Category Archives: Surplus Classic And Tactical Firearms

In The Beginning…

There Was The Smith & Wesson
Model 1 in .22 Short.

In 1857, in a livery stable on Market Street in Springfield, Mass., Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson assembled a crew of 25 workmen and began producing the first (or at least the first of any note) metallic cartridge revolver. The concept rested upon the ownership of the Rollin White patent and a monopoly on the through-bored revolver cylinder and the rimfire cartridge developed for parlor shooting in Europe in the previous decade.

The Flobert pistols and rifles were quite popular then and have remained in production through modern times. The 6mm BB (bulleted breech) cap via Messrs. Smith & Wesson was given a longer case as well as a conical bullet to replace the roundball, becoming the Smith & Wesson Number 1 Cartridge—the black powder loaded .22 Short. The revolver itself became known as the Model 1 and it went through three variations between 1857 and 1881.

The immediate acceptance of the Model 1 and the subsequent Models 1-1/2 and 2 revolvers in .32 rimfire are a testament to the alacrity the public displayed in abandoning front-loading sidearms with their loose powder and ball or flimsy envelope cartridges. The arms were puny in the extreme. Almost 12,000 of the Mod. 1, 1st Issue were produced between 1857 and 1860. Collectors find a tedious number of sub-variations but the basic model was about 6-1/2 inches long with a barrel slightly over 3 inches and weighing almost nothing.

The second variation totaling 117,000 revolvers from 1860 to 1868 retained the brass frame, though it was now flat-sided rather than rounded and the sideplate was much larger. Sales began to taper off with the end of the Civil War, but the significantly improved 3rd variation picked up in 1868 and remained in production until 1881. A bird’s-head grip replaced the original square-butt profile, the frame was now made of cast iron and the cylinder was now fluted. Serial number ranged from 1 through 131,163 with at least one source estimating the yearly production as 10,000 units.

After 1872, when the Rollin White patent expired along its protections, the Model 1 picked up several imitators (Marlin being one prominent example). This first Smith & Wesson revolver pioneered some enduring features. The hammer stirrup/hammer/mainspring configuration resembles the set-up continuing to the present. The mainspring is tensioned by a strain screw placed through the lower front of the grip frame—a design which never required much updating.


Called “tip-up” or bottom break (above), these revolvers were strong enough for the .22 and
.32 rimfire cartridges, but it would not do to put one in your back pocket and sit on it.
The top of the hammer nose (below) impinges on this spring-loaded bolt stop and releases
the cylinder for rotation when the hammer cocked. At full cock, the bolt stop re-engages
the cylinder notch and locks the chamber in line with the barrel. The rear sight notch
is small but usable and the sights on this example were “well regulated.”




The Model 1 has a spring-loaded latch at the bottom front of the frame releasing the barrel to be tipped upward for loading. The press-fitted pin under the barrel serves as the ejector. The cylinder is removed for charging, then replaced and the barrel returned to battery. The cylinder has seven chambers and no safety whatsoever. The only safe carry option is six beans in the wheel and hammer down on the empty. This may or may not have been the prevailing practice, as Mark Twain compared the projectiles to homeopathic pills and posited all seven as the recommended adult dose. Of possible significance is the observation that the chambers on my example are tighter than on my K-22 revolver and the barrel is enough smaller that a cleaning loop fitting modern .22 barrels will not enter.

Our revolver is a Model 3, serially numbered in the 29,000 range. Best guess is that it comes from 1870-’71 period. It is perfectly timed with tight lock-up and a small barrel-cylinder gap with no end float. The chambers appear to align perfectly with the barrel. It may have been fired before I got it but if so, somebody took the unusual step of cleaning it properly. The bore, chambers and internals appear pristine. The trigger pull is nice and the rear sight—a small notch in the cylinder stop—is serviceable for those with good eyes.

Most data regarding the shootability of the Model 1 comes from Mark Twain who dedicated a significant portion of the second chapter in his book Roughing It to making fun of the weapons (and passengers) on his Nevada-bound stagecoach. One traveler had an Ethan Allen Pepperbox that either fired not at all or went off with a “rattling crash,” deploying all barrels and destroying everything in its path—including the “nigh mule of a farmer’s hitch.” One worthy carried his Colt revolver uncapped because he was afraid of it.

Twain loved his S&W Model 1 but declared you couldn’t hit anything with it including the cow he claimed they had chosen as a target. The jackrabbit he shot at departed at high speed and, “long after it was out of sight, you could still hear it whizzzz.” One modern-day gun board contributor said his shot about 7 feet high at “combat” distances.


Out to 10 yards, the Smith proved much easier to hit with than history records.


Compared to the North American Arms .22 WMR the S&W is very similar in size,
but the NAA is much more powerful.

Myth Busting

It’s not a myth—use of modern .22 Short ammunition is not a good idea. Some people do it and nobody admits to damaging one of these revolvers. Still, the thin cylinder walls and the thinner, iron rear aspect of the barrel, coupled with the narrower bore dimensions mentioned above, militate against it. It was even a bit spooky when I clocked some CCI Mini-caps. They averaged 576 fps (about what they do from a modern revolver with 6-inch barrel).

Legend states the original .22 Short cartridge was loaded with 4 grains of black powder. This is now a much repeated and indelible cultural artifact. The expert opinion is bereft of observation but delivered with resounding authority. It is possible to pack 2.9 grains of 3Fg or 4Fg black powder into a Short case but then there is no room for a bullet. The 100 percent density load is 2.3 grains of either granulation under the heel of the 29-grain bullet. Loaded with a generic sort of 4Fg prime, my loads were loping along in the 300 fps range. High energy Swiss 3Fg upped the average to 443 fps while the traditional and probably guessed-at velocity is given as “circa 500 fps.” I got pretty good at the black powder conversions but there is room to hope the original Shorts were a bit better than my “reloads.”

Cheerfully, it develops that Mr. Twain went a bit overboard in his critique of the Model 1’s potential accuracy. Shooting the CCI Mini-caps, I got a pretty decent group shooting at 3, 5, 7, 10 and 15 yards. The black powder loads were just as good. I extended the range to 20 yards on a freshly painted 15×18-inch steel target, again keeping all shots somewhere on the target. I delivered my shots 1-handed just as somebody clutching a bank bag or a fist full of Crédit Mobilier stock certificates might have done.


The lock work is very simple. The hammer strut, mainspring, mainspring seat and strain
screw configurations stayed with the Smith revolvers into the 21st century.


There were several grip options including mother of pearl and ivory. These are rosewood
and like most examples, they are in very good shape. They had good varnish back then.
Metal finishes included silver plate over brass on the first variation, nickel, blue
or 2-tone on the later two.

For Science!

Shooting collectible antiques and reloading modern rimfire cartridges with black powder present certain hazards to the gun and the shooter as well, so I am not going to recommend them or describe the fairly obvious and tedious steps. The process was interesting and hopefully somewhat informative, being presented in the spirit of helpfulness and good will!
By Mike Cumpston

Model 1 3rd Issue
Maker: Smith & Wesson
Action type: Single-action, tip-up
Caliber: .22 Short
Capacity: 7
Barrel length: 3-3/16 inch
Overall length: 7.5 inches
Weight: 15 ounces
Finish: Nickel
Sights: Half moon front, rear notch on frame latch
Grips: Varnished rosewood
Price: $600 (35th Edition of Blue Book of Gun Values, by S.P. Fjestad)

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Guns With Character

A Savage 99 .32-40 Shows The Influence
Of A Knowledgeable Owner.

Walking down rows of black, synthetic stocked rifles, I am reminded of how much I enjoy discovering and working with used guns exhibiting some definite character, reflecting the personality, style and lives of the owners they’ve had. Character could be anything adding interest to the piece and is a departure from the original factory condition of the gun. It could even be a beaten up, rusty old relic with a story or maybe without a story, just a gun simply used up over decades of hard service—making you wonder where it’s been and what it’s done.

I recently came across such a character in Murphy’s Gun Shop in Tucson, Ariz. It had been hanging on the shop wall for years and years, and Mr. Murphy decided one day to replace it with another character and put it out for sale on the used gun rack.

I admit to being viscerally attracted to Savage Model 99’s. Here was a character from another era—a 1911-vintage Model 99-C with a beautifully blued, 26-inch half-octagon barrel in .32-40 and a nicely varnished, straight-grip, perch belly stock with a steel shotgun buttplate.

Having survived 104 years in that condition spoke pages about its previous owner(s). Whoever owned it, cherished it, maintained it and passed it on in immaculate condition, and the more I studied the old Model 99-C, the more it spoke about its previous owner.

He was definitely an accomplished rifleman who insisted on the very best sights of the day. The factory, Rocky Mountain rear sight had been removed, and the sight dovetail neatly filled in with a slot blank. Replacing that simple, single leaf factory sight was an early, Lyman Model 29-1/2 windage adjustable tang sight. Most commonly found tang sights are adjustable for elevation only. Windage adjustments in those simpler models were made by drifting the front sight or shimming the tang sight base. Not the Model 29-1/2. It featured a dovetailed sliding base, calibrated like a micrometer and adjusted by means of a captive screw. It was truly a target-quality hunting sight, installed to bring out the very best the Model 99-C and the .32-40 cartridge had to offer.

The front sight selected by the past owner is as sophisticated and unique as the Lyman combination tang sight. Called the “Improved Sight” by the Marble Arms & Mfg. Co., it features an ivory or gold bead atop an open circle of steel. In Marble’s words, “This sight enables one to make accurate shots at any range without stopping to adjust the rear sight. On a range somewhat longer than the gun is sighted for, one can see the object aimed at, under the center of the bead as well as over. It is an exceptionally valuable sight for running shots and is used for shooting at objects in the air by the most famous professional riflemen.” Marble’s “Improved Sight” works. It’s a uniquely precise sight for holding the bead over the target without obscuring the target. It’s another one of those touches telling us something about the marksmanship of the owner and adds to the character of the rifle.


