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Uberti’s Remington Revolving Carbine

By James Passmore

It’s not the gun that won the west. They didn’t even sell that many of them. It came along at exactly the wrong time and made hardly a ripple in firearms development, but today Remington’s revolving carbine made by Uberti of Italy is one of the prettiest black powder guns you can find, and probably the most fun to shoot.

 

It’s a rifle-barreled, percussion cap and ball revolver. This means loading it with black powder. It means loading soft lead round balls. It means dealing with lubricant that is not petroleum based, and it means a great deal of smoke. Afterwards it means some proper disassembly and cleaning with hot water.

 

Taking this carbine into the bush is the closest you can get to legally hunting with a handgun in New Zealand. The revolver action itself is actually a Remington New Model Army, made by Remington from 1863 and used extensively during the America Civil War.

 

The Uberti-made carbine is a repeating rifle based on the same action as the Remington New Model Army pistol – a cap and ball revolver that was as popular as Colt revolvers in its day.

 

In 1866, after the war, Remington attempted their first repeating rifle aimed at the civilian market, at a time when the country was awash with cheap firearms, and came up with this, a revolver with a long barrel and a shoulder stock.

 

Basically it sank like a stone in the market place. It was gone by 1878 after only selling around a thousand units. The revolving carbine wasn’t a totally bad idea - there have been worse - but it was untimely because it was competing with the new Winchester lever-actions.

 

FEATURES

The carbine features an 18-inch octagonal barrel in .44 calibre, (which is actually a .45 calibre). The revolver has a brass handgrip on the shoulder stock and a curved brass buttplate. The metal-work is deeply blued and the dark walnut stained stock combined with the black steel and brass make for a very attractive firearm.

 

There is no fore-end on the rifle, for a reason I will explain later. Sights are a traditional buckhorn and elevator rear sight, matched with a front blade, both of which are drift adjustable.

 

“...there is no way anyone ever reloaded one of these... while riding a horse!”

 

Compared with photographs of original Remington rifles, the Uberti is exactly a match in nearly every detail. At 18-inches the barrel is shorter than standard, which was 24-inches, but I have seen versions at 22-inches also.

 

I ordered the Uberti Revolving Carbine from Neil at Hayes and Associates in Carterton, and as usual the service and product was stirling.

 

SHOOTING BLACK POWDER

In the old days conical bullets were commonly sold in factory-made paper “cartridges” used in cap and ball pistols, but round balls work well and may often be more accurate. After buying the revolving carbine I immediately bought a Lee mould for casting .454” sized round balls at home.

 

I already had a Lee melting pot. Round balls for black powder firearms should be soft lead, and a supply of roofing lead and electrical sheathing supplied my projectiles.

 

This was my first percussion black powder gun and while I had to do some research on the internet to even figure out how to load it properly, I found it relatively straightforward.

 

After loading a charge of black powder, the round ball is seated into the chamber mouth and rammed home with the under-lever.

 

After working with the gun I can tell you right now that there is no way anyone ever reloaded one of these in the middle of a gunfight, or while riding a horse! What you need is a chair and a cup of tea and some quiet time, because it takes a while.

 

First, a measured charge of black powder is poured into each cylinder chamber and then a round ball positioned over the mouth. Using the ramming under-lever on the gun, the lead ball is seated into the chamber against the powder. After that, a natural based grease or lubricant is wiped over the chamber mouth.

 

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After loading, each chamber mouth is coated with buttery lube – to lube the bore and also prevent sparks from causing a “chain fire”.

 

This last step is required to lube the bore with each shot, in order to make the sooty fouling soft enough to be pushed out by each successive shot without damaging the soft projectile and affecting accuracy.

 

Finally, at the rear of the cylinder, percussion caps are placed over each nipple, providing the ignition source for the powder charge, like the primers in a cartridge.

 

THE FIRST SHOTS

Shooting the carbine for the first time was a real education. There has been nothing quite like it in my experience. The first shot with a moderate load of 30 grains of black powder was a deep-throated blast and a cascading billow of smoke.

 

The next shot created a one metre diameter smoke ring that floated over the range. Muzzle blast was dramatic but recoil was negligible. Two cylinders of shooting later, I had created my own fog of war that hung four feet off the ground like mist in the still air, and I couldn’t see the fifty metre targets.

 

“The next shot created a one metre diameter smoke ring that floated over the range.”

 

I realized I had a silly grin because shooting the little revolver gun was the most fun I had shooting a new firearm in ages. I wasn’t even worried if I was hitting the target, just thumbing the hammer back and shooting was satisfying. But I found I was hitting the target, and I realized this carbine-length pistol with its long barrel was surprisingly accurate.

