Winchester revolutionized the rifle market with their 1873. It is known as “the rifle that won the west.” And for good reason. Winchester made more than 720,000 of them. Good examples of the 1873 are still in operation today.
The 1873 was originally chambered in .44-40. Later versions came in .38-40, .32-20 and others. Rumor has it that the gun was attempted in .45 Colt, but the round had difficulty feeding. Modern reproductions of the 1873 are made in .45 Colt, but some feeding issues still persist.
The .44-40, though, was the standard. It was so popular that Colt made versions of the Peacemaker in .44-40. As the .45 Colt cartridge has stood the test of time, and the .44-40 has all but disappeared, it makes sense to have a .45 Colt version, which is where Uberti and Cimarron come in.
Cimarron and Uberti make a nice partnership. Uberti, thanks to their production of guns for the spaghetti westerns, knows the wild west guns inside and out. Cimarron improves up them, and offers special editions specifically for collectors and cowboy action shooters. They currently make several versions of the 1873 in numerous chamberings.
Though Cimarron’s Saddle Shorty comes from Uberti originally, it isn’t available in their catalog. The 18-inch octagonal barrel is very nicely blued. The walnut of the straight stock is very well finished, and handsome. It isn’t highly figured, but it shouldn’t be. While this is a beautiful gun, that isn’t the main focus.
The case hardened steel on the receiver and lever is nice, too. And functional. Case hardening is a surface treatment applied to mild steel that hardens shell on the exterior. These days, the process is mostly cosmetic. But it is a nice touch, and the Italians do it very well.
Cimarron has nice checkering on the stock and forend. The checks are really fine, and offer a great grip for the gun. The narrow hand grip on the stock fits perfect in the hand, and the deep concave stock end fits nicely in the shoulder.
The action on this 1873 has been shortened with the “Cimarron Competition” short stroke. This makes the action faster, as the lever travels close to 3 inches less than normal. If you are accustomed to a longer throw, the short stroke will feel off. But it is meant to be run from the shoulder, fast. And with the low recoil from the .45 Colt, the 1873 is really fast.
The sights are functional. The rear semi buckhorn sights are nice, and offer some elevation for long shots (though that isn’t as likely with the slow cowboy action loads many will shoot from the 1873). I’ve always been a fan of the semi buckhorn. The more you use them, the more accustomed you get to their peculiar open sight picture, and the faster shots become.
If I have one issue with the 1873, it is the lever safety. The lever has to be securely against the stock for the hammer to fall. I found it easier to hold the stock and the lever (but with my fingers on the outside instead of in) to get the requisite amount of pressure. With my big hand inside the lever, I would sometimes pull the trigger and nothing would happen.
Cimarron’s 1873, like the originals, relies on the lever to lift a round into the chamber and then slide it in. This makes ammo selection very important. I’d ordered several hundred rounds of .45 Colt (which I had to search for) without thinking about the bullet shape. What I received had a lip of lead, just above the brass, which is great for sealing in the gasses in rifling. And they wouldn’t feed. At all.
I ended up seating each round in the chamber by hand. After that, they worked fine. But it was a royal pain in the ass. When I did end up with some appropriate ammunition, the gun ran perfectly.
The 1873 works best with flat nosed, rounded bullets. The flat nose is important, as the bullets will line up in the tube. The rounded point of ball ammo, or anything pointed, will rest right against the primer of the round ahead of it in the tube.
Shooting the 1873 is predictably easy. Accuracy is decent. While it isn’t going to print tight groups at 100 yards, it is more than accurate enough to hit a 6-inch steel at that distance. The weight of the gun, combined with the lower pressures of the .45 Colt, make for very low recoil.
And the removable side panels on the 1873 make it much easier to clean than many of the lever action guns that came before.
Cimarron’s 1873 retails for $1,376, or less. At that price, it will appeal to competition shooters and serious collectors, but the gun is great for anyone with that nostalgic sense of history.