Pump-Action Rifles

The forgotten one?
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Prime pumps: Taurus Thunderbolt in .45 Colt (top) is side-loading, top ejection.
The Henry .22 Magnum loads from a tube and ejects from the top.

As a teenager, my .22 rifle was a single-action Remington. It was all I could afford, but I dreamed of something slicker, something which would shoot more than one time without reloading. My dream was for a Winchester Model 62. The ’62 was a beautiful .22 rifle operating on the same principle as my much-loved Winchester Model 12 pump shotgun but, alas, I couldn’t afford one.

As with so many things we dream about when we’re young, when we finally get to a place where the expense could be justified, the item is no longer available. However, my search led me to a beautiful modern Henry replica of the old Winchester pump-action rifles. This rifle fulfills the dream of my youth and provides opportunities for my grandchildren to enjoy something which is — sadly — becoming rare.

David’s Taurus .45 Colt Thunderbolt at 50 yards shooting from a sandbag
rest can still hold its own in the accuracy department.

In The Beginning

The first pump rifle was made by Colt starting in 1884. The Colt Lightning, designed by former Remington gunsmith William H. Elliott, was meant to compete with Winchester’s lever-action rifles of the time. Colt and Winchester had come to a “gentleman’s agreement” in 1880 — Colt would stick to revolvers and Winchester would stick to repeating rifles. Colt must have considered only lever-action rifles as part of the agreement because they produced various models of pump rifles for at least 20 years.

The first Colt Lightnings were in .44-40 to complement the most popular cartridge in their best-selling 1873 revolver. This became their medium frame rifle. A small frame .22 was first issued in 1887, along with a large frame version in several calibers all the way up to the .50-95 express, designed to take down large North American animals.

John Moses Browning designed a pump-action rifle for Winchester, the Model 1900. The Model 1900 was caliber-specific and available in .22 short, .22 long, .22 long rifle versions. A Model 1906 was introduced as a less expensive version of the rifle and this one was available as a .22 short rifle or one cycling .22 long and .22 long rifle interchangeably. Examples exist of Standard and Expert models introduced in 1908 with a plain, fluted slide grip and a pistol grip stock. These models were all replaced in 1932 with the introduction of the Model 62, which handled all three .22 cartridges interchangeably and remained in production until 1958 — about the time I started dreaming of owning one.
The heyday

Henry’s authentic replica of the Winchester Model 62 with hammer and buckhorn open sights.

The Heyday

Marlin made a bunch of pump rifles over a spread of years but left the market in the 1930s. Their offerings included Models 18, 20, 25 (all rimfire takedowns) and Models 27, 27 and 29 in centerfire calibers. Marlin’s Model 32 was the first of the hammerless slide action rifles. Chambered in .22 rimfire, it was followed by Models 37 and 38 with different barrel lengths. There were a couple more centerfire models offered in very small quantities.

Mossberg introduced the Model K, .22 caliber with 22″-barrel, tubular magazine, internal hammer and takedown system. It was discontinued in 1931. The Model M was the same as K but with a 24″ octagonal barrel, offered in 1928–1931.

Remington had some early models beginning in 1909 including the Model 12, Model 121, Model 14, Model 14 ½ and Model 141. All of these were out of production by 1950. Savage built pump rifles from 1903 until 1967 — their rimfire rifles included the Models 1903, 1909, 1911, 25 and 29. The Centerfire version was the Model 170.

A few years back Taurus built a Lightning replica in Brazil which sold under the name Thunderbolt. These rifles got mixed reviews throughout the Cowboy Action Shooting world and were in and out of production for several years.

Looking through the Blue Book of Gun Values there were some other surprises. Israel Military Industries introduced the Timber Wolf Carbine in 1989. Available in .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum, it was offered in blue or hard chrome finish. It is no longer in production, nor is the Browning BBR-22 chambered in .22 LR and .22 Magnum. This rifle was manufactured between 1977 and 1982 while the Browning Trombone Model .22 LR was made by FN between 1922 and 1974 and imported to the U.S. by Browning

One of the few centerfire pumps in production, Remington’s Model 7600 is available in many popular calibers.

Pumping Lead Today

Italian manufacturer Davide Pedersoli currently builds Colt Lightning replicas in several calibers and barrel lengths. The only other centerfire pump rifles being made today are the Remington 7600 and an interesting AR variation made by Troy Industries.

Remington introduced the Model 572 Fieldmaster in 1958 and it’s still produced today. If a kid wants a .22 rifle today, they have a choice of bolt action, lever action or semi-automatic from a variety of manufacturers. However, if they want a pump — other than a Henry — the Remington Model 572 Fieldmaster is their only choice. It’s typically a $600–$700 rifle.

Truly an odd — but unique and effective — slider is the 16"-barreled Troy AR Sporting Pump-action Rifle in .308 Win.

Why Not?

The scarcity of pumps is puzzling to me because a pump-action rifle is faster to operate than a bolt action or lever action and in practiced hands it can be as fast as a semi-automatic.

Operating a pump — or slide-action as often said — is almost intuitive and ambidextrous. The mystery of unpopularity is further compounded when you realize the movement required to cycle the action on a pump is so small compared to a bolt-action or lever-action — for my .22 Magnum, it’s 1.25″.
The action doesn’t have a lot of parts so it’s less expensive to manufacture and easier to maintain than lever.

Pump shotguns continue their popularity but I wonder what happened to the pump rifle? A Winchester hammerless pump rifle, its appearance and action much like the Model 1300 shotgun, would be a fine .22 small-game rifle for a kid or adult.

Pump-action rifles are just not in demand these days or we’d have more of them. I think it’s a shame.

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