Model 1873 Short Rifle from Winchester Repeating Arms

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

April 23rd, 2014


Click pictures for a larger version.









Magazine loading gate.





Lever latch.



Sliding dust cover.





Lever-activated sear safety.









The year 1873 was one of the most significant in the history of firearms. That year saw the introduction of two of the most-famous and recognizable firearms in the world; the 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver, and the 1873 Winchester lever-action rifle, the latter of which is the subject of this review.

The 1873 Winchester rifle retained the butter-smooth action of its predecessors; the Henry and the 1866. It also had the easy-loading King's patent loading gate on the right side of the receiver as did the 1866. The significance of the 1873 was that it was the first rifle to chamber the comparatively powerful 44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire) cartridge. The 44 WCF (44-40) was a lot more powerful than the 44 Rimfire cartridge that was used in the Henry and the 1866. Besides it packing more power, the WCF cartridges were also reloadable, using the handy loading tool that was invented by Oliver Winchester's son, William. This was an important feature for a man on the frontier that had no ready source of ammunition.

The 1873 Winchester rifle was also stronger than its predecessors, and was built specifically to handle the longer WCF cartridges. The frame of the 1873 was made from iron instead of brass, and the ejection port had a sliding dust cover on top, to keep out the elements in harsh environments. The '73 was offered in many variations, including rifle, carbine, and musket. The 1873 was built from 1873 through 1923, being officially dropped in 1924, with almost three-quarters of a million rifles built. The 1873 could be ordered with an wide variety of custom options, such as half round/octagon barrels, gold, nickel, and silver plating, custom barrel lengths, and various amounts of engraving coverage. In addition to the 32, 38, and 44 WCF cartridges, the 1873 was also chambered for the 22 Short and Long rimfire cartridges. Oliver Winchester was very good at marketing, and gained a lot of publicity by putting his rifles into the hands of famous people of the time, and also with his "One of One Thousand" and "One of One Hundred" rifles. The '73 is one of the most famous rifles in history, and bears the unofficial title of "The Gun That Won The West".

While Italian replica 1873 rifles and carbines have been imported into the US for many years, and most are quite good, it has been ninety years since the Winchester brand has been roll-marked upon a '73, but now Winchester has just reintroduced the 1873 Short Rifle, and it is available in the US. Made by Miroku in Japan, the Winchester 1873 Short Rifle wears a round barrel and a blued steel receiver. The wood is straight-grained satin-finished walnut, and the '73 wears a rifle-style crescent buttplate, with a blued-steel forearm cap. The sights consist of a semi-buckhorn rear, with a Marble gold-bead (brass) front. The rear sight is step-adjustable, and both front and rear can be drifted in their dovetails for windage correction.

The new Model 1873 Short Rifle is available chambered for the 44 WCF (44-40), 45 Colt, or the 357 Magnum cartridges, the latter of which will also fire 38 Special ammunition, which is significant to those who desire to use the rifle for Cowboy Action competition. In that sport, speed of fire is very important, and the low recoil and relatively low cost of ammunition makes the 38 Special cartridge a favorite, in both the competitor's sixgun and his rifle.

The 1873 Winchester shown here is beautifully polished, and the wood is fitted very well, with only a slight bit of proudness where it meets the blued steel. The action is, as expected, butter-smooth. There are no visible tool marks, and the rifle's metal is finished flawlessly, as I have come to expect from Miroku. The '73 weighs in at seven pounds, seven ounces on my scale. The trigger pull is perfect, releasing crisply with slightly over two and three-quarters pounds of resistance. The rifle incorporates the lever-actuated sear safety, as did all Winchester 1873 rifles manufactured after 1880. The twenty-inch round barrel measures .876 inch diameter at the front of the receiver, and tapers to .72 inch at the muzzle. The magazine tube diameter on this 357 Magnum measures .646 inch diameter outside.

