An old classic – and some modern upgrade options
Russ Douglas has fun trying out a Winchester lever-action repeater
You may have noticed my club mate, Steve, using a Winchester lever-action repeater, in March’s licensing article. Several club members have these now, from the plain black version to the engraved bling ‘Yellowboy’ special edition, with open sights or optics. I saw these and my eyes naturally lit up. I was kindly allowed to try them – thank you Steven and Paul – and was hooked; so much so that I ‘might’ have spoken to Lloyd before my February visit to BAR, to check if one was in stock.
This growing fascination was helped by the first time I fired half a dozen shots through one, standing at 10m with iron sights. I shot a short, straight, vertical line of crisp holes, so whilst I might have been a bit off for elevation, there was no doubt this rifle could group. The next time I tried – again at 10m, with a low-mag scope fitted via a scope rail adapter – I basically cut out a crisp pound-coin-sized hole, with 32 rapid-fire shots. The holes in the card target also told me that despite being CO2-powered, there was some decent oomph behind the wadcutters. My obvious next thought was, ‘How will this group at 25m?’
BACK TO BASICS
The Winchester is a classic design, lightweight – 1m long/6lbs – with a saddle-friendly carrying ring on the left side, and a throughaction push safety. Push in from the left for ‘SAFE’, hammer blocked; push from the right, so the red ring shows, for ‘FIRE’. The action is pleasingly robust, requiring a firm push downward on the lever with the trigger hand, then a firm pull back up, to prime fully. Loading is via a pop-out panel, after pressing on the faux cartridge loading port. It accepts a standard Umarex 8-shot alloy .177 pellet cylinder, and two are supplied.
The Winchester action is designed for an 88gm CO2 cylinder, screwed in through the stock after first removing the plastic butt pad, using the supplied key. The upside of the lever action is that no gas is ‘wasted’ when cycling the action, leaving more for firing the. The downside of this economy is that after even a shooting session of a decent length, you’ll still have loads of gas left, but you lose this when you conscientiously remove the capsule to store the rifle, to avoid unduly deteriorating the gas seals. There’s a way round this – read on.
The iron (plastic) open sights are great, very realistic and perfectly functional with a sight radius of 43cm. Elevation adjustment is via a
sprung ramp and stepped wedge, and basic windage adjustment is by drifting the foresight bead sideways too, but there’s more versatility possible by using an add-on, Walther optics rail. I’ve discovered that’s very much a love/ hate option, and many purists I’ve spoken to shudder at the very thought of fitting a scope.
The scope adapter has two upper sections of 9mm dovetail rail above two sections of Weaver rail, although your Weaver mounts would need a generous stand off to clear the upper dovetails. Perhaps a deluxe future version will come with both options, swappable with the use of Allen bolts to maintain the low profile. To attach it you unscrew a slim, slot-headed screw from the right side of the action (retain this), the rail fits tightly in place and you replace the supplied longer screw and large washer.
I tried various scopes from the minimalist 3 x 20 option, to a proper 3-9 x 50. The latter was frankly OTT for the low-lying, slim Winchester receiver, and the necessary high mounts, to allow the objective lens to clear the rear sight, caused an eye alignment issue for me.
The Winchester’s shallow stock angle is perfect with the open sights, where your cheekbone is right at home against the minimal stock comb, so even with a low-profile scope/mounts you must change your head position. You do this by raising the point where your face meets the stock, but by the time I’d mounted the 3-9 x 50 scoped rifle, only the lowest edge of my chin was still against the stock itself. Not ideal, but some of you might be happy with this concession in order to mount your favourite optics.
That brings us to an affordable possible solution, in the form of a very affordable synthetic comb raiser from eBay. This raiser is adjustable and ambidextrous, and a Velcro-attached side panel has slim slots for full-bore cartridges.
GAS POWER OPTIONS
Another top tip for cheaper running costs came from Paul at the range. Walther do a re-useable, faux 88gm replacement cylinder made from bead-blasted Alu and it takes two 12gm CO2 capsules. The beauty of it is that the nozzle includes a valve, so you can remove it from the stock/action mid-session without losing any gas, to preserve the seal. You
“you can remove it from the stock/action mid-session without losing any gas”
unscrew the outer plastic screw to release any left-over gas, then unscrew and remove the larger knurled end cap. Drop two 12gm CO2 capsules in, bases together, screw in the end cap, then turn the smaller screw to pierce the two cylinders. This is then screwed in as if it’s an 88gm cylinder, but at much cheaper running cost. For an extended range session, screw in an 88gm cylinder and blast away to your heart’s content. For a shorter session the twin 12gm adapter is perfect, still giving a surprising number of shots.
I wanted to do a thorough test, so I set up my R2A chrono’, loaded with twin 12gm cylinders – not forgetting the pre-CO2 Pellgun Oil – and hoped to get 50-plus shots. To my very pleasant surprise, the lever action ate up cylinder after cylinder of pellets. I prefer to use lighter wadcutter pellets with 6 ft.lbs. rifles (e.g. SIG MPX/MCX), and the Winchester is no different.
As expected with CO2, the power slowly dropped as the session went on, but the first eight shots averaged 565 fps (4.96 ft.lbs.) and the FIFTEENTH eight-shot mag still averaged 488 fps (3.7 ft.lbs.). I stopped there because I had other things to do, but you get the picture. This action is seriously economical with its gas, so I recommend getting the 12gm adapter, and buy your 12gm in bulk for economy. Hey presto! Your fun/target shooting is as cheap as chips. I’d also invest in a decent batch of the eight-shot mags, to load up beforehand because shooting the Winchester is SO much fun, you won’t believe how quickly you empty them.
RINGING THE STEEL OUTDOORS
I shot the Winchester first indoors, at 25m, with open sights off a beanbag, getting a tidy 3-4cm group. Remember, you need a solid black target (e.g. 60mm dia) because you’ll be focused upon the foresight.
Next was a scope, and after trying as many options as possible, I settled on a cheap low-profile, low mag’ 1.5-5 x 20 model. The resulting group was no better, if I’m honest, thanks to the parallax error I got with my elevated cheek position, but there’s little can compete with ringing the dangling steel plates outdoors to 25m, working the lever action, and quickly reacquiring the open sights as fast as you like. Immense fun, as the queue of fellow members waiting to try their hands attested.
My preference is definitely for using this rifle with open sights outdoors, ringing dangling steel plates and competing against your friends whilst dropping gallery target silhouettes, but the optic option is there if you want it. After adjusting the open sights onto target, my rested group was 4cm; leaning on one elbow it was 2.5cm; and freestanding a flukey 3cm - plus two flyers.
DOWNSIDE OF THE ACTION
My only complaint when using the lever action, is that the firing hand’s wrist angle is very shallow – this is no vertical pistol grip! I have a tendency toward wrist pain from the crutches, so an extended shooting session can be uncomfortable, but this rifle is cheap to buy, economical to run, and so much fun that I recommend you try it for yourself. As always – enjoy your shooting.
Thanks to Bri and Sam for their help with the photos, and to my fellow GARC-ers for the chance to try this cool rifle in the first place.
32 shots at10m with a scoped Yellowboy – I was hooked.
As nature intended: John Wayne didn’t use a scope.
… and load up a mag’.
… or the Walther twin C02 adapter.
Results rested, off one elbow, and standing off-hand.
Adapter in place and secure. Note 9mm dovetails.
More comfy with £5 comb raiser.