Don't Underestimate Those "Old", "Weak" Cartridges

Today's lesson conies from an article by Graham Burnside as it appeared in Guns and Ammo for April. 1960.

Burnside talks about the •56 - •50 Spencer rimfire cartridge and its power. Spencer cartridges as made in the 1860's and 1870's are an interesting topic in themselves, and warrant an article or two, but for now on with this cautionary tale which bears out Syd's Rules of Gun Safety, Rule No 2, viz. "Make sure the muzzle is always pointing in a safe direction."

"More than once I have seen modern shooters handle a Spencer cartridge and end up lampooning the effectiveness of such an "abortion." ......

Once I was as na´ve about the Spencer ammunition. So na´ve in fact that I set up shooting facilities in my barn at the hack of the lot. I placed two large hales of compressed straw against the far wall, stepped hack, loaded my Ball carbine with the •56 - •50 cartridge, (45 grains of black with a 350 grain ball) and touched off. The ammunition I was using was original Civil War contract stuff made by C. D. Leet. The report and recoil from that chunky little carbine was very respectable; a burst of flame shot forward about two and one-half feet, and the carbine came back enough that I knew I was holding a man-sized type thing. Careful examination of the damage gave credence to the apparent power of the round. At the rear of the first bale of straw one could find a fine handful of thoroughly chewed straw flakes. Behind the second hale the story was repeated. Then 1 noticed a •50 caliber hole – neat and perfectly round – passing through the seasoned old wall to the outside. A dash to the area beyond the confinements of the barn produced a badly dented 500 gallon oil tank. That Spencer ball had dented the tank for an area of about a square foot and caromed out over the neighborhood. At this juncture, it seemed prudent to cease firing operations and tear down one of Mr. Leet's product to ascertain just what he loaded them with. I thought that possibly the black powder had somehow been reduced to dust and the explosion had actually been a detonation. One round from the same box was dismantled and found to contain the cleanest blackest f.f.g. you have ever seen. I have always held a healthy respect for Spencer ammo ever since."

And by the way, don't underestimate the power of the world's most popular cartridge – the "puny" •22 rimfire, 145 or so years old and still going strong.