Shooters Forum banner

1866 vs 1873 lever action, and what caliber, for plinking + home defence?

2987 Views 60 Replies 22 Participants Last post by  veeman
Hello everyone,

I'm new here. A curious amateur, with questions. I would be grateful for some help.

I am interested in purchasing either an 1866 or 1873 lever action rifle, by Uberti or Winchester. I like that they are copies of two historical rifles, hence also the interest.

I do not intend to hunt with it, but the purpose is primarily shooting for fun, plinking with the family and secondarily as a home defense gun.

I would like to ask you, for your opinions and help, to choose which rifle and in which caliber.

There are pros and cons I guess.

First the rifle I am most keen on is without a doubt the 1866 Yellowboy, because it is probably the most beautiful rifle I have ever seen! So plus for the beautiful looks over the 1873, which is also a a beautiful rifle, but nowhere near as beautiful as the 1866 is, in my opinion.

Plus with the 1873, it can shoot both 357 magnum and 38 special, the 1866 can't. And when it comes to choosing which caliber and ammo, when I'm looking at what's cheapest, but also what's effective for home defense.

38 special is cheapest, 357 also quite cheap. 38 special may not be the best option for defense, but the cheapest. The advantage of the 1873, is that I can shoot cheap with 38 special, and use 357 magnum in case of of home defense. On the other hand, surely the risk of over-penetration is high with 1873? So 357 magnum might not be optimal after all? Is maybe 45 Colt or 40-40 better?

If I buy 1866 in 38 special, then it is not possible to shoot 357 magnum.

There are also colt 45 and 40-40 etc, but they are unfortunately so very expensive, even though they might be best for home defense? But if I shoot 38 special, then I can afford more shooting with the family, but then maybe the 1873 is the best compromise?

But then I don't get the most beautiful rifle!

Another thought, what do you think of the 38 special when it comes to shooting from 1866 or 1873, purely for fun? Is it a nice feeling? Is the low recoil an advantage? Or does the low recoil, contribute to it feeling like a ”wimpy”caliber, i.e. does it feel better with a little more physical contact and a little more recoil? I guess this is subjective, but I'm interested in your opinions.

Also, it seems like a lot of fun to shoot black powder as well, but I guess it's more expensive, more risky, more work with reloading etc, but when I chase your footage on youtube,
I love the sound of black powder, it sounds nicer and looks more fun to shoot a regular shot.

What would you advise me to do? How would you go about it?

Grateful for advice and tips.

Thank you.
See less See more
1 - 11 of 61 Posts
There are ergonomic issues to consider in your rifle choice besides the weak toggle link systems in these 2 firearms. The 1873 has a wood forearm for your hand to grasp while holding the rifle. With the 1866, you are holding onto the cartridge tube and barrel while firing. If you shoot more than a few rounds at a time, the barrel will get very warm, maybe even hot enough so that you can't hold onto it for awhile until the barrel cools down. So the 1873 would be my first choice of the two. But I agree with other posters that a 1892 would be the absolute best choice in a handgun caliber lever action carbine. It will last your lifetime and that of your grandchildren with minimal good care.

As to cartridge choice, there will be no to minimal ballistic advantage to a 38 special in a rifle length barrel compared to a handgun with a 6 inch barrel. You might even lose velocity in a carbine or rifle length barrel with the 38 special because the powder used in 38 special cartridges is very fast burning, and is not sufficient to overcome the friction of a rifle length barrel to gain velocity. In short,you will not gain any velocity with 38 special cartridge in a 1866 or 1873 carbine, compared to a handgun. A 9mm cartridge is about halfway in power between 38 special and 357 magnum with a 124gr. Bullet ( NATO or +P ). So a 38 special is not quite equal in power to a 9mm cartridge.

Based on the above information I would recommend the 1873 ( or better yet an 1892) replica carbine in .357 magnum. For fun and practice shooting I would use 38 special wadcutters. For home defense loads I would recommend premium 38 special +p or +p+ self defense loads, or .357 magnum loads. If they are available in your country I would recommend Hornady critical duty ammo ( 1st choice ), or Critical Defense ammo ( 2nd choice ) for your home protection ammo. Federal makes good general purpose ammo for practice shooting, and good .357 ammo for fun or self defense.

Good luck.
See less See more
Yes, you are both right. Brain fart there. Still, I would prefer the '73 over the '66, and the 1892 over either of the earlier Winchesters. And the versatility of a 357 magnum vs. a .38 special only firearm. Why limit yourself to one cartridge only when you can also fire 38 special in a firearm chambered for 357 magnum?
  • Like
Reactions: 3
Thanks for the reply 94win32spec.

Good point.

