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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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. ASJ
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).
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out the Vigilante Bullet Lube page on Facebook. ASJ
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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