 

LOAD DEVELOPMENT

Loads with the carbine are the same as those for the Remington Army model revolver. I found that 40 grains of 3F black powder was a max charge weight; it is not possible to load more and still seat a round ball so that the cylinder will turn.

 

The lowest load I tried was 20 grains, which resulted in poor accuracy and large shift of point of impact due to low velocity. (I found that lower charges shot higher at short ranges - due to the slower ball catching the recoil of the firearm and hitting higher on the target than faster loads.)

 

The powder I was using was Holy Smoke 3F, a New Zealand made powder which is readily available. The caps I used were CCI number 11s. Although they were looser than I would like, if you squeeze them a little they stay on the nipple.

 

With no fore-grip, this is the way you hold the Uberti percussion cap and ball revolving carbine. James reckons shooting it was a blast - the gun balances nicely despite the 18-inch barrel.

 

Remington Number 10s fit better if you can find them. The balls I used were pure lead, and were sized .454” as they dropped from the mould. I think .457” would also work, but may be stiff to seat.

 

The ball is the right size if a ring of lead is shaved from the projectile as it is rammed into the chamber. If it doesn’t, choose a larger diameter ball.

 

I measured my charges using a plastic Lee dipper set. At home I weighed the amount of black powder each dipper would throw and these became the loads that I tried.

 

Accuracy was better than I thought it would be. With the standard buckhorn open sights I could put three shots into one hole at 25 metres and three shots into three inches at 50 metres. To me that’s acceptable.

 

Black powder is measured by weight not volume, the same way it is sold, but when loading a firearm in the field it is done by volume since no one carries scales around, hence the dippers, or powder flasks which measure amounts by volume.

  

Black powder loads should be at least mildly compressed so that there is no air gap between powder and projectile. If you hear the granules crunching when you seat the ball, then you are doing the right thing.

 

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Loading 40 grains of Holy Smoke 3F and a 148 grain .454” round ball resulted in a chronographed velocity of 1310fps. This is excellent velocity in this type of firearm.

 

Accuracy was better than I thought it would be. With the standard buckhorn open sights I could put three shots into one hole at 25 metres and three shots into three inches at 50 metres. To me that’s acceptable.

 

After generating clouds of pungent smoke, I settled on two loads, a full power load with 35 grains of powder that could put four round balls into a two-inch group at 50 metres, and a low powered small game load with 25 grains of 3F. This last load required the addition of some inert filler to take up space in the chamber between the powder and the ball.

 

For a percussion revolver shooting round balls the carbine is surprisingly accurate, putting 140 grain balls into a ragged hole at 25 metres. With velocities of up to 1300fps the carbine will take rabbits to smaller deer out to 50 metres.

 

This is done in order to bring the ball out to the chamber mouth and closer to the bore. Without this accuracy suffered - with the filler, the load shot into one hole at 25 metres.

 

The filler was a significant factor with accuracy in lower charges. As a filler I used cous-cous - just as it came from the packet in the pantry!

 

The lube I used I made myself as well. I make it out of three parts of Chefade (which is a saltless animal tallow) mixed with one part beeswax, heated together.

 

Petroleum products shouldn’t be used with black powder firearms as it makes the fouling hard to clean. After cleaning, lubricate the revolver with the same lube you load it with.

 

SAFETY

There are a couple of safety aspects us 21st Century shooters may not be aware of – you cannot hold the fore-end of the carbine like a normal rifle. Hot gasses come out of the cylinder gap and will burn your arm.

 

There is also the chance of a discharge of one of the other chambers if a spark jumps from one chamber to another. It’s never happened to me, but it could, so it’s another reason why you can’t position your hand in front of the cylinder. The carbine is designed to be held by both hands at the rear.

 

“Uberti has revived this nearly forgotten carbine to satisfy the modern fascination with historical firearms and the cowboy action market. For me, I will use the carbine as it was intended, for hunting where the odd rabbit might be on the cards, with the chance at a deer.”

 

The hook on the trigger guard is for the offhand to help hold the weight of the barrel. It works well. The gun is so light you could hold it with one hand if you wanted to anyway.

 

With full power loads the revolver will sometimes spit pieces of percussion cap at your face, and with your face so close to the rear of the gun, I think it should be mandatory to wear shooting glasses of some kind. This problem seems to disappear with lighter loads.

 

FOOTNOTE

Uberti has revived this nearly forgotten carbine to satisfy the modern fascination with historical firearms and the cowboy action market. For me, I will use the carbine as it was intended, for hunting where the odd rabbit might be on the cards, with the chance at a deer.

 

Weighing only two kilos it’s the smallest little gun, and sliding it down the side of your pack you wouldn’t even notice you were carrying it. I can’t hunt with a handgun in New Zealand, but I can hunt with Uberti’s revolving carbine, and that’s close enough.

 

James

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