An unquestioned “hit” at Range Day of the 2012 Shot Show was a chance for us gun writers to shoot a replica of Colt’s 1877 Bulldog Gatling gun in .45-70. This gun already had a bit of history by the time it appeared on the range. It was made, along with the two-barreled Gardner Gun, by U.S. Armament Co. of Ephrata, Pennsylvania. This company produces Navy Arms’ Springfield .30-’06 bolt-action rifles and both rapid-fire guns appeared at the Navy Arms’ booth last year.
Colt liked the gun so much that they apparently gave U.S. Armament a better offer and became the distributor of the gun. Although they originally made this pattern, all of the machinery was either redirected and/or scrapped 50 or more years ago as the company tooled up for two World Wars. These Gatlings were made in various sizes including some huge ones mounted on battleships. In the days before the Browning machine guns, these Gatlings were the preferred guns for defending fortifications and ships against men and small boats.
The guns were always heavy and cumbersome, which is the reason that Custer left his behind while he raced for what he was sure would be a quick victory against the Sioux at the Little Big Horn. Even though this is among the smallest, if not the smallest, of the commercial Gatlings, it is certainly not a light-weight gun. This model was fed by a vertical magazine that was quickly charged using wooden loading blocks filed with 20 rounds of .45-70s. Each writer had a chance to crank these 20 rounds downrange. The heavy gun showed no indications of recoil and remained absolutely stable when it was fired. The five barrels spit out lead all day, practically non-stop. If there were any malfunctions, I did not hear about them.
One advantage of the Gatling mechanism is that each barrel’s firing mechanism is independent. Should one barrel fail to function the gun is not disabled. The unfired round is chambered and then ejected along with the empties from the other barrels. This was a very practical consideration in the early days of metallic cartridges.
Shooting the gun was done by rotating the crank which functioned very smoothly. My complements to the people who did the machining on this gun. Combining brass and steel components, as done here, is a challenge. I cannot say anything about accuracy, except that all of the bullets plowed up dust on the backstop. I, and the other writers, enjoyed and appreciated this opportunity to actually shoot “a bit of history.” Most of us had done military time and shot the Browing machine guns, M 60s and later models introduced into the U.S. service. Although I have no great need to do that again, cranking off 20 rounds with this Gatling gun was something special.
You can hear about my experiences and the gun being shot on the January 30, 2012, edition of “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures.” To get to the show quickly, go to my website, www.hoveysmith.com and click on the live link to the show immediately below the banner. This is an archived show. Scroll down on the WebTalkRadio.net show page and you will find it. As the show starts you will hear the steady rap-rap-rap of the gun as I shoot it.
The word at the Shot Show was that some 40-odd of these Gatlings were made, and their current price was about $40,000 each. These are attractive and demonstrably well-made guns. As these are mechanically operated, they are legal for U.S. citizens to own; should you have any unquenched desires in this direction. I don’t know about the fate of the two-barreled Gardner gun. Last year the Navy Arms rep said that it had a selling price of about $26,000. I did not see it at this year’s show, so the manufacturer may still be looking for a sales outlet. It was also chambered for the .45-70 cartridge. The Gardner was used, I have read, in the Spanish-American war. Although the .30-40 Krag had been introduced, many U.S. troops were still using the Allen-action single-shot Springfields in Cuba and elsewhere. The Cuban Gardners might have been chambered for either cartridge, but I would suspect that they were most likely .45s. This use was among the first tactical use of machine guns by small units of U.S. forces in a ground action. Previously, the guns were mostly considered for defending fixed positions.
The Gatling design resurfaced in modern times as a rapid fire, link-fed air-craft and surface machine gun which can sustain a more rapid rate of fire for longer periods than any single-barrel design.