New Lube For Black Powder Rifles

[su_heading size=”30″]Montana company producing blends for shooting in warm, cold weather. [/su_heading]

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]B[/su_dropcap]ullet 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

When West Meets East

[su_heading size=”30″].44 Russian A Stubby, But Accurate Load[/su_heading]

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

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he .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

What Is Black Powder? Part III of III

[su_heading size=”30″]Defouling, Best Bullets, Hunting, Accuracy And Cleaning[/su_heading]

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB SHELL

Editor’s note: We’re wrapping up our three-part series on blackpowder, which previously looked at its invention and early usage and then loading and safety, and now finalizes this issue with a discussion of defouling, types of bullets and more.

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]B[/su_dropcap]lackpowder fouls a lot and if you don’t dry-brush out your barrel after every couple of shots, your bullet or ball will start becoming difficult to push down the barrel. If you brush it and dump out the residue, you can shoot all day doing that. I don’t recommend any type of lube, as you might contaminate the powder and it won’t help you in this operation. Use a tight shotgun-type brush for best results. Following those procedures and tweaking them to suit you should produce a lot of hours of enjoyable shooting.

Minié balls (left) and Maxi-Balls are the two basic bullets for blackpowder rifles between .36 and .58 caliber. The former was developed by a French officer in the mid-1800s, while the latter is sold by Thompson-Center. Author Bob Shell prefers Maxi-Balls for hunting. (MINIE BALLS: MIKE CUMPSTON)

As a note, some of the very early muzzleloaders had straight rifling to help deal with the fouling that blackpowder produces. Perhaps that’s where someone got the idea to twist it to stabilize a bullet. From a military point of view, they used smoothbores because of the mess that blackpowder produces. It takes more time on a battlefield to load a rifled firearm than a smoothbore. That is because the rifling fouls quicker, which makes it more difficult to load. When I am target shooting with a front loader, the bore is dry brushed after a few shots to keep it going. During the heat of battle a soldier doesn’t have that luxury. Of course, the usable accuracy was only from 50 to 80 yards with such weapons. They generally stood on a battlefield in plain view of each other and they shot until someone said uncle. Marksmanship wasn’t a top priority in this type of battle. You just shot into the crowd and hoped to hit someone.

Shooting a cap-and-ball revolver is essentially the same. Put the powder in and seat the balls tightly against the powder. One difference is you need to put some substance over the balls to avoid all of them going off simultaneously. I use something like Crisco, which always works for me, and I have never had that happen – and would just as soon forgo that experience. After loading the powder and bullet, then put on the caps but not before. That way you will avoid a possible accident. I have .36- and .44-caliber revolvers and they both shoot accurately with balls. I have tried bullets in them, but there is no practical advantage 99 percent of the time.

THERE ARE MANY TYPES of bullets out there for muzzleloaders. Some of the new ones are sub-caliber with sabots meant to increase long-range performance. I have some of those on hand, but for the purpose of this article I will stick with the basic stuff.

The basic bullets for rifles from .36 to .58 caliber are either Minié or Maxi-Balls. The Miniés have been around since before the War Between the States. They were invented by Capt. Claude-Étienne Minié, an officer in the French army in the mid-1800s. They are a hollow-base bullet that depends on the skirt expanding to provide a gas seal and good accuracy. They generally work as advertised, as long as they are cast soft. They are prevalent in .58-caliber weapons and come in various weights, from about 450 to over 500 grains. Their grooves are designed to help clean out the fouling, and with some types of lube will also soften the crud that accumulates in the barrel. They are the fastest projectiles to load, which wasn’t lost on militaries of the period. The .58 caliber was the most prevalent rifle caliber in the American Civil War. They gave good accuracy and produced horrible wounds. Many limbs were amputated because of the Minié ball, as they tended to shatter bones; with the state of medical care in that period, it was easier to cut off than save a limb. My experience is they tend to be more accurate with powder charges on the lighter side. Here again there is room for experimentation to obtain the best results in your weapon. I have also shot them in a .45 caliber and they were satisfactory in every way.

