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Rifle barrels - round vs octagon?


Warden Callaway

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This is pure opinion based on observation.

 

I recently bought a early Marlin 1994 SRC with round barrel in 32-20 made in 1900. We have two Marlin Cowboys with octagon barrels. But I've got to admit, the old round barrel carbine just reeks cowboy.

 

I watch a lot of old westerns and by casual observation, most all the cowboy rifles are 92 carbines with round barrels.

 

Seems like a lot of old photos show all kinds of rifles but most I've seen have round barrels on cowboy guns. Target and buffalo guns often octagon or half octagon, half round.

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Octagonal barrels were generally considered a premium and sought after.

 

Round barrels were usually more common.

 

I always wanted the octagonal barrels, but found they were normally heavier.

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Remember Cowboys weren't rich. Neither were B-Western film producers. They always went to the least expensive model. So yes the round barrel is more "authentically cowboy."

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My original 73 made in 1887 has an octagon barrel.

 

IMG_20130918_113849_zpsl4udrbau.jpg

 

I have another early 1894 in 25-20 with 24" octagon barrel. Maybe it's the rifle length, end cap on forend, and cresent butt plate that makes it look like a hunting rifle rather than something a working cowboy would put in a scabbard.

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Can't speak to Marlins, but for Winchester, the round barrel was standard, but more rifles were sold with octagon barrels. Round barrel Winchester rifles are sure to bring a premium. Carbines are all round barrels, Short rifles may be either, but round short rifles are very rare. I just got a ½octagon/½round 1873 short rifle... possibly the best of both worlds.

DSCN0664.jpg

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Marlin%201894%2032_20_zpsymjccu6a.jpg

 

Here is my new to me 1894 SRC 32-20. Note the rounded heel and toe on the steel buttplate. I can just see a cowboy stepping on a rattle snake and mashing its head with the butt of the gun rather than waste a bullet.

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Winchester ads from the 1880s show the round barrel as standar on the 1873 ($18 base price). The octagonal option was $1.50 more, but typically adds 25-30% on today's value. My preference is round barrels. They are easier to control, lighter to carry in field work and priced closer to my budget.

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Howdy

 

This is a quote from The Winchester Handbook by George Madis:

 

"Rifles have 24" round barrel as standard. Octagon barrels were considered an extra, but Winchester usually sold the guns with octagon barrels to dealers at the same price as round barrels."

 

This quote is from the section about the 1873 model.

 

My own personal recollection of antique Winchesters is the great majority that I have seen have had round barrels.

 

Carbines are a different matter, carbines always had round, sharply tapered barrels.

 

For some unknown reason the movie studios owned a great many carbines, mostly 1892 carbines, so that is what we usually see in old movies.

 

I have seen breakdowns of the sales figures of various Winchester models by calibers, but I have never seen a breakdown of sales figures of rifles vs carbines vs muskets. That would be interesting to see.

 

Whatever the case, octagon barrels seem to carry more mystique than round barrels.

 

Lastly, flintlock rifles made one at a time by craftsmen usually had octagon barrels. This is because the barrels were filed to shape by hand. It is easier to file an octagon shape than a round shape. Why they did not use a lathe I do not know, but that is how flintlocks were usually made. Perhaps this is where the mystique about octagon barrels came from. And yes, an octagon barrel is going to be heavier than a round barrel when the octagon is the same dimension across the flats as the diameter of a round barrel.

 

P.S. Just checked a reprint of the Winchester catalog for the year 1875, the first year the Model 1873 was cataloged.

 

Sporting Rifle, Octagon Barrel, Set Trigger, $55.00

Sporting Rifle, Octagon Barrel, Plain Trigger, $50.00

Sporting Rifle, Octagon Barrel, Set Trigger, Curled Walnut Stock, Checked with Extra Finish, $60.00

Sporting Rifle, Round Barrel, Set Trigger, $45.00

Sporting Rifle, Round Barrel, Plain Trigger, $40.00

 

All of these rifles had 24" barrels and were chambered for 44-40, the only caliber the 1873 was originally chambered for.

 

In addition, Musket with 30" Barrel, $42.00

 

Carbine, 20" barrel, $38.00

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I think you get a quicker sight pick up on the octagon, but I prefer the lighter weight of a round barrel. The Marlin Cowboy's got it right, they were not heavy.

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One of my original Winchesters is an odd-duck. It has a round barrel. But, it's an extra thick barrel and measures 24". 44 W.C.F. It is a Winchester Barrel. Haven't weighed it, but it feels heavier than my octagon-barrelled Winchester. Wondering if this was an option, and what was its purpose?

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I'm not all that schooled in all the history, so all I can say is "Gotta love them Octagon Barrels"!!!

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Winchester had several barrel tapers available. For octagon barrels, the standard octagon barrel measured 23/32" @ the muzzle, a slightly heavier version measured 27/32" and the heaviest measured 1" at the muzzle. From The Winchester Book by G. Madis, and the chapter on 1873s. Also from that chapter:

rarity.jpg

As can be seen above if only one of every six rifles had a round barrel, the other five must have been octagons. Similar details are listed at the end of each chapter on the different Winchester models. Until the mdl 1894 octagon barrels were ordered more often than round barrels. In my quick review I didn't find octagon vs round stats for the 1892.

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Looks like the list differentiates between rifles and carbines. Would you interpret all carbines had round barrels?

 

Any breakdown on Marlins?

 

I also have a 93 Marlin carbine with 20 round barrel in 38-55. It could well have been a real cowboy gun - but not a cowboy action gun.

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As far as Cowboy Action is concerned:

-short rifles (20") have octogonal barrels, heavier but less recoil, and they can have pistol grips with checkered forend & stock

-semi octogonal rifles (18") have semi octo barrels, of course... , lighter than short rifles and can have the same checkered grips

They both have a specific "rifle" stock a bit more tricky to stabilze quicly on your shoulder

-carbines have a 19" round barrel, are substantially lighter, thus easier to manipulate and sweep, but have more recoil, no checkered forend but a sock much easier than the rifle ´s to stabilize on your shoulder.

 

I shoot a 73 carbine for CAS (38sp) and a semi octo rifle for WBAS (44/40) with a modified stock because it has less recoil with the WB higher power factor than the carbine

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