Chiappa Lever Action Rifle Alaskan Cowboy

CHIAPPA LEVER GUNS REVIEWED

If you feel like carrying a six-shooter chambered in .44 Remington Magnum with you in the bush, you’re definitely not alone.  Thankfully, there’s no reason you can’t, at least not if you count the short-barrelled Chiappa 1892 lever actions, and we’re definitely counting them: we have two.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle CowboyThere’s an unavoidable question, though, when dealing with Italian guns, and that’s what we need to address here: are they good Italian machines, like Moto Guzzi bikes and Perazzi shotguns?  Or are they bad Italian machines, like old Fiats built on Friday afternoon, or Monday morning, or other days in which everyone at the factory apparently just felt like drinking wine and, presumably, leaving the vehicles half-finished?

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle CowboyChiappa’s history has been a little spotty, as well.  They’ve built everything from the beloved little Badger rifles to the rather cheap 9mm and .22lr M1 Carbines to the technically impressive, but somewhat confusing, Rhino revolvers.

But these lever guns aren’t their cheap end of production.  It’ll run you up into the twelve hundred dollar range to put a Chiappa 1892 in your safe, and more for the stainless takedown model.  Are they worth it?  Let’s find out.

The Chiappa 1892

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle CowboyThe 1892 action was developed, like everything else that is good and true and pure, by John Moses Browning.  He was working on behalf of Winchester, who had requested an improved action for pistol calibre carbines.  Browning, who had worked on the design of the larger 1886, promised to have the design ready within a month, or he’d give it to Winchester for free.  Within two weeks, he had not only the design, but a functioning prototype.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle CowboyAnd it was definitely a success.  The lessons learned during the design of the 1886, which was at that time the strongest lever action that had ever been built, needing nothing but a new barrel to run the higher-pressure smokeless powder cartridges, carried over supremely to the 1892.  The locking lug, an angled toggle located at the rear of the bolt in most familiar lever actions (including Browning’s own Winchester 1894), was replaced with a pair of locking lugs which ride in dedicated mortices in the receiver and bolt for an inherently stronger, tighter lockup.  The bottom of the frame was fixed instead of letting it pivot with the action, unlike the ’94.  And again, despite having designed a rifle for use with simple black powder cartridges like the .32-20, improvements in metallurgy meant that the sturdy 1892 action could be used without modification with the new, heavy-hitting smokeless powder chamberings.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle CowboyAnd so the 1892 went on to five decades of production and over a million Winchester rifles, appearing in countless iconic westerns as the preferred rifle of John Wayne (who carried one in The Searchers, now considered one of the greatest films of any genre ever, no doubt partly on  account of the casting of the 1892 as Wayne’s rifle) and Chuck Connors of The Rifleman, not to mention in the hands of a young, unknown, Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.

When production of the 1892 ended at Winchester in 1945, though, Elmer Keith had yet to develop the mighty .44 Magnum; that pairing was left to later versions.  But on handling an 1892 chambered in Keith’s heavyweight, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is the cartridge that the 1892 action was really meant to house.

Chiappa Lever Guns?

Consider the depth of history associated with the lever gun in general.  This is the true American icon; the gun that won the west and personified the cowboy in both in Hollywood and in literature for the last century.

Isn’t the Chiappa just an Italian knockoff?  How can we take the import version seriously?

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle AlaskanTo sum it up in a single phrase: attention to detail.  These guns are beautifully machined, with small parts that exhibit no unduly sharp surfaces, faces that betray no chatter and finishes that range from “even” in the case of the Alaskan stainless takedown model, to “gorgeous” in the colour case blued version.  If this was the standard to which all Chiappas were built, they’d be a legend in firearms manufacturing.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle AlaskanAnd for those of you still hesitating to spend big gun money on the Italian version of the American gun…we’d give serious thought to the trials and travails of Marlin et al over the past couple of years.  It’s no secret that Remington has had trouble rebooting the lever gun lineup, and Marlin used to be the safe bet in levers.  Chiappa’s manufacturing quality on these guns is certainly high enough to give any American lever a run for its money.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle AlaskanOf course it’s also worth recalling that full-stocked, short-barrelled rifles are difficult to source from American manufacturers.  A quirk of the US gun laws would render these simple, handy machines into tightly regulated devices if they were taken south of the border.  Only by providing stocks that are barely useable for shouldering a rifle, and classing them as pistols, can sub-16” barrelled rifles be easily bought and sold in the United States.

