December 08, 2021
Colt introduced a lever-action rifle in .44-40 Win. in 1883. It must have been a good one because Winchester management initiated an agreement whereas Winchester would discontinue the development of a revolver designed by former Colt employee William Mason and Colt would stop making lever-action rifles.
Determined to remain a player in the deer rifle market, Colt developed a slide-action rifle. Because it was capable of spitting lead quicker than anything made by Winchester, it was called the Lightning.
The first model in .22 Short and .22 Long was introduced in 1885. It was soon followed by a centerfire rifle with two action lengths: one for the .38-40 and .44-40 Win. and a longer length for the .45-85 Win. and .50-95 Express.
The Lightning proved to be less than successful due a flaw in its design. In those days, ammunition was loaded with blackpowder, and if a hunter was negligent about cleaning his rifle after firing, its chamber would eventually become pitted by rust.
The extractors of most single-shot and lever-action rifles usually had enough camming power to yank fired cases from dirty chambers, but the Colt Lightning was relatively weak in that department. The centerfire version was discontinued in 1900, and the rimfire rifle followed in 1903.
I have never owned an original Colt Lightning, but a few years back I had fun shooting a reproduction made by Uberti. When fed .45 Colt or .45 Schofield ammo, it proved to be almost as fast as, well, lightning.
Next up at bat was Standard Arms Company of Wilmington, Delaware, with the Model M. There were actually two versions of this slide-action design. The Model M was operated manually, and while the Model G could also be operated in that manner, opening a valve transformed it into a gas-operated autoloader capable of firing each time its trigger was pulled.
Either model is easily recognized by a buttplate, sight elevator and sliding fore-end of ornate brass castings. To remove any doubt about what the rifle was intended for, the head of a moose was cast into one side of the fore-end and a snarling bear on the other.
My Model G is in .25 Rem., but both models were also available in .30 Rem., .32 Rem. and .35 Rem. An internal box magazine with hinged floorplate holds five rounds. The rifle weighs 8.25 pounds.
Remington would eventually become the biggest player in the slide-action deer rifle market, and if we judge the success of a firearm by longevity and numbers, the Model 14 was the first truly successful rifle of that type chambered for centerfire cartridges. It was introduced in 1912 with a 22-inch barrel in .25 Rem., .30 Rem. and .32 Rem. The .35 Rem. followed shortly thereafter. Five grades ranging from standard to Premier were offered. The Model 14R carbine had an 18-inch barrel and a saddle ring on its receiver.
In those days, many people depended on hunting to feed their families, and they would not hesitate to ground-sluice a turkey or goose with their deer rifles. For that reason ammo manufacturers loaded some sporting cartridges with roundnose full-metal-jacket bullets to reduce meat damage.
Deep, spiraled grooves formed into the wall of the tubular magazine of the Model 14 tilted cartridges just enough to prevent the nose of one from bearing against the center of the primer of the cartridge in front of it. The magazines of rifles and carbines in .38-40 and .44-40 do not have the grooves.
Changes made to the Model 14 in 1934 included increasing the diameters of its fore-end and grip and increasing barrel length to 24 inches. In an attempt to improve the sales appeal of an aging design, it was reintroduced as the “new” Model 141 Gamemaster. The .25 Rem., .38-40 and .44-40 options were discontinued, but the .30, .32 and .35 caliber cartridges stayed with the rifle until the very end.
During their heydays the Model 14 and Model 141 were quite popular among those who hunted deer and black bear in the eastern part of the country, where most game was taken inside 100 yards. Both rifles are nice, but the slimmer lines of the Model 14 make it better-balanced in the hands and more appealing to the eye.
Through the years I have owned Model 14 and Model 141 rifles and carbines in .30 Rem., .32 Rem., .35 Rem. and .44-40 Win. Having a “thumbnail” safety on its bolt rather than the usual transverse safety at the rear of the trigger guard made the one in .44-40 quite rare.
I still have a “C” grade rifle in .35 Rem.—the one shown in the lead photograph accompanying this article—and it differs from the standard grade by its hand-cut checkering along with a nicer finish and good contrasting figure in its American walnut stock. The red rubber recoil pad and Lyman folding tang sight were among several extra-cost options offered by Remington.
Like a number of rifles built in those days, the Model 14 and the Model 141 are easily taken down for stowing in a short carrying case. Both were made during an era when every part of a rifle that looked like machined steel actually was.
Remington replaced the Model 141 with the Model 760 in 1952 at a price of $104.40. Its detachable magazine held four .30-06, .300 Savage or .35 Rem. cartridges. The .270 Win. was added in 1953, followed by the .257 Roberts in 1954, the.308 Win. in 1957, the .243 Win. in 1968 and the 6mm Rem. in 1969. Others were the .244 Rem. (1957–60), .222 Rem. (1958–60), .280 Rem. (1958–67) and .223 Rem. (1964–68). Before Remington began offering the .35 Whelen in 1988, Model 760s in .35 Rem. were sometimes modified and rechambered for it.
A Model 760 carbine with an 18.5-inch barrel was introduced in 1960. It weighed only 6.5 pounds and became one of the most popular variations. The .30-06 and .308 remained throughout its entire production life, but other carbines came and went rather quickly. They included the .270 Win. and .280 Rem. (1960–64) and .35 Rem. (1964–67). Total production of the Model 760 carbine was 42,236 units.
Like the Model 141, the Model 760 receiver encloses all internal parts, and that, along with a sliding cover over the ejection port, discourages the entry of dust, dirt, snow, rain and woods debris into the action. Persistent complaints about a “rattle” of the steel cover were eventually answered by making it out of a black nylon resin called Zytel.
