A Sad Report, & New Guns and Loads

Unfortunately, I must begin this month's column on a very sad note, taking a moment to reflect on the untimely death, in an automobile accident, of gunsmith Tom Ball, whose expertise in "accurizing" the cap and ball revolver was legendary. Although I met Tom in person but twice a year, at the North-South Skirmish Association Nationals, I felt as if I had known him all my life. Tom was intelligent, articulate, personable, and funny, as well as an outstanding craftsman. In short, he was irreplaceable. He will be sorely missed.

On a brighter note, the N-SSA 100th National Skirmish was, quite literally, a blast, with night artillery firing, brass bands, a Grand Review, and plenty of Civil War small arms, mortar and cannon shooting. The National also provided an opportunity for me to handle the Pedersoli Wuerttemburgisch Model 1857 rifle musket I wrote of in my October column. The gun was on display at the Dixie Gun Works booth on Sutler's Row. It is, indeed, a beautifully crafted firearm, with significant heft. This musket holds as steady as any gun I have ever shouldered.

Although I expressed doubt in my previous column that the Wuerttemburg rifle musket as currently manufactured will be approved for N-SSA use, Dixie Gun Works is submitting the gun to the organization's Small Arms Committee for approval. Dixie is basing its submission on information that a small number of the guns may have been sold to the Union in their original configuration, which, if correct, is sufficient for approval. The board will inspect and review the Wuerttemburg in January and I will advise you of the results as soon as I am aware of them. Approval or not, Dixie took a number of orders for these first class rifle muskets, which sell for $950, before the weekend was over.

Dixie's Butch Winter also advised me that another new gun would soon be available to the shooting public. The first shipment of the Czech made reproduction of the Austrian Model 1854 Jaeger rifle, or "Jaegerstutzen," the Austrian sharpshooter's weapon imported to this country during the early Civil War years, was, as of the N-SSA Fall National, in customs and on its way to Dixie warehouse. It will sell for $750.

Several months ago I reported on Hodgdon's new Pyrodex(r) pellets for revolvers. Each pellet is equal in propellant power to 30 grains of FFFG black powder. Although currently not authorized for use in N-SSA competition, the pellets were quick and easy to load and produced excellent accuracy in my Tom Ball accurized Navy Arms Remington revolver.

Although the pistol pellets were a new product, Hodgdon has been producing Pyrodex pellets equivalent to 50 grains of FFG black powder for use in in-line muzzle loading hunting rifles for some time. After my revolver experiments, it occurred to me that both revolver and rifle pellets might have useful applications for other Civil War era arms.

On one front, at least, Hodgdon beat me to it. The company sent me a loading chart for Pyrodex pellet use in .44-40, .45 Colt and .45-70 cartridges. One pistol pellet, used without a wad in a .44-40 case, produced a muzzle velocity of 943 feet per second (fps) with a 200 grain bullet. One 50-grain equivalent pellet loaded behind a 405-grain bullet in a .45-70 gave a muzzle velocity of 989 fps. Of course, lubricated lead bullets, rather than modern jacketed bullets, must be used with all Pyrodex or black powder loads.

It also crossed my mind that Pyrodex pellets may be useful in creating loads for some capping breechloaders, like the Maynard and Smith, for casual target shooting and hunting, although they would be prohibited in N-SSA competition. I realized, of course, that the pellets ignite best in a straight-line ignition system, like the new style hunting muzzleloaders or a revolver. Pellet use in some of the Civil War era percussion breechloaders, like the Sharps, with its tortuous channel between nipple and chamber, might well be problematic, at best, but the subject seemed an interesting area for experimentation.

One carbine I never would have thought of for experimentation with pellets was the Merrill. I have been fortunate enough to correspond with Steve Platteter of Wisconsin, who has dabbled in the dark arts of Merrill shooting, however. Steve initially glued his bullets to the Pyrodex Pellets and, when he had ignition difficulties, loaded them into cigarette paper cartridges with 10-grain FFFG priming charges, which solved the problem. He reported that, although these cartridges took longer to make than regular black powder cartridges, they were stiffer and held up better in his cartridge box. Lack of cartridge box durability was a major complaint about original Maynard ammunition.

On a subsequent trip to the range, Steve fired a number of rounds from his Merrill by merely inserting a bullet in the breech, followed by a 30 or 50 grain Pyrodex Pellet. He reported that these impromptu rounds "fired fine." Although he used no priming charge, Steve was using the new CCI musket caps, which might have made the difference. These new musket caps were designed for use with in-line muzzle loading rifles and Pyrodex pellets, and are, as a consequence, "hotter."

Steve's experiments continue, and I hope to be able to report in the near future on my own tests of Pyrodex pellets in the Maynard and Smith carbines as well as the Henry cartridge rifle. 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.

Thanks to the hunting scene, hotter percussion caps are all the rage these days, and Remington, the only 19th century American maker still producing percussion caps, is offering a new hotter cap in #10 and #11 sizes. Those of you who recall my test of the Romano First Model Maynard recall that while other brands of caps stuck on the nipple after firing, Remington caps split perfectly and were easily removed. The Remington caps I used in that test had been laying around in my gun room for ten or more years, and the new hotter Remingtons I recently purchased had a different look to them, but performed just as well at the range.

Switching from modern powders and caps for a moment, I'd like to advise you flintlock shooters out there of an interesting offer. The Muzzle Loaders' Association of Great Britain magazine Black Powder features an advertisement for some interesting gun flints. The flints have been recovered from the British East India Company ship Earl of Abergavenny, which sank in 1805. An English correspondent of mine sent me two fine looking samples of black English musket flints recovered from the wreck of the Earl.

The Chelmsford Underwater Archaeology Unit (C.U.A.U.) offers these flints for sale for the reasonable price of 20 pounds per hundred (checks made out to C.U.A.U.), including shipping and handling within the United Kingdom. Contact C.U.A.U. for shipping and handling rates for orders from outside the UK. Orders and inquires should be directed to Ed Cummings, Malthouse Two, 9 Newtons Road, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8US.

(c) 1999 by Joe Bilby

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index