In the November 2018 issue, my story was about shooting the Uberti copy of the Colt .31 caliber Pocket Revolver, the Model of 1849. That is quite the little gun and I certainly still do recommend one for some great black powder shooting.
At the same time, I wanted something extra; not more, but just different. And that difference was found with a conversion cylinder that converted the .31 percussion revolver to shoot the .32 Smith&Wesson cartridge.
The old and little .32 Smith&Wesson cartridge dates back to the 1870s when it was introduced for the Model 1½ S&W top-break single action revolver. It quickly grew in popularity and at one time was just about as popular as the later .32 ACP cartridge.
Naturally, the .32 S&W was a black powder cartridge so it fits right into our little corner here where black powder is our favorite. So now let me tell you about the conversion cylinder for the Model 1849 and about making the loads to use in it.
SHOOTING THE .31 caliber percussion revolver was, in its own way, a real blast! However, I had my eye on something else for that gun. That was the conversion cylinder made by Howell Old West Conversions and I ordered mine from Buffalo Arms Company. Almost as soon as I ordered that cylinder, it arrived at the mailbox, very good and fast service. The conversion cylinder allows .32 S&W cartridges to be shot in this little 5-shot revolver with no other alterations required. Just change the cylinder to shoot the cartridges or change it back to shoot the gun as a percussion.
Along with the new cylinder, I ordered 100 pieces of Star Line brass for the .32 S&W. Add those cases to the full box of Remington .32 S&W loads that I already had on hand and that gives me a supply that should last a fairly long time.
Naturally, some loading tools for the little .32 S&W were also on the list. Lee Precision makes a 3-die set for the .32, with a carbide sizing die. Those were ordered along with a mold for a 93-grain bullet also by Lee, number 311-93-1R. With the lead that I’m using, which is rather soft but of unknown alloy, the bullets from that mold weigh just about an even 88 grains.
The suggested diameter for sizing those bullets from the Lee mold is .311 inches, but I had my hopes for something a bit larger, mainly because the suggested round ball diameter for the .31 caliber revolver is .321 inches.
So instead of sizing those little bullets, they were placed in a metal lid from a large jar to be “pan” lubed. And to make a “kakekutter,” a .32 Winchester Special case was drilled out, over at Allen Cunniff’s shop, so a brass plunder rod could be run through the case to push the lubed bullets back out.
The .32 Special case was resized, which, I’m guessing, would squeeze the mouth of the case down to .316 to .318 inches. That should leave a little extra lube on the bullet but that’s OK.
That metal jar lid is big enough to lube 25 to 30 bullets at a time, which is plenty enough for me. And that “kakekutter” works very well.
The first loading of bullets from the Lee mold was done using the most recommended smokeless powder load, which needed only 1 grain of Bullseye powder. That is a soft-speaking load for sure. And a couple of them were fired over a chronograph, generating only about 480 fps.
IN ORDER TO find a good black powder load for the .32 S&W, I referred to my copy of the Lyman Handbook #29. (Every black powder reloader should have one of those!) There, the old factory black powder loads for the little .32 were listed at only 7 grains. Because I had no way of compressing the powder charge, I tried my first black powder loading, using Olde Eynsford 3F, at just 6 grains.
Even the charge of 6 grains was a little too much. That required some compression of the powder while seating the bullets. And, you can probably tell what’s coming, compressing with the soft bullets caused the bullets to “expand,” which didn’t allow the cartridges to be inserted in the conversion cylinder.
So those bullets were pulled and replaced with fresh “un-expanded” bullets. Those worked very well and with those loads, it was off to the range we went. Those loads with the 6 grains of OE 3F did shoot very well with pleasing accuracy.
For my next loading using black powder in the .32 S&W cases, the amount of powder was dropped to just 5 grains. With that much powder, the bullets can be seated very nicely.
There is still some slight compression of the powder, so there is no air space, but the bullets do not get expanded during the seating process. And the 5-grain loads of black powder certainly fired with more “snap” than the very light loads with Bullseye, with pleasing accuracy too.
The average velocity with the 88-grain bullets from the Lee mold over the 5 grains of Olde Eynsford 3F powder was 537.6 feet per second with an extreme spread of velocities for the small sample of five shots sent over the chronograph was just 30 feet per second.
For this little gun, I think that’s a pretty good load. That gives the smashing power of almost 57 foot pounds of energy, which really isn’t enough to make the earth tremble but it will sure make the gongs ring and the tin cans bounce.
BUT THE BULLET I really wanted to use in the .32 S&W was Lyman’s number 313249, the original Ideal bullet made for the little old .32. It took me some time to get one but it was certainly worth the wait. And I got it with a .314-inch diameter sizing die and the proper top punch.
