Winchester’s .44-40 Carbine
Winchester introduced their .44 WCF, better known these days as the .44-40, in 1873. That, of course, was in the Model 1873 rifle, which became the cowboy’s favorite. That rifle in .44-40, as well as the other calibers that were introduced later, remained in production and in the catalogs until 1920 or so. The Model 1892 Winchester did not “replace” the older ’73 and those two rifles were made side-by-side for almost 30 years. Many shooters preferred the Model ’73 and those shooters were highly pleased to see Winchester bring it back again.
The new versions of Winchester’s Model 1873 are made by Miroku in Japan. And, while this new rifle is certainly a Model 1873, with the toggle-link action and the brass “up and down” cartridge elevator, it does include some very minor changes. We must recognize some of the newer ideas as “better ways of doing it.”
When the new Winchester Model 1873 was announced, I didn’t pay very much attention to it. That was because they were only offering it in .357 Magnum and, to me, that “didn’t fit my pistol.” Maybe that’s what the Cowboy Action shooters like, but I wanted the ’73 chambered for an original black powder cartridge and nothing is more original than the old .44-40. Then the .44-40 was added as an available caliber choice and the carbine was also added to the growing list of versions for the new Winchester ‘73s.
IN GENERAL, THE NEW Winchester Model 1873 carbine is just like the old version that a cowboy might have gotten back in the 1880s, with good but plain wood for the stocks and the rifle’s receiver blued like the barrel and other parts. On the butt of the stock is a standard carbine-style butt plate. Length of pull measures 12¾ inches and the overall appearance of this carbine, to my eyes, looks very good. Under the barrel is the full-length tubular magazine that, if it is like my old Model 1892, holds 10 cartridges.
I can’t say if the new internal parts are compatible with the older guns.
There is a new safety feature that does not make any changes to the rifle’s profile. On the top of the receiver at the back of the dust-cover guide, there is a “new” screw that holds a vertical pin. That pin engages what appears to be a firing pin block inside the narrow round “bolt” that extends out the back of the receiver, which we recognize as the part of the bolt that cocks the hammer when the action is opened. This prevents the firing pin from being able to fire a cartridge unless the action is completely closed. Not a bad new safety feature at all.
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The barrel on the .44-40 carbine is rifled with six grooves. I’m guessing the groove diameter of the bore is .429 inches, with that guess based on some very good shooting with bullets sized to .429 inches. Absolutely no problems in chambering loaded rounds, which would be encountered if the bullets were too large. And I will also guess that the rate of twist is the old and authentic one turn in 36 inches. The rifling does appear to make just over half a complete turn in the 20-inch barrel. While those details about the barrel are not being checked, the performance of that barrel was certainly tested.
ONLY BLACK POWDER HAND LOADS were used for the shooting. The breakdown of those loads starts with the nickel-plated cases from Starline. Bullets were cast with my old mould from Lyman, #427098 using a 25-1 lead-tin alloy as supplied by Buffalo Arms Company. Those bullets weigh 210 grains, or 205 grains with the hollow-point. As previously mentioned, those bullets were sized to .429-inch diameter, and lubed with BPC from C. Sharps Arms. All loads were primed with CCI’s #300 standard large pistol primers.
Most of the cartridges were loaded with 35 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F powder, both with hollow point and solid nose bullets. But 10 of the cartridges were loaded with 35 grains of Olde Eynsford 3F powder, just to see if any real difference could be seen. The loads with the 3F powder had their primers blackened for easy identification. And, for the 3F loads, only the 205-grain hollow-point bullets were used.
Shooting with this .44-40 carbine began at 50 yards, shooting five-shot groups while chronographing the loads. Results from the chronographing included a little bit of a surprise. The loads with the 35 grains of 3F Olde Eynsford were fired first and they averaged 1,282 feet per second out of the carbine’s 20-inch barrel. The small sample of velocities had an extreme spread of only 20 feet per second. Then some loads with the 2F grade of Olde Eynsford were tried and they had an average velocity higher than the loads with the 3F. Not much higher, only 8 feet per second for the averages, but even so, it was higher, with an average of 1,290 fps. And the highest velocity recorded was fired with the 2F powder, as well as the lowest velocity. The few shots fired with the 2F powder had an extreme spread of 33 feet per second from the slowest to the fasted speed recorded.
Only five rounds were fired with each powder and that is far too few to be used for making any definite conclusions. Even so, the results do suggest that the Olde Eynsford 3F powder will give more consistent performance in the .44-40 with a carbine-length barrel.
The .44-40 is regarded as a short-range cartridge and with that in mind, I posted a target at just 25 yards and fired five shots for a group while using the standard carbine rear sight that the gun comes equipped with. Those five shots were taken with ammo loaded with the 35 grains of 3F powder. And they grouped extremely well, all going through one jagged hole just below the X-ring, scoring in the 10 and 9 rings. If this .44-40 can group like that at 25 yards, it will group almost that well at 50 yards or even longer distances.
In my opinion, Winchester made a real good move by bringing back the Model 1873 carrying the Winchester name. They do tend to market toward the Cowboy Action shooters, so the .357 and .45 Colt are more commonly encountered chamberings, but the .44-40 is certainly on the list. Several versions are made, including rifles, short rifles, carbines and trapper carbines. The carbines have a suggested retail price of $1,299.99. These rifles are sold wherever Winchesters are on the sales rack, but if I was looking for one, the first place I’d look is at Buffalo Arms Company (buffaloarms.com).
Story and photos by Mike Nesbitt