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First time Shooting an 1873?
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November 18, 2017 - 4:20 pm
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Several years ago I bought an 1873, 44-40 with the idea that it was going to be a shooter.  To this day I have never shot it, two reasons.  The more I read and look at the gun it is in quite good condition and I don’t want to do anything to lessen that.  Secondly, the advice always given is to always take a historic arm to a qualified gunsmith to have it checked out before firing (certainly good advice).  On that point, I had a very bad experience with a 45 Colt SAA many years ago when the gun store I took it to to be checked out was robbed- gun was lost and I was never compensated.  In short I don’t want to let the gun out of my hands.

The question I have is what checks would a qualified gunsmith make?  I have the gun apart (more grease than the ball joints on a ’53 chevy, which from the standpoint of preservation is probably a good thing).  There is no play in the toggle link setup and the pins/holes show no sign of deformation or wear.  No signs of cracks in barrel or receiver. With an empty 44-40 shell casing breech locks up tight and no slop (that I can see/tell) in case to bolt.  Firing pin is free in bolt, etc.  I don’t have a bore scope but with a light the bore looks okay.  Very little pitting north of the chamber and rifling is very evident but not super prominent (here I have no basis in comparison- don’t know how prominent rifling was when new??) What am I missing, what else would be checked, is there a special head space gauge used? For info, serial number indicates it was manufactured in mid 1883 so not a steel receiver.

I have 50 rounds of 44-40 from Buffalo Arms (BP of course) I will call them and ask how they are loaded.  I doubt 40 grains in current case design; in fact they could be downloaded cowboy rounds?? I am a BP shooter 54 cal Hawken, Shiloh Sharps and C Sharps 45-70 (I cast and reload) so I know how the clean and maintain a BP rifle so with limited shooting I shouldn’t hurt the gun.

I want to occasionally shoot this gun for the fun and experience of shooting one- ‘the way they were’.  However, I just bought a Winchester (Miroku) in 357 Magnum, 24″ Octagonal Sporter to have a real shooter (action is like ‘butter’ compared to original)

I will appreciate all help and advice, thanks, JimB 

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November 18, 2017 - 8:09 pm
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Jim,

You have checked (inspected) everything that a qualified gunsmith would have checked. The loads you have for it are perfectly fine. I will add that the current Winchester or Hornady Cowboy loads are loaded with smokeless powder, and they emulate the original BP load perfectly. I shoot it in my 1889 vintage Model 1873, and the clean up is much easier than BP loads.

Bert

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November 19, 2017 - 1:48 am
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 Jim, I have shot every 73 I ever owned with smokeless powder. The 44/40 is a pistol cartridge, the 73 has a lot of metal around the chamber area, just make sure the bore is clear, the load is proven. The only damaged to 73’s I’ve seen has been bulged barrels on early carbines, I don’t know why or when. A 73 oct. rifle is a strong barrel. They barely kick and shoot great. When a fellow Winchester collector comes to my house I’ll put 3 rounds in my 1 of 100, hand it to them, and ask them if they can hit the target. The look on their face is worth it. T/R   

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November 19, 2017 - 8:27 pm
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Yes, the ’73’s action is not buttery, but it is full of personality.  With the rifle loaded, one can feel and hear the movements of parts in ejecting a case and replacing it with a live cartridge–Heavenly!

Great-grandfather’s .38 WCF was made in 1885.  It stood in my parent’s closet for decades.  In 1970 or so, I began shooting it.  Since then, the family has fired thousands of rounds through it, and we have brought home many deer downed by it.  This doesn’t help to prove that your rifle is safe to shoot, but these old Winchesters can enhance one’s life in this “modern” age.

As Bert stated, you seem to have noted what needs checking.

Glad to hear you reload ammunition; ’73-trigger-finger itch is not to be endured!

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November 20, 2017 - 12:43 am
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Only thing left to do is shoot it, IMHO. Check the fired cases carefully for signs of excessive headspace and since you’re a caster you can also check diameter of the inside of the fired case mouth for guidance on bullet sizing diameter.

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November 20, 2017 - 5:20 pm
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TXGunNut said
Only thing left to do is shoot it, IMHO. Check the fired cases carefully for signs of excessive headspace and since you’re a caster you can also check diameter of the inside of the fired case mouth for guidance on bullet sizing diameter.  

In addition to the headspacing, be sure to check the primers for backing out and for cratering.  That is the surest way to a handloader to check for excessive pressure. 

I was recently experimenting with my own handloaded high velocity 32-20 handloads in an 1892 carbine as well as an 1892 rifle.  Headspace is correct on both guns but at muzzle velocities of around 1750 fps (10.0 grains of 2400) my primers were developing significant cratering in both guns.  Backing down to 9.5 grains of 2400 dropped the velocity to around 1640 fps and no cratering of the primers.

