Keep Rolling Along
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- Last updated: 06/10/2023
I think single-shot breech-loading rifles are among the most relaxing guns to spend a day with. While the big calibres like .45-70 Government can be a tad uncomfortable, the pistol calibre models or, as we have here, a .22 rimfire, can be shot pleasantly for long periods and for a lot less money than the larger, centrefire guns.
The Uberti website states that this rifle is based on the Remington New Model No. 4 version of that company’s range of rolling block long guns, but a quick check in the Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms shows it is much closer to Remington’s Model 2 Sporting Rifle.
The rolling block models form by far the greatest percentage of long guns produced by the Remington factory in the 19th century. The original ‘split breech’ design by Leonard Geiger was a compact system in which the hammer acts as a lock to hold the breech block in place when the gun is fired. Geiger had applied for, and been granted, a patent for his design in early 1863, so when Remington’s engineer, Joseph Rider, had a similar patent granted in December of that year, there seemed to be a possibility of infringement of Geiger’s patent. By mid-1865, Remington had acquired Geiger’s patent rights and the development of the design belonged exclusively to them.
In late 1864, the US Ordnance Department placed an initial order with Remington for a small number of split breech carbines, but as their factory was at maximum capacity providing the Army with other guns, production was contracted out to a third party. Unfortunately, it seems that none of the guns were ready to be used during the Civil War.
Rider soon modified the mechanism and replaced the split breech block of Geiger’s design, although Remington continued to use that idea in one of their cartridge derringers, with a more solid block and with the hammer set farther back in the frame. Thus, by 1868, the famed ‘rolling block’ action was born and was a staple offering in the Remington catalogue into the early 20th century.
Together with over one million military rifles and carbines supplied for both domestic and foreign use, large numbers of the ‘sporting’ versions were produced, and they proved extremely popular throughout the world. As with their contemporaries, Sharps and Winchester, Remington offered this sporting model in a great variety of calibres, from .22 rimfire up to .50-70 centrefire, and with a choice of options that catered for all types of shooting. Hunters could choose models for taking down everything from jackrabbits to buffalo, while the most fastidious of target shooters would find a tool to suit their needs. There were four different frame sizes, with barrel lengths and weights to suit, complemented by choices of finish, butt plates, and sights. In fact, if you could think of it, Remington could probably supply it.
Remington ceased production of the standard rolling block action in around 1906 (a modified rimfire version for the children’s market was in production until 1933), and while today’s reproductions of the rolling block rifle do not offer the bespoke service of yesteryear, there is still a decent list to choose from. Uberti only offers this small frame model as either a carbine with a 22” round barrel or the 26” octagonal barrel rifle that we have here, and both are available as a .22LR or .357 magnum. Should you require a larger centrefire model, you will need to make your choice from the Pedersoli catalogue, where there are around a dozen examples available up to .45-90 calibre.
With an overall length of 40”, this rifle looks very slender due to the shallow profile of its receiver and woodwork, but it is very well-balanced. The 26”, tapered octagonal barrel has a nice gloss black finish, reasonably sharp edges, and 6-groove rifling, with no information given as to the twist rate. The receiver, with its integral top tang, along with the hammer and breech block, has a nice mix of case colours. The one-piece bottom tang and trigger guard are fashioned from brass, as is the butt plate, the latter gently curved and continuing for a short distance over the top of the stock. The nicely contoured trigger and all the screws are black.
The woodwork is walnut and includes the normal Uberti high gloss finish. The wood-to-metal fit is good, with the Schnabel forend, which is held in place by a single screw, sitting slightly proud where it meets the frame.
The sights are similar to those found on some other Uberti models and are fairly basic. There is a short, semi-buckhorn with a square notch at the rear. Its base is dovetailed into the barrel and elevation is controlled via a 5-step sliding elevator. Lifting the arm to slide the elevator required more pressure than normal for this setup. At the front end is a tapered blade with its base, again, dovetailed in place. Both sights have provision for windage adjustment by loosening a small screw and tapping the base one way or another. There is no provision for fitting a tang sight, which is not so bad on this rimfire, but it might have been a useful option on the .357 magnum. With a sight radius of over 18”, the front sight does not fill the rear notch, making for easy alignment on the target.
The rolling block mechanism, with only two major moving parts within the receiver, is extremely simple but also very strong. The hammer and breech block rotate on separate axles, and with the breech block in the closed position at the moment of ignition, a cam on the hammer, resting under a lip on the block, locks the block in place preventing any rearward movement. The fact that it is also very easy to use, no doubt played a part in several armies choosing it as a standard rifle for their troops.
Left-handed people are in the minority, apparently around 10% of the population, and finding rifles to suit may sometimes be a problem, but not with this baby. The rolling block can be said to be truly ambidextrous with no appendages, like a hammer or bolt, protruding on either side of the receiver. Everything is right down the middle, other than the ‘ear’ of the breech block but operating this with the left hand is no problem.
Loading the rifle is simply a matter of pulling back the hammer and then the breech block, which exposes the breech. The hammer has a fairly high spur and both it and the ear on the block are nicely chequered, making operation with your thumb very easy. Connected to the block is the cartridge extractor, which slides out as the block is withdrawn. Place the nose of the cartridge into the breech and rest the body on the lip of the extractor, making sure the cartridge rim is behind the lip, otherwise, the block will not close correctly. Closing the block slides the extractor and cartridge into place, meaning you are ready to go.
The trigger pull is fairly heavy but there is no creep, and I did not find that it spoilt the day. If you wish to improve it, you could attempt a little stoning on the trigger and sear, or you might try the trick of putting a thin leather washer between the leaf mainspring and the top tang. This was a method used to some effect with Colt’s single-action revolvers. There is a half cock safety notch on the hammer, which locks the trigger.
The rifle digested a variety of ammunition with no problems, other than the odd case which needed a little bit more effort to coax it out of the breech. Using a rest at 25 yards, five-shot groups averaged a shade over 0.75”, the odd flyer being down to me, with the best being Eley Club at 0.5”. I know that there are folks out there who could get this rifle to perform even better, but in the brief spell I had with it, I was happy with the results. As can be imagined, felt recoil was negligible.
After well over 100 rounds, the breech area and the block face were surprisingly clean and needed no more than a tickle with an old toothbrush and a blast from an air duster. A bore snake, a rod, and some patches took care of the barrel.
As I said above, I enjoy shooting single-shot rifles, and this one was no exception. Settled at a bench, or prone if that is your preference, with a box of ammunition close at hand, there is little or no effort involved, and you can quickly get into a routine shooting as fast or as slow as you like.
With a few more years on my side, I could see something like this making its way into my safe, but alas, the stable is being thinned out rather than expanded.
The carbine version, with a 22” round barrel, is fitted with a flat rubber butt pad and costs a few quid less than this rifle. However, the octagonal barrel has the edge (no pun intended) for me.