Every once in awhile you find a gun exuding the personality of a former owner.
Holt feels this Savage 99-C is just such a gun.


The use of the micrometer adjustable, Lyman 29-1/2 tang sight (above) in
conjunction with Marble’s unique “Improved” front sight (below) indicates
the owner was a precision rifleman.



Mounting a military, handguard, swivel band and then hand filing it to match
the octagonal barrel flats sets this character apart from the herd.


A mild cartridge, the .32-40 made its reputation on the target range.

Respectful Alterations

The early Model 99’s made no provision for sling swivels. Our owner was obviously a hunter, and he wanted to be able to sling his rifle. His solution, or possibly his gunsmith’s solution, was utterly unique.

The original fore-end tip was shaped as a Schnabel. Either the fore-end tip had been completely reshaped or the Model 99-C fore-end was replaced with a one resembling the Model 99-H carbine. What is utterly unique is the barrel band. Desiring a forward sling swivel, the owner or gunsmith found a used, US military, front barrel band with sling swivel (probably from a Krag). The band is clearly marked with the US lazy “U”, indicating that the band should be mounted with the open end of the “U” facing the muzzle.

What comes next just blew me away.

The rounded surface of the milled band has been hand filed to match the octagonal flats of the barrel! Whoever did it was a real craftsman with an eye for aesthetics. It’s touches like those hand filed flats that give this Savage character and speak well for the high standards of the gun’s owner.

Choice of caliber also tells us something about the owner. During the year of purchase, the Model 99-C could have been bought in .25-35, .303 Savage, .30-30, .32-40 and .38-55 calibers. The owner selected the .32-40.

The .32-40, originally called the .32-40 Marlin-Ballard, gained its reputation as a black powder, match cartridge. The standard load was a 165-grain paper patched, lead bullet, propelled by 40 grains of Fg for a velocity of 1,427 fps. It was a very mild cartridge to shoot and very accurate, even in lever actions. By 1911, when the Savage was purchased, smokeless .32-40 loads were hovering between 1,700 and 2,000 fps and pressures had soared from 17,000 psi to 36,000 psi, much too high for the older single-shot Schuetzen actions. The high-velocity loads were subsequently discontinued, and the last runs of commercial .32-40 ammunition were tamped down to 1,440 fps.

In 1911 would the average deer/bear hunter have selected the mild .32-40 over the .303 Savage, .30-30 or .38-55? I don’t think so. My hunch is the original owner was an accomplished veteran target shooter who probably participated in the offhand Schuetzen matches of the day with a fine single-shot match rifle. The installation of the micrometer tang sight and the Marbles “Improved” front sight indicate it, and the choice of the most famous target cartridge in the Savage line-up implies it as well.


Holt found cast bullet loads (above) as accurate as jacketed ammunition. The jacketed round
is one of the Winchester John Wayne Commemorative rounds. One pass through a sizing die
using .32 Special brass yields nice .32-40 cases (below).



Winchester’s John Wayne .32-40 commemorative cartridge box is one of the
most attractive ever issued and instantly recognizable.

The hand-filed front band and front-and-rear sling swivel set-up also tells me the owner probably customized all of his guns to make them more useful, accurate and personalized.

Another possibility though is that he may have selected the .32-40 because of its mild recoil and customized the Savage 99 especially for a wife or lady friend.
How did a character like this customized Savage Model 99-C perform on the range?

First of all, you’re not going to find .32-40 ammunition resting on the shelves of the nearest gun shop. The last commercial run I can remember was Winchester’s, in conjunction with the marketing of their limited edition “John Wayne” Model 94 in .32-40 Winchester. Winchester’s John Wayne cartridge box has to rate as one of the all time greats. I just happened to have a full box featuring plated cases and 165-grain jacketed bullets.

Remember the last commercial loading was tamped down to 1,440 fps. Well, over the chronograph, the John Wayne load averaged 1,257 fps. That’s a lawyer-proof loading if I ever saw one, but it was, oh, so sweet to shoot, virtually no recoil and 3-shot groups of 1-1/2 inches at 50 yards confirmed its potential accuracy.

There are two sources of .32-40 brass. If you’re pre-ordained, you would have stocked up with Winchester brass when they make their last once-in-a-decade run. Well, in the future, I now expect that will be a once-in-two decades run.

The other option, and quite practical, is to run .32 Special brass just once into a .32-40 full-length sizer die. Eureka, from a bottlenecked case, you get a perfectly straight tapered case which is only 0.10-inch shorter than a .32-40 case. Fortunately, the .30-30, .32 Special and .32-40 share a common rim size.

The best die set for the .32-40 is the RCBS “Cowboy” set of three dies because you’ll want the option to load cast as well as jacketed .32 caliber bullets. One of the advantages of the Savage’s rotary magazine is the cases do not have to be crimped which is important. The crimping grooves or cannelures on .32 Special bullets are not located in the right place for setting the proper overall length of the .32-40 round.

While Lyman still offers a plain-base .32-40 mold (319247), I cast .32 caliber, gas-checked bullets from an RCBS .32 Special mold (32-170-FN). They work just fine in the Savage .32-40 and with 13.0 grains of IMR 4227, they average 1,365 fps and deliver 1-1/2-inch, 3-shot groups at 50 yards.

Next time you cruise the used gun racks, try to spot the item standing out a bit from the crowd. Guns with character can add a whole new level of enjoyment to your sport.

The Ninety-Nine—A History of the Savage Model 99 Rifle, by Douglas P. Murray, paperback. ©1985, privately printed and out-of-print.
By Holt Bodinson

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America’s Endearing “Bockbüchsflinte”

If Such A Name Makes You Gargle
The Consonants, Then Just Call It
The Savage Model 24 .22/.410.

“Bockbüchsflinte”—an O/U combination of a rifle barrel and a shotgun barrel—is slightly uncommon and very expensive in Europe, but fairly common and very inexpensive in America. Made in the tens of thousands by Stevens and Savage in a wide variety of calibers and models, we know it as the classic Model 24.

Uncle Lester was an orange grove man, living on Turkey Lake, just outside Orlando, Fla. He was also a gunner and living remotely, he was always armed. His go-to-town pants were fitted with oversize watch pockets that carried a brace of Remington .41 RF derringers. Hanging from the two bedposts of his master bed were a Colt .45 automatic and a .45 Colt Bisley fitted with target sights. As fancy as his handguns were, the gun that accompanied him daily as he drove around the groves in his old pick-up truck or trailed coonhounds at night was a Savage Model 24 in .22/.410.

One sunny December day, he handed his 10-year-old nephew his Model 24 and said, “Let’s go hunting!”

In the middle of that groomed grove was a typical Florida limestone sinkhole inhabited by one alligator, a passel of soft shell turtles and along its brush-lined shores, cottontail rabbits. After handing me a 3-inch .410 shell and a .22 Short to load, Uncle Lester and I snuck along through the brush after those wily rabbits. Running shots proved not to be my forte, but aiming through the peep sight of the Model 24, I finally bagged my first rabbit with the rifle barrel and a .22 Short. I can remember my first rabbit and the feel of that svelte Model 24 in my hands like it was yesterday. No moment in the field was ever more memorable.

Introduced in 1939 by Stevens and later re-branded with the Savage name, Model 24’s were common on farms, ranches and even on the fringes of suburbia. Whether they were leaning in a corner beside the back door or stored behind the truck seat or mounted in the rear window rack, a Stevens/Savage .22/.410 combination was kept loaded and ready to take on any pest or small game animal that might be encountered.


The classic configuration of the Model 24 will always be the .22/.410,
and Holt took his first rabbit with this one. Early barrels were brazed
together and were very rigid and accurate.


The original factory rear sight was a cheap, flimsy stamping. Fitted in
a dovetail smaller than standard, it was difficult to replace.

In the squirrel woods, it was a natural, offering the hunter the immediate choice of using a shotgun or a rifle. It was equally at home in brushy bunny country where sitting or running rabbits could be dispatched with equal ease. For an outdoorsman just loafing about, for casual plinking or for challenging the whole family to some shooting games combining shotgun and rifle targets, the modestly priced Model 24 couldn’t be beat. Plus the ammunition was cheap.

Recently, I asked Jim Sharrah, owner of the Frontier Gunshop in Tucson, Ariz., why we didn’t see more Model 24’s on the used gun racks. He promptly replied, “People seem to hang on to them.” That sounds about right. I’m still hanging on to the Model 24 I inherited from Uncle Lester, and it’s still doing yeoman service out here in the Arizona desert.

Pictured is the classic Model 24. It’s a .22/.410 with a tang lever operated, under-locking, break-open action, rebounding hammer and a side-button selector switch. The design is rather intriguing. The composite barrel assembly consists of a .410 barrel with a groove milled out along its top line. Brazed into the groove is a thin .22 LR barrel. The result is a very rigid barrel unit, which is capable of delivering excellent accuracy, no thanks to the original sighting system.

Dovetailed into the .22 LR barrel is a rear sight adjustable for elevation by means of an elevator, and for windage by drifting the whole sight right-or-left in its dovetail. The rear sight of the early Model 24 has probably given owners more gas pains than any other element of the design. It’s a cheap stamping so weak and flimsy it can be pushed right-or-left by mild finger pressure alone.


Rifled slugs, like this Brenneke, greatly enhance the
capability of the .410 barrel.


Spare parts and cartridges can be carried under the buttplate


Simple extractors are featured on the classic version of the .22 LR/.410 Model 24.
Note the groove in the shotgun barrel to which the .22 barrel is brazed.

In short, it’s worthless, and why Stevens/Savage let it compromise an otherwise grand design is beyond me. The dovetail itself is tiny and non-standard so alternative open sights weren’t available— why many of the early Model 24’s you’ll find are mounted with receiver sights like the Williams model pictured here. In later models the diameter of the .22 LR barrel was enlarged and the barrel grooved for conventional rimfire scope mounts.