I can measure for velocity but not for pressure so I’ve always used the primer cratering/backing out and an indication of excessive pressure.

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November 20, 2017 - 6:02 pm
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…..I can measure for velocity but not for pressure so I’ve always used the primer cratering/backing out and an indication of excessive pressure.-Wincacher

 

I look for primer flattening, a precursor of cratering, but even mild flattening may show up too late as an indicator of excessive pressure. Case head expansion and the sometimes (but not always) resulting difficult extraction is reputed to be a better indicator. I’ve encountered difficult extraction with high pressure loads in modern firearms but haven’t been able to determine it for myself with measurements. One of the things I enjoy about shooting most of my old Winchesters is that none require or even seem to tolerate high pressure loads. With most BP era cartridges I load to BP velocities, especially with BP era firearms such as the 1873.

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November 20, 2017 - 6:31 pm
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TXGunNut said

I look for primer flattening, a precursor of cratering, but even mild flattening may show up too late as an indicator of excessive pressure. Case head expansion and the sometimes (but not always) resulting difficult extraction is reputed to be a better indicator. I’ve encountered difficult extraction with high pressure loads in modern firearms but haven’t been able to determine it for myself with measurements. One of the things I enjoy about shooting most of my old Winchesters is that none require or even seem to tolerate high pressure loads. With most BP era cartridges I load to BP velocities, especially with BP era firearms such as the 1873.  

Primer flattening can be an indicator of excessive pressure, but can also be an indicator of excessive headspace.

Difficult extraction also can be due to excessive pressure but more often is due to a rough chamber.

BP velocities is the “A-number-1” safest practice of all.  In my above mentioned 32-20 example, I load 4.0 grains of Unique for my 1873’s and develop an average of about 1025 – 1050 fps, significantly lower than the original factory loads of 1290 fps.

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November 20, 2017 - 6:36 pm
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Flattened primers are a sure sign of extremely high pressure and may be useful in modern rifles, but original black powder lever guns will have their safe chamber pressures exceeded long before the primers start getting flattened. In general, if you use smokeless powder in an original Winchester of BP days, I stick to original velocities, using original bullet weights, and medium speed powders in the Blue Dot to IMR 4198 burn rate category. I shoot almost nothing but smokeless in my original Winchesters, saving the BP for my modern Browning 1886 SRC 45-70.

Regarding shooting original ’73’s …. you have done your homework and are ready to shoot. I always do my own inspecting of original ’73’s and ’76’s (and the other models as well). If the links are in good shape, and the link pins look fine, and that little pear-shaped flat piece of metal is there on the left side of the bolt, and there are no barrel obstructions, you are good to go.

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November 20, 2017 - 8:09 pm
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Thanks to all, very helpful.

‘Primer Cratering’- I don’t know what that looks like, could someone describe or post a picture.  Sounds like w/ too much headspace or pressure shell casing is pushed back and firing pin goes deeper into primer? 

I am not interested in a hot smokeless load (I’ve got the 357 Mag. for that) and as suggested would just like to duplicate speed or original BP loads.  As I get further into this I will come back and ask a couple of you to post the powders, loads, primers and bullets you use.

 

Jim

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November 20, 2017 - 8:13 pm
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 I agree completely when win38-55 says, when using smokeless powders stick to original velocities and bullet weight. In Winchester’s 1882 Catalogue they listed the 1873 44WCF as 1325 fps and later in 1894 at 1245 fps. I load my 73’s between 1130 and 1250 fps with 200gr cast or Remington jacketed .427″. T/R

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November 20, 2017 - 9:05 pm
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Primer cratering can be caused by an enlarged firing pin hole in the bolt but is usually the result of excessive pressure, as is primer backing out.

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September 7, 2022 - 4:03 am
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Bert, 

Many thanks from the future (it appears this is a old post, lol) , for a guy that loves his 1894s, but picked up an 1873 and wants to shoot it. I’ve held off because while I can get 30-20 ammo, I am concerned about the black powder versus smokeless powder issue. 

I will start reloading my own soon enough, but I need to shoot the charged rounds that I bought so I have some brass. In September of 2022, I can’t find any brass to reload.

Many thanks again sir,

Jim V

 

Bert H. said rnJim,rnrnYou have checked (inspected) everything that a qualified gunsmith would have checked. The loads you have for it are perfectly fine. I will add that the current Winchester or Hornady Cowboy loads are loaded with smokeless powder, and they emulate the original BP load perfectly. I shoot it in my 1889 vintage Model 1873, and the clean up is much easier than BP loads.rnrnBertrn  rn

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September 7, 2022 - 12:46 pm
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Jim,

You don’t have to shoot off the old rounds to get the brass just get a pulling hammer. Link to pulling hammer You get to save the bullets and reuse them.

Bob

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