Duelling Cowboys

The two models of Chiappa 1892 we had on hand were the stainless takedown version, known as the Alaskan, and the colour case blued model.  It’s very difficult to pick a favourite because despite being essentially the same gun, they’re just so…different.

Photo034The Alaskan model is the easiest to explain.  The tube magazine has a retention lever which, when pulled out, allows the magazine to unthread from the receiver.  The action is opened, the barrel and forearm are rotated ninety degrees, and presto, the gun is in three parts.  The process takes seconds and wowed onlookers at the range with its simplicity and utility.

Equipped with a Skinner rear sight and fibre optic front, an octagonal barrel, a mid-sized lever loop, and a synthetic stock with none of the plastic feel we’ve sadly grown used to over the past decade or so, this is a bush gun with absolute class.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle Alaskan Take DownThe colour case blued 1892 is slightly harder to explain, because if you need to ask, you won’t understand.  It’s so beautiful and just so right.  Standard adjustable leaf sights adorn the barrel and it has a true John Wayne style large loop.  The wood isn’t exotically figured, but it’s certainly attractive enough.  If you can look at one without feeling your pulse quicken, you don’t understand this gun, and we just don’t understand you at all.

Shooting the 1892s

There isn’t much more authoritative than the deep thump of a .44 magnum out of a relatively short barrel.  A 240 grain hollow point out of one of these twelve inch barrels picks up a good two hundred feet per second over a five inch revolver, while at the same time taming the somewhat ferocious muzzle blast of the big warthog.  Stepping all the way up to a twenty inch barrel wouldn’t even buy you another hundred FPS, so to our way of thinking, the twelve inch barrel is right in the sweet spot for maximum punch in a handy package.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle Alaskan Take DownThe rather minimalistic recoil pad on the colour case blued edition, combined with the lighter barrel and receiver, does make the recoil a little fiercer, and half a box of ammo will leave a mark on your shoulder.  Of course, if you bought a lightweight .44 magnum, hopefully you weren’t gambling on it being a popgun.

The extra mass of the Alaskan perceptibly soaks up the recoil and the pad is a little more forgiving as well, so if that’s a priority for you, it’s worth considering.  They’re both perfectly manageable, but the Alaskan is definitely the easier of the two to shoot.

Chiappa Lever Action Rifle Alaskan Take DownThe sights on the Alaskan are excellent.  We chased some hopping targets around at 70 meters, and the only difficulty was locating the targets after a direct hit.  The fibre optic rod jumps out at you and it’s difficult to get wrong.

The traditional sights on the cowboy version are naturally a little more rudimentary, but they’re certainly functional and much more fitting with the appearance of the little carbine.

Feeding and extraction on both models is superb.  The action is butter-smooth and there is none of the jerky, creaky feel of cheap lever actions.  The 1892 is generally a smooth action to work but these are very refined renditions of their type.  Cycling rounds through either gun is nearly effortless, and the atavistic pleasure of the big .44 thump, followed by a racking sound and then the clink of a single, massive brass shell that will immediately conjure up every western you’ve ever seen is virtually indescribable.  It’s also utterly addictive.

If you’re in the market for either the classiest old-school short-barrelled .44 on the planet, or the most intelligent modern rendition of a take-down lever gun we’ve seen, stop searching.  The Chiappa rifles can’t be beat.

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