by Scott Crawford - November 02 2021
It may have taken me 65 years, and dozens of lever action rifles and over forty years of hand loading but today I rose to the challenge and fired a Rossi USA lever gun for the first time! Why have I waited so long? No good reason, I just grew up around Marlin’s, Winchester’s and Ithaca’s. Boy howdy have I been missing out!
1st Time Running a Rossi Lever Action
For many lever gun enthusiasts, the tried & true lever guns such as Marlin, Winchester & Henry have held our attention and we haven’t strayed from those brands. Yes of course we’ve heard of other manufacturers but why change when these famous brands have satisfied our needs? As in all things, tried & true will eventually let you down and with the storied history of Marlin, Winchester and some issues with Henry lately why not look elsewhere to see what they offer? Besides, affordability means a lot these days.
That’s exactly what made me want to check out Rossi rifles. Ruger is re-tooling the Marlin brand after the Remington bankruptcy sale, Winchester is out of the box too pricy for my blood these days and Henry is a bit clunky for my taste although I’m extremely happy they’ve added the side gate loading across their brand!
Before I jump into the actual review of this Rossi rifle, let’s discuss briefly the manufacturing of this line of lever guns. Over the years the Rossi brand has had its up’s & downs as well with licensed importers, sub-contractors and their overall quality control and management directives within their own walls. Rossi manufactures its classic rifles in a plant in San Leopoldo, Brazil and will continue operations there, selling many firearms outside the United States and North America. At the same time, Forjas Taurus, S.A. purchased the rights and the equipment to manufacture Rossi handguns. So although many think that Taurus is building the model 92, they’re not. The Rossi family has been manufacturing firearms since 1889 and continues today with several lines, one which of course is their famous R92 lever gun.
So let’s get down to business. The model R92 is available in five different calibers (.22, .357 mag, .44 mag, 45 Colt [Tested] & .454 Casull), four different barrel lengths (16.5” [Tested], 18”, 20” & 24”) and three different finishes (Polished Black, Stainless [Tested] & Triple Black).
I’ll start off with what many say are two issues they just can’t get over. The thumb safety and the rear buckhorn style sight. While I’m not a fan of too many safeties on a firearm, Rossi’s thumb safety didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Of course it being different than any other lever action safety it took me a couple times to get it right. It’s location on the top & rear of the bolt was odd yet left in the “off” position I handled the rifle like any other lever action. I’ll also add that there are aftermarket safety delete kits available in both polished black & stainless for around $19.00 if you must.
The other issue with many is the adjustable rear Buckhorn sight. I’m not sure why this bothers so many as this is in harmony with what was originally offered on the first original Henry, Winchesters & Marlins. It is indeed a lever action rifle, not a one mile sniper rifle. That being said, again if you must there are fabulous aftermarket sights from the likes of Skinner Sights that fasten onto the barrel after the rear Buckhorn sight has been removed. There are also aftermarket rails for mounting scout style scopes for very little money.
For my money, I would keep the thumb safety and the factory rear sight as is since I would personally use this rifle for taking medium game in tight timber, not long distances. While shooting this rifle for the first time I found the factory sight system more than adequate for taking game at fifty to seventy-five yards just fine. I’m sure with practice I’d be comfortable at the one-hundred yard range as well. While taking my time I was able to keep hand loaded, 250 grain cast in 2” groups at fifty yards. Keep in mind these hand loads were tuned for my Marlin, not this Rossi so better groupings could be had I’m sure.
Pictured above you can see the thumb safety on the rear of the bolt in the safe and firing position—While this system is unique to Rossi, it’s not unusual for modern lever action rifles to have secondary safe system such as the Marlin Cross Bolt Safety (CBS).
Lever action rifles were designed with a hammer safety or otherwise known as at rest, halfcocked and fully cocked positions. These three positions are noted below as in the Rossi safety manual that is published on their website. This is what a true lever action fanatic grew up with back in the day and what so many buyers still want today. The “add on” safety such as the thumb safety satisfy corporate lawyers but make lever action lovers crazy. As I noted earlier, I just left it in the off position and didn’t even notice it.
These three hammer safety positions should be practiced without a live round in the chamber until you are very practiced in the use of the firearm.
On with the details. The Rossi R92 in this 16.5” barrel holds eight rounds of 45 Colt in the magazine tube which should get about anything you need done. The side loading gate is easy enough to depress to load the rounds yet the edges are fairly sharp (inherent in the design) and might bother some users that don’t have callused hands. I found it not be an issue for me.
The finger lever when worked with deliberate forceful action is as smooth as any lever gun I’ve operated out of the box. As in several brands of lever actions, if you baby the lever stroke you tend to feel snags even though nothing is actually hanging up. Be deliberate and you will love how the action handles & sounds! After feeding 200 rounds of Starline brass hand loads into the side loading gate and ejecting the empty cases I didn’t have one fail to fire or one extraction issue, none!
Although the length of pull is a short 12.5” on this model it didn’t handicap my style of shooting, cheek weld or sight alignment. It is after all, only 33.70” overall length. A short package made for tight spaces. And at 5.84 pounds (naked) it is a breeze to carry all day. I’ve carried a 16.25” barreled Marlin for years in the woods and this model from Rossi has just made my list of must have timber rifles.