Thirty-six-caliber cap-and-ball revolvers are fun to shoot and are accurate at 25 yards, longer with practice. They also produce a nice pile of smoke when fired.

To be honest, my favorite bullet for hunting is the Maxi-Ball. They are available in .36, .45, .50 and .54 calibers. They resemble a slug and have two or three bands that engage the rifling. Between the bands is the area where you put your lube, and I use a lot to ensure that they stay against the powder. I also use a hard lube as opposed to a semiliquid type that may run into the powder, rendering it inactive. As with the other types, pure lead projectiles work the best, as they take the rifling well. I have seen some hard-cast slugs that were very difficult to load and seldom as accurate. I have a .50-caliber TC Hawkins and with my favorite load it shoots better than I can. A friend of mine has a .45-caliber Hawkins that he hunts deer with. We were out one day and after a while, I went over to where he was. I noticed that his Maxi was sticking out the end of his barrel. Good thing he didn’t get a shot. He had some store-bought slugs that were way too hard, so I molded him some good ones and took the others and made regular pistol bullets out of them.

FOR HUNTING, WHAT CALIBER should you use? As with everything, some common sense should be used. Keep in mind that you will have only one shot and that a reload will take some time. Even with pre-measured loads, a second shot won’t get taken quickly. Your quarry simply won’t stick around for it. That should encourage you to practice enough from hunting positions to get good enough to make that first shot count.

The .36 caliber is an excellent small game and pest load. It can be utilized for small game without excess meat damage. With a Maxi-Ball it can dispose of a coyote in short order. It should never be used for large game, as it just doesn’t have the horsepower for such work.

The .45 can be used for deer-sized animals with good shot placement, which is true of all hunting. The round ball is a bit light, weighing about 115 grains, which isn’t a lot. I would use a Maxi- or Minié ball for large game and confine the round ball to small animals.

The .50-, .54- and .58-caliber rifles with Maxi- or Minié balls can be used for game larger than deer. Round balls in those calibers will work well on big game, as they have enough weight to provide good killing power when used on deer-sized animals. The Maxis would work better on such game as elk, moose and bear. Just be aware that your first shot must count because you won’t get a second chance. And in some cases, you could be mauled by an angry bear that you didn’t shoot well.

This grouping shows the potential accuracy when hunting with blackpowder firearms.

Two friends of mine went on an elk hunt in northern Arizona last year. Both have .50-caliber Hawkins rifles and were using 370-grain Maxi-style balls that I molded. Since they didn’t want the corrosion, we went with Clean Shot, which produced good accuracy at 50 and 100 yards. Anyway, Tony harvested a fine bull, but Marty had the cap go off without firing the powder charge. The elk heard the pop and was long gone before he could get off a second shot. The second cap ignited the powder charge. He was wondering what a Hawkins rifle would look like wrapped around a tree. Anyway, those things happen even if you do everything correctly, but not very often.

The old smooth bore rifles aren’t accurate enough for most hunting situations, though the bigger calibers can do the job if you manage to hit something. Many of those were around .70 caliber, so they shot a large ball. The longest practical range with a smooth bore is 75 to 80 yards. If you purposely hit something beyond that, luck played a major part. I suppose you could load some shot and make it a clumsy shotgun at close range. I have done that and it does work OK. They are best used for reenactments and target shooting. The old blunderbusses were frequently used for small game hunting. They have a big opening, making them easy to load. Early on, hunters found out it was easier to hit a bird on the wing with a shot load as opposed to a single projectile.

EXCELLENT ACCURACY is a hallmark of many muzzleloading firearms and might amaze people with preconceived notions that they are not very powerful or accurate. Nothing can be further from the truth. Like modern arms, many muzzleloaders can outshoot their owners. A .50-caliber Hawkins can easily put three Maxi-Balls into an inch at 100 yards when shot by a competent marksman. Round-ball weapons also are very accurate and many can shoot well at 200 or more yards. It just takes a little more work and preparation. Cap-and-ball revolvers also can surprise you with their accuracy. Wild Bill Hickok shot an adversary at 75 yards through the heart with a .36-caliber cap-and-ball revolver. Of course, he was an excellent shot who practiced every day, but it shows what can be done.

