Cimarron Firearms teamed up once again with Uberti of Italy to create the Texas Brush Popper, a Cowboy Action Shooting-focused 1873 Winchester lever action that would be just as well received by today’s most discerning competitor as the cowhand and lawman of yesteryear.
Prior to it being discontinued by Winchester in 1923, well over 700,000 of the 1873 models were produced and marketed as “The Gun that Won the West” in catalogs. In truth, by the time the rifle was particularly popular, the West had already largely been won.
It was the big bore black powder rifles and percussion revolvers that made western expansion safe enough for commerce a good deal before any of the cartridge guns made their day. Even so, the 1873 can rightly boast itself as the quintessential western repeater.
The Model 1873 is famous in its use, from the Battle of Little Bighorn, in the hands of the Sioux defenders, to use in the hands of Texas Rangers and the outlaws they chased. But the 1873 was historic before it was famous.
Not only was it chambered in the first commercially successful center-fire rifle cartridge, the .44-40 Winchester, it was the first widely produced iron framed repeater. Henry made a few of their 1860s in iron frames, but they are incredibly rare and never gained the popularity of the 1873.
The resurgence in popularity of the 1873 Winchester rifle, not just the .44-40 Caliber, is almost entirely due to Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) competitions. A Model 1873’s action is simple and fast. Beyond that, there’s a wide variety of gunsmiths who are comfortable with the design, and the platform has deep aftermarket support. For you troglodytes, think of it as the AR-15 of lever guns.
Cimarron’s Texas Brush Popper is in the “Short Rifle” configuration, with a half octagonal, half round 18″ barrel. As opposed to the 1873 Winchester carbines, the Brush Popper retains its rifle status, marked by the capped fore-end, curved butt plate, and lack of a barrel band. There are plenty of historic photos with shortened barrels on Winchester 1873 rifles, many of which were shortened by local gunsmiths throughout the country.
That historical accuracy is appreciated, but the truth of it is that it would be difficult to get a Winchester 1873 in a configuration that wasn’t offered by the factory or commonly altered. Barrel lengths were standardized at 20″ and 24″, but a full-stocked 30″ musket version was produced as well.
Barrel configurations were available custom from the factory in every configuration imaginable, and in lengths from as short as 12″ and as long as 37.”
With its shorter, 18″ octagonal to round barrel, the balance of the Texas Brush Popper is just about perfect. At 7 1/4 pounds, it’s heavy enough to keep recoil to an absolute minimum.
That weight is concentrated near the body and in the hands, not at the muzzle. For competition, that’s ideal. The muzzle moves fast and, more importantly, stops fast and stays down during strings of fire. With the light loads of most Cowboy Action Shooting, it won’t be recovering from recoil that slows you down, but the cycling of the action itself.
That action comes smooth enough to shoot at any match right from Cimarron. Even so, most folks in the Cowboy Action Shooting game will eventually have a short-stroke action installed in the gun, replacing many of the internal parts of the receiver. In a game where fractions of a second count, the couple of seconds per stage a short-stroke action buys you mean a big difference.
There’s no shortage of fancy finished and fine guns at a CAS match. One of the regular shooters at my club shoots a pair of heavily engraved Colt Single Action Army revolvers for his competition guns, and they get worked hard. Fancy stocks and engraving are extremely common, if not the norm.
The Texas Brush Popper is appropriately finished for this environment. Cimarron has long taken great care with their finishes, for good reasons. Although never inexpensive to produce, fancy finishes sell guns. The Texas Brush Popper is no exception.
The rifle is gorgeous. Most of the photos in this article were taken after 300 rounds of firing, including a full CAS match at a local club. No cleaning or polishing of the gun was done for the photos, other than wiping it down with my T-shirt. If you think it’s pretty now, you should have seen it out of the box.
The beautiful color case hardened finish doesn’t stop at just the receiver. The hammer, trigger shoe, and action lever receive the treatment as well. The screws are not all timed, but they are nitre blued.
