A Good Rifle Too Late
by "Doc" O'
When most folks talk about the "Old West" it's generally reckoned
that they're referring to the period between the end of the War Between
the States, known in these parts as, "The Late
Unpleasantness," or, "The War of Northern Aggression," and the end
of the 19th century. Most Yankees called it the Civil War, but
anyone who knows anything about it also knows there wasn't anything
"civil" about it. However, our tendency to place entire historical
periods into a cut and dried block of dates is very misleading.
History is a transitional process that rarely begins and ends
To be sure, by 1900 the Indian Wars were over.
Railroads crisscrossed the continent, having long made trail drives a
thing of the past. Communications by telegraph and telephone linked
the nation from coast to coast. But, gas or coal oil was still used
to light most homes. Horses would remain a more common means of
transportation than motor cars, in most places, for a couple of more
decades. Arizona and New Mexico were still Territories and wouldn't
be admitted to the Union until 1912.
At the same time, Butch
Cassidy and his partner, The Sundance Kid, were still plying their
nefarious trade. Wyatt Earp continued poking around, refereeing
prize fights, bartending, prospecting and, it's said, pulling swindles
through confidence games. In a few years he'd become a technical
advisor to movie makers. Bill Tilghman was enforcing the law in the
same honorable way in which he'd performed since the old days in Dodge
City. He was still doing so when he was gunned down in 1924 in the
oil boom town of Cromwell, Oklahoma.
Fact is, the Wild West
was still pretty wild until well after the Great War. It was a
sparsely settled land with few roads worthy of the term and it was still
right common for folks to pack iron regularly. Cartridges like the
.38 and .44 Special were rapidly gaining fans, but the old standbys, the
.45 Long Colt, .44-40 and .38-40 still had a lot of life left in
them. Factory records show Colt's Single Action Army and New Service
revolvers were just peaking in their popularity. Winchester's Model
92 was one of the hottest sellers in the marketplace. So was the
Popular as those lever action rifles and carbines were,
there was another style growing in popularity; the slide
action. Colt's seem to have started things off around 1887 with
their Lightning rifles in calibers from .22 Rimfire all the way up
to the brawny .50-95. Winchester and Marlin had their offerings,
too, but they were mostly .22's. On the shotgun front, Winchester's
Model 97 reigned supreme.
The Lightning was a good rifle for it's
time, but relatively delicate when compared to the lever guns on the
scene. Gunsmiths stayed pretty busy keeping them repaired.
However, shooters and arms makers were quick to recognize the speed which
someone familiar with this action could lay down fire.
Remington that seemed to put the most effort into designing a really
efficient trombone gun. By 1906 they'd developed rimless versions of
the more popular cartridges being used in the M-94 Winchester. The
.25, .30 and .32 Remington rounds were virtually identical in dimensions
and performance to the .25-35, .30-30, and .32 Winchester Special.
They even added another one of their own that's still pretty popular,
the.35 Remington. In 1912 they put them up in a slim, trim package
called the Model 14. It was a dandy little hunting
However, they went one better by not forgetting those
popular handgun rounds, the.44-40 and .38-40. These they chambered
in a slightly smaller version of that pump gun that they dubbed the Model
14 1/2. Made in a 22 1/2-inch rifle length and an 18-inch carbine,
there just wasn't anything slicker or faster to be had. Shucks, if
these things had been around 30 years sooner Winchester might have
had a rough go of it trying to sell those lever guns of theirs. But
that's all speculation, because it didn't happen that way.
By the time Remington came out with these rifles there were a lot
better cartridges around for deer and lawmen were beginning to think
bigger for their purposes, too. The Model 14 1/2 only lasted ten
years in production. The world was changing and it just showed up
too later to get in on the action in a big way.
I latched onto
mine, a .38-40 in rifle length, about ten years ago. I'm a big fan
of that cartridge to start with, so it wasn't a hard sell. Mostly, I
wanted to see how the round would perform in such an action. I was
downright tickled when I found out.
At the time I had a really nice
Winchester 92 with 24-inch round barrel that would hold groups under two
inches at 50 yards. It had a perfect bore and was in better than 90%
condition, so I was right proud of it. The only complaint I had was
that, like most 92's it wouldn't feed semi-wadcutter bullets. The
wide, flat, nose would bump up against the top of the chamber, because it
enters at an angle. The cartridge had to be tipped by hand to make
it go in. That wouldn't make a whole lot of difference, except I
shoot a lot of bullets of that style cast with Lyman's long discontinued
#401452 mould in my handguns of that caliber. It would have been
nice to be able to do the same with the Winchester.
everybody who's seen the Remington for the first time has had the initial
impression that it's an old 28 gauge shotgun. The action-type, bore
diameter and shotgun-style buttplate make that an easy error to
make. The butt stock is plain, straight grained walnut, with a
modest pistol grip and no checkering. The forend is slim and
generously ribbed. The safety is a button located at the rear of the
triggerguard. All of which adds to the rifle's shotgun-like
appearance. It also gives it shotgun-like handling qualities.
It mounts to the shoulder almighty fast and it's a natural pointer; making
target acquisition nearly effortless.
Sights on the rifle lie very
low. The front is a tiny gold bead on a base dovetailed into the
barrel. A set screw allows for windage adjustment. Loosen it
and the front sight base can be moved in the appropriate direction for
changing lateral shot placement. The rear sight blade is flat across
the top with a "U" notch cut in the center. There are no humps or
ridges to obscure the front sight. A couple of variations of the
rear sight are found on these rifles. The one on mine has a grooved
wheel that rotates counter-clockwise for elevation. It's a lot
faster to use that usual ladder slide.
The rifle has a ten round
capacity tubular magazine that loads through a gate that lifts up at the
base of the tube on the underside. When it's been filled and the
action cycled, the cartridge is raised straight up and its head locked
tightly against the breech bolt. When the slide moves forward, the
bolt carries the round straight into the chamber. Because of this it
will feed semi-wadcutters with no problem. Shucks, it'll even feed
The most interesting part came when the rifle was
targeted. Setting up the sandbags at the 50 yard bench, the first
round fired cut neatly into the six o'clock position of the 9-ring of a
pistol target. Two more rounds just made the same hole a little
bigger. That looked promising, so the shooting was continued.
By the time all ten rounds of the factory loaded Remington
ammunition (Remington no longer makes this ammo, but Winchester and
Black Hills do) had gone downrange I was mightily impressed.
The group measured .89 of an inch from edge to edge at its widest
point. That level of accuracy is to be prized in any rifle. To
find it in a vintage piece such as this is remarkably
One of the strangest things about firearms
actions is that semi-automatics are actually pretty slow to cycle.
Ed McGivern, the Montana sign painter who set speed and accuracy records
with the revolver so remarkable that many stand to this day, refused to
work with anything but revolvers. He was so fast on the trigger that
autoloaders couldn't keep up. By the same token, shotgunners have
long recognized that slide actions can be manipulated so much faster than
self-cyclers that there's really no competition between the two in
the hands of a skilled shooter. Comparing such speed to that of a
lever action provides no contest at all.
It's strange, but no one
knows exactly how many of these rifles were actually made, because they
were serial numbered concurrently with bigger Model 14. They can't
really be called rare, but they're certainly
The Remington M-14 1/2's advantages in both
speed and accuracy easily overshadow any comparable lever action.
It's too bad it showed up so late. The history of the Old West might
have been very different if it had been around the cow towns and mining
camps in their heyday.