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shot range and practical hunting usage of a vintage BP Winchester 1886 rifle?
October 8, 2019
2:18 am
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AG said

Is there a 45-70 cartridge that’s safe to shoot & can be purchased today for the 1886 - DOM 1889 ?

AG  

I think ALL standard factory loads for BP cartridges are loaded to pressures that won't wreck the weakest of BP actions; such as, for ex., trapdoor Springfields , in which I've fired hundreds of factory smokeless loads.  For a period of time, the '20s through maybe the '50s, special high-pressure smokeless loads were available for these cartridges (always with warning labels on the boxes), but they haven't been manufactured for many years.

I have a .32-40 HW with a slightly swollen chamber (as fired cases indicate), which I suspect was fired with such high-pressure loads; however, if that was done, it didn't blow up either!

October 8, 2019
8:55 am
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Dave K. said
As a long serving (30 years) Game Warden here in Ontario I have long admired the German hunting licensing requirements which,if I am not mistaken ,require a knowledge of firearm ballistics, game identification, field  dressing of big game and a shooting proficiency test and is not about just hunter safety. This should be a requirement for anyone who is licenced to hunt big game ( bear, moose deer bison etc.). My view is that the hunter with average skill and hunting big game experience armed with a rifle of the 1886 vintage in 45-90 or similar with iron sights should not attempt to kill a moose beyond 200 yards and even less if possible. It's about shot placement not distance.The chance of wounding and losing the animal would be too great. A moose can cover a considerable distance If woundedl The old Buffalo hunters I suspect were careful not to waste ammunition and took care to make every shot count but perhaps I am wrong.   

Dave, you're right. It is very demanding and complex, even covering dog work, all sorts of game diseases, tree knowledge, environmental care, etc. Very interesting, of course, but a lot to cover. I agree, it should be mandatory for all big game hunters. What I certainly miss (worldwide, but I was able to watch first hand here in Germany) is -at least with a particular percentage of hunters- the love for animals per se, for nature and preservation of it.

There are still too many guys (in my point of view) that just go hunting to prove to themselves how hard, manly and tough they are - a poor and miserable approach, but very suitable for weak personalities and characters suffering of inferiority complexes... I do not like that. And they miss so much of "the whole picture" of the hunt! Sorry guys, bit off topic now, but it always gets me very angry - having watched on my last hunt people that make comments like "I shot that motherf***er at 100yards" ...back to topic now Smile

October 8, 2019
8:59 am
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34871 said
As usual, it all comes down to the shooter.

In the right hands, the .45-70 can shoot quite a long ways and be very accurate.  Shooting vintage .45-90 and .50-110 not so much due to the slower twists designed to shoot light bullets fast.  This is exactly why many folks, myself included, have built the above calibers in modern rifles with twist rates able to handle much bigger bullets.

I do not think heavier barreled 86's are more accurate than their lighter weight siblings, at least in my experience.

As to the Sharps or 1885, I would absolutely say they are more consistently accurate for a variety of reasons.  But I must say putting on a good tang sight like an MVA on an 1886 and careful handloading can yield some very satisfying results...  

34871, very interesting. Could you explain a little? Does it mean the vintage .45-90 and .50-110 are not as accurate and far reaching out of a vintage '86 as the .45-70?

And what are the reasons for 1885 and Sharps being more consistently accurate? Is it the magazin tube attachment of the 1886 (I read that the carbines are even worse, I think...) ?

And tang sight MVA stands for...? Sorry, I know you guys love abbreviations.....Laugh

October 8, 2019
12:19 pm
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F.K. said

And tang sight MVA stands for...? Sorry, I know you guys love abbreviations.....Laugh  

https://montanavintagearms.com/sights/

October 8, 2019
2:21 pm
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Lots of good comments here.  I too have a reverence for hunting...that is to say the craft of being a highly skilled hunter.  That means understanding as much about nature as I do about any other job.  The ability to sneak up within 20yd of a critter of any size takes lots and lots of practice.  That only comes from spending ample time in the terrain you wish to hunt...and studying the masters.

