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Winchester 1873

1873 was a good year for guns in the Old West. The legendary Colt Single Action Army revolver was made available for the first time. The Army’s decision to standardise on .45 calibre weapons saw the introduction of the Springfield Trapdoor rifle in .45-70 calibre and Winchester revolutionised the repeating rifle world with the introduction of the centre fire Model 1873 with its reusable metallic cartridge cases. All three have reached iconic status among American firearms of the 19th Century and all are still available today in one form or another, almost a century and a half later.

The adoption of centre fire cartridges allowed Winchester to offer an increase in the power of their rifle ammunition compared to the rimfires of the Model 1866. The folded rims, which held the priming compound, of the earlier cases needed to be quite thin to enable detonation and could often burst, even with the light black powder charge of 28 grains. The new centre fire cases, with their heavier rims and bases, and now made from brass rather than copper, allowed the powder charge to be increased to forty grains. Thus the .44 Winchester Centre Fire (W.C.F.) cartridge was born, better known today as the .44- 40. Not lost to those living in the more remote regions, was the fact that the spent cases of the new ammunition could be reloaded and Winchester could supply everything required for the job, including bullet mould, wad cutter, powder measure and the actual reloading tool, for the sum of five dollars.

Any old iron

Some 13-years earlier, Oliver Winchester’s company had introduced the first really practical repeating lever action rifle with the Henry, using the .44 rimfire cartridge. Initial production featured iron receivers, but this was quickly changed to brass, which lasted until the end of production and was also used on the subsequent model 1866. With the Model 1873, forged iron was again used for the first receivers, but such was the progress in metallurgy that very soon steel became the norm.

It was with the 1873 that Winchester began to offer the customer the opportunity to have a rifle made with a variety of options, giving them a choice of barrel length, stock shape, an infinite selection of sights and the opportunity to embellish guns with elaborate engraving. A great many of these bespoke rifles can be found today, although the vast majority of production featured standard rifles and carbines.

Some 80% of the Model 1873 was produced in the original .44-40 calibre but during its lifetime it was also available in .38-40, .32-20 and .22 rimfire, the latter quite scarce and sought after by today’s collectors. Missing from this list is the .45 Colt cartridge because no company, Winchester or otherwise, manufactured a lever gun for .45 Colt in the 19th Century. This is a modern fad brought about by the introduction of Cowboy Action Shooting in the United States, enabling shooters to have a rifle in the same calibre as their favourite Colt revolver.

By the time production of the 1873 ceased, in 1923, over 720,000 units had left the factory.

Today’s Choice

Today’s shooters and re-enactors who have a liking for nineteenth century American guns are well served by the Italian reproduction firearms manufacturers. A quick look through their on-line catalogues brings up a variety of models, both handguns and rifles, to suit just about every taste. A look through the 2019 Henry Krank catalogue shows a dozen variations of this Uberti Model 1873 alone, in seven different centrefire calibres and including the short stroke Competition Model. American CAS shooters began having their lever action rifles fitted with a kit to lessen the travel of the lever and speed up times, and the Uberti factory now have this option available off the shelf.

The example we have here is what Uberti call a ‘half rifle’, a description derived from the contours of the barrel, being octagonal at the rear and round at the front. This is purely cosmetic and I’m not sure whether I like it or not, but it will doubtless please someone. It is a bit different, but the octagonal barrel is, for me, the classic style for a fulllength rifle. It seems that the nineteenth century Winchester customers felt the same way, as only about one in nine hundred rifles had the part round barrel.

The barrel, magazine tube, forearm cap and butt plate are black, with the receiver, hammer, trigger and lever/trigger guard being case coloured. The black is deep and glossy and the case colours are predominantly grey and tan on the receiver, with a little more blue on the lever/ guard. Obviously, no two guns are exactly the same with regard to the colours; so, if your chosen outlet has more than one example, you might want to ask (nicely!) if you can check them all out to find one you like. The red/brown finish on the straight grain walnut stock and forearm does not seem as glossy on this piece as other Ubertis I have encountered but the wood to metal fit is very good on this rifle.

Basic sights

The sights are fairly basic with a semi-buckhorn at the rear, adjustable for windage and elevation, and a blade dovetailed into the barrel at the front. This latter can be adjusted side to side. Surprisingly, the top tang on this rifle is not tapped to take one of the optional rear sights that are available for this type of gun.

There is a sliding cover on top of the receiver, which would keep the dust out of the action during travel on a Western trail, it’s probably is a little superfluous to requirements on a modern shooting range but adds to the authenticity anyway. The cover opens when you operate the lever for the first time and stays open until you have finished shooting, when it must be closed manually.

Just like the originals, the Uberti has a trigger block safety, which requires the lever to be squeezed up tightly to the bottom tang before the trigger can be depressed. For transport, the lever can be locked in place by a latch, which engages over a short spur at the rear of the lever.

