May 9th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

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.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Cedarville 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

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , , , ,

March 8th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

The gun that made it safe for the Winchester to win the West.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Christian Sharps already had some limited experience with breechloaders when he patented his fallingblock action in 1848. He’d worked at Harpers Ferry where the Hall breechloaders were made, and many people have assumed that that was where the seed was planted in his head to design a better breechloader.

But designing that “better mousetrap” was only the beginning for the young gunmaker. Unfortunately, Sharps had difficulty in selling or marketing his idea. Over the next three years, he had a number of different business partners, and the total output of rifles and carbines he produced was very low. At one point, Sharps sold his patents as well as his interests in the company, receiving a cash agreement plus $1 per rifle made. Then, very late in 1851, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was formed and that’s when things finally got rolling.

A number of the features of the Sharps rifles were redesigned, primarily to make various parts more adaptable to increased production. While the models of 1849, 1850, and 1851 were all basically hand-fitted and hand-finished, beginning in 1852, models were built with a much greater dependability by using machines for fitting and finishing. This is all related here in a highly summarized form, but it is generally accepted that the Model 1852 Sharps is the first rifle to be in the form or profile that we recognize as the famous Sharps rifle.

A Hartford ’74 with a No. 1 heavy barrel, chambered for the .50-70. The author (inset) proudly poses in colorful period regalia with his favorite .44-77 over his shoulder. (BJ LANES)

THE 1852 MODEL WAS THE FIRST of the highly recognizable “slant breech” Sharps, with the breech block at a back slant instead of being vertical. It was also the first Sharps to be produced in the thousands of rifles rather than just in the hundreds. The very distinctive slant-breech Sharps were made as military-style rifles and carbines, plus sporting rifles and even a few shotguns. The slant breeches included the models of 1852, 1853, and the very rare tall-hammered Model 1855.

Incidentally, it was carbines of the slant-breech Sharps that were smuggled to John Brown and his followers, hidden in cases that were marked as “Bibles.” A preacher, Henry W. Beecher, was an abolitionist who supported Brown. That’s where the slang expression referring to a Sharps rifle as a “Beecher’s Bible” came from.

Some Sharps cartridges: .44-40 Winchester (for comparison), .44-77 paper patched, .44-90 paper patched, .45-70 carbine load, .45-110, .50-70, and the Big .50 – .50-90.

With the model of 1859 another notable change was seen – the beginning of the vertical-block actions.  The reason for going to the vertical breech block was for operation of a more effective gas seal.  This is the model of the Sharps that really went to war, our Civil War, and some of these rifles that went to Berdan’s Sharpshooters were equipped with double set triggers.

Further updates and slight improvements were made in the New Models of 1863 and 1865, and the reputation of Sharps rifles for accuracy, particularly for long-range shooting, got began to build during that War Between the States. Afterwards, when self-contained cartridges were being considered much more seriously, the late models of the Sharps rifles with the vertical breech block were updated and converted to chamber those cartridges, primarily the new government cartridge of 1866, the famous .50-70.
THIS IS THE ERA OF THE SHARPS rifle history that I find the most interesting. It was the cartridge-firing Sharps rifles that “went West” in search of the buffalo herds, and in the hands of hunters and frontiersmen who needed a rifle that would perform at long range. These were the Sharps rifles that proved to be legendary.

The author’s .44-77 again, a semicustom Classic Hartford model with 28-inch barrel.

The Model 1969 was the first sporting model of the Sharps rifles that was made for use with centerfire metallic cartridges. It was chambered for the .50-70 Government and it also introduced a new Sharps cartridge that was designated as the .44-2¼-inch, with .44 for the caliber and 2¼ inches for the length of the case, as guns for it were marked on their barrels. That .44 fairly quickly became known as the .44-77, which was the UMC (Union Metallic Cartridge Company) loading for it, and it became the most common and popular cartridge in the Sharps rifles until the .45-70 edged it out in popularity beginning in 1876.

Despite their heavy usage and good reputation, the Model 1869 rifles were made for only two years. In 1871, the Model 1874, the Sharps rifle that many people remember the very most, was introduced. And yes, you read that correctly. Although the Model 1874 was first manufactured in 1871, it went unnamed for three years. It was finally given recognition when the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was reformed as the Sharps Rifle Company in 1874. It is also a fact that Christian Sharps died in 1874 and the designation for the rifle might stand as a monument to him although I doubt if that was really intended.

A five-shot group fired with the .44-77 using grease-groove bullets.

But no matter why the naming delay occurred, there is no doubt that the 1871 debut of the Model 1874 was timed perfectly. The great buffalo hunts were just beginning, and the Sharps – with its powerful long-range cartridges – were just what the buffalo hunters wanted. Both the .44-77 and the .50-70 made names for themselves, and the .44-77 was the most produced Sharps chambering during the Hartford era. But the buffalo hunters kept asking for longer-range cartridges, so in 1872 both the .44-90 and the “Big .50,” (what we today refer to as the .50-90) were introduced. Those cartridges, particularly the .44-90, made more long-range shots possible, and good shots out to 1,000 yards were not unknown.

It was during that time when the “buffalo wars” were fought, including the 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls. That’s the legendary battle where 28 buffalo hunters withstood the attack of several hundred Indians from a collection of tribes. The hunters’ success is generally attributed to the long-range Sharps rifles which most of them were using. One hunter, Billy Dixon, is credited with the long shot that truly became a legend, shooting an Indian off of his horse at a very long range. The actual distance for that shot is lost to time, but various claims put it at more than 1,000 yards to over 1,500 yards.
IN EARLY 1876, the Sharps Rifle Company moved their factory from Hartford to Bridgeport, Conn. Some changes were made in the rifles, so a Bridgeport Sharps is generally recognizable to the trained eye when compared to a Hartford model. For instance, the silver-colored pewter nose cap on the forearm was generally no longer used. More important than that, the famous Sharps .44- and .50-caliber cartridges were no longer chambered except for special orders. That’s when the .45-70 became the most popular cartridge in the Sharps sporting rifles lineup, and what we call the .45-110 (Quigley’s cartridge) became the leader in long-range shooting.