Just one bullet from this new mold was weighed, 83½ grains. The Lyman catalog lists that bullet at 85 grains and it poured out just a little bit lighter with the 25-1 lead-tin alloy I was using.
The new mold was pre-heated by resting it over the lead pot while the lead melted and it dropped good bullets right from the first try. They were sized and lubricated with some BPC black powder lube from C. Sharps Arms.
Those new bullets were loaded in the Starline cases over 5 grains of Olde Eynsford 3F powder and taken to the range. A small target was posted at just 10 yards and the new bullets were tried for their first “burst of five.”
Those grouped rather well although hitting high, as this pocket revolver does. Next another target was posted and five more shots were fired while kneeling with one arm rested across my knee. Those grouped better, due to the steadier hold.
Now the Lyman number 313249 bullets are part of my “standard loading” for the .32 S&W, still using it with the 5-grain charge of Olde Eynsford 3F powder. I do plan on “lowering” the rear sight in the hammer to bring the point of impact down a bit.
Shooting this small revolver with the conversion cylinder is really a pleasure. In fact, I haven’t used this gun with the percussion cylinder since trying it with the .32 S&Ws.
What duties this gun will serve for now is rather hard to say; it is primarily a fun gun and shooting it with the light black powder loads simply makes shooting it even more fun.
Historically, there were some conversions for the old Colt .31s but those mainly focused on using the .32 rimfire cartridges. While using the 1849 Colt copy with the .32 S&W conversion cylinder, we can experience a little of that history and have a lot of fun at the same time.
It is believed that the Chinese have been using black powder for about a thousand years and they are generally credited with its invention starting with fireworks. Around 700 years ago someone came up with the idea that if you put some black powder in a tube with a rock it would expel the rock out at sufficient velocity to make it a weapon. Another early idea was to use reinforced bamboo to shoot arrows and darts. No one knows who thought of this, but they did indeed change the world. The general consensus is the Chinese and Arabs were among the earliest to use guns in war.
Black powder today is just that – black. But black powder from centuries ago used to be gray and much weaker. Today, it is common to find powders that include a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal and sulphur.
The guns of the 13th century bore little resemblance to today’s weapons, and the blackpowder formula is essentially the same as it was then, although the older powders were weaker and gray in colored. One of the few improvements included making powder with water, so it could be made into a cake-like compound. That seemed to make it more reliable and safer. A popular formula today is 75 percent saltpeter, 15 percent charcoal and 10 percent sulfur. There are and have been other formulas used throughout the centuries, and as time went on they improved the formula and strength. Even today, powders are better than just a few years ago.
One big difference between black powder and smokeless or substitute powder is that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms considers it an explosive. Smokeless powders are only categorized as propellants requiring much less effort to store and sell.
What are the characteristics of this ancient propellant? First, it is considered an explosive as opposed to a propellant such as smokeless powders and black-powder substitutes. This means that it is highly regulated and harder to buy.
If you want to sell black powder, you have to get a special license issued by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE or ATF), and you must have special storage containers. Many gun stores don’t want to be bothered with these burdensome regulations, so they just sell the substitutes. I imagine there are areas where it may be prohibited all together. Because of this, many muzzle-loading fans use a substitute such as Pyrodex, Cleanshot or Blackhorn 209. These substitutes work well, however, for someone who is a stickler for the authentic they just don’t cut the mustard.
Black powder is messy, so some shooters avoid it rather than learn to work with it. That is a shame because black powder is capable of producing excellent accuracy. In the 1880s, black-powder rifles produced results that are respectable even by today’s standards. In 200-yard rifle matches, it wasn’t uncommon to have a competitor shoot a 10-shot 2-inch group. I have done a lot of chronographing and my accuracy with these loads has generally been excellent with both muzzle loading and cartridge firearms. As a sidenote, when chronographing black powder, you usually have to stand at least 5 feet further away from the start screen, because the smoke will obscure it and prevent you from getting a reading. This is especially true with the larger calibers.
Black powder cartridges are still made for all sorts of firearms. (Left to right) .50-70 left, .50-90 and the .50-140.
When getting into black powder there are a few things that you need to be aware of. First of all it’s explosive, and you need to keep it away from open flames or sparks and even static electricity can cause a detonation. It will ignite with very little encouragement, so you need to keep that in mind. Always use nonsparking and nonstatic electricity devices when using it. Also, I shouldn’t have to say this but never ever attempt to grind black powder to make it finer. This will cause an explosion and serious injuries to anyone in the area. From time to time people have made the six o’clock news attempting such a stunt. If you are careful, it is perfectly safe and stable. Black powder isn’t for the careless or negligent so, if you are such a person I urge you not to handle it. Many shooters including myself have handled it for many years without incident. Terrifying I know.
