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Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel

Ever a fan of the classic Winchester lever-actions, Pete Moore considers the most successful in the form of Uberti’s reproduction of the 1873 and also has a treat in store too, with a first look at the 1876

I got my first Winchester lever-action rifle back in 1976 in the form of their Model 94 in what else but 30-30 Winchester? I suppose it was logical really; as what else is a British boy going to buy first time in North America; especially one who was brought up, on cowboy films? The Model 94 though bearing the name is in fact an outgrowth of a Browning design, which started with the Winchester 1886, so we must go back further in history to see what is by my reckoning the finest model they ever offered, the 1873 and it’s less well know big bore derivative the 1876.

I don’t quite know what it is about these classic lever-actions, but they really do float my boat. Perhaps it’s the more elegant design with good woodwork, colour case-hardened actions and octagonal barrels, that separates them from the soulless modern designs, as typified by the Win Model 94 AE and Marlin 1894. Technically better yes, with their safety catches, side ejection and the ability to fit optics over the receiver, but in my opinion they can’t hold a candle to the originals.

I shan’t bore you too much with history, as I and many others have gone this route before with the guns. Suffice to say; pre the Browning influence the Winchester was based on the Volcanic repeating rifle, which used a toggle system to lock the action. The Volcanic morphed into the Henry, which is notable for two things – first the shape of the rifle we know today and secondly it’s unusual, front-loading magazine, which precluded the fitting of a forend.

The Henry was acquired by Oliver Winchester and seen to have potential and was modified with a receiver-mounted, gate loading system into the brass-framed Model 1866 - called the Yellow Boy for obvious reasons. The 1873 was essentially a very similar rifle but with a stronger iron frame and sliding ejection port cover. What probably made it was its initial calibre of 44-40 WCF (Winchester Centre Fire). So successful was this cartridge that Colt also chambered their 1873 Model P (Peacemaker) single action revolver in it to give a one calibre, two-gun option, which was warmly appreciated.

Rising to the Occasion

The 1873 was in truth a pistol calibre only rifle. It locked by a toggle joint, which was strong enough for cartridges like 44-40 and 45 Colt but it is a generally weak action. Equally unusual, and also a feature on the Volcanic, was the method of how the cartridge was presented to the bolt for chambering. Today we are used to lever-actions using a hinged shell lifter, not so the 73. This employed a bronze block that moved vertically then dropped down once the bolt locked home. This made for a long action and one very sensitive to cartridge overall length (COL) too; not a consideration back then, as ammo was always over the counter. But an important one for today’s shooter who wants to reload, as if you have your COL too long the nose of the bullet will not exit the magazine fully, stopping the block from rising and causing the mother of all jams…

Though amazingly successful, the low powered nature of the 73 left Winchester without what might be termed a big bore rifle capable of handling the larger/longer range cartridges of the day such as 45-70 etc. This was not truly resolved until the introduction of the Browning-designed 1886. Winchester’s solution was to stretch the 73 action with the 1876 being the result. Chambered in 40-60 and 45-60 Winchester this gave the 73 design a lot more power and ability. However, the locking system was identical, just a bit beefier, as was the cartridge lifter block longer. In truth this mechanism could only go so far before the rifle’s receiver became just too impractical. The 1886 solved this with a stronger bolt that locked at the rear by twin rising lugs and a shell lifter system that allowed the unfired round to slide fully into the receiver and on top of the lifter.

The Tom Horne Rifle

Regardless of that, the 1876 does have a charm all its own, as it has the classic 1873 look, but is larger. What got me into this rifle was the film Tom Horne starring Steve McQueen as the legendary Indian scout and stock detective. Horne is supposed to have used a 76 chambered in 40-60 and you just need to see the film to see what I mean about the rifle. So impressed was I by this big Winchester that it eventually lead me to getting the modern, classic version of the Browning B71, which is a good copy of the 1886 with a 26” octagonal barrel. More of Uberti’s 1876 repro latter, but now - back to the plot…

Back in the mid 1990s when I was a member of the British Western Shooting Society (BWSS) one of my first acquisitions was a Uberti 1873 repro. This was the rather unusual 30” Sporter in what else – 44-40 WCF. Along with a pair of their 7 ½” Colt Cavalry revolvers it proved to me what a good calibre the 44-40 was. In my opinion better than the 45 Colt.

My 73, though a pistol calibre gun, was very accurate and even with the standard iorn sights would go out to 200 yards and be able to drop rounds in a reasonable group on a Fig 11 target. Not bad for a 200-grain flat-nosed lead bullet doing around 1000 fps. Today the BWSS is still alive and kicking and rifles like the 73 are the perfect choice if you want to keep it traditional. However, I no longer shoot it, as the loss of my cartridge revolvers could not be replaced by cap and ball wheelguns, which was the only alternative.

Not so spoilt for choice!

