May 31, 2022
The mid-1880s ushered in a new era for riflemen with two major changes. The switches were from single-shot guns to repeaters and from moderately powered blackpowder rounds to more powerful cartridges that fired then-new smokeless powders.
The first repeaters were lever actions, and the first successful one was designed by B. Tyler Henry and bore his name. The Henry rifle had what folks called a “brass” frame, but the frame was actually made out of “gunmetal,” which is a form of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Brass is, of course, an alloy of copper and zinc. The Henry eventually became the Winchester Model 1866. Then came the Winchester Models 1873 and 1876. The Model 1866, Model 1873, and Model 1876 shared the toggle-link actions similar to that of the Henry, which were adequate for the relatively low-pressure blackpowder rounds of the day.
A stronger action was required with the introduction of cartridges using smokeless powder. The Winchester Model 1886 was the first rifle designed for Winchester by John M. Browning, and it was much larger and stronger than the earlier Models 1873 and 1876. The Model 1886 had two locking bolts that raised and locked the breechblock in place when the lever was raised. Thus, the action was very strong, suitable for a wide range of powerful and longer cartridges.
The Model 1892 was introduced in the year 1892, and it was a hit because it was really just a scaled-down version of the Model 1886 designed to shoot smaller “pistol caliber” cartridges. It was immensely popular and remains so to this day. The Model 1892 used Browning’s twin locking lugs and more modern, stronger steels, so it was considered to be a very strong action.
The Model 1892 was originally chambered for .25-20, .32-20, .38-40, and .44-40 cartridges, which were popular revolver cartridges of the day. In addition, a very few Model 1892s were chambered for the .218 Bee.
It’s interesting to note that although the .45 Colt is an iconic Old West round, it was never chambered in original Model 1892s (or any other lever-action gun of the Old West). The reason is that the original .45 Colt case had a very small rim, measuring about 0.502 to 0.504 inch, so lever gun extractors could not reliably extract cases. The case rims were later increased to 0.512 inch and now function just fine in lever guns. Ironically, the Model 1892 has appeared in countless Western movies and TV shows that required a lever-action gun, even though it wasn’t released until decades after the time period in which many of the shows were set.
By the late 1930s, the Model 1892 was called the Model 92. That tradition lives on in Rossi’s version (called the R92), which is the subject of this report. It is available chambered in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .44-40, .45 Colt, and .454 Casull.
The Brazilian R92
The Rossi R92 is offered in blue steel and stainless steel, with barrel lengths of 16 and 20 inches. I ordered a new .45 Colt stainless-steel Rossi R92, and it is an excellent rendition of this classic firearm.
My R92 is beautifully polished, with nary a blemish to be seen. The fit of the metal to the wood is excellent, with no gaps or overruns. The barrel is 20 inches long and has a 1:24-inch twist rate. Most handgun barrels in .45 Colt have a 1:16-inch twist.
Examining the R92’s bore right out of the box revealed its rifling is well made, smooth, and with no jagged “tears” that can sometimes be found in any brand of barrel. Another plus is that after much test-firing, the bore fouled hardly at all, either with jacketed or lead bullets. The tubular magazine below the barrel holds 10 rounds, and the short rifle loads through the familiar port on the right side of the receiver. Getting the tenth round in the magazine is a chore, but it will go in, if your thumb holds out.
The sights are totally traditional. The front is a 0.10-inch brass bead that sits on a 0.425-inch-high post. The rear sight is a full buckhorn that is drift adjustable for windage, and it has a slide elevator for elevation. (The owner’s manual says to drift the front sight for windage correction.) The sight radius is 16.5 inches.
Whoever sized the R92’s rear sight got it exactly right. The notch is a perfect semi-circle into which the front bead fits, so with care, it is relatively easy to center on the bullseye, and a sliver of daylight can be seen between the rear notch and the front bead—three concentric circles. I did drift the rear sight a bit to the left to get groups centered on the targets.
The R92 has a safety lever at the back of the breechblock that blocks the firing pin. A red dot can be seen when the safety is in the “Off” position. While it may offend the sensibilities of purists, the tiny safety is unobtrusive and can be conveniently ignored. The safety lever can’t be moved in either direction with the hammer fully forward. Also, with the hammer on the halfcock “safety” notch, as it’s moved, the safety lever barely clears the right locking bolt.
I’ve mentioned the nice fit of steel to wood, and speaking of the wood, the R92 is stocked in what is described as “Brazilian hardwood.” The slightly reddish color reminds me of mahogany and the grain structure of walnut. Try as I might, I could not determine the species of tree from which the stock is made. In any event, it is very attractive, and it’s a fine complement to the stainless-steel rifle. You’ll notice the buttstock has a curved stainless-steel buttplate that extends over the heel of the stock, but it is not a pointed “widow’s peak.” The screws on the buttplate and tang are perfectly timed, which is a nice touch indeed!
Operation of the rifle is straightforward. Pulling the lever down opens the action, and if a cartridge or fired case is in the chamber, it is flipped skyward with alacrity. This also releases a round from the magazine, and the lifter raises it up into position in front of the chamber. Closing the lever pushes the cartridge home and the locking lugs into their recesses in the breechblock.
The trigger pull on my rifle measured 3 pounds, 13.8 ounces, and it was very crisp. This trigger certainly passes inspection. New guns are sometimes a little stiff initially, but the R92 operated as slick as can be. There was only one malfunction, which I’ll get to in a moment, over the course of firing many test rounds.