Shooting over crossed sticks, the author aims at a target over 800 yards in the distance. (ALLEN CUNNIFF)

In 1878, Sharps introduced their hammerless model, the SharpsBorchardt. While the Model 1878 had certain advantages, it was not particularly popular in the West. The big buffalo hunts were rapidly coming to an end, and with them the demand for a rifle with the “personality” of the big Sharps was also diminishing. The Sharps Rifle Company closed their doors for good in 1881.

Still, the Sharps rifles deserve a fair amount of credit for opening the West up for other brands of rifles. What had been the “wild” West was pretty well tamed by the time the Winchester ’73 appeared on the scene. There were a few .44 rimfires shooting the Henry cartridge at the Battle of Adobe Walls, but odds are those were mainly fired from revolvers. The .44-40 simply hadn’t made it out West at that time, and it is a simple fact that the Winchester repeaters had neither the range nor the punch of the big Sharps.

Today, however, we can still enjoy some “Sharps shooting” because excellent modern copies of the old rifles continue to be made, and remain in high demand. These include those manufactured by the C. Sharps Arms Company (csharpsarms.com) of Big Timber, Mont., which made each of the guns you see pictured in this article.

The author’s best Sharps for longrange shooting is this Hartford Model in .44-90 caliber.

And so, whether your target is a live buffalo bull on ranches where they can still be hunted, or a paper target posted at 1,000 yards, firing a big Sharps with lead bullets and black powder loads remains a long-range thrill. And while shooting one of the newly made Sharps rifles, you can’t help but have the feeling that you’re holding history in your hands. ASJ

Posted in History Tagged with: , , , ,

February 17th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

In the 1820s, Samuel Hawken joined his brother Jacob at his St. Louis shop, and together they made rifles that helped make history.

Story And Photos By Mike Nesbitt

 

The author poses with a Hawken in full period regalia (JERRY MAYO)

When 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

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , ,

February 13th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

If you are starting out with black powder cartridge shooting, the .45-70 is a great place to begin.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Two nice .45-70s: the C. Sharps 1874 (top) and the Browning Model 1886 carbine (bottom).

Most 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

Contact: Lyman Products Corporation Lymanproducts.com

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , , ,

December 14th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

Flintlock Construction Inc. offers quality muzzleloading barrels in a variety of calibers, lengths, twists and tapers.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

I recently purchased a .52-caliber barrel from Charles Burton of Flintlock Construction Inc. (FCI) in northeast Kentucky, and I’m happy to report that it now has a new rifle wrapped around it and is performing very well.

My shooting was done using a .512-inch-diameter round ball wrapped in a .015-inch patch. The bore is tapered – just a mere .003 inch within the 35-inch length – but it is easily felt both when loading a patched round ball and when cleaning the gun. That ball-and-patch combination is relatively easy to start at the muzzle, and ramming the patched ball down to rest on the powder actually gets easier as the ball is pushed further down the
bore. At least part of the reason for that is because the tapered bores have their tightest diameters at their muzzles.

These barrels can be straight octagon up to 1 3/8 inches in width for any length out to 48 inches. FCI also offers straight tapered barrels to those same dimensions. Swamped, octagon and round barrels are also available out to 48 inches as well. Smoothbore barrels are made out to 48 inches. Burton also makes a 1 1/8-inch light bench barrel with a false muzzle, and pistol barrels too.

This Leman-styled rifle was built using the new .52-caliber Burton barrel from FCI.

This Leman-styled rifle was built using the new .52-caliber Burton barrel from FCI.

Burton’s barrels are made from 12L14 steel, and several calibers are standard. These include bore sizes of .30, .32, .36, .38, .40, .44, .45, .47, .48, .50, .52, .54, .58, .60 and .62 calibers. What drew my attention to his barrels is his offering of the .52 caliber, and that is what I ordered: a 35-inch barrel that is 1 inch wide with a twist rate of one turn in 66 inches, and having flat bottom grooves. All barrels come with a straight or tapered tang breech plugs and the rifling is cut with seven grooves. Twist rates can be from one turn in 21 inches to straight rifled, so the buyer has the choice of just about any rate of twist desired.

SQUARE-BOTTOM RIFLING GROOVES are cut to a depth of .010 to .012 inch, while round bottom grooves are cut to .015 to .016 inch. All rifled barrels have seven grooves, and typical twists are 1 in 48, 1 in 57, 1 in 66, and 1 in 72 inches. But by using a sine bar rifling machine, Burton can cut twists from straight to as fast as one turn in 21 inches.

In addition, he hand laps and shoots all custom barrels before shipping them. My .52-caliber barrel came with a test target that was fired from sandbags at 30 yards with 70 grains of FFFg under a patched .512-inch round ball. In order to shoot the new barrels, Burton temporarily breeches them to an in-line “action” and glues sights to the barrel. All evidence of the sights and the breeching are removed before the barrel receives the breech plug the customer has requested.

When it was time to sight-in my new rifle the day was wet and rainy, but I just wore my hat with the “Montana peak” and went shooting. For the initial shots, I posted a target at 25 yards and filed down the front sight to raise the point of impact on the target. The load used for these close-range tests was 50 grains of GOEX FFFg under the .512inch cast ball wrapped in a Bridgers Best .015-inch lubricated patch.

All five shots cut the X on this second target.

All five shots cut the X on this second target.

With the sight filed so the rifle was hitting center, I posted a pistol target for a five-shot group, and this turned out very well indeed. Those five shots, by the way, were fired using the Pushing Daisies patches from October Country, cut from .015-inch ticking and lubed with Bumblin’ Bear Grease. Both are very good patches, especially for hunting. In case you are wondering, I consider both Bridgers Best and October Country patches to be equally good.

All things considered, the Burton barrel with the tapered bore loads easily and shoots very well. The small amount of shooting I’ve done with this rifle probably hasn’t done the barrel any real harm, but more shooting will certainly be done – and sooner than later.

Prices for Burton Barrels vary, but all are very reasonable, starting at $185 for a breeched straight rifle barrel, such as mine. Prices do not include shipping, and Burton asks for 50 percent of the barrel’s cost when an order is placed, with the remainder due when the barrel is received. Delivery is generally made in three to six months, as no barrels are kept in stock. All barrels are for black powder only.

To learn more about Burton gun barrels, or to place an order, visit fcibarrels.com, or call (606) 780-7709. ASJ

The author sights in his new .52-caliber FCI barrel from the bench.

