Monday, July 20, 2015
Range day...Wow! New gun ROCKS!
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.
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.
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.
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.