The .50-95 Winchester was introduced in 1879 as the largest member in the line-up of cartridges for the Model 1876 Winchester repeating rifle. All of the cartridges chambered in the 1876 Winchester were considered short-range rounds compared to the mid- and long-range cartridges that were available only in single-shot rifles at that time. The .50-95 was an express cartridge with a rather lightweight bullet shot at high velocity, making it a powerful hunting rifle for thin-skinned game within 200 yards.
Bullets used in the old .50-95 loads were the 300-grain “express” or 312-grain, solid-lead slugs with flatnose or hollowpoint. According to the 1916 Winchester catalog, both of those loads were still being made with lead bullets on top of 95 grains of black powder. Jacketed bullets were also available, but still loaded over black powder. The velocity for the 300-grain bullet was listed at 1,556 fps, which was truly stepping out “in the fast lane” for a black powder cartridge.
Loads were tested using a new Uberti Model 1876 in .50-95 caliber.
The standard barrel length for Model 1876 rifles is 28 inches, but the factory length for the ’76 Express rifles in .50-95 is 26 inches. Why difference lengths were made is unknown. Perhaps Winchester wanted to lighten the .50s to make them more of a stalking rifle. A rifling twist of one in 60 inches in the .50 Express rifle was noted in Cartridges of the World by Barnes, so the .50-95 was basically limited to the 300-grain bullets.
Jamison Brass & Ammunition makes cartridges for the .50-95 with smokeless powder.
Mike Venturino included the .50-95 cartridge in his book, Shooting Lever Guns of the Old West (2010), available from Wolfe Publishing. In the section on cartridge handloading, he gave specifications for loads with both GOEX FFg powder and the excellent “cartridge” powder that is no longer available. It might be said that Mike wrote about the .50-95 almost a decade too soon, because now there are some important new ingredients that were not available previously.
One of those ingredients is a very good modern copy of the Winchester Model 1876 rifle made by Uberti and at least one other maker. The Uberti was used for gathering the handload data. In general, handling and shooting the Uberti Model 1876 gave a different picture of the ’76 rifle than what was expected. I had previously thought it to would be too big, heavy and clumsy, perhaps with a picture in my mind of a frontiersman walking across the prairie, dragging his ’76 Winchester by the barrel. It is actually a fine rifle with a weight and balance that is quite nice to hold and aim.
The Uberti 1876 in .50-95 has a 28-inch barrel, the same barrel length as used for the company’s other ’76 calibers. That barrel
Drawing of Accurate Molds No. 51-350CL, courtesy of Accurate Molds.
has a much tighter 1:48 rifling twist, making the new 1876 rifle in .50-95 simply “easier to feed.” Also, the groove diameter of the barrels on the new rifles is a touch bigger than the old Winchesters. The rifle used for this update had a barrel groove diameter of .514 inch, while Mike Venturino said the original he shot had a .509 inch groove diameter. These are simply the little differences that should be known in advance of preparing handloads for the newer .50-95.
Another new component that wasn’t available when Mike tested loads for his book was Jamison’s .50-95 brass or ammunition. Jamison, now a division of CapTech International (CapTechIntl.com), has both new brass and loaded ammunition for all of the Winchester Model 1876 calibers, which certainly includes the .50-95. Jamison’s ammunition uses a 350-grain lead bullet over just enough smokeless powder to give it an advertised velocity of 1,300 fps; that’s a bit of a “cowboy” load, but it was the Cowboy Action shooters who made the old leverguns popular enough for this new ammunition to be made. All of the loading and shooting done for this update was done with either Jamison’s factory loaded ammunition or new Jamison brass.
This group was fired with 85 grains of Olde Eynsford 1½ Fg powder.