The main reason I hunt with levers and single shots is the challenge.  I worked for many years in the industry and designed product to be pitched to the Military...bidding on contracts so to speak.  I learned quite a bit about marksmanship and current school of thought, the evolution of the craft, and where the industry is going.  I got so sick and tired of tactical matches, synthetic stocks, detachable magazines....I just almost lost all my love for shooting.

The good news is was born 100yrs too late.  I have always collected books and been very interested in western culture, ever since I was a pup.  I am now 48 and most of my peers only have one lever and never a single shot.  What got me into shooting was a family friend with a single shot .22 lr.  From there it was on and as soon as I could be working I was saving.  I worked two jobs through college and well into my 20's.  One to pay the bills and the other to fund my hobby. 

The point is I want you to know where I am coming from.  I am not some internet armchair warrior.  I recently joined here because I lurked for long enough and think there is tons of good information here and lots of honesty.  Since I shoot almost everything I own, I can offer my two cents. It may not be worth anything to just collectors, but I do both as time and money permits.  My favorite is still the model 71 and I put lots of rounds down range every year, hence my handle.

Single shots are simple.  Less moving parts, less to break, easier to tune than any lever.  Faster lock time.  The 1885 has a centrally hung hammer and displaced many side hammers at the turn of the century, but that is not to say side hammers are not accurate.  FK, you keep asking about accuracy, and 90% of that is the shooter.  The .45-90 and .50 express rounds were designed to shoot fast, which in those days was lighter bullets...and slower twists.  They can be very accurate, but levers have lots of things not conducive to accuracy like barrel bands, pressure against the barrel, magazine tubes with changing weight every time you pull the trigger, buggered up bullet noses, you name it.  As far as having major fire power in a portable package, the lever was the assault rifle of the day.  They may not be hyper accurate, but accurate enough.

The "far reaching" aspect of your question is answered by bullet weight.  Read Farquharson's "The .45-70 at two miles: The Sandy Hook Tests of 1879" and you will gleam some interesting insight into momentum theory vs. velocity.  I agree with the above statement that 200yds is maximum for most levers and single shots with these old school rounds against game, especially big game.  That said, I have ZERO doubt that a .45-70 loaded with 405grs or better will cleanly kill any critter in North America well past that range.  But it takes a marksman and proper shot placement as usual.  Ergo, we are back to the beginning...learning how to stalk and hunt properly, as well as shooting regularly.

October 8, 2019
2:26 pm
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F.K. said

And what are the reasons for 1885 and Sharps being more consistently accurate? Is it the magazin tube attachment of the 1886 (I read that the carbines are even worse, I think...) ?
  

A complex question, because so many variables are involved:  barrel wt., bedding of action & brl., lock-time, etc.  On standard wt. brls., dovetail cuts are said by most custom barrel makers to be detrimental to uniform brl. vibration, though that effect diminishes as brl. wt. increases.  Suffice it to say that magazine rifles were never seen in 19th C. target competition. 

October 8, 2019
2:34 pm
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clarence said

A complex question, because so many variables are involved:  barrel wt., bedding of action & brl., lock-time, etc.  On standard wt. brls., dovetail cuts are said by most custom barrel makers to be detrimental to uniform brl. vibration, though that effect diminishes as brl. wt. increases.  Suffice it to say that magazine rifles were never seen in 19th C. target competition.   

Good point Clarence. I’m trying to find the article I read pertaining to the heavy & extra heavy barrels stating diminished vibration/accuracy. Will post when located but great read from all just the same.

AG

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October 12, 2019
1:01 pm
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Hi everyone,

 

thanks a lot for your interesting and helpful comments - yes, one can probably easily tell the unexperienced hunter in me... :-)) Anyways, BP hunting is not legal in Germany, so I guess I will never come to get the wonderful experience of good old style hunting so soon....

