rossi 22 lever action rifle side by side

Rossi’s New Rio Bravo .22 lever action rifles

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Rossi is known for, among other things, its lever action Winchester 1892 replicas. Of course, they are modernized versions which include lawyer-recommended safety features and other newer construction techniques and materials. But they feel really great in your hand and come to your shoulder effortlessly. I know because I owned one for a long time.

Rio Bravo

The new Rio Bravo rifles from Rossi are named (or so I would imagine) after that famous river on the U.S./Mexico border. In Mexico, it is known as the Rio Bravo, while north of the border it is called the Rio Grande. Whatever you call it, the river has inspired legends, stories and a few movies. Perhaps the best known movie about that river is one of our favorite John Wayne movies. It is the aptly-named Rio Bravo. I need to claim, right up front, that I am a huge movie fan – especially older ones. This movie is a pipperino, a really great Howard Hawks production. Starring the Duke, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson, this 1958 movie is about a small-town sheriff, John T. Chance and his group of unlikely assistants as they try to keep the brother of the local bad guy in jail until the judge can come to town to conduct a trial. Without this turning into a movie review – it really is a classic – let’s look at one still from the film…John Wayne with his all-but-constant companion, his large-loop Winchester lever action rifle. I can think of no more fitting introduction about a rifle named the Rio Bravo than this.

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22 lever action

I owned a Rossi .45 Colt lever gun for a few years, as I mentioned above. It accounted for deer, with my handload of a Lee home-cast 255-grain flat-nose bullet over a decent charge of a slow-burning powder. It was an accurate gun and was extremely handy. I’ve seen lever actions referred to as the tactical rifle of the 19th century, or words to that effect. I do know that the lever gun became popular because you could shoot a bunch of times without having to stop to reload. 

Without turning this review into a re-hash of the history of the lever action, let’s just say that between Henry, Winchester, Marlin and a few other manufacturers, the lever action earned its place in history. It was in demand during the late 19th century as we moved west, to settle ranches, farms and cities. Those were tough times which called for tough weapons and the levers were up to the task. 

Rossi has made modern lever guns for a good while. At last count, their website shows 18 different lever action rifles in calibers .22LR, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt and 454 Casull. That’s quite a selection. The guns range from plain, ordinary guns to those with gold metal accents, highly polished finish and fine Brazilian hardwood stocks. Speaking of Brazil, that’s where Rossi is located. It is wholly owned by Taurus now, and shows a contact address at the Taurus headquarters in Bainbridge, Georgia.

A Bit of History

Rossi has been making guns since 1889, when Amadeo Rossi founded the company. Located now in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil, the company has been building guns for 132 years and is a large maker of lever action rifles. In 1997, BrazTech International was created in order to be the exclusive importer of Rossi guns in North America. Before that, their guns were distributed by Interarms, located in Alexandria, Virginia. Now owned by Taurus, distribution is handled by that company. The company is still run by family members and is dedicated to producing the best firearms it can.

The Guns

I was thrilled when my Rossi contact volunteered to send me two Rio Bravos – one in each “flavor” they make. One gun is traditional, with nicely-grained wood furniture and typical elevation-adjustable buckhorn rear sight and beaded post front. The other is not so traditional…it uses a black polymer stock and fiber optic sights, with the rear fully-adjustable for windage and elevation. 

Let’s look at some photos I took. First, the wood-stocked rifle…

Wooden Rossi lever action 22

Very nice stock. Nothing fancy, but the wood was really well done.

22 lever action rear sight

Buckhorn rear sight. Easily adjusted for elevation…windage, not so easily done.

wooden rossi lever action rifle front gun sight

Front sight post with brass bead.

Rossi Lever Action 22 down

The actions on both guns were nice and “slick” – not much cocking effort needed. Note the cross-bolt safety over the trigger.

lever action 22 magazine tube

15-round tubular magazine

And now, the black gun…

Black Rossi lever action 22

Same overall length (well, 1/10th of an inch shorter), but it looks shorter due to the longer handguard.

black rossi 22 lever action forend

Hand guard.

Black lever action 22 buttstock stock

Stock with sling stud.

22 lever action front sight

Front fiber-optic.-topped post and its guard.

22 lever action rear sight

Rear fiber optic sight, easily adjustable via two wheels that are clearly marked – no tools needed. Here’s a side view:

22 lever action rear sight

lever action 22 rifle on bag

I used the flash so as to get the fiber optic sights to reflect the light. They positively glowed.

22 lever action rifle on bag (black)

black rossi lever action 22 front sight outside

black rossi lever action 22 rear sight outside

I didn’t take as many photos of the wooden-stocked gun, simply because we know what one of those looks like. The black one was different, for sure. I liked them both, but my eyes appreciated the black guns’ fiber optic sights, which practically glowed in the snowy light of my back yard range.

