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Old December 20, 2008, 03:22 PM   #1
RamSlammer
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1873 Winchester .38/40 . . . Shoot it or not?

Was grandpa's gun . . . It's an 1873 Winchester in .38/40 made in 1891. Apparently grandpa traded for it sometime in the early 30's. Probably to settle a bill in the rural general store he owned. The gun was stored improperly for years by a relative. I've since cleaned it up, done a detail strip and inspection and it's good to go mechanically.

The stocks are dinged up quite a bit and haven't been refinished. Barrel, mag tube and receiver have little if any finish left - just some browning in spots. The rifling is worn, but servicable. It's not going to win any beauty contests and I am thinking the condition kills much of the collectible value.

Then, the question is; With period replica ammunition (BP pressures) would it be so much a crime to turn it into a shooter. My grandfather was quite a character (1889 - 1975) and to him any gun was for shootin' not lookin' at.
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Old December 20, 2008, 03:31 PM   #2
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Congratulations on the find. ANY Winchester 1873 rifle will be worth in excess of $1,500 to a collector, so it does have collector value, plus the Cowboy Action shooters would wet their pants and start throwing money if they saw one for sale. The early 1873 rifles had cast iron frames, so don't try to hot-rod it, shoot BP equivalent loads or BP loads (BP is such a pain to clean up). 38-40 is a great old round and will launch a 200 gr bullet at 1,200 fps out of a rifle, so it's no slouch. If you reload, you can reload with Pioneer Gold or Buckhorn 209 black powder replacements.
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Old December 20, 2008, 03:47 PM   #3
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Yes, I'd be reloading (after I find the brass or resize some) using black powder replacement powder and cast bullets. What would be a good source for load data?
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Old December 20, 2008, 04:17 PM   #4
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In my 38-40's, both rifles and thumb buster, I'm loading 6.6 grs Unique behind a 40 caliber 180 gr XTP bullet. I'm putting a cannelure on mine and using a mild crimp. You may not be able to put a cannelure on a bullet and you might have to shoot the rifle single fire. You're not going to get much neck tension on these paper thin cartridges so tension is bad. You can try to run a few thru it to see if you get any bullet set back. Max load for the Unique is 10.0 grs according to the data I have so 6.6 grs is a real mild load and is a hoot to shoot. I've got Starline brass and it not a favorite. If you can find Winchester I believe you'll get better brass. You can also get lead bullets from Beartooth Bullets and maybe some of the guys that frequent here that make bullets.

http://www.beartoothbullets.com/bulletselect/index.htm
The caliber is on the left side towards the bottom of the page. Look for 10mm. They have a 200 gr lead w/gas check. FWIW, I use their 38-55 bullets for shutzen style competition and they make darn fine bullets. Their bullets make the old Winchesters come alive again.
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Old December 20, 2008, 08:07 PM   #5
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For black powder and BP replacements, try the Lyman Black Powder loading manual. Lots of info in there.
Quote:
6.6 grs Unique behind a 40 caliber 180 gr XTP bullet
In rifles made for black powder (or pre-1900), do not shoot jacketed bullets. It will wear the barrel very fast.
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Old December 20, 2008, 08:22 PM   #6
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I've got a 1873 made in 1896 in 38-40 with 24" barrel. I bought it about fifteen years ago from a gentleman who had it in his family since new. Just use the loads in the reloading handbooks for a Colt single action pistol. I use Starline brass and 180 grain Mid-Kansas lead bullets with 5.0 grains of Titegroup. Mine is really accurate, but the trigger is only about 2 pounds. Make sure that the barrel is real clean before you shoot it. A while back, I found one of these old guns that had been in a barn for a while and had a dirtdobber's nest in the barrel.
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Old December 20, 2008, 08:57 PM   #7
Loader9
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Quote:
In rifles made for black powder (or pre-1900), do not shoot jacketed bullets. It will wear the barrel very fast.
Out of a Winchester Ammunition Handbook (that's what it says on the front) that I got from Ad Topperwein many years ago has the loading for the 38-40. It uses a 180gr jacketed soft point. It's the only ammo they loaded or is listed in this 1935 book. I would assume they meant it for use in the older rifles too. I haven't had any issues out of mine in the last 30 years but I don't run a hundred rounds a week thru them either. Frankly, the pistol, a Colt 5.5" made in 1898, gets shot the most and that's maybe a hundred rounds a year. The rifles may not even see daylight in a year...or more. But I will keep that in the back of my "getting to be feeble" brain. FWIW, Mr Topperweins phone number is also on the front of this book, try G-8293. When was the last time you saw a phone number like that?
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Old December 20, 2008, 09:03 PM   #8
mini14.223
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i would shoot it!!! just woulnt get carried away. my grandfather was the same way and i have many of his old guns that i get out and shoot sometimes just for the hell of it. i know if your grandpa is like mine he would be happy to know its still around and being used. good luck!
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Old January 4, 2009, 08:16 PM   #9
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Shoot that 73

If your bore is good and the toggles are fairly tight, and your breechblock is snug up against a cartridge case when you have it in battery, either load your own using 7.5 grains of unique or buy any of the cowboy ammo out there, or load black or replica powder. You'll have a great time. And by the way, early 73's do not have "cast iron" frames, they were forged iron, a big difference. I shoot these anyway as they are more than adequate for cowboy loads. Same is true for early Colts.
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Old January 4, 2009, 08:35 PM   #10
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make sure the links are in the correct way. they fit both ways. one way they fail and the bolt will punch a hole in your noggin. bobn
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Old January 4, 2009, 08:50 PM   #11
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my boss just paid 2 grand for an 1873 with no stocks.
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Old January 4, 2009, 09:07 PM   #12
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If the gun were mine I would,,, um...wait.. I am thinking,, old gun,, grandpa's gun...worth a lot of money,, ah hell, I'd shoot it and be careful not to damage it. It sounds like it has a ton of battle scars already, why not enjoy the gun. It would probably please you grandpa to know you are having fun with it.
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Old January 4, 2009, 11:45 PM   #13
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I am not the guy to advise you,but I can tell you that Mike Venturino has written extensively on such topics.He has a series of books like "Shooting the Black Powder Lever Action",Shooting the Buffalo Rifle",etc.

They are a great resource.

Black powder actually gives great results in cartridges and arms designed for black powder.Through a chronograph,it is not unusual for velocity variations to stay within 10 fps.

The 38-40 is a cartridge that has its own quirks I don't know them that well,but for example,the brass is very thin.You can bend it with your thumb.However,that means it obturates and seals the chamber quickly,and well,keeping the BP fouling in the bore.Vinegar windex or a water based cleaner like black solve will clean the BP fouling well.There is a magazine called "Black Powder Cartridge News" that has some archive articles for you,and I think Handloader does,too.

Those links are not a real strong lockup,and there is some to be considered about using BP in guns designed for it.

Congratulations on your rifle
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