Winchester 1860 Rifle in 45 Long Colt

 

by Paco Kelly

photography by Paco Kelly

May 29th, 2007

 

 

 

The title above obviously is not consistent with history. The Henry rifle was never chambered originally for the 45 Long Colt cartridge. Or for the 44-40, as so many today think.  It was the rimfire 44 Henry round or 44 Flat as it was called, that the original Henry fired.  And a little later, after the War Between the States, a centerfire version of the .44 Flat was also made available, but wasnít well known.

The Winchester 1873 was really the 44 WCF mainstay.  Remington when using that cartridge in chambering guns or manufacturing ammo called it the 44-40 not 44 WCF... As they did with the 32 WCF to 32-20, and the 38WCF to 38-40.  They didnít want to give credit to the name Winchester Center Fire...or impinge on Winchester's copyrights. 

So it took the great company of Uberti a 135 years or so later, to chamber the Henry rifle in my favorite caliber, 45 Long Colt.  My rifle is about 15 years old, and is fairly consistent with the originals.  The action is the same and in brass... though hardness testing shows it to be stronger than the brass of the 1800s.  The bolt is of steel and the bolt throw is lengthened to cycle the longer 45 long Colt round, as well as the other Winchester WCF rounds.   Brass is very strong, and the pressures for the Henry being kept below 18,000 psi in the modern rifles is no problem.  The weakness in the design is in the toggle link.  It was great with the black powder of Tyler Henryís day.. But smokeless powder can and has damaged even the strongest of the modern Henry, 1866, and 1873 rifles and carbines.  And with the large case head of the 38 WCF, the 44 WCF, and of course that of the 45 Colt ...pressures must be kept down even in the modern rifles.

I can load my 1873 Uberti Deluxe Short Rifle with somewhat higher pressures because it is all steel inside and out, and chambered for the small .357 case head.  But thatís all right, the 45 Colt from the 24 inch barrel of my Henry easily tops 1200 fps with a 255 grain cast bullets.  And in the 10.5 pound rifle there is little to no recoil.  It is fun to shoot, and it is deadly at reasonable ranges. And I have no problem hunting good sized hogs with it, since I have killed them with the same velocity and bullet weight from handguns.  Whitetail deer at 75 yards to a set shot at about 100 yards, is also possible if you can hit what you aim at... black bear gets iffy.  Only at close range for me... or a set head shot at longer range.

The Henry rifle, as most know,  loads using a different system then the later leverguns.  Pulling the spring loaded column button  all the way to the muzzle and turning the barrel shroud opens the loading tube.  The rounds are fed in primer first and when full, the shroud is turned even again with the barrel and loading tube and the button presses down on the ammo, activating the actions ability to be cycled with a loaded round each time from the tube.  See photo... 

It is said often that the weakness of the Henry was the necessary open channel along the bottom of the loading tube.  That it would get packed with dirt or bent hindering the function of the levergun.  And I can see where that would happen, especially in hot war time fire fights.  But Iím sure the settlers that took the Henrys with them across this great land, for protection from hostiles and robbers, were able to be a lot more careful than war time conditions. 

The original 44 Henry Flat we tested (using ammo manufactured in 1870) gave about the power of a 38 Special plus P from a six inch handgun, at the muzzle.  Certainly a 255 grain 45 cast bullet or a 240 grain 44 cast bullet at 1200 fps is considerably more powerful.  Getting a 158 grain bullet to 1000 fps from a 38 special plus P is no problem, and that gives 350 plus lbs of muzzle energy... Thatís about the power level of the .44  Henrys produced in the 1870s and 1880s.  Whereas the 45 Colt from my modern Henry goes 1200 fps with 255 grain cast bullet and gives 815 ft. pounds for a 465 lb difference over the 44 Flat.  Of course the 44 Flat was a .430 caliber and that helped the killing power over the .358 caliber of a 38 special.

Brass can be polished to a very bright shine, as I know from putting that brilliance on the Acuírzr tools I manufacture.  But thatís not what I want when hunting... The Uberti comes with ladder sights, that are regulated for the 44 Flat I guess.  Because even with original ballistics and originally shaped bullets in 45 long Colt the gradients donít match the bullet drop.  But thatís no problem, as I quickly learned where to set the sights for under 50 yards and out to 100 yards.  And it is a blast setting the ladder sights for really long range and dropping bullets into a target out to 350 to 400 yards..... Good only for killing rocks and such... but loads of fun.

Someone told me the Henry wasnít practical...obviously not a levergun man.  Itís fun to hunt with the old timers, and they will do the job if we do ours.  I get 1 and 3/4ths inches at 50 yards with select cast reloads off the bench ...so accuracy is not a problem... I use the Keith shaped cast bullet and it is much more deadly than the original semi-cone shaped 45 Colt bullet of the same weight.  And in heavy timber, brushy country and such, the smooth action of the Henry, the 66, and 73, make all the difference in the world for a fast second shot if needed. 

This Henry brings to me visions of mounted men and wagon trains.  Circled wagons and campfires... and surprised raiders finding the fire power of lever action rifles for the first time....

Paco Kelly

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Uberti's 1860 "Henry" replica in .45 Long Colt.

 

 

 

 

The 1860's magazine tube design loads from the muzzle end.

 

 

 

 

Paco's Uberti 1860 was imported by Taylors & Co.

 

 

A good .45 Colt Peacemaker-style sixgun, such as this Uberti, makes a perfect companion for the 1860 rifle.

 

 

Proven in battle and hunting fields for almost 150 years, the 1860 is still a useful rifle today.