The remaining ingredient that wasn’t available 10 years ago in .50-95 is GOEX’s Olde Eynsford powders. A decade ago, GOEX was offering “cartridge” powder and Mike Venturino’s chapter on the .50-95 did show one load using it. Several black powder cartridge shooters have mourned the loss of cartridge powder and I asked GOEX why it was dropped. The company told me that “cartridge” was simply not popular enough to warrant being run again, so it was discontinued. In the same note, the popularity of black powder cartridge shooting has increased enough that Olde Eynsford has a much better lease on life. Olde Eynsford is available in four different grades for fine-tuning black powder loads. In the following information, two of the Olde Eynsford grades were used.
So far, only the differences between Mike Venturino’s work and what will follow have been pointed out. There is no direct pathway from his testing to what was recently completed , even though I consider our
Eighty grains of Olde Eynsford FFg were used for this group.
testing to be an update and continuation of what he explains in his book. Those variations are just different enough that they can’t be ignored.
In terms of the bullets we used, Wayne Miller did the casting and loading for these tests, and his rifle was used for shooting. The handloads were topped off with 350-grain cast bullets from a Rapine mould made out of 20:1 (lead-to-tin) alloy, sized to .514 inch and lubed with SPG Lube. Going along very well with the new Uberti’s 1:48 rifling twist, the 350-grain bullet was used for all shooting.
Rapine moulds are no longer available, so a little more about the bullets should be shared. For shooters who want a good bullet for Uberti rifles in .50-95, Accurate Molds No. 51-350CL mould is highly recommended. This bullet has the proper nose shape and distance from the crimp groove for positive feeding from the magazine in a lever-action .50-95 Model 1876. Visit Accurate Molds (accuratemolds.com) to see another bullet mould for the .50-95, No. 51-350C. The only difference between these two bullets is that No. 51-350CL is slightly longer with a larger lube groove and designed more with the black powder shooter in mind.
All handloads used Jamison brass, as already mentioned, and were primed with Federal Large Rifle Match primers. The powder charge was always dropped into the primed cases through a 24-inch drop tube and then topped with a .030-inch Walters veggie wad. Loads were shot from a benchrest at only 50 yards. Our shooting quickly showed that the rifle’s front sight was too low, so consequently our groups went a bit high. For chronographing, five shots per load we fired, so the test results might show a rather small sample.
Wayne Miller shoots the Uberti ’76 offhand.
Loads were limited to powder charges no greater than 85.0 grains. Olde Eynsford has slightly less density than some other black powders and the 85-grain charges completely filled the .50-95 cases, even when the drop tube was used. That gives a clear picture of the amount of compression on the powder, because the .030-inch wad plus about .330 inch of bullet had to be seated below the mouth of the case. It is also interesting to note that the velocity difference between the 85 grains of Olde Eynsford 1½ Fg and the FFg was only 5 fps, in favor of the FFg.
The rifle was cleaned after each five-shot group, so the shooting with each loading began with a clean barrel. This rifle was an out-of-the box Uberti, using the sights that came on it as well as the trigger pull. The trigger pull was on the stiff side, especially to a shooter who feels more at home with set triggers.
Our shooting went well with only a couple of curious moments. One question was why there was an extreme velocity spread of 110 fps for five shots loaded with 75 grains of Olde Eynsford FFg? It does suggest that a larger sample size (more shots fired) would be helpful. We must accept that a velocity spread of 110 fps is nontypical.
Also, when comparing the velocities of the 75-grain loads, only one of the shots fired with 1½ Fg powder fell below 1,400 fps, down just to 1,399 fps. On the other hand, three of the five shots fired with 75 grains of Olde Eynsford FFg powder were recorded as being below 1,400 fps and, as shown in the listing of handloads, the average velocity was lower with FFg powder, but only in the 75-grain handloads.
In general, loads with the 85-grain powder charges seemed to make the rifle almost come alive, and those are loads that should interest big-game hunters the most. It was the 80- and 85-grain loads that gave the best groups. At the same time, changes to the sights were discussed, which should improve the rifle’s accuracy all the way around. With some improvement to the sights, combined with the 85-grain loads, the .50-95 certainly becomes a serious contender for putting meat on the table. Given the prices of original Model 1876 rifles in .50-95, the Uberti ’76 is a well-made and accurate alternative for the black powder cartridge hunter.