Uberti Colt Burgess 1883 Carbine
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- Last updated: 26/01/2017
Say the word lever-action rifle to any shooter or for that matter layman and the chances are they will reply - Winchester. The perception of this name and action-type is fogged not only by history but also by the film industry. However, this famous name back in the late 1800s did have a rival in the form of Colt, who had the rep for revolvers. They in conjunction with a gentleman called Andrew Burgess offered a lever-action in 1883, which as we shall see caused a furore between these two major players.
Burgess was no newcomer to the gun industry as he held six patents with Whitney and Marlin and is perhaps better known for his unusual, grip cocking repeating shotgun the 1893. This gun pre-dated Winchester’s 1897 pump-action gun and unsurprisingly Burgess’ company was brought out by them in 1899.
Regular readers will know my liking for the Winchester 1873 lever-action as I feel it’s the most elegant of rifles along with the larger calibre 1876. However, I would also be the first to admit that the basic design pre-dates the American Civil War as it uses the original Volcanic system. Which itself morphed into the Henry, which was the base for Winchesters 1866, 1873 and 1876 and is a bit long in the tooth. Even Winchester realised this as they soon had John Moses Browning working on something better, which came to fruition with the 1886, followed by the models 92, 94 and the pinnacle of the marque the 1895 with its box magazine system.
Though aware of the Burgess 1883 this was my first chance to actually use one, courtesy of Aldo Uberti the acknowledged leaders in the field of reproduction firearms of mid to late 1800s America. Let’s face it their 1873 is an absolute beauty and the 1883 is no different. Mechanically the Burgess in my opinion is the superior design as we shall see, a fact not lost on Winchester and the one that doubtless started all the trouble.
The 1883 proved a popular alternative though was far more a working gun as it offered only two models and one calibre – 44-40WCF, to the 1873 and 1876 as Colt’s sales figures showed. So much so that Winchester saw the threat and reacted by informing Colt that if they were making lever-action rifles then they would make revolvers. History is not exact on the details as some say both companies came to an agreement by themselves, others that politicians of the day stepped in and banged their heads together to make them see sense. Suffice to say by 1884 Colt stopped production after only 3,810 rifles and 2,593 carbines had been made.
Uberti offers two models of the 1883 a 20” carbine (10-shot) and 25 ½” rifle (13-shot) both chambered in 45 Colt only. I received the former from the UK importers - Henry Krank & Co Ltd. Finish varies with the usual blued barrels/magazine tubes and the choice of blued or colour case-hardened actions. The woodwork is the near mahogany red, varnished, walnut synominous with their 1873 series and overall the high quality product we have come to expect from this company.
Both models show straight-hand butts and lightweight round barrels with no octagonal option as with the various makes of 1873. Major difference go to the forend and barrel bands - on the Carbine, the latter combines the non-adjustable front sight, the rear unit is a flip-up ladder. The Rifle uses a ring/wedge that attaches to the mag tube, a windage-adjustable front sight and a semi, buckhorn elevator wedge at the rear. There’s an interlock plunger on the underside of the tang that blocks the trigger if the operating lever is not fully flush and tight.
In comparison to the 1873 with its separate side plates, the 1883 has a one-piece receiver with a small ejection port on top; generally the action is shorter by a good inch. The bolt is large and rectangular compared to the 73’s skinny thing; also the locking mechanism is far stronger than the toggle linkage of the Winchester. Most different is the loading gate, still located on the right of the action it’s a sliding (push-forward) plate, as opposed to a sprung (push-down) version, which makes a practical difference to filling the magazine.
Rifles like the Winchester 1873 and 1883 Burgess are more for historic and cowboy action shooters as is the calibre of 45 Colt. For the test I contacted Viking Arms who gave me some Magtech Cowboy Action, 45 Colt loads especially designed for guns of this type with flat-nosed lead bullets and medium powder charges.
Loading the magazine is easy as you just press the nose of the bullet into the sliding port, which moves back and allows the round to be inserted. It also snaps shut after each one so no need to half-load a cartridge to keep the gate open as with the 1873. The action is smooth and the empty cases eject up and back.
Typically there’s no safety catch, instead the hammer features half and full cock notches. The trigger is generally good breaking crisply at 5-6 lbs; I did find however that you really need to make a conscious effort to squeeze the operating lever tight up against the tang to release the interlock plunger. Accuracy was very good with the rifle being able to keep its shots inside 4” at 100-yards. There’s little recoil to distract you and the action was smooth cycling those big 45 Colt rounds easily.
Technically the Colt Burgess 1883 is a better mechanical design than either the Winchester 1873 or 1876. However, as reproductions, build quality is identical as both are from the high quality, Uberti stable and in terms of reliability, shootability and accuracy there’s nothing in it. The choice is really down to looks and the history of the gun itself. For me I would not swap it for my 1873, however, if I was coming into this area the 1883 would be a serious consideration, though I would want the rifle version…
• Interesting alternative to the Winchester series
• Take it or leave it in 45 Colt
• As always a superb recreation of a classic US design