There are four basic grades of black powder, each with their own purpose. In an effort maintain simplicity, here are the basics:
FG A course powder suited for small cannons and large-caliber rifles from about .58 caliber on up.
1½ FG A high-grade Swiss powder used for match shooting.
FFG Used for muzzle-loading rifles from .45 to .58 especially with mini or maxi balls. This powder can also be used for patched round balls.
FFFG Used for cap-and-ball revolvers, cartridge handguns and small-caliber rifles. This powder can also be used for blanks and shotgun loads.
FFFFG This is a very fine powder whose primary use is priming a flintlock. It can also be used for blanks and in small derringers.
Half of the fun of black powder is the large amount of satisfying smoke it creates. If you are chronographing your shots, however, you might consider standing back 5 to 15 feet further than you would normally so that the smoke does not obscure the screen.
There is a little overlap in usage, but I wouldn’t deviate a great deal from these recommendations for best results. There is a Swiss powder that is graded differently, but we will get into that later. If you can’t get black powder you need to be aware of the substitutes that are available. Pyrodex is the oldest known substitute available, and performs very much like black powder. It is corrosive, just like black powder and should be loaded and cleaned in the same manner. It offers FFG and FFFG grades as well as a cartridge grade that is made for loading obsolete calibers. A noncorrosive powder is Cleanshot that has been around for a few years. It is a course powder, but works well and gives somewhat higher velocities than black powder and Pyrodex. Like the others, FFG and a FFFG grades are available. This powder leaves a white residue in the barrel and cases, but doesn’t seem to harm anything.
A new product on the market is Blackhorn 209. Originally designed for inline muzzle loaders, I have found that it works extremely well in cartridge firearms. It is clean burning and gives the most velocity per grain than any substitutes out there. It is mildly corrosive so cleaning is necessary. I am currently experimenting with it in a conventional muzzle loader. My only setback so far is it seems a bit harder to ignite. I mention these substitutes because in some areas they are more readily available. One thing to keep in mind is never load smokeless powders in a black-powder muzzle loader. This is a recipe for disaster. They simply are not designed for the stronger propellants. We will see you for Part II: Loading and shooting black powder in April. ASJ
Black powder has a long history and they are not created equal. They come in an array of coarse grains as well as composition. The grains shown here are classified as (left to right): FFFFG L, FFFG L, FFG and FG R, which refers directly to their coarseness and helps identify how it should be used.
Bonhomie – Pedersoli’s new side-by-side is a modern shotgun with a classical twist, and it will be right at home for you at the range or aﬁeld.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
Dedicated scattergunners have probably realized by now that, although I’ve shot their preferred choice of gun for many years, I’ve never considered myself a shotgunner. It’s not that I have anything against them; it’s just that for me, shotguns have always taken a backseat to riﬂes and riﬂe shooting, especially when it comes to using black powder. But after seeing, handling and shooting a ﬁne Pedersoli 12-gauge double with twin outside hammers, I think my priorities might start to shift a bit.
Pedersoli calls this side-by-side their “Bohemienne,” or Bohemian. Comparing it to the standards of today, this shotgun is deﬁnitely nonconformist, and it is good enough that we can refer to it as being somewhat irregular. It is a cut above many others, and for me it is delightful in many ways, especially with its double outside hammers.
I want to emphasize one point right from the beginning. In most gun reviews like this one, contact information is provided so consumers get more information about the gun can described, but all too often the dealers at local gun shops don’t receive guidance about how to stock them. But this ﬁne shotgun is available through the Italian Firearms Group,
a partnership that supplies the U.S. dealer network with the best products of multiple Italian gun makers.
The Italian Firearms Group was established in 2010, and represents some of that country’s top ﬁrearms craftsmen: F.A.I.R, Sabatti and Pedersoli. By going directly to IFG, dealers can make rather quick contact to get wholesale pricing and other useful information in regard to getting ﬁrearms to sell.
This finely crafted firearm features fine engraving, color casehardening, browned barrels and blued trigger guard.
THE PEDERSOLI LA BOHEMIENNE is a striking piece, to say the least. It is a classically styled, double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with double outside hammers. The 28-inch browned barrels have 3-inch chambers, and are equipped with interchangeable chokes at the muzzles. The pistol grip and the fore-end each oﬀer checkering for comfort, a good grip and, quite honestly, beauty. And speaking of, the frame is color casehardened and features hand-ﬁnished engraving. Overall length of the shotgun is just under 46 inches, and it weighs about 7¾ pounds.
