Anyone with even a casual interest in historical American firearms should be aware of A. Uberti, an Italian company who manufacturers meticulously replicated versions of America’s iconic rifles and revolvers, both black powder and cartridge. I was aware there was such a company, but not having a keen interest in historical firearms (just keeping up with modern rifles and cartridges has been a full-time job for me for more than 50 years), all I knew is that they made replicas.
But boy did I get an education recently when a certain Uberti rifle was introduced that caught my attention. A replica of the Winchester Model 1885 Hi Wall single-shot rifle chambered in .303 British. This particular iteration of the several 1885s offered by Uberti, is called the Courteney Stalking Rifle. Quoting from the press release: “Named after the celebrated English hunter, explorer and naturalist, Courteney Selous (1851-1917), this rifle gives the shooter the looks, feel and usability of the turn-of-the-century British single-shots that were first taken to the British colonies.” If you’re thinking that’s an odd pairing — the .303 British with the Winchester — you’d be right, but the .303 was among the 63 different chamberings offered in the 1885 during its 33-year production run. My research tells me Selous never actually used a Winchester 1885, but rather a Farquharson-type Holland-Woodward patent .256 falling block by Holland & Holland, which was one of his favorite rifles. To my mind, Uberti’s choosing this special edition 1885 to pay homage to Africa’s greatest hunter is perfectly appropriate.
When I went to their website, www.uberti-usa.com and downloaded their catalog, I was absolutely stunned by the number of historic firearms they replicate, all associated with the taming of the American west. In their 44-page catalog there are 39 pages of superb photos of every famous black powder and cartridge revolver and cartridge rifle that Uberti manufacturers.
In all, among nine basic models of black powder revolvers, 27 cartridge revolvers and 11 cartridge rifles, there are 223 distinct iterations! Apparently, copyright laws do not allow Uberti to mention the name of the original manufacturers who produced these guns, so they are listed in their catalog only by model number. For example, Uberti makes 21 versions of the Winchester Model 1873, “the gun that won the West,” but it’s listed simply as “Model 1873.”
Anyway, I ordered a Courteney Stalking Rifle for review and to say I was impressed would be understatement. I’m no expert on the 1885, but based on the couple of originals I’ve examined, along with a couple more Browning and Winchester commemoratives offered on and off over the years that I range tested, this Uberti replica is a dead nuts copy of the original, but better of course because of advances in machinery and metallurgy.
The only deference to modernity is the fitment of a Picatinny quarter rib that accepts Weaver-type scope rings and complements a very sturdy set of adjustable iron sights. The 24-inch barrel sports a hooded ramp front sight and a barrel band swivel base. The receiver and finger lever are beautifully case hardened.
For testing I thought the perfect scope to celebrate the spirit of this gun and the 303 British cartridge would be a traditional 6x fixed-power. I know, fixed powers are dinosaurs, but 6x42s of one brand or another have served me well in hunting fields around the world for more than 50 years. At one time not too long ago, most American and European manufacturers offered fixed 6Xs, but not anymore. One of those was Nikon and I just happened to have one NIB.
I was really looking forward to shooting this rifle, but I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find non-military ammo. Neither Hornady nor Federal could come up with even one box! Still recovering from knee replacement surgery and not getting around too well, I gave my buddy, Marc Habbouche, the job of finding an odd box or two hopefully in a Charlotte area gunshop. Long story short, it took 12 calls to round up a single box — Winchester’s 180-grain Power Point. I didn’t expect gilt edge accuracy from a gun like this and a box of factory ammo that could have been 40 years old, but I was really surprised when I got an average of 1.7 inches for four 3-shot groups. And considering the glacial lock time for an exposed hammer action, the trigger pull was amazingly good, breaking at 4 lbs. and smooth as silk!
I would love to use this rifle in the field. Think of it: combining Britain’s most iconic cartridge with Winchester’s first Browning-designed rifle, crafted in the finest traditions of Italian gun making and celebrating Africa’s greatest hunter, well, that would be so cool!–Jon R. Sundra