The good old days

I bought my first lever action rifle in 1998, a second-hand Sterling repro of the Winchester 1873 in .44-40 calibre, and that was mated up with a pair of revolvers in the same calibre. That rifle is still going strong today in the hands of another shooter and in the last 30-years I have always had at least one lever gun in my safe, quite often a .44 W.C.F. I think it’s fair to say that this is my favourite cartridge.

My go-to load in the good old days was 8.5-grains of Unique powder behind a 200-grain RNFP bullet, for both rifle and handgun. That load takes me over the range limit at my indoor club, so now I am down to seven-grains of the same powder, which I use for both indoor and outdoor short-range shooting. It is a very mild load, and in a rifle as heavy as the one we have here is comfortable to shoot all day.

All of today’s centre fire reproductions of post 1866 lever action rifles load through an opening on the right side of the receiver, just like the originals, which gives access to the tubular magazine under the barrel. The aperture has a spring-loaded cover over it, which is depressed by the cartridge as it is loaded. Pushing the first cartridge in until only the head is showing will hold the cover open, so that subsequent cartridges can be loaded easier. Pushing the last round all the way allows the cover to spring closed. I never found the need to load more than ten cartridges at a time for CAS shooting, although the stated capacity of this barrel length is fourteen. The toggle link action of these rifles is usually very smooth right out of the box and this one proved no exception. Operation of the lever is light and easy, and the trigger has a little travel before engaging, then breaks crisply.

Competitive edge

I feel that the majority of competitive shooters will opt for the shorter 20-inch barrel versions of this rifle, which still offer a magazine capacity, up to twelve rounds, to meet their needs. For those just looking for a feel of the Old West and a bit of fun, this model has that in spades. The light load used here is more than adequate for 25-metres, capable of putting five shots into less than twoinches if you do your bit, while a bit of work on the powder charge should give you some satisfying results out to one hundred yards or more.

Competitors who do go down the 1873 route, will also likely choose the shoot the .357 magnum cartridge or maybe the .45 Colt (it seems that the short stroke version is only available in these two calibres) in the belief that the bottle-necked cartridges, with their thinner mouths, are a pain to reload. Have none of it! This rifle was designed in 1873 for the bottle necks and in over 30-years of shooting them I have not lost enough cases through reloading mishaps to fill a half pint glass.

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Winchester 1873

Winchester 1873

1873 was a good year for guns in the Old West. The legendary Colt Single Action Army revolver was made available for the first time. The Army’s decision to standardise on .45 calibre weapons saw the introduction of the Springfield Trapdoor rifle in .45-70 calibre and Winchester revolutionised the repeating rifle world with the introduction of the centre fire Model 1873 with its reusable metallic cartridge cases. All three have reached iconic status among American firearms of the 19th Century and all are still available today in one form or another, almost a century and a half later.

The adoption of centre fire cartridges allowed Winchester to offer an increase in the power of their rifle ammunition compared to the rimfires of the Model 1866. The folded rims, which held the priming compound, of the earlier cases needed to be quite thin to enable detonation and could often burst, even with the light black powder charge of 28 grains. The new centre fire cases, with their heavier rims and bases, and now made from brass rather than copper, allowed the powder charge to be increased to forty grains. Thus the .44 Winchester Centre Fire (W.C.F.) cartridge was born, better known today as the .44- 40. Not lost to those living in the more remote regions, was the fact that the spent cases of the new ammunition could be reloaded and Winchester could supply everything required for the job, including bullet mould, wad cutter, powder measure and the actual reloading tool, for the sum of five dollars.

Any old iron

Some 13-years earlier, Oliver Winchester’s company had introduced the first really practical repeating lever action rifle with the Henry, using the .44 rimfire cartridge. Initial production featured iron receivers, but this was quickly changed to brass, which lasted until the end of production and was also used on the subsequent model 1866. With the Model 1873, forged iron was again used for the first receivers, but such was the progress in metallurgy that very soon steel became the norm.

It was with the 1873 that Winchester began to offer the customer the opportunity to have a rifle made with a variety of options, giving them a choice of barrel length, stock shape, an infinite selection of sights and the opportunity to embellish guns with elaborate engraving. A great many of these bespoke rifles can be found today, although the vast majority of production featured standard rifles and carbines.

Some 80% of the Model 1873 was produced in the original .44-40 calibre but during its lifetime it was also available in .38-40, .32-20 and .22 rimfire, the latter quite scarce and sought after by today’s collectors. Missing from this list is the .45 Colt cartridge because no company, Winchester or otherwise, manufactured a lever gun for .45 Colt in the 19th Century. This is a modern fad brought about by the introduction of Cowboy Action Shooting in the United States, enabling shooters to have a rifle in the same calibre as their favourite Colt revolver.

By the time production of the 1873 ceased, in 1923, over 720,000 units had left the factory.

