A Special Winchester Story

By Rob Kassab

A Story behind a Special Winchester 1892 Carbine

Leo Bustani owned an unusual Winchester 1892 Carbine. Both Leo and the carbine share some quite colorful history together, dating all the way back to 1949. Of Lebanese descent, Leo was the owner of Flagler Gun Clinic in West Palm Beach Florida. The clinic specialized in performance modifications to the model '92 Winchester as well as other rifles.

Leo owned about 2,500 model 1892 carbines acquired from Mexico in 1952. The guns, originally confiscated by Pancho Villa, eventually made their way to an arsenal in Mexico City and ended up with a Mexican gun dealer. Leo bought them from the dealer for $1.00 apiece with a credit card! While the majority of these had seen much better days (the level of condition commonly referred to by a North Carolina Winchester dealer as "cement-mixer grade") and were mainly used for parts, some of them were good enough for the clinic to rework to make accurate shooters. In addition to the '92s, there were Henrys (both iron and brass frames), 1876s, 1894s, US-Marked 1895s (from the 7th Calvary), and some Marlins.

A Special '92
One day back in 1949, a long-time customer in his late 60's was visiting West Palm Beach from New York. The gentleman brought into Leo's shop a nice original 1892 Saddle Ring Carbine and offered it for sale. The man was at a point in his life where he felt his hunting days were over. The gun's serial number was 249016, manufactured in 1903-43 years old at that time. It was chambered in the standard .44 WCF and it had a special?order half?magazine. Thinking of how easy this gun would be to carry on a hunt, Leo bought it right on the spot.

A "Leo" Adjustment
Never satisfied with factory performance, Leo looked for more stopping power from the little carbine. Utilizing his vast gun?making knowledge and experience, Leo modified the chamber to accept the more powerful .44 Special cartridge. He also refitted the stock with a beautiful engraved metal shotgun butt?plate from a Drilling combination rifle/shotgun. The Drilling's butt?plate has a spring?loaded "trap?door" which hides a compartment within the stock, holding six spare rounds. By sweating the front swivel to the underside of the barrel about 4" ahead of the forend, Leo fitted a leather sling and relocated the sight dovetail forward about 1?1/2" to accommodate a longer rifle?style sight.

Putting the Little Carbine to Use
Since the .44 Special round grouped extremely well, the next logical thing for Leo to do was to take the gun deer hunting. On the gun's first hunt in Florida, the .44 Special brought?down a mid?sized whitetail. Leo then began a tradition of affixing engraved tacks into the right side of the gun's stock for each of the game taken with the carbine. Each tack had an engraved name and image of the respective game. The gun has a total of six tacks--turkey, deer, bobcat, javalina, black bear and elk.

"Go ahead ... make my day"
Most hunters would be satisfied with the performance of the .44 Special??but not Leo. Leo hung around with his friend Elmer Keith; and although Leo has a tough time admitting it, I am sure that Keith's influence had more than a little to do with the second rechambering of the gun. Leo reamed the chamber again, but this time to accept the powerful .44 Magnum cartridge. Again, the gun grouped well. And now with a powerhouse chambering, the gun was ready for its next hunt in northern Florida. Leo easily downed a large whitetail buck, breaking both shoulders, dropping it in its tracks. Then in 1956, Leo hunted black bear in Florida. Walking through the woods, he heard a noise. As he cocked the hammer back on the '92 and rounded a tree, Leo saw a large black bear on its hind legs eating berries from a bush. Leo wasn't sure who was more scared?him or the bear! As the bear put its paws up in the air, Leo shot at the upper torso, and dropped the bear. Leo later noticed that the magnum round had blown pieces of the bear's backbone out of its back!

On Safari
In December of 1959, Leo was off to Africa, to the Riff Valley region outside of Arusha. Leo met with a young English Lord who had a battery of six rifles??three matched pairs of 300 Rigby's, 470's, and 600 Holland & Holland's with detachable locks. He also sported a Ruger revolver. Leo and the Englishman set out to hunt elephant. While at camp, Leo hand-made some 300?grain .44 caliber bullets from pieces of bronze rod. Leo could barely stuff the rounds into their casings.

It was during the second week in January when Leo and the English Lord began tracking for elephant. One morning, still drunk from the night before, they came across some tracks. As they approached a watering hole, they spotted three elephants with 25 to 30 pound tusks. Two were lying down and one of was standing alone. Leo aimed at the elephant standing alone??a headshot, just below the eyes, in front of the air hole. The '92 carbine fired, but the elephant apparently did not move (don't try this with your '92!). They both thought Leo had missed. The elephant then turned, looked curiously at Leo for a few seconds, then dropped, causing the world to shake as he hit the ground! As a remembrance of the hunt, Leo embedded an East African coin in the left side of the butt?stock.

Back in the USA
After staying in Helena, Montana the evening before, Leo traveled through Idaho and stopped at a local gun shop where he struck?up a conversation with a fellow who owned a nearby private ranch. Leo was interested in shooting an elk for meat and the rancher expressed an interest in shooting the Winchester, so they decided to go on an elk hunt. They traveled the ranch on horseback, down into a valley, until they came to a trail where the rancher claimed to frequently see elk. They got off the horses and waited just off the trail. After a couple hours, a small elk heard approached the area. It wasn't long until Leo downed a spike bull elk with his trusty '92 carbine. Other Florida hunts included wild boar, bobcat and wild turkey from Devil's Garden at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee.

Present Day
I frequently see Leo at local gun shows here in South Florida. One day in 1996, I walked up to his table and asked Leo if he had any nice Winchesters for sale. He replied he did not; however, he might consider selling a '92 Carbine that was his own personal hunting gun. He then pulled?out the '92 and showed it to me. I looked it over; he gave me a brief history on the gun and after haggling over the price (we all know that trading guns wouldn't be any fun without the traditional "chiseling"), the gun became mine.

Recently, I have spoken with Leo and he's in good health and spirits in his mid-70's. Because of Leo, my friendship with him, and the colorful history surrounding this little '92, it has become one of my favorites and will always remain in my collection.

Rob Kassab




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