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Beautiful Reproduction: Uberti 1886 Hunter Lite Rifle Tested

Can Uberti match the quality and slick cycling of Winchester's best lever-action rifle for a third the price?

Beautiful Reproduction: Uberti 1886 Hunter Lite Rifle Tested

Uberti’s 7-pound 1886 Hunter Lite is beautifully proportioned, with a long pistol grip, a 22-inch barrel.

Anyone with an 1886 Winchester in their hands is either in love or, if not, comatose. To enthusiasts, its feel is unmatched. Astonishingly, the rifle design was patented 140 years ago, just 20 years after Winchester’s very first rifle introduction.

To recap the history of the lever-action rifle, the brass-frame Henry lever-action repeater that saw limited service in the Civil War shackled its successor, the Winchester 1866, with anemic .44 rimfire cartridges. The Model 1873 chambered the much more useful .44-40, or .44 W.C.F., Winchester’s first centerfire cartridge. Hugely popular, the ’73 begat the larger, heavier Model 1876 in .45-75. Alas, the ’76’s action was too weak for the powerful cartridges in single-shot “buffalo rifles” like Remington’s Rolling Block and the 1874 Sharps. Then Winchester vice-president Thomas Bennett got wind of a rifle being built in an obscure Utah shop. He made haste to visit.

3rifleblu
One Federal load from this rifle, used with open sights, killed a big cinnamon-hued Alberta black bear.

“Ten thousand dollars,” said John Browning, when Bennet inquired regarding Browning’s new rifle design. A fortune in 1883. Without blinking, Bennett negotiated $8,000 for all rights to the rifle. So began a 17-year relationship that would give Winchester more than 40 firearm designs, 11 from 1884 to 1886. Even before Browning’s single-shot became Winchester’s Model 1885, Browning was at work on a repeater with its vertically sliding lugs. A patent was awarded to John and his brother Matthew and assigned, reportedly for $50,000, to Winchester. The first Model 1886s were barreled to the .40-82, .45-70 and .45-90. They started shipping August 30 that year. By 1935, when the ’86 expired, 159,900 rifles had been built in 19 chamberings and myriad variations.

4uberti4570bk
Paired with Federal’s 300-grain Fusion load (1,850 fps), the Hunter Lite is an exceptional woods rifle.

I was once loaned a lovely 1886 Lightweight. According to my Blue Book of Gun Values, such a rifle can now fetch $6,500. But there is an alternative. For a recent hunt, I snared a reproduction by the Italian gun-maker Uberti, whose arms are imported by Benelli USA. They’re known for smooth function and finish befitting originals.

5ctgs45-70
A variety of deadly big game loads gives the 150-year-old .45-70 new life in traditional lever rifles.

The 1886 Hunter Lite Rifle from Uberti has a half-magazine under a slender 22-inch round barrel. It holds three .45-70 cartridges (unlike two-thirds magazines on Winchester ‘86s, which accept four). At a tad over 7 pounds, this rifle is 2 pounds lighter than its Sporting Rifle sibling, whose full-length magazine under a 25 ½-inch octagon barrel holds eight rounds. Barrels on both rifles have six-groove, 1-in-20 rifling.

8carry4570
Perfect balance The Uberti 1886 Hunter Lite carries easily in hand. It leaps to cheek, points naturally.

In details, these Ubertis differ from originals, though Winchester accepted so many special orders during the original’s productions, nearly every combination of useful features was possible. Buttstocks on the first 1886s had smooth, straight grips. Both Ubertis have checkered pistol grips, comfortably long and pleasingly shaped, with no grip cap. The Sporting Rifle’s forend is also checkered. Instead of a traditional steel rifle or carbine butt, or a hard shotgun butt, Uberti installed black, crisply contoured 3/4-inch recoil pads. They are much more practical.

6bltopngrn
-“Vertical bars” in bolt slots make the ‘86 breeching more secure than the toggle lock-up of its forebears.

