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What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?

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Doc Holloman:
I'm considering getting a trapdoor for Cody Dixon and possibly long range matches (yes, I have been told that Highwalls are the" best" for those purposes, but all that I have seen are a bit above my price point.) 

Right now, Originals seem to be more available than H&R or Italian reproductions, and less expensive at that.  I reload 45-70 so I feel I can load ammo at safe velocities and pressures for an original.

Any advice on what to look for ( or avoid) in a Trapdoor that I plan to shoot ( other than the condition of the bore. Which is obvious)?  I've seen some where the bolt has some lateral "wiggle" when locked closed.  I'm assuming that I would not want to shoot one of those.


Doc sends.

Lateral play in the block is normal.  The hinge is to bear no load on firing.  Look for tight vertical lock, bore condition, no cracks in the tang area, tight barrel bands.  Very few are not shootable with a bit of load work. 



Arizona Trooper:
Here are a few comments to get you going.

The breechblock will rattle around on the pivot pin when open and wiggle slightly in the receiver when closed. Don't worry about that, it’s supposed to. The block actually floats slightly in the receiver, which allows the locking cam to wedge the block down when fired. In fact, you can safely fire the rifle with the pivot pin removed, but you have to rod out the empties.

The receiver breech and tang need to be well bedded in the stock. Take off the bands and tighten the tang screw. If the muzzle lifts out of the stock, the wood under the tang is compressed. Put some thin shims under the tang until the muzzle doesn’t lift with the tang screw tight. 1/64” birch plywood works great.

The rod lock at the tip of the stock is often broken, and you can't see the break without pulling the action out of the stock. If it is you will suffer with awful accuracy. You can replace the lock with the barrel out of the stock by removing the top band spring and dropping in another lock. Replacements are available from Trapdoorcollector.com, Dixie or S&S.

The bores are invariably very close to 0.450”, but groove diameter is always oversize, usually in the 0.461-0.463” range. The chambers run big too. Wolfe says to shoot soft 0.458” bullets and let them bump up (only works with black powder). I have had good luck sizing 0.001" over groove diameter. Chambers are big enough that rounds will usually seat even with 0.464-5” bullets.

The importance of headspace hadn’t been discovered in the 1870s. They all have lots of headspace. I have never seen a Trapdoor that wouldn’t close on a no-go gauge. You can solder a shim in the chamber rim cut to fix that if you want, but with "Trapdoor loads" it’s usually not an issue.

Sights are set up for “hold low”. The M-1884 sight is set for point blank of 285 yards or so with the slide down when shooting the 500 gr. bullet. It is WAY HIGH at 100. The M-1879 sights are about a foot high at 100. M-1879 and later rifles have a replaceable front sight blade. Tall blades are available to get sighted in. If you get an M-1873 with the one piece musket front sight DO NOT MESS WITH IT!! The early survivors with this sight are rare and shouldn’t be modified. Just figure out how low to hold and practice a lot. 

That should get you started. Have fun!!

I've had two with the barrel bent at the front barrel band.

My H&R doesn't like BP.



I wouldn't worry a great lot about mismatched parts (most left the service that way) but it's still good to know what you're looking at.

I have a M 1879, and bought a Krag front sight from S&S ,drove out the pin and kept the original and put in the Krag sight.  Then, find a load that is consistent, and one can file down the new sight to where it works for you, and you still have your original. 



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