Uberti's Model 1866 "Yellow Boy" Replica Rifles

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Uberti 1866 Short Sporting Rifle
Uberti 1866 Short Sporting Rifle. Illustration courtesy of A. Uberti S.R.L.

Founded in 1959, A. Uberti S.R.L. of Italy is well known in the trade as the producer of the finest replica arms extant. Based on our experience with one of their Model 1866 Short Rifles, a replica of the Winchester Model 1866 lever action rifle, a Uberti replica is definitely the way to go.

Uberti offers three rifles on their Model 1866 action. One, the full length Sporting Rifle version, is supplied with a 24" octagon barrel and a brass forend cap. Another, the Short Rifle, is supplied with a 20" octagon barrel. The Short Rifle, the model that we reviewed on Guns and Shooting Online (see the Product Review Page), is identical to the Sporting Rifle except for its shorter 20" barrel. The third, the 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 guns used brass frames and were chambered for .44 rimfire.

Any number of famous (and infamous) characters of the time relied on their Winchester '66 rifles. Among these luminaries are the Chief Sitting Bull (Souix Chief), Chief Poundmaker (Cree Chief), U.S. Senator and Minister to Spain Thomas Palmer, Henry Stanley (who found Livingstone in Africa), Ben Holliday (stagecoach king), Mariano Melgarejo (President of Bolivia), and Porfirio Diaz (President of Mexico).

Here are the basic specifications of the Uberti 1866 Yellow Boy Rifles:

  • Type - Lever action repeater
  • Caliber - .38 Spec., .44-40, .45 Long Colt
  • Magazine capacity - 10 (19" and 20" barrels), 13 (24.25" barrel)
  • Barrel - 19" round, 20" octagon, 24.25" octagon
  • Sights - Post front, adjustable buckhorn rear
  • Finish - Brass receiver, buttplate; color case hardened finger lever and hammer; polished blue barrel, magazine, loading gate, trigger, and all screws
  • Stock - European walnut buttstock and forend with gloss finish
  • Overall length - 38" (19" barrel), 39" (20" barrel), 43 1/4" (24.25" barrel)
  • Length of pull - 13 1/8" (to center of buttplate)
  • Approx. weight - 7.4 pounds (Carbine), 8.2 pounds (Sporting Rifle)
  • 2006 MSRP - $900

Our sample Uberti Yellow Boy rifle was very well made and finished. The operation of the action is smooth and the fit of the action's side plates is excellent. The wood finish is glossy and perfect. All of the wood's pores are filled and the stain used on the European walnut has an attractive reddish tint.

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 devised by Nelson King, superintendent of the Winchester factory in 1866, is interesting.

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. So far, just like a modern Browning BLR, Henry Big Boy, Winchester 94 or a Marlin 336.

However, the 1866 is different in the details of its operation. Instead of the familiar M-94/M-336 pivoted shell carrier that lifts a fresh cartridge from the tubular magazine beneath the barrel 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 a shaft in the receiver located directly behind the breech. This "cartridge elevator" considerably lengthens the receiver, but positively controls the cartridge and will feed reliably with the rifle in any orientation--even upside down!

Tyler Henry's action is not very strong by modern standards. Since it was designed for the low pressure .44 Henry Flat rimfire cartridge, it didn't have to be. The 1866 breech block appears to be held closed by the finger lever operating a relatively flimsy system of links. A simple but effective half-cock hammer position serves as the "safety."

The 1866 action is smoother and faster to operate than modern Winchester and Marlin lever actions, even though the total lever movement is about the same. Its mainspring is much easier to compress when the hammer is thumb cocked. And the huge hammer spur gives the thumb more purchase, although it blocks the view of the rear sight when the hammer is not cocked. That is why John Browning changed the hammer profile on his Model 1886 Winchester.

No separate ejector 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 interesting to watch.

The 1866 open top action is as easy to single load as it is to load the magazine. Just operate the lever far enough to completely withdraw the breech block without raising the cartridge carrier and insert a cartridge from the top. Moving the lever rearward to close the breech block will chamber the cartridge. B. Tyler Henry's action design, improved by Nelson King and faithfully recreated by Uberti, is very user friendly.

We had the Uberti 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 blast shooting them. (See the article "Shooting Classics" on the Collector's Corner page.)

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, is a real pleasure to use. Since it is practically impossible to shoot an original Winchester Model 1866, Uberti's classy replicas are definitely the way to go if you want to shoot a bit of history.

Note: Complete reviews of the Uberti 1866 and 1873 Short Sporting Rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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