Return Of “Little Big .50″
The “Business Length” 1876 rifle.
Winchester’s 1876 .50-95 rifles first arrived in 1879 with factory literature declaring it to “Meet the needs of the hunter who needs a weapon having absolute killing power but not necessarily long range…” Original ammo had a 300-grain lead hollowpoint bullet with a copper cup in the hollow “… modeled after the famous English Express bullets.”* Winchester intended the rifle to be used at ranges within 150 or 200 yards, and at such close range, the bullet was quite effective on thin-skinned game.
It is perhaps not surprising that many of these rifles subsequently went to Africa and India as close-quarters stopping rifles for lions, leopards and tigers.
The 1876 Cimarron reproduction (reviewed in the September 2009 issue), made by Uberti of Italy, comes standard with a 28″ or 22″ barrel and a full magazine. I took an immediate liking to the 28″ rifle, enough so that I bought it after the story for this project.
While nicely balanced, the 1876—any 1876—is a huge, long rifle, especially with a 28″ barrel, and modestly heavy with a tare weight of 10 pounds. Put 10 rounds in it and you can add a full pound. Thus, the rifle with that entire payload shoulders and swings slowly. The short, fat bullet over black powder tends to foul the bore quickly, so accuracy tends to decline after two or three shots, rendering the rest of the magazine more or less progressively useless. Black powder velocity with smokeless powder is unsafe even in a modern-made toggle-link Uberti action. This is why I call the rifle “Little Big 50.” In power it pales before its big brethren in the Sharps family—but it is a .50, and the caliber alone always has a certain cachet. If heavy bullets, power and velocity are truly desired, move up to the Sharps or the 1886 lever action—or even the X-frame .500 S&W—all are strong enough. The toggle-link 1876 wasn’t, isn’t and never will be.
I quickly concluded the long barrel loaded with only a few cartridges would still handle more like an infantry musket than a sporting rifle. Within these weight/length/power considerations, I began to think of ways I could remodel the Cimarron 1876 into a handier rifle. Most of these calculations would revolve around the barrel, it’s contour and the magazine length.
By Jeff John
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