Single Shot and Black Powder Cartridge Guns
I have recently been having fun with some single shot black powder guns, and I want to share some of these with you all. Maybe some of you will share yours.
Let me introduce you to my first gun. My Mom gave me this .577 Snider-Enfield for my 11th Christmas. I guess she thought it was pretty safe, since cartridges were not readily available at the time, and the firing pin was broken. She didn't figure on me being half-smart, half-dumb, as I soon realized the firing pin could be replaced with a percussion nipple. Of course, I tried to muzzle load it (just a powder charge, fortunately,) and proceeded to blow the breechblock off, breaking the breech pin, and putting the gun out of commission for 40-odd years.
About 12 years ago, I found some factory-made cartridges sold by Cabela's, and decided to resurrect the old beast. A local machinist made a new breech pin
and firing pin. I'd kept the old broken parts all those years, so it was easy to reproduce them. Well, the Cabela's loads proved to be unsuitable. The bullets were too small, bounced around in the barrel, came out sideways, and made a two-foot group at 25 yards!
So the gun got put away for another 12 years, until a little over a month ago, when I got the urge to try again. While researching, I came across a you-tube video on loading for the Snider-Enfield. This fellow uses 24-gauge shotgun hulls, and loads them with black powder, a .600 round ball, and tops it off with a gob of lube. Easy, no reloading gear, and cheap! The hulls are available from Graf and Sons for $13.50 for 100, primed. Pretty much a use 'em once & toss 'em deal. So off to the range to try, once again, to make that Snider work. I was trepidatious, didn't know how safe a .600 projectile would be in a .577 bore, half-expected it to blow up on me, didn't really have very high expectations after my previous experiences. Well, I need not have worried, as can be seen from the target to the right. What can I say that the picture doesn't? This is right out of the box, so to speak, sights as they are. She's a shooter, all right!
For more information on loading, check out www.Enfield-Snider.com. They have the link to that you-tube video, and other stuff, as well.
The Snider-Enfield was the first British military cartridge rifle, and was a direct conversion of the Enfield muzzle loader. In the Mark I and early Mark II's, the barrel was cut and chambered, the breech added, and a new hammer put on, and that's it. As you can see in the picture to the lower right, the lock is dated 1862, although the Snider wasn't introduced until 1866, so, along with the proof markings, we know this was an early conversion Mark II model. Later Mark II and Mark III versions were made as Sniders rather than conversions of older guns. Although the Snider was replaced by the Martini-Henry by the mid-1870's, the Snider remained in use throughout the British Empire for many years.
Not bad for a 150 year old gun! (Above)
I have only shot out to 50 yards with the .600 ball, with a 3" group. Slugging your bore is important if you plan on using Minies. I have loaded some brass with a 425g. .578 Minie, which I hope will perform better than the factory loads did for me! (Note: They didn't do too hot, might try a larger bullet yet.)
Below, the ramrod groove is visible, left over from when it was a full-stock muzzle loader.
The 1862 date on the lock shows that this was a conversion from the original muzzle loading Enfield.
Below, the breech is open, with the block pulled toward the rear to show the extractor.
Note the proofmarks; the Roman II tells us this is a Mark II model.
The firing pin has the same threading as a musket nipple, which got me into trouble as a kid!
The Martini-Greener .45-70
Next up is my most recent acquisition, a Navy Arms produced .45-70, built on the Martini-Greener action, which was basically the same as the Martini-Henry, only originally made for a proprietary shotgun loading used by British military and police. Navy Arms bought up a bunch of these actions and produced this fine-looking rifle for a while, in the 1970's and 80's, I believe. My friend, Paul brought it up to one of our shoots at Ft. Shenandoah. I came, I saw, I had to have it, so after some horse trading, I wound up with the Martini, and Paul has my Pietta .45 Colt peacemaker. I changed the sights, made a crescent buttplate and a palm rest and personalized it some, and now I'm having fun dialing it in.
