August 11, 2010

Legacy Sports Puma PCH87003 Lever Action, $1229

It is an odd sensation to work through the various levels of the first-person shooter game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and pick up a virtual gun that hasn’t seen widespread availability in around a century. That gun is the Winchester Model 1887, a lever-action shotgun originally designed by John Browning and produced by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

For a shotgun that’s been out of factory production for about 100 years, the Winchester 1887 lever action (above right) has life today.

In Terminator 2: Judgment Day (a 1991 sequel to Jim Cameron’s original film, Terminator), a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) T-800 cyborg is sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and son John Conner (Edward Furlong) from the more advanced T-1000 Terminator (Robert Patrick).

Probably the most recognizable weapon carried by Terminator Schwarzenneger is the highly customized 12-gauge 1887 Winchester lever-action shotgun. The character is seen holding this weapon (atop his Harley Davidson motorcycle) on the one-sheet posters and key publicity material. The movie gun was customized with a variety of lever handles used, such as the loop style for "swing-cocking" on the Harley Davidson.

Also, Brendan Fraser used a cut-down pistol-gripped Norinco copy of the Winchester 1887 in The Mummy Returns, most notably in the bus scene.

Coming back to current times‚ the 1887 is widely used in Cowboy Action events, but perhaps most fluently by SASS champion "Gunfighter" Lassiter, aka Tom Wildenauer. Starting with an open action, he’s able to load two and shoot two in under 3 seconds. Not bad for a design that few have seen and fewer have shot.

So, with all this interest in the 1887, we wanted to see which one we’d buy for fun shooting. The Armi Chiappa 1887 Fast Load 930.004, which we found selling under the Puma name by Legacy Sports International for $1229, had 12-gauge barrels chambered for 2.75-inch modern shells.

The Chiappa we tested had a 22-inch barrel and was threaded for choke tubes and and came with a Cylinder screw-in tube. It had a total capacity of two because of an action modification that speeds reloads for CAS at the expense of total round count.

Fifty-two years ago Armi Sport, the foundation of the Chiappa Firearms group, began making replica products. In 1958, the company first made a Corsair Pistol, followed by a Kentucky pistol (1962), Kentucky rifle (1963), then several other products before the 2008 introduction of the 1887 lever-action shotgun.

Armi now makes six versions of the lever shotgun, three with color-casehardened receivers and three chromed receivers. Legacy International catalogs three of the 1887-style shotguns, two of which don’t have the Fast Load feature. The PCH87003 unit has a 22-inch barrel ($1239), and the PCH87002 issue has a 28-inch barrel ($1269). All three guns have color-casehardened receivers and blued-steel barrels and other metalwork.

Legacy Sports Puma

Courtesy, Gun Tests

For the collector or Cowboy competitor, this is an awfully nice rendition of the 1887 Winchester shotgun. It's well made and works great. It's also a great conversation starter at the range, but the force needed to work the action can make the gun dismount. Caveat Shooter.

Many of the physical details of the Armi shotgun conform to dimensions you’d expect from a self-defense shotgun. It has a fairly short 39-inch overall length and a fast-pointing 22-inch barrel. Length of pull is a surprisingly short 12.6 inches, for reasons we’ll detail below, and 2 inches of drop at the comb and 2.2 inches of drop at the heel. There’s a lot of pitch, -3.0 inches, and no cast in the stock that we could see. That the gun lacks cast is important for lefties, since we found the lever could be cycled equally well from either side, and ejection occurs out the top of the action.

The gun is heavy at 8.4 pounds, the result of a thick-walled barrel and a massive steel receiver and steel action parts. The receiver and steel buttplate are color-casehardened in finish, set off by the barrel and under-barrel tubular magazine, which had a rich blued finish. We didn’t detect any blems in the metalwork, except for the natural variations of the casehardened coloring.

The gun lacks an external safety, which would be out of phase with the 1887’s lineage, of course. But it includes a breech block safety that keeps the gun from firing unless the action is fully closed and the trigger is pulled. Using a Lyman digital trigger-pull gauge from Brownells, we measured the trigger-pull weight at a crisp 3.2 pounds‚Äîbetter than many modern shotguns we’ve tested over the years.

The furniture, like the metal, was nicely executed. The walnut buttstock wood was matte finished, which showed a medium grain underneath a fairly dark stain. The fore end panels were a little lighter, especially the left-side one, so they didn’t match the buttstock tone that well. But the fore end panels were attached with pillars going sideways through the

An alternative we hope to look at down the road is the brushed stainless version of the Chiappa. It’s a completely different look and feel than the casehardened-color versions.

stock, so that the screws that attached the panels wouldn’t crack the thin panels.

