.251 TCR is about to be listed on Ammoguide.com, and this prompted me to take a closer look at loaded case dimensions. The case diameter is actually .272, not .275; the chamber is reamed to .275 however. The case does not taper, as you can see in the cutaway.
A word about AmmoGuide- they’ve been around for a long time in internet terms, and it shows; their website is archaic. It can take some effort to navigate, and you need to make sure JAVA is active in your browser. That being said, it is a treasure-trove of cartridge and loading data, the like of which I have never seen on the internet. This is a must for anyone into reloading, and for folks shooting wildcats, antique or obscure cartridges it is a gold mine! Well worth the modest yearly subscription.
Of course you can add cartridges (like the .251 TCR.) if you don’t see them, and you can add load data of your own for the cartridges listed. I highly recommend giving it a look.
.38 S&W normally takes a bullet in the .359-.362 diameter range. My S&W slugged at .361″, and lately I’ve been using swaged 125gr./.361 wadcutters with great success… but not everyone can swage their own bullets, so yesterday I tried an experiment.
I loaded 50rds. of Aardvark’s 125gr. TCL ‘cowboy’ bullets. In my experience ‘cowboy’ bullets tend to be rather soft so they’ll splatter nicely on steel instead of ricocheting. I wanted to see if they would ‘bump up’ to bore diameter and stabilize properly over a modest load.
I used 2.7gr of Unique, a CCI 500 small pistol primer and a fairly serious crimp. At the range the results were just right; the load shot to point of aim and the targets showed no sign of yawing or key-holing, even all the way out at 25 yards. Recoil was mildly snappy but not unpleasant.
Guns vary; what works in one may not in another. But given the lack of bullets in .361, and that when you find them they are almost always 145-148gr LRNs, it might be worth trying a 125gr./.357 ‘cowboy’ or soft-cast bullet in your gun. Could make life just a little easier, and the lower recoil of the light bullet might help prolong the life of your antique revolver.
Some days you go to the range for fun. Some days you go to the range because you just have to shoot something, and paper is the safest alternative. Some days, well, you got stuff you need to test. Loads, tweaks to a gun, function testing a new gun. I had to do these things today, so it was off to Champion Arms in Kent, Washington.
Lots of things to test; my Colt Police Positive Special in .32-20 shoots consistently low with every load I have tried, and I cautiously trimmed the front sight a wee bit to try to bring the groups up to point of aim. The custom Taurus Falcon .38 was shooting low and right. I shortened the front sight a bit and did a little… uh… impact therapy to see if I could get things centered up better.
I also had two new guns to test. Well, sort of new. ‘Southern Comfort,’ my brass-framed 1851 Navy ‘Avenging Angel-style’ cartridge conversion, had the arbor pull out of the frame at some point. The previous owner had thoughtfully glued it back in. I discovered it the first time I test fired it, when half the gun followed the bullet downrange. OK, I thought, That’s not right…
I’d happened across a brass frame somewhere or other and decided to replace it the bad one… then I decided to change the barrel to a .375 barrel to shoot .38 Short Colt. Of course I needed a new cylinder and breechplate for that. By the time I was done the only parts left from the original gun were the custom grip-frame, grips and trigger-guard, so it’s basically kinda’ a new gun.
The other new gun is an anonymous reproduction of a Colt 1849 ‘Wells Fargo’ .31 that was thrown in as a sweetener on a deal earlier this year. I’d already re-done a .31 Colt reproduction into a .22, so I considered making this one a .32 S&W. But then it occurred to me that it would be a bit more unique to do it up as a .251 TCR (if you don’t know what that is you can read about it here.)
Long story short I re-barreled it, turned a new 5-shot cylinder from 4140, made a breech ring with a rebounding firing pin and changed it over to a sheathed spur-trigger. The last bit I did because I could barely fit my fat finger in the trigger-guard.
I also had some new .251 TCR loads to test using Red Dot powder, which I felt might be a good match for this cartridge.
So, How’d it Go?
Starting with the Police Positive Special .32-20. Good grouping, and the modified sights were a great improvement… but it’s still shooting a bit low. For those interested the load used was an Aardvark Bullets 95gr. RNFP over 3.7gr. of Unique with a Federal #100 small pistol primer. I haven’t chronographed this load, but it ought to be making somewhere around 900fps. It’s definitely got some pop to it; it seems like a pretty nice load for this old gun.
Next was the Taurus Falcon .38. Shot to point of aim at seven yards, good groups. trying out some rapid-fire and double taps produced an acceptable result, but there’s definitely room for improvement. I’ll need to work with this gun some more. The load used was an Aardvark Bullets 125gr. TCL bullet over 3.9gr. of Red Dot with a Federal #100 primer. This is a peppy load, but seems well within standard pressure limits.
Southern Comfort had a small issue; while it shot well the firing pin is a wee bit long and sharp, and punched holes in the primers of all five test shots. That being the case I put the gun up for the day. I’ll rectify this soon. On the plus side the action is unusually sweet, and it easily shot ‘minute-of-bad-guy’ at seven yards.
