Here is a Winchester you won't run across very often! This is a Special Order Model 1873 short rifle with 20" octagon barrel. It's been cleaned up but has a sharp appearance...far better than most short rifles which often look like they spent most of their working lives outdoors living underneath a horse. Like saddle ring carbines, short rifles were used as utility guns. These were not common when new and their survival rates were poor. Most of these 20" short rifles are typically found in caliber .44-40 and were sold to Mexico and South American countries where they saw very hard use.
George Madis, author of The Winchester Book, spent a great deal of his youth and early adulthood traveling through Texas and Mexico in search of Winchesters. If you pay close attention to his chapter on the Model 1873's, you'll notice quite a number of these 20" short rifles...several showing remnants of light factory scrollwork. In one of the few conversations I had with Mr. Madis before he died, he recounted driving through little border towns and asking the locals if they had any old Winchesters. If they had some, he'd investigate further, but if not, he'd say, "we'll be passing back through again in a few weeks...please see what you can find for us!" I fervently believe that many of the Winchesters pictured in the Madis books came from his adventures along both sides of the Texas-Mexican border 50-60 years ago. What an exciting time that must have been! Getting back to this little rifle, there is one thing that stands out from most short rifles. Instead of being in .44-40, this one is in .38-40: an unsual occurrence.
The Short Rifle Configuration: For starters, this is not a standard 24" rifle that's been cut back to mimic a short rifle. This is often the case when we find one so it's important to look for a few distinguishing features that set these apart from standard rifles. As you will see in the photos, it has all the proper features of an original short rifle which we'll lay out. #1. The center of the rear sight dovetail sits only 3.5" from the frame instead of the 5" for the standard rifle. This puts the semi-buckhorn sight right up to the frame...much closer than a standard rifle. #2. In fact, short rifle rear sights sit so close to the frame that there isn't enough room to put the caliber marking on top of the barrel. In a rare exception on 19th century Winchesters, it's found on the left side of the barrel. Winchester did the same thing with special order 1873's with seven leaf sights. #3. The barrel address is about 1" closer to the frame. #4. Short rifles have forends that are 1" shorter than standard and measure 8.5" instead of 9.5" found on rifles with standard length barrels. #5. Front sight and magazine tube retaining band dovetails are standard...at approx. .9" and 3.75" from the muzzle of the barrel, respectively. When a barrel is cut outside of the factory, these two front dovetails are often not spaced properly as well as being poorly done. #6. Most short rifles and trapper carbines have stepped frames at the barrel shank. While this step is unusual for a .44-40 with few exceptions, it's found on ALL 1873's in calibers .22 Short & Long, .32-20, and .38-40 regardless of configuration. This rifle has the step like a short rifle but since it's in .38-40, by default, it would anyway. So we will say the stepped frame on this rifle is proper and consistent with that of a short rifle as well as a .38-40. #7. Finally, to remove all doubt this was the "Real Deal", we contacted the BBHC in Cody, Wyoming which houses the original factory records and confirmed this was in fact a genuine short rifle! They sent us the following information:
Win. 1873, SN 468347
Date in: 11-10-1893
Length: 20 inches
Date shipped: 11-10-1893
Overall condition grades to NRA Antique Good Plus. The metal and wood have been cleaned. The metal is bright with fairly good edges and sharp knurlings on the sides of the dust cover and checkering on the hammer. The markings are generally good and legible but a little weak in a few places. The screws are in Fine condition overall with most slots being close to perfect. The wood is in Very Good Plus condition as lightly cleaned. Nice grain with very few dings or handling marks. Correct rifle style buttplate has the trapdoor for the cleaning rods which is found on all .38-40 and .44-40 Model 1873's. The action is in Very Good order. Lever stays up with no sag. Bore is Fair+ to Good- with decent rifling and some scattered pitting. All in all, this short rifle has a pleasing appearance and could easily be restored, allowed to age naturally, or left in the bright. With short rifles often starting at $3K for a complete rat whose only redeeming factor is that it letters properly, the best part about this gun...aside from having eye appeal, lettering correctly, and in a scarce caliber, is we've priced it well below the current market at almost the price of a standard rifle! Don't let this one get away!