The author sights in his new .52-caliber FCI barrel from the bench.

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , ,

November 26th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

Lyman has reintroduced their popular #2 for the Uberti 1873 and other lever-actions.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

The current sustained popularity of the guns of the Old West convinced Lyman to reintroduce some of the fine accessories they used to manufacture in the 1800s. That’s a general statement, but it also leads us right into this short conversation about their #2 Tang Sight, which is made especially for the 1873 lever action as manufactured by Uberti.

After installing Lyman’s #2 Tang Sight on his Uberti 1873, the author shot a nice five-shot group.

After installing Lyman’s #2 Tang Sight on his Uberti 1873, the author shot a nice five-shot group.

Lyman patented their #1 Tang Sight in 1879. The #2 followed either very shortly after if not at the same time. The only difference between those two types of sights is that the #1 had the combination apertures, with the fold-down small aperture, and the #2 came with removable discs, a feature that came to be favored by target shooters.

Putting one of these sights on an Uberti copy of the 1873 Winchester will usually require drilling and tapping for the forward sight hole, and Lyman includes directions on how to do that, including tapping the hole for 10-32 threads. I needed that to be done on my Stoeger/Uberti rifle, but that was the only modification I had to make before the sight was installed. Then it was lined up with the open sight before the open sight was removed.

Let me give one tiny warning: be sure the very small Allen screw on the lower part of the upright is good and tight. That’s what holds the sight stem in place.

Shooting with the new tang sight was a blast! I used loads with 200-grain cast bullets over 33 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F black powder. My first group was a bit high, so the sight was lowered. The next group is what you see pictured, five shots in a very tight group. I was aiming at 6 o’clock so the sights were left as is, to hit with a dead-on hold.

Lyman’s list price for one of its #2 Tang Sights is $99.95 and they are available directly from Lyman or most sporting goods stores. The sights are also made for the 1866, 1886, 1894 models, and the Marlins.

For more on the entire Lyman line, visit lymanproducts.com. ASJphoto-1

Posted in Gear Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

November 10th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

Montana company producing blends for shooting in warm, cold weather. 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Bullet lube in a black powder cartridge can function in two ways. On grease-groove bullets, it helps keep the bullet from rubbing the gun’s bore to reduce the chance of leading. In a load with a paper-patched bullet, it coats the bore with lube to help prevent hard powder fouling from being too hard or stiff.

In other words, with grease-groove bullets, the lube is primarily for the shot being fired, but it also leaves the bore somewhat coated with lube to keep the black powder fouling soft for the next shot. When shooting paper-patched bullets, the lube largely prepares the gun’s bore by softening the black powder fouling for the next shot.

To expand on the history of paper-patch bullet shooting just a bit, in the mid-1870s, international teams competed in the Creedmoor matches, probably the most famous longdistance shooting events up to that time. There, paper-patch bullets were the normal projectiles used and they were used without any lubrication.

In that era, hunters used tallow or wax lubricating “cookies” underneath the paper-patched bullets, so the hunter’s rifle barrel didn’t require cleaning as often. But at the Creedmoor matches, shooters cleaned their barrels after every shot.
WHILE GREASE-GROOVE BULLETS and paper-patch bullets are lubed in different ways, they still can use the same kinds of lubes. And although these have very slightly different actions by either lubing for the shot being fired or for the next shot, they still perform the same duty (to keep the black powder fouling soft).

Note the “lube star” on the muzzle of this .44-40 rifle’s barrel, a good sign.

Note the “lube star” on the muzzle of this .44-40 rifle’s barrel, a good sign.

Black powder cartridge lube actually does the same thing as lubes for muzzleloading arms too, but the recipe for such lubes is different. That difference relates to the way it is loaded, and the higher pressures found in black powder cartridges when compared to muzzleloaders, so “stiffer” lubes are more often used. And, just like the difference between grease-groove bullets and paper-patched bullets, the reason for lubrication while shooting muzzleloaders is still the same, to keep the fouling soft for following shots.

For black powder cartridge shooters today, we almost always use lube with the bullets in our loads. That can be said as “always” with grease-groove bullets and “usually” with paperpatch bullets. One area where I’ll use paper-patch bullets without lubrication is while breaking in a new barrel. I’ll load 20 rounds with paperpatched bullets and no lubrication, firing those bullets while cleaning the bore after every shot. Those dry paper patches might have a slight bit of abrasiveness to them, and if so, they’ll add a final bit of polish to that new barrel’s bore. In loads for my general shooting, both for target and hunting loads, I use lubricants in all of my black powder cartridges.

There are several good lubricants on the market for black powder cartridges and, although they are not all alike, they are all good. The one that is the “best” for you will depend on a variety of factors, including the likely weather conditions in your area, the caliber and the amount of powder used in your loads. I can’t specify here what is best for your shooting. As with many other aspects of our sport, each shooter needs to determine what is best for them, and quite likely for each black powder cartridge rifle used.
I WILL OFFER ADVICE, however, on what to look for in your own rifle(s) to help you choose which lube to use. For instance, if you do not find a “lube star” on your rifle’s muzzle after shooting, the lube is either too soft or, as with paper-patch bullets, you didn’t use enough lube.

The lube star is simply excess lube that forms the star on the gun’s muzzle, shaped by the lands and grooves of the barrel. That is excess, yes, but without it you simply don’t have enough.

This group was shot with the  .50-70 Sharps with Vigilante Lube on the bullets.

This group was shot with the .50-70 Sharps with Vigilante Lube on the bullets.

Lubrication in black powder cartridge loads is one area where we can generally say that too much lube is plenty. I would rather see a generous lube star at the muzzle than a light one. That’s just a guarantee showing how more than enough lube is being used.

The different black powder cartridge lubes I have used could make an interesting list. They include Lyman’s Black Powder Gold (a “stiffer” lube designed for long-range shooting), SPG, BPC from C. Sharps Arms, DGL (Damn Good Lube), and, more recently, a new one called Vigilante Bullet Lube. All of these are good, but some are better than others in specific circumstances, and I must admit that I have not kept the notes required to make authoritative statements about which is best in what calibers during which kind of weather.

However, I know shooters who use one kind of lube such as SPG during the summer, but switch to the slightly softer DGL for winter.