There’s also the challenge, which makes it more interesting and fun. I recently took two shooters out and let them shoot my .36-caliber cap-and-ball revolver. They were amazed at the accuracy and how much fun it was. I believe both will be shooting black powder arms in the future as a result of that. In spite of the crude sights, at 25 yards a 3-inch-or-better group is entirely realistic.

AND FINALLY, BLACKPOWDER is hydroscopic, which means that it will absorb moisture very readily. That means that you must clean your weapon as soon as possible to avoid rust. With my muzzleloaders I remove the nipple and run hot water down the barrel with a little dish soap. I run a brush down the barrel until the water is clear. After that I run enough hot water through it to get it hot, then I let it dry. I then run a dry patch through it to make sure there is no water lurking about. I clean the nipple and the area around it and apply a light coating of oil on the gun. That works for me and I have used that method for many years and never have any problems with rust. There are a variety of products on the market that work well, but I prefer my method. Sometimes after cleaning a blackpowder weapon, it will be left it in the sun for awhile. Living in Arizona, I know that that will really dry it up in a hurry, getting the metal so hot you can hardly touch it.

FOR ANYONE CONTEMPLATING GETTING into blackpowder, by all means go for it. As shooting is about having fun, blackpowder will only enhance it. Done correctly, it is a safe and enjoyable hobby and lets us know how easy we have it in regards to weapons. Just imagine you are on horseback in a downpour with a band of Apaches chasing you. They are planning on giving you a close-cropped haircut and you have a cap-and-ball revolver you are trying to reload. It will help you appreciate your modern handgun and its cartridges even more. ASJ

Blackpowder and its many compositions – represented here by FFFFG L, FFFG L, FFG and FG R – represent a link to the shooting world of the past and an exciting one that is thriving today.

What Is Black Powder? Part II of III

[su_heading size=”30″]Part II of III – Loading And Safety[/su_heading]

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB SHELL

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]We[/su_dropcap] began this three-part series on blackpowder last issue, where we covered its invention, refinement and today’s four grades – five, counting a special Swiss version.
This issue we turn to loading the powder and safety, and wrap up next month with tricks of the trade.
There are a few things that you should be aware of to get best results. First, always make sure your gun is empty. If you buy a new muzzleloader, then you can put a rod down the barrel and mark the rod to establish the depth that indicates an empty barrel. When preparing to load a used muzzleloader, remove the nipple where the percussion cap would be placed, and make sure you can see clearly through to the inside of the barrel. If it is blocked, the gun won’t fire, and the only thing you will get is a small pop from the cap.
A method often used to clear or establish a clear nipple channel is by firing a couple of caps without any powder in the barrel. Simply place a piece of paper or something light on your bench, and then aim the end of your barrel at the object and fire. The piece of paper should move when your channel is clear because the percussion cap alone is enough to cause a tuft of air. Once you have established that, you have a clear barrel and you are ready to load.

Muzzleloaders come in all sorts of varieties, calibers, styles and ignition systems. The one thing they have in common is the way they are loaded, hence the name. Fifty-caliber Lyman caplock (top left), .50- caliber Lyman flintlock (bottom left) and an original pair of 1837 French military caplock pistols (below, right).

PATCHING
When loading a round ball, a patch must be used in order for the ball to be accurate and prevent blow by, which would rob the shooter of power and accuracy. You can buy precut patches or experiment with your own. An old sheet makes good patch material because it is both tough and consistent in thickness. The patch should be placed on the muzzle, then the ball seated on top of it. It should have some resistance to seating but not an excessive amount, as you might end up with a ball stuck halfway down the barrel. There are signs that help to indicate if you are using the proper amount of patching. You can usually find the fired patches on the ground, especially if you are shooting a number of rounds. If the patch shows rifling marks without excessive tearing, then it is probably the right size. If there are no markings from the rifling, then this might indicate that the patch should be a little larger. If you do get a bullet stuck in the barrel, you can pull it out with a bullet-removing screw.
However, this can be quite a chore.