The hammers are rebounding, so they don’t have or use half-cock notches. Rebounding hammers are, in my opinion, a good safety measure. If the gun is cocked and the hammer needs to be returned to its “down” position, you just hold the hammer back, pull the trigger, and slowly ease the hammer forward while releasing the trigger. The hammers cannot go far enough forward to hit the ﬁring pins unless the triggers are held back.
The La Bohemienne is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot.
In addition to that, the gun is also equipped with a sliding safety, the very same as on a hammerless double, so the gun can be put on safety while the hammers are in the cocked position. The sliding safety does not move to the safe position when the gun is opened.
This gun is not speciﬁcally a black powder shotgun, not like a muzzle-loading shotgun would be. Instead, the Bohemienne is a ﬁnely made modern shotgun with modern steels in the barrels, so it is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot. While using steel shot, however, the changeable chokes should be used with only cylinder or improved-cylinder at the muzzles because the steel shot is simply not as compressible as lead.
A cloud of black powder smoke obscures the target, but it was a hit. (JERRY MAYO)
At the same time, in my most humble opinion, this gun is such a classic that it had “black powder” written all over it, and my choice for shooting it immediately fell to black powder loads for ammunition. That ammunition came from Buﬀalo Arms Company in northern Idaho. They oﬀer a variety of shotgun loads with black powder, and the one I selected to use the most was loaded with 3 drams (82 grains) of black powder under 11/8 ounce of size 7½ lead shot.
This close-up of the side-by-side’s muzzles shows the changeable chokes.
THE BLACK POWDER SHOT SHELLS from Buﬀalo Arms Company are rather classic themselves. They are loaded in good old-fashioned paper hulls, and are nicely star-crimped at the mouth. Inside, these shells are loaded with what we might call “old style” components.
Dave Gullo, owner of Buﬀalo Arms, described the loads this way: “An important feature to our shotgun ammo is that it’s loaded with nitro overshot wads and ﬁber overpowder wads, not plastic wads, so that the shooter is not needing to scrub plastic out of their barrels when they are done shooting.”
At ﬁrst, I couldn’t help notice what I will call rather heavy trigger pulls. I know that “rather heavy” is a relative expression. I’m most comfortable with the very lightly set triggers on muzzle-loading riﬂes and my favorite Sharps, so perhaps I wasn’t the best prepared for what this shotgun required. When I called for my ﬁrst bird on the sporting clays range, I followed it until it was out of sight and the gun hadn’t ﬁred. For my next try, I was more prepared.
The trigger pulls were actually quite ﬁne, breaking very sharp and crisp, while remaining a bit on the heavy side. I realized that one reason for those trigger pulls being “heavy” is so the gun can be ﬁred while both hammers are cocked. In this way, with its associated recoil, the jarring of one barrel going oﬀ will not release the second hammer. In other words, this gun will not “double” on you, which could be a memorable experience you wouldn’t want to have.
After I “caught up” with the gun, the good hits began to come one after the other. As you can guess, that’s when the fun really took over, and using this shotgun became a delight.
Our muzzle-loading club has a target known as the “slice of pie” that is used for a particular match with ﬂintlock smoothbores during our Trade Gun Frolic. The slice of pie is used in a luck shoot where each shooter gets just one shot at 25 yards while using buckshot. It’s hard enough just to get some hits on the paper, and a shooter must be lucky to get any score at all.
This shows the “slice of pie” target with the six holes from the buckshot load.
Just to give this Pedersoli 12-gauge a chance, I took one shot at the slice of pie while using 00 buckshot. This was done with the Pedersoli’s left barrel, with the modiﬁed choke, and six hits are seen on the target (see photo at left) but with zero for a score. That shot was just another part of the fun.
There isn’t a whole lot more I can tell you about the Pedersoli La Bohemienne that wouldn’t simply be echoes of what I’ve already written. It is a very ﬁne classic double-barreled 12-gauge, priced in the neighborhood of $2,100. And with the black powder loads, it provides classic shotgun shooting at its best.
For more information about Pedersoli, the La Bohemienne, and other ﬁnely crafted shotguns, visit italianﬁrearmsgroup.com. To learn more about the Buﬀalo Arms Company’s black powder shotgun loads in 10 and 12 gauges, visit buﬀaloarms.com. ASJ
[su_heading size=”30″]On a cold winter day in western Washington, two duck hunting rookies loaded up on No. 2 shot and expert advice to take on some wily webfoots.[/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]C[/su_dropcap]edarville Farms, located in Oakville, Washington, is an active farm that includes a working millworks facility. But perhaps more applicable to the topic of this column, it is also home to a waterfowl hunting club situated on more than 100 acres with ﬁve swales, a tree-enclosed pond, and 2,500 feet of river frontage. Owner Jon McAninch always donates a couple of two-person guided hunts to the annual Washington Waterfowl Association (WWA) raffle, and since I was one of last year’s lucky winners, I was able to select a partner. I chose Mike Moran, the president of the Washington State Muzzleloading Association, because I knew I could count on him to join me in hunting with a ﬂintlock riﬂe.