The barrel selector switch on the early Model 24’s is a button on the right side of the frame. Pushed up, the hammer fires the .22 rifle barrel, pushed down, the .410 shotgun barrel. The switch resets to the shotgun barrel position when the action is opened. It’s an elegant but somewhat complicated design. Years later, Savage eliminated it and substituted a simple, finger-toggled firing pin selector in the nose of the hammer, which brings up an important point.

During its lifespan, the Model 24 went through numerous design changes and model configurations. The top lever was replaced on some models by a side lever and finally, by a sliding lock unit at the front of the triggerguard. The color case-hardened finish on the receiver was largely replaced with more conventional blued and plated finishes. Stocks were offered in English Express and Monte Carlo styles, checkered and non-checkered. Stained hardwood and synthetics were often substituted for black walnut. The methods of assembling the barrels changed over the years. Different barrel lengths were offered. From its original .22 LR/.410 configuration, the Model 24 was produced in .17 HMR/20-gauge, .22 LR/20, .22 WMR/20, .22 Hornet/20, .222 Rem/20, .223 Rem/20, .30-30/20, .357 Mag/20, .357 Rem Max/20, .22 Hornet/12 gauge, .222 Rem/12, .223 Rem/12 and .30-30/12. There was even a Model 2400 produced by Valmet for Savage with a shotgun barrel over the rifle barrel and a similar shotgun-over-rifle configuration made in Italy as the Model 389.


The classic Model 24 has a .22 LR rifle barrel over a .410
shotgun barrel, both 24 inches long.

The saga of the Model 24 is a complicated one, which only now is being unraveled and documented by serious collectors. In fact, a comprehensive collection of Model 24’s in all chamberings and variations would be impressive indeed.

Still, in my mind, the classic Model 24 will always be a .22 LR/.410 and so the story comes full circle. The Model 24, that endearing American Bockbüechsflinte, is gone, but the concept has been recreated by Savage as their new Model 42. And what do you know? It’s built in the classic .22/.410 configuration.
By Holt Bodison

Further Information
I highly recommend the collector’s website: and the
Blue Book of Gun Values for model descriptions and production information.

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A Concept Refined

Ruger’s Gunsite Scout Does A Bang-Up Job Of
Realizing Cooper’s Original Vision Of A
“General-Purpose Rifle.”

The Scout rifle concept is alive and kicking. Ruger’s latest upgrade to their Gunsite Scout is a welcome refinement to the series, which was introduced in 2011. In fact, the Scout concept has been maturing ever since 1983 when Jeff Cooper invited a number of friends to his Gunsite Training Center to define the qualities of a “general-purpose rifle”—a multi-purpose tool capable of fulfilling the functions of a tactical, survival and hunting firearm—a concept which the new Gunsite Scout certainly fulfills.

To fully understand a Scout platform, it’s necessary to dig a little deeper into Cooper’s descriptions of the ideal rifle. Cooper finally defined it as follows: “A general-purpose rifle is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow on a live target of up to 400 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target.”

Because he also noted “all modern cartridges will do very well if they are shot well,” the focus of Cooper’s search became the launching platform rather than the caliber.

Other specifics were also addressed. Above all, the Scout was to be handy—shorter, lighter, quicker to operate than a conventional sporting rifle. It should be no more than 1 meter (39 inches) in length and no more than 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) in weight. The barrel was envisioned as being as short as possible while retaining the ballistic performance of the cartridge selected. The bolt action was to be a short one, with two 90-degree lugs, a Mauser-type extractor and ejector, smooth bolt handle, crisp 3-pound trigger and a tang safety that disconnects the trigger from the sear. For lightweight strength and stability, a synthetic stock was specified.

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the Scout system is its dual sighting system—an optical sight plus reserve iron sights. Cooper selected a forward-mounted 2X or 3X intermediate eye-relief scope so as not to obscure the surrounding landscape and action when aiming.

Sounds like a practical, lightweight, sporting carbine, doesn’t it? With a tweak or two, Ruger had a platform just waiting to fill the niche. Working with Cooper-era Gunsite instructor, Ed Head, Ruger developed a Scout rifle to fulfill the essential elements of Cooper’s general-purpose rifle. The result? Their new model Scout is just a little bit better than their original offering.

Ruger’s original Scout was stocked in a black laminate. Laminates are strong, fairly stable and racy looking, but they’re also heavy. Going to a synthetic in the newer model allowed Ruger to shave some weight off while gaining extra stability. The original Scout with an unloaded 10-round magazine and factory peep sight weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces on my Sunbeam scale. The new, synthetic-stocked model set up in the same way registered 6 pounds, 13 ounces. That’s a significant 3/4-pound weight difference and nearly satisfies Cooper’s 6.6-pound specification.


Fast-handling: Holt found the short, heavy-contour barrel of the
Gunsite Scout helped put the balance point right between his hands.

Let’s see how the model meets Cooper’s overall length requirement of 39 inches. The Ruger Gunsite Scout features a variable length-of-pull stock in both the laminate and synthetic stocked models. With each Scout, the factory supplies three 1/2-inch spacers to adjust the length-of-pull from 12-3/4 to 14-1/4 inches. As boxed, the new Scout arrives with a LOP of 13-1/2 inches. Taping it from muzzle to butt, the overall length of the new model measures 36-3/4 inches, well below Cooper’s 39-inch maximum.

Action-wise, Cooper would have endorsed the American-made Ruger. Chambered in .308 Win, the Gunsite Scout features a short action, a Mauser-type extractor and ejector, 90-degree locking lugs, a smooth bolt handle, a safety that disconnects the trigger from the sear (although it’s not a tang-type arrangement), and a crisp trigger, but slightly heavier at 4-1/4 pounds than Cooper’s ideal 3-pound limit.

The sighting system is absolutely Cooper-approved. The iron “back-up” sights consist of a factory-installed, fully adjustable receiver sight with a ghost ring aperture and a protected front post, while the long Picatinny rail provides a flexible mounting base for forward mounted optics like “Scout” scopes and red-dot optics.

On the other hand, the rings provided are conventional Ruger rings that fit the receiver, not the Picatinny rail. To use them, the owner must remove the back-up receiver sight, which is secured to the rear-ring slot. Cooper would probably look on the removal of the back-up sight with some disfavor.

In keeping with the Cooper model, I mounted a 7.3-inch Burris 2.75X intermediate eye-relief “Scout” scope on the Picatinny rail with a set of Leupold lever-operated, quick-detachable rings, bringing the weight of the rifle up to 7.75 pounds. Cooper derived the idea for a forward mounted scope from Redfield’s intermediate eye-relief scope, the 2X “front-IER” model (1965-1971), which was adapted to the Model 94 Winchester, Remington Model 600, British .303 “jungle” carbines and others.

Cooper saw two primary values of a forward-mounted scope. It gives you unobstructed access to the magazine to facilitate reloading the magazine, if so adapted, with a charger. The setup also gives you a less obstructed view of the action going on around the target area. With QD rings you can also switch back and forth between optics and irons with the flick of a lever. The forward-mounted scope—if somewhat unconventional in appearance—is a sound solution.

While the original Ruger Gunsite Scout is now offered in both .223 Rem and .308 Win, Cooper would have selected the .308 for his general-purpose rifle. The .308 is never a mistake. It’s an inherently accurate and flexible cartridge that has a proven record in Benchrest and National Match competition, hunting worldwide, and in military and law enforcement applications. Being a 1/2-inch shorter than the .30-06, it also lends itself to short actions.

How did the new Ruger Gunsite Scout handle? With its heavy-contour 16-1/2-inch barrel and forward-mounted scope, the balance point is just in front of the magazine. Being short and compact, the Scout places its weight nicely between your hands and offers an almost neutral balance when mounted. It’s that balance which gives the little rifle excellent stability and inertia in any shooting position. It just hangs there.


The short, stiff, beefy barrel of the Scout contributes to its inherent accuracy.
Standout performers included Winchester “White Box” 147-grain NATO FMJ (top left)
and Holt’s 168-grain Sierra handload (top right).


Cooper would have approved the design and features of the Ruger Gunsite Scout.

In testing for accuracy, I selected Winchester “White Box” 147-grain NATO, Black Hills and Nosler 168-grain match loads, and a handload assembled with Sierra’s 168-grain MatchKing bullet and Hodgdon’s new IMR 4166 powder that reduces copper fouling and is “temperature insensitive.” This propellant is recommended for cartridges like the .308 Win, .22-250 Rem and .257 Roberts. IMR 4166 is part of Hodgdon’s “Enduron Technology” family of powders. The company is also releasing IMR 4451 for the .270 Win, .30-06 and .300 WSM-type cases and IMR 7977 for the true magnums.

With its “Heavy Plex” reticle, the 2.75X Burris Scout scope—while not a target optic—is a fine game scope. However, the groups I turned in with the Ruger could have been shaved a bit I think with a higher power conventional scope or one of the 2-7X Scout variables. Nevertheless, true to Cooper’s vision, a Scout rifle begs for the utility of a forward-mounted scope with moderate magnification.

Two loads proved outstanding: Winchester’s 147-grain FMJ NATO (0.98 inches) and my Sierra-based, match handload with 44.0 grains of IMR 4166 (0.74 inches).

With its short, heavy-contour barrel, this little Ruger can shoot. But it’s loud. The ported muzzlebrake may work well to reduce felt recoil, but it definitely accentuates the noise out there at the business end. The ideal solution would be to unscrew the muzzlebrake and screw on a suppressor (using the 5/8-24 muzzle threads), but in the meantime, wear hearing protection!

The Ruger Gunsite Scout comes with one, 10-round magazine. Given state game regulations around the country, I would think the company would include an additional 5-shot magazine in the package. The Ruger store has them available as an accessory, but they cost $69.95 (pretty steep for a 5-round mag). I thought I could substitute a stock 7.62 AR-type 5-shot magazine but discovered it didn’t fit the Ruger magazine well.