I raised the sight plane about 5/8", which makes it a more comfortable gun to shoot. Before, you had to get down on the sights, and your cheekbone suffered after a few shots. Now it's an easy hold. The ladder sight is set at 50 yards right now, but soon will be set for 200 yards to shoot silhouettes.
A little pretty work. Note that the schuetzen buttplate gave way to this shortened crescent, necessary if you want to shoot silhouettes.
The Greener action, at right, is strong enough to handle any load for the .45-70, though I choose not to abuse myself, and am sticking to moderate loads. I'm using a
405 grain RNFP bullet, and my current loads are 60 grains of 3f black powder,
or 12.5 grains of Trail Boss. She's grouping pretty well; under 2" at 50 yards,
but I have some work to do yet before I'm ready for silhouettes.
The Baby Sharps
I have always wanted a Sharps. How can one watch "Quigley Down Under" and not want a Sharps? But I'm not as strong as I used to be, and a Sharps is a lot of gun to shoulder. However recently, baby brother has arrived on the scene. These are available from two or three makers, in a variety of calibers. Mine is from Chiappa, purchased through Taylor's and Company in Winchester, VA. It was originally chambered for.45 Colt, and while the gun is nicely built in all other respects, the bore looked like a railroad track, and I couldn't get it to group smaller than a dinner plate at 50 yards! I was mightily disappointed, especially after spending more on it to change up the sights. I took it to Bobby Hoyt, who has a booth on Trader's Row at the N-SSA Nationals, and asked him to reline the bore for .44 magnum, of which he did a fine job. Right off, using Herter's factory loads, I shot a 1-5/8" group at 50 yards off the bench! Now we're talkin'! And it's improved from there with handloads.
Just this week, I went to the range and tried various loadings. It took some work and a pretty sore shoulder to get this group, but I'm feeling pretty good about this one!
Other than the sights and barrel lining, the only addition is the little pistol grip piece, which helps me hold it easier. The little gun is a 20% scale down of a full-size Sharps, but full length of pull is retained. It only weighs 5.5 pounds!
The Smith Carbine
The Smith carbine was a transitional gun, with a hard rubber cartridge ignited by percussion cap. One of several breech loading rifles used during the Civil War. In my opinion, as well as that of many shooters at N-SSA, the Smith was under-appreciated during its day, and certainly under-used. A strong, simple action, light in weight, with an easily field-loadable cartridge, fast to load and shoot, and capable of groups under 6" at 100 yards. I recently watched a "Pawn Stars" episode, where they encountered a fine original Smith, with what looked like a pristine bore. They proceeded to badmouth it, called it unsafe, and although they bought it, unlike their usual act, they didn't take it out to shoot it. Those boys really don't have a clue about old guns. Just consider what they say about smoothbores being inaccurate. They should check out some of the smoothie shooters at North-South Skirmish Assn. They should see what those shooters do with a Smith, too!
Pretty breech, below:
These days, not much has changed in the way a Smith is loaded and fired. Some folks use brass cases, but most use plastic cases, which more closely resemble the original hard rubber. The case can hold about 35 grains, but a standard target load is 25 g. of 3f with cream of wheat to make up the difference. The bores can vary a bit, so it's a good idea to slug the bore to find your optimum bullet, usually around .515. Quite a few skirmishers shoot original guns,which testifies to their strength and longevity. Mine is a repro made by Pietta, and has a very fine bore.
You can see how the breech encapsulates the cartridge, holding it securely with the big spring and lug fastening.
I did a little pretty work to make
Mr. Smith mine, as you can see below:
The Hunter's Star and oval seem to show up on my work pretty often. So does the Star and Four Directions.
And the proof is in the pudding: this offhand group at 50 yards was shot
by my friend and fellow Cockade, Kirk, who sold me the gun.
The five shot group measures 3-1/2". Okay, Pawn Stars....
Frankly, had I been a soldier in that most horrible of wars,
I would have wanted a Smith Carbine. That, and a Lemat revolver!
Right, these are the cartridges for these guns; L to R, Snider .600 ball, Snider .578 Minie, 45-70, .44 Magnum, and Smith carbine.