Shooting The Rio Bravos

Both guns shot well and were accurate, and had decent triggers. I am including one target that will give you an idea of what to expect from either gun in terms of accuracy – this target was representative of the breed. I enlisted the aid of one of our sons to do the shooting so I could shoot with my camera – lots of shooting going on. Here’s a quick 20-yard, 6-shot target he shot, using Winchester’s 36-grain HP bulk ammo…

target 22 lever action 36 grain HP

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Not too bad for off-hand! He started out with three shots on the bag, as in the photo above, but finished by standing up and just letting fly. I’d say these guns are more than accurate enough for whatever purpose you choose to put them to. Please note that the guns are set up with a milled-in scope base, so adding one wouldn’t be a big deal. Plus, with the lack of noise and recoil, they would be excellent trainers for a new shooter. Another use that Rossi really pushes on these guns’ web pages is hunting and pest reduction. You can read about the guns here for the black rifle and here for the wood-stocked model. Anyone who has ever even just held a lever-action rifle gets how handy they can be. I could see these guns going with you on any kind of trek, and maybe even adding to the campfire dinner pot at meal time with small game gathered with them. Another use I could see would be for a quick shot at that sneaky weasel or coyote skulking into your hen yard. These guns are so quickly brought into action that they are a natural, leaning up next to the back door. Of course with 9 grandkids about I can’t do that but if your situation allows it, the rifle can be brought to bear quickly. The accuracy potential of a lever action .22 cannot be overemphasized. My brother had one back in the early ‘80s that he could shoot (to quote the fun phrase) the cojones off a gnat with…he was good with it. There is no reason why these guns cannot be in that same category.

Specifications

The guns are both obviously built on the same .22 LR action and fed by the same tubular magazine but a few things change after that… for instance, the stocks and sights are totally different. Other measurements that are close on both guns are their overall weight and their trigger pull weights (I measured both of those myself). Needless to say, they both functioned fine and were accurate.

Wood gun: 
Model Number:RL22181WD (we figure WD = wood)
Stock:German Beechwood
Length:36"
Barrel Length:18"
Weight:5 lbs., 3 oz.
Capcity:15 rounds
Safety:Cross-bolt
Sights:Buckthorn rear, elevation-adjustable via sliding ramp; front post with brass bead front
Trigger pull:5 lbs., 14 oz.
MSRP:$367.08
Black Gun: 
Model Number: RL22181SY (we figure SY = synthetic)
Stock:Polished black polymer
Length:35.9"
Barrel Length:18"
Weight:5 lbs., 0 oz.
Capacity:15 rounds
Safety:Cross-bolt
Sights:Fully-adjustable rear, fiber optic; fiber optic-topped front post with sight guard
Trigger Pull: 5 lbs., 12 oz.
MSRP:$323.50

Summing Up

So, you want to be like John Wayne? Well, pil-grim, you’ve got some pretty big boots to fill, as he might say. We can’t be like John T. Chance in Rio Bravo but we can surely have a rifle or two that are somewhat close to what he carried in that movie. 

Whether we act like the Duke or not, we can have fun with these rifles. If you are looking for a really accurate, handy .22 rifle that won’t break  the bank, check out these Rossis. Rossi has been making guns for a really long time and the company is pretty good at it. I do remember how my .45 Colt lever gun shot – it took at least one deer with its plain-stock iron sights. I think I mentioned above that I have a .357 lever on order to test – stay tuned for that one. A good lever-action .22 is certainly nothing new, but it is one of the most fun ways to launch .22-caliber bullets downrange. These Rossis are good at that, for sure.

If you own one of these, please chime in with a comment below. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!

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18 comments
  1. Have the black stock version in both the lever Rio Bravo and the pump Gallery. Because I hate to bang a wood stock up I like the synthetic ones better. But with these Rossi’s the fantastic front/rear fiber optics really make it an easy choice for me. I do not know why these great sights do not come on more guns; red hooded front with a green rear that adjust for windage and elevation with no tools! Neighbor got the black Rio Bravo also. All three are very accurate and total fun to shoot. All three had a bad spot of bother though: would jam so solid that gun needed disassembled to make functional. This turned out to be an ammunition issue; I am surprised Winchester did not jam your guns. I know from using Winchester bulk loads in other guns that the cartridge diameter runs a little on the large side. In the Rossi’s that caused loads not to follow out of the magazine tube onto the lifter fully; when the action was cycled it would bend the cartridge, making it irretrievable. Keep in mind that rim fire ammo can not be mistreated so as to fire the cartridge. Taking out the four screws that hold the receiver on and working it off is the much safer way to go. Found out that when you insert the magazine tube, if you feel some resistance that requires extra effort to push down on it, stop and dump those shells, use something else. Since I really like shooting Winchesters I wanted to solve the issue. Took the magazine tube out (did this to all 3) and use a round Phillips head screw driver in the open end of the tube and just go round and round several times to work some of the brass tube back where the indention is to hold the magazine plunger from coming out. Do not use a drill; you do not want to remove metal but smooth it out and push it back. Follow up with a wooden dowel (a pencil worked for me) that is snug fit and work it in and out to polish the brass tube. Make sure that you pay attention so as not to break the wood off in the mag tube. After this all 3 Rossi’s would feed and shout anything put in them; I have used eight brands/types so far. I repair guns as a hobby, putting several back into operating condition that sat in pieces for years because the owners messed them up, including loosing parts. I often fabricate the part. Guns are fun.

