I grew-up during the Golden Years of television – the 1950s and early 1960s. Many television programs produced during that time were westerns: The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Bonanza, Wanted: Dead Or Alive, Wagon Train, Johnny Yuma, Gunsmoke, and many, many others. One of my favorite westerns was Wanted: Dead Or Alive starring the late Steve McQueen, who played a bounty hunter – going after bad guys for a reward. And, more often than not, Steve McQueen’s character “Josh Randall” was always side-tracked doing good deeds for folks. What made this program so interesting was the gun that “Josh Randall” carried: A cut down Winchester Model 92 in .44-40 caliber, that had a barrel length of about 10-12 inches, with a large lever loop for operating the action. Funny thing was, “Josh Randall” carried 45-70 rounds on his pistol belt. Go figure.
I think every kid (and adult) wanted a cut-down rifle like the one “Josh Randall” carried – I remember having a toy gun that looked like this gun, as well as a holster to go with it. I grew-up, and I’ve always wanted a similar gun, but I didn’t care to jump through the FedGov red tape to have a cut-down rifle. FedGov regulations mandate that you have to have at least a 16″ barrel on a rifle, with an overall length of 26″ – if your rifle is any shorter, then there’s lots of red tape and have a $200 tax for a Short Barrel Rifle (SBR), and I just don’t care to give the FedGov any more reason to come knocking on my door.
Enter Rossi USA and their Ranch Hand – which is technically a “handgun” by their definition. Rossi didn’t start out with one of their lever-action rifles and cut it down. Instead, the gun was designed and designated as a “handgun” from the start. The Ranch Hand has a 12″ barrel with an overall length of 24″ with it’s abbreviated “stock.” There’s the ever-popular large lever loop, just like the one on Wanted: Dead Or Alive, too.
I waited over a year to get my sample Ranch Hand, and I had requested one in .44 Magnum (they come in .45 Colt and .38 Special/.357 Mag) too. However, the only sample available was in .38 Special/.357 Magnum, so I snapped it up. What we have is a rather large “handgun” that weighs in at 4 pounds, that is different than most other handguns on the market. Puma came out with a similar gun a few years ago, however, they were selling for about $1,200 retail – the Rossi Ranch Hand retails for $536 – less than half the price of the Puma version.
With a gold bead front sight and an adjustable leaf rear sight, the Ranch Hand affords a very sharp sight picture. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation, using the rear sight elevator for making elevation adjustments, and for windage adjustments. (You have to tap the rear sight left or right in the base until you get the desired point of aim/point of impact. The Ranch Hand holds 6 rounds in the tubular magazine, plus one in the chamber, giving you 7 rounds available. There is also a saddle ring – but it’s for looks – I don’t see it being used unless you are mounted on a horse, and even then….? The Ranch Hand is nice and evenly finished in a beautiful blue finish, too.
The front foreend and stubby rear “stock” are made out of hardwood of some type, and nicely fitted and finished, too. I suppose, in a pinch, you could use the “stock” and mount it to your shoulder, but it’s not very comfortable – I tried it! There is also a steel butt plate on the “stock” as well. Trigger pull was really nice at about 5-lbs, and it was very crisp, too. There is a manual safety on the top of the receiver, too – right where the hammer rests. The lever-action was very smooth and sure, something that can’t always be said about some lever-action rifles.
The overly large lever – well, I tried to “twirl” it (unloaded gun, of course) – like “Josh Randall” did on the television show, but the Ranch Hand locks-up tightly and wouldn’t allow any twirling. Perhaps over time, when the lever action loosens-up a bit, it might work. However, this only attests to the tightness and how well the gun is fitted – not a bad thing at all.
I had a variety of .357 Magnum ammo on-hand from Buffalo Bore Ammo from 125-gr JHP all the way up to their 180-gr “Heavy” hard cast lead load. I started out with the Buffalo Bore 180-gr LFN round, and this baby lets you know that you have some serious power in your hands. Remember, most .357 Magnum loads are designed for revolvers or traditional handguns – the Ranch Hand has a 12″ barrel, so you are gaining quite a bit of velocity. Buffalo Bore’s owner, Tim Sundles, tells me that, in a lever-action .357 Magnum rifle, that this load is equal to a 150-gr .30-30 round – I believe him – it really “kicked” in the Ranch Hand. Only problem I had was, this load, being heavier than most other .357 Magnum loads was hitting about 3″ high at 25-yards. I moved the rear sight elevator down to its lowest position and it brought the point of impact down another inch. I then removed the rear sight elevator completely, and I was about an inch high at 25-yards with this load.
