This article is dedicated to the Winchester “lover” in all of us…
The Winchester Model 1892 was a lever-action repeating rifle designed by John Moses Browning as a smaller, lighter version of his large-frame Model 1886, and which replaced the Model 1873 as the company’s lever-action for smaller dual-use rounds such as the .44-40 (.44 WCF).
When asked by Winchester to design an improved pistol caliber lever action, John Browning said he would have the prototype completed in under a month or it would be free. Within 2 weeks later, Browning had a functioning prototype of the 92. Calibers for the rifle vary and some are custom-chambered. The original rounds were the .32-20, .38-40, and .44-40 Winchester centerfire rounds, followed in 1895 by the new .25-20. A few Model 92′s chambered for .218 Bee were produced in 1936-38.
The Winchester Models 53 (1924) and 65 (1933) were relabeled Model 1892′s. Secretary of War Patrick Hurley was presented with the one millionth rifle on December 13, 1932 and Admiral Robert E. Peary carried an 1892 on his trips to the North Pole.
1,004,675 Model 1892 rifles were made by Winchester, and although the company phased them out by 1941, they are still being made under the Puma label by the Brazilian arms maker, Rossi, and by Chiappa Firearms, an Italian factory and Browning in Japan. In its modern form, using updated materials and production techniques, the Model 1892′s action is strong enough to chamber high pressure handgun rounds, such as .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, the .45 Colt, and the high-powered .454 Casull round.
Winchester ended production of the Model 1892 in 1938 however copies produced by manufacturers such as Browning, Navy Arms, Armi San Marco, and Rossi have continued to be manufactured. Copies or “clone” versions of the Model 1892 have continued to be produced almost continuously since Winchester ended its production run. They range in quality and price from midrange firearms to highly decorated presentation pieces.
Although the Model 1892 made its debut after the closing of the American frontier, and the true “Guns that Won the West” were the earlier Models 1866 and 1873, nonetheless the ’92 became an indelible icon of Western mythology through its use in hundreds of motion pictures and television shows, standing in for its older siblings. John Wayne famously carried Model 92s in dozens of films and owned several personally, some with the distinctive oversized “loop” lever. Other notable screen 92s were those of Chuck Connors in The Rifleman TV series, and Steve McQueen’s “Mare’s Leg” in Wanted: Dead or Alive.
Hollywood studios purchased the ’92 in quantity because it was in regular production (until World War II) but looked sufficiently like Old West Winchesters to substitute for valuable antiques, and because in calibers .44-40 and .38-40 it could fire, together with the Colt Single Action Army “Peacemaker” revolver, the standard Five-in-One blank cartridge. This latter practice mirrored the real cowboys, who found it convenient to carry a rifle and a revolver chambered with the same ammunition.
The Mare’s Leg (aka Mare’s Laig; both sometimes spelled without the apostrophe) was the name given to a customized shortened rifle by Steve McQueen’s character on the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958–1961). McQueen’s character was named Josh Randall, and the gun has also been referred to as a Winchester Randall, or a Randall Special. “Mare’s leg” is now a generic term for a Winchester Model 1892 (or modern derivative) with a shortened barrel and stock.
The term “mare’s leg” was introduced in 1957 in the TV series “Trackdown,” where Steve McQueen first appeared as the “Bounty Hunter.” Steve McQueen and his “mare’s leg” then appeared throughout the CBS TV series “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
The original Mare’s Leg was made by cutting down a .44-40 caliber Winchester Model 1892 rifle to a size that could be worn in a large leg holster and used with one hand. The barrel was cut down to a length of twelve (or possibly nine) inches, and much of the butt-stock was removed. For filming three guns were actually made, each with an enlarged loop on the cocking lever. The first gun differed in the size of its lever enlargement, and the last gun had an octagonal barrel instead of a round one. The actual gun being used could sometimes change from shot to shot in a given scene. While the guns were chambered for the .44-40 round, McQueen wore more impressive looking .45-70 rounds in the loops of his gun belt. In season one, a doctor, after removing a bullet fired from the Mare’s Leg from the back of a criminal, identified the removed bullet as a 30-30 round.