BALL LOADING
You should always use a measuring device to pour the powder into the barrel – never do it from a flask containing a large amount of powder. If there is a live spark from a previous firing, this will cause an explosion. Pouring a small amount of powder down the barrel will help minimize the harm if there still happens to be a smoldering cinder. This does happen – to the careless! There are adjustable measures made just for this operation. This practice is especially necessary if you are shooting patched balls, because some of the cloth might stay lurking in the barrel and can cause mischief. You can swab between shots to avoid that problem, but don’t count on this to thoroughly rid your barrel of hazards.
I knew a guy who participated in reenactments. He was on a crew that was operating a cannon with a 2-inch bore. His job was to swab the barrel then push the bag of powder down afterwards. The bag of powder weighed 1 pound. One time after the team fired, he swabbed and then shoved the powder down the barrel, instantly losing most of his right hand. There was still a cinder in the barrel from the previous bag, and when he pushed the powder down, it went off. The long rod with a disc he was using to push the powder down was the same diameter as the barrel. When the canon went off, the disc removed most of his hand because it became a projectile. Safety requires methodical steps and preparation.
Once the powder is in, you can seat the bullet. Initially, there will be a little resistance, but it shouldn’t be excessive. If it is, find out why before attempting to push it the bullet in too deep. A bullet stuck in the barrel is a pain to remove, although it can be done usually with a corkscrew-type device.

It is imperative that the bullet is solidly seated to the powder in the chamber. Otherwise, serious damage can occur to the firearm and shooter.
It is imperative that the bullet is solidly seated to the powder in the chamber. Otherwise, serious damage can occur to the firearm and shooter.

After you get your round started, follow through using your long rod to seat it. The bullet must be tight against the powder. If there is no resistance from the bullet going down the barrel, it might move forward creating some airspace, so be wary of that. This could destroy the gun and cause injury.
I knew someone who destroyed a .45-caliber that way. He required medical attention caused by splinters lodged into his forearm. If you are unsure, flick the rod against the load a couple of times. If the rod bounces, then it is ready to go. You can mark the rod with a piece of tape if desired for future loading once you establish your load.

Blackpowder-measuring tools were created for very specific purposes and are a much safer way to load a muzzleloader. Top to bottom above is a priming tool, powder measure and primer measure.
Blackpowder-measuring tools were created for very specific purposes and are a much safer way to load a muzzleloader. Top to bottom above is a priming tool, powder measure and primer measure.

Sometimes people forget to put the powder in first. This is a pain, but it can be resolved. Just take off the nipple and work some powder into the barrel. You should put at least 15 to 20 grains to have enough to shoot the ball completely out the barrel. Make sure that the projectile exits before trying a regular load. Compressed air can also be used to push the ball out. There are two types of people who shoot muzzleloaders: those who forgot to put the powder in and those who will in the future.

PHOTO 3A 30-30 ss 009 - CopyPRIMING
Just in case you bump or drop your gun, it is not a good idea to prime before you load. With a flintlock, just prime the  pan and you are ready to go. For this article we will stick with conventional muzzleloaders as opposed to inlines.

BACK TO THE POWDER
If you are new to this game, you might wonder how much powder to use. Ideally, a new shooter would spend some time with an experienced blackpowder user. There are also books that can help. Blackpowder doesn’t produce as much velocity as the smokeless variety, no matter how much you use. At some point the powder just won’t burn and will simply come out the end of the barrel. You can put an old sheet on the ground in front of the gun to determine if you have too much powder. This test can be very informative.
In my .50-caliber Hawkins, I use 90 grains of FFG black with a 370-grain maxi ball. My velocities run almost 1,300 feet per second, and the load is very consistent and accurate. I have tried more powder but the gain was negligible, thus wasn’t worth the extra powder. If you are shooting a .45-caliber with a ball, 70 grains is a good starting point. If you are using a .58-caliber rifle with Minié balls, then 60 grains is a good place to start. I find that lighter loads in these guns generally produce better accuracy.