The load used was a Buffalo Bullets dry-lubed .375 LRN over 10gr. of triple Seven ( a black powder substitute.) The bullets were converted to a heel-base, and loaded into .38 S&W brass, which is virtually identical to .38 Colt Short brass. I don’t know what kind of velocity these are making, but it ain’t fast. I need to chronograph a few and see what’s what.
Firing-pin issues seemed to be the problem of the day; the Wells Fargo shot well… for one cylinder. Then it called it for today by ejecting it’s firing pin; apparently it was secure enough for test-firing primers, but actual cartridges? Not so much. Since it was the first time firing the gun I was more concerned with function than accuracy, but it seemed to put the bullets where I pointed it and functioned perfectly. I will need to hone the chambers; they were a bit sticky.
The load used in this gun was a mid-range load, a Rimrock Bullets hard-cast 55gr. LRNFP over 1.5gr of Red Dot with a Federal #100 primer. This is roughly a .22 LR equivalent load. but I wanted to take it easy on the gun the first time out.
I got the Uberti test-gun out for the other new load- the Rimrock 55gr. over 2.0gr of Red Dot. This proved quite accurate; it’s a good load, but I think the power can be cranked up; I’m pretty sure these hard-cast pills can take a good bit more velocity. I need to chronograph the load, but I suspect it’s doing 1000-1050 fps.
Altogether a pretty decent day of testing; everything basically worked. The things that didn’t are all easy fixes.
NOTE: Load data included in this article should be used with caution, and any use of this data is done at the readers own risk.
Perusing the Shelves at Pinto’s Guns I came across an L.C. Smith 12-gauge double. It looked pretty bad; it had been liberally slathered with shellac at some point- metalwork, wood, everything, presumably to protect it as a wall-hanger. The bores were obviously somewhat pitted- hard to tell about the right-hand barrel; couldn’t see past the spiderwebs and lint. No, I’m not kidding. The fore-end was broken and the nut had been crudely replaced. It was, in a word, ugly.
On the other hand it locked up like a bank vault, and when I rang the barrels it was like a church bell (this indicates that the barrels are still solidly joined.) The triggers were fantastic, and everything was there and worked as it should. I thought if nothing else it might serve as a donor-gun for a double-rifle project I’ve had in mind. It was also dirt cheap- which didn’t stop me from negotiating a bit. We quickly arrived at a satisfactory price, and we walked out with the shotgun.
L.C. Smith started in the gun trade making the Baker Triple-barrel gun in around 1881, and moved into double-barrel hammer shotguns shortly thereafter. These were fine shotguns; in 1884 prices ranged from $55-$300, which was a hell of a lot of money in those days. They began to make hammerless guns a few years later, which ranged from $80-$450! In 1888 L.C.Smith sold the company to Hunter Arms and went into the typewriter business.
Hunter Arms produced the L.C.Smith shotguns until 1945, when they were bought out by Marlin. The brand survived until 1971- a pretty long and illustrious history for an American brand.
The particular gun I bought is the second lowest grade they produced the year it was made- a Grade No.0., which was listed at $48. For perspective that was significantly more than the average monthly income, which was around $39. In modern terms, adjusted for the current average monthly wage, this would make it the equivalent of a shotgun costing several thousand dollars. These were not by any means an average sportsman’s gun!
Arriving home I cleaned the barrels- bad, but not too bad; minor pitting pretty much down the length of the barrels. I checked into some tools and consulted a friend in the trade, and it seems likely the bores can be honed into a decent condition; there is more than ample metal remaining. In an emergency I’d have no real qualms about firing it; though I frankly can’t imagine an emergency that would require me to.
Wait, Tinker… did you say fire it? But it’s damascus! Have you got a death-wish?
OK, we’ve covered this. People in Europe think we’re nuts not to shoot our damascus guns; they do it all the time. Hell, the big proof houses regularly proof damascus guns, and there are folks right here in the U.S. that perform this service privately. Not to mention hundreds of aficionados that hunt and even shoot sporting clays with them. One fellow I am acquainted with puts several thousand rounds a year through his doing this.
Mind you, this is an antique shotgun and needs to be treated as such; you should not fire such a gun without having it looked at by a qualified gunsmith. Also using relatively mild loads is advisable to prolong it’s working life, but within those limitations there’s no reason not to shoot it, and I fully intend to. ‘Nuff said.
My friend in the trade advised me that alcohol would remove the shellac, but I found acetone worked better. I spent a couple of hours this afternoon with rags, 0000 steel wool and a toothbrush and removed it all. Underneath was, well, a pretty decent old shotgun.
I’m planning to replace the fore-stock and hone the bores, but what, if anything, will I do on top of that? I don’t know. Certainly I’ll have the side-plates off and clean out the action as needed, and likely I’ll remove the trigger-guard to facilitate cleaning up around the triggers. I could go with straight conservation, light restoration or go whole-hog. Whatever I do eventually, I’ve already started with conservation. Likely I will fully refinish the stock to match the new fore-end, but I have no firm plans past that.
However far I take it, I’m very much looking forward to the process, and the results!