Compared: Winchester Model 1873 Sporter and
By Chuck Hawks
The Winchester Model 1873 rifle, "the gun that won the west," is one of the most famous rifles of all time. It was a lever action, top ejection, tubular magazine fed repeater chambered for short rifle cartridges, which included the very popular .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20. These were Winchester designed rifle cartridges that were also adapted by Colt to their Single Action Army (Peacemaker) revolvers to allow for ammunition compatibility on the frontier.
The Model 1873 was based on Benjamin Tyler Henry's classic toggle-link action first used in the Henry rifle and later in the Winchester Models 1866, 1873 and 1876. These were the rifles that made Winchester's reputation as America's premier rifle maker. The Model 1873 was the most enduring of the line, made until 1919, with a total production run of about 720,000.
Modern demand for shootable Model 1873's, driven in part by the sport of cowboy action shooting, compelled the Italian firm of Uberti (now part of the Beretta/Benelli group) to introduce successful reproductions of the Model 1873 in both rifle (24" barrel) and "short rifle" (20" barrel) versions with either octagon or round barrels. Guns and Shooting Online reviewed one of these, the Model 1873 Special Short Sporting Rifle, a carbine with a 20" full octagon barrel in caliber .357 Magnum and found it to be a very high quality product. That full length review can be found on the Product Reviews page.
For 2013, Winchester Repeating Arms (now part of the FN/Browning group) introduced the first Model 1873 to bear the Winchester name since 1919, a carbine with a 20" round barrel. This Winchester Model 1873 Sporter is made by long time Browning/Winchester partner Miroku in Japan. Thus, curiously, a genuine Winchester Model 1873 is being made in Japan. We reviewed one of these new Winchester Model 1873 Sporters with a color case hardened receiver in caliber .357 Magnum late in 2013 and found it to be another very high quality product. This is not surprising, considering the many fine Browning and Winchester brand firearms Miroku has manufactured since the 1960's. That review can also be found on the Product Reviews page.
Having two fine .357 Magnum Model 1873 carbines on hand, manufactured on opposite sides of the world, a comparison seemed inevitable. Hence, this article. Here are the specifications of our two rifles.
Uberti 1873 Special Short Sporting Rifle
Winchester Model 1873 Sporter
Incidentally, both rifles can be had in the original .44-40 caliber, as well as .357 Magnum. I requested our sample Model 1873's in the modern .357 Magnum caliber, which shoots flatter, hits harder and is much more available in 2013. The .357 Magnum chambering also allows the use of .38 Special cartridges for economical practice and small game hunting.
The mechanics and operation of these two carbines is faithful to the original Model 1873, with a couple of minor improvements incorporated in the Winchester. The first is a firing pin/striker block in the Winchester's bolt that serves as a drop safety. It is completely unobtrusive and it works. Second, there is a short bevel machined into the right rear edge of the Winchester's brass shell carrier, which causes fired cases to eject up and slightly to the right, rather than straight up as is the case with traditional 1873's and the Uberti. This prevents fired brass from landing on the shooter's head. These small improvements do not degrade the function of the Winchester 1873 in any way; they enhance an already outstanding design.
Operating the lever actions of these fine carbines requires similar effort and both are commendably smooth, a trait for which B. Tyler Henry's lever action is noted. The trigger pull of the Uberti measured a heavy 6.25 pounds per our RCBS gauge, while the Winchester's trigger released at 5.0 pounds. The Uberti trigger exhibited no creep, while the Winchester has a little smooth creep before releasing. Both triggers are far too heavy, especially for rifles of this price, but I preferred the Winchester's lighter trigger pull.
Both carbines are supplied with semi-buckhorn type open rear sights, which I detest. The worthless "ears" sticking-up on both sides of the fine center notch obscure much of the shooter's field of view, creating a problem if you have to shoot at running game. It is difficult for older shooters (like me), whose eyes have lost part of their ability to accommodate for the different distances between the rear sight, front sight and target, to aim accurately with buckhorn sights. The Uberti's rear sight has a square notch and the front blade has a squared profile, as viewed by the shooter, while the Winchester comes with a brass bead front sight. I found the Uberti's squared front sight blade marginally easier to align than the Winchester's round bead, although the brass bead is more visible in dim light.
Note that Model 1873 rifles are not easily adaptable to telescopic sights. The open top receivers are not drilled and tapped for scope mounts and they eject fired brass pretty much straight up, so a scope mounted over the receiver would interfere with the operation of the action. A long eye relief scope mounted on the barrel forward of the receiver could be used, but no such "scout scope" type mounts are available for Model 1873 rifles. Fitting a scope would require a custom mounting system and seems hardly worth the effort for short range cartridges in the .44-40 and .357 Magnum class.
