Revolvers & Flintlocks

by Joseph G. Bilby

Greg Edington, who single handedly restored the Wilkinson style bullet to modern muzzle loading use, has, over the past year, developed a series of variations on that theme. Pictured along with this article are his current offerings and experimental bullets; (left to right) the 510 grain .45 caliber Krupp/Wilkinson slug intended for Parker Hale “Volunteer” and Whitworth rifles and other 1860s era “small bore” target and military guns, the 545 grain .58 caliber “N-SSA Improved Wilkinson” bullet, the 450 grain .54 caliber Mk II Wilkinson, the 450 grain .58 caliber Mk II Improved Picket, and a 176 grain .45 caliber full wadcutter Wilkinson style test bullet for .44 caliber revolvers.

Since this picture was taken, the revolver bullet, which resembles the old .45-70 “collar button” slug, has evolved into a 230-grain semiwadcutter with a small hollow base. According to Greg, the bullet looks quite promising in “as issued”.44 caliber reproduction revolvers without forcing cone or chamber reworking. Tentative test results indicate that it also works well in Henry rifles chambered for the .45 Colt and, presumably, .45 Colt revolver loads for Cowboy Action Shooting as well. I have ordered one of Greg’s experimental run of molds and will give the new bullet a thorough test. For more information on Greg’s molds, contact him by email at (Greg Edington) or via snail mail at 3165 Maplewood Avenue, Springfield, OH 45505-1511

Speaking of revolvers, one can never tell where in the world a Civil War cap and ball handgun will show up. Accompanying this article is a photograph of a Remington sixgun that turned up in an antique shop in Budapest, Hungary a few months ago. The Remington is now safely in the hands of Hungarian black powder firearms enthusiast Balasz Nemeth, who intends to restore it to shooting shape. If only old guns could talk, what a tale this one might tell of faraway wars and lost empires!

I had the recent good fortune to correspond with David Harding, author of a wonderful series of books on the arms of the British East India Company. I consider Mr. Harding, a former Gurkha officer, the world’s leading scholar on 18th and 19th British army muzzle loading small arms and their capabilities.

Harding was emphatic in his belief that 19th century black powders, including military powder, were superior to those available today. As evidence of this, he offers the fact that recorded velocities with the standard Enfield load of 2.5 drams, or 68 grains of musket powder behind a 530 grain bullet produced a muzzle velocity of 1250 feet per second, as measured with an electronic chronograph in the 1860s. Harding’s attempts to replicate these ballistics with modern powder required a much heavier charge.

Much of Harding’s excellent work deals with the Brunswick two groove rifle in East India Company service, but he also provides a good deal of information on its predecessor, the Baker rifle. Designed by Ezekial Baker in 1800 to answer the need for a rifle for skirmishing duties in the British army, the Baker became a legend in its own time. The legend was revived in recent years in the noted PBS series “Sharpes’ Rifles” based on the series of novels by Bernard Cornwell.

Although I have found provenance for the purchase of Brunswick rifles by American Civil War arms purchasers abroad, I have yet to discover firm evidence of any Bakers, even converted from flintlock to percussion ignition, being imported to arm either side during the conflict. If any indeed saw issuance or action it would have to be in the far west, as the Mexican Army issued the Baker to its rifle battalions during both the 1836 Texas War for Independence and the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War. Bakers no doubt found their way up into Texas, where some may have seen use for years following those conflicts. On an outside shot the N-SSA Small Arms Committee would never accept, I’m going to take the plunge and say that a Baker or two may have seen Civil War use somewhere. Although I can’t prove it, that supposition gives me an excuse to write about a wonderful new Baker reproduction in these pages. The Rifle Shoppe (18420 East Hefner Road, Jones, OK 73049, click here or email: produces that reproduction on a semi-custom basis.

The Rifle Shoppe is no stranger to these pages, as I have noted the superior quality of their reproduction parts for recreating and restoring a myriad of different guns, including almost every model and variation of English, Prussian, French, Austrian and American matchlock, snaphaunce, doglock, Miquelet and flintlock ignition arms. Rifle Shoppe parts are also available for “modern” guns like the P53 Enfield and 1854 Lorenz rifle muskets.

With its new series of quality semi-custom reproductions of noted flintlock military arms, including the Baker and the US Model 1803 and 1817 rifles, The Rifle Shoppe has expanded its offerings beyond the exotic parts business, with outstanding results. Simply put, the Baker is a helluva rifle. I brought my test sample (now sadly returned to Oklahoma) out to the range one day for an extended informal endurance testing session. Three shooters fired the Baker and we went through 50 rounds without cleaning the gun. Ignition was flawless until the original flint broke at round number 40. I did not remove the flint from the jaws of the cock, but performed a crude re-knapping job that got the Baker firing again in short order. We started out using .620 balls and .010 Ox Yoke prelubricated patches and, as fouling built up, simply reduced ball size to .610 and then .600. Passing the gun off from hand to hand, firing offhand, we achieved consistent hits on targets ranging from clay birds to gallon jugs on the 50-yard berm. I have never fired a flintlock gun with as fast, reliable and well tuned a lock as the one on the Rifle Shoppe Baker. It easily passed the upside down firing test and, aside from the broken flint, never misfired. Ignition was close to instantaneous. All in all, a target shooter or hunter looking for a sturdy traditional style military flintlock rifle could do no better than a Rifle Shoppe Baker rifle, a real bargain at the price of $1495.

© 2001 by Joe Bilby

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index