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My most recent, and spectacular, experiences with a cartridge design adapted to muzzleloading was with the Traditions 1873 revolver that is manufactured in Italy and stamped “ASM” on the barrel. This gun looks like the Colt Peacemaker down to even having a cartridge ejecting rod. I used it in conjunction with a seven-part series of videos on the “Modern Percussion Revolver,” and had both double and triple fires where two chambers fired at once (one event) and three fired at once (two events). This video is available at: http://youtu.be/FSWL6tCXDrU.
This gun was shot with 30-grain loads of FFFg black powder and Pyrodex Pistol Pellets that were within the range of loads recommended by the manufacturer. The cylinder was being slammed back into the fixed recoil shield with sufficient force to detonate one or more caps in addition to the one fired by the hammer. Examination revealed that the cylinder could freely move to the rear under finger pressure against the resistance of the hand’s spring . This was no problem with this design when used with cartridges like the .45 Long Colt and .44-40 Winchester, but became serious indeed when a muzzleloading cylinder was basically dropped into the same frame.
I had successfully used this Traditions 1873 before with different loads, and I will do another blog post on it for those who might own this revolver. It may be possible to still shoot this gun if the loads are kept to lower pressures, other caps are used, the nipples modified, frame shimmed, etc. to make it a fun to shoot black-powder revolver – so long as top-level loads are avoided.
I gave the gun a good try with a reduced load and series of blanks. Multi-fires were eliminated by using 20 grains of FFg and a round ball, but the small clearance between the cylinder and back plate tied up the gun with the blank loads AND the hammer took two impacts to fire the caps. I gave up on this gun and don’t plan on shooting it again. It is a poor retro adaptation of a cartridge-gun design with too much wrong with it to solve outside of replacing major components. The video footgage may be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GTnNLaE2kU if you cannot view it below. Many products shown in these videos and photos were provided by the manufacturers.
The 1873 Black Powder was made to be an inexpensive-to-shoot cowboy-action pistol that in muzzleloading versions might be owned with much less trouble than its cartridge-gun look-alike in some cities and states. It was not intended to be used at maximum permissible operating pressures, but to shoot low-pressure black-powder loads at less cost than purchasing increasingly expensive cartridges. This rational was different from that of most other companies who converted cartridge guns into muzzleloaders.
Often the reasons for retrofitting an existing cartridge gun design was to adapt an existing design to make sales in a new market. If you are a gun making company and witnessing a rise in popularity of muzzleloading guns, it is understandable that you might want to participate in a growing market as inexpensively as possible by converting one of your existing guns into a muzzleloading design. This approach was tried by Remington, Ruger, Savage and Mossberg. The first three companies put muzzleloading barrels on their rifle actions and Mossberg makes a muzzleloading barrel for its popular Model 500 12-gauge shotgun.
These were all mechanically successful. The Remington was wonderfully accurate, the Savage Model 10 ML could even be used with some loads of smokeless powders and the Mossberg provided a one-gun platform that could be shotgun, slug gun or muzzleloading rifle. The user who already owned and shot Remington rifles could get another one that operated just like the guns had, was well supported with a line of Remington-branded components, domestically made, easily to have worked on and received exposure through a high-quality marketing campaign.
Why aren’t these guns still being made?
The bolt or pump-action operating mechanisms are not necessary in muzzleloading guns because all pressures are contained in the barrel by the breech plug. Competing designs that were not bolt-action could be lighter weight, have longer barrels and most importantly for the consumer, were a damn sight easier to clean. The Remington bolt mechanism was an SOB to take apart and put back together after each shooting. Although the rifles were tack-drivers and their bullets were effective, competing designs were much more user-friendly. Of the bolt-action cartridge designs, the Savage was the easiest to dissemble and clean.
Austin & Halleck used a new bolt-action for their muzzleloaders that easy to take apart. These guns had problems with weakening springs, reliability and packaging. I lost a shot at a swan with the shotgun version, and I gave up on the rifle during a South Dakota buffalo hunt after weakened springs and a too-short firing pin fail to pop the 209 primer. I still shoot the A&Hs, but I have strengthened the springs and now know how to better adjust the firing pin strikes. The guns were shipped in a lightweight plastic case. One that I received had a very high quality maple stock gouged and even had a hunk broken off of the pistol grip which was a result of being battered by a loose solid steel disassembly rod.
Sometimes retrofitting modern technology does O.K.; but most often the more pure older, and simpler, designs are better. One of the more outlandish recent examples is a crossbow front end for the AR 15 platform introduced two years ago by PSE. The crossbow is very powerful, it works, takes specialized arrows and you can purchase a new crossbow for the same price as this crossbow front-end assembly. Nevertheless, if you really like your AR’s and you want to shoot arrows …..
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One thought on “Making Muzzleloaders from Cartridge Gun Designs: Not as simple as one might think.”
What a great blog post. I appreciate your meaningful and interesting feedback. I am very surprised that more people do not debate this topic more often.