The Rossi lever action (other than the thumb safety) is like any other lever gun with the noted Hammer, Trigger Guard, Trigger and Loading Gate.
The factory sights on this model consist of an adjustable rear buckhorn and drift adjustable front blade. Not unlike the original lever guns of the late 1800’s. This time honored design is very functional and right out of the box I was in the ten ring at twenty-five yards and later at fifty. Although at first look one would say that the rifle isn’t drilled and taped for scope mounting, they would be wrong. With the removal of the rear buckhorn sight there are aftermarket rails suitable for mounting scout scope setups available in either blued or stainless rails. While I didn’t alter the rifle to try this out I would possibly consider it if I bought this rifle.
There are also other sight improvements one can make with the addition of a Skinner peep sight in place of the buckhorn sight. So even though many potential Rossi users look down on a rifle that isn’t at first glance upgradeable, they haven’t done their due diligence. There are some great choices indeed! Me, I kind of like it as designed, a true western lever action.
The stock and forearm are constructed of Brazilian hard wood which is stained to a beautiful color. The simple design without fancy checkering representing once again the original western lever action rifle, built for heavy use in tough conditions. No need to worry about scratching a finely finished stock, these are made for use in the wild. Something I’d be proud to tote through the woods on a deer hunt or backpacking trip. I do wish it had sling studs installed however with this light of a rifle it isn’t a must have. The stainless steel butt plate found on the base of the stock is a beautiful addition and on a very light recoiling rifle no issue for the shoulder.
The metal fit and finish on this particular model is very crisp, clean and very acceptable after watching miss-steps from other lever gun manufacturers over the last dozen or so years. The sights sit plumb on the barrel, not canted to one side, the hardware isn’t scratched or mangled from assembly as on some rifles that have been released of late (other brands) and the wood to metal fit is very acceptable for this price of a firearm. Not perfect but very acceptable.
The rifling twist on this model is 1:30 which works well for a heavy .45 Colt load. I found the accuracy, repeatability quite good for a short barreled open sighted rifle. Although I was using my hand loads I didn’t tune them specifically for this rifle and for just picking a round at random I felt the rifling was plenty good using a .452 diameter, off the shelf 250-grain cast bullet from MidwayUSA. I used a bore scope to check out the machining of the barrel before shooting and was very happy with what I viewed. You might be surprised what the inside of your barrel looks like on some of the most expensive rifles built. In this case I did see machine tool marks however nothing that surprised me. Actually the tooling finish was surprisingly good.
The muzzle on this rifle is the typical crowned, round barrel with no threading for a suppressor. This is actually what I prefer however in today’s market some expect or at a minimum want their barrel threaded. Well no worries folks, Rossi has you covered on their Triple Black models. But if you want a traditional lever gun this model and many of the other Rossi rifles will accommodate your desires. I understand the trend for suppressors and it isn’t just recent either. Teddy Roosevelt suppressed at least three of his rifles back in the day, one was a model 1894 Winchester. That being said it just doesn’t fit my image of a lever action.
Now let’s talk ammo. While I only used one type of load across the two hundred rounds fired, there are many available for this caliber rifle. My loads generated approximately 950 fps muzzle velocity. That being said the Rossi can take a much more powerful round. I use this particular load in my Taurus Judges and my Marlin 1894 so I’m happy with the fps across the spectrum. Plenty for medium to deer sized game or personal defense.
While that is plenty for me some may like hotter loads and the Rossi R92 is built to handle it on up to a .454 Casull loads in other models. The Lyman load manual for 45 Colt 250-grain #452664 Lyman cast Cowboy bullet from a 16” barrel lists multiple rounds over 1,000 fps. Do your homework and you can load your own or buy factory rounds for almost any situation you use your Rossi.
At 5.84 lbs., naked, this model is the 2nd lightest following the short barreled .22 long rifle lever action I could find currently listed on the Rossi website, making it a great rifle for offhand use and prolonged carry.
As alluded to before, this rifle managed very good accuracy during its formal testing; I’ve shot several lever actions that didn’t live up to the accuracy that this rifle offered.
While some may balk at the Rossi $846.58 price tag, I’m willing to wager that most of those individuals haven’t spent much time pricing the competition’s available rifles. With the work stoppage on the former Remington Marlins in late 2020 and the pricy Winchesters built offshore and Henry couldn’t keep up with the growing demand so lever action prices have gone through the roof. Anything sub $1,000 at this time is a welcomed price.
While Rossi certainly isn’t built in the United States it is built by a trusted firearms manufacturer that has been around since 1889.
If I were designing my own ideal short barreled lever action rifle, from the soup to the nuts, it would bear a remarkable resemblance to this gun. A strong lever action, capable of higher pressures, clean western looking wood straight stock, stainless steel with open sights in my 2nd favorite caliber. Check, check, check and check. While it’s not a 45-70 (my absolute favorite round) it’s a close 2nd in 45 Colt!
Do yourself a favor and look into a Rossi if you’re looking at lever action rifles. I was very surprised at the quality of build, the level of performance and the price point.
Almost a thousand R92 Owners have spoken and indicated that they’re 2nd favorite cartridge is the 45 Colt just behind the .357 magnum and just ahead of the .44 magnum.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Rossi Firearms Winchester Arms Henry Marlin Firearms Starline Brass