|March - April 2005
Volume 37, Number
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.
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 original 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,
lets 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 todays 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 Cimarrons Firearms Company (105 Winding Oak Road, Fredericksburg TX 78624-0906).
By the nature of the 1873s
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
From a sandbag rest, the Uberti
1873 turned in some interesting results. Remingtons 246-grain lead roundnose load
produced a five-shot group of .71 inch at 25 yards, but its 200-grain lead semiwadcutter
(SWC) and Federals 200-grain SWC hollowpoint (HP) didnt 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 Bores 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
discussing handloads, lets 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.
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
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 wont be offended.
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.
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 Hornadys 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.
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
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.)
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.