The gun makes an appearance as the favorite weapon of key characters in a film sequel to the McQueen series, and later series, that use the weapon as a homage. The 1987 film Wanted: Dead or Alive starred Rutger Hauer as Nick Randall, the grandson of Josh Randall. Nick keeps his grandfather’s Mare’s Leg in a display case in his office.
Similar shortened rifles have appeared in:
- Once Upon a Time in the West (1968 film) used by Woody Strode in a cameo, when sent to kill Charles Bronson’s character “Harmonica”.
- My Name Is Nobody (1973) Used by a rustler 18 minutes into the film.
- Boss Nigger (1975 blaxploitation film) used by the main character.
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993–1994 television series) featured a Mare’s Leg wielding character named Lord Bowler.
- The Magnificent Seven (1998–2000 television series) featured Eric Close as Mare’s Leg wielding Vin Tanner, reminiscent of McQueen’s character Vin in the original film.
- Firefly (2002 television series) and Serenity (2005 film) starred Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne, who used the same Mare’s Leg prop created for Brisco County, Jr.
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni (2007-2010 visual novel) had appearances of this specific rifle in nearly all of the episodes.
- Zombieland (2009 film) used by Woody Harrelson throughout the film.
There have been a number of toys based on the Mare’s Leg, from small cap guns to larger detailed toys complete with a holster.
A number of companies have marketed functional reproductions of the Mare’s Leg, making them the same way as the original, by cutting down Winchester rifles. In the United States under the National Firearms Act, to make a concealable weapon from a firearm originally made and sold as a rifle requires payment of a $200.00 tax, approval from the BATFE and federal registration. However, a “lever action pistol” made and sold subject to concealable weapon laws is treated as a pistol by federal law.
Since before 2000, Eagle Squadron Productions has produced and sold an authentic 1892 Winchester Mare’s Leg carbine. This is the only option of a commercial Mare’s Legs for sale that used an authentic cut down of an original Winchester 1892 carbine in the correct caliber of .44-40.
Since 2005, J.B. Custom has been marketing a “1892 Mares Leg Lever Action Pistol”. This weapon is a fully functional copy of Randall’s weapon, available in a number of calibers. Since they are newly manufactured as pistols and sold subject to handgun regulations, rather than cut down rifles, they avoid the aforementioned legal difficulties. Just like the original weapon, the J.B. Custom version has a 12 inch barrel, and an overall length of 24 inches.
The gun was available in .45 Colt, .44-40 Winchester, and .38-40 Winchester. Early promotional material specified a limited production run of 50 units based on the number of available 1892 actions that could be used legally. Currently produced weapons use a slightly different action that while not exactly like the 1892 model, cycles more reliably, and is commercially available. This version is available in .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, and .357 Magnum.
In 2008, Legacy Sports International introduced their version of the mare’s leg. It is made by Chiappa in Italy, imported for Legacy, and sold under the brand name Puma. This Puma 92 pistol is named the Bounty Hunter. It is available in several calibers including; .44 Magnum, and .44-40. With a 12 inch barrel, no shoulder stock, and a receiver that has never been built into a rifle, it is considered a pistol by the ATF.
In 2010 Rossi Firearms began offering a Mare’s leg under the name Ranch Hand. The Rossi version is chambered in .45 Colt, .44 Magnum/.44 Special, and .357 Magnum/.38 Special. The Rossi Ranch Hand is manufactured by Taurus in Brazil.
Henry Repeating Arms manufactures two versions of the Mare’s Leg. The rimfire model has a blued receiver and barrel and chambers .22 Long Rifle, .22 Long, and .22 Short. The centerfire model has a brass receiver and blued barrel and it chambers .45 Colt.