During my callow youth, the vocabularies of most firearms writers contained the word "knockabout." It was used to describe an inexpensive, no-nonsense, utility-grade firearm, and during about the first half of the 20th century thousands upon thousands were built by dozens of companies both domestic and abroad.
Some were no bargain, and their actions became loose as a goose after only a few years in the field. Others were sturdy guns capable of standing the test of time and hard use. A Winchester Model 37 single-shot in 12 gauge resting in my gun safe today is as tight as it was the day my wife’s father bought it almost three-quarters of a century ago, and it got used a lot through the decades.
Back then, the Steelbilt, as Winchester called it, sold for less than $20. Shotguns such as this–including models built by Stevens, Iver Johnson and other companies–rested behind about every kitchen door in rural America.
A number of inexpensive rimfire and centerfire rifles were also available. A Savage 219 single-shot in .22 Hornet owned by a friend of mine today was purchased by his father during the 1940s. Occasionally his dad would allow us to use it to harass the local crow population, and while most rifles of yesteryear are probably more accurate in our memories than they actually were, that one drives tacks today same as it did back then.
Sole survivors of the grand old American-made knockabouts of yesteryear are the Harrington & Richardson Ultra Hunter and the New England Handi-Rifle.
The newest knockabout on the block is the Wizard from Rossi of Brazil. Like the H&R and New England guns, it is a single-shot of tip-up design, and it while it copies those rifles rather closely in several details, it differs in others as well.
The barrel hinges on a crosspin at the front of the receiver. Pushing down on a grooved tab located beside the hammer retracts a locking bolt at the bottom of the receiver from engagement with a lug beneath the barrel, freeing the breech end of the barrel to tip up for loading. The spring-loaded locking bolt automatically engages when the barrel is closed.
As has been proven on numerous firearms through the years, it is a rugged and reliable lockup design and yet inexpensive to manufacture on a mass-production basis.
The Wizard utilizes a transfer bar safety system. Pulling the trigger releases the external hammer to move forward, but rather than striking the firing pin directly it strikes a steel bar that in turn transfers its blow to the firing pin. The transfer bar will move up between the hammer and firing pin only when the trigger is pulled, and should the gun be accidentally dropped with enough force to release the cocked hammer, its blow falls short of the firing pin.
The Wizard also has a two-position safety lever located on the left-hand side of the receiver. When engaged, it prevents the hammer blow from being transferred to the firing pin by blocking forward travel of the transfer bar.
There’s more. The gun cannot be opened while the hammer is cocked, and while the hammer can be cocked with the barrel tipped up, the barrel cannot be closed until the hammer is forward in the Safe position. And since Rossi is now owned by Taurus, it comes as no surprise to see Taurus’ Security System on the Wizard. Using the supplied key to turn a screw in the backside of the hammer prevents it from being cocked.
The 23-inch barrel came with a Weaver-style base already attached for scope mounting. Fiber-optic sights consist of a ramped blade with red pipe up front and a fully adjustable unit at the rear with twin green pipes outlining its notch.
The front sling swivel of the rifle holds the fore-end in place by screwing into a lug brazed to the bottom of the barrel. Rather than utilizing a through-bolt for inline attachment of the buttstock to the receiver, designers of the rifle chose to utilize a short bolt that angles up through its grip, and this–combined with a comb on the stock high enough for use with a scope–gives the stock a rather unusual shape.
Despite its looks, I found it quite comfortable when using a scope, although its comb is a bit too high for use with the open sights. The stock is easily removed by removing its grip cap and using a hex wrench to turn out the bolt.
One of the fast-food chains used to boast about its willingness to produce any type of hamburger a customer’s appetite might desire, and those in charge of marketing at Rossi must have seen those commercials. For starters, the Wizard is available with four types of barrels: rimfire (.22 LR, .17 HMR, .22 WMR); centerfire (10 chamberings from .223 to .45-70); muzzleloader (.45 or .50 caliber); and shotgun (12 and 20 gauge and .410 bore). The 12-gauge shotgun barrel comes in rifled or smoothbore.
Also available is the Matched Pair with two barrels in a nice soft carrying case. Then we have the Matched Set with three barrels. You could buy one of these with barrels in, say, .22 LR, .223 Remington and .30-06 and then buy an indivi
dual 12-gauge shotgun barrel and be all set for hunting just about anything.
Some individual rifles, shotguns and muzzloaders–as well as the Matched Pair and Matched Set–are available in a Youth version with length of pull shortened for short arms. Stock options are hardwood or synthetic, the latter with black or camo finish. Blued steel is standard, but some models are available with a nickel finish.
The first Wizard I received had quality-control issues in the stock and the sights, both of which were damaged. The gun was quickly replaced, and I took the second sample to the range for evaluation.
For accuracy testing I used Warne rings to mount a Weaver 2-10X Super Slam scope on barrels in .30-06 and .243 Winchester. There’s little clearance between the hammer and the ocular housing of a scope, and Rossi includes a hammer spur with the rifle, but I was unable to use it. Even though I mounted the scope with high rings, the spur’s extremely thick body interfered enough to prevent the hammer from moving all the way forward. I then tried turning it over, but it prevented the hammer from traveling to its fully cocked position.
The trigger broke at a fairly consistent 41⁄2 pounds with no creep, and that’s not bad for a rifle in its price range. The ejector sent each fired case flying through an arc that ended about 10 feet behind me. Southpaws among us will love the two-position safety on the left side of the receiver, but it is not easily reached by those of us who shoot a rifle from the other side. I actually found it easier to operate with my left hand.
The Wizard’s competition in the U.S. market is a similar rifle made by Harrington & Richardson. But there are differences. The Rossi has two features not found on the H&R Handi-Rifle–one being its safety lever, the other interchangeability of barrels.
Buy a Wizard now, and adding extra barrels later is as easy as ordering by mail or visiting your local dealer while the Handi-Rifle requires a trip back to the factory for the fitting of a barrel. In the opposite corner, the H&R rifle is a bit less expensive.