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Although it's a 19th Century design and by modern standards it's considered an obsolete weapon, one advantage these old guns and replicas thereof is that they can be kept going with low tech reloading methods. Ammunition can be loaded for these cartridges on modern equipment or with simple hand tools.
If chambered in one of the original centerfire rounds -- .44-40, .38-40, or .32-20 -- they are ideally suited for use with black powder or black powder substitutes like Pyrodex or Triple 7 and cast bullets. (Modern replicas are also available in .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum, all of which work great with cast bullets but don't seal the chamber as well when used with black powder, because of their thicker brass.)
Other lever action models have been chambered for the WCF cartridges, including replicas of the Henry, Winchester 1866, and original and replicas of the Winchester 1892.
This is an original Winchester Model 1882 reloading tool that I got off eBay, along with the original matching bullet mold. (The mold isn't pictured.)
This tool can perform the following functions without any adjustments:
- Deprime fired cases, if you have the original decapping pin, or can substitute a Lee Precision case length gauge in the right caliber.
- Seat a fresh primer.
- Seat and crimp a bullet cast from the original mold, or a bullet design with the same overall length (since it's not adjustable).
Under the tool, from left to right are a 200 grain bullet cast from the original mold, a charged case with bullet pressed in ready to be seated and crimped, and a complete cartridge. Above the tool are some cases charged with 35 grains of Swiss 3Fg black powder. The bullet was cast from reclaimed plumber's lead and lubed with a mix of beeswax, mutton tallow, and canning paraffin. There are other black powder compatible lubes you can make at home, e.g., a 50/50 mix of beeswax and Crisco.
The Ideal Tool Company (bought by Lyman in the early 1900s) offered similar tools, some with built-in bullet molds, and some with adjustable seating chambers to allow different bullets to be used. The Lyman 310 tool remains in production and can neck size spent brass, and has an adjustable seating chamber.
During the panics of the past eight years, black powder and BP substitutes remained largely available. In extremis, black powder can be made. There is plenty of info available online on how to do so, just be careful.
Primers are one component that tends to disappear quickly when panics hit, and cannot be easily made or reloaded, so it would be wise to stock up ahead of time.
Likewise, if you are setup to cast your own bullets, if you can obtain a suitable lead alloy and make some kind of bullet lube, all you need to worry about stocking up on are cases and primers. As of the time this was written (April 2016) cases for these "obsolete" rounds are easily available in quantity online. The primer supply is good now, too, either online, in stores, and at gun shows.
As a side note, the capacity of these leverguns is 14 + 1 for the 24" barreled rifles, or 12 + 1 for the 20" carbines. Either one has more firepower than a pump shotgun, with a lot less recoil, and a longer effective range.
The .32-20 is suitable for small game and varmints up to coyotes, but the .38-40 (really a .40 caliber) and the .44-40 are good on deer out to about 100 yards. The latter two also work well for defense, but when shot from a rifle, even the .32-20 is comparable to a 9mm handgun, so it's no slouch. The black powder WCF rounds may be "obsolete," but they are just as effective today as they were in the 19th Century.
In my opinion, the ability to load cartridges using components that you can get in times of scarcity or make yourself has value for preppers. It's something to consider if the rest of your preps are squared away.
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