Evans Repeating Rifle (Video)

I had the opportunity to stop by the display day at the Rock Island Auction House prior to their recent Premier Auction, and had the chance to get my hands on a bunch of very cool guns. I took the video camera, of course, and today I have the first of a bunch of videos taken that day. The circumstances didn’t allow me to disassemble or shoot things – RIA has a responsibility to prevent anything from being damaged prior to the auction – but we can still see some very neat things that don’t turn up at the local gun shop every day.

Anyway, today we’re looking at an Evans repeating rifle. These were manufactured in Maine between 1873 and 1879, in three distinct models (I did goof in the video and called this particular one a transitional model, when it’s actually a new model). The way to distinguish the variants is:

Old Model: No wooden lower buttstock
Transitional Model: Two-piece wooden buttstock, but no dust cover on the ejection port
New Model: Two-piece wooden buttstock and ejection port cover that moves with the operating lever.

What really makes the Evans remarkable is its large magazine capacity compared to other rifles of the day. The helical magazine tube that makes up the entire rear of the receiver will hold 34 rounds in the Old and Transitional models, and 26 rounds of the longer cartridge in the New model. That cartridge, by the way, is the .44 Evans (Short and Long), proprietary to the rifle and not used elsewhere. What I didn’t have the chance to really thoroughly explain in the video is the complexity of actually using the magazine, though…

The thing to remember about this magazine is that it is not spring loaded. There is a cross-shaped central divider that arranges the cartridges into 4 columns, and a spiral track running up the magazine that the cartridge rims sit in. With each cycling of the operating lever, the central divider rotates a quarter turn, which pushes all the rounds up one position. If you load a single round in through the loading door in the buttplate, you will have to cycle the lever 33 more times to bring that round up to the chamber. In other helical magazines, like the Calico for example, a spring loaded follower pushes rounds to the front of the mag whether it is completely full or not – the Evans doesn’t do this. Think of it like a 34-round belt. Load a round in the end of the belt, and you have to cycle all the empty pockets through before you get to the cartridge. If there is a benefit to this system, it’s that since the round are controlled by the rims and not pushed together, there isn’t any danger of a bullet tip detonating the primer of the round ahead (not that these cartridges would be used with pointed bullets anyway, but still…).

Evans repeating rifle receiver/magazine in two pieces
Evans receiver/magazine. Note the spiral track that holds cartridge rims.

What makes it worse is that the lever controls both feeding/ejecting and loading the magazine. On a typical lever-action Winchester, rounds can be loaded into the magazine tube independently of the lever – you can fire a four rounds and then stuff four new cartridges into the magazine. On the Evans, the lever rotates the magazine and cycles a new round into the chamber simultaneously. If you load it all the way up and then fire five rounds, you cannot simply reload five more to refill it. Doing that would chamber and eject the five live rounds at the top of the magazine. If you want to keep the magazine topped off, you must load a new round into the stock each time you fire one. The sequence would be, aim, fire, open the lever, dismount the rifle, open the loading gate, load a cartridge, close the gate, remount the rifle, close the lever, aim, and fire again.

Once I realized this, the Army’s rejection of the design made a lot more sense (in addition to the post-war budget cutbacks of the 1870s).

It’s unfortunate, though, because in nearly every other way the Evans appears to be an excellent weapon. It balanced well (empty, anyway), wasn’t particularly heavy, had remarkably good sights for the era, a good trigger, smooth action, and just looked darn good to me. And for a less-than-critical purpose where you could load it all the way up and not be concerned about trying to reload on the fly, it would be a great gun. I really hope I can find one of these to actually try shooting, to see how these initial conclusions hold up at the range!

You can find a whole pile great photos of an Evan being disassembled in this thread by Two Flints over at the CASCity forums.