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In 1860, B. Tyler Henry received a patent for a truly landmark rifle. With a lever operated action and the .44 Rimfire brass cartridge case, the Model of 1860 or .44 Henry was born. This was a tremendously important firearms advancement coming at a time when the single-shot muzzle loader was it. There is much truth to the advertising that said a man armed with a Henry rifle and on horseback simply could not be captured.
With its fifteen round capacity, the Henry was as far removed form the single-shot percussion rifles that preceded it as today's high tech larger screen TV's are to those old smallish black and white sets with poor reception that we experienced back in the 1940's. This was simply totally previously unheard of firepower.
The 1860 had a brass frame and loaded not through a gate as subsequent centerfire leverguns but was rather loaded through a tube from the front much like many of today's .22 leverguns. This was a serious drawback when it came to reloading as the rifle could not be subject to immediate use as it was being reloaded. Additionally there was no forearm to protect the tubular magazine from dents and dings.
When Oliver Winchester lent his name to a levergun, the first Winchester came forth as the 1866, or as it was soon called due to its brass frame, the Yellow Boy. By adding a forearm and a loading gate, Winchester set the stage for a whole line of great leverguns.
The 1866 was a great rifle and still exists today in replica form and is quite popular with Cowboy Shooters. Just this past week a fellow brought an original Henry in great shape into one of our local gun stores. The manager felt it was too valuable for him to even have it on display! After all these intervening years, the stock and forearm still had much original finish on them.
The 1860 followed by the 1866 were both great steps forward but the best was yet to come. In 1873 the now legendary Winchester '73 emerged differing from the 1866 in two major areas. The frame was now made of steel instead of brass, and the ammunition was no longer rimfire but a reloadable centerfire, the .44 Winchester Center Fire or .44 WCF or as it is simply and more commonly known today, the .44-40.
Mention The Gun That Won the West and most people think of the '73 Winchester. In the 1950's movie with Jimmy Stewart, entitled Winchester '73, the Winchester was the real star with the whole plot revolving around a very special One of One Thousand Model 1873 Winchester. Winchester selected Model '73's that were above average in accuracy and they became One of One Hundred or One of One Thousand examples at premium prices. The above mentioned movie is also notable for the worst portrayal of Wyatt Earp ever. In any movie. At any time. By any actor.
The original chambering was joined by the .38 Winchester Centerfire in 1879, and this was followed by the .32 Winchester Centerfire in 1882. When Colt added these three cartridges to the Colt Single Action Army it became possible for a shooter of that age to have a sixgun and saddlegun that chambered the same cartridge. A most desirable feature.
John Browning's first levergun was the large and powerful 1886 Winchester chambered in such cartridges as the .45-70, .45-90, and .50-110. A great gun but overly powerful and large for most uses. So Browning combined the best attributes of the 1873 and 1886 by miniaturizing the '86 with result being the Model of 1892. Gone was the toggle link action of the '73 replaced by the much stronger double locking bolts of the '86. The Model 1892 was mostly chambered in the same cartridges as the Model 1873, .44-40, .38-40, .32-20.
As a young kid I was most impressed the first time I saw John Wayne. The movie was Stagecoach and it was made the year I was born. By the time I was ten it was making the rounds of that new medium television and I was almighty impressed as I saw the Duke stop the stagecoach by twirling his Model '92 with a special large loop lever. Wayne would use this special levergun for nearly forty years in some truly great movies. The large loop lever has no practical value but is good only for movie effect.
When I started shooting seriously in the 1950's, levergun fanciers were grabbing up Model 1892's for conversions to both .357 and .44 Magnums. These made excellent companions to the new magnum sixguns from Ruger, the .357 and .44 Blackhawks. With so many conversions being done, original shooter grade Model 1892's soon disappeared.
Both the Model '73 and '92 are grand choices for Cowboy Shooters but originals are hard to find in good shootable condition at a reasonable price. They are either dogs that need to be totally re-built or priced at collectible levels. Thanks to Navy Arms, shooters can now have one or both Winchesters in replica form.