I researched a little on the .45-70 on the internet and found a German speaking article that said that the cartridge was limited for human targets to about 150 yds due to the rainbow trajectory of the bullet. I found this a little strange given the fact it was introduced to be a military cartridge and the tests on pine boards were taken on much longer distances... Would any Winchester 86 chambered in this caliber also have seen (main) use as a defensive rifle?

October 12, 2019
1:24 pm
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F.K. said

I researched a little on the .45-70 on the internet and found a German speaking article that said that the cartridge was limited for human targets to about 150 yds due to the rainbow trajectory of the bullet.  

Utter nonsense--trap-door Springfields sights were graduated to 1600 yds.  (Of course at ranges beyond 500 yds or so, the bullet would be coming down like a mortar shell, but long-range firing was supposed to be directed by an officer who told his men how to adjust their sights.) 

October 14, 2019
2:48 pm
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I live in Ontario, Canada, and hunt with vintage Winchester Rifles, including a Model 1886 45-70 shipped in 1890. I load my own cast bullets to original BP ballistics using smokeless 5744. The 405 grain bullet has plenty of momentum to kill at very long distances but, as others have pointed out, it starts dropping pretty fast beyond 200 yards., so vertical shot placement is the issue at longer ranges, not penetration. I practice offhand shooting at 100 yards, and I also practice at 200 yards at our range, but only with a rest. Depending upon the old Winchester's bore, I usually get 200 yard, five-shot groups of 3" to 6" with iron sights, better with tang peep sights. Now that I'm 65 years old, with the eyes of the same age, I no longer use open sights, only tang peep sights.

Most of my Vintage Winchester muzzle velocities are around 1,325 fps .... in the same ballpark as the original BP loads, so regardless of whether I'm using a 44-40, a 38-55, or a 45-70, I practice out to 200 yards and find them all plenty accurate enough (unless there are significant bore issues). It's the bullet drop at long ranges that a fellow has to think about. So if I'm hunting Whitetail deer, I know that my bullets will vary, in windage, plus or minus 2" from where I aim if I'm shooting offhand at 100 yards, but the further out the deer is, the higher I aim above the desired point of impact. At 200 yards, I know that if I aim such that the aiming point will be just a couple inches above the deer's back, I've got a hit in the vitals, accounting for the bullet drop. Roughly, I sight in for 100 yards and plan for a 13" drop at 200. A standing broadside Whitetail adult deer will give me a 6" vertical tolerance on its vitals, between the spine and the heart. So there is a 4" x 6" vital patch on the side of a deer which, with practice out to 200 yards, is relatively easy to hit. This is with tang peep sights, by the way.

I enjoy shooting, so putting a few hundreds rounds out the barrel during the summer and early fall is all practice.

As far as killing power, the furthest deer I've taken were both at 186 yards with a 45-70 and 405 grain cast lead bullets coming out the barrel at 1,300 fps. Both were free-standing, offhand shots and there was complete penetration in both deer, and both were one-shot kills. As a matter of fact, I've recovered 30-30 bullets from deer, and 30-06 bullets from Moose, but I've never recovered any of those slow-moving, but heavy cast bullets from an animal, and I've shot quite a few. Even a 44-40 cast bullet at 1,280 fps fired from an original Model 1873 went right through a 200 pound (pre-gutted weight) doe at 50 yards (where shot placement was no challenge at all). Shot placement at longer distances is the challenge with rainbow-trajectoried vintage Winchesters. This fall, I'll be hunting with an original Winchester 1894 38-55 with my own cast bullets coming out the barrel at about 1,325 fps (depending upon the temperature .... a bit slower in cold weather from summer weather). I'm out between one and two times a week, practicing and enjoying every minute of it.

October 14, 2019
4:23 pm
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 Kirk, I enjoyed your post, your methods, and your hunting philosophy. Good advice! T/R

October 14, 2019
9:48 pm
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Nice post Kirk.  I tend to shoot my 45-90's at about 1,550 fps in a 30" barrel.  In the 1886 you lose about 100 fps due to the shorter barrel.   I bought a nice chronograph back in the 1990's to help set up the smokeless charges.  I always start with 3 different powders to see if it makes a difference.

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