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Awesome Art
Rifle Magazine
March - April 2005
Volume 37, Number 2
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 218
On the cover...
The Remington Model 504 is chambered in 17 Mach 2 and topped off with a Kahles scope. The Weatherby Vanguard Outfitter Custom rifle features Teflon coatings and special order stocks. Photo by Stan Trzoniec.
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The first production rifle to bear the Winchester name was the Model of 1866 (often referred to as the “Yellowboy,” a nickname reported to have been given by the Indians). Its brass (gunmetal) receiver and lock work were basically the same as the Model 1860 Henry, although the receiver was sculptured slightly differently, and it featured a new and patented cartridge loading gate on the right side of the receiver. Additionally a wood forearm was fitted, and it had a separate magazine tube (rather than being a part of the barrel as the Henry was). It was chambered for .44 (Henry) Rimfire, while the Fourth Model 1866 was also offered in .44 Centerfire. With over 170,000 units manufactured, this model introduced shooters to the Winchester name and helped establish a market for the unique lever-action rifle.

The next Winchester lever-action rifle was the Model 1873, which was not only an improved version of the Model 1866, but also one of the most historically colorful rifles ever. It featured a stronger iron frame (later changed to steel) with casehardened parts, easily removable side plates (and later a dust cover) and was chambered in a new caliber, the .44 Winchester Center Fire, more commonly known as the .44 WCF (aka .44-40 Winchester), with the .38-40, .32-20 and .22 Rimfire being added later.

Many historians refer to the Model 1873 as “the gun that won the West.” While this may not be accurate, its presence was strong and is recorded in western history – both in print and photographs. One only has to thumb through the pages of western history books to see just how popular the Model 1873 was among famous western figures on both sides of the law. A few examples include Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Ned Christie, Buffalo Bill and much of his Wild West Show, Teddy Roosevelt and the notoriously tough Texas Rangers, just to mention a few.

My grandfather Joe Pearce, who later became an Arizona Ranger, stated that in the 1880s on the Arizona frontier, the Model 1873 chambered in .44 WCF was scarce in the sense that they were nearly impossible to find for sale, new or used. After considerable effort and persistence, he found a new one for sale and instantly parted with “silver” to obtain it. Obviously the demand was great for a reliable and accurate repeating rifle on the western frontier.

In 1973 the Italian-based company Aldo Uberti began offering a reproduction of the Winchester Model 1873, which was initially offered in .357 Magnum and .44-40 Winchester. Although parts are not exactly interchangeable with origĀ­inal Winchesters, the design is largely unchanged. Sales were good, but the tremendous growth of cowboy action shooting during the 1990s and to date has indeed made this gun in high demand. In addition to the above calibers, the Uberti levergun has been offered in .32-20 WCF, .38-40 WCF, .44 Special and .45 Colt. Like original Winchesters, features include rifle and carbine styles with octagonal or round barrels ranging from 161?2 inches to 30 inches and with too many options to list.

Recently I had an opportunity to try a Uberti Model 1873 rifle with a 241?4-inch octagonal barrel chambered for the .44 Special, a great cartridge in this rifle. Be-  fore discussing the shooting results, let’s take a closer look at   the rifle.

Although a different process than the originals, the receiver and hammer are case colored with a gray marbling appearance. The barrel features six lands and grooves that are advertised to measure .417 inch (bore) and .429 inch (groove) diameter, while the width of groove is .1076 inch. The right-hand rate of twist is one turn in 20 inches. The bore has a mirror shiny finish and is suitable for cast, swaged lead or jacketed bullets. The trigger pull had slight creep, but broke at 54 ounces, which is good in today’s world.

The stock is made from European walnut and carries a deep red tint, due to the final stain/varnish applied rather than the natural color of the wood. The machining and metalwork are good with flat surfaces where they should be. This is a handsome rifle with the distinguished good looks of the Model 1873. Several firms are currently importing them, but the sample gun was “branded” by Cimarron’s Firearms Company (105 Winding Oak Road, Fredericksburg TX 78624-0906).

By the nature of the 1873’s design, cartridges that have an overall length exceeding 1.600 inches will not feed. (The .32-20, .38-40 and .44-40 cartridges have a maximum cartridge length of 1.592, 1.592 and 1.590 inches, respectively.) The point is that traditional 1873 Winchester cartridges are within these limits and function fine, as does the .357 Magnum, .44 Special and .45 Colt with standard factory length loads (and are within SAAMI prescribed lengths). When handloading the last three cartridges, however, care must be exercised to select a bullet with a correct nose length to assure that the overall cartridge is held within SAAMI recommended limits.