As I mentioned, the new kid on the black powder cartridge lube block is Vigilante Bullet Lube. The owner of the company, Dan Highley, introduced his new lube to me while I was cruising traders row with Allen Cunniff at the last Quigley Long Range Buffalo Rifle match. We each received a tub of it, and I started giving it a workout shortly after returning home. That activity began with a wide list of black powder cartridges, from the .44-40 up to the .50-90. Somewhere in the middle was the .44-77, and that is the cartridge that has given me the most experience, so far.

VIGILANTE BULLET LUBE is for paper or metallic cartridges. I don’t personally know any shooters who are using paper cartridges these days, although I could probably find some who are shooting Sharps percussion rifles where they could be used. In those percussion breechloaders, such as the Model 1863 Sharps, the bullets still need lubrication with or without the paper cartridge. I own an 1863 percussion breechloader, and when I get around to using it, I’ll be sure to have some Vigilante lube on hand.

First, the .44-40; my loads used the standard bullet for the .44-40, Lyman’s #427098, over 34 grains by weight of Olde Eynsford 2F with no wad between the bullet and the powder. Those bullets were lubed with Vigilante and sized to .429 inches before being fired in my new Model 1885 Low Wall from C. Sharps Arms. That load worked very well, giving tight groups at 50 yards, complete with a fine lube star on the rifle’s muzzle. No leading or evidence thereof could be found during cleaning.

The .44-77 used both “naked” and paper-patched bullets. The paper-patched 400-grain bullets were loaded over 75 grains by weight of the Olde Eynsford 1 1/2F with a Walters’ .060-inch wad, plus a 3/16-inch grease cookie of Vigilante under the bullet. Those were fired in two five-shot groups, back to back with no cleaning. The last couple of cartridges began to feel “sticky” when they were chambered but not stiff, and all ten shots scored nicely.

When I cleaned my Remington rolling block rifle, it was obvious that the bore was still coated with a layer of Vigilante and, again, no evidence of any leading at all.

The .50-70 and .50-90 also showed a quick acceptance for Vigilante lube, showing generous lube stars.

Vigilante Bullet Lube is intended for use in black powder cartridges.

Vigilante Bullet Lube is intended for use in black powder cartridges.

Now before any (or all) of you remind me, let me quickly point out that all of my shooting with Vigilante Bullet Lube was done during the summer, and it was a rather hot one at that.

That’s when I learned that Vigilante Bullet Lube is available as Lube #1 and Lube #2, with #2 being a somewhat softer lube designed for use in cold weather. I’d say that covers all of the bases.

To learn more about Vigilante Bullet Lube, email Dan Highley at vigilantebulletlube@gmail.com. You can also check out the Vigilante Bullet Lube page on Facebook. ASJ

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , , ,

November 6th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

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.

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.

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)

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.

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.”

The author says, “This fine shotgun can ride my shoulder anytime.” (JERRY MAYO)

The author says, “This fine shotgun can ride my shoulder anytime.” (JERRY MAYO)

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.

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

Pedersoli’s La Bohemienne is a classically styled, double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with double outside hammers. Below its trigger is a black powder load from Buffalo Arms Company.

Pedersoli’s La Bohemienne is a classically styled, double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with double outside hammers. Below its trigger is a black powder load from Buffalo Arms Company.

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , , ,

October 3rd, 2016 by Sam Morstan

Dixie Gun Works offers Uberti’s ‘new’ Cattleman Flat-Top single action in .44/40

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Back in 1961, Colt allowed some announcements to leak out about a new target-sighted single action they’d soon release. At the time, I’d hoped for a return of the early flat-top target model of their famous Single Action Army, but instead, they introduced the New Frontier model. And while that is an exceptionally fine revolver, it really didn’t appeal to my oldtime, traditional tastes.

Finally, a mere 55 years later, Dixie Gun Works has added the Uberti Cattleman Flat-top to their catalog, and it was worth the wait. In addition to being historically correct, this is a six-gun built for accurate and fine shooting.

The details of that historical correctness begin with the cartridges this gun is chambered for. Currently (although things can change), the flat-top Cattleman is offered only for the .45 Colt and the .44/40. Of those two cartridges, the .45 is certainly the most common today, just as it was years ago. If all of my wishes had come true, this new gun would be offered in .44 Smith & Wesson Russian/Special too. However, with the .45 Colt and the .44/40 to choose from, one of the .44/40s was my choice.

The blue and color case hardening, combined with the excellent fit and finish, make this a beautiful gun.

The blue and color case hardening, combined with the excellent fit and finish, make this a beautiful gun.

THE MOST OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE between this target model and the standard frame guns, in addition to the flat-top frame, is the sights. At the back, the rear sight sits in a dovetail and it is easily windage adjustable, with a small set screw to lock it in place. The front sight is a blade pinned into a lug soldered to the top of the barrel. Originally, the front sight could be changed, and that should be possible on this gun too (simply drive out the pin), but a new front sight blade would have to be made.

Another feature I really like is the wide trigger. Instead of the standard narrow trigger found on most Colt Single Actions and their clones, this trigger is the same width as the trigger guard. That will give the trigger finger a much better “grip” while aiming for the shot.

Interestingly enough, in reviewing some original flattops, I discovered that not all of them had the wide triggers. Additionally, a few of the models with wide triggers had their triggers checkered. To me, that’s an interesting detail about the rare original Colts, and likewise for these rather uncommon copies.

The “flat-top” is clearly seen in this image, along with the adjustable rear sight.

The “flat-top” is clearly seen in this image, along with the adjustable rear sight.

Shooting the Flat-top in .44/40 is like shooting a very rare piece. As you may know, Colt originally made only 21 of their flat-top Single Action Army revolvers in this caliber. (Of course, that doesn’t count the 78 flat-top .44/40 Bisley Models which were also made.) Most of my shooting was done with black powder loads, but that is certainly not
a requirement. I will even admit that my best shooting was done with smokeless powdered loads.

THOSE LOADS ARE GOOD ENOUGH to mention in detail. First, the bullets used for all of my loads were cast from Lyman’s mold #427098, usually out of a soft 30-1 alloy, sized to .429 inches, and lubricated with BPC lube (Black Powder Cartridge lube from Montana Armory). Primers used were always CCI’s standard Large Pistol.

The black powder load used 33.0 grains of GOEX’s Olde Eynsford powder, which fills the Starline .44/40 cases almost to the top. Then the powder is compressed simply by seating the bullet down on it.