Powder horns were and are still common among muzzleloaders. The horn is strapped to the shooter and stores the bulk of their powder.

Just like reloading, you might experiment with your gun to see which combination works best. There are several brands of powder out there, so if you like to experiment, try what is available in your area. If you order online, be prepared to pay a hefty hazardous material fee, so ordering a large quantity helps cut costs. I order it by 25-pound cases. There are also fees for just smokeless powder and primers, but not loaded ammo.

BULLET OPTIONS 

Bob Shell with his .50-caliber flintlock.
Bob Shell smoking up the range with his .50-caliber flintlock.

The round ball is the basic, most widely used bullet and has some advantages. It is often very light for the caliber, which reduces the amount of powder needed for workable velocities. Another advantage is it reduces recoil. Properly loaded it is very accurate and is used for all types of target shooting. For hunting, it’s OK for certain types of deer, but might lack the penetration for large, heavy-boned game, especially past 100 yards. Due to its low density, it doesn’t carry or penetrate well. However, a .36-caliber ball makes a splendid small-game round. There you have the basics of muzzleloading blackpowder. Stayed tuned for part III of What Is black Powder, where we cover tricks of the trade. ASJ

Loading blackpowder may seem like a simple process, but there are inherent dangers if steps are not completed thoroughly and methodically.

Brown Bess Roars To Life At New Shooting Range In Colonial Williamsburg

[su_heading size=”30″]History, Tradition And Heritage At The New Musket Range[/su_heading]

Story by Larry Case

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]A[/su_dropcap]lthough not a soldier himself, Rudyard Kipling was familiar with the British army, their weapons and methods of fighting. No doubt he had soldier chums who were happy to tell him about the best girl they had, the Brown Bess musket.

From about 1722 to 1838 the Long Land Pattern musket (Bess’s official name) was the standard-issue long arm for all land forces in the British military. This weapon fired a .75- to .78-caliber ball. As this was the era of British expansion, Brown Bess saw duty around the world. From India to Waterloo all the way over to those pesky American colonies, this was the gun that did most of the fighting, and when mounted with the standard 17-inch bayonet it was deadly indeed! Think of an M1 Garand that stayed in service for over 100 years!

THE ORIGIN OF THE NICKNAME Brown Bess for this pattern musket seems to be uncertain. Some say it was an affectionate reference by the British soldiers to Queen Elizabeth I. King George I was, in fact, German and did not speak English (go figure), and others think it could have been an interpretation for the German braun Buss or brawn Buss, meaning strong gun or brown gun. (Büchse is an old German word for rifle, in the sense of a hunting weapon.)

Situated on 301 acres, Colonial Williamsburg allows visitors to be completely immersed in the time period. All the people who work and live here are well versed in the history and wear period attire. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)
Situated on 301 acres, Colonial Williamsburg allows visitors to be completely immersed in the time period. All the people who work and live here are well versed in the history and wear period attire. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

Most experts on this musket, however, seem to think it is more likely the overall appearance of the weapon: dark brown wood on the stock and a barrel that often had a brownish tint due to the method of “bluing” the metal at this time known as russeting.

History is wonderful and if you are as crazy about guns as I am, you could get lost in the details and minutiae of any firearm. I will admit, however, that there is something better than just reading about it – hands-on shooting. The feel of the gun, the burning powder in your nose and getting your hands dirty – there is no substitute for this.

So, where can you actually learn to load and fire a Brown Bess musket? Glad you asked! Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, of course!

This 301-acre historic site features hundreds of restored, reconstructed and historically furnished buildings. Costumed interpreters tell the stories of the men and women in this 18th-Century city – black, white and Native Americans were all here. Some were slaves, some were indentured and some were free. When you come here, you will learn the challenges these people faced and you can also learn to fire the Brown Bess!

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)
(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

BRAND NEW THIS YEAR, Colonial Williamsburg has opened a firing range where guests can learn to load and fire this treasured musket. If you enjoy history (which you probably do if you are visiting Colonial Williamsburg), take the time to feel history in your hands by shooting these historical treasures.

