Uberti 1866 YellowBoy rifle.
A replica of the Winchester 1866 (Yellow Boy) lever action rifle, made by the Italian gun company, Uberti. Uberti

According to Uberti, the well-known Italilan gunmaker specializing in reproductions of Old West era firearms, a Texas man defend himself and his wife from an intruding 250-pound black bear using one of the company’s 1866 Yellowboy rifles.

Bill Williams, fired eight shots from the lever-action carbine chambered for .45 Long Colt in close quarters, killing the bear after it broke into the 400-square-foot cabin in Colorado that he was occupying with his wife, Stephanie, the release from Uberti says.

“Ninety six percent of this county is national forest land,” Williams says. “In the 23 years we have had this cabin, we have never had any problems with animals. Although, we have seen signs of them passing through our property.”

Williams and his wife reside in Conroe, Texas, but spend their summers at the 400 square-foot cabin. Williams first caught sight of the bear the night before the incident.

“I saw him out the window and realized I didn’t have a loaded gun,” he says. ”So I loaded up the Yellowboy and hung some hooks on the wall next to the bed to hold it. I left the bear alone that night. He was outside and I was inside.”

As a cowboy-action shooter, Williams is well versed in shooting the venerable Uberti Yellowboy—a modern day replica of the classic Winchester 1866 lever gun, give the nickname “Yellowboy” because of its distinctive yellow brass receiver.

The bear seemed to have left the area, but curiosity or hunger led it back to the cabin the next night. The couple awoke at 3 a.m. to the loud sounds of the bear breaking through a cabin window.

“It sounded like an explosion when he slammed the window open,” Williams says. “I grabbed the Yellowboy and walked to the opening from the bedroom to the living room. We don’t have a door to separate the rooms. With the front porch light coming through the windows, I could see the bear on the couch, just 42 inches from me. I cranked off the first round and hit him. He jumped down from the couch and stood up in front of me about three feet away. I shot him twice more and he fell back to the other side of the room.”

Williams shot several more times and could see the bear was still moving. After reloading, Stephanie handed Williams a flashlight, and he put a final round into the bear, ending the confrontation.

Having the rifle close at hand right next to the bed was likely key in the couple’s survival.

“That rifle saved our lives,” Stephanie says. “I blow it a kiss goodnight every night before bed. It was one of the scariest things I have been through, but we are slowly getting back to normal.”

Williams dialed 911 and reported killing the bear and a sheriff’s deputy and wildlife officer arrived to assess the situation, ultimately ruling it a self-defense wildlife killing and removing the bear’s carcass.

Although shaken by the incident, the couple is back living in the cabin, now replete with bars on the windows and a reinforced door. Williams also still keeps his Yellowboy loaded and ready by the side of the bed.

The Winchester 1866 was the first successful repeater after the Henry Repeating Rifle broke new ground with its lever-gun design. The biggest improvement made by the Winchester was its loading gate, allowing the magazine tube to be loaded from the side of the receiver. This also allowed it to have a wooden handguard, something the Henry’s design could now allow.

The original Henry had an external tab attached to the follower. When loading, this tab, and the mag tube spring with it, would be moved to the muzzle end, locked in place, and then rotated on the barrel to allow access to the mag tube for loading. Once the rounds were loaded, the assembly was rotated back into the place and the follower released to put tension on the ammo. That tab would come closer to the shooter along a channel in the bottom of the tube as rounds were cycled and fired. This required shooters to perform the “henry hop,” meaning they had to be sure to move their support hand when the tab got to it.

The Winchester design eliminated all that, and also made for a rifle that was far less susceptible to dirt, dust, and grime getting inside.