For a smokeless powder load, all of the above remains the same except for the powder charge. Instead of using black powder, I used a charge of 7½ grains of Unique. That is basically a recommended load, not near maximum at all, and some very comfortable shooting can be done with it. That is an accurate load too, good enough for pleasing groups and controllable enough for Cowboy competition.

This gun has the “black powder frame” with the base pin held in by a screw.

This gun has the “black powder frame” with the base pin held in by a screw.

To make load identification very easy, I load my black powder ammo in Starline’s nickel-plated cases, while the smokeless load go into standard brass cases.

Both of those loads seem to hit at about the same elevation. For my “accuracy check,” I posted a couple of pistol targets at 50 feet, and fired the flat-top from a rest. While holding the sights at 6 o’clock, right at the bottom of the black, very good hits were made, mostly in the 10 ring. The smokeless load did produce a somewhat smaller group than the black powder loads, but I only made this comparison once, and I’m certain a lot of “human element” was involved.

The trigger is as wide as the trigger guard, making this revolver very comfortable to shoot.

The trigger is as wide as the trigger guard, making this revolver very comfortable to shoot.

WHAT WAS A LOT MORE FUN, as you could probably guess, was plinking with the black powder loads. One particular small target was teasing me, and that was a clothespin hanging on a wire at a distance of 25 or 30 yards. There was a good dirt bank backstop behind it, and I could spot exactly where my shots that missed actually hit. It took me only three tries to hit that clothespin, and it disassembled quite nicely on my third shot.

AS FOR TECHNICAL INFO about the gun, the 7½-inch-long barrel is rifled with grooves .004 inch deep and a rate of twist at one turn in 20 inches. The groove diameter of the barrel is .429 inch. This gun’s front sight is a silver blade that is held with a screw in the blued steel base. The rear sight is a nice wide square notch that sits in a dovetail. It is windage adjustable and it has a set screw to hold it in place. This gun measures 13.25 inches overall, and it weighs about 2½ pounds. Dixie’s price, at this writing, is only $450.00, making this a lot of gun for the money.

Good groups! The smokeless group is on the left, and the black powder group is on the right

Good groups! The smokeless group is on the left, and the black powder group is on the right

Shooting with the Flat-top Cattleman is, for me, a real pleasure. And now, if they’ll bring back the flat-top Bisley Model, I hope my name is at the top of their list.

I also hope that I don’t have to wait another 55 years. ASJ 

It pays to enjoy your work. Here, author Mike Nesbitt grins as he fires the Uberti Cattleman .44/40 with full black powder loads. (JERRY MAYO)

It pays to enjoy your work. Here, author Mike Nesbitt grins as he fires the Uberti Cattleman .44/40 with full black powder loads. (JERRY MAYO)

 

Posted in Handguns Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

July 14th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

.44 Russian A Stubby, But Accurate Load

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MIKE NESBITT

PHOTO 1 4

The nostalgia of shooting blackpowder – pistol or rifle – is a lot of fun, and the .44 Smith & Wesson Russian blackpowder load is known for its accuracy. That’s demonstrated (inset) by Mike Nesbitt’s (left) and Lynn Willecke’s (right) offhand 12-yard shots on target. americanshootingjournal

The .44 Smith & Wesson Russian is a rather stubby little cartridge. It has an overall cartridge length that is just a bit shorter than a Sharps .45-caliber paper-patched 550-grain bullet, but its performance outshines its size. In recent years cowboy-action shooters have brought new life to this fine old load.

One attraction for me is shooting blackpowder revolvers and lever-action rifles from the 1870s. Of course for me, shooting those guns is rather restricted to using the newly-made copies. Regarding revolvers – which we’ll concentrate on for the rest of this short tale – my guns are mostly second- and third-generation Colt Single Actions in .45 Colt and .44-40, and the Uberti versions of the S&W Russian Model 3. For me, the .44 Russian has a particular appeal because it actually predated the Colt Single Action and, well, the S&W revolvers did make their mark on the Western frontier, didn’t they? There is evidence of the slightly older S&W .44 American revolvers being present at The Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874. Maybe I’m just trying to justify my preferences, but even so, the Uberti copies of the S&W New Model Russian 3 are very good and certainly worthy of consideration as a nice shooting handgun.

PHOTO 2

The famous S&W New Model Russian revolver is made as a replica by Uberti, a company known for replicating guns of the Old West.

HISTORICALLY, THE .44 RUSSIAN goes back to 1871, and it was a trendsetter because inside it used a lubricated bullet with the lube grooves seated down inside the cartridge case. It was also a trendsetter because of its accuracy; it has an accuracy that other cartridges often strive for but seldom duplicate.

Joining me with his own .44 Russian revolver was Lynn Willecke, whom I’ve been shooting with since the 1950s. We shot using bullets from Lyman’s mold No. 429383, which is still being made for the .44 Russian or Special. We often remarked that the bullet shot out of a .44 Russian seemed to be made for it. It turns out that it was. We shot blackpowder loads, using Olde Eynsford 2F powder in new Starline cases.
IN MIKE VENTURINO’S book Shooting Sixguns Of The Old West, he gives the .44 Russian quite a bit of attention. He comments on the accuracy of the cartridge and he even used an original S&W Russian 2nd Model with a 7-inch barrel to test it. Venturino also used Lyman’s No. 429383 and checked load speeds using 19.0 grains of GOEX FFg at 690 feet per second. He also checked speeds using the same weight of FFFg at 740 fps.

PHOTO 3

Lyman’s mold No. 429383, used to make the .44 Russian.

Willecki and I chronographed the load we were using. You can consider our findings to be an extension of Venturino’s published data. Our results were not quite the same since our Uberti revolvers have 6½-inch barrels, and we shot with 20 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F powder under Lyman bullets. Olde Eynsford was not available when Venturino tested his round, or I’m sure he would have included it. The average velocity from the five shots we checked was 705.3 fps, and the extreme spread of those velocities was only 10.7 fps. The tightest extreme spread of velocities Venturino recorded was 19 fps and that was with GOEX FFFg powder. In my opinion, the data from Venturino’s book (written about 20 years ago) and what we recorded supports one another very well.

A loaded .44 Russian cartridge (right) is compared to a paperpatched .45 bullet weighing 550 grains (left).