Even though we were visiting the colonies and not Her Majesty’s home in England, the day my wife Helen and I visited Colonial Williamsburg, we were treated like royalty. Joe Straw, public relations manager for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and all of the staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

Brown Bess

OUR FIRST STOP was the gunsmith shop. To be honest, I could have spent the entire day in there. As with much of Colonial Williamsburg most of this sweeping landscape is just like stepping back in time. Try to imagine walking into an 18th-century gunsmith shop. It’s all here! The guns, the powder horns, the tools and every accoutrement that you can think of and some you might never have realized existed, all with the absolute authenticity and attention to detail that Colonial Williamsburg is known for.

The gunsmith shop is like stepping back in time. All of the muskets and tools, including barrel rifling, engraving and carpentry tools, are handmade in the same tradition and manner that they were created in the 18th century. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)
The gunsmith shop is like stepping back in time. All of the muskets and tools, including barrel rifling, engraving and carpentry tools, are handmade in the same tradition and manner that they were created in the 18th century. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

I stood in awe of the blacksmith’s shop next door as a flat piece of metal was repeatedly heated, hammered and forged around an iron rod, transforming it into a rifle barrel. I had always been curious about this process and wondered how it was even possible. There I stood as sparks danced with each blow of the hammer and black smoke rolled.

I was very fortunate to spend some time with George Suiter, the master gunsmith here. Suiter has been working in this gunsmith shop for over 30 years and after about 10 minutes of speaking with him I had already forgotten more about making these rifles than I would ever know. Suiter makes these Colonial-era “rifle guns” right in this shop and people can order their very own. The waiting list is quite lengthy, currently eight to nine years, and on average a rifle will fetch about $20,000.

“The best way to preserve a trade is to practice it,” Suiter told me, “ … and that is what we do here at Colonial Williamsburg.” He assured me that one would never find tools in this shop which were not true to the time period.

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)
(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

I also spent some time talking to Erik Goldstein, curator of mechanical arts and numismatics. Goldstein is the coauthor of The Brown Bess: An Identification Guide And Illustrated Study Of Britain’s Most Famous Musket. This is, at the very least, an exhaustive study of the British Land Pattern musket. I do not believe you could be a serious student nor a proper collector without owning this book.

JOE STRAW WAS ULTIMATELY ABLE to hustle me out of the gunsmith shop and took Helen and I to the musket range. A highly capable group and just as knowledgeable in their craft awaited us. You will find this level of commitment and passion all over Colonial Williamsburg, and this is also depicted in the clothing and demeanor.

Portraying a Colonial-era militia man, armorer Justin Chapman met us at the range with a host of well-trained helpers. Chapman gave us an extensive safety and background briefing on the Brown Bess, as well as a period “fowling piece.” The “fowler,” we were told, would be a muzzleloader that would have likely been used by colonists at the time. A predecessor to the modern shotgun, it could be loaded with bird shot or ball load, making it very versatile for the hunting colonist.

This Brown Bess’s loaded pan is primed to fire. Notice the 18th century version of a safety – a leather cover on the frizzen. (Inset) Williamsburg’s blacksmith shop is perpetually in motion as they create the barrels, among many other items, from bare metal by repetitively heat treating and hammering the soon-to-be musket barrel. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)
This Brown Bess’s loaded pan is primed to fire. Notice the 18th century version of a safety – a leather cover on the frizzen. (Inset) Williamsburg’s blacksmith shop is perpetually in motion as they create the barrels, among many other items, from bare metal by repetitively heat treating and hammering the soon-to-be musket barrel. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

Both the Brown Bess and the fowler are smoothbores (no rifling in the barrel). They could be loaded quickly, but are not especially accurate over 50 yards. For the European style of combat used at the time, where armies marched in formation to within range of their foes and then sent volleys of lead chunks at them, the Brown Bess was a deadly weapon; for the long-range shooter, not so much. A British soldier was expected to be capable of firing four shots in one minute. After a few volleys of fire, a charge was ordered using those wicked triangular 17-inch bayonets. The line that could stand against such a charge was stalwart indeed!

