Uberti 1873 Short Rifle


by Paco Kelly

photography by Paco Kelly

August 14th, 2006




In it's time the 1873 Winchester, was the gun reported to have won the West.  There is a lot of controversy to the truth or falseness of that, the Henry, the 1866 Winchester the 1873 and 1876 all were a part of that great move west in our country. But it can be clearly said the 1873 was the rifle that was most sought after by those in the last three decades of the 19th century.  The 44-40 was the caliber of choice, but the 38-40 was selected by a good number of folks. In 1882 the 32-20 was chambered also in the 1873 design but wasnít as popular as the other two.

And in those early days the chamberings were not called by Winchester, by the powder weight,  38-Ď40' and 44-Ď40'... the big W called them the 44 WCF and the 38 WCF, for ĎWinchester Center Fireí. 

Because the designation WCF was a Winchester copyright... when other ammo companies began to load for the rounds, they were called by the powder names. And it stuck. And the mighty 38 WCF (which was not a 38 at all, but a 401+ caliber), and the 44 WCF became the 38-40 and the 44-40, the chamberings of choice.....

Today's modern clone 1873s come in many calibers including the 44 WCF and the 32-20 WCF... I am told they also come in the 38-40 but I have yet to see one.  Several distributors have them also chambered in the more modern calibers like the .357 magnum.  Since the toggle system design of the 1873s is not a very strong system, with a very slim bolt... that chambering surprises me.  For a design that was made to take 16,000 psi (to a top load of 23,000 psi in modern steel)... the 35,000 psi of todayís commercial 357 loads is way over the stress points of the design.  And some commercial ammo is still loaded to the original 357 pressure levels of 45,000+ psi.

I have a Uberti 1873 all steel action Short Rifle in .357 Magnum shown in the pictures.  It is a gorgeous rifle. With itís deep charcoal type bluing and case colored action, the photos do not do the gun justice.  A 20 inch octagon barrel, that is usually the carbine length. But this levergun has the rifle forearm, barrel, loading tube, barrel band, and octagon barrel.  It weighs in at 7.4 pounds unloaded.  It has buck horn sights, but that will change as soon as the peep sights I ordered come in from MidwayUSA.

The wood is dense walnut with a goodly amount of figure, the photos also donít show the grain very well.  In fact some of the weight comes from the heavy walnut of the forearm and buttstock.  It has the traditional curved butt-plate of the 73s.  The butt-plate has the same blue as the barrel and loading tube.

If you look at the close-up photo of the brass lifter in the up position (itís the photo looking down into the action), you can see the bolt between the two sides of the brass lifter.... it is not very big in circumference, and itís somewhat long and unsupported at firing.  And who knows how really strong it is, even if it is steel and not brass. In my earlier testing of the 1873 steel clone 32-20s, I found that they shouldnít be reloaded past 23,000 psi.  That is my arbitrary top loading pressure for new steel Ď73s.  In respect for the simple but weaker design.

The one thing I have always loved about the Henry through the 1876 rifles, which are basically the same design, just different action sizes, is the smoothness of the actions.  And this Uberti is no exception. It is butter smooth.  The octagon barrel, steel action, and heavy wood give a hefty but an Ďon pointí aiming ability to the rifle. Its 20 inch barrel is a bit nose heavy and hangs on the target.  

Most of the reloading books call for top loads in pressure around 16,000 psi for well made and tight 73s.  With the modern steel 1873 action and smaller head size of the .357 cartridge, I figure 20,000 to 23,000 psi isnít going to hurt my rifle.  I have shot +P 38 Special commercial ammo out of it without problems, and that was rated at 23,000+ psi.  So I believe extended use of 23,000 psi or below will be fine. If I want true 357 mag rifle velocities, I have Winchester and Legacy 1894 and 1892 designed leverguns that can take top .357 magnum pressures. No sense hurting a fine 1873 rifle.

With powders I have found that the old standbys like 2400 and H-4227 are very good ... but HS-6 and Blue Dot in some loadings turned out very well.

For example, 8 grains of Blue Dot under a 110 grain jacketed bullet will give near 1450 fps from the rifle with only 17,500+ psi from the 20 inch barrel.. A near magnum load from a short barreled handgun.  And it will make a very bad day for a coyote inside 100 yards.....   Accurate #5 with 8 grains will push a 125 grain jacketed bullet from the rifle at 1350+ fps for around 18,700 psi, and it is a neat load out to 100 plus yards.  7 grains of HS-6 under a cast 158 grain Keith bullet will go 1300 fps..... a modest 17,000 psi..... this load at 50 yards is ideal,  going into an inch+ when I hold well enough with buck horn sights...  As most of my readers know, I am not a buck horn sight aficionado.

And using any good reloading book, you can find many acceptable loads for squirrel to coyotes in the 38 special plus P sections... itís a fun gun. This gun is a low pressure thing of beauty, fun to shoot, no recoil to speak of, accurate to a fault and a fine small game rifle... And the word about its exceptional accuracy has leaked out.... I hear the squirrels are picketing the Uberti manufacturing plant.

Paco Kelly 

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