I have another story from the N-SSA Fall Nationals, which I was unable to fit in last month's column. While browsing through sutler's row, I stopped by Tom Ball's booth to discuss some accuracy problems I had been having with my .44-40 Ruger Vaquero revolver. I am quite fond of the gun, which I have dressed up with a set of stag grips, and was desperate to do something to make it shoot better. Tom, who accurizes Cowboy Action Shooting six-guns as well as percussion revolvers, advised that reaming out the gun's undersized chambers would probably do wonders for the Ruger. I subsequently had Tom perform this work and re-cut the gun's forcing cone to an even 11-degree angle. Needless to say, the surgery was successful and the patient is doing nicely!
A complete Ball "accuracy job" rework on a percussion Rogers and Spencer or Remington reproduction revolver involves replacing the issue barrel with a lathe turned slower twist tube by famed barrel-maker R. A. Hoyt, an action overhaul, aligning and reaming the chambers dead center and cutting a new 11 degree forcing cone.
Tom also offers a semi-accurized revolver, which gets the same treatment as a standard Ball six-gun but retains its original barrel. This may well be a better choice for the shooter who wishes to use his six-gun in the field for small game hunting, as the factory 1:36 twist handles heavier loads better than the faster target twist found on the replacement barrels.
In addition to his well-known revolver work, Tom is also offering an accurized reproduction Smith carbine. Ball Smiths are based on new Pietta guns with a Hoyt 1:56 twist barrel liner installed, in either three or six- groove configurations, according to customer preference. Tom also reworks and smoothes the Pietta carbine actions and precisely re-fits breeches and butt- stocks. These modified guns are capable of firing 1 ½ inch groups at 50 yards. A Ball Smith will set you back $825. An accurizing job on your own reproduction Smith is $325 plus the cost of any new parts needed.
As my co-columnist Tom Kelley noted last month, Tom Ball is also selling a line of bullets. Along with a good selection of slugs for Cowboy Action shooters, including .32-20, .38 Special, .38-40, 44-40, .45 Colt and .45-70, all lubricated with SPG for loading with black or smokeless powders, Tom offers a .50 carbine slug for Smith and Maynard carbines.
New to the Ball bullet line this year is a minie ball for .58 caliber rifles and rifle-muskets. The Ball minie shares characteristics of the old "ashcan" slug, with its long bearing surface, and the truncated cone nose of the semi-wadcutter minie. It weighs 450 grains and is cast in .578 diameter, which makes it usable in .580 bored guns as cast, and yet easily sized to fit .577 guns.
The "Jaeger," German for hunter, was the standard issue arm in Hapsburg rifle battalions, which were units designed for skirmishing and sharpshooting duties. The Jaeger had a different configuration than the Lorenz, and featured a 28-inch octagonal barrel, turned round at the muzzle and held in the stock by a barrel wedge rather than bands.
Some Jaegers issued to elite sharpshooters, who we would call snipers today, were made with a tige in the breech. The tige, first used in the French Carabine a Tige, was a post projecting out of the face of the breechplug into the barrel. The French used the tige to support a bullet, which, when thumped a couple of times with a heavy ramrod, would "upset" to fit the rifling on the way out. The purpose of the tige in the Jaeger was apparently to assure that the Wilkinson style solid bullet used by the Austrians did not crush the powder grains when rammed home, thus, presumably, providing greater accuracy.
A fair number of Jaegers were purchased by the Union, and a few by the Confederacy. As issued by the Austrians, the Jaeger did not have a ramrod channel. Hapsburg riflemen carried their ramrods attached to a cross belt, probably to facilitate faster reloading. Before issue on this side of the Atlantic, however, ramrod channels were milled into the Jaeger stocks.
All in all, the Jaeger is a very interesting gun, with several modern uses. Not only would one of these Austrian sharpshooter weapons stand out at a living history presentation, but it would also make an excellent deer rifle.
I would again like to thank the N-SSA's Bill Adams for providing me with details of the history of Austrian arms in Union and Confederate service.
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