Guns of the Old West field-tests “The Gun That Won the West!”


The legendary Winchester Model 1873 lever action rifle has long been known as “The Gun That Won the West.” Originally introduced in three pistol calibers including 44-40 WCF, it allowed the working cowboy to use the same ammunition in both his rifle and revolver, an important advantage when one was living out of saddlebags and the closest suttler’s store was several days hard ride over the hostile prairie.

In the Spring 2015 issue of Guns of the Old West magazine, respected gunscribe Richard Mann puts a new Winchester Model 1873 Short Rifle with its richly-color case hardened receiver through its paces and found that it was able to “cowboy-up” in fine style.

“When the rifle arrived, its beauty stunned me,” began Mann. “The bluing was as deep and dark as wet coal, and the wood was to die for. There was figure and curl in the walnut stock, with chocolate and gold colors like I’m not used to seeing on a 21st century gun rack.”




“When the rifle arrived, its beauty stunned me…the wood was to die for.” “The color-case hardened receiver, lever, nose cap and buttplate were done to perfection,” continued Mann. “The best way to describe this rifle is to simply say it’s a work of art. It’s not often that you see a rifle so exquisite that you feel like it should not be touched, but that’s the feeling I got when I looked at the new 1873.”

Model 1873 Rifle Color Case Hardened

“The best way to describe this rifle is to simply say it’s a work of art.” One of the benefits of being a well-versed gunwriter is being able to head for the range and actually shoot such a piece of art. “Admittedly I’m not an 1873 expert, but my friend Johnny Walker – yes, that’s his real name – is.” recalled Mann. When I showed him the rifle, his immediate response was ‘I’m buying that gun.’ ”

"When I showed (my friend) the rifle, his immediate response was ‘I’m buying that gun.’ ” Mann also noted that while Walker had owned a number of original 1873s, his friend never could get the old, well-worn guns to shoot good enough to satisfy his accuracy standards. “The ability to smack snuff cans off-hand at 50 yards…” noted Mann, “…and the beauty of the new Winchester was all that was needed to convince him to crack open his wallet.”

“The ability to smack snuff cans off-hand at 50 yards . . . was all that was needed to convince him to crack open his wallet.”  So just what level of reliability did Mann and Walker discover with the new Winchester Model 1873? “I tried a variety of loads in the rifle, just whacking steel plates out to 100 yards of so, mostly for fun,” grinned Mann. “After several boxes (of mixed .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads) had been consumed, I’d yet to experience a malfunction of any sort…”

In his formal accuracy testing off the bench, Mann recorded several five-shot groups under one inch at 50 yards. “…The average for all 15 five-shot groups was a respectable 1.5 inches,” reported Mann. “Keep in mind that these groups were fired with iron sights.”

“…The average for all 15 five-shot groups was a respectable 1.5 inches.” Mann also reports on the outcome when he loaned the rifle to Walker for some local deer hunting. When the season closed the classic Winchester lever-gun had racked up an even half-dozen deer with only a half-dozen shots. “This thing is death on deer at any distance inside 100 yards,” Walker proudly recounted.

“If you have any cowboy in you at all, pick up your own new Winchester 1873,” concluded Mann, “…you never know, the West might need winning again…”


Original article copyright Guns of the Old West, 2015. Review copyright Winchester Repeating Arms, 2015. Review written by staff writer Scott Engen.