A loaded .44 Russian cartridge (right) is compared to a paperpatched .45 bullet weighing 550 grains (left).

THERE WERE A FEW differences between Venturino’s test and ours. Venturino shot at a distance of 50 feet with the gun firmly rested over sand bags. That’s the proper way to check accuracy. Willecke and I wanted to test ourselves just as much as our guns, so we shot offhand with a two-hand hold, and our targets were only 12 yards out. The results were very pleasing. I complained because Willecke outshot me – again – by getting a higher score (50-3X), but he too complained because my five shots fell into a slightly tighter group. Actually, we were both very satisfied.

WE MOVED ON to plinking and our hits were more frequent than our close misses. Neither one of us kept track of our hits, but the blackpowder loads were just as accurate as those loaded with smokeless powder, which were mainly loaded with Unique. All our bullets were lubed with a blackpowder lubricant because with good lube, blackpowder loads don’t seem to get the gun dirty.

The .44 Russian certainly lives up to its reputation for accuracy – if you accept our judgement, rough testing and all. We enjoyed our time so much that you can count on seeing us with one of these .44 Russian revolvers again. ASJ

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October 12th, 2015 by Danielle Breteau

Step 1: Read The Instructions

Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt

Mike NesbittHunting with muzzleloaders is popular enough that most states have special or separate seasons for hunters using them. The rules for those seasons vary, so if you are setting up a hunt, even near home, do a little homework to see which guns, calibers, sights and styles of ignition are favored during those times.

In my home state of Washington, the ignition must be exposed, which means an in-line rifle that has an enclosed percussion nipple and cap are not allowed. Also, Washington does not allow scopes on muzzleloaders when used during the muzzleloading seasons. Scoped muzzleloaders can only be used during modern-rifle seasons because they are using modern sights. Washington also has a minimum bore size of .40 caliber for deer and .50 caliber for elk.

My personal choices for muzzleloaders and smoothbores are the old-looking percussions and flintlocks that follow traditional styling. Others may favor the newer in-line rifles, which are often shorter and lighter, as well as easier to carry. I won’t argue with that. What I will say is whichever style of rifle or smoothbore you prefer, do a few things to get that gun ready before heading out on the hunt, even before sighting it in.

I’m going to be very basic about this because one year, during a muzzleloading season, we saw a new hunter beside his car trying to load a brand-new in-line rifle. The box that the gun came in was on the hood of the car, and his friends were trying to help by reading the printed instructions out loud. I don’t know how things went for that group, but in my opinion, that wasn’t the best way to start.

Before taking that first shot, you should be well equipped with all of the extras you will need. Yes, powder, patches and balls or elongated bullets, plus flints or percussion caps fall into that basket, but that’s simply the ammunition, and those things are usually, I hope, already established. Some things that are often not considered are cleaning patches, black-powder solvents, and a cleaning rod or jag for the ramrod. While those things are often not given the priority they deserve, they are actually the things that are needed first. The reason is that almost any new rifle will come with oils in the barrel and in the breech of the gun. This should be wiped out before anything else! Yes, those oils will probably be burned out with the first few shots – that is, if the gun will fire. But the oil in the breech area can completely block the flash channel – that important link between the spark of ignition and the main powder charge. If the flash channel is blocked the gun will not fire. A very easy way to clear the flash channel on a percussion is to simply snap a cap or two, but be sure your gun isn’t loaded before doing so. This can be especially true if you have purchased a used muzzleloader. They are often put away while still loaded. Sounds elementary, but most accidents are.

It is a good idea to snap the first cap while aiming the rifle in a safe direction. Then snap a second cap with the gun’s muzzle close to the ground so you can watch for movement in the blades of grass, or even just in the dust as the blast of the cap comes through the barrel. Seeing something move near the gun’s muzzle is a good indication that the flash channel is clear.

Clear Flintlock Flash Hole

Clearing a flintlock’s flash-hole with a flash-hole pick. Yes, the pan is primed.

On a flintlock you clear the short flash channel with a flash-hole pick. I often do that both before and after the gun is loaded. Just poke the pick through the hole and after the gun is loaded you should feel powder grains moving or crumbling as you push the pick through. With that done you know the spark from the flash pan can reach the main powder charge. In fact, do that with a flintlock any time you think it is a good idea.

In addition to wiping out the bore, swab it with a good black-powder lubricant, such as Wonder Lube. That will help break in the new barrel. You should use a natural oil rather than a petroleum product, in my opinion.

Now you should be ready to sight in your rifle. Many of the custom-made muzzleloading rifles come with rear sights which are not yet notched. Cutting the notch is left to the buyer. The reason is that each shooter prefers a different size or even style of notch.  If each shooter cuts their own notch, everyone ends up satisfied.

Cutting the notch isn’t a problem, and it is certainly a small job. I prefer a narrow V-style notch and cut in it with a small knife file. While the shape and width of the sighting notch is up to each shooter, the way it is cut into the rear sight is worthy of a little discussion. I almost always cut those notches from the back of the sight with the file at an angle so the notch will be deepest at the front. When the eye looks through the notch, you will only want to see the silhouette of the sight.

Notching the rear sight

Open the rear sight notch using a small knife file. This allows the shooter to customize the visual to their preference.


With those things done you are all ready to head to the shooting range and make sure your rifle is sighted in with the bullets and powder charges you will hunt with.

You might ask me if I had done all of those things before getting my first deer with a muzzleloading rifle. Well, yes, I did. It was a fine whitetail buck taken at 125 yards on a cold snowy November afternoon, using a .54-caliber Hawken-style rifle loaded with 120 grains of FFg under the patched round ball. The .526-inch ball simply tore all of the “plumbing” from the top of the heart. Let me add that I had already been shooting for a couple of years at monthly matches and rendezvous. I will also say that I had some very good teachers, members of the Cascade Mountain Men, a muzzleloading club that is still flourishing and more than ready to accept more new members. You can visit them at cascademountainmen.com.

For those thinking about getting a muzzleloading rifle, I will quickly recommend the Lyman Great Plains Rifle. The Lyman GPR is one of the most authentic muzzleloaders on the market and it comes in either .50 or .54 caliber, with a flintlock or percussion ignition, and is available in a right- or left-handed model. I know a lot of shooters who use the Lyman GPR and they perform very well.