All in all, the Ruger Gunsite Scout in a lighter, synthetic stock is a positive refinement of the original model. I suspect it will be offered immediately in a left-hand version as well. The Scout is a highly individualistic concept rifle and will appeal to shooters and collectors alike.

Jeff Cooper would have approved.
By Holt Bodinson

Gunsite Scout
Maker: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee St.
Newport, NH 03773
Action: Bolt-action repeater
Caliber: .308 Win
Capacity: 10-round detachable magazine
Barrel Length: 16-1/2-inches (heavy contour)
Overall Length: 36-3/4 inches
Weight: 6 pounds, 13 ounces
Finish: Matte black
Sights: Adjustable peep rear, blade front (6-inch Picatinny rail)
Stock: Synthetic (adjustable for length-of-pull)
Price: $1,039

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Smith & Wesson’s Model 52 .38 Master

This Classic Bull’s-Eye Semi-Auto Pistol Is
Chambered For The .38 Special Mid-Range Wadcutter.

It was a pistol target shooters could only dream about—a .38 Special autoloader that held its groups into 2-inches or less at 50 yards. Yes, there had been prior 1911-frame-based .38 Special automatics before the S&W Model 52’s debut in September 1961, but they were the handcrafted creations of gifted gunsmiths like James Clark with his .38 Conversion and the gunsmiths of the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., working with their unique .38 AMU ammunition, a semi-rimless, .38 Special round designed for enhanced stacking and feeding from an autoloader magazine.

The introduction of the Smith & Wesson Model 52 chambered for .38 Special, mid-range, wadcutter ammunition was a stunning first—the first successful, factory, .38 Special target autoloader ever launched, and it took the target shooting community by storm.

The story really begins in 1946 when C.R. Hellstrom took over the reins as President of Smith & Wesson. Hellstrom was intrigued by Germany’s P-38, double-action, 9mm pistol. Sensing there might be large military and a police market interested in an American-designed, American-made, double-action, 9mm pistol, Hellstrom assigned the design task to master mechanic, Joseph W. Norman, head of the Experimental and Product Development Department.

Norman designed what would eventually become known as the Model 39. Interestingly enough, two lines of 9mm chambered prototypes were made for distribution and testing by the military and law enforcement communities—a single action, designated the Model 44, and a double action, given the Model 39 moniker. The Model 44 single action failed to generate any market enthusiasm. The Model 39, on the other hand, was enthusiastically received, and the alloy frame model was put into full production in 1957.

In 1960, the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit requested that S&W build them both steel and alloy framed Model 39 ’s chambered for their .38 AMU cartridge for testing and evaluation as competitive target arms. S&W complied, but the USAMTU decided not to go ahead with the wholesale adoption of the design.


The Model 52 had to pass an accuracy spec at 50 yards before it was shipped.

Now for a little collector’s story. The initial model designation given those USAMTU prototypes was the Model 39-1, but then it occurred to S&W that the unsold Model 39-1’s chambered for the unique .38 AMU cartridge might one day become confused with the standard Model 39 in 9mm Luger. The alloy frame Model 39-1’s still in inventory were then stamped with the designation, Model 52. In 1964, three years after the successful introduction of the Model 52 .38 Master, S&W decided to release the Model 52 (formerly the Model 39-1 in .38 AMU caliber) into the marketplace. Once again they had to differentiate the USAMTU Model 52 from the Model 52 .38 Master so they stamped an “A” after the USAMTU model number, making them Model 52-A’s. If you ever find a Model 52-A in the serial number range 35,850-35,927, it’s a very rare bird since less than 87 were ever released, but it could be worth up to $3,000 if authenticated.

Their experiences with the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit and steel framed Model 39’s in .38 AMU caliber certainly galvanized S&W to develop a commercial, target grade, centerfire, autoloader as a companion piece to their highly successful Model 41 rimfire target model. The qualities they were pursuing in the new autoloader were high accuracy, functional reliability, balanced handling, a competition grade trigger and target quality sights.


A micrometer adjustable target sight (above) matched up with a Patridge front
sight (below) provided high definition and zero backlash.


The decision was made to chamber the new pistol for conventional, mid-range, .38 Special ammunition featuring a wadcutter bullet seated flush with the end of the case. The initial Model 52 .38 Master, introduced in 1961, used the lockwork of the Model 39, which was modified to single action only by the addition of a setscrew.

S&W’s claim for each Model 52 released was 10-shot, 10-ring accuracy at 50 yards from a machine rest. The 50-yard pistol target’s 10-ring measures 3.39 inches. In his book, The History of Smith & Wesson, Roy Jinks, the official S&W historian, states, “… to insure the accuracy of the pistol, extra-rigid inspection was incorporated by having the Model 52 machine rest tested at 50 yards to assure that the pistol would shoot 5-shot groups having a maximum spread of two inches. Any pistol that could not meet this standard was returned to production for reworking.”
Five-shot, 2-inch-or-less groups at 50 yards from a factory autoloader are simply otherworldly.

One of the secrets of the Model 52 is in the fit of the barrel to the model’s unique barrel bushing. There is an enlarged ring at the muzzle end of the barrel, which is closely fitted to the barrel bushing by tightening and locking the notched barrel bushing in place with a special spanner wrench. Another secret is a target trigger measuring only 2-3/4 pounds on my Lyman electronic gauge, and another secret is the competition quality target sights fully adjustable and without the least hint of backlash.

Because of tight tolerances and rigid inspections of the Model 52, only 90 pistols were built in 1961. Production in 1962 was only 1,078 for this flagship model. Total production for the original Model 52 made from 1961 to 1963 was 3,500 units.


The Model 52 magazine (above) held only 5 mid-range, .38 Special flush-mouth wadcutters.
Over-travel of the light, crisp trigger of the Model 52 (below) was controlled by a stop screw.


Because of tight tolerances and rigid inspections of the Model 52, only 90 pistols were built in 1961. Production in 1962 was only 1,078 for this flagship model. Total production for the original Model 52 made from 1961 to 1963 was 3,500 units.

Complaints about the M-39 double-action trigger modified to single action poured in from competitors and, in 1963, S&W designed a completely new and dedicated single action, target trigger and hammer. The newly configured model was designated the Model 52-1, which was produced from 1963 to 1971. In 1971, the factory installed an improved, coil spring tensioned extractor developed originally for the Model 39, giving it the new designation of Model 52-2. The Model 52-2 was the last variation of the Model 52, and it was the last of its breed, being discontinued in 1993.

The last retail for the Model 52-2 (with two, 5-shot magazines, its unique barrel bushing wrench, cleaning rod and brush) was $908. It was always an expensive handgun.

Model 52’s are not uncommon on the used market and on Internet auction sites but be prepared to pay $1,000 or more for a gun in good condition with two magazines and that ever-essential Model 52 barrel-bushing wrench.

The development of the S&W Model 52 .38 Master is one of the great stories in the world of competition handguns. In the hands of marksmen like Bill Blankenship, it went on to win world championships, and it is as competitive today as it was 54 years ago.

History of Smith & Wesson by Roy Jinks, hardcover, 290 pages ©1977, out-of-print.
By Holt Bodinson

MAKER: Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Ave
Springfield, MA 01104
(800) 331-0852

Action: Single-action autoloader
Caliber: .38 Special, mid range wadcutter
Magazine Capacity: 5
Barrel length: 5 inches
Overall length: 8 5/8 inches
Weight: 41 ounces
Sights: 1/8 inch partridge (front)
Micrometer adjustable (rear)
Sight radius: 6 15/16 inches
Stocks: Checkered walnut
Finish: Blue
Value: $950
(35th Edition of the Blue Book of Gun Values by S.P. Fjestad)

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The Star Wars Shotgun

The UTS-15 Redfines
“Tactical Smoothbore”

There’s a whiff of buckshot embedded in the American DNA. We love our combat smoothbores. As a country, we’ve carried them in every battle and police action of the last two-and-a-half centuries, and when the fighting gets close in, there’s still nothing more devastating than a fast volley of buck from a street sweeper. So, too, the design of the combat shotgun continues to evolve and improve. Meet the UTS-15, one of the latest advanced designs to shoot its way into the marketplace, but first, let’s briefly look at our own buckshot legacy.

As a military leader, George Washington was particularly fond of buckshot according to Harold Peterson’s Arms and Armor of Colonial America. Writing to the Board of War, Washington wrote, “It appears to me that Light Blunderbusses on account of the quantity of shot they will carry will be preferable to Carbines, for Dragoons, as the Carbines only carry a single ball, especially in case of close action.” His request wasn’t looked upon with favor, but Washington went on to recommend that his troops load for their first volley “one musket ball and four or eight buck Shott, according to the strength of their pieces.”

The buck-and-ball load continued to be popular during the Civil War. Given the lack of arms on both sides in 1861, family shotguns commonly marched off to the front by necessity. Confederate cavalry units were particularly prone to use sporting shotguns and buckshot with deadly effect.


The combat shotgun has a long history in the US. The UTS-15 brings
the concept and payload into the 21st century.


Lifting the top cover exposes both magazine tubes and the chamber
for a quick, visual safety check.


The dual magazine tubes load from the top and are sealed by dust covers.


A true “Scout” shotgun—shorter, lighter, more maneuverable—the UTS-15
delivers a lot of firepower in a compact package. The UTS fire control
system is right off the familiar AR-15.

Possibly, the most famous smoothbore unit was New York’s Irish Brigade. The Brigade made a conscious decision to hold onto their 1842 smoothbore, .69-caliber muskets and buck-and-ball loads, distinguishing themselves throughout the war, particularly at Gettysburg, where their place in history is marked by a Celtic cross and an Irish Wolfhound monument.

As the country moved West so did the ever versatile shotgun in the hands of farmers, ranchers, peace officers, guards, the military and a hoard of ne’er-do-wells.

