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Considering a BP Cartridge Rifle

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by josmund, Apr 1, 2012.

  1. josmund

    josmund Well-Known Member

    Hello all,

    I've been shooting muzzleloaders with Black Powder and subs for a few years now.

    I've been thinking about picking up a cartridge rifle for fun. Perhaps a 1874 Sharps replication or something of the sort. I have a couple of questions:

    1) Since I don't cast or reload, does this make any sense?
    2) About how much would it cost and how difficult would it be to reload? I'd probably buy the bullets from a caster.

    Any other thoughts on what to buy as a beginner to see if it's worth going in further?

  2. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Well-Known Member

    I picked up a revamped .50-70 rolling block last year and It's been a blast. If you start with a .45-70 Sharps you can use both smokeless and BP loads.

    I hadn't reloaded with BP before, and it's quite different from standard smokeless reloading. I rigged a drop tube out of copper tube from home depot and some scrap wood. I use a volumetric powder measure and drop each charge down the tube into the primed shell. Then I use a compression plug to ensure uniform compression, stick an over-powder wad on top and seat the bullet. The goal is to have no air space at all and uniform compression.

    You don't need to cast as there are a lot of bullets out there for sale, pre-lubed and everything. Check out Gunbroker too.

    As far as gear, you'd likely need a compression plug in addition to the standard dies. Brass is the same as smokeless. Some folks use magnum primers with BPCR. Volumetric measure is nice, but again some folks weigh. I think consistency is the most important thing. Do everything the same way each time for each test batch.

    Now when you get into advanced competition BPCR, things can get more complex and nit-picky. But you don't have to go that far to have fun. There are also alternate methods like using softer lead slugs and paper patches. But again you don't have to do that to start.

    Here's a good book on the subject:


    The big expense is often the rifle itself. A high end Sharps replica can run serious $$$. The actual antiques are ironically sometimes cheaper than the modern repros. .50-70 rollers like mine are not very expensive. .45-70 trapdoors are also pretty easy to find for reasonable prices. But you have to be pretty sure of the rifle's condition and be very careful about your loads. 145 years is a long time to be shooting.

    If you're willing to fudge a bit on the historical accuracy, one option is to get a Ruger No. 1 in .45-70 and just use it to learn both smokeless and BP loading. It's a tank in strength, you would be hard pressed to hurt it. And it's about half or less what a Shiloh Sharps would run you.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2012
  3. BHP FAN

    BHP FAN Well-Known Member

    .45-70 has got to be the perfect cartridge to learn to reload. I don't have the Sharps, but I do have two Traproors. one replica, and one original, and they are a hoot to shoot. Lee makes a great pocker reloading kit with everything in it you'll need, other than primers, powder, and cases, called the Lee Loader, for about $25.00. You can get the excellent Lee Hand Press for about the same amount, plus another twenty bucks or so for the dies, so either way, you are into reloading for less than the price of two boxes of .45-70 cartridges. It makes perfect sense.
  4. arcticap

    arcticap Well-Known Member

  5. josmund

    josmund Well-Known Member

    Thanks Guys,

    Great information.
  6. DMH

    DMH Well-Known Member

    Wow! Thanks.

  7. swampsavage

    swampsavage Member

    I have a Sharps and...

    ...it's fun to shoot and easy to handload empties. It's also a tad on the expensive side for ammo. If you are a reloader it consumes lots of powder.

    I also have a Winchester '73 clone in 44WCF (aka 44-40). It's also a hoot to shoot and ammo is about half the price. It also takes half as much BP if you go that route.

    Cost of rifles is about the same for each for most configurations.

    Just another suggestion for consideration. I like both calibers equally.
  8. zimmerstutzen

    zimmerstutzen Well-Known Member

    Straight wall cases are about the easiest to reload. A 45-70 is probably the most versatile and the one for which there are the most moulds, selection of cases and selection of loading gear.

    The guns are indeed expensive. An H&R is the cheapest new gun, but not very traditional in looks. Some guys will spend $4000 for a gun and another $1000 just for the sights.

    I have several guns in 45-70. Two trapdoors, a Hepburn, a Sharps repro, a rebarreled Martini Enfield and an old H&R Shikari model. Oddly, the original 1888 Trapdoor is the most accurate. I have molds from 190 grains to 550 grains and 6 or 7 molds in between. In line bullet seater, old Ideal Nut cracker, new Lyman nut cracker, Lee loader, and dies with press. Wad punches etc. 45-70 is about the easiest there is.
  9. BCRider

    BCRider Well-Known Member

    I recently got a rolling block oldie for a decent price. Just waiting on the .38-55 dies to arrive. I wanted a Sharps but frankly they seem to be the flavour of the week and prices on them are simply crazy to my way of thinking. So the appeal of "those other" action styles at sensible prices lured me. If you're of the same mind you may want to consider some of the other options as well.

    For reloading you can set up a budget system for probably $150 or so. Dies you should buy new unless you KNOW that they are in good condition. I've been burned twice with used dies. I won't pay more than $20 for used anymore just in case.

    The press you can get used for cheap with no trouble. There's lots of single position options for pretty cheap. But to avoid setting up the die each time I far and away prefer a press with multiple positions which you can then select the die you want by indexing it into place. Such presses are available from Lyman, Lee, RCBS and others. Get a nice one and it'll bump the budget a little but it'll be a lifetime tool you'll appreciate from day one.

    For cleaning the brass I tried the vibrator and media method. Then I tried an ultrasonic cleaner with a mix of water, liquid laundry detergent and a shot of vinegar. MUCH, MUCH better and easier than the vibrator option. And best of all no grit to worry about. The only downside is you wash and rinse well then leave for a couple of days laid out on a tray or similar to ensure it's fully dry inside and out.

    If you're loading black powder cartridges consider too that you'll need to boil the bullets if you buy them to remove the lube intended for smokeless powders. You'll then replace it with some mixture of Crisco shortening or lard with beeswax or parafin wax to make a new lube which is black powder friendly. If you don't I understand that the fouling will indeed be foul to clean out.

    Finally you'll want to cobble togeter a small funnel and length of brass or copper tubing to make a drop tube. This is about a 2 to 3 foot long tube which you pour the powder down into the casings. It greatly aids in packing the powder more tightly so you only need to further compress it a little or not at all. You'll want to flare each end of the tube so it fits over the case mouth on the bottom and over the funnel which you'll then solder or glue in place. For best results the inside diameter should be just a little less than the opening in the casing.
  10. Stormin.40

    Stormin.40 Well-Known Member

    I inherited an original trapdoor almost 6 months. I purchased 20 rounds of Goex 405gr Black Powder cartridges, they ran about $35/20 rounds so you won't shoot much is you don't reload.

    I started reloading for my trapdoor about 3 months ago and it is really very easy, I agree with others that you need a compression die. Check out trackofthewolf.com for BP cartridge reloading supplies.

    I don't cast either, I purchased my cast bullets from Penn Bullets, they use a really soft lead alloy, 30:1 and provide BP lube with unlubed bullets, shipping bullets with soft BP lube is messy, I hand lubed my bullets.
  11. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Well-Known Member

    I buy my BPCR bullets from Montana Bullet Works.
    Not cheap but a lot less than factory BP or fake powder ammunition.

    As said, if you don't reload, you will not do much shooting.
  12. zimmerstutzen

    zimmerstutzen Well-Known Member

    A reasonably priced 45-70 mold can be 25 to 35 dollars. Use an old small cast iron skillet and ladle to melt the lead. I figure I have molded a few thousand with my old Lyman 125457 mold. (500 grain, about identical with the old Gov't design bullet for the 45-70.)

    If you only shoot one gun, you can pretty much dispense with the need for FL sizing and in a single shot, you don't normally need to crimp the bullet either.

    I have never used a compression die or drop tube. There are a couple of tricks that can be used to do the same without those.

    My most accurate Trapdoor loads are loaded with an old Ideal double adjust nut cracker tool. Includes a mold, bullet sizer, primer seater and bullet seater all in one hand held tool.
  13. josmund

    josmund Well-Known Member

    Lot's of great info on this thread.

    Thanks to all who posted.

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