Mike Moran (left) and Mike Nesbitt with the ducks they bagged using flintlocks.
Jon and Kurt Snyder – the chairman of the Grays Harbor chapter of the WWA – made our group a foursome. In addition to his duck hunting knowledge, Kurt was a huge help because it was he who put out the decoys and doubled as our retriever for getting our birds out of the water.
Ironically, neither Jon nor Kurt likes black powder shooting with muzzleloaders, and neither Mike nor I consider ourselves duck hunters. In other words, we were going to need their help to collect a couple of ducks, and they were more than glad to provide it.
Mike Moran’s 20-gauge Northwest gun has a 36-inch barrel.
MY “DUCK GUN” OF CHOICE was actually a short-barreled “canoe gun” in 20 gauge with the 20-inch barrel. From my point of view, it shoots with the best of the flintlock smoothbores. And, since I’ve used it in several rifle matches where it served me well enough to give me some rather good scores, this was the only gun that I even considered for my duck adventure.
A side-by-side size comparison of Mike and Mike’s flintlocks. The author’s is on the bottom.
Although Mike is well aware of my faith and trust in short-barreled guns, when he got the kit to make his Northwest gun, he chose one with a 36-inch barrel. I suppose the longer barrel must add some advantages, although I’ve yet to discover what those might be. But despite the difference in length, both of our guns use cylinder bore barrels with no choke at all, so we knew the shot patterns would most likely be very similar. Mike also selected a 20 gauge because that is probably the best all-around bore size for a Northwest gun.
This hunt took place on a cold winter’s day on Medicine Creek, which is at the high end of the Nisqually River delta, in Washington’s southernmost Puget Sound. And though Jon and Kurt had some established duck blinds in the area, Mike and I took up positions behind a log and some brush beside the slow-moving creek. Less than half a dozen decoys were anchored in the water near us. We were to hunker down to remain out of sight (always good advice), and were told in no uncertain terms that when the ducks came in, they’d be coming in fast.
Our flintlocks were loaded with steel air-rifle BBs. Jon had been very specific about what size of birdshot we might use in our 20-gauge guns. The birdshot, of course, must be steel, and Jon suggested that we use large shot so kills could be counted on; we wanted no wounded birds getting away. He recommended No. 2s or larger.
Since those BBs were most likely harder than the barrels of our guns, due consideration had to be made to put together loads just for duck hunting. First, we’d pour 75 grains of black powder down our guns’ barrels. The granulation of powder I used was Olde Eynsford 2F. Then came the same volume of BBs, contained in 20-gauge Remington Power Pistons. And because the amount of BBs more than ﬁlled the Power Pistons, we generally used Wonder Wads as overshot cards to give the bore a bit of lubricant ahead of the BBs.
Mike Moran helps Kurt Snyder (right) to bring in the decoys.
OUR GUIDES GOT US INTO POSITION after we had loaded our guns. Jon headed out to other parts of the area to scare up some ducks, while Kurt remained with us, primarily as our “retriever.” Kurt was a very good hunting guide. He was able to identify ducks that were coming toward us when they still looked like black dots to Mike and me. We’ll both be eager to hunt with the “Jon and Kurt team” again.
Then some more ducks came in, and these followed a flight plan more to our liking. But all too quickly Mike and I were looking at each other holding empty flintlocks, and no ducks had even broken formation! Clean misses! In fact, very clean misses.
Cedarville Farms owner Jon McAninch admires the author’s short Northwest gun, saying, “This is light!”
Finally the spell was broken. A ﬂight of half a dozen ducks approached, and I picked out one I’d try for. They got into our desired range and I stood up to take my shot. When I rose, the duck swung sharply to its left, my right, but I had guessed that would happen and kept up plus a little ahead of it with my gun. When my ﬂintlock spoke, the duck took some hard hits and for a moment seemed to stop midair. Then it was lifeless and simply tumbled down to the water. The ﬁrst duck of the hunt was mine, but I certainly didn’t take it with my ﬁrst shot.
There was no time to gloat, so I simply reloaded. My gun had just received its fresh load when Mike’s gun roared. When I stood up to see what was going on, there was a wounded duck in the water ahead of us and my gun was quickly unloaded in order to end any miseries the duck might have felt. That was Mike’s ﬁrst duck; he had taken it out of the air and all claims to it were his.
Later, we ﬁnally had some moments to reﬂect on our successful shots. The image of the duck I killed almost stopping in the air actually looked like an easy shot. That was the type of shot we had come to that spot for. In fact, it looked so easy that I have no idea why I couldn’t do it again.
