this case, a genuine Winchester.

Mahalo to X-Ring Security

A final note is a shout out to my friends at X-Ring Security in Waipahu for handling the FFL duties. X-Ring has a wonderful selection of items, a modern, indoor range and full complement of services including a gunsmith. They are easy to work with.

The author is not responsible for mishaps of any kind, which might occur from the use of this data in developing your handloads. It is the user’s responsibility to follow safe handloading guidelines to develop safe ammunition. You use this data at your own risk. No responsibility for the use or safety in use of this data is assumed or implied. (Note that Winchester would prefer that you use factory bullets in the Model ’92).

Robert F. Kay is a columnist for the Honolulu Star Advertiser, a health nut, a firearms enthusiast and the author of two Lonely Planet guidebooks (and Fijiguide.com). 

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