WWI brought us the first general issue, mission specific, combat shotguns, the Winchester Model 97 Trench Gun, Model 1917, along with the Winchester Model 12 and Remington Model 10 Trench Guns. At the urging of Gen. Pershing, approximately 30,000 were issued, which brought howls of official protests from the Germans, describing it as “American barbarism.”

WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq brought us new models with brand names like Mossberg, Remington, Savage, Stevens, Benelli, Browning, Beretta, Franchi, Manville, Colt, S&W, Ithaca, Winchester and High Standard, and the combat shotgun continues to evolve. The new UTS-15 is a sterling example of how really high-tech the modern combat shotgun has become.

When you open the box of a UTS-15, you know immediately it’s all business, with a little bit of Star Wars thrown in. It’s imposing. The two magazine tubes running down both sides of the barrel carry either 7 rounds of 12-gauge, 2-3/4-inch or 6 rounds of 3-inch magnums. With one in the chamber that’s 15 rounds or 13 rounds of shot, buckshot, slugs, tasers or non-lethal rounds at your command on a selective switch basis.


With 15 rounds waiting in the tubes, the muzzle end of
the UTS-15 is a sobering sight.


After removing the barrel-retaining nut, the UTS breaks down into three modules.

You pick it up, and you realize it only weighs 6.9 pounds and in its bullpup format is only 29 inches long with a full-length 18-1/2-inch barrel. Magic? No. The receiver is 100 percent polymer. In fact, 80 percent of the total shotgun is carbon fiber reinforced, injection molded polymer. It’s the brainchild of Ted Hatfield, UTAS-USA Director of Product Development, and UTAS of Turkey, a firm which specializes in firearms design, engineering and OEM manufacturing. Remember the svelte Hatfield muzzleloading rifles of yore or the exquisite, Turkish-produced, Augusta, Marias or Valier series of shotguns once offered by Kimber? Those were the conceptual creations of Ted Hatfield. He knows his business. In fact, he grew up in it.

The original UTS-15 got off to a rough start with just a bit too many synthetic parts. This second generation got it right, but it’s still a radical design, which will have to prove itself over thousands of rounds.

My first thought on picking up the UTS was it would require a lot of practice to master the design and constant practice to keep its controls in memory. Was I ever wrong. It’s a very straightforward pump shotgun. The fire control system is out of an AR-15. The pump action is simple, with a rotary-head locking bolt. Loading the two magazine tubes is only a matter of stuffing cartridges into them from the top of the gun rather than from the bottom.

It’s a super safe design. Simply lifting the hinged top cover lets you visually inspect the ends of both magazine tubes as well as the chamber for live rounds. It’s an instant check. Also, all shells loaded into the magazine tubes are clearly visible from the outside of the gun. Really fine design touches!


Holt’s favorite 12-gauge defensive load is Winchester PDX slug/buck combo shell,
and at 15 yards it’s devastating (above). So, too, are 27 pellets of No. 4 buck
from a 2-3/4-inch shell at 15 yards (below).


It’s a super safe design. Simply lifting the hinged top cover lets you visually inspect the ends of both magazine tubes as well as the chamber for live rounds. It’s an instant check. Also, all shells loaded into the magazine tubes are clearly visible from the outside of the gun. Really fine design touches!

The only aspect of the design which threw me was the loading tube selector switch which can be seen just aft of the rear sight. It’s a 3-position switch. Switched to either the left or the right, it controls which tube the gun will feed from. It’s a great idea. For example, you could have buckshot in one tube and slugs in the other. Anyway, looking at the switch, I assumed that when you flicked it to the left, the gun would feed from the left magazine tube, and to the right, the right. Wrong! It’s a cut-off switch. When flicked to the left, the left tube is cut-off, and the gun feeds from the right tube and vice versa. To my mind, that switch is totally counterintuitive.

What happens when the switch is left in the 12 o’clock position? The action feeds from both magazine tubes. That’s 15 rounds of lead hail as fast as you can rack that pump handle.

As supplied by the factory, the UTS-15 does not come with a set of sights, just a full-length Picatinny rail, giving the owner maximum flexibility in setting up the gun just the way they want it. Being a straight-stocked bullpup, the line-of-sight is high. A small optical unit in keeping with the featherweight gun would be the ideal solution. As an accessory, the company does offer a combination laser/flashlight unit, which slides into the front housing and is activated by a side-mounted switch on the frame.

I tried a set of metallic, factory, accessory sights in which the front sight is screw adjustable for elevation and the rear sight, which is windage adjustable, offers a flip over combination of an open “V” or a ghost ring aperture. Nicely made sights, but the front sight screw would not screw down far enough to give me a perfect 15-yard zero.

I think I would set-up the UTS with the integral laser/flashlight unit and a compact optical sight mounted on the rail.




The factory set of accessory metallic sights includes a peep (top),
which can folded down to reveal an open sight (middle) The protected
front is a large bead (bottom).

I think I would set-up the UTS with the integral laser/flashlight unit and a compact optical sight mounted on the rail.

Both the magazine loading ports and the ejection port are covered with dust covers. The ejection port cover is magnetic and opens immediately when the bolt is retracted. Ejection is to the right. As a check, I fired the UTS from the left shoulder without catching an ejected case so that’s not a problem. The right-hand mounted safety is not reversible. It should be.

How did it shoot? The UTS comes with a cylinder choke. The thread form is Beretta. The gun also came with a 10-inch barrel extension and 3-shot and 5-shot plugs. The trigger is a joy. On my Lyman electronic gauge, it averaged 4-1/2 pounds—light and crisp. With 2-3/4-inch buckshot, slug and Winchester’s PDX buck-and-slug combo round, it’s an easy gun on the shoulder and, being straight-stocked, muzzle flip and recovery time is minimized. Being short, it is maneuverable and fast-on-target.

With a length-of-pull of 12 inches and OAL of only 29 inches, the bullpup has a distinctive feel and handling characteristic quite unlike a conventional firearm. It’s really a “Scout” shotgun—shorter, lighter and more maneuverable.

The company website, which is entertaining, promotes the UTS-15 as a turkey or big game gun. It would certainly serve perfectly in either role with the proper chokes, and it’s available in six different exterior finishes and patterns. It’s a shotgun at its best deliberately aimed. It would not be an ideal wing-shooting smokepole, however.

For cleaning purposes, the modular UTS-15 simply comes apart in your hands after the barrel-retaining nut is unscrewed. It’s remarkable, and when you have the separated modular sections lying there in front of you, you begin to understand how 80 percent of the UTS is composed of carbon fiber, reinforced, injection molded polymer. And if you want to continue to strip the modules down further, the exceptionally well illustrated owner’s manual will take you down that road to the last little screw.

The UTS-15 is an impressive concept gun, reflecting brilliant engineering and advanced production processes. It’s a 21st Century firearm with a bit of Star Wars flair thrown in.
By Holt Bodinson


Maker: Uts-Usa
1247 Rand Rd
Des Plaines, Il 60016
(847) 768-1011

Action type: Pump
Gauge: 12, 2-3/4- Or 3-inch
Barrel length: 18-1/2 inches
Overall length: 29 inches
Choke tube: Cylinder, Beretta thread
Weight: 6.9 pounds
Finish: Hunter camouflage (tested)
Sights: Picatinny rail
Stock: Polymer
Price: $1,450

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Smallbore Wonder

The Iconic 1903
in 6.5×54.

If there ever was an “iconic” firearm with an international following reading like a “Who’s Who of the Hunting World,” it would have to be the 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer (or a .256 Jeffery) in 6.5×54 caliber. From the Arctic in the hands of Vilhajalmur Stefansson, to the Gobi Desert with Roy Chapman Andrews, to “seeing the elephant” with W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell, to our very own North American trophy hunter, Charles Sheldon, a 156-or 160-grain. 6.5mm bullet driven at 2,200 to 2,400 fps from a light, handy rifle dropped everything from antelope to elephants and was almost magic to a generation just emerging from the big-bore, black-powder era.

Sheldon captured the hunting world’s enthusiasm for the 6.5×54 when he wrote: “It seems to me perfectly clear that the .256 (6.5×54 rimmed) with the right bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,300 fps is completely satisfactory for all game on this continent, including moose, caribou and the large bears, many of which I have killed during years of hunting them. My experience to me is a demonstration that with the .256 it is only a question of directing the bullet at a vital or disabling spot.”

The 6.5×54 cartridge did not begin life as sporting round or as a rimless cartridge. In early 1890, Romania went shopping for a new military rifle. As former customer of Osterreichische Waffenfabriks Gesellschaft of Steyr, Austria, a firm we simply refer to as “Steyr,” Romania worked with Steyr on the development a modern, repeating bolt-action design. The design talent housed at Steyr during that period was, to use the current adjective, “Awesome!”
The Chief of Research & Development was Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher (1848-1904) who together with a close, associate engineer, Otto Schoenauer (1844-1913), were the team.

Mannlicher was a mechanical genius and a prolific inventor. During his long career at the Steyr Works, spanning that fertile period when black powder gave way to smokeless, Mannlicher is credited with the design of over 150 different models of repeating and automatic military firearms adopted by numerous European countries

Working as he did on advanced designs in the last quarter of the 19th Century, Mannlicher was not influenced by previous models. There were none. Consequently his designs are refreshingly original. Some have gone so far as to say most of the small arms designs of the 20th Century reflect, in some way, individual mechanical principles Mannlicher incorporated into his numerous models.

Imagine fielding a light machine gun with a Bren-type feed system in 1885, or a semi-automatic, clip-fed rifle in 1893 utilizing the “hesitation lock” later to reappear as the “Blish lock” in the Thompson submachine gun, or a gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle in 1895, incorporating many of the fundamental mechanical features of the later Garand. Ironically, Mannlicher is best remembered as the inventor of the cartridge clip and for svelte rifles stocked all the way to the muzzle.