    1. Just Me, wow – you really know your Rossis! I’m glad you were able to get them going. I’ve heard others talk about the Winchester ammo, but it worked fine for me. Anyway, a question – have you tried to shoot .22 shorts? I’ve been able to in one gun but not the other. I’m just curious. Talk about an even-quieter shooting session! Thanks for writing again – always like to hear from you.

      1. Except for an old Mossberg 151M that I stupidly sold, that was the only gun I owned that would cycle 22 shorts. Have not tried them in any newer rifles. The way the lifter mechanism is made in the Rossi’s I think that they would jam, but have not tried it. The barrel is stamped for LR only also. The lifter and/or feed mechanism is the key to successfully cycling shorts.. Occasionally someone donates me shorts and the only way I use them up is single shot, including in a Ruger MK III Hunter. Just got done going over a Mosin Nagant that laid in pieces for unknown decades, Had to fabricate some bolts to put it together and it paid off. We shot it at my range and were really impressed with that very old gun: accurate, powerful and mild recoil. I can repair just about anything, but firearms are the most fun.

        1. Just Me, what a great skill to have! I have ten thumbs when it comes to that stuff, I was just curious about the shorts. It’s great that you put that Nagant back together – I saw one last week that had 700 rounds of ammo, bayonet, tool kit. oiler, sling….the whole 9 yards. What a historic gun. Thanks for writing again!

  2. I really do not like the looks of either one of them. Beech is not the nicest of woods for gun stocks Kid of plain looking . The polymer is just plain ugly and bulky.

    1. Ron, that’s your call. Everybody sees things differently. I think that walnut makes a pretty stock, but I’m sure Rossi is working with what they have. The guns handled well, even the poly one – that’s a plus. Thanks for writing!

  3. Nice report. Seemed unbiased and honest. I bought the wood stock version and pick it up tomorrow. I look forward to having a similar experience. Thanks for your informative time and effort.

  4. I gave the missus $400.00 and told her to buy a new .22lr rifle (our Ithaca is 50+ years old and that worried me). She called me yesterday ( i trucking and rarely home) and said of all the rifles she handled, she liked the Rossi synthetic the best…she went on and on about the sights…so today she went back to shopping, and then called to say we now own the Rossi (311.00 out the door)…I look foward to getting back on the rifle range, and remember I told her she could keep the change…I hope she buys some more ammo…!

  5. Rex, she sounds like a very savvy shooter. She picked one of the better lever 22s for the money – I sure liked shooting it. I kept my T&E gun and I love it. Hope she can find the ammo now. Thanks for writing!

  6. Just picked up the synthetic stock today. These sights really are extremely nice. For the money this little rifle is extremely hard to beat. I really like the lever action too. Just a fun gun to shoot and much more affordable than plinking with the marlin 1895.

  7. Joe, it’s a well-built rifle, especially for the price. I hope you get years of enjoyment out of yours. Thanks for writing!

  8. Hi!
    I would appreciate knowing what kinds of metals were used in the receiver and receiver cover. Hopefully it isn’t ZAMAK!!

  9. Mike, nope, alloy steel. Rossi only uses the best materials in their modern guns. Thanks for writing!

  10. I don’t own a Rossi yet, but I hope this group can answer a question I haven’t been able to find an answer for. How do you clean these rifles? All the Rossi manual says is run a bore snake through and clean the barrel. I get that, but what about cleaning the bolt and the rest?

  11. Wayne, a rimfire lever gun is easier to clean than a centerfire. Really, the owner’s manual had it – run a bore snake through the barrel (add some cleaner or solvent to it). and then I’d run a dry patch or another clean snake down the barrel just to clean out the solvent. Alternatively, some folks just run a solvent-soaked patch on a jag tip and cleaning rod down the bore. As for the receiver, you could take the lever off and the bolt out, but that’s a bit overkill for a rimfire. I use a needle oiler and just put a few drops on the bolt, hammer side where it contacts the frame and the lever’s hinge. Don’t overdo it. That’s how I do it – anyone else care to comment? Thanks for writing!

  12. I have the beech version and love it. I carry it with me daily on my property (I put a sling strap on it) and would feel funny without it. I have put a lot of rounds through it. It is well balanced and the action is smooth and natural. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a daily carry which gets a little banged around some time but this one still looks great. It is perfect for my use.

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