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  1. #1
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    Question Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    I was recently gifted a rifle from a relative and I'm trying to find some more information about ammo I can use, and care of the rifle.

    Rifle Information:
    Winchester Model 1873
    Caliber 32-20
    S/N starts with 39xxxxb - records date this to be an 1890 era production
    My relative used it from around 14 up until last year for small game hunting. So roughly 40-50 years of use under this relative, and even more from past ancestors.

    Ammo:
    My relative informed me that I should only use pure lead, and slow burn black powder should I wish to use the rifle. I would like to maintain the functionality of the rifle and have it for not only an "above the fireplace" gun but also a good small-gun rifle as it's part of our family's history.

    What are some safe modern alternatives to use as ammo while I compile reloading equipment for this rifle. Ideally, I would like to hand load rounds for this rifle, but currently lack space and money to invest into decent equipment.

    Online I have found lead alloy cast rounds that I could use for reloading, but I am wondering the damage, if any, an alloy would cause over pure lead. I'm pretty sure I can find black powder without too much effort in my area, but I'm also wondering about a modern smokeless equivalent to hopefully lessen the cleaning that will be needed after each use.

    Care:
    If I recall correctly from others, black powder weapons should be clean often and regularly after use to prevent corrosion. Typically, I would use solvents and other chemicals on modern weapons to clean them, however, given the age of the rifle, I would want to try and avoid any damage chemicals may cause to it. Is there anything I should look out for when cleaning the rifle?
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    If made in the 1890's or later the win 73 is OK to shoot BP equivalent smokeless loads. You are right about using lead bullets. I would use WW or half WW half pure lead and 4.2 gr Unique powder. Cowboy loads are good if you don't reload but expensive.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    I have an original 1873 rifle in .44-40 as well. Mine is still a fantastically great shooter with my handloaded ammo. As for yours: You've already gotten some good advice on ammo to feed it. So long as you stick to lead projectiles, you shouldn't over stress that nearly 130 year old rifle. Soft pure lead bullets or alloy should work. If you do handload you'll have to try different hardnesses of cast to see if it makes any difference in accuracy, but lead won't wear the bore.

    About cleaning Black Powder: Soap and water.
    Use warm. even hot water as it aides in clean up (water evaporates in the hot barrel afterwards). After cleaning, oil with a good lubricating oil. When I clean my old timers I will go back a few days later and check to make sure I got all the residue just to make sure. I know there are other ways to clean up black powder as well, but I've never tried them as my dish soap has always done good.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    cast boolits site will be your best bet for info.

    this is just one of many threads

    http://castboolits.gunloads.com/arch.../t-217608.html

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    After the soap and water and water rinse, flush with wd40 to get the water out and then get the wd40 out of there and use a good gun oil. Rig for storage. Never let wd40 stay on or in a gun. It holds water and turns to black hard gum. It will rust a gun soaked in it while in storage. Use it right.
    The Gun is the Badge of a Free Man

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions


  7. #7
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    Get in touch with a Single Action Shooting group in your area, Some of those guys shoot black power all the time and are always ready to offer advice and are amoung the friendliest people I have ever met. You might just end up with a new hobby as well as help on your black power questions. Good Luck

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    I would avoid using black powder in a lever action. There will always be some smoke that gets into the action that can later cause rust. I would take it apart as much as you can and thoroughly clean the internals of all the crud from the last hundred years. If any residue seems resistant to petroleum solvent use hot soapy water (its the blackpowder fouling). Then give everything a lite coat of oil.

    Then never use black powder again. Like others have mentioned you need to check what pressures it can take. If it is a "Black powder only" pressure look into using Trailboss powder. It is very low pressure and great for low power loads. But do a lot of research to see if it is safe first.

    I don't think the original bullets were pure lead. Pure lead is mostly used for muzzleloaders where you have to seat the bullet manually. It was probably an alloy with some tin like Lyman #2. Just ask the bullet maker how hard the bullet is and the alloy. They should know. If you are worried about hardness avoid any hard cast alloys with antimony or linotype.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Winchester Mod. 1873 in 32-20 Questions

    There has been a resurgence of interest in this cartridge with the popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting. As noted , your rifle predates Winchester Smokeless Steel barrels and caution should be used. Modern 32-20 ammo comes in 2 varieties , handgun and rifle only , both loaded with jacketed bullets , but the rifle loading should only be used on Model 1892 rifles and up.

    Stick with factory ammo loaded for Cowboy Action Shooting. Most reloading manuals have a section just for such loads. Lead bullets cast from wheel weights and dropped from the mold into cold water work very well. Sizing might take some experimenting. SPG is an excellent lube.

    Unless you're fastidious about cleaning immediately after shooting , don't use real black powder. Modern smokeless substitutes like Triple 7 or Trailboss are just right.

    ps; Of course ya know ya gotta get a Colt SAA or at least a Cimarron/Uberti clone to keep it company.
    Last edited by abner13; October 11th, 2019 at 04:45 PM.
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