The Romanian Model 1892 and 1893 which emerged from the collaboration of Mannlicher and Schoenauer incorporated two features important to our story—the 6.5x53R (rimmed) cartridge and a sliding ejector riding in a groove in the bolt head.

The 6.5x54R cartridge set the standard for the rimless version which was designed by Steyr in 1900 and adopted as a military cartridge by Greece in 1903 as a 159-grain, 6.5mm, roundnose bullet at around 2,400 fps.


In deference to their age, Holt favors light, cast loads in the M-S Model
1903’s (above). Either 1903 will cut an inch or so at 50 yards with
Lyman’s 266469 cast bullet (below).


A 156- or 160-grain, 6.5 mm bullet is an impressive looking little package and its performance in the field belies its small diameter. Its secret then, and its secret today, is its sensational sectional density of 0.328 which treads right on the heels of the 220-grain, .30 caliber, roundnose bullet with a sectional density of 0.331. The 160-grain 6.5mm bullet simply penetrates and penetrates deeply into the vitals of big game. As Sheldon remarked, “it is only a question of directing the bullet at a vital or disabling spot.” With their new and effective rimless 6.5×54 cartridge, all Steyr needed was a sporting platform. Mannlicher and Schoenauer gave it to them in the Model 1903 sporting carbine, rifle and takedown models.

Incorporating the 5-shot, rotary magazine Schoenauer had perfected for the Greek Model 1903 as well as his sliding ejector, the Mannlicher-Schoenauer Model 1903 took the big game hunting world by a storm. Beautifully machined, fitted, polished and finished to an exceptionally high standard, the 1903 M-S action was butter smooth, and when mated to a lapped, 18-inch barrel and full-length stock, the carbine model defined the terms “svelte and handy.”

Two of the most popular Model 1903’s in 6.5mm are pictured here—the carbine and the rifle. The two pieces are also indicative of the hunting preferences of their former owners, especially the sighting systems.


Quality German scopes like this Hensoldt 2-3/4X are often associated
with the M-S sporters. To clear the body of the Hensoldt scope,
the bolt handle had to be carefully dished out.


The Griffin & Howe detachable, M-S side mount was both popular and expensive. Note the
windage adjustment built into the mount and the quick detach levers.


Running the Model 1903’s at peak pressures risks cracking stocks and
loosening horn inlays. Losing one afield will really ruin your day.


M-S floorplates were often engraved or monogrammed with the owner’s initials.

The carbine is set-up as a superb, close range, snap-shooting rifle. The original front sight has been replaced with a large, Lyman, white bead. The original 2-leaf rear sight has been replaced by a Lyman, folding, adjustable, single-leaf model. Ah, but the pièce-de-résistance is the Lyman Model 1A, fold-down peep sight fitted to the cocking piece or an adapter nut of the M-S bolt. That rear mounted peep sight is a snap-shooter’s dream, and I can imagine it drew down on some magnificent, white-tailed bucks in its day. This hunter also opted for a single, rather than a set trigger, a further indication of his style of fast, offhand hunting.

The rifle on the other hand with its 22-inch barrel retains its original open sights but is fitted with a 2-3/4X Hensoldt telescope in a Griffin & Howe, double-lever, quick detachable mount. It’s a classic set-up. Because the bolt of the M-S works through its split bridge, a side mount of some type is required. The G&H side mount as well as models by Jaeger, Echo, Leupold, Redfield and Pachmayr are commonly encountered on older M-S models. Notice the G&H mount for the Hensoldt scope features a micrometer, windage adjustment knob, which was required because the Hensoldt scope is adjustable solely for elevation. Also note the rifle is fitted with a set trigger, indicating a more deliberate style of hunting by its owner.

How does the 6.5×54 cartridge perform in these pieces? Frankly, these are both old, treasured guns which I feed with moderate handloads. If you run them at peak pressures, the picture of the attractive, horn filet rattled out in front of the carbine’s magazine well is what you might get. Cracked stocks are another distinct possibility.

With jacketed bullets, Sierra’s 140-grain spitzer combined with Accurate Arms 4350 and Hornady’s 160-grain roundnose propelled by Norma’s MRP have given me the finest accuracy.

What I really love to run through these old Model 1903 Mannlichers is a cast bullet load featuring Lyman’s 140-grain, roundnose, gas check bullet 266469, cast in Lyman No. 2 alloy and shot unsized with a diameter of 0.266 inch. With either 14.0 grains of IMR 4227 or 16.0 grains of IMR 4198, either piece will hold an inch or so for three shots at 50 yards. M-S barrels are light and heat up fast, so an easy firing pace is best.

Fortunately, Hornady, Sierra, Dynamit Nobel and Norma still cover the 6.5×54 cartridge in their handloading manuals, and Hornady turns out some very affordable reloading dies for the caliber.


The most popular M-S Model 1903’s were the short barreled carbine and the
standard rifle. The butter knife bolt handle of the peep sighted carbine
is the classic M-S design.


Holt often shoots just a light cast bullet load in his M1903 rifles.

In the gunny literature, you’ll come across numerous, utterly, hand-wringing comments about oversize bores and excessive headspace in the M-S 6.5×54. If it exists in your gun, all you can do is work with it. Frankly, I’ve never slugged a bore or gauged headspace or worried about either when working with Mannlicher-Schoenauers. You aren’t going to change the diameter of the bore or change the chamber shoulder-to-bolt face interface. Initial fire-forming of the brass (I use Norma and Prvi Partisan) will establish case headspace, then neck size or partially resize the cases and adjust the sizing die as necessary when loading jacketed bullets. Experimenting with a few bullet shapes and weights in the 140- to 160-grain range should reward you with a design that brings out the best in your barrel, so think positive, experiment a bit.

After the roaring success of their Model 1903 in 6.5×54, Steyr built on that success with a series of new models using a year and caliber designation for their initial introduction: the Model 1905 debuted in 9×56, the Model 1908 in 8×56 and the Model 1910 in 9.5×56.

The 6.5×54 may be the iconic 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer combination, but any vintage M-S in any of those classic Mannlicher calibers is worthy of your “classic collectible” consideration.
By Holt Bodinson

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An Elegant Team

Remington’s Model 25 And The .25-20 WCF.

Before the .22 Hornet or .218 Bee, Winchester’s .25-20 Winchester Center Fire was the shining star to beat when it came to serious varmint and small game hunting. It was based on the .32-20 case, which debuted in 1882 in the Model 1873 Winchester. The design of the .25-20 cartridge was based on the .25-20 Single Shot, which had a sterling reputation in the late 1880’s as a highly accurate target and small game load.

dearing little cartridge. Cute really, with its long neck, which is simply perfect for cast bullet shooting, and while it developed a devoted following in the Model 92 Winchester, no rifle chambered for it was more elegant and pleasing to the eye than Remington’s petite Model 25 slide-action.

As a teenager, working ranches during summer vacations, I came across a lot of Model 92’s chambered in .25-20—saddle ring carbines and rifles with round or octagonal barrels. As a group, they were well used, working rifles and their bores were not particularly well maintained. Yet, they shot well enough. The ammunition of choice was factory loaded, 86-grain, jacketed flatpoints, and I never met anyone during those years who reloaded the round. A store-bought box of 50 lasted a long, long time.

Surprisingly enough, those ranch .25-20’s were considered perfectly adequate for deer and antelope as well as for smaller game along the line of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions and porcupines. One rancher I worked for told me he kept the family fully fed with antelope, deer and elk meat throughout the Depression with only his octagonal barreled Model 92 in .25-20. To keep the meat cool and out-of-sight, he added that he suspended it wrapped in cheesecloth on a rope well down inside his well. I once looked down the bore of his octagonal barreled Model 92, and I doubt it had ever seen a cleaning rod. He also carried just one handgun—a Colt Army model in .32-20 with a 4-inch barrel—he called it his “Moose Slapper” for use on any moose that might be foolish enough to try to break through his pack train. Fortunately, I don’t think he ever had to slap down 1,000 pounds of Shiras venison on the hoof.

Of course, the then-new (circa 1895) bottlenecked .25-20 had its detractors, primarily target shooters who felt that cartridges loaded with black powder would not perform properly in a bottlenecked case. Their traditional view was black powder demanded straight-walled cases. The results illustrated here are two of the most outrageous cartridges ever fielded—the .25-25 and the .25-21 Stevens. Long and snaky, the .25-25 Stevens cartridge was developed by Army Captain Carpenter in 1895 and chambered in the Stevens Model 44, Model 44-1/2 and the Remington Hepburn single shots.


The receiver of the Model 25 (top) is only slightly
larger than the Model 12/121 rimfire (bottom).


The Model 25’s tubular magazine (above) is loaded through covered gate on
the right side of the action bar. The rifle magazine holds 10 cartridges
and the carbine’s holds six.


The long .25-25 case apparently created extraction problems and was succeeded by the shortened Stevens .25-21 round in 1897, which proved very accurate but never transitioned successfully from black powder into the smokeless era.

That’s part of the neat story about the .25-20. It did transition successfully from the black powder into the smokeless era and did so with the standard 86-grain loading at 1,380 fps as well as a high speed, factory, 60-grain load clocking 2,200 fps. Chambered primarily in Winchester, Marlin, Remington, Savage and Stevens rifles, the .25-20 dominated the varmint/small game world until it was displaced in 1930 by the commercialization of the .22 Hornet.

As a caliber, it had a good run. With its quiet report and negligible recoil, it was a pleasant flat-shooting round to fire, one the whole family could enjoy. It was extremely accurate even in the lever action and slide-action rifles chambered for it. It handled cast bullets well, and it was miserly to reload with powder charges ranging from 7 to 13 grains.

Seeing the popularity of the .25-20 and .32-20 in the rifles of its competitors, Remington just had to climb on board somehow. They had already successfully developed their Model 14-1/2 slide-action in 1913, chambered in .38-40 and .44-40, to compete with Winchester and Marlin so they decided to follow a similar path with yet another of John Pedersen’s slide-action designs, the Model 12 smallbore combined with his battery of centerfire, slide-action patents.



