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Having read the warnings about detonation and blown up rifles I was more than a little reluctant to experiment with fast burning propellants in rifle cartridges.

First I tried black powder loads. I simply put as much black powder as will fit in the casing with a 215 grain copper plated frontier bullet. The results were not satisfactory at all. Accuracy was inconsistent. Fowling excessive and the cleaning process after the shoot tedious. I’m not in the least surprised that the British army also gave up using black powder in favour of cordite in the Lee Metford.

After much research I decided to try 5gn of Somchem MS200 with a Dacron filler and a 175gn cast lead bullet that I made with a Lee C321-185 bullet mold. I don’t lube size the bullets but give them a coat of Lee liquid alox, that’s all.

The Dacron filler is essential to prevent detonation of the propellant which would lie spread out over the length of the cartridge case without it. The Dacron keeps the powder near the primer and also ensures consistency in the ignition of all the cartridges which promotes accuracy. The Dacron also keeps the hot gas away from the lead bullet making the use of gas checks redundant and keeps the cost down.

Dacron is the white filling that comes in pillows or Teddy bears. It is bought at cloth and material shops and does not cost much. Dacron is also used in some fish tank filters and can thus also be sourced from pet shops.

I use a Lee classic loader to reload for the .303 British. It is portable and produce accurate reloads. Because it only neck sizes the brass, it increases case life significantly. I try to avoid using the priming tool though, it does set off primers more frequently than I would like. Not really dangerous but unpleasant. The Lee hand priming tool works much more reliably.

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The loads I tried are comparible to .38 special in performance but with the distinct benefit of being subsonic and with very low recoil. In fact the report from the shots are so soft that I do not need to wear ear plugs. It’s only a little louder than an air rifle, an angle grinder makes more noise than my .303 with these loads.

Shots from an off hand standing position, fired at 25 meters were remarkably accurate and consistent as seen in the photo above.

They would certainly be accurate enough and have sufficient knock down power to take small game at closer distances.

This load has put new life in Oupa’s old .303 sporter and I can shoot safely it at our suburban pistol range without waking up the neighborhood with loud bangs.

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Very useful articles from Man MAGNUM magazine are found in the

May 2000 edition p. 27 “Reduced Rifle Loads” and 
December 1991 p. 61 “Plinking Loads for the .303”.

During a follow up shoot 2 weeks later with 4,5gn MS200 loads at 50m the results were also very satisfactory. With a bit of practise these results can definitely improve. Also consider that iron sights are being used.

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Range 50m with sights set at 300 yards

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That target is awfully small at 50 meters. One should perhaps also consider 50m the maximum effective range of these loads.

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Near original BSA sporter model 4b complete with original French walnut stock.

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Lee Speed

Now here is a sexy number. The Lee Speed. This one will get my vote as the most racy military carbine ever.

Lee Speed carbine

The assistant manager at Enfield c. 1890 was Joseph Speed. The Lee Metford firing a black powder .303 cartridge from a magazine was being adopted as the new British service rifle to replace the Martini Henry single shot breech loading rifle.

Mr. Speed refined and improved the Lee Metford and is credited with the magazine cut off enabling the rifle to be used as a single shot breech loader while keeping the rounds in the magazine in reserve. Carbine magazines were usually smaller and held 5 or sometimes 6 rounds although I have never seen a 6 round magazine.

I use an original Lee Enfield sport rifle (not sporterized but factory built as a hunting rifle) with a magazine cut off on the range preferring to fire singly loaded rounds and shooting slowly and deliberately at targets. When in the field I keep the magazine open for quick follow up shots.

The problem: Top hat musket caps are hard to come by in South Africa and expensive because they usually need to be shipped from some distant gun shop in another province by special couriers that are permitted to transport explosives.

The solution: Make the musket work with small number 11 or 10 caps intended for revolvers & pistols or the modern in the spirit rifles such as the Lyman or Pedersoli.

How: First things first – use this information at your own peril. If you don’t have some engineering and gun smithing experience,  don’t do this or else you might end up with a nipple in your skull or worse. If you do this right, you will breath new life into that old musket.

