I grew up in a rural area where many hunters used lever-action rifles. There were a few .30-06 bolt-action rifles, and the occasional Browning Automatic. The lever-action rifles were mostly Winchester 94s and Marlin 336 rifles. Almost all were .30-30 caliber. Some were in .35 Remington.
I never saw a Winchester 92 until I was well into my twenties. I am very much at home with the lever-action rifle in calibers from .22 to .45-70. The light and fast handling ’92 impressed me as a go-anywhere do-anything type of rifle. It is well suited to personal defense and taking game at modest range.
The problem with the ’92 was its obsolete and difficult to find cartridges. The .32-20, .44-40, and .38-40 cartridges were loaded down to ensure safety in older revolvers. The Colt Single Action Army was also chambered for these cartridges, making for a neat pair — rifle and handgun — which began with the Winchester 1873 rifle.
At one time, hotter loads were offered for the carbines. The rifle-only loads were a thing of the past by the time I became interested in the ’92. When I saw the first Rossi Model 92 lever-action rifle, I was favorably impressed.
Rossi Model 92 Features
The rifle is well fitted and finished with a smooth action. Best of all, the Rossi Model 92 is offered in .357 Magnum. It was love at first sight. I have owned several including a stainless-steel version in .44 Magnum. However, the humble, blue steel, plain walnut-stocked .357 is my favorite.
The Rossi Model 92 is offered in .45 Colt and even a .454 Casull version. The rifles are not as powerful as the .30-30 Winchester 94 at long range, but leverage is better with the short pistol cartridges that the ’92 chambers. This makes for a crackerjack defensive carbine.
While any quality centerfire lever-action rifle may be used for hunting or emergency duty, the majority of the rounds fired are in recreational shooting. Fun shooting, cowboy-action shooting, and just pride of ownership is a valid reason for owning the rifle.
Rossi offers several barrel lengths from 16 to 20 inches, different finishes, and several calibers. My rifle weighs six pounds and features a 16-inch barrel. The Rossi holds eight rounds of .357 Magnum in a tubular under the barrel magazine. Cartridges are loaded into the magazine via a loading gate on the right side of the receiver. Fit and finish, and especially stock inletting, are very good quality.
The 1892 action is a strong action. The rifle locks up with dual locking bolts. The 1892 action is safe to carry with the chamber loaded and the hammer on half cock. The half-cock notch keeps the hammer off the firing pin.
For home ready, I would keep the chamber empty. You may rack the lever quickly and load the rifle in an instant when needed. When hunting and on the stalk, chamber loaded, and half-cock is the proper ready mode.
There is a manual safety on the bolt between the locking lugs that may be used or ignored. I have seen the lever mishandled as often as handled properly. Three fingers go into the lever and the action lever is pressed forward, not down.
Don’t grasp the lever from the outside. Instead, place the fingers in the lever. You do not have to lower the rifle to operate the action. Keep the rifle on the shoulder and operate the action for fast repeat shots. The Rossi feeds well and the action is positive. Load, fire, work the bolt quickly, and ejection is pretty smart. The trigger is decent for a lever-action rifle breaking at a clean 4.0 pounds.
Accuracy and Handling
The sights are a simple ‘buckhorn’ type. The front sight is a post with a brass bead insert. The rear sight is an adjustable leaf. Either may be drift adjusted for windage. Elevation is handled by sliding the leaf under the rear sight. These sights are named for the big ‘ears’ on each of the rear sight, like buck antlers.
The old timers used a six o’clock hold. With the six o’clock hold you may get on target quickly and take a fast aim, as you would on a running deer, coyote, or bandit. If you use the dead-on hold, the rifle will fire low in relation to the point of aim.
I fired the rifle a good bit with .38 Special hard cast bullet handloads. Recoil was light and accuracy excellent to at least 50 yards. In some .357 Magnum lever-action rifles, the shorter .38 Special cartridge will occasionally misfeed.
This Rossi handles the shorter cartridge well. I think that problem is mostly related to the 1873-type rifles. Be careful of the crimp in handloads and crimp lead bullets just ahead of the driving band. Don’t make the mistake of hot rodding the cartridge for a rifle. Rifles are strong, but so are modern magnum revolvers.
Stick with modern load data. Let the powder burn do the rest. As an example, a favorite handload using the Hornady 125-grain XTP in .38 Special cases clocks 890 fps in a four-inch revolver barrel and 1,120 fps in a six-inch barrel, but 1,350 fps in the Rossi. That is all you need for home defense.
The .357 Magnum cartridge is a great choice for pistol-caliber carbines. Most pistol calibers get a modest boost in velocity in a 16-inch barrel carbine. This is due to a more complete powder burn. The gain in velocity with the .45 ACP and .45 Colt is modest, the 9mm more noticeable in a rifle.
The .357 Magnum may enjoy a 500 fps velocity boost. This is due to the full powder burn of the relatively slow-burning powder used in the .357 Magnum cartridge. As an example, the Federal 125-grain JHP breaks about 1,430 fps in a four-inch barrel revolver and well over 1,500 fps in a six-inch barrel revolver.
In the Rossi carbine, velocity is a startling 2,115 fps. I also used one of my favorite handloads in testing the rifle. A Hornady 140-grain XTP over 18.0 grains of H110 breaks 1,750 fps in the rifle.
You must be careful in hunting with the .357 Magnum rifle. Bullets designed to expand at 1,500 fps in a handgun may break up and fragment in the rifle at increased velocity resulting in under-penetration. I recommend the Hornady XTP for hunting use beginning with the 140-grain and progressing to the 180-grain XTP.
The Hornady XTP stands alone in this role. Another sure bet in factory ammunition would be the Federal 158-grain Hydra-Shok. As for accuracy at 50 yards with iron sights, the rifle will put three rounds into two to four inches depending on the load and the shooter.
The rifle has proven completely reliable with a wide range of magnum handloads and factory ammunition as well. The Rossi 92 would make a great home defender. Light, fast handling, and easy to operate, but flat, easily stored, and snag-free, the rifle has a lot going for it. Compared to the shotgun the Rossi must be aimed more carefully, but it offers excellent hit potential.
The key to any overpenetration concern is hitting the target. A .357 Magnum 125-grain JHP will stay in the threat — if delivered properly. For outdoors use, the rifle is effective at close range, and unlike the shotgun, is instantly ready for a 50–100-yard shot.
I like the affordable and friendly Rossi Model 92 .357 Magnum — a great deal. This is a rifle sure to see a lot of use. If you don’t own a .357 revolver, the Rossi carbine is still a fine choice — more so if you do!