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Shooting a match with pre-1900 stock guns.

Warden Callaway

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I've been wanting to do this for years. I have several rifles made before 1900 and a barrel full of shotguns.  But only one Colt Frontier Six Shooter made in 1883. (Jesse James would live two more years when it was made.) A couple of months ago I collected another pre-1900 Colt SAA. Made in 1896 but since degraded to a "Frankenstein" gun by changing the barrel and cylinder to 38 Special. It had been polished to death. The gun had several problems that needed fix before it was ready to play. Then I had to work up a load.  The shotgun was my Colt 1878 12 gauge. I can't remember the production date but well before 1900.  I shot my Marlin 1889 44WCF.


Anyway,  I shot Frontier Cartrege Gunfighter last Saturday at the Boonville Regulators range. Funny, I won my category by default but came in last overall. It didn't matter, I met my goal. 




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nothing like the old iron to get your blood up.   Just plain happiness to see them perform.  I have 2 old C0lt 44 specials and a 97.   alass no old lever rifles.   someday!

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As soon as I get around to loading some 44 Russian BP rounds, I want to shoot a S&W First Model Russian, a S&W New Model 3, an 1887 Winchester shotgun and a 1873 Winchester Musket in a match.


(I always shoot the 1887 shotgun and occasionally shoot the 1873 Musket in matches.):)

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Usually once a year I will bring this pair of Smith and Wesson New Model Number Threes to a match. The blued one shipped in 1896, the nickel plated one shipped in 1882 but was refinished at the factory in 1965. Both are chambered for 44 Russian, I only shoot them with Black Powder, they are a little bit sooty in this photo.







Sometimes I change things up and bring this 44-40 Merwin Hulbert Pocket Army instead of one of the Smiths.







This Stevens hammered double comes to all the matches with me. It is pretty new, it is pretty new, it probably shipped somewhere around 1906 or so.







One of these days I should bring this 38-40 Winchester Model 1873 which left the factory in 1887. I should bring the 38-40 Bisley Colt with it which left the factory in 1909.







I should probably bring this 38-40 Bisley that shipped in 1907 when I bring the other Bisley.



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I have an 1887 12 gauge made in 87.   I have a 1873 in 38WCF that's sometime before 1900. I have many 10 gauge doubles that qualify.  I have a bunch that come close being made between 1900 and WWI. 




I'll add, all guns and ammo work as expected. I had a couple of shotgun knock-downs that needed a second wack. My loads were light being loaded for reaction targets instead of knock-downs.  I had 4 clean stages.  Missed 3, as I recall.  No wind and very high humidity made the smoke hang heavy. 

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I have one full set of antique guns, but all are post-1900.  I've put a few thousand rounds through the two SAA's, 1901 & 1915, but have "retired" them now to just a match or two a year.

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1 hour ago, Abilene, SASS # 27489 said:

I have one full set of antique guns, but all are post-1900.  I've put a few thousand rounds through the two SAA's, 1901 & 1915, but have "retired" them now to just a match or two a year.


Legally speaking, all antique guns were made in or before 1898.  

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13 hours ago, Abilene, SASS # 27489 said:

Well Antique speaking, over 100 years old is an antique. :)

Very true.   

But in the realm of firearms, we do have to be aware of legal definitions, as they have some very real "consequences" to them.  According to Federal Law, anything made on or before December 31st, 1898 is an antique firearm, and is exempt from pretty much all Federal regulation.   Most states follow the same definition in most respects.   Among other things, this means that if you find a Winchester 73 or a Colt SAA made in 1887, you can purchase them without any permits, background checks or other regulatory roadblocks.  You can even have them shipped to your front door with no restrictions.   That's because by legal definition, it's not a gun.

Anything made on or after January 1st, 1899 is a modern firearm, and is subject to all gun laws at the Federal, State, and perhaps even Local level.  This means you must have, if required where you live, the proper permits, go through the NICS background check, fill out form 4478 and so on and so forth.  


There is some extra detail to all of this, but in a nutshell, those are the overall definitions.

Within the broad general overview of modern firearms, there are also those that are classified as "Curio & Relic" firearms.  These are guns that are either over 50 years old, or guns that are under 50 that the BATF has determined are of more interest as a collector piece than for practical use as a weapon.  Anything over 50 years old is AUTOMATICALLY C&R.   That means that an AR-15 made in 1966 is a C&R rifle, just like a Colt 1911 made in 1913, or a Colt SAA made in 1904.   (While it's not spelled out this way in the law, I've always thought of it this way; if it's over 50, it's a relic.  If it's under 50 but the BATF put it on the list, it's a curio.)   For examples of less than 50 years old guns that are on the C&R list, a Colt SAA with factory engraving and a factory letter to prove its authenticity is C&R.  Any Colt Sheriff's model in .44 or .45 caliber is C&R.   Even if both are brand new.  All Second Generation Colt SAA's are C&R too.  If the gun is C&R eligible, and if you happen to have a C&R FFL, you can have C&R guns shipped to your front door, don't need to do the 4478 form or a NICS check and can even buy them in almost every state in the Union.   (If you happen to have the license and a C&R eligible Machine gun, you must still comply with all NFA 34 rules to purchase it and take possession, but you can cross state lines with it without prior permission from the Federal Government.  Not a bad extra perk!)  You do have to keep a record of all C&R purchases and disposals you make, and you are specifically NOT a dealer.   The license is just for the purpose of personal collecting.  There are also a handful of states that put some restrictions of C&R guns.   Most notably New Jersey, New York and California.  Massachusetts used to be kind of ambiguous about them, which led to confusion, but they recently clarified the law to say they are okay.  (But the CMP still won't sell 1911's here.)


Thus endeth the legal lesson for the day.  :)

Edited by H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619
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17 hours ago, Abilene, SASS # 27489 said:

Well Antique speaking, over 100 years old is an antique. :)

H.K is correct.


100 years old is not the definition the BATF uses to determine what is an antique firearm.


Pre 1899 is the definition the BATF uses.


Unlike Curio and Relic regulations which say 50 years old. So the 50 year goalpost is moves every year, the pre-1899 goalpost is fixed.

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49 minutes ago, Driftwood Johnson, SASS #38283 said:

H.K is correct....

I know that.  So am I. 


The Federal Trade Commission defines an antique as “an item that's at least 100 years old,” and the U. S. Customs service states that to be considered an antique an item “must be at least 100 years old.”

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12 hours ago, Abilene, SASS # 27489 said:

The Federal Trade Commission defines an antique as “an item that's at least 100 years old,” and the U. S. Customs service states that to be considered an antique an item “must be at least 100 years old.”


If you go to a dealer to buy a firearm, what the FTC says or the Customs Service says has nothing to do with it. The BATF rules are what dealers must go by. Pre-1899 defines an antique firearm, period.

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If I want to shoot an all antique match, I do have a few options to consider.

Let's start with shotguns...


This Winchester 87 is the only SASS Legal antique shotgun I own.   I've only used it a couple of times, but I'll probably be using it at my next match.


But I do have some other antique scatterguns that are kinda cool.



When I saw this Winchester 93 in excellent condition for only $280, I knew I had to buy it.  I had a gunsmith check it out, and it's fully functional and has no problems.  With 2-1/2" shells and black powder it's safe to shoot.   But, it's not SASS legal.  Maybe I'll get lucky and find a local club that won't mind, but if I don't, that's okay.   I'll just shoot a round of trap with it or something.


The Burgess Shotgun is also not SASS Legal for some reason.   (Cuz it's not a 97...)   Okay, fine.   Again, I'll just shoot some trap with it or something if nobody'll let me use it.  I purchased this gun from a respected cowboy gunsmith.


BTW, that's what the pump looks like open.  :)


I also have three antique rifles.


This is a genuine GI Spencer Carbine, model of 1865.   I've converted it to centerfire, and use it about once a year.   I get a lot of oohs and ahs when I do.  Incredibly fun to shoot, but probably the slowest SASS Legal main match rifle there is.   Curiously, this is my ONLY antique, Main Match legal, levergun.


But of course, I have a Lightning that in an antique.   This one is .32-20.  Used it twice so far.   Very much fun.



This Lightning in .44-40 was originally issued to a soldier in the Costa Rican army.   Haven't used it in a match yet, but I am itching to do so.   Anyone have the bayonet for it that they'd be willing to sell?

For pistols, I have more than a few options...


This Colt 1860 has been converted to .32 S&W Long.  Curiously, it looks like this is the second conversion it's had.   There clearly used to be a loading gate there that has been filled in.   I wish this one could talk.   Gotta letter it.



This Colt is a .32-20, but according to its letter, it left the factory as a .44-40.   A couple of guys who've looked at it guess that the conversion was done well into the 20th Century, but Colt has no record of doing it themselves.   I still like it.


This very ugly chrome refinish .44-40  only cost me $500.  I like how the hammer, trigger, cylinder pin and ejector have all been gold plated.



My Merwin & Hulbert, .44-40.



New Model 3, also in .44-40.



Another new Model 3, in .38-44 Target.   Basically an elongated .38 S&W, and that's what I run in this gun.



58 Remington Factory Conversion, .38 Long Colt.

And that's all my SASS Legal antiques.

I also have some NON SASS Legal antiques.   Some of which I have used at a local match, with prior permission.


Colt 1877, "Lightning" in .38 Long Colt.  Used at one match, SA style many years ago.



Smith and Wesson Model 3 DA, .44-40.   This has got just about the smoothest trigger of any gun I have ever fired, SA or DA mode.  Used a couple of times, with permission, SA style of course.


I also have a Colt 1878 in .44-40, but I can't find the durn thing!



Finally there is this Colt 1894, .38 Long Colt.   I've never used this at a match, and unless there was a specialty match for Spanish American War stuff, I'd never even ask, but It's a cool looking gun.  :)

So, f I want everything in the same caliber I'll be using .44-40's, but if I'm willing to mix and match, I have options galore.  :)


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14 hours ago, Burn Through said:

H.K.  no cap guns ?


I have a few (modern made) cap and ball revolvers.  Interestingly, even though they are made after 1898, they are considered antiques because they are muzzle loaders.  

But I cartridge converted all of 'em.  :)


From top to bottom, Uberti 58 Remington, .45 Colt.

Uberti 58 Remington, .45 Colt.  

The prior seen Remington Factory Conversion, .38 Long Colt

Remington 75, .45 Colt.  Not a conversion, but this is my "Remingtons" pic.


Top to Bottom
Uberti Walker, .45 Colt

Colt Dragoon, (2nd Generation) .45 Colt
Uberti 58 Remington, .38 Long Colt
Pieta 1860, .45 Colt

Prior seen Colt 1860, .32 S&W Long
Colt 1851 Pepperbox conversion .38 Long Colt.   When, I think, Uberti came out with a Frankengun creation of a cap and ball Pepperbox on a Colt 1851 frame, I mentioned in the hearing of a great gunsmith that I thought it would be cool if there was a cartridge conversion.  Next time I saw him, he had made this,  I bought it from him.



Finally, a Rogers and Spencer, .45 Colt conversion.


I am not sure what the legal status of a modern made converted pistol is, so I treat them as if they are not antiques.  Better safe than sorry, I guess.

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Howdy Pards


My “go to” cowboy irons are Rugers and modern replica rifles  (Thanks, Uberti).


Do have some period pieces, a Colt, three Winchesters, and an early S&W.  All date to early smokeless period and have been checked by a gunsmith for use with smokeless loads … mild smokeless loads that mirror cowboy specs.


Nonetheless, and this is my personal preference, while I do use them for the occasional cowboy match, I do so very sparingly. I’m aware they are valuable pieces. An inadvertent overload probably wouldn’t damage a Ruger (NOT that I’m going to put a Ruger to the test). It might convert a beautiful, period piece to a  $100 pile of parts and inflict injury on the shooter.


They’re old enough that even mild loads are not without risk.


Know lots of guys that proclaim they refuse to own an iron that they can’t shoot. I hear ‘em but I don’t want to risk a valuable, period piece.


Just my 2 cents!


Keep on the Sunny side!




Fort Reno Kid 




Edited by Fort Reno Kid
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  • 2 weeks later...

Howdy Pards


Second post.  I love to scroll thru this thread and gaze longingly at all of those beautiful, period pieces.


To H. K. Uriah:  do you really own all of those shootin’ irons? My compliments. That is one “H” of a collection.


As mentioned in previous post, I do shoot my old irons but sparingly and with appropriate mild loads.


Again, don’t want to unwittingly convert a superb old iron to a parts gun. 

Congrats again on that great collection.


Keep on the sunny side 




Fort Reno Kid 



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Yes, I do own all those guns.

Getting into the world of Cowboy Action Shooting did more to cause my gun collection to grow than anything else I've ever done, even getting a C&R FFL.   I am in a way afraid to find out just how much my collection is actually worth!

Of course, being single has also allowed me to have a lot of discretionary spending capability.  

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