The hardwood buttstock and foregrip are straight grained and stained a slight shade of red. This shade looks more like the Marlin red to me, but fancy stocked models from Winchester exist in this shade as well.
The wood-stock fit is far better than what passes for good enough on most of today’s American made lever guns. Tightly flush fit, the only places where the wood sticks out a bit from the steel is right where the fore end meets the receiver, and you’ll need to look hard for that.
The curved butt plate is historically appropriate for the short rifle Winchesters of the age. The 20″ carbines released by Winchester had a flatter butt plate. The Texas Brush Popper’s is very well done, with a great wood-to-metal fit, polished steel, and correctly timed and blued screws.
That attention to detail is appreciated, but also a bit of a shame. Everyone competing will cover that butt plate with a leather recoil pad. That recoil pad really isn’t there much for recoil, but to gain better control of the gun. The polished period-correct butt plate tends to slide around on the shoulder, making fast manipulation an issue.
The front sight is a simple dark polished metal post without a protective hood or ears. It’s drift-adjustable from a dovetail in the barrel.
The rear sight is a traditional buckhorn style. It has a deep cut for precise work, and wide ears for fast firing up close. There is no marking on the front or rear to make either line up. For precise firing on a dark target, this would be an issue worth a little bit of homework, but that’s not really what this rifle is for. For the kind of fast, up-close shooting that CAS is known for, the sights are great as is, and require no modification.
The only disappointment with the stock Cimarron Texas Brush Popper is the trigger pull. Measured on my Lyman trigger gauge, the average weight over 5 pulls is 7 lbs 9 oz, and that’s after all of the shooting for the review was complete.
That’s far too heavy, and means that the shooter can’t just bring the trigger finger back with ease while closing the action to fire. The trigger isn’t squishy or catching, it’s just too hard to pull. Almost every competitive shooter will change this trigger anyway, and whole lot of folks replace the shoe as well.
Cimarron offers the Texas Brush Popper in all of the popular CAS calibers, .38/357, .44-40 Win, and .45 Colt. This particular model is in the original caliber that made the rifle famous, the .44-40 Winchester.
The .44-40 Winchester was a direct competitor to the .45 Colt which was, coincidentally enough, adopted by the US Army the same year the Winchester was released in .44-40. Elizabeth Colt, Sam Colt’s wife and heir to the business, didn’t allow Winchester to chamber their rifles in the .45 Colt at the time, but did chamber Colt revolvers in the .44-40 Winchester.
That meant customers could chamber their handguns and rifles in the same Winchester caliber. And they surely did.
That .44-40 Winchester caliber would prove extremely popular, and was one of the major reasons for the popularity of the 1873 rifle, carbine, and musket models. For the next 50 years, the .44-40 Win was likely responsible for taking more white tail deer than any other caliber in North America.
In the original 1973 Winchesters, 40 grains of black power would drive a 200 gr lead bullet about 1,100 fps. In these guns, this would have been a very much max-pressure load. Looking through quite a few reloading manuals and a couple specifically for cast boolits and black powder, I can find not a single one that recommends this heavy of a load.
However, in a modern firearm using smokeless powders, there are quite a few loads listed with a 200 grain lead bullet being pushed to 1,000 fps from a 7″ revolver barrel. That’s considerably more energy than the “modern” .44 Special, and represents a starting load for the .44 Magnum.
You would gain as much as 150 fps from an 18″ carbine like the Brush Popper over a revolver. At these speeds, the .44-40 WCF is producing enough energy to reliably take medium sized game out to 50 yards, and more for a marksman skilled with the rifle and the right bullet. It’s impossible to know just how many deer have been killed with the .44-40 WCF (another name for the cartridge), but considering its popularity, numbers in the hundreds of thousands should be considered likely minimums.
Although it’s nice to know it’s capable, hunting isn’t what many folks are using the old caliber for these days. Its revival is due entirely to the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting. (I’m Lectric Jack, SASS #109945). For that application, the period-correct caliber easily meets the minimum power requirement, and is more often loaded down to the softest of loads.
Note that if you’re going to shoot very reduced loads and light bullets in brass with a large case capacity, make sure the rounds leave the barrel. Yes, this is a real concern.
