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Big Medicine: Turnbull 1886 Review

by Skip Knowles   |  November 22nd, 2013 3

Vats of ink have been spilled by gunwriters over the decades praising the fast-handling characteristics of lever-action rifles, the rapid target acquisition iron sights provide, and the quick follow-up shots the guns offer. Then, of course, there’s the value of a big bullet to compensate for less than perfect shot placement in low light or thick brush.

But much of that has fallen by the wayside in recent years during this brave new era of long-range sniper-style “hunting,” BDC reticles, and shot-drop compensating laser rangefinders.

A Timeless Appeal
Gunwriters still, on occasion, crow about the pragmatic virtues and sex appeal of lever guns, but you’ll almost never catch a writer-type actually using one on an elk hunt. A bolt-action .300 WSM with a lot of glass on top is far more likely to be riding in that saddle scabbard.

Whiskey vs. single malt, I suppose. But there is no denying the resonant nostalgic appeal of a great lever gun, the raw beauty and the balance in hand. Those of us who own enough bolt guns will eventually, inevitably, look back with yearning, read some story about how repeaters stopped the incredible Comanche rollback of the frontier on the Southwestern plains after the Civil War…and out comes the wallet.

Then what do you do with that beautiful, brand-new Winchester 1886 lever-action .45-70 you finally bought after raiding your piggybank? If you’re a gun freak, you send it straight to Doug Turnbull so he can chop it to pieces and throw most of it in the spare-parts bin.

Then, if you’re very lucky, you take it to Texas with the man himself and blast your way through packs of roving wild hogs and big nilgai bulls, where you learn that, for once, gunwriters were not completely full of it. And all that hooey about fast-handling lever guns and open sights is actually 100 percent true.

I was first mesmerized by the work of Turnbull Manufacturing at the SHOT Show a few years back, when Mike Schoby of Petersen’s Hunting introduced me to a lean, bearded fellow wearing a black bowler hat. Doug showed us around his display, a modest one by SHOT standards. It didn’t need dressing up. The wall was dripping with period-replicating color case hardened big lever guns, Ruger No. 1s, better-than-new 1911s, and custom-refurbished L.C. Smith side-by-side shotguns.

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