Puma Model 92 .357 Magnum/.38 Special Carbine
By Mark Wynn
If at your favorite gun show you persist in handling a carbine that looks more like a scale model or a Jack Russell terrier than a real gun, don't be surprised if sooner or later it follows you home. That's the risk everyone takes when lingering too long with a Puma 92 .357 Magnum / .38 Special lever-action carbine, based on the famous Winchester Model 92. What's not to like about a long gun that is shorter than a yardstick, lighter than a couple boxes of 12-gauge shells, handles like a wand and hits harder than a .30 Carbine or .223?
Puma firearms are now manufactured by Armisport Chiappa in Brescia, Italy and distributed in the USA by Legacy Sports International (www.legacysports.com). Legacy Sports International is also the distributor for several other brands, including Howa rifles and Nikko-Stirling scopes.
Here are some specifications for the Puma 92 .357 Magnum carbine:
Relative killing power at 100 yards, taken from the "Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula and List" (see the Tables, Charts and Lists page):
Although that killing power number is based on published Winchester factory load ballistics taken in a 20" test barrel, a reasonable extrapolation might be a 16.5 inch .357 Magnum carbine still coming close enough to be about a third more potent than either the .30 Carbine or .223 Remington at 100 yards.
Recoil energy and velocity taken from the "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" (see the Tables, Charts and Lists page):
These .357 figures are based on a maximum .357 Magnum handload fired in an 18.5 inch barrel as per the Hodgdon 2009 Annual Reloading Manual. The .357 Magnum carbine has almost twice the recoil of the .223, but no matter how you slice it, these are very low recoil numbers. Note the recoil figures for typical .243 and .308 rifles added for comparison.
Few guns look more like a heritage toy, but hit harder, than a Puma 92. It is so handy and comfortable to carry that you expect a holster or scabbard in the box. With fingers in lever, the 16-inch barrel Puma 92 happily swings in stride at arm length without touching a shoe top, let alone brushing the ground.
If you usually shoot a handgun with two hands, you might as well get an even steadier point with this little carbine. A couple Puma 92 versions offer a large loop lever, but who needs that when even a work glove fits comfortably in the regular lever?
Although I have always respected the .357 Magnum cartridge, I have not enjoyed firing it from a handgun. However, firing the .357 from the Puma carbine is a pleasure. Plenty of bang and power with comfortable recoil. No need to shoot .38 Special unless you insist on cheaper ammo.
Some shooters contend that only .357 cartridges should be fired from dual caliber .357/.38 guns. For example, after buying a used Ruger Security-Six .357 with a 4-inch barrel, I found it had various problems, some of which I believe came from firing too much .38 Special in it without adequate cleaning (e.g., built-up powder residue at the front edge of the cylinder). Of course, it is best to practice with the cartridge we plan to use in the field. Therefore, I fire only .357 in my revolver and the Puma carbine. I would rather shoot fewer rounds with more oomph, anyway.
For compact, handy long guns, the Puma 92 has few peers. It is two inches shorter, about two-thirds the width and about the same weight as an M-1 Carbine. It is three inches shorter, half the width and almost a pound and a half lighter than a 12-gauge "coach" shotgun.
Because the Puma is so petite and agile, an owner might not wish to encumber it with a scope, or even a sling. This is especially true for plinkers, who don't hunt and therefore do not have to be concerned about placing one humane shot into a game animal. However, for those who do hunt or want the best accuracy possible, the 2009 catalog offers a Puma 92 version complete with a scope.
In the five months I have had my Puma 92, I've fired about 300 rounds through it with no problems whatsoever - that includes indoor paper and outdoor plinking from 10 to 40 yards. You always know exactly what is going with such a classic lever action carbine. No surprises, an endearing attribute in any firearm.
Only 40 yards? Yeah, I don't like to shoot at things or distances where I cannot see the bullets hitting. If I lived near one of those neat outdoor ranges with metal targets out to 300 yards or more, with missed shots puffing dirt, I'd be blasting away. However, most the ranges around here allow only paper targets.
Frankly, from what I've read, I wouldn't expect a 16-inch barrel .357 to be effective much past 100 yards, anyway. That's plenty far enough for me. Nearly all my recreational shooting is within 40 yards (including shotgun clay shooting). As a non-hunting plinker on the crowded East Coast, I live in a small, but entertaining, universe.
The Puma 92 is so friendly that the only thing that takes a little fiddling is the small swivel safety on top of the receiver. The hammer half-cock position seems safe enough most the time, but occasionally it's nice to have the extra safety.
For this article I fired another 96 shots using two brands of 158 grain jacketed flat point bullets at 15 and 25 yard bull's-eye targets in an indoor range. Both the Sellier & Bellot full metal jacket (FMJ) and the commercial reload total copper jacket (TCJ) provided adequate accuracy. Fired from offhand, wall braced, or from a shooting bench, six sequences of five shots each (30 total each brand) produced groups ranging from 1 inch at 15 yards (from the bench) to 3-1/2 inches offhand at 25 yards. No guarantee of hitting a 25 cent piece, but it would hit a heart-size area on any target warranting a .357 Magnum bullet.
No matter how many shells are in the tubular magazine, the center of gravity essentially remains right where it should be, under the receiver. The tube holds eight rounds of either .357 Magnum or .38 Special. Ejecting unfired shells results in the usual scattering, but some larger caliber Puma 92's add the option of loading or removing from the magazine tube. As with all side loading gate firearms, it is easy to keep a magazine topped off between shots.
The traditional black metal sights will make you squint like Clint Eastwood. They offer good alignment when there's enough light on the target.
The Puma 92's brief manual emphasizes using only factory loads (for liability reasons) and NEVER full metal jacket bullets. However, SAAMI specification reloads with flat tip bullets will work fine. The main caution is never put anything in a tubular centerfire magazine that might ignite the primer of another cartridge, with hard pointy bullet tips being the most obvious no-no.
The Sellier & Bellot and commercial reloaded ammo performed equally well in the indoor range. What isn't known is how the FMJ and TCJ would compare beyond just punching paper. (Basically worthless. Use JHP bullets for self-defense and JHP or JSP bullets for hunting. -Ed.)
If value is your main consideration, it would be tough to find more gun for the money than the Puma 92 .357 Carbine. I found mine new at a gun show in 2008 for only $460.
Copyright 2009 by Mark Wynn. All rights reserved.