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Amateur conversion of original Winchester single-shot to a target rifle
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July 9, 2023 - 1:17 pm
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Sometimes when I see a Winchester altered to something else I make a less-than-kind judgment about what was done to the rifle.  All Winchesters were original and in high condition when they departed the factory.  The rifle involved was a .40-70 and I’m sure it was a fabulous piece – at one time – however it ended up rebarreled and rewooded (the young maker having read Colonel Whelan’s directions in, “Amateur Gunsmithing).”

The beginning of the story is key.  This story was told the May, 1929 American Rifleman I was reading last evening.  The author had pined for a Winchester single-shot target rifle and limited resources kept that goal unmet.  Eventually, “a friend of mine one day, in a joking way, sent me an old Model ’87 Winchester caliber .40-70 single shot rifle…”  

He goes on to state, “that had been used to prop a barn door open.”  I reacted strongly to this – what a sad fate for such a fine rifle! Cry

Continuing, “I examined it and of course found the barrel was ruined” (I suppose it was just shoved muzzle down into the mud/dirt/manure) Yell

Continuing, “The stock was a weather-beaten wreck.  I took a copper punch and with the aid of a hammer, opened the action and found it to be in not bad shaped.  Right there I decided to build me a target rifle.”  

He goes on to describe how he wrote Winchester and was able to obtain a new No. 3 heavy octagon .38-55 barrel of $11.35, “with telescope blocks attached.”

He is then able to obtain a walnut blank from an uncle and makes a cheekpiece buttstock fitting a Texas Steer buttplate to it.  He ends up with a rifle that he is quite pleased with and shoots well for him.

As I mentioned at the beginning, sometimes knowing the backstory can change how you feel about something.  Had I encountered this rifle on a gunshow table, I wouldn’t have been impressed.  Had there been a photo next to it showing it stuffed in the ground propping that darn door open, the story becomes one of a remarkable rescue.  

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July 9, 2023 - 2:16 pm
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I like that story but today’s traditional collector prefers unmodified specimens. Unfortunately the Single Shot was a favorite of competitive shooters and in turn, professional and amateur gunsmiths so a rather small percentage survive in “as shipped” configuration. I’m sure at least a few are still being used to hold the barn door open. I suppose the SS was a victim of its own success; it was such a good rifle that comp shooters used it and I know from personal experience that a comp shooter will seldom shoot an unaltered gun because they think they can make it better. It must be frustrating to be a SS collector, I waited years for a nice one to come along and was fortunate to score a nice enough Winder and a 45-70 musket as a bonus. I suppose the subject of this article was a target shooter as suggested by his choice of chambering and his emulation of Col Whelen’s efforts. In this case a nearly ruined SS was likely rescued by a comp shooter and as you point out, Steve, that changes the way we look at it.

 

Mike

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July 9, 2023 - 2:21 pm
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Think I’d reserve judgement until I saw his homemade stock.

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July 9, 2023 - 2:47 pm
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TXGunNut said
 I suppose the subject of this article was a target shooter as suggested by his choice of chambering and his emulation of Col Whelen’s efforts.

  

Curious what he might have meant by “target shooting.”  .38-55 was developed as a mid-range off-hand target cartridge (used also for hunting of course), but by the 1890s had been supplanted by the .32-40 in Schuetzen competition, & by 1929, when Schuetzen was dead & buried, was really just considered by most a mediocre hunting cartridge.  Maybe his choice of caliber was determined by finding out from the factory that his .40-70 extractor was compatible with .38-55.  I think a far better choice would have been .30-40, even if a new extractor was required.

I have Whelen’s gunsmithing book & will see what he has to say on this subject.

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July 9, 2023 - 3:15 pm
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Here’s a link to the article.  Scanned photo of the stock is too dark to make out much detail; an original print of the article should be better.

https://archive.org/details/sim_american-rifleman_1929-05_77_5/page/8/mode/2up?q=vinacke&view=theater

Vinacke put a “knob” on rifle No. 2, saying he copied it from a “foremost manufacturer of high priced arms”.  Any thoughts on what specifically he’s referring to?

He also references a Jan. 1928 letter to Col. Whelen – here’s the link:

https://archive.org/details/sim_american-rifleman_1928-01_76_1/page/38/mode/2up?view=theater

Interesting use of Cream of Wheat….