Here are some arguments that I have read some people use. First, the 1866 is much more beautiful, which I agree with, and it can be aesthetically significant, contributing to heightened shooting experiences. Then if for various reasons it is considered best to shoot the 38 special over the 357, say for home defense in an apartment area. Less risk of overpenetration, less noise, less muzzle flash, faster follow-up shots, slightly less recoil, etc. Now you can shoot 38 special through 1873, 357 magnum, but I've read that some say it's not certain that it feeds 38 special well and safely, and that it risks causing problems, and that it is then safer to shoot 38 special through a rifle that is only for 38 special and not 357 magnum.

What do you think of these arguments? The only thing I can confirm myself is the aesthetic argument.
That is a good point. I had a Rossi M1892 in 357 mag that would choke ( not feed well ) with .38 special wadcutter load's. I have a Marlin 1894cs in .357 Mag, but haven't tried 38 specials in it yet.

Your best option, if possible would be to inspect both rifles under consideration, in person at the Gun store. I'm thinking where you live, that's not possible. If you get a carbine chambered in .38 special only, ask if it is rated for +P ammo. If it's not, I would not buy it.
  • Like
Reactions: 2
I've owned a Ruger 1894C, a Rossi 1892 and a converted Winchester 1892, all in .357 Mag/38 Sp. That said, I just love my Uberti 1873 the most. It just looks best IMHO, especially with its case-hardened receiver.
I'm not sure what a Ruger 1894c is. Are you sure of that?
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Thanks, good to know. You are right, that is not possible.

I will try to find out if it is rated for +p. But many say +p is not necessary for home defense, regular 38 special ammo, the kind previously used for nearly 100 years by police and military, still works well, so guess it still works well today for that purpose.
I would use +P in a rifle. The standard .38 special will work fine in a 4 or 6 inch length barrel in a revolver. I can't verify with my own experience, but I've read that you may actually lose velocity in a rifle length barrel using standard velocity 38 special ammo.
  • Like
Reactions: 1
I apologize. I meant to say Marlin. Brain fart. My weak defense is that now that Ruger owns Marlin, I must have mixed up the two.
My Marlin was an '80s model, with Microgroove rifling and was deadly with cast bullets. Another that got away, to my now dismay.
Maybe that's the one I own! Bought it on consignment from an lgs. 5 years ago about $450. That one will be passed on to a son, or buryed with me if one of them doesn't want it.
  • Like
Reactions: 1
$450? You got a really good buy.
Yes I did. One of those deals when you walk into the store within minutes of something being put on the shelf. Happened to me last week also. A mint 1975 vintage Marlin 336 for $700. I picked it up, looked at the price tag, and handed it to the clerk with the word "Sold".
  • Like
Reactions: 1
I'll agree the 1866 is probably better looking than the also beautiful 1873 but...if I'm going to use a traditional style lever gun for home defense (which I did for years with a Winchester 94 .44 magnum) then it's performance as an HD gun is THE most important aspect. That said, a Winchester 92 is a better choice. If home defense wasn't a part of the equation I'd get a 1966 but not otherwise. The 92 is still a beautiful gun but it's significantly stronger and the short throw action is far better designed for defensive use.

As far as over penetration goes, any caliber is going through your walls. Unless they are brick, concrete or rock, those bullets are going through regardless of being thicker than US standards so you might as well load up with .357 magnum. That's just my opinion. If you really want the 1866, get it and then start saving for a good home defense gun because it's not really going to be both.
The OP lives in Europe ( Norway ), and I'm sure his options are very limited because of that. I think they are very limited on firearm choices that are not strictly bolt action hunting rifles. My interpretation is that antique design, historical firearms ( and replicas thereof) that are mostly considered as collectible wall hangers are permitted for ownership by that government. Maybe the model 1892 is considered too modern because it is manufactured primarily as a shooting firearm ( By Rossi ) and not as an exotic firearm, like Uberti and Taylor's 1866 & 1873 carbines that were around during the Indian and Calvary war days. A little speculation on my part, but I'm trying to read between the lines of what the OP is saying.
#41 isn't the OP, and he isn't from Norway either.
Wee wee. We agree. I show the OP (post #1) as from Norway with a flag that looks Norwegian to me.
I show post # 41 as from the United States of America with with appropriate colors (R,W,+B).

Likely my internet connection or something related.

Off Topic anyway.


Your Both right. He is from Sweden. My bad. But they do share a border.

And yes, it does matter. The OP has to abide by the firearm possession laws of the Country he lives in.
If he can only own an antique firearm, or replica thereof, then his choices are limited.
I'm not expert on Swedish gun laws, but I'm sure if the OP was able to own MSR's, he'd be asking us about M4 variants, rather than asking about pre-1880 Winchester variants.
See less See more
Looks like the man's mind is made up.1866 or bust!!
  • Like
Reactions: 2
Of the 2, I'd pick the 73 src or short rifle in 44-40.
Yes but the OP specified .357/.38 special cal.
1 - 11 of 61 Posts