Heritage Arms makes one of the most affordable starter guns on the market. The Rough Rider revolver has long ruled as a very affordable but very reliable and fun plinking pistol. A few generations of shooters likely cut their teeth on the Rough Rider. They often retail for $150 bucks and are robust, simple, and fun. Heritage has been expanding the Rough Rider line lately, and one such expansion has been the Rancher Carbine. A company specializing in western style revolvers makes a carbine?
You likely expect a lever-action design, right? It’s logical, but no, Heritage just made a rifle variant of the Rough Rider. The Rancher is a rare example of a revolving rifle. Heritage Arms just took the Rough Rider and slapped on a 16-inch barrel and a wooden stock, and boom, now we have a revolving rifle.
Like the Rough Rider, the Rancher Carbine utilizes a single action-only design with a Colt SAA style setup. It also features a rather silly manual safety. The gun comes with a 22LR cylinder, but users can slap a 22 Magnum cylinder in the gun if they want more power.
Six rounds are all you get, and you load and eject just like the Rough Rider. You half-cock the hammer, open a loading gate, and use an attached ejection rod to drop eject empty cases. You can then load one round at a time and get back to shooting.
The barrel is 16.125 inches long in total, and it feels a fair bit shorter due to the micro-sized frame of the Rancher Carbine. The overall length is a mere 32 inches, so it’s relatively short and sweet. On top of that, it weighs only 4.12 pounds. That makes the Rancher Carbine lighter than the Ruger 10/22. In fact, it’s lighter than most other 22LR carbines on the market.
The Rancher carbine is so beautifully light and handy that I can’t help but appreciate it. It’s silly, but silly is fine when it comes to cheap and fun guns. The MSRP is $333.80, but I found mine for $250 at a local gun store.
Revolving Rifles – But Why?
Revolving rifles are weird, super weird. They’ve never been popular, but the idea goes all the way back to percussion revolvers. Back in the day, the rifles were single-shot designs using paper cartridges at best. Revolving rifles came to be because people wanted a repeating percussion weapon, and revolvers made it possible.
Sadly, they had a few flaws. First, the muzzle blast between the cylinder and the barrel is easy to ignore with a handgun. When you shoulder a revolver and assumed a traditional rifle stance, your arm is going to catch that cylinder blast. So you either use an unconventional stance, wear some kind of gauntlet, or take the pain. In these old percussion rifles, the possibility of a chain fire existed.
This meant every cylinder would fire at one time. You’d likely lose a good chunk of your hand, and obviously, your rifle isn’t going to be functional. By the time safer metallic cartridges came along, the lever gun reigned supreme. Since then, revolving rifles like the Rancher Carbine have been rare and expensive.
That’s likely why I jumped on the chance to purchase the Rancher Carbine. It’s a novelty, and it’s cheap to own and cheap to shoot.
Plinking for Days
As you’d imagine, the Rancher Carbine didn’t solve the revolving rifle issues. They include a small piece of paper advising you to hold it with both hands behind the trigger in an odd grip style. You have nothing to hold onto forward of the cylinder. If you do reach forward, you’ll get a blast to the forearm. It’s slightly painful, and unburnt powder will break the skin here and there. I would not advise doing so without a long sleeve shirt.
Using the Heritage-approved grip isn’t so bad. The Rancher Carbine is super lightweight, so it’s not unbalanced, and it’s easy to hold so oddly. That cylinder blast also shoots back a fair bit of unburnt powder and gas into your face. Without eye pro, you will be in pain.
Even so, this gun shoots gas in your face and can burn your wrist; it’s still a ton of fun to shoot and handle. I don’t know why I find this thing to be so much fun to shoot, but I do. Maybe it’s the weird action and unconventional setup, but I find it oh so enjoyable. Admittedly it’s a lot faster to shoot the six rounds than it is to reload six rounds with the loading gate and ejection rod.
Yet, I still felt like the 500 rounds of Remington 22LR flew through the Rancher Carbine. I had a ton of fun and shot with my wife and kids at various targets, from soda cans to little steel gongs, and we all had a blast. For the smaller shooters, the lightweight works well, and the single-action makes the trigger very easy for smaller hands.
The unconventional stance also works well for little shooters. It seems more comfortable for kiddos than a traditional rifle.
What About Accuracy?
The sights are big open sights combined with a slim frot sight. They offer a little adjustability for elevation but not much. These Buckhorn sights are designed for versatility. The big tall open section makes it easy to take fast snapshots at close range, and you can sink into the sights for better accuracy overall.
It is tough to find supported positions with the Rancher Carbine. That weird shape, grip, and lack of a handguard make a good rest tough to acquire. This is also no sharpshooting rifle. It’s easy to hit tin cans at 25 yards and ping steel gongs at 50 yards, but you won’t make small groups worth measuring.
Between the big open sights and relative difficulting, find an easy, supported position, this gun is a minute of squirrel accurate, and that’s about it.
I love the little Rancher Carbine. I have a ton of fun with it, but it’s a weird gun. It doesn’t do anything exceptionally well outside of being a fun novelty. It’s plenty reliable, has low recoil, has a great trigger, and is affordable. If you want a fun, albeit somewhat useless rifle, then the Rancher Carbine has you covered. If you are looking for something a little more effective, it’s still tough to beat the Ruger 10/22.