Uberti held closely to Browning’s 1886 action (refined with a patented tweak by Winchester’s chief mechanic, William Mason). Twin “vertical bars” engage bolt slots to secure the breech, a simpler, stronger design than the toggle lock-up of previous Winchesters. Uberti declares it “capable of handling mid-grade .45-70 loads” – modern ammo frothier than that for the 1873 trapdoor Springfield rifle.

7topbltblu
A top view of the 1886 shows the vertical lugs that endure the thrust of modern .45-70 hunting loads.

Blued and case-colored action parts of my Hunter Lite show care in shaping, fit and finish. The lever accepts my big fingers without gaping. Its gentle sweep makes cycling easy. The sound and feel are of greased marbles passing on rails. In battery, there’s no rattle. The hammer has a smooth, easy arc. The trigger trips cleanly at 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ pounds.

9swvlbase
The Uberti’s rear swivel stud is on a two-screw base. Strength by design. A classy touch in plain wood.

Uberti describes the rifle’s open sights as fully adjustable, though to move windage you must drift the semi-buckhorn rear sight. A middle step on its elevator rib gave me a 50-yard zero. A flat-faced 3/32 gold-finished bead on a low front ramp fits neatly in the bottom U of the rear sight. The comb could be slightly beefier for me, but after a few shots the sights aligned without effort. The receiver is drilled for a Lyman aperture.




10magcap
A three-shot half-magazine protrudes an inch beyond the forend cap and its integral front swivel stud.

While Uberti hails the rifle’s “select, A-grade American Walnut,” the wood on my 1886 is starkly plain, well matched in color fore and aft, but utilitarian in figure. It feels like the stock of an original ’86. Grip checkering is of good quality. The uncheckered forend is pleasingly slim, but substantial enough to control. For best accuracy, it is properly not snugged to the barrel or tight between receiver and forend cap. A two-screw QD swivel stud in the buttstock and a stud integral with the forend cap are well placed for my Brownell’s Latigo sling. Overall wood-to-metal fit is excellent.

11thumbload
Winchester’s William Mason improved feeding on the first 1886. Uberti’s loads easily, saves thumbs.

On the range, the Hunter Lite cycled four types of hollow-point and flat-point loads as faultlessly as it did Hornady’s pointed FTXs. Federal’s Fusion .45-70 loads I’d used on a bear hunt got first crack at paper. Their 300-grain bullets are listed at 1,850 fps. An afternoon sun glared off the bead’s rim, coaxing my first 50-yard shot high. Charitably, the next three clustered inside an inch. From 100 yards, three 325-grain FTXs at 2,000 fps drilled a 2 ¾-inch group.

13fusionblu
Driving to the off side of a big bear, the 300-grain Fusion bullet upset perfectly to double diameter.

Whenever my tired eyes hold 3 MOA over a rear notch, the day is starting well enough. Of course, in 1886 rifles had no provision for scopes. Tacking on a Picatinny rail or otherwise desecrating a traditional lever gun to accept glass is akin to bolting a roof rack and a trailer hitch on a 356 Porsche Coupe. I’m pleased Uberti hasn’t stooped to such depravity.

Recommended


14ctg4570tgt
With open sights Wayne muffed the first shot here, kept the others close. Rifle and ammo pass muster.

Most endearing of Hunter Lite virtues are its gunny, carnivorous feel and its baton-perfect balance. In hand or at cheek, it is neither ponderous nor whippy. It comes effortlessly on target and stays there like a setter on point. Its innards are so beautifully machined, polished and fitted, running the lever is a joy even when you’re not shooting.

The Uberti 1886 is worthy of its heritage. The Sporting Rifle lists for $2,429, the Hunter Lite for $2,289. Enough below the cost of an original Winchester to save your marriage.

15fireuberti2
Most endearing of the Hunter Lite’s virtues are its gunny, carnivorous feel, its baton-perfect balance.

For more information, visit uberti-usa.com.

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