The Whitworth's Back

There's good news and bad news on the Gibbs Rifle Company's new Parker Hale Whitworths. The good news, which outweighs the bad by far, is that the new rifles shoot as well as the original guns and the "first generation" Parker Hale reproductions. According to my correspondent on these matters, Tom Neigebaur of Lake Worth, Florida, the Whitworth "stock and barrel are made very extra thick and heavy. It is built right for big bullets and powder. The recoil isn't pushes straight back."

The bad news is that bullet molds are very hard to get. Tom advises that Dixie Gun Works, which sells Englishman Peter Dyson's Whitworth hexagonal bullet molds, has them on back order. Without a mold, Tom has been experimenting with the two piece swaging tool sold by Gibbs which swages a cylindrical .50 caliber bullet down to fit the Whitworth bore. He says the tool works and the bullets perform well but it takes him ten minutes to swage a bullet! Tom swaged down .50 caliber minie balls, as well as Hornaday's .50 caliber Great Plains bullet, but wasn't satisfied with bullet length, which was too short. The Whitworth, with its 1:20 twist, needs a bullet with a long bearing surface to do its best work.

Lyman's "Postell" bullet, a long, heavy slug designed for the .45-70, performed reasonably well for Tom. He shot some of these bullets, which measured .465 in diameter unsized, with two .50 caliber Wonder Wads behind the bullet to seal its base from the powder. The load produced a four inch group at 100 yards. Without the wads, there were "fliers all over the target."

Available molds cast bullets up to .460 diameter, which is a tad too small for accurate shooting in the Whitworth, and then jump to .500, leaving no simple solution to the problem. Tom's more complicated solution was to take a Lee hollow base .45-70 aluminum block mold, which drops a slug based on the original government bullet for the round, open up the cavity to .480 and reduce the diameter of the base plug for a thicker "skirt." He reports shooting "consistent one inch groups" and on several occasions putting "three bullets into one hole" at 100 yards with this bullet, a wad and a stiff powder charge.

According to Tom, the Whitworth is "very sensitive to bullet fit" and needs a hollow base slug to do its best work. The rifle has to be cleaned between shots, or slugs will stick in the barrel while being loaded-- a nasty problem with a muzzle loader. After he loads powder and wad, Tom swabs his Whitworth's bore with bore cleaner then loads a bullet lubricated with Blue and Gray lube, "more than a film, but less than a light coat."

Whitworth shooters are eagerly awaiting a readily available Whitworth bullet mold. Tom thinks it would be a good idea for Gibbs to get together with Rapine and come up with a new, modern design Whitworth mold, which will throw a bullet that takes full advantage of the gun's inherent accuracy. So do I.

Speaking of bullets, Montana Precision Swaging (PO Box 4746, Butte, MT 59702. 406-782-7502) offers an interesting array of slugs for black powder shooters. I was particularly impressed by the company's paper patch bullet designs and ordered some 400 grain .450 diameter hollow base straight sided swaged bullets for $12.50 a hundred. For an extra $10 a hundred, I was able to get them patched with .003 paper, and for $7.50 more, had the patched bullets lubed. They worked very well in both my .45-70s and my .577-.450 Martini.

Montana Precision sells straight sided swaged bullets in various diameters from .365 to .505 and tapered slugs in diameters .402 to .503, unpatched, and will patch them for you with .002 or .003 paper. They also offer cast lead rifle and pistol bullets in all popular diameters, a convenience for the shooter who wants to try out several styles in his gun before buying a mold.

The company catalogs some nifty accessories, as well, including a Pope style re- and de-capper, black powder compression die and wad cutter punches, as well as a proprietary lubricant, beeswax and patching paper.

The Armi-Sport Model 1842 .69 caliber rifled musket is now available, as is the company's Italian made high quality 1842 bayonet, which will fit the company's rifled gun or its smoothbore predecessor. As of this writing, I have seen them advertised on the Internet by Fall Creek Sutlery and Ed O'Dwyer, the "Shamrock Sutler." If you're going to shoot live ammunition in your new rifled '42, I suggest you use the Rapine semi-wadcutter bullet with about 50-60 grains of FFG for starters, as the original style bullet will definitely set your shoulder back a tad!

Although we've won a few rounds, most notably in Maryland, reenactors and skirmishers should make it their business to be fully aware of their state firearms laws before putting on a living history program or demonstration on school property, or, it turns out, other places as well!. I recently received a copy of The Dispatch, the newsletter of California's NCWA, which details California law in this area. The California legislation goes far beyond banning firearms in school buildings.

The newsletter printed a copy of Section 626.95 of the California Penal Code, which specifies that anyone who brings a firearm "upon the grounds of or within a playground, or a public or private youth center during hours in which the facility is open for business, classes, or school related programs, or at any time when minors are using the facility, knowing that he or she is on or within those grounds, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for one, two or three years, or in a county jail not exceeding one year."

Prohibited areas, as delineated by the law, include public and private schools, athletic fields, city and county parks, and "any public or private facility that is used to host recreational or social activities for minors while minors are present."

While I am sure the "Crips" and "Bloods" are not shaking in their boots over this one, law abiding citizens who happen to own firearms, including antiques and reproductions of antiques, should be. Make sure you check all relevant laws and have permission in writing from a responsible official before you get involved in any public programs, anywhere!

Speaking of newsletters, reenactors and others interested in the Irish in the Civil War should consider a subscription to The Irish Volunteer. Edited by Kevin O'Beirne of the 155th NY, the Volunteer, as might be expected, covers events and news specific to the Irish Volunteer Battalion, which is composed of the 28th Massachusetts, Companies B, K (UK), A, B, C and H (US), 69th New York, Company A, 140th New York and 155th New York, Company I. It also covers a number of areas of interest to the wider reenactor and Civil War community.

The Summer 1997 issue of the quarterly publication included articles on the legacy of the Irish Brigade at Antietam, the sometimes controversial "wearin' of the harp" by Irish reenactment units, an introduction to battalion drill, a list of "authentic" sutlers, a piece on the proper use of the sword signals in giving commands and an article on collecting limited edition Civil War prints with an Irish theme.

Subscriptions to The Irish Volunteer are a reasonable $4 a year. For further information contact editor Kevin O'Beirne, 3523 Heatherwood Drive, Hamburg, NY 14075 (email

© 1997 by Joe Bilby

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index