Monday, July 20, 2015

Range day...Wow! New gun ROCKS!

So this morning, Proud Hillbilly and I headed off to the range to get some shooting in. The needed screws for my 1866 Springfield had arrived over the week-end, and they all fit perfectly, as if they'd just been removed from this very weapon a week ago. I now had a rifle that at least appeared fully functional.

Well almost.

I'd gotten busy down in the reloading area and made up ten .50-70 cartridges using FFg black powder beneath a .512 diameter cast lead 510-grain bullet, as shown here, posed between a 5.56mm cartridge on the left and a .22lr on the right.
Yeah, that's a honking big chunk of lead.

Test-fitting the first cartridge into the rifle's chamber showed that it fit well, however it would not extract because the detent and plunger that hold the cartridge in the chamber is very stiff, probably with accumulated rust and grime, and while I can get cartridges IN past it by closing the breechblock on them, the very small nub on the breechblock that is supposed to extract the empty cartridge upon opening is not sufficient to get it back out.
Problematic detent is the little shiny square just beneath the chamber. Small ejector spring is visible on left, and extracting nub on breechblock is visible on hinge at top of chamber.
I could still get them out by manually pushing this detent down with a screwdriver or key, allowing the ejector spring to pop it clear once the detent is depressed, but that will eventually have to be fixed.

I note that this is an inherently weak set-up, and I'm obviously not the only one who thought so as it was all redesigned when the 1873 Trapdoor went into production, replacing all of that felgercarb with a simple yet robust extractor/ejector on the 1873.

Hmmm. Bet no one else has ever used the word "felgercarb" in conjunction with a Trapdoor Springfield. Do I win something for that?

Anyway, that minor issue wasn't enough to keep this old veteran of the Indian Wars off the range today, especially as the news has been filled with Redskin troubles lately, so I needed to be sure that I was ready in case the Indians go on the warpath again.

Was that not P.C.?

Well too fucking bad.

Anyway, I got the old critter out to the firing line, accompanied by the usual apprehension involved in firing something that old without knowing for sure exactly what shape that it was in.

Now my normal methods for this are one of two options.

Option #1 is that I set the rifle on the bench and wait until some other shooter comes by to admire it, and then I graciously ask him if he'd like to fire a shot and hand him a cartridge as I move back a safe distance. If all goes well, I conclude that the rifle is safe for me to shoot.

Option #2 is that I hold it out at arm's length, ensure that it's aimed into the berm, then turn my face away from it and fire. Again, if it's still in one piece, it's probably safe to fire normally.

Today I chose Option #2 and put the first round into the berm with my face away from the sights--and the action--just in case. It worked, so I pried out the fired case and inspected that. Seeing no signs of a pressure problem, I checked the bore to ensure that the bullet was indeed gone, and when I saw that it was so, I pronounced the test a success and got down to shooting for real.

The first shot I fired at 50 yards with the mid-range sight up, and I was rewarded with a solid hit on the target's left shoulder, much higher than where I'd aimed. I dropped the sight leaf and used the battle sight for the next eight shots, and I happily saw each and every one hit the Indian nicely. I put the second one high, right next to the first, but I flinched that one and I knew it. Settling down for the last seven, I was able to put them all in a group of sorts in the center of the target, right where I was aiming.
The target, with nine of nine on. The one farthest to the right was fired by Proud Hillbilly and the two smaller holes closer to the bottom were done later with a 1911 from 50 yards. "Meh" to that.

So it shoots, and it shoots well, and even the stiff detent got easier to work with each successive shot. I think it'll free up eventually, especially after a good penetrating oil soak. But the one thing I did notice: Smoke! Ugh! Every shot put up a massive cloud of grayish-white smoke that did three things--it momentarily obscured my view downrange, it told everyone downrange exactly where I was, and it came back on me and made me cough. Yeah, not exactly a tactical boon, that black powder smoke. But the US Army would figure that out for themselves later, primarily in Cuba when units still toting Trapdoors firing black powder cartridges faced off against the Spanish, who were armed with new Mausers using rounds loaded with then-new smokeless propellant in 1898. (Remember the Maine? If not, ask Old NFO. He probably does.) We eventually won, but that battle showed that the day of the black powder cartridge was done.

Still, this particular rifle, which was built 149 years ago by modifying an even earlier-produced Civil War musket, is still as capable today as it ever was. It's still accurate and fun to shoot, and if push comes to shove, it will probably still drop a buffalo or marauding Cheyenne should the need arise. But for now, it's off to the shower in the guest bathroom to run some hot soapy water down that bore.

Special thanks to Keith at Trapdoors Galore for helping my ID the missing parts that this rifle needed and for having them in stock and shipping them promptly.

And here's a shot of the new 1866 Springfield in the center of this rack, with a "newer" model 1873 .45-70 Trapdoor above it and another contemporary Indian-fighter below it, the Remington Rolling Block, Model 1871, this one produced for the New York State Militia and also in .50-70. Note how long the Model 1866 is compared to the 1873 (top).

My Dad always asked me when I was going to start collecting Civil War-era guns. If he'd lived longer, I think that he'd have liked these. That would have been a fun range trip, Pop.


  1. Nice! Well done!

  2. "Remember the Maine? If not, ask Old NFO. He probably does."


  3. That's a nice collection you have. I don't go back that far, my guns are all smokeless powder except a few replicas I picked up almost by accident.
    Glad your new weapon is working out well.

  4. Wow.

    (Though I'm somewhat sure that the .30-40 was always smokeless...)

    1. Yep. It was. Good catch, and fixed.

  5. Excellent!

    Are there smokeless loads available for it?

    1. I'd have to make them. But due to the space in the cases, they would not be as accurate or as safe. (Trapdoors are not known for their strong actions.) If I'm going to go to that much trouble, might as well just stay with the original period loads, which are, admittedly, a lot of fun.

    2. I guess that's caused by too much case volume for modern powders?

      I have ZERO experience with black powder.

      I've only seen a BP rifle fired twice.

    3. I think that black powder is safer in the old ones. MUCH lower chamber pressures but it still sends the lead. If it was good enough for adult buffalo a century and a half ago, it's still pretty good today.

  6. Strike Hold is a good product for cleaning the Detent. Might be rust, might be old fossilized lube, might be dirt with old lube.

    Strike Hold will loosen it.

    Pyrodex (or Triple Seven) are good substitutes for most black. Less irritating.

    You'll find that a few grains either way will greatly change the ballistics. Also, when the time comes, try paper patching the bullets. Beeswax and olive oil in a 60/40 mix or beeswax, olive oil and vaseline makes a great bullet lube for these old BP rifles.


  7. Hey, wait a sec...

    I was out at the range with you a few years back, admiring that Uzi, and you said, "Wanna try firing it?"

    Now I find out I was an "Option 1"?


    1. Well I was pretty sure that it would work that time.

  8. Sounds like a fun, educational day!


  9. That is just plain "bitchin'" . Kudos to you for making her speak again!

  10. Outstanding! And getting any kind of grouping on a rifle that old is fantastic!

    1. I was shocked and surprised. Firing the same load through the Rolling Block, I considered myself fortunate to merely hit the target. This one hits pretty much where I aim it.

      Of course now I'm on Day #2 of it's barrel cleaning. No matter how many times I run a patch down that old bore, they still keep coming out black as night. This old gun was major-league DIRTY way before I got it.

  11. Anonymous8:53 PM

    It is great to see the rifle come back to life