The fully enclosed receiver also protects the shooter in the event of a pierced primer or blown case. Just as important, 14 locking lugs on the bolt engaging shoulders inside the barrel extension make it bolt-action strong.
In addition to being as quick—and possibly quicker—on a follow-up shot than Winchester and Marlin lever-action rifles, the 760 proved to be more accurate as well. It was due not only to the rigid lockup between its bolt and barrel, but also a free-floating barrel.
How accurate? In my experience, it isn’t uncommon for those in .243 Win. and .223 to consistently shoot inside an inch. Model 760s wearing heavy, match-grade barrels in .222 Rem. used by U.S. Army marksmen to win medals in running deer competitions around the world were said to occasionally cluster five Sierra MatchKings inside a half-inch. Those rifles also had Redfield International aperture sights.
After building more than a million Model 760 rifles and carbines, Remington changed the name to Model 7600 in 1980. One mechanical change was made. The original rotating bolt head with its 14 small locking lugs had always been difficult to manufacture, and reducing the number to four larger lugs lowered production cost with no sacrifice in breeching strength or accuracy.
The Remington Model 760/7600 series of rifles have long been somewhat popular in European countries where hunters use them for shooting driven game. In response to that demand, Verney Carron introduced a slide-action rifle in .30-06, .300 Win. Mag. and 9.3x62mm and gave it the name “Impact.” As the French are prone to do when copying an American invention, they describe the rifle as having a “linear reloading action.”
The Model 7615 Police Patrol carbine introduced in 2002 was chambered to .223/5.56 NATO. A plastic adaptor attached to the receiver enables it to use AR-15 magazines.
It differs from the standard Model 7600 in one other way. As previously mentioned, the bolt of the Model 7600 has four locking lugs. On the Model 7615, the number was reduced to three in order to make room for attachment of the magazine adaptor. Breech lockup is still plenty strong.
With a magazine filled with Black Hills ammo loaded with the Barnes 62-grain TSX, my Model 7615 is capable of dropping as many pigs from a fleeing sounder as any AR-15. Its 16-inch barrel has a 1:7 twist. The Model 7615 was also available in .308 Win.
Many years ago, Dick Dietz, a good friend and a longtime Remington employee, informed me that because Pennsylvania hunters are not allowed to use semiautomatic rifles, more Model 760s were shipped there each year than to all other states combined.
Editor Scott Rupp tells the story of showing up at a college buddy’s house in his home state of Pennsylvania to take part in a big deer drive. When Rupp uncased his 760 in .308 the night before the hunt, his friend told him he probably should mark it in some way so he’d be able to recognize it on the gun rack.
Rupp thought to himself, “Hell, I know my own rifle,” but when he went to place it on the rack he found himself staring at close to 20 deer rifles—each and every one a Model 760.
Moving on to other companies, from a distance a stubby rifle introduced in 1965 looked as if Bill Ruger had come up with a slide-action version of his gas-operated .44 Mag. carbine. But close examination would reveal the words “Universal Firearms Corporation, Hialeah, Florida” roll-marked on its 18.25-inch barrel. A 1:38 rifling twist rate stabilized “240-grain, brush-bucking bullets from the powerful .44 Magnum cartridge.”
This rifle, the Vulcan 440, had an overall length of 37 inches, which made it good for threading through thick brush, and with a feathery weight of six pounds, it could be carried for days on end without stress or strain. With four rounds in the magazine and one up the spout, there was no way a buck could suddenly spring from its deep-woods bed and get away from an accomplished still-hunter. And for a stander shooting at bounding bucks during a drive, two magazines were included so the empty could be quickly replaced with four more tries.
The Vulcan 440 had an out-the-door price of $99.95, compared to $129.95 for a Remington 760 Gamemaster in .35 Rem.
The Savage 170 was introduced around 1970, and while it was often described as the poor boy’s Model 760, during my youth a neighboring farmer who owned more land and more tractors than anyone else in the county used one to bag his deer each year.
His was a .30-30 with a 22-inch barrel. A carbine with an 18.5-inch barrel was also available. It had a three-round detachable magazine and a two-position tang safely. The same rifle made by Savage was sold by Western Auto, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward under their brand names.
The Timber Wolf was introduced around 1988. Made by Israel Military Industries and imported by Action Arms, it had an 18.5-inch barrel, and an easily removed buttstock allowed it to be taken down and stowed in a short carrying case. Weight was 5.5 pounds, and a tubular magazine hanging below the barrel held 10 .357 Mag. cartridges. Due to a price of $475 along with mediocre accuracy at a time when a Remington 7600 in .30-06 was priced at $400, the Timber Wolf’s howl was short lived.
The Browning Pump Rifle, or BPR, introduced in 1999, was the latecomer of the bunch. Looking much like the Browning BAR autoloader, it was available in .243 Win., .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06 and .300 Win. Mag. As in Browning’s BAR, BLR and A-Bolt rifles, the magazine is attached to a hinged floorplate, and when swung down, an empty can be filled with cartridges or quickly replaced with a loaded magazine.
The BPR in .243 Win. that I shot was typically Browning—nicely finished walnut with good cut checkering and a flawlessly blued finish on all metal. It consistently shot my handload with the Nosler 100-grain Ballistic Tip inside an inch at 100 yards, with three shots occasionally snuggling close to a half-inch. Such fine accuracy was likely due to a free-floating barrel with an extremely smooth bore with uniform dimensions. The rifle weighed an ounce over 7.25 pounds.
Deer-capable centerfire pump rifles have a long history in this country, although currently only the Remington and a novel gun from Troy Industries remain in production today. Those who have had the chance to shoot and hunt with these guns know how capable they are, but whether they ever return to the fore is anyone’s guess.