For over forty years Navy Arms has been importing quality replica firearms both cap-n-ball and cartridge firing sixguns, and muzzle loading and cartridge firing rifles. The latter includes both single-shot rifles and leverguns as well as a .45-70 double rifle.
A walk through Navy Arms catalog is a step back in time for the traditionalists among us. Many companies import cap-n-ball sixguns from Italy but none can match Navy Arms for variety. There are the standard Colts, 1836 Paterson, 1847 Walker, 1848 Dragoon, 1851 Navy, and 1860 Army, with shoulder stocks, and presentation cases available for many models. Then we have the Remingtons including not only standard models but also target sighted Remingtons, stainless steel Remingtons and even finely tuned Deluxe Remingtons.
However Val Forgett of Navy Arms does not stop there. There are more cap-n-ball sixguns, the Rogers and Spencer, the Spiller and Burr, and even the nine-shot .44 caliber Lemat with a single shot .65 caliber shotgun in the center of the cylinder.
Switching to cartridge firing sixguns we find the Colt Single Action, the Bisley Model Colt, the Remington both 1875 and 1890 models, and two Smith & Wessons, the Schofield and the New Model Russian. The latter is the first sixgun chambered in .44 Russian since long before I was born!
Then there are the single-shot muzzle loaders, both rifle and pistol of every conceivable model from before the Revolutionary War up through the Civil War and the opening of the Frontier. There are the guns used by Washington's Troops. Pennsylvania and Kentucky Rifles bring back visions of Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett. But we don't stop there either. We still have the Sharps, the Smith Carbine, the Parker Hale, the Enfield, and the Hawken. Even the cap lock and flintlock pistols of the late 17th and early 18th century are there.
We must not forget the single-shot cartridge rifles. The Sharps Buffalo Rifle, the Winchester High Wall, the Remington Rolling Block, even the 1873 Springfield, all are cataloged by Navy Arms in .45-70 with the Sharps also available in .45-90.
Just about the time we think we have seen it all we come to the last batch of fine firearms, the replica leverguns of Navy Arms. Both brass and iron framed 1860 Henrys in .44-40 and .45 Colt. The 1866 Yellow Boy is offered in .38 Special, .44-40, and .45 Colt and in either a 19" carbine or a 24" rifle version. These rifles stand out from the crowd at any Cowboy Shooting gathering. Finally we come to the subject of this piece, the Model '73 and Model '92 Winchesters from Navy Arms.
Four distinct Model '73 Winchesters all made by Uberti of Italy are offered by Navy Arms. There is the 24" Rifle with octagon barrel; the round barreled 19" Carbine; the Sporting Rifle with pistol grip stock and choice of a 24" or 30" barrel, all in .357 Magnum, .44-40, and .45 Colt. The fourth version is my test levergun, the Navy Arms 1873 Border Model. Navy Arms says of this model that the original 1873 Short Rifle was very rare and available on special order only. It was very popular in the Southwest along the Mexican Border in the 1870's and 1880's.
The slickest Winchester ever, the Model 1892 is well represented by Navy Arms with five models. Unlike the Model 1873 and most of the rest of Navy Arms offerings, the Model 1892 comes not from Italy but rather from Brazil and the Rossi factory that formerly turned out Model '92's for Interarms. The standard Rifle Model has a 24" octagonal barrel and the choice of either a blued or case colored receiver. As all Navy Arms Uberti made Model '92's real American walnut is found in both the forearm and butt stock! Joining the rifle is the 20" round barreled carbine, the most popular of all the original Model 1892's as seen by millions of us in four decades of John Wayne movies.
Brass frames ended with the 1866 Yellow Boy and while the original Model 1892's were never seen with bright yellow frames, Cowboy Shooters can have the look of the 1860 and 1866 with the smooth operation of the Model 1892 with both a carbine and a rifle provided in either .44-40 or .45 Colt and with a brass receiver.
The final '92 levergun offered by Navy Arms is the Short Rifle, a mate to the above mentioned '73 Border Model Rifle with a 20" full octagonal barrel, blued receiver, and stocked with real walnut. Navy Arms says of these carbines that the originals were ordered by the Eagle Hardware Co. of Eagle Pass Texas and marketed as "Texas Specials."
I ordered my test rifles in the original chambering of .44-40 simply because it is the original. This 1873 Border Model has a brilliantly case colored receiver mated up with a red colored wood for forearm and butt stock, and blued barrel and crescent shaped butt plate. As with the original there is a sliding dust cover over the top of the exposed action and a small locking lever to hold the operating lever in place. The front sight is a black post riding in a dovetail, thus easily adjusted for windage, while the rear sight is a buckhorn on a sliding ramp to adjust for elevation.
The 1873 has a unique action that is unlike any later models. The cartridge is fed back onto a lifter from the magazine tube and this sliding brass lifter then comes straight up and the cartridge is fed into the chamber by the bolt. It makes a most distinctive sound in operation that endears itself to its users much like the clicks of a Colt Single Action as the hammer is drawn back.
With its short but heavy octagon barrel, the 1873 balances very well and comes right up on target. After sighting in, all test shots were fired at 50 yards. Four factory Cowboy Shooting loads from Black Hills, Hornady, Winchester, and 3-D as well as two of my favorite handloads for Cowboy Shooting were fired in both the 1873 and 1892 with complete results in the accompanying tables. This levergun handled all loads with ease and turned in groups in most cases that were well under 1 1/2" for three shots.
The test Model '92 also came with a full octagon barrel, one-inch longer at 20". The blued barrel, receiver, lever, fore end cap, and crescent shaped butt plate are all set off well by the good quality American Walnut used for stocking this new-old model. Sights are not as good for my eyes as those found on the Model '73 with a black post front mated up with a square notch rear on a sliding ramp. I would much rather see this model provided with a buckhorn rear sight for Cowboy Shooting.
The front sight is set in a dovetail for easy windage adjustment while the rear sight is also on sliding ramp for elevation changes. Both the dovetail mounted front sight and the walnut used in the stocks are upgrades by Navy Arms from the previous models offered by Interarms. The operation of the action is also much smoother than Rossi's I have worked with in the past.
Fired with the same loads as the Model 1873, the '92 was not as consistent however the most accurate load turned out to be one of my most used Cowboy Shooting .44-40 loads, the Oregon Trail 225 RNFP over 8.0 grains of Unique. It clocks out at 1150 fps and puts three shots into 5/8 of an inch at 50 yards. I think I am satisfied with that level of accuracy!
The Model 1873 will probably only be used for Cowboy Shooting matches and testing of Cowboy ammunition. It is not a strong action and should not be subjected to loads that are anywhere near the heavy class. The Model 1892 however is capable of singing a much different song as it is a very strong action and as such will be used for many more varied activities than the 1873. It also deserves better sights and I can easily foresee a gold bead front sight mated up with a Lyman #66 receiver sight.
In my old Lyman Cast Bullet Manual there are loads for the .44-40 in the Winchester '92 consisting of a 205 grain cast bullet at 1900 fps, a 215 grain gas check at 1850 fps, and a 200 grain jacketed bullet at 2100 fps! All loads were assembled with #2400. Times change and powders and primers change. I do not know that I will go as far as the old manual takes me but I am at least going to head in that direction. Cowboy Shooting has spawned a whole industry of western sixguns leverguns, leather, and clothing. The Model 1873 and 1892 are most welcome additions to the Cowboy Shooting scene.
Readers wishing to contact Navy Arms can find them at 689 Bergen Blvd, Dept. G, Ridgefield, NJ 07657; phone: (201) 945-2500 or find them on the net at www.navyarms.com.
1873 OCTAGON BBL BORDER MODEL SHORT RIFLE .44-40 X 20"
MODEL 92 OCTAGON BBL SHORT RIFLE .44-40 X 20"
This article was originally posted on www.sixguns.com