The Steve McQueen Mare's Leg


Steve McQueen's rise to fame started in the late 1950s, he worked his way up in supporting roles on TV series like The Defender and West Point, eventually landing a role on a western called Trackdown, where he played bounty hunter Josh Randall. His character was spun off, giving Steve his first lead in the CBS western Wanted: Dead or Alive. From 1958-1961 McQueen would star in 94 episodes, in each one carrying Josh Randall's trademark sidearm, the Mare's Leg. According to the Gene Autry Museum, McQueen called the gun the Mare's Leg because he said it "was like a hog's leg, only it kicked harder at both ends

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The Mare's Leg from the show was a shortened Winchester Model 1892 rifle that was first introduced with McQueen's character on the TV series Trackdown. The original was designed by artist and propmaker Kenny "Von Dutch" Howard (the namesake of Von Dutch Clothing). Von Dutch and McQueen had a long friendship with Von Dutch restoring and customized many of McQueen's cars and motorcycles over the years. According to a story in Guns Quarterly (circa 1961), no one from the studio checked with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) before modifying the rifle and producers quickly received phone calls from the Feds once the show aired. After a lot of explaining, the studio had to pay license fees and taxes totaling $1,100 (nearly $10,000 today) to come into compliance with the National Firearms Act of 1934 for the three guns they had built. Having a federally banned weapon on set then meant that the production ran afoul of the 'Hollywood Producer's Code' which required any set with a Federally registered weapon in use to had to have a uniformed officer on set at all times. The show was already a hit, so CBS made it work and kept the iconic firearm for the rest of the series. 



Like with anything tied to Steve McQueen the Mare's Leg took on its own iconic status, popping back up in films and television series like Zombieland, Archer, and Westworld. It has even been featured in video games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and Battlefield 4. The Mare's Leg also made a cameo in the 1987 film Wanted: Dead or Alive, which was promoted as a sequel to the TV series with Rutger Hauer (from Blade Runner) playing Josh Randall's grandson, Nick Randall, an ex-CIA agent turned bounty hunter. 

Original Steve McQueen Mare's Leg in the Autry Collection

Of the three original guns, only one is accounted for, it and the original holster made by Andy Anderson in the collection of the Autry National Center of the American West. A second original gun was on display at the old Spaghetti Station Restaurant & Museum from the 1980s until it closed in the early 2000s, but it hasn't been seen since. The third production gun may have remained in the prop-department or been repurposed. It is unclear if any of the original guns were used in other films or television series, but if any of the original Von Dutch guns surfaced for sale, they would likely sell in the high six figures at auction.


Today, if you are wanting to channel a little of Steve McQueen's cool, you can buy a modern version of the Mare's Leg. The team at Henry Rifles makes modern lever-action pistols chambered in different calibers. They sent me out a .357 Magnum centerfire version with the brass receiver, blued barrel, and an American Walnut stock. The leather holster is similar to the one worn by McQueen but features loops for the .357 bullets or pouches for .22 rounds, it also uses a more secure latch system than the original. Like all Henry Rifles, each one is made in the USA and is designed so you can enjoy rapid-fire lever-action repeating shots just like you're a cowboy on TV. 


In addition to the .357 version that I have been shooting, Henry offers a .22 LR, .22 Magnum, .45 Colt, and .44 Magnum. Prices for the .22 versions start at $462.00 with the larger calibers having a list price of $1,024.The leather made in the USA holster adds another $151.95 to your total cost, there are different versions depending on which model you have so make sure you order the right holster. The holster can be set up for wearing on the left or right and can be attached to any 2-inch leather belt.


Now you might be wondering how you can buy what is externally a short version of a rifle, without having to register it as a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) with the ATF. While you would need a $200 tax stamp and approval from the ATF to covert an existing rifle into an SBR, the Mare's Leg by Henry Rifle is sold as a "lever-action pistol," making it legal in most states. If you live in California, Massachusetts, and New York you are out of luck since state law bans or heavily restricts the sale of the Mare's Leg, thankfully I am in the great state of Texas.


Firing the Mare's Leg is surprisingly less complicated than I thought. For comparison, I brought my full size .357 lever-action rifle and shot them side by side. While shouldering my full-size rifle resulted in a tighter grouping, cheeking the Mare's Leg was surprisingly accurate. Any attempt to shoot it like Steve did on TV was fairly pointless, attempting to one hand, shoot from the hip, and rapid-fire is fun, but if you want to hit anything you better use both hands. Out at the range nearly everyone wanted to check out the Mare's Leg, it is National Shooting Sports Month so I brought an extra box of ammo so anyone who wanted to try a few rounds could check it out. Everyone who fired it loved it and even the most hardened range veteran left with a big smile on his face. While the Mare's Leg is not a gun you really need, it is defiantly one of the most fun guns you can take to the range. I want to thank my friends at Black Cactus Armory in Groesbeck, Texas for helping make this story happen.

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