Sunday, November 13, 2011

It followed me home...guess I'll have to keep it.

Note to self: Next time I go over to noted Martini-Henry expert Richard's house, do NOT bring check book.

But this time I erred and brought it, and as a result I acquired this new (to me) Martini-Henry Mk II rifle.It's not "new" new by any means. This one first left the Enfield factory back in 1878, a little over a decade after our civil war (still known locally as "the war of Northern Aggression) ended and a year before the beginning of the Zulu War.I got it from Vern, another Martini-Henry enthusiast who happened to be over there with a pick-up truck bed full of Martini-Henry rifles that he'd picked up in Afghanistan. He recently brought this one back, and after we engaged in some shooting and cleaning (and after Richard made minor repairs to both this one and my own MK IV), I wound up buying it from him for what was probably more than he paid for it in Kabul but much less than I would have otherwise had to pay for one here stateside. No complaints from me!

The only real collector's complaint that I have about this one is the fact that it has no finish at all left on any of the metal. Afghanis like their guns to be shiny, and this one, like most other antique firearms to come out of that country, has been polished down to bare metal. But the wood still bears the original Enfield logo in a roundel on the stock, right above two Roman numerals, a II, which denotes a MK II, and a I below, which indicates original issue to a British solider in a front-line unit. Had it been issued to native troops, volunteers or other irregular forces, it would have a different number.What really makes this one interesting is the fact that it did come from Afghanistan, so it's more likely than not that this rifle continued to see much actual fighting use well after the British turned it over to the locals or otherwise lost custody of it. In Afghanistan, when the tribes are not fighting the British, the Russians or the Americans, they are fighting with Pakistan or each other. In such a culture, rifles of any sort are highly valued and functional ones are used with little regard for relative obsolescence. It's quite conceivable that this veteran fired shots at any or all of the above during it's 80 years of post-British service, at least until it's last owner decided to sell it at the arms bazaar in Kabul, probably for cash to buy something more along the lines of an AK-47.

Here's the new one (top) with my ex-Nepalese MK IV below it.Quite the pair, aren't they? Both are 49" long and weigh eight and a half pounds empty. They are single-shot rifles firing the .577/450 cartridge, and both still shoot quite well despite being well over a century old. I was putting my shots into an 8" circle at 100yards standing off-hand with the MK IV once I figured out how much to hold under due to the sights not even being gradated for ranges that short. (You have to use the battle-sight setting and guesstimate a bit.)

In this close-up, you can see the main differences between the two variants. The MK II has the short lever action, and the MK IV has a longer lever and a slightly longer receiver. The longer lever came about in part following the disaster as Islandwana during the Zulu War when the short lever was blamed for many rifles jamming due to insufficient leverage to help with spent cartridge extraction. The receiver change was made to improve the shooter's grip on the weapon.
So what's it like to fire one of these? Well the recoil is not as bad as many more modern cartridge rifles firing smokeless propellant, but it's still enough to get your attention. And the black powder cartridges (Thanks, Richard!) definitely produce a good bit of smoke. Your enemy will definitely know where you are even if he can't actually see you behind the smoke cloud.

Shooting these is an involved process though, as virtually no one makes commercial or military ammunition for them any more. So unless you're willing to spend a hundred and forty dollars for a box of twenty (I'm sure not!) you'll learn how to form your own brass cases and load them with black powder and 470-grain bullets that you'll cast yourself. This is my next project and when I get it down, I'll post a step-by-step highlighting the process. In the meantime though, this new rifle will join the others firearms in the gun room, where I'm sure that it'll have lots of war stories to swap.


  1. Martini, Trapdoor, now another Martini.

    Way too cool.

    Although I implore you, don't overlook the Rolling Block.

  2. Excellent! Very nice pair of classics, right there.

  3. You could open a firearms museum and bring in a little side income with all the history you have in your gun room!

  4. Very nice looking rifles! You are starting to give me the long gun bug.

  5. Very nice Murph! You're getting quite the collection going :-)

  6. You need a fireplace to hang them.

    They have done their service and deserve a place of honor!

  7. Before you order any ammo, be sure and mic the bore.

    Mine mics out at .458", and the ammo I ordered from Old Western Scrounger used flat-based .451 bullets.

    The one shot I fired through it keyholed at 7 yards. :o

  8. @ Tam: We've already fired both with new black powder ammunition loaded by Richard, the local Martini expert. Those rounds use a .460 lead bullet and both rifles handled them beautifully. Able to hit paper plate-sized target standing off-hand at 100M. Nice.