When is a "bad bore" (musket) too bad to shoot?


April 9, 2010, 10:28 PM
In the context of .58 cal. Civil War era muskets, which are rifled and designed to shoot minie balls, how bad does a bore have to be to 1) shoot so terribly (inaccurate, tumbling) that anything but point blank shooting is a waste of time, and 2) it can actually be unsafe to shoot.

Hypothetical specimen: original 1853 Enfield with a bore that's seen horriffic rusting episodes and is so pitted that it somewhat resembles a sewer pipe, however, rifling can still just barely be made out. Who has experience trying to shoot similar examples, using minie balls and 60 gns. FFg?

It's unclear to me whether the rifling that can be seen is enough to impart spin on a minie ball. If so, I imagine it would fly generally straight. But it is entirely possible that the rifling is just too faint to do anything, and the minie ball could come out with no spin at all. In such a case, would the heavier-in-the-front minie ball fly point first (though maybe wobbly), or would it immediately tumble?

Apart from accuracy issues, would a badly pitted bore in an original 1853 Enfield possibly create such friction upon the minie ball so as to drive pressures up to dangerous, barrel-bursting levels, when using 60 grns. of FFg?

It's easy to speculate and offer conjecture, but what I'm really looking for is some first hand experience in shooting such sad-bored muskets.


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April 10, 2010, 05:30 AM
DutchmanDick bought an original Napalese Enfield and posted a range report about it. But first he posted some threads describing its condition and about how he cleaned it up and removed the breech plug to thoroughly inspect it.

Here's the threads that he posted in reverse order:

Nepalese P1853 speaks out!


Nepalese Enfield - closer to the firing line...


Nepalese P1853 - good "shooter" prospect?


4v50 Gary
April 10, 2010, 10:09 PM
Old guns can be restored to life by relining the barrel. Ahh, the safety of modern steel. Bobby Hoyt of Der Freischutz Shoppe does excellent work.

One should factor in the cost of relining against the lost of value of the antique arm because of the relining as well as the cost of other parts that may need servicing. It might be cheaper to buy a replica and shoot that instead. Leave the wall hanger a wall hanger.

April 11, 2010, 09:23 PM
My suggestion is to not reline the barrel but buy a replacement for the barrel. Dan Whitacre can make you a barrel that is "drop in" to your original stock. Bob Hoyt does excellent work also. This preserves your original barrel and its historical significance.

If you do decide to shoot it, the primary area to check is the chamber area. This is the area most likely to rupture. If the corrosion is too bad, the steel might be too weak to handle the load. Also, the minie ball's skirt may be pulled off and lodge in the barrel. This causes a number of problems besides the loss of accuracy for that round. Leading, due to friction from the bad bore will become a major problem also.

Best bet, is have a competent gunsmith look closely at the barrel from breech to muzzle before shooting it.

April 16, 2010, 08:44 PM
More details and update--

The gun in question is not an Enfield, but very similar. It's called a Brazilian Light Minie Rifle. It seems the best anyone knows, a few thousand (at most; could be as few as a couple of hundred) of these were bought in Belgium by the U.S. government in 1862. It was originally intended for a Brazilian contract, but arms-hungry agents were buying anything anyone had in stock in Europe at the onset of the CW.

I had not pulled (unscrewed) the breechplug but had the barrel out of the stock and on the outside, the breechplug looked good in that there was no rust in the area or at the seam where it contacted the barrel.

I did not see any "micro cracks" anywhere on the outside of the barrel either. Clearly, if I had seen any cracks, it would be a "do not fire" gun for sure.

The stock is old of course, but looked sound.

So I took it to the range today. I started with 45 gns. FFg and a Lee traditional style Minie ball with the base and side grooves filled with Bore Butter and fired it in a manner that shielded my vitals. Then I moved to 55 gns. then 60, then 65. It didn't blow up. :)

Then I started shooting it normally, and fired about 25 more shots at 65 gns., same Lee Minie's lubed the same way as described above, which based on my experience with my replica Euroarms Enfield Musketoon allows continuous firing with no need to clean between shots.

Shock of shocks--at 50 yards, offhand, it grouped at just under 4 inches. But you could tell from the holes in the paper that the Minie's weren't flying exactly straight. It was obvious that they were all a little tilted, maybe 15 degrees, in that there would be a big .58 hole, but with a small semicircular "smear" on one side where the side of the skirt wiped the paper. Still, it grouped WAY better than I thought it would with that bore!

If someone tells me how to post pics of the gun and the bore, I'd be happy to.

April 17, 2010, 12:52 AM
From what you describe, the gun is typically called "the Brazilian Enfield". It was purchased for use in this country for the CW.

What you describe is quite common when the bullets are a bit small. Your bullet is not quite filling the bore completely when it expands the hollow base. Make absolutely sure you are using pure lead, with no tin or other metals in it. Also, for the best accuracy, you need bullets that they are no less .002 under bore size.

Sounds like you may have a winner. Just because it is old, doesn't mean it can't shoot well. One I shoot is 170 years old. Another is 150. They are some of my best shooting BP guns. Many medals with these guns.

April 17, 2010, 11:51 AM
Another possibility as a cause for the apparent yaw of the bullets is you may be getting flaring of thethin skirt from the 65gr charge. Review the targets of the 45 & 50 gr charges to see it they also have the smear on the target holes. If not, then the skirt could be getting belled as it exits the barrel.

April 23, 2010, 10:44 PM
Good points Hawkeye & Hellgate. As for undersize Minie balls, well, if you saw the bore near the muzzle end especially it is WAY "oversize" because there's so much metal gone from being rusted & pitted away it isn't funny. I am still astounded it shoots as well as it does.

As for the skirt-flaring issue, I suppose that is possible too as a result of the charge but also because the bore is oversized near the muzzle.

Pure lead used as always.

I will give it another good working out at 60 gns. FFg. I also have some Lyman 511's that have a much thicker skirt which I'll try.

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