Uberti 1866 Model Short Sporting Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
This rifle is a replica of the Winchester Model 1866 "Yellow Boy" carbine made by A. Uberti S.R.L. of Italy. Founded in 1959 to produce muzzleloading revolvers, Uberti is well known in the trade as the producer of the finest replica arms extant, and this Model 1866 clone is a good example of their work.
Uberti seems somewhat unclear as to the nomenclature of the test rifle. It is variously referred to as the "1866 Yellow Boy Short Rifle," "1866 Mod. Sporting Rifle," "1866 Lever Action Rifle," and "1866 Short Rifle" in Uberti literature. The instruction manual that came with the gun is titled: 1866 Mod. Sporting Rifle and Carbine. The end of the box our review rifle came in was marked: Item 342340 / 1866 SHT RFL OCT BRS 20" 45 LC. And stamped on the upper tang of the test rifle is "MOD66 SPORTING RIFLE." Hence the compromise nomenclature used in the title of this review.
I think that the confusion is caused by the fact the Uberti makes three rifles on their 1866 action. One, the full length (Sporting Rifle) version of the Uberti 1866 is supplied with a 24" octagon barrel and a brass forend protection cap. Another, the (Short Rifle) version reviewed here, is supplied with a 20" octagon barrel and the same forend. The third (Carbine) version is supplied with a 19" round barrel and the forend is secured by a blued steel barrel band.
Winchester offered their original Model 1966 in rifle, carbine, and musket configurations with round and octagon barrels. The musket featured a round barrel with a bayonet lug and there were two styles of bayonet available. Caps or bands attached the forends of the various Winchester 1866 rifles, and in very early examples the forend was simply pinned in place through a diamond shaped escutcheon. Winchester produced over 170,000 examples between 1866 and 1898, when the '66 was finally discontinued, the great majority of which were carbines. All Model '66 arms used brass frames and were chambered for .44 rimfire.
Here are the basic specifications of our Uberti 1866 Short Rifle:
Our sample rifle, ordered new through Guns and Shooting staff member Kathy Hays, came with a crisp (but too heavy), 4.5 pound trigger pull and a light, easy to cock hammer spring. The operation of the action is smooth and the fit of the action's side plates is virtually perfect. You have to look carefully to even see the lines where the side plates join the receiver.
The wood to metal fit is also very good. The tangs are precisely inletted and the action is properly headed-up. The curved rifle buttplate was carefully fitted to the walnut stock. Altogether, a nice job was done stocking this rifle. The wood finish is glossy and perfect. All of the pores are filled and the stain used on the European walnut has an attractive reddish tint.
The finish and assembly of this rifle is much better executed and shows far more attention to detail than was the case with the very attractive but poorly executed Winchester Model 94 Trails End Hunter rifle that we reviewed last year. Unlike the Winchester, the craftsmen who built it clearly cared about this Uberti.
The operation of the Model 1866, which is basically an improved Henry action with the addition of a wood forend and a loading gate in the right side of the brass receiver designed by Nelson King, is both interesting and unfamiliar to most modern shooters.
Overall it is similar in operation to the Marlin 336/1894/1895 and Winchester 94 lever actions with which we are all familiar. That is, it is an exposed hammer, tubular magazine fed, lever action repeater. You swing the lever down and forward to extract and eject the fired case, and then back and up to its starting position to chamber a new cartridge and lock the action. Operating the lever also cocks the hammer, readying the rifle for the next shot.
However, the 1866 is different in the details of its operation. Instead of a pivoted shell carrier that lifts a fresh cartridge from the magazine and aligns it with the chamber so that the closing bolt will ram it home, the Henry design uses a carrier block that raises and lowers vertically in what is effectively an elevator shaft in the receiver directly behind the breech.
This "cartridge elevator" considerably lengthens the receiver. The receiver of our Mod. 1866, chambered for the .45 LC cartridge that is only 1.6" long, measures approximately 7 5/8" in length (excluding tangs). Compare that to the 6 1/2" long receiver (excluding tangs) of a Winchester Model 94 chambered for the much longer and more powerful .30-30 cartridge, which has a COL of 2.55".
In a nutshell, John Browning's Model 94 receiver is over an inch shorter, even though it uses a cartridge about an inch longer. That is roughly a 2" saving in length compared to the 1866 Henry/King action. And the Model 94 is a far stronger action with a much more massive breech block and locking bolt. (The 1866 breech block appears to be held closed by the finger lever operating a relatively flimsy system of links.)
The Model 94 is also safer in that the trigger cannot be pulled to drop the hammer unless the lever is fully closed; the 1866 can be fired with its action unlocked. A half-cock hammer notch serves as a "safety" position in both actions.
On the other hand, the 1866 action is smoother and faster to operate, even though the total lever movement is about the same in the two actions. Its mainspring is much easier to compress when the hammer is thumb cocked. And the huge hammer spur gives the thumb more purchase. The latter blocks the view of the rear sight when the hammer is not cocked, however, and prevents the shooter from seeing his bullet impact. That is why the Model 1876 was the last Winchester with that hammer profile. Despite the light hammer spring, the hammer blow on the firing pin puts a very substantial dent in a primer.
No ejector, per se, is required in the 1866; the rising cartridge carrier block just pushes the fired and extracted case out the open top of the receiver as it raises a new cartridge into alignment with the chamber, no matter how slowly or rapidly the finger lever is operated. It is an interesting process to watch, and fired cases just plop onto the shooting table when the lever is operated slowly.
The 1866 is completely insensitive to position or attitude. It feeds and ejects properly with the rifle held at any angle, including flat on its side or completely upside down. Talk about controlled feed! It must have been a boon to mounted riflemen on the frontier. In fact, the 1866 carbine is considered to be the first cowboy rifle and was the first long arm routinely carried by cowboys in a saddle scabbard.
B. Tyler Henry's open top action is also very easy to single load. Just operate the lever far enough to completely withdraw the breech block without raising the cartridge carrier and insert a cartridge from the top--no need to slide it into the chamber, although you can. Moving the lever rearward to close the breechblock will chamber the cartridge. The 1866 action design, faithfully recreated by Uberti, is very user friendly.
We had the Uberti Yellow Boy at the range at the same time as a modern Henry Big Boy .357 Magnum rifle sent for review, and the two classic lever action, brass framed rifles made an interesting comparison. Both are chambered for revolver cartridges and we had a lot of fun shooting them. (See the article "Shooting Classics" on the Collector's Corner page.)
We did our shooting, as usual, at the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. For those new to Guns and Shooting Online Reviews, this facility offers covered bench rest shooting positions and target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards. The summer weather was cooperative, with sunshine and blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70 degree F range. The wind was moderately gusty, but was not a problem at the short ranges at which we were shooting this big bore rifle.
Guns and Shooting Online staffers Chuck Hawks, Bob Fleck and Rocky Hays did the shooting. Most of our shooting for record was done at 25 yards from a shooting bench using a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest weighted with one 25 pound bag of lead shot. We used NRA 100-Yard Small Bore Rifle Targets and fired 5-shot groups. Barrel heating was not a factor.
Why, you ask, were we shooting at only 25 yards? Well, because we are all middle aged guys whose eyes simply lack the ability to accommodate to the supplied buckhorn iron sights, and the greater the range the blurrier the target and the worse the sighting error becomes. It's not the rifle at fault here, but the shooters. Better to shoot at 25 yards and multiply the resultant group sizes by 4 to approximate the results at 100 yards (for normal shooters) when you are dealing with geezer shooters like us.
We shot groups for record with the two types of .45 Colt ammunition that we had on hand. These were generic "white box" factory loads using a 250 grain JHP bullet at a nominal MV of 860 fps from a revolver barrel, and a handload using the famous Speer "flying ashtray" 200 grain JHP bullet in front of 11.0 grains of HS-6 powder for a MV of 945 fps from a revolver. Neither of these loads had previously been fired from a rifle barrel and we did not have our chronograph with us, so the actual MV's are unknown, but we suspect about a 200 fps increase in MV from the Uberti Yellow Boy. Here are the shooting results:
Rocky shot the smallest 25 yard group of our session with the Uberti (1 1/8"). Consequently, he was elected to take a crack at a 14"x14" square cardboard target at 100 yards, firing a 3-shot group with each load. The best group measured 5", shot with the factory load. That is actually a little better than predicted by multiplying Rocky's average 25 yard group size (1 5/8") with that load by four.
Remember, before being too critical of our accuracy results with the Uberti, that we did not have an opportunity to work up an accuracy load for our test rifle. The .45 Long Colt, while undoubtedly a potent revolver cartridge for personal defense, has never had the best reputation for accuracy. We expect that a Uberti 1866 Short Rifle chambered for the .38 Special cartridge, which is available, would out shoot our .45 LC test rifle.
Uberti 1866 rifles are not available in .357 or .44 Magnum calibers. A pity, as both magnums shoot flatter, hit harder, and are more accurate than the .45 LC in our experience. However, the original brass framed Model 1866 was designed for the .44 Henry Flat rimfire cartridge, which operated at lower pressure than the centerfire .45 LC. Neither the original Winchester 1866 nor Uberti's nearly exact replica were designed to withstand high pressure loads.
We had a lot of fun at the rifle range with the Uberti 1866 Yellow Boy. The basic action, designed by B. Tyler Henry and Nelson King almost a century and a half ago, is a real pleasure to use. We can see why Winchester kept it in production for so long and how it established the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. as one of the world's greatest rifle makers.
Since it is practically impossible to shoot an original Winchester Model 1866, Uberti's classy replica is definitely the way to go if you want to experience a bit of history. The list price of this rifle is not low, but compared to the price of an original, not to mention the problem of acquiring shootable quantities of .44 Henry rimfire ammo, the Uberti Model 1866 Short Rifle is a real bargain.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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