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)
(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

MY WIFE HELEN HAD the privilege of being the first visitor to fire a round on the brand new musket range here. I enjoyed watching her do that as much as anything on this trip. There is something about watching a new shooter that warms the heart. The look on her face after the smoke and boom of her first shot was priceless. When she was asked if she wanted to shoot again, she immediately replied, “Of course!”

When it was my turn to shoot, I found that it was not difficult to hit the NRA target, as the musket was more accurate than I had expected. The Brown Bess has no front sight, but the small lug where the bayonet attaches serves as one. Again, this was not meant to be a sniper rifle. Quick and easy to load, I could see how shooting this type of muzzleloader could be addicting. Straw had to drag me off of the range before we all froze
to death – it was a cold March day – and I shot up all the powder and ball in the county.

The latest at Colonial Williamsburg is the musket range – now open to the public. (LARRY CASE)
The latest at Colonial Williamsburg is the musket range – now open to the public. (LARRY CASE)
The author’s wife Helen Case (right) stands with a Colonial Williamsburg guard and demonstrates the length of the Brown Bess complete with bayonet. (LARRY CASE)
The author’s wife Helen Case (right) stands with a Colonial Williamsburg guard and demonstrates the length of the Brown Bess complete with bayonet. (LARRY CASE)

AT THE END OF THE LONG DAY, Helen and I would not be denied another stroll down Colonial Williamsburg’s streets. It was a blustery evening with not many visitors around. I stood and peered down Duke of Gloucester Street; nobody was in sight outside of those in period attire. Far down the street I could see a soldier in uniform hastening into the evening gloom. Trouble was coming, but in the end came freedom and the rise of the greatest country the world had ever seen. Just for a minute I imagined it was 1774, and I was there. ASJ

Before Your First Black Powder Hunt

[su_heading size=”27″ margin=”0″]Step 1: Read The Instructions[/su_heading]

Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt[su_dropcap style=”light”]H[/su_dropcap]unting 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.

 

 

 

Fifty-plus Caliber Freedom

[su_heading size=”35″ margin=”0″]Fifty-plus Caliber Freedom[/su_heading]

The Advantages Of Hunting With Muzzleloaders

Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt

[su_dropcap style=”light”]B[/su_dropcap]elieve 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.

The Shiloh Sharps Rifle

[su_heading size=”27″ margin=”0″]The Shiloh Sharps Rifle[/su_heading]

An American Black Powder Tradition

Rediscover a legend!  The Sharps rifle has taken down African game along with American plains game.  Shiloh Sharps Rifle is a family owned business that has been established since 1976, and is the recognized leader in the quality production and craftsmanship of the Sharps rifle. 

We are the only company in the world whose parts interchange with the original Sharps rifles. One hundred percent American made right in Big Timber, Montana, and we will not sacrifice our quality for quantities.

When you purchase a Shiloh Sharps, you not only purchase a legendary rifle, you support a way of life that Americans have fought and died for over generations – self reliance, pride and our freedom. 

It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone can own an American masterpiece!  Come visit our showroom.  www.shilohrifle.com  or call us at 406-932-4266. We look forward to hearing from you. 

lr express

 

 

Taylor’s New Model #3 Frontier

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. AmSJ

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.

Updated – Here is the new write up on the Smith and Wesson N.3.

The Lyman Great Plains Rifle

The Lyman Great Plains Rifle 

(Muzzleloader)

Recommendation by Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt Take two
Mike Nesbitt

If there are any readers out there who want to try muzzleloading, let me recommend a good rifle: the Lyman Great Plains. There are less expensive rifles, but my suggestion is to start with a good one. I know a lot of black-powder shooters who have these rifles and stay with them. They are available in .50- and .54-caliber and right- or left-handed models, and they are very dependable. For new shooters I also recommend starting with a percussion version simply because the flintlocks take more training and they are, let’s say, harder to get used to. ASJ

 

Lyman Great Plains Rifle

 

PHOTO SIDEBAR 1 - Lyman’s percussion Great Plains Rifle