Uberti Winchester 1873 Rifle
By: Derek Landers
Derek Lander’s assesses Uberti’s reproduction Winchester ’73 lever action rifle
Probably one of the most famous products to come out of Winchester’s New Haven factory, the Model 1873 spanned a forty six year production run during which some 720,000 examples were turned out. I would guess that Uberti will, if they have not already, eclipse that total with their reproduction of this model. Offering almost as great a variety of styles as the originals, and with a greater range of calibres, today’s ’73 is a popular choice among shooters and re-enactors.
Winchester had built their reputation on this model’s predecessor the 1866, known as the “Yellowboy” because of its bronze frame, a relatively low powered .44 rimfire weapon.
Although the 1873 rifle itself was an instant success with its .44 centre fire cartridges, early sales were hampered by the problems encountered in production of the new ammunition. A major selling point for the 1873 was that the empty cases could be reloaded and used many times. The new rifle used the same simple toggle link mechanism as the 1866 but this was now encased in firstly an iron frame then later one of steel, which produced a lighter but stronger weapon. Later versions of the Yellowboy had been fitted with a sliding dust cover over the top of the receiver, protecting the action and breech end of the barrel from dirt, and this adaptation was fitted on all model 1873 rifles from day one. From the closed position, the cover slides open as the rifle is cocked, allowing empty cases to be ejected through the top of the frame, and remains in this position until closed manually. A feature introduced quite early in production was a trigger block safety, which prevents accidental release of the trigger until the lever is fully closed. This resulted in a slight change to the design of the lever with the addition of a projection on the upper forward edge to depress the locking pin. The design of the trigger was also changed from a one-piece unit to a separate trigger and sear. If the customer specified a set trigger then the safety block was not provided.
The Uberti reproduction
The model 1873 was originally available as a carbine, rifle or musket, but the latter does not appear among Uberti’s listing in the latest Henry Krank catalogue. The standard butt plate on the rifles was the classic crescent shape and carbines and muskets were offered with a modified shotgun style, with a full shotgun style as an option. Whichever style of gun was chosen, the customer could specify the butt shape of their choice. Customary woodwork was of straight grained American walnut, but fancy grained was available at extra cost, along with checkering, pistol grips, engraving, half tube magazines, case hardened receivers and a take-down feature. Many of these features are on offer from Uberti and the original calibre list - .44/40, .38/40, .32/20 – has been increased to include .45 Colt, .44 special, .357 magnum and .38 special. Originally, if the rifle configuration was chosen, Winchester offered .22 rimfire, but this is not in Uberti’s line-up, although they do provide it in their version of the 1866 Yellowboy.
As with their 19th century counterparts, all of Uberti’s reproduction 1873 rifles are chambered in what are now termed ‘pistol calibres’, because of the inherent weakness of the toggle link action. The pins and links in the system will not stand up to the recoil of larger calibre ammunition or hotter handgun loads, hence there is no .44 magnum in the list of available calibres. The bolt is long and slender, and for the most part unsupported during firing, and would be another weak spot under heavy pressure. It was not until three years after the introduction of this model that Winchester offered a real big bore rifle in the shape of the Model 1876.
The Uberti 1873 Carbine, a 19-inch round barrelled version (there is also a 16 1/8” Trapper model), has the modified shotgun style butt and the frame, barrel and magazine tube have their blue/black finish, while the lever, trigger and hammer are a case-hardened colour. The fore stock is held on by a barrel band and another band close to the muzzle incorporates the front sight, while the rear sight is a tip-up ladder arrangement. In the lower position this offers a u-shaped sight while raising the ladder changes it to a v-shape. The wood is walnut, common to all models in the range, and is finished in Uberti’s ubiquitous red/brown high gloss varnish. The version on hand here has a saddle ring on the left side of the receiver, but I witnessed an earlier example which did not. Overall length of the 19-inch Carbine is 38½ inches and it weighs in at seven pounds.
The Sporting Rifle configuration is probably most peoples’ idea of the classic Winchester design, with its octagonal barrel and crescent-shaped butt plate. Available in four barrel lengths (18” Trapper, 20” Short Rifle, 24” Standard Rifle and 30” Extra Long Rifle), this style exhibits case hardened colours on the frame as well as the lever and butt plate. The front sight is dovetailed into the top flat of the barrel and the rear is a semi-buckhorn with sliding elevator. The 24” barrelled model in .44/40 calibre tips the scales at 8lbs 2ozs pounds and has a length of 43 inches.
Top of the range is the Special Sporting Rifle which is similar to the model above with the addition of a pistol grip stock and checkering to grip and fore stock. Like the originals all of the Uberti line up is equipped with a swivel catch to lock the lever in the closed position.
As well as the features listed above, the range can be further customised to the customer’s preference with a list of optional extras. There are various grades of engraving, which can be supplemented by gold plating or gold inlays; finishes include the standard blue/black, charcoal blue, left in the white or antique patina; a hand rubbed oil finish can be applied to the wood instead of the varnish.
These are quality reproductions and whatever your choice of style or calibre, whether you are a shooter or re-enactor (or both), the 1873 is a smooth operator with a little feel of history. Prices range from around £880 to just over £1,000 and full details of the range can be obtained from your local firearms dealer or direct from Henry Krank.
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates