The long awaited Winchester Model 73, made by Miroku in Japan (as are all other Winchester and Browning firearms). She’s not much of a looker, but if you have been hankering for a “real” ’73, she’s about as close as you are going to get, and she actually says Winchester on the side.
If you click to make this picture larger, you can see the Winchester logo and Model 1873 markings. This is the first time in almost 100 years that a ’73 has said Winchester. This first model is in .357 Magnum/.38 Special only, with a 20 inch barrel, made that length so that the tubular magazine can hold 10 rounds, the most common amount in a SASS stage.
The carrier on the ’73 has always been brass, like the Model 1866 Yellowboy before it. This carrier is a very light brass alloy, unlike the carriers on the Uberti ’73s which are more of a heavy “ashtray from India” style brass.
The ’73 loads from the side, again, just like the ’66, and the load gate is very smooth and easy, unlike an out of the box Uberti ’73 that you feel you have to wrestle to get the shells in.
The Winchester ’73, bottom, is almost identical to the Uberti ’73 above it, except that for now the production Winchesters only come in a standard black bluing. This is a very durable finish but it is not as pretty as case coloring. Here is an example though, that if you get a whole bunch of fingerprints on it just the right way, you can pretend it is case colored in the sunlight.
And though the fit of the wood on the Winchester Miroku ’73 is nearly perfect, the finish of the wood itself leaves a lot to be desired mext to my old Uberti ’73. Our test rifle even had this light patch in the stock, kind of fugly.
Overall the gun worked flawlessly with .357 Magnum reloads. Every single round fed perfectly and ejected cleanly. Miroku guns are known to be 100% reliable and flawless.
Like most lever guns, you have to make sure the lever is held close to fire. It is a rudimentary safety.
The only real functional difference is this button on the end of the firing pin extension bar. It is an extra safety in case you leave the hammer down on a loaded round and drop the rifle. The hammer will rebound without firing the cartridge. Most SASS gunsmiths will remove this for purely competition guns because they are always pointed downrange. PHOTOS CONTINUE BELOW
Very few guns in history stick out and say “hey, I did something significant.” The Winchester Model 1873 is one of those guns. What made the ’73 so unique wasn’t so much that it worked different than its predecessors. The action isn’t unlike the Winchester 1866 Yellowboy, which isn’t that unlike the Henry Rifle before it. Commercial success was what made the ’73 stand out more than anything else, with over 720,000 rifles in the original production. First chambered in 44-40 Winchester Center Fire (WCF), the Winchester ’73 encouraged Colt to make its famed ’73 Peacemaker single action also in that caliber. This allowed the pioneers to travel out west with a pistol and rifle both chambered in the same caliber, and it is also what led to the most common nickname for the Winchester ’73, “The Gun that Won the West.” Of all the guns in the history of the late 1800s exploration of the American frontier, and the ensuing Indian Wars, the ’73 is probably the 2nd most prolific, next to the Colt SAA, otherwise known as the Peacemaker. But the ’73 was never used by the military. It was a civilian firearm, and probably the most romantic one of all time.
Until now, the only ’73 you could buy that weren’t antique and collectible were made by Uberti in Italy, and though the guns look, feel and work like an original Winchester ’73, they do not say Winchester on the gun. This year at SHOT Show, the modern Winchester Repeating Arms company announced a new Model ’73, and it is the first time in almost 100 years that a brand new Model ’73 will actually say Winchester on it. Like all new Winchester (and Browning) firearms, this new ’73 is made by Miroku in Japan. For now it is available only in a 20″ “Short Rifle,” chambered in .38/.357, with an MSRP of $1,299. The tubular magazine holds 10 rounds of .357 Magnum. Our test gun isn’t perfect, but then again, no frontier era firearm ever is out of the box. For a first production, Winchester did a great job on these guns and they are at dealers right now, in low serial numbers. If you are a fan of the ’73, or an aspiring cowboy shooting looking for a reliable rifle, grab one while you can.
The primary market for the this gun will be in competitive cowboy shooting. If you are not familiar with this sport, the major rules body is called the Single Action Shooting Society, or SASS. At a SASS match you are required to dress up as either a period correct mid to late 1800s pioneer, or in the guise of a character in your favorite western. You also choose an alias name by which you will almost universally be called. It is a fun game, with close steel targets to clang and a gang of outlaws and lawmen that generally lead to lifetime friendships. Most clubs will let you try a match or few with rudimentary western style guns and clothes, and it is up to you if you wish you take on the expenses of becoming a bonafide cowboy or not. SASS membership is only $55, and you get a printed newspaper every month on the events and activities of the organization, as well as a list of local, regional, and national shoots.
This new Winchester Model 1873 should be huge news for SASS enthusiasts. Uberti Model 1873 rifles are really nice, but they have been in short supply for many years. Also, the Euro made Italian firearms much more expensive, and the Uberti ’73s specifically went from being an $800 gun to well over $1,000, when you can find one. The overall value proposition on the Uberti guns has dwindled as the street prices approach $1,500, and this probably why Winchester decided to make their own replica in Japan. The Miroku gun is essentially the same ’73, but the action is a little more tuned of the out of the box than the Italian guns, and a recoiling hammer button has been added to the firing pin block. On first impression, the gun runs smoother than you would find out of the box with an Uberti , which is so rough it will hurt you hand to lever it. That is why most serious SASS shooters eventually send their Italian rifles out for an action job, and even some replacement parts, but this gun most likely won’t need that for all but the most competitive shooters. Unless you plan to compete for the buckle (a belt buckle is the grand prize in SASS, which makes most of us just shake our heads about why people take it so seriously), the Winchester Miroku ’73 is good to go right out of the box.
We contacted SASS gunsmith Cody Conagher (his alias) this week to discuss the gun, and he had nothing but good to say about it. Two guns have already come into the shop for his proprietary “short stroke” job, and overall they appear to be head and shoulders above the Ubertis in the quality of the parts and attention to detail. To Cody, the Winchester Miroku ’73s are a welcome addition to the market, though he does remove the “extra safeties” for competition. A “short stroke” job on a lever gun is a special linkage arm that makes the cocking lever stroke shorter and harder, for quick shooting. The extra safeties that Cody removes on the guns are for the most part that extra button in the firing pin block. This prevents the gun from firing if it is dropped, but since all SASS shooting is done at a safe firing line with guns always pointed downrange, removing the extra parts is not an unsafe practice. Most SASS gunsmiths do the same for Ruger Vaquero revolvers and other guns that have old looks and new features to bring them up to 21st Century safety standards. Extra safeties are simply not needed when your gun is also pointed downrange whenever it is loaded.
The overall fit and finish of the Miroku ’73 is like all of their guns, mostly flawless. But don’t expect to get excited about the way the guns look, especially if you already have an Uberti ’73. This first model has a round barrel, which is not even close to as cool as an octagon, and the bluing is eh. Black bluing, like you would see on a modern Winchester Model 70, is durable and somewhat attractive, but it is nothing close to the older styles of bluing when it comes to beauty. More notably, the receivers on these new ’73s are, for now, only available in the same black bluing. Winchester did release a case colored receiver version special for SHOT Show, but we haven’t seen one yet for sale. The wood on our test gun is nothing special either, and ours actually has a blemish in the wood, so make sure you get good pictures if you buy one online. Overall, if you are a utility cowboy shooter the gun is pretty enough, but it might be worth waiting until the case colored versions are more available if you are looking for more of a showpiece you can shoot. If you are concerned that these Winchesters might dry up, never to be seen again, the best advice is to buy one now and hope get your hands on a case colored version later. The only thing better than a Winchester ’73 for a cowboy shooter is two Winchester ’73s.
Performance on a cowboy gun is generally measured in smoothness of the action and reliability, not accuracy, but this new Winchester proved to be a pretty good performer downrange. Most SASS shooters reload their own ammunition so we brought along some reloads that match what the average shooter would load. SASS rules require lead bullets, as opposed to jacketed bullets, and most shooters download their rounds to an acceptable minimum. Winchester brought the first gun out in .38/.357 because that is the most popular caliber in SASS competition, so we tried both .38 Special and .357 Magnum handloads in the gun. For bullets, If you remember back to our 2nd article on bullet casting, we used the .358 124 grain bullets from the Lee 6 hole mold, lubricated with Lee Liquid Alox, and we also used the Hornady 140 grain “Cowboy” bullet. Both of these are made from a somewhat hard lead alloy. The only thing that didn’t shoot easy, reliable and accurate in the gun were .38 Special loads. If you are loading for SASS, stick to .357 Magnum brass, which can be downloaded to the same performance of .38 Special.
Our test loads were made with both a smokeless powder from Hodgdon called Titegroup, and Hodgdon Triple Se7en, which is a black powder substitute. For competition you generally tend to load pretty light to reduce follow up shot time from recoil. So, according to the Hornady reloading manual, the minimum load for Titegroup using their 140 gr. cowboy bullet is 3.1 grains. Our scale measured throws from the measure at 3.1-3.2, and this resulted in an average velocity from the 20″ barrel of the ’73 of 885 feet per second, over 100 fps what it says in the manual for a pistol length barrel. The same load with our 124 grain cast bullets resulted in an average of 984 feet per second. Both loads used standard Federal small pistol primers. For the Triple Se7en, first we eyeballed a load that filled up the case, but which would not compress under the bullet, as Hodgdon says you shouldn’t compress Triple Se7en the way you would real black powder. This weighed out to about 10 grains on the scale, though with black powder and substitutes grains are generally a volumetric, and not a weighed measurement. Please do not take this reloading data and use it yourself. Use the Hodgdon website and reloading books, though I have not been able to find cartridge loads for Triple Se7en. These examples are meant to give you a general idea of what to expect, and since trying Triple Se7en instead of real black powder and Pyrodex, I personally will never go back. The Triple Se7en loads here are much hotter than you would load for competitive cowboy shooting, clocking over 1000 feet per second with the 140 grain bullet.
Of all the loads, the Miroku ’73 liked the 3.2 grains of Titegroup with the Hornady 140 grain bullet the best. It shot to point of aim right out of the box, and grouped into about an inch and a half at 30 yards. We chose that distance because 100 feet is the longest target you will encounter in most cowboy matches, though some clubs occasionally put a long one out to mix things up. Shooting a match “clean,” with no misses is a big thing to a lot of shooters, so long targets are generally frowned upon in SASS. The second best group of the bunch, at 30 yards, was the Triple Se7en and the 124 grain bullet. It averaged only slightly larger, at about 2 inches. These groups were repeated several times, until accuracy started to fall off from the fouling from the Triple Se7en. We were unsure if the fall off was from shooting .38 Specials in the gun, or if it just would need to be periodically wiped using Triple Se7en anyway. The brass of a .38 Special is the same as a .357 Magnum, but it is slightly shorter. That means that when you fire a .38 from a .357 chamber, a lot of the burn happens in the front of the chamber, before the rifling begins. This could have been a significant factor in the drop off in accuracy. I personally carry a cleaning rod in my gun cart and wipe my barrels every couple of stages when using black powder or a substitute.
If you are a cowboy shooter and already chomping at the bit to get one of these guns, I did some homework for you in advance. As above, I spoke to Cody Conagher about the gun and he had nothing but positive to say. He also said that he has seen a fall off in quality control at Uberti, and that these guns are head and shoulders a better investment for SASS shooting. I also had a long back and forth with Joe Alves from Pioneer Gun Works. He makes a number of replacement parts for the ’73, including what is probably the most common “short stroke kit.” Unless you are a hardcore competitor at SASS, you probably would think this is silly, but you would be amazed at the thousands of people who install these kits so they can run their rifles just that much faster. Joe explained that they have already developed a prototype kit for the Winchester Miroku ’73 and that a production kit should be available sometime in June. They will also be offering an aluminum replacement carrier and a firing pin extension that gets rid of the rebounding safety button, as explained above. The replacement carrier makes the stroke a little shorter, and saves the wear and tear of the extra torque of the short stroke on your carrier. None of the Pioneer parts are very expensive, and they will make your gun run faster and more reliably than the original Winchester design.
At SHOT Show this year any certified gun nut would have called this new Winchester ’73 the biggest story of the show. Other Winchesters have sold more guns, notably the Model 70 and 94, which is also a lever gun, but there is no gun in American history except perhaps the Colt Peacemaker with as much romance. There is even a Jimmy Stewart western called… Winchester ’73. The Indians used the ’73 to slaughter Custer’s men at Little Big Horn in 1876, while the former were armed with only single shot Trapdoor Springfields. You could argue that there is no more classic purely civilian firearm than the Winchester ’73. It would be great if WInchester followed this gun with more period correct .45LC and .44-40WCF models (though the ’73 didn’t come in .45LC originally), and a lot of people would like to see a rifle version, with a case colored receiver. You just never know what is going to catch on in the gun world, but if it has a long term future, the Miroku ’73 from Winchester has all the right things going for it. Unfortunately we haven’t had a really good western in the movies since 310 to Yuma, but there are bound to be some ’73s in The Lone Ranger due out this summer. America will most likely never outgrow its romance with the Wild West, and at the heart of that romance is the Winchester Model 1873.
We fired our ’73 with several hundred rounds of reloads made with these Hornady 140 grain lead bullets, as well as a 125 grain bullet we made from backstop fodder in a previous article using a 6 cavity Lee gang mold.
3.2 grains of Hodgdon Titegroup looked like a fairly light load, in the manual at around 750 fps.
We also wanted to make a “black powder” load, using Hodgdon’s black powder substitute called Triple Se7en. It doesn’t stink like BP and Pyrodex, and you don’t have to clean your guns the same day without fear of corrosion. It is GREAT stuff. You aren’t supposed to compress Triple Se7en, so we settled on an eyeballed 3/4 case, which weighed about 10 grains on the scale. BP and substitutes are generally measured for grains, not weighed, and please don’t take this as reloading advice. Contact Hodgdon for the correct load.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are new to shooting lever guns, you can’t use a round nosed bullet in them. They have to be flat like this, one of our Lee cast bullets lubed with Lee Liquid Alox. I have an Uberti Henry Rifle with a bent magazine tube from when I made the mistake of ignoring this rule and had a round blow out the side of the gun from an accidental primer punch caused by the bullet behind it.
Our best groups were with the 140 grain Hornady bullet and 3.2 grains of Titegroup in the .357 Magnum shells. They averaged about an inch and a half at 30 yards.
The velocity was significantly higher than the reloading manual because the manual assumed a short handgun barrel. With a 20″ barrel all of the powder burns and the bullet has more time to accelerate under pressure, so it goes much faster.
The second best performance was from the 125 grain cast bullets with 10 (weighed) grains of Triple Se7en. The groups were generally in the 2 to 2 1/2 inch range. This is also with .357 brass. Don’t use this for reloading advice call Hodgdon.
These rounds clocked over 1000 fps. with your friendly neighborhood black powder substitute.
.38 Specials didn’t do so well in this gun at all. This jam happened on nearly every full magazine of .38s, but NEVER happened with .357s. According to SASS gunsmith Cody Conagher, he can make the gun work great with .38s, but there is no advantage really.
None of the .38 Special groups shot to point of aim and the dispersion was double that of the .357. It also seemed to collect more residue from the Triple Se7en when we shot .38 Special with the gun. If you are handloading, there is no real point in making .38s. You only get one more shell in the mag and they just don’t shoot as well.
The ’73 is an easy gun to shoot with almost no recoil and a trigger that is crisp and just under 6 lbs.
The gun is fairly easy to take apart to clean, but make sure you take pictures before you take the parts off so you know how they go back, and you might want to get some lithium grease. When you take it apart you will see that this is what Miroku is using to lubricate.
After over 300 rounds the gun wasn’t that dirty, and it cleaned easy with soapy water. You use soapy water to clean up black powder and substitutes.
Pioneer Gunworks will be releasing a short stroke kit and aluminum carrier, as well as a firing pin block without that button sometime in June. Click the image to contact them.