Colt Sixguns, Parker Hale

Every writer who writes about something even remotely technical, and wishes to show improvement after a particular process is accomplished, takes "before and after" notes, pictures or measurements. In one case, this one didn't!

A couple of months ago I related a story about my Euroarms reproduction Model 1860 Colt .44 Army revolver. While at the North-South Skirmish Association (N-SSA) Fall Nationals, I took the opportunity to have the gun's forcing cone uniformly reamed at custom gunsmith Tom Ball's booth on Sutler's Row. The first bit of accurizing performed on any revolver, even before a trigger job, shold be a forcing cone reaming.

Unfortunately, I hadn't had the opportunity to fire the gun, which was presented to me by the members of my N-SSA unit, the 69th New York, more than a year ago, before having it gunsmithed. With several book projects completed, I've decided to take a year off from heavy writing and do a lot more shooting (and trout fishing). In light of that promise to myself, I took the 1860 out to the range shortly after returning home from the Nationals.

I loaded each chamber with 25 grains of FFFG Goex black powder, a Wonder Wad and a .454 ball. Cheating a bit by holding the gun with the two-handed "isoceles" style grip, I then fired a cylinderful of slugs at a target 17 yards away.

Why the peculiar distance, you may ask? Well, that's the distance from the firing line to one of the handgun target frames designed for the modern Practical Pistol Course at my local club.

At any rate, the gun printed a group about a foot over point of aim with five rounds in one ragged elongated hole and one round about " out. The group was shaded a bit to the left of point of aim, probably a function of my tendency to shoot to the left with single action revolvers. A higher front sight will correct the elevation problem and I may need to shave a bit off the new sight's side to bring it to center.

This is excellent accuracy for a Colt style handgun with hammer notch rear sight. (Especially when fired by the likes of me!) Although I am sure that Tom Ball's work was responsible for the fine shooting, I sincerely regret not having taken a "before" picture. The "after" photo accompanies this column.

Many shooters routinely disparage the Colt as an accurate arm, and this may be true for hot-shot target shooters. But with a little gunsmithing work, a reproduction of the old Civil War favorite (85 percent of handguns carried by Union cavalrymen at Gettysburg were Colts) is still an excellent choice for casual sport shooters.

Parker Hale, source of those excellent British-made Enfield, Whitworth and Volunteer rifles, may be gone, but the legendary company is far from forgotten. While on assignment covering a story on a new shotgun slug for another publication, I had the pleaseure of interviewing Tony Kinchin, former small arms engineer for Parker Hale.

Tony reminisced about the old days at the famed British manufacturer, which ceased production of muzzleloaders in 1990. Kinchin was in at the start of Parker Hale's re-creation of the Enfield and other quality muzzleloaders. One day the company's Works Manager John Le Breton informed Tony that he wanted to make a reproduction Enfield military muzzleloading rifle, and that he wanted the gun to reflect the exact specifications of the original Enfield.

In an attempt to meet Le Breton's request, Tony traveled to the museum at Enfield to record the dimensions of original rifle muskets and the tooling used to manufacture them. To his delight, the museum director allowed him to take a set of original Enfield master gauges back to Parker Hale.

One of the nice touches of the Parker Hale series of muzzleloading Enfields was the replication of Enfield progressive depth rifling, which tapers evenly from .015 deep at the breech to .005 at the muzzle. All P53 Enfields manufactured after 1858 had progressive depth rifling. Parker Hale used modern manufacturing methods to recreate this old-style rifling. Progressive rifling in Parker Hale barrels was "cold hammer forged" around a sliding mandrel to insure the proper depth.

In keeping with Le Breton's instructions to do a perfect reproduction, Parker Hale lockplates were color case hardened the old fashioned way, in bone charcoal. Most modern reproduction guns are colored by a chemically induced surface coloring.

Tony was also involved in the production of the Parker Hale Whitworth, of which much has been written in this column over the last several months. The Parker Hale Whitworth was patterned after an original gun acquired by the factory. The Parker Hale staff copied the gun and also shot it. According to Sir Joseph's original specifications, the Whitworth was supposed to obtain over 1,400 feet per second velocity with a 90-grain charge ofblack powder.

Tony had to use 130 grains of powder, probably the Curtis & Harvey we used over here to skirmish with after Dupont ended production and before GOI picked up the slack some years back, to achieve the same velocity. With a soft lead bullet, this speed leaded the barrel badly and gave poor accuracy. Leading disappeared and accuracy improved with harder bullets cast with antimony alloy.

More comes in the mail regarding the fabulous Parker Hale Whitworth. Robert L. Tabbert of the N-SSA's 29th Wisconsin writes that about two years ago, after watching a long-range black powder match at Camp Williams in Wisconsin, he felt he "had to have a Whitworth."

Tabbert reports that at Camp Williams, Parker Hale Whitworths shot "against all comers, cartridge Sharps, rolling blocks, Krags, you name it, at a 4' by 8' sheet of plywood with several gallon jugs of colored water hung on the plywood at an unknown distance (400-800 yards)." The Whitworths cleaned everybody's clocks!

The two Whitworth shooters, Lyle Snyder and Charlie Preufer, took one sighter to figure out the range, and then, firing offhand, broke the water- filled jugs. Tabbert remembers that the other competitors "were happy when they hit the plywood sheet!"

Tabbert's search for a Parker Hale Whitworth at a reasonable price finally ended when he found one in Australia and had it shipped to the states. Now he's ready to compete in the long-range matches held at Camp Williams, which is located in Grayling, Michigan. One match is generally held in July and another over Labor Day weekend.

1996, 1998 by Joe Bilby

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