Doing a search on “Vinacke”, reveals that as of July 1931 Mr. Vinacke was located in Juneau, AK.  He was also into pistol target shooting, and as of July 1937 was Inspector in charge of alcohol tax unit.

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July 9, 2023 - 4:13 pm
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btbell said
Interesting use of Cream of Wheat….

  

Old time favorite for filling excess space when shooting smokeless in big BP cases.  I have both those mags, & will dig them out when I have time.  If the “knob” referred to is the long lower prong on the BP, that’s necessary to prevent buttstock from being “levered-up” when shooting with a palm-rest, or balancing gun on finger-tips, both of which positions makes brl want to “droop,” unless counter-acted with prong.  (Though it needn’t be that long!)

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July 9, 2023 - 5:25 pm
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btbell said
Here’s a link to the article.  Scanned photo of the stock is too dark to make out much detail; an original print of the article should be better.

https://archive.org/details/sim_american-rifleman_1929-05_77_5/page/8/mode/2up?q=vinacke&view=theater

Vinacke put a “knob” on rifle No. 2, saying he copied it from a “foremost manufacturer of high priced arms”.  Any thoughts on what specifically he’s referring to?

He also references a Jan. 1928 letter to Col. Whelen – here’s the link:

https://archive.org/details/sim_american-rifleman_1928-01_76_1/page/38/mode/2up?view=theater

Interesting use of Cream of Wheat….

Doing a search on “Vinacke”, reveals that as of July 1931 Mr. Vinacke was located in Juneau, AK.  He was also into pistol target shooting, and as of July 1937 was Inspector in charge of alcohol tax unit.

  

I have the original magazine the photo shows better detail than the linked article, but it is not clear enough to see the cheekpiece.  It shows the forearm checkering.  I can’t make out the checkering on the buttstock.

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July 9, 2023 - 5:42 pm
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btbell said
Here’s a link to the article.  Scanned photo of the stock is too dark to make out much detail; an original print of the article should be better.

https://archive.org/details/sim_american-rifleman_1929-05_77_5/page/8/mode/2up?q=vinacke&view=theater

Vinacke put a “knob” on rifle No. 2, saying he copied it from a “foremost manufacturer of high priced arms”.  Any thoughts on what specifically he’s referring to?

He also references a Jan. 1928 letter to Col. Whelen – here’s the link:

https://archive.org/details/sim_american-rifleman_1928-01_76_1/page/38/mode/2up?view=theater

Interesting use of Cream of Wheat….

Doing a search on “Vinacke”, reveals that as of July 1931 Mr. Vinacke was located in Juneau, AK.  He was also into pistol target shooting, and as of July 1937 was Inspector in charge of alcohol tax unit.

  

Way back, I used to use corn meal as a filler in .45-70 loads.  I was aware of the use of cream of wheat and viewed it as synonymous with corn meal.

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July 9, 2023 - 8:46 pm
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I’m pretty sure the “knob” refers to the hand stop on the fore end, as shown on rifle No. 2.

He said he had it inlaid on the bottom with an “H”, for Mr. Hodges, which would be appropriate for a hand stop.

So the question is, when did hand stops start coming into use for target rifles, and which  “foremost manufacturer of high priced arms” is he referring to?

Griffin & Howe would date from this time period, as would Hoffman Arms, but I haven’t found an example of either with a hand stop.

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July 9, 2023 - 10:12 pm
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btbell said
So the question is, when did hand stops start coming into use for target rifles, and which  “foremost manufacturer of high priced arms” is he referring to?

  

First Model 52 to feature a hand-stop as standard was the “B” in 1937; but they were in use before then, homemade or otherwise for position shooting.  However, I’ve never seen a rifle intended for Schuetzen comp fitted with one, as the idea was that they made shooting with a tight sling more comfortable.  Slings not used in Schuetzen, of course.  

Quite surprising that he went to the trouble of having the chamber throated for use of breech-seated bullets!  Though that was a proven technique for improving accuracy, at least with cast bullets.  Nor did I know Lyman carried out such conversions.  He was doing a lot of brl removing, so wonder if he had the proper wrench…or if he found a Stilson was all he needed!

No doubt such a hand-rest could have been ordered from G&H or Hoffman or anyone offering custom stocking.  But most shooters using them want them to be adjustable.

Now I understand what he meant by “Texas Steer,” though I’ve never heard that term applied to any prong BP!  Think “Texas Unicorn” might be more appropriate.

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