When I was a youngster, many years ago, I watched a movie titled “Winchester 73” starring Jimmy Stewart, but the real star of the flick was the authentic Winchester Model 1873 lever gun! I made up my mind to own one someday. Having since added one to my collection, it’s still one of my favorites. So, let’s take a look at a truly classic and classy lever gun, the Model 1873 rifle in .45 Colt from Uberti.
Known as the “gun that won the West,” this rifle was an improvement over the earlier Henry and Model 1866 rifles. Those rifles were less powerful and chambered for rimfire cartridges. They were also somewhat difficult to load and clean. The ’73 Winchester solved all of those problems to become the best all-around rifle of its day. Every lawman, cattleman, and desperado wanted one.
Although popular in carbine lengths, my gun for review today is a full-length rifle. My favorite feature is the beautifully color-case-hardened receiver. Notice the blues and blacks melded together on the polished steel. Winchester added “plates” to each side of the receiver. These can be removed for cleaning. When removed you can see the toggle system that connects the lever to the lifter.
The lifter removes one cartridge from the magazine tube and lifts it in line with the bolt to be driven home into the chamber. The loading gate on the right side allows the magazine to be loaded and later topped off as needed. There is a lock for the lever to prevent unwanted opening and a dust cover over the action. It has a crescent butt plate, which aids in off-hand shooting. The rifle can be purchased in 45 Colt or .38/.357 calibers.
This is a target rifle. I use it to compete in Lever Action Rifle Silhouette matches here in Tucson monthly and at the Western National matches held annually at the Whittington Center in New Mexico. Notice the tang-mounted Marbles peep sight. It is adjustable for windage and elevation. Combined with the Lyman globe front sight, I am able to define distant targets more clearly.
The Lyman has interchangeable inserts. I have removed the buckhorn barrel sight and now have a greater sight radius. When shooting silhouette matches, the maximum distance for the Pistol Cartridge Class is 100 yards. My best score to date is 28 out of 40 targets.
When I shoot this rifle, I notice it’s hefty. The 8-pound overall weight is concentrated forward due to the heavy octagon barrel. This makes it accurate in the off-hand position. It is excellent for target shooting. It is slim and graceful in my hands, as if to tell me to “squeeze the trigger, and I'll send it where you aim.”
The ability to add target sights means that it is adaptable for different shooting uses. That appeals to me. It is not an AR15, but it holds 14 .45 Colt cartridges in a skinny package, which means fewer reloads and a slick action for speed shooting. I like that, too. Holding the rifle, I am reminded of the romance of the Old West.
Casting my own bullets and loading my cartridges gives me versatility in customizing my loads. It also helps in accuracy. I powder-coat my bullets to prevent undue barrel leading. Red is my favorite color, and I call them my lipstick bullets. They are highly visible when loaded, accurate, and do not allow the lead to contact my barrel rifling.
Uberti has followed the Winchester model exactly. Originally intended for black powder loads, it will still shoot them reliably. I choose to shoot light smokeless powder loads. Do not shoot +P or magnum ammunition. The action is not strong enough for it.
Range Time & Accuracy
Col. Townsend Whelen once said that “only accurate rifles are interesting." Well, this is an accurate rifle. I am easily able to place three shots in a tight group at 25 yards on a paper target from the off-hand position.
Although light hand loads, the lead bullet sends those cans and bottles jumping and exploding. Reaching out to 100 yards is no problem for the ’73. My milk-bottle-shaped steel target can be rung with a bell-like tone time and again.
Uberti has a winner in the Model 1873. Whether you choose the carbine length or the rifle length, you will own a strong and beautiful recreation of the classic firearm. It will handle mild modern pistol cartridges as well as hand-loaded authentic black-powder cartridges with ease. The fast and smooth action is a close second to modern semi-automatic rifles. You won't regret owning one!