1.Simply go to the hardware and buy a grease nipple of the same diameter and screw thread as the original nipple of the musket.

Standard grease nipple

2. Acquire some Lyman stainless steel nipples or similar (usually comes in packs of 3).

3. Grind off the top of the grease nipple and remove the ball bearing and spring. Make sure that when the grease nipple is matched with the Lyman nipple that the length of the adapted new nipple is the same length as the original top hat nipple.

4. Drill out the hole in the grease nipple to a suitable width and depth to be tapped in order to screw in the Lyman nipple. Don’t drill the hole all the way through, only as deep as the thread of the smaller Lyman nipple.

5. Tap thread into the hole you drilled to receive the Lyman nipple thread. Here you might encounter a problem since you’ll need an obscure imperial thread tap that nobody ever uses except the Italian black powder rifle industry. Don’t expect that your local engineering supply will have one.

6. No problem, grandpa taught me long ago to use the thread of a screw to tap a hole to receive that thread by cutting 2 small channels in the thread just as in a tap and then by using a lubricant carefully tap the thread into the hole.

7. The stainless steel Lyman nipple is harder than the grease nipple. Therefore you can carefully tap the nipple into the grease nipple.

8. When the 2 nipples are joined to form a number 11 musket nipple, carefully test it on the musket for fit.

9. When all fits together snugly, fire a few caps to test ignition.

Adapted number 11 nipple on musket

10. Finally go to the range and fire some of your favorite charges. My musketoon fired first time and every time without any problems. There are no signs of excessive pressure or wear. Ignition was reliable with BP and Sannadex even though the smaller caps are not nearly as hot as the top hat musket caps.

Wessel Rigard

Another rifle that looks much like the Enfield Musketoon and would have seen action in South Africa during the period that include the First Anglo Boer War (1880 to 1881 ) is the Westley Richards monkey tail. Like the Snider and the Sharps rifles of the same period it fired a black powder paper cartridge with a conical bullet. In this case a 45 caliber.

A handy feature of this rifle that made it more versatile than any other breach loader of the time is that it could also be loaded as a muzzle loader. A very handy attribute that meant one could keep firing even when the cartridges were finished by simply loading it as a conventional muzzle loader.

Undoubtedly these rifles also saw action at aMajuba and the other 3 battles of the First Anglo Boer War at Potchefstroom, Laing’s Nek and Schuinshoogte (Ingogo).

 

Westley Richards carbine

The "monkey tail" carbine

Good companions

Although the colt 1851 is a period correct companion to the Enfield musketoon, I prefer the Smith & Wesson Model 10 military & police (38SPL). This one is of 1970’s vintage but retrofitted with 1930’s walnut grips and flatter lanyard ring. It is a very accurate shooter and still used regularly in competition. It is not only more accurate than the colt 1851 but obviously more reliable and powerful in the field.

The first 2 rounds before the hammer is usually snake shot when going into the veldt. Really big black mambas are common in the places I frequent. I don’t want to mess around with a revolver that is not 100% reliable when confronted by a large black mouth serpent.Best companions

Being an Indiana Jones fan, it is an appropriate revolver to have on the belt, especially with an old style flap holster.

Indiana Jones style revolver, flap holster and WW2 gas mask satchel

Indiana Jones style revolver, flap holster and WW2 gas mask satchel

 

1981 aMajuba centenery stamp

1981 aMajuba centenery stamp

 

 

In 1981 the postal service published a commemorative stamp to celebrate 100 years since the battle of aMajuba. At the time our family was living in Newcastle in Northern KwaZulu Natal very near where the battle took place. I kept one of the stamps in my stamp collection. A hobby I tried for a while before military history became a prime preoccupation.