Suddenly a lone duck ﬂew our way and Mike stood up to take the shot. It was a very good shot at a fast-ﬂying bird, and although the duck was hit hard, its speed and momentum carried it through the air to crash behind us. That was Mike’s second duck and it looked like our day of hunting was over. That’s also when the pictures you see here were taken, and in some of them you can see the long shadows that accompany late afternoon photography.
IT WAS AFTER THE PHOTOS were taken that Kurt noticed a dead pintail hen. At ﬁrst it was thought that the hen had been killed by other hunters who were there the day before but the duck wasn’t frozen. It was still warm and, in fact, it showed a single wound to the breast made by a BB, so it was clearly one of ours. It must have taken the hit, perhaps like a heart shot, but continued ﬂying until over or behind us before it reached the ground. Mike suggested that I take it because that would give us each two birds for the hunt. I appreciated the gesture, and claiming the pintail really added to my day.
Here’s author Mike Nesbitt’s favorite 20-gauge “flinter,” with a 20-inch barrel.
Mike and I decided that additional ﬂintlock hunts would be a good thing, perhaps for grouse or rabbits next time. Different kinds of game offers challenges of another sort, and you’re never too young to learn. We also agreed to do more practice shooting with our ﬂintlocks using birdshot on ﬂying, running, and bouncing targets simply to be a bit better the next time we take those guns aﬁeld. ASJ
We have recently introduced our 4-Wing Musket Caps into the U.S. market. These caps have been highly praised by shooters from all over the U.S. These caps are some of the hottest caps on the market today at competitive pricing. They work very well on your regular muskets, but with a simply change to your muzzleloader; you can also use these caps with great success. One plus is that if you drop them, you can use a magnet to pick them up!!
[su_heading size=”30″]In the 1820s, Samuel Hawken joined his brother Jacob at his St. Louis shop, and together they made riﬂes that helped make history.[/su_heading]
Story And Photos By Mike Nesbitt
The author poses with a Hawken in full period regalia (JERRY MAYO)
[su_dropcap size=”5″]W[/su_dropcap]hen Jacob Hawken ﬁrst began making his “mountain” riﬂes, he incorporated features into each gun that were well thought of based on his experience. Hawken wanted his riﬂes to be the very best available and, therefore, desired by the most people. His strategy worked, because these days, they are the riﬂes we remember the most from the early to mid-1800s.
Dan Phariss, a highly regarded gunsmith and black powder historian, may have said it best: “The Hawken, the fully evolved mountain riﬂe, be it full or half-stock, was the ﬁnal evolution of the American muzzleloading hunting riﬂe.”
In my opinion, no other muzzleloading riﬂe ever surpassed the classic percussion Hawken riﬂe.
MOUNTAIN MEN NEEDED A RIFLE that was dependable, one that could last a whole year or more in the wilderness. Generally, it had to function without the possibility of major repairs and need for replacement parts, although trapping brigades sometimes had blacksmiths or gunsmiths traveling with them. But with Hawken, that strength and dependability was built right into their riﬂes.
A Hawken-style rifle and some plunder from the rendezvous era.
For example, muzzleloading riﬂes were often susceptible to damage with breakage to the stock right at the wrist. To strengthen that area, Hawken riﬂes and their replicas have the long upper tang, as well as the extended trigger plates. Those two iron or steel pieces reinforced the wrist of the stock at both top and bottom, and screws from the tang go through the stock to anchor the trigger plate.
Unlike many modern modular 70 designs, the barrel is the literal backbone of muzzleloading rifles, as it provides the foundational support for all of the other parts and pieces. With that in mind, the Hawken rifles had heavier barrels than most other models. It could be that this was because Hawkens were expected to make more frequent use of heavier loads, but that explanation isn’t as probable as the brothers simply seeking a stronger foundation for their rifles.
This S. Hawken-style rifle was made in the early 1970s by Green River Rifle Works.
Gunmaker Dave Dolliver shoots a flintlock Hawken he built for the author in 2002.
The locks and triggers used in the Hawken design were also the ﬁnest available at that time, and were another reason that they were the ﬁnest shooters in the world. Finally, the Hawken shop was one of the ﬁrst to embrace the percussion ignition system, and while many historians believe the Hawken brothers also manufactured ﬂintlocks, none of these have ever been located.
Some believe the role of the Hawken riﬂe in western history has been exaggerated, or that the Hawken brothers are being given more credit today than they deserve. But This if nothing else, the Hawken riﬂes were clearly recognized as being the gun to have if you could aﬀord one. That is not just because they were more expensive than most other riﬂes at the time, but also because – in the diaries, ledgers and account books of the time – Hawken riﬂes were frequently the only riﬂes that were mentioned by name.