Handloads for the .25-20 can cut factory groups in half or more.
The Remington Model 25 is one of the more fun little rifles in a more
serious caliber suitable for small to medium game.


The Model 25 is an elegant wand of a rifle with the proportions of a .22 pump.


In 1922, Crawford Loomis began work on the new model small-frame, slide-action rifle designed around the .25-20 and .32-20 cartridges. The result was the Remington Model 25, which appeared in January 1923. Remington’s owner’s manual of that year read, “Sportsmen, trappers and farmers will be quick to appreciate the great range and usefulness offered by this new Remington rifle… for use in the extermination of pests… particularly adapted to shooting coyotes, fox, skunk, bobcat, jack rabbit, opossum, raccoon, woodchuck, hawks and all other medium size game.

“Clean-cut, graceful outline, accurate and dependable; it is just the rifle for the vast number of experienced sportsmen and trappers who desire more power than a 22 caliber will give, but do not want a rifle of high power.”

The Model 25 was introduced in two model variations—the standard rifle, pictured here, with a round 24-inch barrel, 10-round tubular magazine, take-down action, half pistol-grip stock, cross-bolt safety, weighing 5-1/2 pounds and a carbine with a round 18-inch barrel, 6-round magazine, straight stock, weighing 4-1/2 pounds. Over the next 13 years, Remington turned out 31,828 Model 25’s in a variety of grades including their lavishly engraved and checkered Premier Grade.


The long, snaky .25-25 (left) and .25-21 (middle) were
developed as black powder rivals to the .25-20 WCF (right).

I’ve owned Winchesters and Marlins in .25-20 and shot thousands of cast and jacketed bullets through them, but none has the feel, the balance and the overall esthetics of a Remington Model 25. It’s just a beautiful wand of a little rifle—a joy to carry afield hunting or just for some offhand, centerfire plinking. Frankly, it’s just nice to look at. Its designer, Crawford Loomis, had a fine eye for line and style.

How does the Model 25 perform? With its vintage open sights, it delivers all the accuracy the .25-20 has to offer. The two, 50-yard targets, pictured are typical and clearly show the difference in accuracy obtained between the current Winchester 86-grain factory load (1,406 fps average) and a more refined 86-grain handload consisting of 7.5 grains of H110, Rem case, Rem 7-1/2 primer and an 86-grain Remington softpoint (1,574 fps average).

As a hunter, I strongly favor the 86-grain bullets in the .25-20. It’s an excellent 100-yard load. Many years ago, I tried some handloads with a 60-grain jacketed bullet on coyotes and lost a couple, so I returned to the 86-grain jacketed softpoint and have experienced no further failures. I have not tried Speer’s 75-grain .25-20 bullet, only because I’m still sitting on several hundred 86-grain Remington pills, but looking at Speer’s data which takes their 75-grain softpoint up to 2,000 fps. This may be the best compromise between bullet weight and velocity in the miserly little case.

My cast bullet load consists of an 82-grain, gas check bullet from an Old West mold, cast in Lyman’s No. 2 alloy and loaded over 8.0 grains of IMR 4227. With an average velocity of 1,521 fps, it will consistently stay within 1 inch at 50 yards for a 3-shot group in any rifle I run it in.

The endearing truth is the .25-20 is flexible, easy and inexpensive to load and an inherently accurate cartridge. Now, if you stick a .25-20 in a Remington Model 25, you’re really riding just this side of Heaven!
By Holt Bodinson

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The Tragedy of the Starr Carbine

Early Faith In This Pre-Civil War
Design Was Spoiled By Issue
Of The Wrong Ammunition.

As a group, the Union carbines of the Civil War were the most attractive shoulder arms of the conflict. Light, short, fast firing and accurate, the breechloading, cavalry carbines signaled the coming end of the single-shot muzzleloader era. In fact, it is remarkable how many Civil War carbine models easily transitioned from being percussion guns to rimfire and centerfire arms. Come to think about it, even those old, obsolete, muzzleloading Springfield and Enfield muskets morphed into trapdoors and Sniders following the war.

There were 19 major, breechloading, cavalry carbine models fielded between 1861 and 1865. In terms of total wartime production, the Big Five were the Spencer (94,196), Sharps (80,512), Burnside (55,567), Smith (30,062) and bringing up the rear, the Starr (25,603). Having covered the Sharps, Burnside, Smith and Maynard (20,002) carbines in past issues, I thought it would be interesting to review what was one of the most controversial carbines of the war—the Starr—the carbine they loved to hate.

The Starr family of gunmakers was a distinguished lot. Ebenezer T. Starr, the inventor of the Starr carbine and revolver, was born in 1816 in Middleton, Connecticut. Ebenezer was the son of Nathan S. Starr, Jr. and the grandson of Nathan S. Starr, Sr. Both elder Starr’s were well established in the armaments business and were renowned for having fulfilled numerous government contracts for swords and firearms from 1795 on

Patented in its final form on September 14, 1858, the .54 caliber Starr carbine was compact, nicely machined and incorporated some excellent design features. Like the Sharps, it was a falling block design activated by a combination triggerguard/lever, but there the similarity ended. The breechblock of the Starr pivoted away from the end of the barrel as the block was lowered. Pivoting with the breechblock was a robust locking wedge which, when the breech was closed, firmly supported the block from the rear and locked it into the frame.

The Starr fired a linen wrapped cartridge carrying a 0.555-inch diameter, 445-grain lead bullet and 63 grains of black powder. To control combustion leakage at the breech, Starr milled an angled, annular groove in the face of the breechblock, which mated with and closed over the similarly shaped end of the barrel, forming a tight, almost gas-proof joint.

Two of the marketing claims of the day made by Starr to distinguish his design from the Sharps were his pivoting block, in contrast to the vertical sliding block of the Sharps, minimized block-to-frame, metal-to-metal contact and wear and that the pivoting breechblock seated the linen cartridge uniformly in the chamber when loaded without cutting off the end of the cartridge case and dumping a bit of powder in the action.

On the whole, the Starr is a sleek, well-thought-out design featuring a 21-inch barrel, an overall length of 37.5 inches and a weight of just over 7.25 pounds. It carries a single brass barrel band, a brass buttplate and a sling ring on the left side of the frame. The barrel was blued. The frame and lock plate were color case-hardened, and the stock was walnut.


The Union Cavalry in the Civil War was armed with a wide array
of carbines, most of which didn’t share ammunition.


Like the Starr revolvers, the carbine reflected the
design genius of Ebenezer Starr.

Mixed Reviews

Why then did the Starr loose favor with the cavalry? It wasn’t due to its design. In fact, the Starr made quite a hit with the professional ordnance corps even before it was patented.

In January, 1858 Ebenezer Starr presented his carbine for testing and evaluation to Captain J. Ingraham, Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance and to Colonel Henry K. Craig, Chief of Army Ordnance. Captain Ingraham assigned the evaluation of the Starr to Commander John A. Dahlgren, Officer in Charge of the Ordnance Office at the Washington Navy Yard and Colonel Craig selected Major William H. Bell of the Washington Arsenal.

Commander Dahlgren reported, “I caused one hundred rounds to be fired from it in succession, after which the movement of movable parts were found to be nearly, if not quite as free, as before firing; the mark was six hundred yards distant, and the accuracy very good. I have no hesitation in recommending that some pistols and carbines of Mr. Starr’s model be tried in several of our ships.”

Major Bell commented that “I have the honor to state, that the carbine was to-day fired with forty rounds, at three hundred and fifty yards, and performed remarkably well, the accuracy of fire at that distance not being exceeded heretofore at this place.”

Reports from the actual field ranged from “a superior arm” to “worthless.” Here’s a sampling.

Captain James H. Young, Commanding Officer of L and M Companies of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry wrote, “…they have proved themselves more efficient in all weathers, than any other arm with which I am acquainted. They do not foul while being rapidly fired, no gas escapes from the breech, and they can be loaded more rapidly and cleaned more rapidly than any other arm.”

12th Missouri Cavalry: “They hang fire, and often three or four caps are burst trying to get them to shoot, before they go off. The distance from the tube to the head is too great and the passage too crooked.”


Patented in 1858, the carbine was well received
during the Army and Navy trials of that year.


The Starr Arms Co. produced the carbines at their Yonkers, N.Y., factory.


The initials “S.T.B” are those of Samuel T. Bugbee, the Federal
inspector who examined both Starr carbines and revolvers.

The overwhelming majority of the negative reports focused on the failure of the Starr to fire the cartridge.
How could that be?

Through the painstaking forensic work of ammunition historian, Dean S. Thomas, whose monumental, multi-volume studies of both Federal and Confederate ammunition, we have the answer.

“On June 23, 1863, Major Peter V. Hagner, Inspector of Contract Arms…was anticipating that Starr carbines would soon be in the service…and wrote General Ripley, Chief of Ordnance, that the ‘Starr carbine uses the same cartridge as the Sharps.’ Given that ordnance officers had previously stated that outwardly the Starr ‘closely resembles Sharp’s,’ this news from Hagner was welcome to the Ordnance Office struggling to supply so many different carbines with ammunition.”

It was all downhill for the Starr carbine in the service of the cavalry following Hagner’s erroneous conclusion and recommendation that Sharps ammunition was compatible with the Starr because the Ordnance Office then began issuing Sharps ammunition to Starr carbine armed units.

Receiving that early shipment of Sharps ammunition, our Captain James Young of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry armed with the Starr carbine wrote to the office of the Chief of Ordnance: “I have made some experiments with the arm for the purpose of determining the suitableness of the Sharps Carbine cartridge for it and find that this cartridge is too short; the chamber of Starr’s Carbine being longer than that of the Sharps, and the consequence is, the explosion of the cap does not always ignite the cartridge. Twenty rounds were fired from a rest at a target 5 foot x 5 foot—200 yards distant, and there were seven failures of the cartridge to ignite after the explosion of the cap, and all missed the target; some of the balls going over, others to the right and left and under.”

