Trapdoor Springfield

By: George Carlson /georgewxxx




††††††††††† In 1961 as a 17-year-old teenager in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I acquired my first trapdoor Springfield for $20.00 at Casanovaís Gun Shop. That one was a first model 45-70 Model 1873.† Martin Redding in Culver City California had movie studio weapons for sale in their 1966 catalog for $65.00 each.† After a long wait, Railroad Express had a large box with an 1884 Springfield 45-70 and 1866 50-70 Springfield, along with two boxes of† 50-70 ammo, waiting to be picked up at the railroad station in Tyler, Minnesota. The black powder-loaded cases were imported from Belgium and had an Old Reliable head stamp. Hand loading, casting, and shooting those big .45 and .50 caliber cases are an on going learning experience. Components for 45-70 were available, but other than antique ammo for the 50-70 Government is a problem unless you knew where to look.† That was the start of a collection of U.S. military trapdoors that continues today. Little by little those old guns came back to life as useful fully functional firearms, and not just wall hangers.


††††††††††† Today 45-70 components are available most everyplace.† However, black powder might not be easy to locate. You donít just walk in any sporting goods store and ask for it. Because of shipping and storing restrictions, youíll need to do some homework as to where you can buy some. The Internet seems to be the best place to look. Smokeless powder is readily available at most gun shops, but most shops only stock what sells the best. So you may need to place a special order.† 50-70 Govt. new cases are listed in most major reloading catalogs. Bell, Bertram, and Dixie are the brands available now. They also can be fire formed from .348 Win cases. 1.750 is max length, and 1.740 is trim length for the 50-70. Dies for the 50-70 can be a problem to locate. