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Shooting a Spencer


H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619
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Original or replica, doesn't matter.

I have found that while it pretty much assures that you will come in dead last, especially if you are already a bottom of the pack shooter, shooting a Spencer is a lot of fun.  Even in the carbine form they are accurate little buggers.  But also in carbine form, they are still pretty heavy guns, so I shudder to think of how heavy the actual rifles were/are.

 

My own Spencer is a model 1865 Burnside, and I have found that while the action works properly, it usually does not properly eject the spent cartridges.   That triangular blade thing tends to pull them half way out of the chamber and leave them there, apparently after slipping off the rim.  As such, I don't hold the gun to my shoulder when I work the action, but lower it so I can flick out the old case with my finger and then make sure the new one goes in properly.  Which of course slows me down even more, but I count it as part of the charm of shooting a Civil War era Army Surplus firearm.    Manually loading the last three rounds is also interesting.  I've seen people pull out the magazine plug and drop in three, and other load direct into the chamber one at a time.  Me, I load into the chamber, it's just easier.   Neither method seems any faster from what I have observed.

It is my understanding that the modern made Spencer Ammo with the proper headstamp is tailored to the replica's marketed by Taylor, and that the dimensions are oh so slightly different from the original ammo, and will likely not properly eject.   So, I get the brass from Buffalo Arms that it fashioned from cutting down .50-70 brass.  This is supposed to work more properly in original Spencers, but well, for me it's not quite perfect.  Also, if you shoot reload this stuff, have you noticed that the expander die does so much bell the case mouth as put a slight bulge in the case about 1/3 of the way down from the mouth?

 

For those who shoot replica Spencers, which model are they based on?  For those who shoot earlier model originals, how do they extract?  For others who may have an original 1865, do you have the same problem with extraction that I have described.
 

To date, I have use the gun as my main match rifle for an entire match only once.  I also just last weekend used it for 1 stage on a Veteran's Day themed shoot, just for fun.   I don't know if I'll ever shoot it all that regularly, but who can say?

 

Bottom line, Spencers are quirky fun guns to shoot.   They do handicap you in a way, but so what?  Maybe if I'm ever at a shoot that offers what used to be called a booby prize for coming in last place, I'll use mine for that one just to make sure I "win."  :)

Anybody have any thoughts on the matter?

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I shot an original Spencer for N-SSA and it was fun but I was not competitive with this gun against all the Henry's.  I used an Armisport in 44-40 for reenacting and that was a real hoot.  They are certainly a special animal but a real piece of history.

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I have had an early Armi Sport Spencer Carbine in 44 Russian for 18 years and have shot it in about a dozen matches. It has two independent "dog eared" extractors that have to be put in place by closing the lever a little before you can insert a cartridge through the breech so now I only load five (it holds nine) and then will reload through the magazine with a tube holding five more rounds. The five - five split matches using a pistol so it is easier to remember.

 

As you stated, the Carbine is very accurate so it is fun to shoot. As I mentioned on the Crazy Stage thread, I once shot a straight five plate target backwards just for the fun of it.

 

My 44 Russian is a little quirky and I have found that it cycles better if I tilt it about 45 degrees to the left when I lever. Otherwise it can get jammed for a bit. 

 

With the tilt lever and the five shot reload, I can usually finish a stage in under a minute!:P

 

On a side note, I shot a pre-production sample Spencer at EOT in 2001 or 2002 and jammed it so tight that the Taylors representative did not know how to clear it. Apparently he did not know how to disassemble the firearm (which is very simple).

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Injun Rider

I also had a Armisport Spender in 44 Russian and never could get it to work reliably.  The two paddle extractors were the worst design that AS ever came up with.  The cartridge would wind up on the wrong side of the paddle very often and jam the works.  When they came out with the 44-40 version they employed the "Lane extractor" design and that worked great.

I used my 44-40 for Civil War reenacting for many years and had a ball doing it.  I only shot it live a few times just for giggles and never in competition. 

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Although I haven't shot it for quite a while, my Spencer was an original M1860 carbine in .56-56. It has the blade extractor on the left side of the barrel. I made cartridges using .50-70 brass from some outfit and from Dixie Gun Works.  Never had a failure to extract.  The original bullets where of the heel type, but I finally settled on the old Lyman 533476AX and had a reamer made for the inside of the cutdown brass, which allowed the straight-sided bullet to fit with about .002-.003" interference with the inside of the case.  I also annealed the brass half-way down.  The bullet is hollow-based, and I cast them from Lyman #2 equivalent, medium hard.  Coincidentally, the interior volume of the brass with the bullet seated, and the Relative Sectional Density of the bullet is identical to that of a .45LC with a 250 gr. bullet.  Loads I tried included 8.3 gr. Unique producing  869 ft/sec; 24.2 gr (by weight) Pyrodex "P" which gave 802 ft/sec @ 45deg. F; and 18.6 gr IMR4227 for 929 ft/sec @ 70 deg. F (850 ft/sec @ 20 deg. F), which gave 3-5/8 to 4-1/8" 7-round groups at 50 yds. 

 

 NOTE: THE ABOVE INFORMATION IS FOR GENERAL INTEREST ONLY!  I NEITHER RECOMMEND NOR ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE USE OF THE ABOVE IN ANY SPENCER, ESPECIALLY ORIGINALS.  I HAVE DISCONTINUED SHOOTING MY CARBINE IN DEFERENCE TO ITS 161 YEAR AGE!

 

Interestingly, the rifling in these M1860 carbines tapers from breech to muzzle.  Just ahead of the chamber, the groove diameters run .545, tapering to .535" at the muzzle!  I sized the bullets to .538", which might account for some loss of accuracy. OTOH, the combination of the sights and aging eyes might also have had something to do with the group sizes.  A ball to shoot, though by no means competitive with SASS rifles. 

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I have 2 from Taylor's, a carbine and a rifle, both in 56-50. I haven't shot the rifle yet as I am still getting all the kinks out of it. The bolt had the wrong cam in it, preventing it from properly feeding cartridges. Have that issue fixed so now I am working on the trigger pull.

 

Most Spencers' have a narrow range of OAL that they will feed reliably and they have to be cycled properly for consistent feeding.

 

Because the Rapine moulds are almost unobtainium. I went with a mould from Accurate molds. I had one made with both both the 51-320S and the 51-330S. Modified the 51-330S to eliminate the crimp groove. After trying both I feel that the 51-330S feeds better in my rifles.

 

The Carbine is very accurate with the right loads. It loves a compressed load of real BP or a smokeless load of 4227. Don't have my notes handy but I believe the charge is 23.5 grains. If anyone wants the exact load PM me and I'll get out my reloading notes. Still need to chrono the 4227 loads as they seem to be a little on the hot side but reducing the powder charge caused the accuracy to suffer.

 

One thing I did discover is that the RCBS dies are far superior to the Lyman. 

 

I have shot my carbine at the Tennessee State BP side match for the last 2 years. I may have the largest total time by a long shot but I always finish first when it comes to who had the most fun. :)

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Alice Palmer trying out my repro .56-50. I get it out to a match a couple times every year. Reliable and very accurate. Horrible trigger. I load the last three through the action. Seventy to eighty seconds is a pretty decent stage - under a minute, like Injun Ryder, is bordering on phenomenal! Of course, with a .44 Russian, you can put 9 in the magazine instead of 7. :D I don't think reloading from a tube is legal...?

I have a Rapine 375FN mold, an RCBS 50-350-CM, and a modified Lee 515-500-F cut down to a gamer weight of 320 grains - the Lee works best for me.

AlicePalmerSpencer.thumb.jpg.9ff647058f02081964f6d702f3cb9af9.jpg

Edited by Three Foot Johnson
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8 hours ago, Sedalia Dave said:

...I have shot my carbine at the Tennessee State BP side match for the last 2 years. I may have the largest total time by a long shot but I always finish first when it comes to who had the most fun. :)

 

I shot in your posse in the BP side match in 2020...loved watching you!

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I have an Armi 44-40....And a Blakeslee Box...Love shooting it at matches.....Hint: Barrel pointing slightly down to load....Barrel pointing slightly up to eject/unload....Won't jam if you do this.....I have a book on the Spencer with excerpts from soldiers that used it in battle.....This was their advise.

 

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13 hours ago, Diamond Jake said:

 

I shot in your posse in the BP side match in 2020...loved watching you!

 

I shot with @Sedalia Dave this past year at the TN State BP side match and I agree with you 100%.  It was a hoot to watch and SD is really good at reloading on the clock.  Yes he came in last, but everyone had a smile when he shot, none larger then SD!

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