Now, if you take these steps before taking that first shot, you’ll be off to a good start. That good start, of course, is the real beginning and foundation for a successful hunt. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more information about the Lyman Great Plains Rifle, visit Lyman’s web site at lymanproducts.com.

Lyman’s Great Plains Rifle

Lyman’s Great Plains Rifle is available right- or left-handed versions.

 

 

 

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September 22nd, 2015 by Danielle Breteau

Fifty-plus Caliber Freedom

The Advantages Of Hunting With Muzzleloaders

Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt

Believe it or not, there are some real advantages to hunting with muzzleloading rifles and smoothbores. Those advantages are not found in the ballistics or the rapidity of follow-up shots; the real advantages are found in making a good shot from the beginning and knowing that the hunter will be reticent to take a shot until a good hit can be expected. Those can be real advantages.

There are more areas open to hunting this way as well. I’m making this statement in a very general sense, but many areas, sometime entire states, are closed to hunting with high-powered rifles. Areas like that are usually open to shotguns, loaded with either buckshot or slugs, and often those same areas are open to muzzleloading rifles. Let’s face it: We can’t have a good and successful hunt without a place to do so.

More than a few years ago I enjoyed hunting in Iowa, and at that time the farms, if not the entire state, were closed to shooting with high-powered rifles. That was fine with me: I was a dedicated muzzleloader shooter and hunter at the time. I hunted with John Hambleton from Iowa Trophy Hunting; Hambleton has since passed away, but his son Todd is still running the show, if you ever want to go.

The Hambletons cater to archers and hunters with muzzleloaders for deer, and when I was their guest I carried my .50-caliber flintlock Hawken made many years ago by Ozark Mountain Arms. That particular gun builder left the market in the early 1980s, but anyone who has a rifle by them would agree that those were very fine rifles. I loaded a powder charge with 80 grains of FFFg powder by GOEX underneath a patched .490-inch round ball. With that charge and that ball load my rifle was more than ready to make some venison.

It was pretty chilly, well below freezing and often below zero. What I thought about more than the cold was that in such weather there is hardly any moisture in the air. This made my flintlock more than ready to go. Getting good ignition with a flintlock on that hunt was never a problem.

PHOTO 3

The author’s new .52 caliber Leman named “So Tacky.”

The day my tag was filled, Hambleton had taken me to a specific spot and told me, “Stand right there.” He added, “Don’t move around.” With those instructions, he left. I found out a short time later that Hambleton doubled back and went to the bottom of a wooded ravine where he knew several deer were sheltering from the wind. I hadn’t waited very long when about 60 whitetail came storming out of there and galloped right past me, not more than 30 yards away. This was my best chance and I knew it. While the deer were going by, most of them about 30 yards away, I looked for a good buck. As more deer approached I saw the buck I wanted, not a big one, not what we’d call trophy sized, but a nice meat buck. Right as that buck passed me by just a little bit my flintlock fired instantly, which sent the .50-caliber round ball all the way through its chest, getting both the heart and the lungs.

PHOTO 2

Though it came at the cost of a cut thumb, “Big Foot” Folty grins with his first deer taken with a flintlock.

Of course, we didn’t know that right away. The deer kept going and I’ll admit that I lost sight of him while I reloaded. But blood began to show on the trail and soon that blood led us to the dead buck. Hambleton complimented me on my shooting and I had to compliment him on his guiding.

Don’t take my story as any kind of guideline about the legality of using a muzzleloading rifle in other shotgun-only areas. Each and every hunting area can have its own definitions about which guns can be used, so be sure to check.

Another way that muzzleloaders can offer an advantage is when on private property. We must all ask permission when seeking to hunt on another mans land, and if the landowner understands that you will be hunting with a muzzleloader or perhaps a bow and arrow, they may be more prone to allowing it. The reason is because with just one shot, and what we generally accept as a short-effective range, the hunter will usually be more careful, which means less wounded game.

4Your first successful hunt with a muzzleloader will change you as a hunter and it will be a day never to forget. A friend of mine named “Big Foot” Folty was rather new to muzzleloading when he bought a Leman-style rifle made by Matt Avance from Tennessee Valley Muzzleloading. Big Foot’s Leman was a .54-caliber flintlock nicely stocked in curly maple with brass furniture; a gorgeous rifle that any gun enthusiast would be proud to own. His backyard borders on a cattle ranch and the ranch owner allows him to hunt there. Big Foot doesn’t take that permission lightly, and most certainly does not abuse it. He once offered to take me on a hunt, but I too would have had to ask for permission.

One morning late in the season when does were legal, Big Foot loaded his Leman with 90 grains of GOEX FFg powder under a patched .54-caliber round ball, and left on a hunt. With a final check of his flintlock’s priming, he was keeping an eye on a frequently traveled deer trail, on which the deer would be returning to cover after feeding. He was experienced at deer hunting, although this would be his first deer with a muzzleloader.

Big foot

“Big Foot” with his Tennessee Valley Muzzleloader .54 caliber rifle when it was brand new.

Luck was on his side: he saw two does approaching, but something gave him away and the pair retreated. One of them, however, paused just before disappearing about 80 yards away and turned broadside while looking back. That was just what Big Foot wanted and the shot was made.

It was a good shot, but even so, Big Foot reloaded before even thinking about approaching the deer. When he made his way to the deer, she wasn’t quite dead, so a second shot put a definite finish to the hunt. That first deer with a muzzleloader was all his.

Then it was time for some knife-work. Ol’ Big Foot got a little careless and sliced his left thumb rather well. In the photo of him with his rifle and the doe, his thumb is clearly bandaged. Ever since then we’ve referred to that late season as the thumb-cutting moon. ASJ

Author’s note: The Hambletons own Iowa Trophy Hunting and P.S. Manufacturing. You can check out their website at psmfgco.com. For excellent muzzleloaders, visit TVM at tennesseevalleymuzzleloading.com

PHOTO 1

For those who love to hunt with muzzleloaders and smoothbores, many find that kitting out with all the appropriate accoutrements makes the experience even more enjoyable.