A few years ago Uberti offered more versions of the 1873 that included the aforementioned 30” Sporter and the unusual Military Musket, with full-length forend and a nickel version of the Sporter. Today they have cut out these three and your choice is as follows:

Carbine Steel
19” barrel (round)
Blacked receiver
Capacity 10+1
Calibres 357 Magnum, 44-40 and 45 Colt

Short Rifle Steel
20” barrel (octagonal)
Colour case-hardened receiver
Capacity 10 + 1
Calibres 357 Magnum, 44-40 and 45 Colt

Sporting Rifle Steel
24” barrel (octagonal)
Colour case-hardened receiver
Capacity 13 + 1
Calibres 357 Magnum, 44-40 and 45 Colt

Sporting Rifle Steel
24 ¼” barrel (half round/octagonal) HOB
Colour case-hardened receiver
Capacity 5 + 1
Calibres 357 Magnum, 44-40 and 45 Colt

Special Sporting Rifle Steel
24 ¼” barrel (octagonal)
Colour case-hardened receiver
Pistol grip butt and chequering
Capacity 13 + 1
Calibres 357 Magnum, 44-40 and 45 Colt

There’s only one rifle here that I have a question over and that’s the HOB, as it gives a low capacity, when compared to the 10 and 13 + of the rest of the range. Good looking yes, but think before you commit to this model, as you could end up cursing the amount of times you have to top up the magazine…

Quality is good, which is one of Uberti’s trade marks, along with the fact that they make the rifles from far superior metals compared to the originals. My test example was the 24 ¼” Sporting Rifle Steel. The receiver, hammer, trigger and operating lever are beautifully colour case-hardened. Barrel, magazine tube and crescent butt plate are deeply blued and the wood contrasts this nicely being medium coloured, fine grained walnut.

The build is elegant with a steel forend cap and no barrel bands at all, with the magazine tube being attached to the barrel by a loop. Sights consist of a semi-buckhorn elevator/wedge at the rear and a medium-width blade up front. Both units can be adjusted for windage correction by drifting them left or right in their dovetails. If you want a little more; Uberti offer a folding tang/aperture rear sight that’s adjustable for elevation and limited windage. They also have the fold-down globe/blade front sight, near identical to that used on the Trapdoor Springfield Officer’s Model.

As such there are no applied safety systems, as you would see on a Modern Winchester 94AE. Instead the hammer offers full and half cock positions and on the lower tang is a plunger that must be pushed upwards to allow the trigger to function. This is done automatically by the shooter squeezing up on the operating lever as they make their firing grip.

Treat me rough

When I was a western shooter I would not have considered anything but 44-40 WCF or 45 Colt, as I reloaded for my rifle and revolvers, and I got through a lot of ammo. Times change and I now feel that the most sensible chambering is 357 Magnum. Plenty powerful enough to reach out, ammo is readily available off the shelf and also the rifle will accept the shorter 38 Special cartridge, which is identical apart from its reduced case and COL. Cheaper, lighter in recoil with a higher capacity, the old 38 Spl is a good bet for most normal uses.

Compared to a modern Winchester or Marlin the 1873’s action is perhaps a bit longer in throw and therefore slower to operate, but it’s no big thing. The operating stroke is smooth and easy with feed and ejection being reliable. However and as with any lever-action rifle; don’t baby that action, just work it fast and hard, as this will aid reliability. Ejection of the fired case is directly up and back, so you can’t fit an optic over the receiver, but then why would you want to? If you want an Action rifle get a Marlin 1894 or Winchester 94AE.

When compared to the aforementioned 1894 and 94AE the Uberti 1873 is that bit more specialised and also a lot more expensive. For this example expect to pay around the £700 mark. Even in the old days (pre-handgun ban) Ubertis were still around £150-200 more expensive than the Marlin or Winchester and that’s just the way it is.

At the end of the day the 1873 is a gun you’ll either love or hate. I love them as they represent to me the pinnacle of the design. OK not the most technically advanced but something that is really fun to own and shoot.

1876 at Last

In 1876 Winchester introduced a new lever-action rifle called the Centennial in commemoration of the United State’s 100th anniversary. The Model 1876 was discontinued in 1898, after 63,871 guns had been produced. For 2007, 131 years after the first 1876 was produced, Uberti introduces an exact replica of the Centennial Rifle. True to the original, it’s chambered in 45-60 Winchester.

With great excitement I received the Uberti 1876 Centennial today, so this is more a first look than anything else. Unlike the 73 series the 76 only comes in one calibre and currently one model, and that will need to be reloaded for as currently there’s no factory 45-60 available. My research has shown that 45-60 Winchester can be easily made from cutting down 45-70 brass to 1.890”. Lee Precision, with the assistance of the importers (Henry Krank & Co Ltd), is sending me some 45-60 dies and I’m in the process of sourcing 300-grain flat-nosed lead bullets to suit. So as they say - watch this space for a full on shooting test in the near future.

The rifle is magnificent, as I expected, and is as described being a heavier/longer 1873. Weighing in at 10 lbs with its 28” octagonal barrel it gives a capacity of 11 + 1 and an overall length of 44 ½”. The butt is straight hand with the crescent steel plate at the rear, sights are as 73. I would like to think that at a latter stage Uberti also offers the 76 in 40-60 Winchester too, as that too is made from 45-70 brass and is probably a bit more potent than 45-60.

Technical Specifications
Name Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle Steel (342720)
Calibre .357 Magnum
Capacity 13 + 1
Action Lever (toggle)
Finish Blue/case hardened
Furniture Walnut

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Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
Uberti 1873 / 1876 Sporting Rifle Steel
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