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DOUG BOWSER
907 8TH ST.
McCOMB, MS 39648
601-341-8797
[email protected]

MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE 1873 TRAPDOOR SPRINGFIELD



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 Rifle bullet and King's Semi-smokeless Powder. To this day, I wished 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 the 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 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 them. No one was seriously hurt but we all stayed on the car 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 in NY.

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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That must be an "Old Fogie" thing, Doug!  I shot rats in the city dump in Gulfport, MS, as a kid!  Great fun!!  We had such a problem with wharf rats at the Gulfport Yacht Club when I was a teenager that he club manager got permission for a group of us to sit below the club (raised building on pilings) on the picnic tables and shoot rats with our .22's...all shots made toward the Gulf of Mexico.  We got some the size of small dogs!

I enjoyed your write-up on the Trapdoor Carbine...I owned a couple of those thru the years, too.  They were VICIOUS with full powered loads!
 

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Thanks for the article Doug!! I want a 1873 pretty darn bad!! Would never be able to afford a real decent carbine these days - the rifle will have to do!!
 

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captain-03 said:
Thanks for the article Doug!! I want a 1873 pretty darn bad!!  Would never be able to afford a real decent carbine these days - the rifle will have to do!!  
Captain, they aren't 19th century collectible specimens though they may be as costly
as one in great condition but have you ever considered an H&R Trapdoor they made
in the 1960s and 1970s?  I had one I sold sadly to finance some grad schooling but
I recall they were of modern steel and probably didn't have to be shot with black powder,
all I ever shot was factory stuff available at that time and it must have had smokeless
in the rounds because I never had a smoke cloud to have to peer through after one
shot. I have no idea where one might find one now though.

Mr Doug, great article on your remembrance of that Trapdoor, and the Ideal hand tool,
a friend of mine has one made after Lyman bought Ideal out but before they changed
them over to cheap pot metal, his is all steel as yours was.
 

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Another great article Doug.  Trapdoors are one of my favorites and they are fun to shoot.  I've looked at a few 1873's but haven't ended up with one yet.  Maybe one day I'll find the right one.  I currently have a Model 1870 in .50-70 mfg in 1870, an 1884 made in 1887 and an 1884 SRC mfg. in 1885.  I want to hunt with them but the problem is that they shoot high, 12" or more at 100 yards.  You can see in the photo where I temporarily stuck a different sight on the SRC to see if I could get it on at 100 yards.  It was still hitting high so I gave up on that.  The bottom one it the one I've hunted with the last couple of years.  It's an 1879 Remington Rolling Block in .43 Spanish.
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22lrfan. it would be hard to get the rear site on the carbine low enough to make much difference...put on a higher front site and you'll have more luck.
 

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Vick said:
22lrfan. it would be hard to get the rear site on the carbine low enough to make much difference...put on a higher front site and you'll have more luck.
I thought about it but the front sight is brazed on and I don't want to make any changes that would affect the value.
 

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DOUG BOWSER
907 8TH ST.
McCOMB, MS 39648
601-341-8797
[email protected]

MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE 1873 TRAPDOOR SPRINGFIELD



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 Rifle bullet and King's Semi-smokeless Powder. To this day, I wished 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 the 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 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 them. No one was seriously hurt but we all stayed on the car 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 in NY.

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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Great stories about rat shooting, and the trapdoor. When I was younger a friend of mine had an uncle that raised hogs. Evey now and then we'd go out to his food storage shed at night, bust open the door and cut loose with 22 pistols. Rats flying everywhere. Came to an end when he got a couple of cats. I bought a couple of Trapdoor sporters 2 years ago and love them. One was made in 1877 the other 1887. thanks again.
 

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Captain, they aren't 19th century collectible specimens though they may be as costly
as one in great condition but have you ever considered an H&R Trapdoor they made
in the 1960s and 1970s? I had one I sold sadly to finance some grad schooling but
I recall they were of modern steel and probably didn't have to be shot with black powder,
all I ever shot was factory stuff available at that time and it must have had smokeless
in the rounds because I never had a smoke cloud to have to peer through after one
shot. I have no idea where one might find one now though.

Mr Doug, great article on your remembrance of that Trapdoor, and the Ideal hand tool,
a friend of mine has one made after Lyman bought Ideal out but before they changed
them over to cheap pot metal, his is all steel as yours was.
 

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My first trapdoor was one of the H&R trapdoors. An officer's model, very pretty, but I could't get use to the tang site. (that was all it had). Plus I found out that there was a problem with the shaft of the locking lever. H&R useda round shaft that was held in place with just a set screw. The original had a square shaft, that didn't move. There were fixes for the H&R (drilling a deeper hole in the shaft and using a longer set screw), but I decided to sell it. Bought 2 old trapdoor sporters with the money.
 
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