Considering these points, the team’s just-out-of-the-box view of the Chiappa was very positive, and when we burrowed down to the details, we became even more impressed. The inset cut where the top of the steel buttplate joined the butt was tight, as was the fitting between the rest of the buttplate and buttstock. The tang was likewise fitted well, though not quite as tightly as the buttstock joint. The bottom fit was better than the top, but our testers weren’t offended by the quality of work anywhere. The fore end panels fit tightly against the receiver, and the joints between the fore end panels and the tube and barrel were snug as well.

Yes, yes, you say, that’s all very nice. Pretty. Yay! But how does it shoot? Handling the Armi and Norinco lever guns is an acquired taste, our team said. When the gun comes up to the shooter’s eye, he sees a 0.15-inch-wide brass front bead through a shallow scoop in the top of the receiver. During the mount, the inclination is to bring the front hand back toward the receiver to force the gun to stay in the shoulder pocket. The steel buttplate is slick, and the force necessary to pull the lever open‚Äîaccording to the Lyman gauge, about 4 pounds with the hammer down (uncocked) and 10 pounds with the hammer back (cocked)‚Äîcan also pull the buttstock off the shooter’s shoulder.

Legacy Sports Puma

Courtesy, Gun Tests

Armi now makes six versions of the lever shotgun, three with color-casehardened receivers and three chromed receivers.

The natural response to this downward movement is to pull the front hand back toward the receiver to control the middle of the gun. But this doesn’t work because the cycling lever will hit the front hand if the hand is too close to the receiver. Fully opened, the lever pushed about 10 degrees forward of perpendicular to the boreline, so the front thumb needs to sit on the rear panel screw to ensure the front hand clears the lever travel.

Getting the mount right is vital in shooting any shotgun, of course, because the eye needs to naturally sit on the buttstock and see the top of the barrel. But getting the mount right is even more important when you shoot these guns because if you don’t get the buttstock in the shoulder pocket, it will kick the crap out of you. The steel buttplate is unforgiving, but the toe is particularly brutish. Put the gun up half an inch off, and all that recoil gets focused on about one square inch of pointy steel pressed into your pectoral, deltoid, or biceps muscle, depending on how and which way you miss the mount.

But with a firm mount, the shooter who is running the Armi can have a lot of fun. If you’re plinking and don’t have to worry about capacity, just fill the gun up and start hulling‚Äîit’s a kick to fire the Chiappa and hear the schlockety-schlock of the steel action moving shotshells right below your face. With much of the mass in the middle of the gun, it balances well (at the front of the receiver). The large amount of pitch in the buttstock allows the shooter to comfortably keep an erect head without having to push the gun up. This allows the shooter to likewise keep an erect posture and shoot comfortably without having to push the shoulders forward.

We liked the Chiappa’s two-shell-load feature, which the Norinco wouldn’t do. To use the feature in CAS competition, the shooter starts with an empty gun on a table. On the audible start, he picks the gun up and mounts it to his face. The trigger hand (as we noted, the gun is ambidextrous) flicks the lever open, then moves to a shotshell belly bandolier, grabs two shells in a stacked grip, and drops them simultaneously in the top of the gun. He then closes the lever, shoots once, then cycles the lever and shoots the second shell, all the while keeping the gun mounted. It is faster to do than write.

Comments (4)

I had one of these guns and kept it for 24 hours before returning it. The gun is as you report but it will not function well and is totally unreliable if you use heavy load factory 2 3/4" ammunition. It would jam up and would not eject everytime it fired. I wanted it to stand by the bed,to protect my family, I would not use it for that, if free.

Posted by: | August 13, 2010 11:13 AM    Report this comment

The two shot option shows what is wrong with CAS and other competitions. The rules sorta morph on their own to aid certain competitors. If your going to shoot an old timey gun in an old timey competition, it should be identical in appearance and function to the original gun it takes it's design from. A few variances can be allowed such as better steel, smokeless powder, and perhaps 45LC in rifles, but to totally change a gun's action? No way!

Posted by: Mister E | August 12, 2010 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Cimarron has a similar, if not identical gun for a similar price

Posted by: Mister E | August 12, 2010 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Minor correction to the last paragraph: In CAS competition the shotgun is staged or held open and empty.

Posted by: Kidd Krystin | August 12, 2010 11:09 AM    Report this comment

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