The percussion Hawken the author uses the most currently is Three Aces. Also built by Dave Dolliver, it is a .54 caliber with a 35-inch barrel.
Three Aces is shown with a group ﬁred oﬀhand at a recent competitive shoot.
For example, in the inventory listings of what the American Fur Company shipped to Fort Union, in what would become North Dakota, in 1834, a notation indicates “4 riﬂes, Hawkins.” Another early reference appears in a list of goods taken west by French Canadian trader and fur trapper Etienne Provost in 1829: “2 riﬂes, Hawkins ($25.00 each).” Those are just two examples (both notations appear in the book Supply and Demand: The Ledgers and Gear of the Western Fur Trade by Olsen and McCloskey). Other riﬂes were not generally named to this level of detail, but Hawken riﬂes (and some pistols) always seem to be mentioned by name. In other words, if it wasn’t a Hawken, it was just another riﬂe.
The upper riﬂe is a full-stock Hawken-style big game riﬂe in .58 caliber, while the lower is a lightweight Hawken designed for use by sportsmen.
Although their popularity was not as widespread as their riﬂe siblings, many Hawken pistols were carried west to the mountains.
For comparison, the price of a “trade riﬂe” (a riﬂe made for the fur trade, to be sold or traded to trappers, red or white) as made by Henry, Leman, Tryon or others could be purchased for around $12. At more than twice that amount, Hawken riﬂes were truly expensive guns.
Details like these serve to remind us how respected and desirable the old Hawken riﬂes were. Those reminders emphasize the fact that Hawken riﬂes were certainly on the “roll call” at rendezvouses of the period. At today’s, the caplock Hawken is just as much at home on the good list, and much in demand. There just isn’t anything that spells “mountain doin’s” like an authentically made classic Hawken.
The author’s father made this half-stock Hawken in the mid-1970s, and nicknamed it “Ol’ Horsefeathers.”
HAWKEN RIFLES EVOLVED OVER TIME, starting with the early J&S Hawkens ﬁrearms and ending with the S. Hawken riﬂes, which continued to be manufactured for nearly 20 years after Jacob Hawken’s 1849 death. The diﬀerences between the early and late riﬂes are primarily minor details, such as the use of a single pin to hold the entry pipe for the ramrod on the S. Hawken riﬂes in place instead of two as used on the J&S Hawken models. But the truth is that each original Hawken riﬂe was a unique, handmade creation, with no two being exactly alike.
In my 40-plus-year quest to acquire as much Hawken information and experience as I can, I’ve handled – and admired – several original Hawken riﬂes. But believe it or not, I have never ﬁred one. All of my shooting with Hawken-style riﬂes has been accomplished with more recent duplicates of these famous guns, many of which have been very exacting copies and that performed in an amazing fashion.
However, Art Ressel, long-time proprietor of the original Hawken Shop in St. Louis, once showed me six Hawken riﬂes, all laying on a bed. He let me handle them all I wanted, for as long as I needed, and asked me if I could ﬁnd the one riﬂe in that group that was not a real Hawken. Although it took me over an hour – a very treasured hour – I’m proud to say that I ﬁnally identiﬁed the imposter. What ﬁnally gave it away? The reproduction had eight-groove riﬂing while all of the others had seven grooves in their barrels.
The author ﬁres one of his many Hawken-style riﬂes. (JERRY MAYO)
In short, the Hawken riﬂe was a highly desired and reliable ﬁrearm of the iconic mountain men who blazed trails and helped settle the American West, and it deserves its place in the historical saga of that important period in our nation’s growth, expansion and development. ASJ
[su_heading size=”30″]If you are starting out with black powder cartridge shooting, the .45-70 is a great place to begin.[/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
Two nice .45-70s: the C. Sharps 1874 (top) and the Browning Model 1886 carbine (bottom).
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]M[/su_dropcap]ost of what we’ve heard or read about black powder cartridge shooting seems to focus on long-range action. Those stories either include long-range target shooting, especially in “Quigley style” competition, or hunting, such as the tales of the buffalo hunters. While those tales of longrange heroics are often very true, with credits positively earned, black powder cartridges are right at home with shorter range shooting too. Some folks might consider this to be “goin’ slow,” but it really is the best place to start. IF YOU ARE JUST BEGINNING to get into black powder cartridge shooting or are even just thinking about it, the good old .45-70 is a ﬁne and logical entry point to this type of shooting. One good reason for that is because there are so many things, including guns and accessories, available for the .45-70 caliber. Ammunition is readily available too, but that’s less of an issue because for black powder shooting we’d be loading our own, for either single shot or repeating riﬂes.