I tried the Buffalo Bore 158-gr JHC .357 Magnum load, in the Ranch Hand, with the rear sight elevator back in place, and at its lowest position – once again, the gun was shooting a bit high at 25-yards – about 2″ high. I removed the rear sight elevator and the Ranch Hand was hitting just slightly above the point of aim – not too shabby. I tried the Buffalo Bore 125-gr JHC round, with the rear sight elevator back in place, once again set at its lowest position, and this round was impacting dead on. So, it appears that the Ranch Hand is set-up, at least my sample was, for 125-gr .357 loads to high point of aim, point of impact at 25-yards, this isn’t a bad thing. I also tried the Buffalo Bore Tactical Short Barrel Low Recoil, Low Flash .357 Magnum load, and this round also high right-on at 25-yards. BTW, this load doesn’t have a lot of recoil, and it was designed for snub-nosed .357 Magnum revolvers.
I should mention that, at the start of my shooting, the gun was hitting to the left a couple of inches. It took a little “whack” with a plastic hammer to move the rear sight to the right, and get the point of impact right on – piece of cake! I had no malfunctions of any type during my testing, and I fired the Rossi Ranch Hand over a dozen different times, and occasions over several weeks. To be honest, this gun is just plain fun to shoot! At the end of my testing, I found half a box of Remington UMC 125 grain JHP .357 Magnum in my ammo stash. So, I tested it as well, and the Ranch Hand didn’t like this ammo at all for some reason – it was all over the target – any place from dead center hits, to hits on the far side of the target – right and left – to off the top of the target. Go figure? I know most guns shoot certain types, brands and weight of ammo better than other brands. But I was really shocked at how the Remington UMC load wouldn’t group well at all. So make sure you test various types of ammo in your guns, to make sure your gun likes a particular brand. In this case, the Rossi Ranch Hand simply performed poorly with the Remington UMC load.
Now, while the Ranch Hand was a lot of fun to shoot, I started wondering about the practical application for such a gun. I don’t see myself carrying it concealed, but I do see myself getting a leg holster, like the one “Josh Randall” used to carry his sawed-off Winchester Model 92 in – just for nostalgic purposes. So, I had to scratch my head, and wonder what purpose the Ranch Hand would serve. Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that, this gun would make a perfect gun to stash in my emergency box in the back of my car, along with a couple boxes of ammo, and my other emergency supplies. I also see the Ranch Hand being carried in a BOB, and this is where it would really shine. There might be times when you need a handgun, and other times, when you might need to really reach out there and “touch” someone – and with the Ranch Hand’s 12″ barrel, you can really reach out there – and hit your target.
So, putting nostalgia aside, and the absolute fun factor of the Rossi Ranch Hand, the gun does serve a couple very practical functions. I would be comforted, knowing that, if my rig broke down out in the boonies or in the mountains, that I’d have the Ranch Hand in my emergency box, and it could take care of all but the biggest game and any two-legged threats. I wouldn’t hesitate using the .357 Magnum Buffalo Bore 180-gr Heavy load against the black bears in Oregon – it would get the job down in short order. And, with some of the lighter .357 Magnum loads, or even .38 Special loads, it’ll take care of most two-footed threats you might encounter as well. Personally, I’d stoke the Ranch Hand with .357 Magnum loads and never look back at the .38 Special load.
My only problem now is, coming up with the bucks to purchase my sample Ranch Hand – but I’ll figure it out for a couple reasons. Number one is, the nostalgia associated with Wanted: Dead Or Alive and number two is the pure fun factor of shooting the gun – did I mention it was fun to shoot? Lastly, is the survival/practical application of having this gun in the e-box of my car – it would be very reassuring to know I’d have this gun and some hot-stepping .357 Magnum loads on tap in an emergency situation. Looking back, I’m glad that I was sent the Ranch Hand in .357 Magnum instead of .44 Magnum. This is because .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammo is a lot less expensive to shoot, and in my opinion, the .357 Magnum will take care of “business” for me.
– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio
JWR Adds: The pragmatist in me says: Rather than buy a four-pound abbreviated lever action for one’s bug out bag, why not just buy a Dan Wesson Model 715 revolver, with both a 2-1/2″ barrel and a 10″ barrel? That way you could have the best of both worlds. (Concealability with the short barrel, and in some circumstances, long sight radius for long range shooting.) The revolver, complete with two barrels, a barrel wrench and a feeler gauge would weigh less than four pounds. With practice, barrel changes can be done in less than 90 seconds.