Although production of proper ammunition for the Starr was initiated beginning in the last quarter of 1863 and continued through the war, those early experiences of Federal cavalry units with Sharps ammunition and Starr carbines poisoned the waters for the most part.


The combination triggerguard/lever was locked at
the rear by a spring-loaded latch.


The pivoting, gas-proof breechblock featured an annular groove,
which mated with the end of the barrel.


The lock of the Starr cartridge model featured a new hammer profile.
Notice the brilliant color case hardening on this original lock.

Interestingly, before the conclusion of the war, Starr successfully morphed their percussion model into a metallic cartridge carbine by changing out the breechblock, hammer and barrel. Five thousand of the new model Starr, chambered for the .56-52 Spencer cartridge, were ordered by the Ordnance Department, and many were issued to the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the spring of 1865. As an aside, the Starr cartridge carbine lock pictured here was purchased many years ago from the Dixie Gun Works, which had barrels full of them. The mounting screws have been sawn off so I suspect that those late model Starr cartridge carbines were quickly sold for scrap following the war.

The end of the story is that Starr Arms Company went out of business in 1867, and Ebenezer Starr vanished from the gunmaking scene. Through no fault of his own, his splendid percussion carbine was the carbine the troopers loved to hate.
By Holt Bodinson

Further Reading
Round Ball to Rimfire: The History of Civil War Small Arms Ammunition. Part Two: Federal Breechloading Carbines & Rifles, by Dean S. Thomas, hardcover, 522 pages, © 2002, $49.95, from Thomas Publications, 3245 Fairfield Rd., Gettysburg, PA 17325, (800) 840-6782,

Starr Arms 1864 Gun Catalog, softcover, 23 pages, $11.95 Reprinted by and available from, Cornell Publications LLC,

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America’s Double Heritage

A wide variety of over/under and side-by-side
guns were in use by hunters in the 18th
and 19th century.

Whoever made the first double-barrel gun is impossible to identify with certainty. In his masterly work, One Hundred Great Guns, Merrill Lindsay observes over-and-under double-barrel wheellock pistols and rifles appeared in the 16th century. He specifically points to a double wheellock pistol made for Charles V by Peter Peck of Munich around 1540, which is now housed in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. From the early wheellock period through the flintlock and late percussion eras, double-guns of various calibers and gauges continued to evolve and be refined, even in America.

Historically underrated, the double rifles and combination guns made in upstate New York and New England from the 1830’s until the metallic cartridge era of the 1870’s were very popular for big game hunting—well made, well regulated and surprisingly affordable, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Have you ever heard of the shot that sealed the eventual outcome of the Revolutionary War fired by “the double-barreled rifleman” of the Revolution, Timothy Murphy? Opinions differ on whether or not the famed marksman, Murphy, a member of Daniel Morgan’s Rifle Corps, was actually using his double rifle on that fateful October day in Saratoga, New York, but the historical man and his double rifle are so well documented I would have to side with the historical markers in place at Saratoga and Schoharie commemorating his feat.

Murphy did indeed own a double flintlock rifle and was known for his exceptional marksmanship. At the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie, New York, not only is there displayed a percussion-converted double rifle attributed to Murphy but also a page dated February 19, 1776, from the ledger of gunsmith Isaac Worly of Easton, Pennsylvania, reading, “A rifle made for Timothy Murphy, a two-barrel rifle—with both barrels rifled, only one made.”

In 1777, the British 3-prong strategy to split the colonies and destroy Washington’s forces called for General Burgoyne and his army to descend from Canada down Lake Champlain, Lake George and the Hudson River and connect forces with Col. Leger moving east along the Mohawk Valley and General Howe moving north from New York City. Great strategy, but unfortunately Howe struck west into Pennsylvania for some unknown reason, and at Saratoga, on October 7, 1777 Timothy Murphy shot and killed both Burgoyne’s utterly essential field officer, General Simon Fraser, and a bit later, Burgoyne’s chief aide-de-camp, Sir Francis Clarke. Without Fraser’s leadership, Burgoyne’s army fell into disarray. Surrounded by American forces, cut off from Canada with no prospect of retreating north during the winter, General Burgoyne surrendered the whole northern army on October 17, 1777. Tim Murphy’s marksmanship and possibly his double rifle had helped to turn the tide of the Revolution.


Timothy Murphy’s double flintlock rifle looked much like this one,
with the addition of a patchbox and subtle carving.


A Nelson Lewis .44×14-gauge combination gun was a versatile game gun and this
particular caliber pairing was very popular in the day. Predominantly, Lewis
used back-action locks on his guns.

Stack Barrels

Early double guns were over/under, stack barrel designs. The art of regulating side-by-side barrels joined by a soldered rib to converge at a common point-of-aim was a skill developed only much later. With two barrels stacked on top of one another, there was either a single, or in the case of barrels that could be rotated, two distinct and separate sighting planes.

The .58-caliber, swivel-barreled, flintlock double rifle pictured is typical of an O/U design of the 18th Century, although this particular rifle was made by contemporary gunmaker, Lenard Day. Timothy Murphy could well have carried a similar model.

The two octagonal barrels are soldered together without a rib. Each barrel carries its own separate set of sights. There is one lock and two pans. A release inside the triggerguard unlocks the barrels so they can be rotated into battery and fired. This simple, fast and effective design was carried on right through the end of the percussion period. A number of barreling combinations can be found in the originals—both barrels rifled, both barrels smooth, one barrel rifled, the other smooth. In the percussion era, there were even more simple, non-rotating O/U designs which either used two locks, one of which had a longnose hammer that extended down to fire the nipple on the lower barrel or a single lock supporting two side or mule ear hammers.

In the late percussion era, New York and New England were the hotbeds for the production of double rifles and combination guns for resident hunters. Gunmakers like Nelson Lewis (1811-1888) of Troy, N.Y., Morgan James (1815-1878) of Utica, N.Y., and William Billinghurst (1807-1880) of Rochester, N.Y., stand out in particular based on their lifetime production.

The most detailed description of the actual use of cap-lock double rifles for hunting in New England is contained in Ned H. Roberts’ classic book, The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle. Said Roberts, “Some men who were better able financially had Billinghurst or N. Lewis double barreled rifles in 52, 56, 64 or 70 gauge [.45, .44, .42 or .40 caliber] and these were considered the very finest, most practical rifles for big game shooting.
These rifles usually had 26- or 28-inch barrels, weighed 8 to 10 pounds and, firing alternate right and left barrels, would keep ten shots in a 3- or 4-inch ring at 20 rods [110 yards].


In addition to the “lollypop” sight, the James rifle is mounted with simple open sights.
Morgan James enjoyed a long career and was noted for his precision target rifles and scopes.


A precision “lollypop” tang sight was very common on
double rifles and combination guns.


The .40-caliber barrels of the James double are rifled for a patched roundball.

“Both Billinghurst and Lewis also made combination double barreled guns with the top barrel a rifle of any desired caliber and the bottom one any regular gauge shotgun, or having the two barrels side-by-side. These were considered by many hunters as the finest hunting arm as with such a gun one was always prepared to shoot big game, or grouse or squirrels and other small game.”

The double rifle pictured here was built by Morgan James, a master gunmaker best known for his outstanding target rifles and telescopic sights. It’s a .40x.40 caliber, choke-bored and rifled for a patched roundball. The barrels are unusually long, measuring 33 inches, adding to the rifle’s hefty overall weight of 11.5 pounds, but you have to remember each rifle was built to the customer’s specifications. Maybe the owner felt longer barrels would provide more velocity from black powder or maybe he wasn’t a woods loafer and chose to shoot his game from an Adirondack guide boat or stationary stand. Who knows?

The rifle is fitted with both an open leaf sight and as well as a fully adjustable, folding, “lollypop” peep sight mounted on the tang—a common combination of the day. With a charge of 40 grains of FFFg, a 0.395-inch roundball and a 0.014-inch-thick patch, the Morgan James will consistently average 2.5 inches at 50 yards and 4.5 inches at 100 yards. That’s one left and one right, allowing the barrels to cool down completely between 2-shot strings, which is essential when shooting a double for zero.

One of the interesting characteristics of double guns, be they rifles, shotguns or combinations, is that the right barrel is typically fired more often than the left barrel. In muzzleloading guns, the right lock is usually more worn than the left lock, and often the hammer of the right lock is a replacement. In the James rifle, the sear and tumbler of the right lock are more worn than those on the left.

The second SxS double pictured is a .44×14-gauge combination made by Nelson Lewis. The .44×14-gauge SxS was by far the most popular combination gun of the percussion era, and more guns are seen in those calibers than all others combined.

Lewis rifled his guns with a gain twist, and the rifling in this piece appears to be designed for a patched picket bullet rather than a roundball. The Lewis gun sports 27.5-inch barrels and weighs 8.5 pounds, which conforms to Ned Roberts’ general description. The rifle still carries a set of adjustable open sights on the rib, but the original “lollypop” tang sight is missing. The hole for the threaded stem of the “lollypop” has been filled, and two additional holes have been drilled and tapped for a later, Lyman-style tang sight.

Mounted with silver hardware and with the barrel steel marked Suhl, Germany, this .44×14 would be listed as a No. 2 grade in the N. Lewis price list of 1876: “No 2. Best iron barrels, German silver mounted, or case-hardened trimmings. From $40 to $50.”

Maybe the most interesting feature of the Lewis double gun is the right hammer is a plain-Jane replacement for the original. The owner exercised his rifle barrel a lot more than his shotgun barrel.
If only these old doubles could talk!
By Holt Bodinson

Further Reading
The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle, by Ned H. Roberts, reprint, hardcover, 328 pages, $34.95. From A&J Booksellers, 4731 E. Cooper St., Tucson, AZ 85711, (520) 512-1065,

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