From a sandbag rest, the Uberti 1873 turned in some interesting results. Remington’s 246-grain lead roundnose load produced a five-shot group of .71 inch at 25 yards, but its 200-grain lead semiwadcutter (SWC) and Federal’s 200-grain SWC hollowpoint (HP) didn’t fare as well, grouping around 2 inches at the same distance and 8 and 9.5 inches, respectively, at 100 yards. Shifting gears to a Black Hills cowboy load containing a 210-grain cast bullet, groups tightened but were still not as good as previous Uberti Model 1873s I have worked with. Using Buffalo Bore’s “Heavy” .44 Special load – a 255-grain cast, SWC-style bullet with a gas check at 1,351 fps – groups hovered around 2 inches at 50 yards.

Before discussing handloads, let’s consider the strength level of the Uberti Model 1873. First, we must realize that the toggle-link lockup design is ancient and cannot withstand the pressures of the later John Browning lever-action designs, such as the Model 1892 Winchester. On the other hand, Uberti rifles are made from better steels than the original black-powder-era Winchester 1873s and have been offered in .357 Magnum since 1973. During this era the .357 Magnum had a standard industry working pressure of 46,000 CUP but has currently been changed to 35,000 psi.

In contacting various importers and Larry Crow (Competitive Edge Gunworks), a nationally recognized gunsmith who specializes in tuning these rifles, the reproductions have handled .357 Magnum ammunition without problems and have proven safe. Certainly the .44 Special case is just as strong as the .357, but being of larger caliber, it will produce greater head thrust if loaded to the same pressures and should never be pushed that hard in these rifles.

On the other hand, .44 Special loads that generate 22,000 psi should be absolutely safe in the Uberti 1873 reproduction. This makes it possible to drive a 240-grain jacketed bullet or a 250- to 260-grain cast bullet around 1,500 fps (which exceeds a .44 Magnum revolver performance stoked with factory loads) and makes this rifle/cartridge combination capable of taking big game, such as deer, black bear and elk. All the handloads (as well as the above Buffalo Bore load at 20,000 CUP) functioned without a hitch and showed no signs of excess pressure. Should you choose to stick with handloads that are within SAAMI recommended pressure limits of 15,500 psi, I certainly won’t be offended.

Having a variety of .44 Special handloads on hand for my revolvers, several were tried, producing mixed results. Using 7.5 grains of Alliant Unique behind a Keith bullet (RCBS mould 44-250-K, cast from No. 2 alloy) it grouped into 1.5 inches at 25 yards.

Next, a load using the same bullet but cast from wheelweights over 8.0 grains of Alliant Power Pistol for 1,195 fps grouped under one inch at 25 yards and 1.6 inches at 50 yards. Lyman cast bullet 429383, a 249-grain roundnose, driven by 6.0 grains of Winchester 231 also gave around one-inch groups at 25 yards. Using Hornady’s 240-grain XTP jacketed hollowpoint (measuring .430 inch) driven by 16.0 grains of Accurate Arms AAC-9 produced 1,356 fps and grouped into less than .5 inch at 25 yards and 1.1 inches at 50 yards.

Slugging the bore revealed the groove diameter was actually .432 inch, rather than the advertised .429 inch. Cast bullets used thus far had been sized to .429 inch, which could possibly explain why the softer bullets were giving better accuracy. Perhaps their bases were slugging up and giving a better gas seal. Possibly a larger diameter bullet would tighten groups. The only .44-caliber unsized cast bullets on hand were from Lyman mould 429421 and cast to BHN 19. From the mould they measured .4315 inch, so were lubed in a .432-inch H&I sizer die then loaded behind 16.0 grains of Alliant 2400, which produced 1,522 fps.

Again from a sandbag rest, a four-shot group clustered into 1.25 inches at 50 yards, while a three-shot group at 100 yards went into 2.2 inches. Certainly this level of accuracy is adequate for hunting as bullets are landing within 1.1 inches of the point of aim. (The Uberti rear sight was replaced with an interesting “no-name” sight purchased at a local gun shop, which gave a fine sight picture when combined with a gold bead front. I have yet to discover who manufactured it, but when I do, it will be reported here.)

Suggested retail of the Cimarron Firearms Uberti Model 1873 lever-action rifle is $1,025. Considering its quality, performance, handsome looks and connection with our historically rich past, it is a price I am happy to pay.

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