Fortunately, there are several ammunition companies that now make the loaded .44-40 cartridge, and most for mild loads suitable for any smokeless gun. This being the Great Ammunition Ammo Shortage of 2020, I had trouble finding anything at all for this review. Cimarron was able to provide me with 50 rounds of Black Hills blemished rounds in Starline cases, and I simply reloaded these with my own components several times.
The Black Hills commercial ammunition shot very well. Four strings of five round groups shot off a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest averaged at just an inch and a half with the supplied iron sights, and 3 1/2″ at 100 yards. That’s about as good as I can shoot with iron sights and this sight radius.
As this was the only commercial ammunition I had for the review, my own hand loads were used for the rest of the 300 total rounds I fired through the gun. My own hand loads, which were also 200 grains at approximately 850fps (according to the book), didn’t print anywhere nearly as good as the commercial Black Hills rounds.
Under the same conditions, and loaded in the same brass as the commercial ammo, my own loads scored an average of 5″ groups at 100 yards. They also leaded the bore more in the first 20 rounds than the Black Hills ammunition did in 50. I suspect that is because my bullets were sized to .429″ for my .44 caliber guns, and the groove diameter of the .44-40 is typically at .431″.
At no point did I have any reliability issues with the Texas Brush Popper lever gun. I cycled the rounds hard and fast, and slowly as well. Just keep your Cartridge Overall Length within spec and you shouldn’t have any difficulties cycling the gun in any way. I expected nothing less from Cimarron.
Shooting the gun in a breeze, and a blast. There’s nothing at all to the recoil. The pistol grip stock, weight of the barrel, sights and natural geometry of the gun make for a great experience for the novice shooter. The experienced shooter can really make it hum.
I’ve seen the better guys shooting a short stroked Texas Brush Popper fire an 8th round as the first piece of brass is just hitting the ground. No matter how many times I see it, it always seems impossible. Also note that unlike some of the Winchester models, the rounds eject up and behind the shooter instead of forward of the firing line, a welcome feature as you will certainly want to collect your brass.
When it comes to CAS, Cimarron already has certainly made a big hit with the Texas Brush Popper. I’ve only been competing for a few months now, but of the half a dozen matches I’ve been to I have yet to attend a single one where one of these guns wasn’t present. They seem to be universally liked, and it’s easy to see why.
The Texas Brush Popper lever action rifle is gorgeous, accurate, and reliable. It’s also an ideal starting gun for anyone wanting to get into the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting. All of your basics are covered right out of the box, and the aftermarket support is deep and diverse. As an added bonus, in any of the calibers offered, the short rifle would make a fine short range hunting gun, and you’d be hunting in style.
Specifications: Cimarron Texas Brush Popper
Barrel Length: 18 in. Octagon to Round
Style: Deluxe Tx Brush Popper
Capacity: 10 + 1
Frame: Case Hardened
Finish: Standard Blue
Stock/Forearm: Checkered Walnut Pistol Grip
Weight: 7.25 Lbs.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * 1/2
Cimarron didn’t skimp here. The finish of the gun is exceptional right out of the box and it would be a shame to change it. Half a star off for the screws not timed.
Authenticity * * * * *
It’s hard to create an 1873 that wasn’t either offered by the factory or commonly smithed. People have been modifying these guns since the day they were released. Still, in all of the points that would matter, Cimarron nailed it.
Reliability * * * * *
Perfect. If your arm works the lever, the gun runs.
Accuracy * * * * *
This is as good as you can expect from an iron-sighted 18″ barreled short rifle, especially with a commercial round.
Overall * * * * 1/2
My long-time readers know that the more I like a gun, the harder I am on it. Half a star on this gun was taken off for the trigger weight and the untimed screws. That’s all I could nitpick on this rifle. It’s a beautiful example of one of the most important repeaters of the 19th century. Cimarron has taken a proven design and provided the CAS shooter with an ideal starting point, or the hunter and collector with a beautiful, functional rifle right out of the box.