Black powder loads can certainly be ﬁred in repeating riﬂes, such as my Browning copy of the old Winchester 1886 saddle-ring carbine with its 22-inch-long barrel. The main difference between the repeaters and most of the single shots is that the single shots – such as the Sharps or the rolling block – actually have no maximum cartridge length.
On the other hand, lever-action riﬂes have a maximum overall cartridge length, generally just over 2½ inches, so the cartridges can cycle through the actions. Also, the trapdoor single shots might not accept cartridges quite as long as the Sharps or rolling block because their cartridges must be initially loaded at an angle. And those trapdoors and repeaters might actually chamber cartridges that are too long for them to eject if still loaded, so to unload the riﬂe, those long cartridges will have to be ﬁred.
Lyman’s #457124 bullet, the famous “old timer” for carbine loads.
During the “on duty” days of the .45-70, there were some variations in the loading of the cartridges. The ﬁrst and the oldest was the .45-70/405, which was designated as the “riﬂe load.” Because that powder and bullet combination can be considered quite a blast when ﬁred from a carbine, a “carbine load” using 55 grains of powder under the same 405-grain bullet was also used. The carbine load might sound like it is melted down compared to the standard riﬂe load, but don’t cut it too short. Carbine loads can stand on their own while offering comfortable shooting. MAKING THE CARBINE LOAD IS SIMPLE. This can begin with new unﬁred brass which has been run through the neck expander to accomplish two things: it bells the mouth of the cases just a bit to accept the cast bullets, and it rounds out the mouth of any cases which might have gotten squeezed a bit out of round. Of course, ﬁred brass needs to be treated the same way. Then the cases are primed and ready for 55 grains of black powder. Once the powder is poured into the case, no compression is required and you can easily seat the lubricated cast bullet down over the powder.
The bullets used for these carbine loads were Lyman’s #457124, the old ideal style of grooved bullets that were the standard 405-grain slug for the .45-70. Some of the old-style bullets did have fewer and wider lube grooves, but those don’t show once the bullets are loaded into the cases.
Bullets for carbine loads are seated rather deeply, to ensure that no air space was left in the case above the powder charge and to make the carbine loads instantly identiﬁable to the shooters. For my loads, the bullets were seated just deep enough so the mouth of the case could be slightly crimped over the top of the forward driving band.
A crimp groove in the bullet is not necessary with black powder loads because the bullet is resting on top of the powder charge. There is very little opportunity for the bullet to be pushed further into the case, even when used in a tubular magazine. IF THERE WAS EVER A CLASSIC BULLET for the old .45-70, it would have to be the old Lyman/Ideal #457124. I say that for a couple of reasons, but they can be netted out into just a couple of short statements. First and foremost, it is a very historical design, and Lyman refers to it (in their old Handbook of Cast Bullets, from 1958, the one with an engraved converted Sharps carbine on the cover) as “the regular standard .45-70 Government bullet.”
For our shooting needs these days, this remains a standard bullet, and is useful for any .45-70 riﬂe or pistol being single shot or repeater. It can be used with carbine loads using 55 grains of powder or with full riﬂe loads burning 70 grains of powder. This old standard is still an all-around bullet for the .45-70 and it can be used in most other .45-caliber riﬂe cartridges as well.
The original weight of #457124 was listed at 405 grains. I don’t think any design change has been incorporated over the years but now this bullet is most often listed at 385 grains. That weight difference is simply from the alloy the bullets are made or cast with.
My favorite use for the #457124 is in carbine loads, such as the cartridges pictured above. These are loaded with 55 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F. That is simply a nice load, good for shooting all day without cleaning as long as the bullets are well lubed. When you shoot it all day, this load leaves you with good feeling in your shoulder too. While that is the carbine load, it remains good load for hunting, perhaps for deer-sized game at ranges within 100 yards. It is not a long-range powerhouse, but it doesn’t lack much either. In fact, the above load scoots an average of 1,245 feet per second when shot out of a 30-inch barrel. That’s not bad at all.
Not the tightest group, but a good target shot with carbine loads.
If any .45-70 shooters out there don’t have a #457124 mold from Lyman in their gear, their “possibles” are simply incomplete. Lyman has dropped many molds from their catalog over the years, but thankfully #457124 is still on the list; it’s just too good to ignore. These quality bullet molds are available from almost any handloading supplier, and Lyman lists this one for $90.95 without handles.
I must give plenty of credit to these slow .45-70 carbine loads. My loads for this carbine and my lightweight Sharps riﬂe as well perform just as I want them to. Carbine loads will actually perform just as well if not better in any of the heavier riﬂes too. There is nothing wrong with loads that send the bullets out a bit slower than the full charges. They can actually be better if they help us make better hits. ASJ