Today’s Choice

Today’s shooters and re-enactors who have a liking for nineteenth century American guns are well served by the Italian reproduction firearms manufacturers. A quick look through their on-line catalogues brings up a variety of models, both handguns and rifles, to suit just about every taste. A look through the 2019 Henry Krank catalogue shows a dozen variations of this Uberti Model 1873 alone, in seven different centrefire calibres and including the short stroke Competition Model. American CAS shooters began having their lever action rifles fitted with a kit to lessen the travel of the lever and speed up times, and the Uberti factory now have this option available off the shelf.

The example we have here is what Uberti call a ‘half rifle’, a description derived from the contours of the barrel, being octagonal at the rear and round at the front. This is purely cosmetic and I’m not sure whether I like it or not, but it will doubtless please someone. It is a bit different, but the octagonal barrel is, for me, the classic style for a fulllength rifle. It seems that the nineteenth century Winchester customers felt the same way, as only about one in nine hundred rifles had the part round barrel.

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  • Winchester 1873 - image {image:count}

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  • Winchester 1873 - image {image:count}

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  • Winchester 1873 - image {image:count}

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  • Winchester 1873 - image {image:count}

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  • Winchester 1873 - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Winchester 1873 - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

The barrel, magazine tube, forearm cap and butt plate are black, with the receiver, hammer, trigger and lever/trigger guard being case coloured. The black is deep and glossy and the case colours are predominantly grey and tan on the receiver, with a little more blue on the lever/ guard. Obviously, no two guns are exactly the same with regard to the colours; so, if your chosen outlet has more than one example, you might want to ask (nicely!) if you can check them all out to find one you like. The red/brown finish on the straight grain walnut stock and forearm does not seem as glossy on this piece as other Ubertis I have encountered but the wood to metal fit is very good on this rifle.

Basic sights

The sights are fairly basic with a semi-buckhorn at the rear, adjustable for windage and elevation, and a blade dovetailed into the barrel at the front. This latter can be adjusted side to side. Surprisingly, the top tang on this rifle is not tapped to take one of the optional rear sights that are available for this type of gun.

There is a sliding cover on top of the receiver, which would keep the dust out of the action during travel on a Western trail, it’s probably is a little superfluous to requirements on a modern shooting range but adds to the authenticity anyway. The cover opens when you operate the lever for the first time and stays open until you have finished shooting, when it must be closed manually.

Just like the originals, the Uberti has a trigger block safety, which requires the lever to be squeezed up tightly to the bottom tang before the trigger can be depressed. For transport, the lever can be locked in place by a latch, which engages over a short spur at the rear of the lever.

The good old days

I bought my first lever action rifle in 1998, a second-hand Sterling repro of the Winchester 1873 in .44-40 calibre, and that was mated up with a pair of revolvers in the same calibre. That rifle is still going strong today in the hands of another shooter and in the last 30-years I have always had at least one lever gun in my safe, quite often a .44 W.C.F. I think it’s fair to say that this is my favourite cartridge.

My go-to load in the good old days was 8.5-grains of Unique powder behind a 200-grain RNFP bullet, for both rifle and handgun. That load takes me over the range limit at my indoor club, so now I am down to seven-grains of the same powder, which I use for both indoor and outdoor short-range shooting. It is a very mild load, and in a rifle as heavy as the one we have here is comfortable to shoot all day.

All of today’s centre fire reproductions of post 1866 lever action rifles load through an opening on the right side of the receiver, just like the originals, which gives access to the tubular magazine under the barrel. The aperture has a spring-loaded cover over it, which is depressed by the cartridge as it is loaded. Pushing the first cartridge in until only the head is showing will hold the cover open, so that subsequent cartridges can be loaded easier. Pushing the last round all the way allows the cover to spring closed. I never found the need to load more than ten cartridges at a time for CAS shooting, although the stated capacity of this barrel length is fourteen. The toggle link action of these rifles is usually very smooth right out of the box and this one proved no exception. Operation of the lever is light and easy, and the trigger has a little travel before engaging, then breaks crisply.

Competitive edge

I feel that the majority of competitive shooters will opt for the shorter 20-inch barrel versions of this rifle, which still offer a magazine capacity, up to twelve rounds, to meet their needs. For those just looking for a feel of the Old West and a bit of fun, this model has that in spades. The light load used here is more than adequate for 25-metres, capable of putting five shots into less than twoinches if you do your bit, while a bit of work on the powder charge should give you some satisfying results out to one hundred yards or more.

Competitors who do go down the 1873 route, will also likely choose the shoot the .357 magnum cartridge or maybe the .45 Colt (it seems that the short stroke version is only available in these two calibres) in the belief that the bottle-necked cartridges, with their thinner mouths, are a pain to reload. Have none of it! This rifle was designed in 1873 for the bottle necks and in over 30-years of shooting them I have not lost enough cases through reloading mishaps to fill a half pint glass.

gun
features

  • Name: Uberti 1873 rifle
  • Calibre: .44-40 (.44 W.C.F.)
  • Length: 43½-inches
  • Barrel: 24¼-inches
  • Pull length: 13-inches
  • Weight: 8.1lbs
  • Price: £1125.00
  • Distributor: Henry Krank. henrykrank.com

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