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Doug Bowser 12-17-2017 06:09 PM

My early experiences with the US 1873 rifle
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By Doug Bowser

When I was 16 years old, my Dad and I drove from Syracuse to Homer, New York. The big attraction in Homer was Jerry Crozier's Gun Shop. We were looking at the Bargain Rack and we found a sporterized 1873 Springfield Trapdoor in .45-70 Government for $20.00. We bought the rifle and asked about ammunition. Jerry broke out two 500 round cases of UMC Government Standard .45-70 ammunition for $.04 per round. The ammunition was loaded with the 500 GR Government Lead Rifle Bullet and King's Semi-Smokeless Powder. To this day, I wish I had never opened the cases of ammo. When I fired the rifle, large quantities of acrid smoke belched forward. The color of the smoke was orange. The recoil of the carbine was ferocious. Although I was 16 years old, I was 6'1" and 210 pounds. Even with my size and weight, the recoil was hard to take from the bench rest. Not many rounds could be fired before I had to quit. The accuracy of this rifle and ammo combination was three inches at 100 yards.

The rear sight on the rifle was the Buffington style. It is similar to the sight on the 1903 Springfield. With an open sight for a battle sight and peep sight when the sight was turned up ninety degrees from the barrel. The sight was adjustable out to 1400 yards and was windage adjustable with a knob on the right side of the sight. The windage had a scale with 4 MOA increments. I adjusted the front sight height, so the open sight hit center at 100 yards. It was difficult to see through the peep sight while hunting. It is interesting to note, when Colonel Buffington was establishing elevation zeros on the 1884 sight, they fired at targets out to 1400 yards. The shooting was done at a range in Sea Girt, NJ and the target frames were made of 12”X12” pine. At 1400 yards the .45-70-500 cartridge would penetrate the 12x12’s .

The same day we bought the rifle and ammunition, Dad bought an Ideal Nutcracker Reloading Tool. This was not a Lyman product but from the original Ideal factory. There was a bullet mould on the end of the tool and a bullet sizing chamber as well. This was an excellent way to get more ammo for the Trapdoor that would not kick your brains out. The bullet mould cast a 405 GR Government Carbine bullet. My Dad would not buy me smokeless powder but he did buy 4 pounds of DuPont FFG Black Powder and 1000 large rifle primers ($4.50). We had to have a NY State Powder Permit to pick up the powder.

I had to fire the UMC ammo to have empty cases to reload. I tried the bench, offhand and prone with a rifle jacket. The prone position was amazing, the rifle kicked so hard it would move me 6" to the rear on each shot. I decided the fun way to shoot the Trapdoor was offhand.

I cast bullets from wheel weights and sized them in my tong tool. The next step was to pan lube the bullets. I bought a Lyman "Cookie Cutter" that was designed to cut the bullets out of the pan melted lube and leave the lube in the grooves of the bullet. You had to set the bullets upright in a heated pan and add Lyman bullet lube until all the grease grooves were covered with lube. Let the lube cool and use the “Cookie Cutter” to cut the bullets out of the lube.

I loaded the 405 GR bullets with 55 GR FFG Powder. That was the original Government carbine load. This load kept my shoulder from severe bruising, My home brewed ammo was not quite as accurate as the UMC Factory loads but it still stayed in 4" at 100 yards.

When I went deer hunting with the Trapdoor, I used the UMC 500 GR loads as long as the supply held out. It was 1958 and the ammo was made circa 1890. Every one of the 1000 - 68 year old rounds fired with only one slight hang fire. In 1959, I killed a deer at 75 yards with the rifle and the old ammo. It was struck in the shoulder and went down like a ton of bricks.

We had permission to shoot Norwegian Brown rats at the dump at Chittenango, NY. The place we shot at in the dump faced toward a large hill called a Drumlin. It was safe to fire any sized rifle or pistol there. I often brought high powered rifles to shoot the rats but usually used a rifle in .22 LR. One night I brought the trapdoor and my Holy Black reloads. The method to get the rats to move was to set up two cars about 200 yards apart. The first driver would turn on the car’s lights and beep the horn. The rats would run to the other side of the dump. It would look like a brown blanket moving across the ground. When the first run was over the other driver would repeat the procedure. We always kept the parking lights on so we could see the cars in the pitch black night. This gave us ample opportunity to shoot at the rats. When I fired the trapdoor, the flame was amazing in the ink black night. I did not even have to hit the rats to kill them. The debris from the ground when the 500 GR bullet struck under them, did the job effectively. Just like barking a squirrel on a tree limb with a muzzle loader. One night, I was with two older guys and they had .22 RF handguns. We had just beeped the horn and flashed the lights, so we thought all the rats had left our area. We stepped down on the ground from the hood of the 1953 Pontiac and a large group of rats ran between our feet. One of my friends jumped up on the other (piggy back style) and accidentally slapped the guy in the head, who was holding him, with the unloaded K22. Both of them fell to the ground with the rats running around and over them. No one was seriously hurt but we all stayed on the cars from then on. The days of shooting rats at a County dump are over. Society has let the criminal element take over in New York and the mere sight of a firearm has become a thing most people fear there. In NY, firearm ownership has gone down to 16% in households. I have never regretted moving to Mississippi. I have enjoyed my hobbies and life more here than I would have in New York.

As a youngster of 16, I had a lot of fun with the trapdoor. I was lucky enough to have parents who were very supportive of me in my shooting hobbies. As far as rifles and shotguns were concerned, whatever I wanted to buy was OK with them as long as I acted in a legal and safe manner.

I sold the old rifle years ago with the brass and Ideal tool. I often wished I had not.

Doug Bowser

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