For best results with an open-sighted gun, it is important to use a properly sized target, and a brightly colored bullseye also helps. For precise sight alignment, there should be a bit of the colored bullseye visible around the front bead as it nestles in the rear sight notch. The orange targets I used worked very well. I experimented with several distances and target sizes and finally settled on the NRA 25-yard slow-fire pistol target with a 5.25-inch orange bullseye, and I did the shooting at a distance of 30 yards. As good as the sights are, I think a receiver peep sight would be an excellent addition to this slick little rifle.
I also used the standard technique for single-shot and lever-action rifles for shooting off of a rest. I rested my hand on the sandbag rest and the rifle’s forearm on my hand, and I strove to make this holding arrangement and alignment of the sights as uniform as possible. Attention to these two details paid off, and while the R92 liked some loads better than others, overall the short rifle shot quite well with a variety of ammo.
I fired 10 different factory loads; six were loaded with lead bullets, and four had jacketed bullets. Just to make sure everything was working okay, I loaded five rounds of various factory loads into the tubular magazine and cycled them into the chamber. The safety was handy here, as cycling live rounds through the action could be done with the safety “On.”
As I said, there was one glitch, and it came with the CCI Blazer load. The aluminum case was a little too soft to hold the extractor, and a few cases stayed in the chamber when I worked the lever.
The average five-round group size with factory-loaded ammo was 2.98 inches. Loads with lead-alloy bullets were slightly more accurate than those with jacketed bullets, but there were suitable loads of both types. Velocities were modest, ranging from about 1,000 fps for the lead-bullet loads and 1,000 to 1,200 fps for the jacketed-bullet rounds.
Shooting any .45 Colt just begs for handloads, but a few stipulations are in order. We are all aware of the caution to use flatnosed bullets in rifles with tubular magazines to guard against a cartridge setting off the round ahead of it in the magazine. The .45 Colt uses Large Pistol primers, so bullets need to have a meplat that is not smaller than that size of primer. Most modern cast bullets meet this requirement.
Another consideration is the use of small charges of “fast” pistol powders with jacketed bullets in handloads for use in rifles. Shooting Times contributor Allan Jones recently pointed out that the volume of powder gas produced is roughly proportional to the charge weight. It takes a lot of gas to push a jacketed bullet down and out of a 16-plus-inch barrel, and good revolver powders like Unique may not generate enough gas volume to do the job. It’s not the peak pressure, it’s how long the pressure is working against the base of the bullet. Jones recommends powders no slower than Alliant 2400 with jacketed bullets in rifles. I followed that recommendation for my jacketed-bullet handloads. Faster propellants are okay with traditional lead bullets at traditional pressure limits.
The bullet diameter for the .45 Colt has varied somewhat over the years. Originally, it was listed as 0.454 inch, but most bullets made for .45-caliber revolvers are 0.452 inch, and this is the size listed in most loading manuals these days.
An excellent variety of jacketed bullets is offered for the .45 Colt, and many are eminently suitable for use in the longer barrel of a rifle with its higher velocities. Modern forms like the Hornady 225-grain FTX, the Swift 265-grain A-Frame, and the Hornady 250- and 300-grain XTP bullets can be loaded to some impressive velocities that would make good hunting loads for deer or hogs.
The fastest load I tested was the Hornady 225-grain FTX over 24.0 grains of Hodgdon Lil’Gun powder. Velocity was 1,804 fps, and muzzle energy was 1,626 ft-lbs. It’s a potent load indeed. Lil’Gun and Winchester 296 powders boosted the 250-grain XTP to over 1,600 fps, with muzzle energy approaching 1,500 ft-lbs. (The target on the opening page shows an excellent five-shot group made with the 250-grain XTP over 23.0 grains of Lil’Gun fired at 30 yards.) The A-Frame registered 1,335 and 1,286 fps with these two powders and registered excellent accuracy. The 300-grain XTP with W296 also made a fine load.
Loading the Hornady 225-grain FTX bullets requires one extra step. Due to the longer ogive of this bullet, cases should be trimmed to 1.215 inches for proper cartridge overall length. This is 0.070 inch shorter than maximum case length. A shortcut was to use fired cases from Hornady FTX factory loads, which were slightly longer than this length, so I trimmed them to Hornady’s recommended length and roll crimped cases with a Lee Carbide Factory Crimp die; they worked fine.
No test of a .45 Colt can be considered complete without a conspectus on cast-bullet loads. Probably the most popular of these are the 250-grain roundnose flatpoint (RNFP), with the 255-grain semiwadcutter (SWC) close behind. I loaded some of each type made by Bushwacker Bullet Co. (no longer available) over nine suitable powders, and the R92 dutifully plunked them into nice, round groups that averaged 2.64 inches. Several cast-bullet loads would be suitable for home defense, and while they would discourage an intruder, they would probably not over-penetrate walls and endanger innocent bystanders.
The iconic Model 92 lever gun has been made by several firms. The Rossi version is available in a host of configurations and chamberings, and it exhibits quality construction throughout. There’s bound to be one that just fits, be it for cowboy action matches, hunting, home defense, or just good old plinking fun. The only suggestion I have for Rossi is to drill and tap holes for a receiver sight. That would make a great gun even better.
Rossi R92 Lever-Action Repeater Rifle Specifications
- Manufacturer: Braztech International, rossiusa.com
- Type: Lever-action repeater
- Caliber: .45 Colt
- Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds
- Barrel Length: 20 in.
- Overall Length: 37.2 in.
- Weight, Empty: 5.75 lbs.
- Stock: Brazilian hardwood
- Length of Pull: 12.75 in.
- Finish: Polished stainless-steel barreled action, satin stock
- Sights: Buckhorn rear, brass bead front
- Trigger: 3.86-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Two-position
- MSRP: $771.14