You don’t have to be a gun enthusiast but only have watched some of the old western movies and television shows to understand how important a gun was to the homesteaders and early cowboys when American society began to spread westward and populate the entire continent.
The double barrel shotgun and the Colt Navy pistol were both important guns to the era in their own right, but only the Winchester Model 1873 received the designation of being, “The Gun that Won the West.” Granted, part of that designation was a creative marketing gimmick incorporated by the Winchester company, but because the term was so fitting to the Model 1873, it stuck and the gun is still fondly referred to by such a nickname.
Although modern versions of the rifle are available in any number of calibers to suit the individual needs of a shooter, the original 1873 cam chamber for the .44-40 bullet, which made history of its own accord as the first successful centerfire cartridge to be invented. The power of the bullet provided an unheard of level of range and accuracy, especially with the consideration that even though technology had advanced, there were still muskets in use at the time. As the rifle gained popularity, later versions of the weapon which can still be considered historically accurate provided the options of being chambered for the .38-40 and .32-20 ammunition.
In addition to the power and accuracy the gun offered, an important aspect of the Model 1873 which led to it’s huge success was the reliability and durable ruggedness under harsh conditions. Previous repeater rifles were clearly a theoretical improvement over single shot black powder rifles, and the people settling in the west liked the idea of having more than one shot available at a time, but a gun is worthless when a wild animal or military enemy is charging but the gun is jammed. The 1873 solved such problems with new manufacturing technology, a well planned design, and stricter enforcement of factory specifications and manufacturing tolerances.
The lever action of the Winchester is what allows it to be such a great rifle. It is quick and easy to chamber a bullet without having to remove the weapon from the shoulder causing a need to retrain the sights for a follow up shot.
Europeans have rightfully pointed out how the lever can be awkward to operate from a prone position while lying on the ground, but such a concept doesn’t come into play during the ideal conditions of standing in a hunter’s blind or behind military fortifications. Ultimately, the lever action provides a rather luxurious feel to the rifle and is and especially comfortable means of maintaining accuracy with multiple shots and keep great groupings together.
All told, the Winchester Model 1873 was a great gun and testament to American engineering and manufacturing capabilities before the country was even considered a world power on the global stage.
~ Firearm Daily