Whitworths, Revolver Loads and Another Goofy Law

Last year Larry Romano of Romano Rifle Company (551 Stewart's Corners Road, Pennellville, NY 13132. Tel: 315-695-2066), manufactured a limited run of .45 caliber hexagonal bullet molds for the Parker Hale Whitworth rifle. The molds were a big success within the growing Whitworth cult, and one shooter reported firing a 3-inch bench rest group at 200 yards with bullets from the Romano mold. Larry sold out his stock of molds in short order and had no plans to run another batch for some time. He is, however, giving in to popular demand and producing another run. If you're in the market for a Whitworth mold, give him a call.
During the Civil War, most revolver ammunition was issued in combustible cartridge form. To load his revolver, a soldier would insert a cartridge in each chamber of his six-gun's cylinder, ram it home and then cap the gun's nipples. With a little effort, today's shooter can produce acceptable combustible cartridges with nitrated paper, a formed dowel and a glue stick. I have crafted such cartridges and, although time consuming to make, they work well.

Prepared cartridges definitely speed up the loading process, and another, easier to put together, if not really authentic, cartridge can be made with a plastic tube which holds powder charge, ball and a wad. The tube, of course, doesn't get inserted into the gun, serving merely as a container for the components. Possible powder spillage is a drawback, however.

A new product, Hodgdon Pyrodex Pistol Pellets, which should be on the market as this column goes to press, promises to make revolver shooting less messy, faster and much more consistent. Although I experimented with Pyrodex, a black powder substitute, when it was introduced a number of years ago, I remain, for the most part, a traditional black powder shooter. Pyrodex, which does provide the flash and smoke of black powder, has been considerably improved since it was introduced over 20 years ago, however. The propellant fills a real need in areas where black powder availability is limited (I've even seen it for sale in a WalMart.), and gives muzzle loading and black powder cartridge shooters everywhere another option when working up a load. It is also a safer product to handle and store than black powder.

The rising popularity of "in-line" muzzle loading rifles among hunters in recent years has given rise to pre-measured pelletized Pyrodex, which is easy to load and readily ignited by in-line ignition. A percussion revolver is an in-line system as well, and it makes sense that the concept would work in a six-gun as well.

Pyrodex pistol pellets will be offered for .44/45 caliber handguns in a pellet equivalent to 30 grains volume of FFFG black powder. To load, simply drop a pellet in each chamber, insert a ball, ram, and cap. Unfortunately, Hodgdon does not recommend the use of pistol pellets with blank charges. It should be noted that Pyrodex is, as of this date, not approved for N-SSA competition use.

For further information, including a free Pyrodex manual, write to Hodgdon Powder Company, PO Box 2932, Shawnee Mission KS, 66201 (913-362-9455) www.pyrodex.com.

Another gun law boondoggle concerning reenactors and N-SSA shooters is in the news. In 1998, the state of Massachusetts amended the state's gun control law by mandating that "firearms" (any kind of handgun and blunderbusses) could not be sold without trigger locks and that they, shotguns and rifles must be locked while in storage. The amendment did not, as did previous legislation, exempt antiques and reproductions of antiques. The end result was to prohibit the sale of original and reproduction handguns, since there are no trigger locks designed to fit them, and subject reenactors to possible arrest for "storing" their muskets by stacking them in the field without trigger locks.

In order to celebrate their "feel good" law (which will obviously only be obeyed by responsible people anyway), the Massachusetts legislators, in "the spirit of the new gun law" clamped a shiny new trigger lock on Captain John Parker's flintlock musket, which hangs in the State Senate chamber.

In 1775, Parker commanded the minutemen who assembled on Lexington Green to block the British advance on Concord. That morning, the "shot heard round the world," commenced the American Revolution. It is interesting to speculate on what would have happened if the minutemen's muskets had trigger locks - "John, here come the Brits, where the hell's my key? No, it's not that one, try another! Oops!"

Unintended irony aside, the law precipitated a potential disaster for the spring commemoration of the Lexington and Concord fights, as well as the much ballyhooed 225th anniversary "Battle Road" celebration in 2000. Out-of-state reenactors quickly announced that they would not attend any reenactments in Massachusetts unless the legislation was modified, and Revolutionary and Civil War reenactors visited the legislature to lobby for a change in the law.

As the press became aware of the possible fall out, legislators quickly turned 180 degrees and called for the amending of their own amendment. State Senator Susan Fargo, a Democrat, is quoted as posing the obvious question: "How can you do a re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington Green if you have broomsticks?"

As of this writing, it appears that the problem has been remedied legislatively, but it provides an excellent example of the law of unintended consequences. All proposed firearms legislation should be carefully monitored by both reenactors and black powder shooters, as lawmakers, often stumbling over each other to demonstrate to the public that they "care," often overlook our interests.

1999 by Joe Bilby

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index