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August 13th, 2015 by Danielle Breteau

Jamison’s New .40-70 Sharps Straight Brass

Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt

 

AUTHOR Image

Author Mike Nesbitt

After what black-powder-cartridge-rifle shooters felt was a long wait, the new brass for the .40-70 Sharps Straight is now available from Jamison, a division of Captech International.  One reason it seemed to take so long was because the .40-70 SS case is somewhat unique.  It can be made from some other cases, such as the .405 Winchester or the .30-40 Krag, but many shooters, including me, prefer to use brass that is properly headstamped for the rifle.  The new brass from Jamison most certainly is.

These new cases are 2.5 inches long and have a rim thickness of .070 of an inch, which might be on the thick side for certain rifles, but it’s a simple task for a gunsmith to correct.

BP SIDEBAR 1

Headstamp on the new .40-70 Sharps Straight brass.

The new brass was first tried with a 370-grain bullet loaded over 65 grains of GOEX’s Olde Eynsford 1 1/2F black powder.  That amount of powder will practically fill the case and no drop tube was used. Then the fire-formed cases were reloaded with the same powder charge, but under a 330-grain, paper-patched bullet.  That duplicated the old factory load, and some serious thoughts are forming about using it with the Sharps rifle for deer hunting.

Even though this cartridge is named the .40-70 SS, it was most commonly loaded with a 65-grain powder charge.  It was introduced by Sharps in 1876 as a replacement to the .40-70 Sharps Bottleneck and became the standard midrange cartridge in 1878.  It’s a fine sporting cartridge and black-powder-cartridge shooters are very pleased that new and correctly marked brass is available for it again.  You can visit them at captechintl.com.  ASJ

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July 28th, 2015 by Danielle Breteau

Taylor’s New Model #3 Frontier

 

Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt

There are some, perhaps several shooters, who say the old Smith & Wesson New Model #3 was the finest single-action revolver ever made, and I’m certainly one of them. I have had two of the originals, both in .44 Russian, and that’s why this new copy of the original New Model #3 feels so good in my hands. Holding and shooting this version from Taylor’s & Co. is like shaking hands with an old friend.

Before telling you about this new gun, let me quickly present a little bit of S&W history. After the Russian Model #3 and the Schofield version of the Model #3 had been made, the New Model #3 was introduced in 1878. This single-action revolver proved to be fairly popular, although not as popular as their .44-caliber, top-break, double-action revolvers. S&W lengthened the #3’s cylinder from 1 and 7/16 inches to 1 and 9/16 inches, adding an eighth of an inch to the length of the cartridges that could be used. This was meant to make their revolver available for the popular .44-40 cartridge, and like Colt, they called it their Frontier version. The S&Ws in .44-40 did not prove to be as popular and several of their .44-40 single-actions and were converted back to .44 Russian. By 1908, the New Model #3 was discontinued.

New Model #3 Frontier by Taylor's and Co.

This New Model #3 Frontier by Taylor’s and Co. has a 6.5-inch barrel (5-inch versions are also available), and the cylinder is removable after taking out the screw in the top strap.

One of the best options that could be found on the original S&W New Model #3 revolvers was target sights. Instead of having the tiny rear sight on the pivot point of the top latch, the target version had a very nice rear sight on the end of the top latch just over the hammer. Moving the sight to the back or rear of the top latch increased the sighting radius by over half of an inch, and it gave the shooter a very nice flat-top rear sight with a deep notch. The rear sight on the target version is adjustable for windage by loosening the screws that hold the sight in its slot and sliding the sight to the right or left, which is quickly and easily done. The new Taylor’s version copies the original model and the easy-to-see rear sight can be appreciated all over again.

Authenticity is very important to me and the profile of this New Model #3 is very good. Taylor’s selected the .45 Colt chambering because of that cartridge’s popularity in the cowboy-action arena; however, I loudly recommend they add more caliber options. For those of you who prefer maintaining authenticity, the original New Model #3 was made on special order and chambered for the .45 S&W Schofield cartridge. In fact, in the book Smith And Wesson 1857-1945, there is a picture of an original New Model #3 with target sights and a 6½-inch barrel in .45 S&W caliber, almost a twin to the replica we’re talking about now.

PHOTO 5

Mike Nesbitt sits for a shot with black powder at a distant target. (JOHN WEGER).

Even more important than authenticity is how well a six-gun shoots, and this revolver shoots pretty well. The first loads that I tried with this Colt .45 used 32 grains (by volume) of Olde Eynsford 1-1/2F under a 235-grain bullet. With that black powder load, I quickly learned to grip the gun a little tighter because the recoil caused the gun’s trigger guard to hit my middle finger hard enough to really make it very noticeable. Also, somewhat because of my relatively loose grip, those shots went high and the sights needed to be held even lower than a typical six-o’clock hold. It took a few shots to learn where the gun was hitting, and after that hits could be counted on.

John “Sepp” Weger was my partner for most of the shooting, and for him this six-gun shot much closer to his point of aim. John is younger, a lot stronger than me and he gripped the gun more firmly, which considerably decreased the muzzle’s ability to climb.

While most of our shooting was done using black-powder loads, some tamer smokeless loads were also tried. The smokeless loads had 7.5 grains of Unique under a 250-grain bullet, a comfortable load for the Colt .45. These bullets were cast from Lyman’s old standard mould, #454190, and even though we did not chronograph this load, it was definitely good for cowboy-action shooting and general use with this Colt.

PHOTO 6

Five shots were fired across a benchrest using both hands. The sights were held at six o’clock on the bullseye and I’d say we achieved a really good group, even with the low flier that happened to go right through the X ring.

Some finer shooting could be done if the easily adjustable rear sight was moved just a touch to the right to correct the windage, but an even bigger improvement would be to give this gun a better trigger pull. While Uberti is known for making fine guns, they really do need to tone down their springs a bit. This Colt has a very stiff trigger pull which simply must be fixed. This is my only critical remark.

PHOTO 1In addition to asking for softer springs and a lighter trigger pull, I will not hesitate to ask Taylor’s to follow a bit more in S&W’s footsteps and release this revolver in .44-40 caliber as well as .44 S&W Russian, or even .44 Special. Adding those chamberings, in my opinion, would increase the options for buyers to select from, and that could only increase this revolver’s popularity. I will conclude my begging by saying I hope their first New Model #3 Frontier made in .44-40 comes to me. ASJ

Author’s note: If you are ready to own a perfect replica of history that you can pick up for about $1,053, visit Taylor’s & Co. at taylorsfirearms.com.

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