Of the 128 or so patents attributed to John Moses Browning during his lifetime, one of his most successful designs was the Winchester Model 1892, using the same basic action as the much larger 1886 but with smaller dimensions to use essentially handgun caliber rounds. Where the big ‘86 was right at home with .45-70 class rifle power, the ‘92 was intended to replace the venerable 1873 in the Winchester catalog, and started out in the same .44-40, .38-40, and .32-20 calibers, with the .25-20 and .218 Bee added later. The ‘73 was so beloved among Winchester fans that production actually overlapped for several years between it and the ‘92, with the first ‘92 shipping in 1892 and the last ‘73 serialed in 1923. Once it got going, though, the trim ‘92 far outsold the ‘73 by the time production ended in 1941, and for many years after that the ‘92 was probably second in popularity among Winchester lever-actions only to the Model 1894 in .30-30 caliber.
The ‘92 had a lot going for it, especially in its 20-inch carbine form. Light, flat-sided, with a rounded receiver at the natural balance point for carry, the gun traveled extremely well on horseback and shouldered in a hurry when it had to, and it’s one of the all-time handiest totin’ long guns ever made for long periods of hand carry on the ground. Recoil using a 200-grain .44-40 bullet at around 1,200 feet per second (fps) was tolerable by just about anybody in either defending the homestead or hunting critters to feed it, and the action was strong, durable, and reliable. The fact that a Colt Peacemaker could be acquired to use the same .44-40 loads interchangeably certainly didn’t hurt the ‘92’s appeal in that caliber, either.
The ‘92 Winchester in carbine form was a familiar sight in saddle scabbards in the waning days of the Old West, and it became one of America’s premier deer rifles in the hands of hunters, farmers, and ranchers before going on to become a regular supporting character on the Silver Screen when horse operas came along in the early 20th century. Most of us picture the ‘92 in the hands of a bushwackin’ bad guy or a steely-eyed hero type in full cowboy costumery, but the little Winchester was also personally chosen by no less than Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary as the primary hunting tool of his expeditions in search of the elusive North Pole. The Greenland walrus, a major source of food for both man and sled dog, was considered a “…fierce fighter, almost invincible except by the most skilled hunter. When wounded, it turns into a demoniac gorgon, hurling against the boats in two tons of bulk…Its hide is an inch thick…Even a rifle bullet has to be carefully aimed to stop the onslaught of these animals when antagonized.” On one 1893-1894 at-tempt, George Carr, a member of the expedition team, described a typical hunting scene with their Model ‘92s:
“After leaving our headquarters in the Falcon, we came upon a large number of walruses sleeping and sunning themselves on floating ice pans. Two whaling boats were lowered with orders to approach the herd as closely as possible before firing at the beasts. A deadly volley of lead was fired as soon as we were within range, and in an instant our boat was surrounded by a seething mass of maddened walruses. Each appeared intent upon doing mischief…the huge beasts would leap up the sides…in an attempt to board or swamp the craft. Those of us detailed to repel the invaders had a lively half hour…before they gave up the attack.”