A much better solution to buckhorn type rear sights is to replace them with a tang-mounted rear peep sight. This is a more accurate type of sight that eliminates the need to focus on the rear sight. In addition, looking through the rear peep hole "stops down" the shooter's eye (like stopping down a camera lens), increasing its depth of field and allowing sharper views of the front sight and target. Tang mounted peep sights are available for both rifles, but in this area the Winchester 1873 has a real advantage, since its rear tang is already drilled and tapped to accept such sights. The Uberti's tang is not drilled and tapped, thus requiring the services of a gunsmith before a tang sight can be fitted. Rocky Hays, Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor, performed this chore on our test Uberti, allowing me to mount tang peep sights to both rifles. However, this rear sight change was not accomplished until after the rifles were range tested for accuracy.
The groups recorded in the reviews of both rifles were fired using the stock sights. Our 50 yard shooting results with both of these rifles were very good. The Uberti averaged 1.45" groups at 50 yards with .38 Special ammo (we did not shoot the Uberti with .357 ammo at 50 yards), while the Winchester averaged 1.58" groups with a combination of .357 and .38 Special loads. The slight (0.13") difference is attributable to human error and different weather conditions, not a difference in the intrinsic accuracy of the rifles. Subsequent range results with both .357 and .38 ammo, after fitting the tang peep sights to both rifles, were even better. Someone with good eyes should be able to shoot five shot groups averaging about 3" or less at 100 yards with these rifles, which is deadly shooting. I consider these rifles equally accurate and entirely suitable for hunting within the maximum point blank range of all .357 Magnum loads.
Operationally, the biggest difference between these two rifles is how they handle. Let me first note that both are fast handling carbines with narrow receivers that can be comfortably carried in one hand. However, there are differences between them.
For one thing, while the forends are very similar, the Uberti's pistol grip stock feels different in the shooting hand than the Winchester's straight hand stock. Both grips are oval shaped and commendably slender. Superiority here is strictly a matter of individual shooter preference.
The Uberti buttstock has about ½" less pitch down than the Winchester stock, which makes it shoulder differently. At least for my rather square-shouldered body type, the Winchester stock fit better and felt a bit more secure at the shoulder. Your results may vary.
Both rifles balance directly beneath the breech face when empty. The Uberti weighs about a half pound heavier than the Winchester and this is noticeable. The difference in weight allows the Winchester to jump to the shoulder a tiny bit faster and carry somewhat more easily in the field. On the other hand, the Uberti's slighter greater weight makes it a bit steadier when shooting from field positions. The recoil of full power .357 Magnum loads is nominal in both rifles.
Visually, there is little to choose between the metal finishes on these two rifles. The color cased receivers and levers are about equally well done and the highly polished and hot blued barrel finish is very nice on both rifles. The Uberti's forend cap and crescent butt plate are blued, while the corresponding parts on the Winchester are color cased. The Winchesters hammer and trigger are blued, while the Uberti's hammer and trigger are color cased. All of the metal parts on both rifles are exceptionally well finished and the wood to metal fit is good.
The Uberti's octagon barrel gives it an undeniably vintage look, even though most original Winchester '73 carbines had round barrels. It is hard to resist the appeal of an octagon barrel.
The wood finishes chosen by the two manufacturers are different. The Uberti comes with a high gloss lacquer finish that shows off the color and grain of its European walnut to best advantage and the wood pores are completely filled. However, the Uberti's lacquer finish is relatively delicate and difficult to retouch if scratched. Uberti chose to checker the stock and forend of the Special Short Sporting in an attractive, three panel point pattern that wraps around the forend, a functional and aesthetic advantage.
The Winchester is supplied with a matte oil finish that does not completely fill the pores of its American black walnut stock. A couple more coats of stock oil should have been applied at the factory to completely fill the wood pores. The advantage of an oil finish is that scratches in the finish can be rubbed-out by hand with the application of a little additional finish. If the owner prefers a glossier finish, it is easy to apply additional coats of stock oil (NOT petroleum-based gun oil) to achieve the desired results. About 10 thin, hand-rubbed coats of stock oil will result in a lovely gloss finish. The walnut used in our sample Winchester is about a grade higher (fancier) than the Uberti's walnut, a definite plus. Like most original Model 1873 carbines, the new Winchester's stock is not checkered.
Aesthetically, both rifles are extremely attractive. The metal finish of both is excellent. I like the looks of the Uberti's checkering and glossy stock finish, but I prefer the Winchester's higher grade walnut and the line of its straight grip stock. If someone held me down in a hammer-lock, I'd probably have to favor the appearance of the Uberti by a slim margin.
The purpose of Guns and Shooting Online comparisons is not necessarily to pick a "winner," but to highlight the similarities and differences to assist our readers in making their own, informed decision. Both of these rifles are clearly winners and any preference between them will be a matter of personal preference. These are not cheap rifles, but they represent good value in light of their evident quality and workmanship.
After using both the Uberti and Winchester Model 1873's, I developed a very slight preference for the Winchester version. This is mostly because I like a straight hand stock and the Winchester's increased stock pitch fit me somewhat better. Since I am inclined to view these as hunting rifles, I preferred the Winchester's lighter weight and slightly faster handling. I also appreciated the Winchester's firing pin/striker block and ejection of fired cases slightly to the right. Your decision may vary. Either way, you cannot go wrong.
Note: Full reviews of both of these Model 1873 rifles are available on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.