The Winchester 1873 Short Rifle has an overall length of 39.05 inches, measured from the buttplate to the muzzle. The length of pull measures thirteen inches, and the drop at the heel is three inches, making for a very comfortable-feeling rifle to me. The magazine tube holds eleven 38 Special cartridges, or ten 357 magnum cartridges.

The Winchester 1873 Short Rifle functioned perfectly with normal 38 Special and 357 Magnum ammunition, including several forms of hollowpoint and solid-bullet ammo, including some blunt 180 grain cast lead ammunition. The only ammunition that would not function, and I expected that it would not, was some Atomic reverse-hollowbase wadcutter loads. These loads work well in revolvers, but are too short to function properly in a levergun. Still, I had to try, but the ammo not working is no fault of rifle nor the ammunition. They are just not compatible. Every other type of ammo tried functioned perfectly. The rifle fed, fired, and ejected flawlessly, with the empty cases falling clear of both the rifle and the shooter.

The following loads were checked for velocity from the Winchester's twenty-inch barrel, with impressive results. The 357 Magnum has a lot more power when fired from a closed-breech rifle barrel than when fired from a revolver, with the best loads approaching 30-30 Winchester power, while firing a fatter bullet and with lower recoil. JHP is a jacketed hollowpoint bullet. LHP is a lead hollowpoint. TAC-XP, XPB, and DPX are Barnes homogenous hollowpoint bullets. LFN-GC is a hard-cast lead flatnose gas-checked bullet. LRN is a soft lead roundnose bullet. +P indicates ammunition loaded above SAAMI specs for standard 38 Special ammunition. Bullet weights are listed in grains. Velocities were recorded ten feet from the muzzle, at an elevation of 541 feet above sea level, with an air temperature of seventy-three degrees Fahrenheit, and a relative humidity of forty-eight percent. Velocities are listed in feet-per-second (fps).

Ammunition Bullet Weight Velocity

38 Special +P



Atomic LHP 148 1235
Cor-Bon DPX 110 1341
Remington JHP 125 1351
Buffalo Bore TAC-XP 110 1605

38 Special Standard Pressure



Buffalo Bore TAC-XP 110 1463
Buffalo Bore LHP 158 1234
Peters LRN 158 981

357 Magnum



Buffalo Bore XPB 125 2233
Buffalo Bore LFN-GC 180 1850
Atomic JHP 158 1929
Remington JHP 125 1672
Cor-Bon DPX 125 2033
Cor-Bon JHP 140 1761s

As stated above, velocities were impressive. Note that the 357 Magnum Buffalo Bore and Cor-Bon 125 grain loads use the same Barnes bullet, but the Buffalo Bore load is running a full 200 fps faster. That is an excellent load for whitetail deer, hogs, or for social work, with very impressive bullet expansion and deep penetration.

Accuracy was also very good, limited only by the ability of my eyes to clearly see open sights. Still, this rifle proved to be very accurate, with most ammo grouping under one and one-half inches at fifty yards, and the largest group fired measuring two and one-half inches. With some loads, I think this rifle would group into one ragged hole, with a better shooter pulling the trigger.

I am glad to see that Winchester is once again paying attention to the lever action fans in this country, and there are many. MSRP on this new 1873 is $1299.99 US, as of the date of this review, which is not inexpensive, but it is also priced right in there with the better Italian rifles, such as the Cimarron. Winchester has, over the past few years, sold other Miroku-produced leverguns, and they have all been very well-made rifles. This new 1873 is no exception, and it is good to see the Winchester brand upon the "Gun That Won The West".

Check out the new 1873 and other Winchester firearms and accessories online at

For the location of a Winchester dealer near you, click on the DEALER FINDER at

To order the 1873 rifle online, click on the Gun Genie at

To order quality 38 Special and 357 Magnum ammunition, go to,,, and

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.







Step-adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight with brass-bead front.



Fifty-yard accuracy was limited by the author's ability to use the semi-buckhorn sight, but the rifle showed the potential to be a one-holer at that distance, with the right ammunition. Also shown is a two and one-half inch group, which was the largest fired with any ammunition.