On the stamp is depicted a small number of Boers ascending the aMajuba mountain. The Boer crouching in the foreground is armed with what looks like a Snider in musketoon form but it is not clear whether he is wearing a bandoleer or just a “possibles” bag. The Boers were armed with privately owned rifles which likely may have comprised of the following (based on rifles available for sale as listed in catalogues at the time of the battle):

1. Spencer Carbine:
Breech-loading magazine carbine (AMERICA)
2. Winchester Model 1876:
Breech-loader (AMERICA)
3. Martini-Henry:
Falling-block, single action, breech-loading rifle (GREAT BRITAIN)
4. Westley Richards:
Falling-block, single-action, breech-loading rifle (GREAT BRITAIN) using the No I and No 2 musket cartridge. Calibre: 0,500/0,450 inch (12,7/11,43 mm) (‘Free State Martini’)
5. Westley Richards:
Single-shot capping, breech-loader (the ‘MONKEY TAIL’), using a paper cartridge. Calibre: 0,45 inches (11,43 mm), available as a rifle or carbine (GREAT BRITAIN)
6. Calisher-Terry:
Breech-loader: using a 0,45 inch (11,43 mm) paper cartridge as (5) above.
7. Vetterli:
Bolt-action rifle: Model – 1869. Calibre: 0,41 inch (10,4 mm)rim-fire cartridge (SWISS)
8. Snider:
Breech-loader/Mark II & III, long barrel and carbine. Calibre: 0,577 inches. (14.66 mm) Boxer-bullet – Centre fire.

(South African Military History Society / scribe@samilitaryhistory.org
http://rapidttp.com/milhist/vol052fm.html
Vol 5 No 2 December 1980 SA ISSN 0026-4016)

It should not be ruled out that some Boers may still have been armed with muzzle loading rifles such as the Enfield patterns and other older percussion cap rifled muzzle loaders. Not all could afford the best and newest rifles and may have used their older or inherited muzzle loaders. A father may well have bought a fancy new breech loader and passed his old muzzle loader on to his son and then still fight side by side at aMajuba. Older Boers may have preferred to keep their older and  what they may have considered as more accurate muzzle loaders with which they were well accustomed. There is at least one recorded case, 20 years later, of a Boer that was armed with a flint lock musket throughout the 2nd Anglo Boer War 1899-1902.

Against both the Zulu and the British the Boers were able to exploit the weakness of the opponent’s customary strategy. In this case marksmanship won the day over volume of fire just as the strong defensive position won the battles against the overwhelming numbers and  mobility of the Zulu before this campaign.

all-that-was-left-of-them1

This British cavalry unit fighting during the Anglo Boer War  is depicted armed with .303 Lee Enfield carbines. This weapon was specifically adapted to cavalry use. In the spirit of the musketoon it is simply a much shorter version of the standard Mk1 (long) infantry rifle. The bolt handle was flattened and bent slightly forward. It also had a sight protector on the muzzle that the standard rifle did not have but which in modified form became standard on the Mk3 SMLE rifles of both World Wars. SMLE stands for short magazine lee enfield. Although the SMLE was shorter than the Anglo Boer War Lee Enfields the short in SMLE refers to the 10 round short magazine and not the length of the rifle. The carbine was issued with an even shorter 5 round magazine as seen in the pictures.

 

Lee Enfield .303 carbine

Lee Enfield .303 carbine

 

Although I have not encountered a museum copy or found any evidence for Anglo Boer Was use therof , there did exist what is known as the Nieu Zeeland pattern carbine. The Royal Irish Constabulary was at some stage issued with a similar Nieu Zeeland pattern carbine.

I own a rifle that looks like a Nieu Zeeland pattern. Closer examination reveals that it was actually made into a carbine from a standard long Anglo Boer War vintage rifle after the  War by the Union of South Africa government arsenal. It was maybe modified for use as a cadet dril rifle because the bolt was welded solid and the barrel drilled with holes at intervals. The proper Nieu Zeeland pattern looks very similar but retained the bayonet lug under the barrel on the stock. It was also issued with a 5 rnd magazine.

 

Boer War rifle converted into Nieu Zeeland style carbine

Boer War rifle converted into Nieu Zeeland style carbine