Uberti Winchester 1866
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- Last updated: 21/09/2018
When Smith & Wesson were assigned the rights to Rollin White’s patent for a bored through cylinder, they effectively had the monopoly on breech loading revolvers until 1869, when the patent expired. Their Model No. 1 revolver, chambered for the .22 Short cartridge in 1857, was the first American repeating pistol using selfcontained metallic cartridge ammunition, but it would be another 27-years before another company, Winchester, produced the first repeating rifle designed for this tiny cartridge in the shape of their Model 1873 rifle, and the question must be asked as to why they did not offer this calibre in the Model 1866. Thankfully, for small bore fans, Uberti fills that gap today.
The Model 1866 rifle, its nomenclature coming from the year of its introduction, was the first gun to bear the Winchester name and because there were no other guns in the line-up, it was simply known as ‘the Winchester Rifle’. For this reason, you will not find any model designation on original rifles of this type. It was not until 1873, when the next pattern was introduced that the guns took on model names commensurate with their year of introduction, and henceforth the model number was stamped on the guns. Nicknamed the ‘Yellowboy’ (some say the name came from the Indians) because of its ‘brass’ receiver, the 1866 shared its mechanism with the Henry rifle, but was improved with the addition of a loading port on the right side of the frame and a wood forearm. The word ‘brass’ is generally used today to describe these early lever gun receivers but back in the day the metal was known as ‘gunmetal’ and was a form of bronze. It was an alloy of copper and tin, whereas brass is a composite of copper and zinc. Initially, the Model 1866 used a Henry receiver with the loading gate added, but later it developed a shape of its own.
Using the same low powered .44 rimfire cartridge as the Henry, the new model was offered in carbine (20-inch barrel), rifle (24-inch barrel) and musket (27-inch barrel) configurations. Initially, the carbines and muskets had round barrels and the rifles had octagonal, but around two thirds of the way through production round barrels became an option on the rifle. Rifles had the crescenttype buttplate, while the other two versions had a gentler curved, sometimes called a ‘shotgun’ butt, variation. All models had the conventional tubular magazine under the barrel. The new gun was enthusiastically received, as its improvements negated the Henry’s main weaknesses, and in its thirteen-year production run, some 158,000 left the factory.
Not only was the Model 1866 the first rifle to bear the Winchester name but was also the first long gun produced by Uberti of Italy almost one hundred years later. Whilst the originals were manufactured in only one calibre, .44 rimfire, Uberti offers their version in eight different calibres, from .22LR up to .45 Colt. There is a rifle and carbine in the catalogue but no musket. The example we have here is a standard late model carbine, but the line-up also includes a nicely engraved 150th anniversary early type with the Henry style frame. There are a number of engraving styles offered for the Model 1866, including an ‘Indian’ carbine complete with brass nails in the woodwork, and for those with extra deep pockets, the list also has one with a solid silver receiver.
As with all the Uberti products, they have gone to great lengths to adhere to the original design, but I am puzzled as to why they have produced this carbine with a 19-inch barrel, when originals were all 20-inch. I can see where this would be a problem to the ‘authenticity police’ but to be honest I never gave it a second thought after the initial discovery.
The walnut stock and forearm have the normal Uberti red/brown finish, a little darker than some I have seen recently, with a high gloss varnish. The wood to metal fit is very good, with no excessive overlaps anywhere. The round barrel and magazine tube, along with the barrel bands and screws, are black with a good gloss finish and nice edges. The hammer and lever/ trigger guard have a case-coloured finish and the lever can be locked in place by a swivel catch for transport. The receiver and butt-plate, on the carbine a flatter ‘shotgun’ style, as opposed to the crescent shape on the rifle, are polished brass with the former having a protective plastic film on either side, which may leave a slight stain when it is removed. This is not a problem if you want your gun to achieve the well-used look and will easily polish out if you like a bit of bling.
One of the improvements that the King patent had over the Henry rifle, was a loading gate on the right side of the frame and you immediately notice that this is missing on the rimfire model. Many rimfire rifles with a tube magazine have a cartridgeshaped cut out in the bottom of the magazine tube to feed in the ammunition, necessitating the spring-loaded follower to be pulled partially out to expose this hole. On this model, the follower needs to be unscrewed and removed from the tube completely to feed the cartridges into the end of the magazine. With 10 cartridges loaded, the follower sometimes needed to be wriggled a little as you replace it, to locate over all the rounds.
Sights are fairly basic, with the front being a blade, which is an integral part of the front barrel band, so obviously, there is no provision for adjustment. As I found with my centre-fire version of this model, the front sight is a little high out of the box and needs to be trimmed down a shade. As this was not my gun I left the sight as it was, so testing for accuracy was a bit of a hit and miss affair (pun intended). The rear sight is a tip-up arrangement, which is dovetailed into the barrel, allowing some lateral adjustment. In its lower position, it offers a simple square notch with very low wings, and when the blade is raised, there is the option of a similar notch above an oval cut-out with a v-notch. The lower position was adequate for the 25-yard distance at which the rifle was tested.
The first visit to the range indicated a little problem, in the form of ten misfires out of one hundred rounds. All went off at the second attempt. Having no tools with me, it was left until the next day to check it out and it proved to be no more than a slightly loose mainspring screw, requiring less than half a turn to nip it up. On two subsequent visits to the range, the rifle discharged one hundred rounds each time without a problem. Feed, extraction and ejection worked perfectly, although surprisingly, this carbine was a little stiffer than my own 1866. Experience shows that these guns, with their brass receiver and brass cartridge lifter, bed themselves in very quickly and a couple of thousand rounds will doubtless smooth out this example. Gentle operation of the lever did not always kick the empty case clear of the action, so you needed to show the gun you are in charge and rack it fairly positively.
As mentioned above, the high front sight prevented any serious attempt at checking for accuracy. Using CCI Mini Mag solid point ammunition and filling the rear notch with the square profile of the front sight, the gun printed around four to five inches high at twenty-five metres, but different ammunition may alter this. Whatever your chosen ammunition, some patience and careful work with a needle file will bring this sight to where you want it.
I have been looking for a .22 lever gun to fill out my battery and while I would have preferred an early 20th century Marlin, this nice-handling little Uberti (the twentyfour- inch barrelled model is rather heavy) could just fit the bill. If you want a rimfire lever action with traditional, rather than modern looks, check this one out.
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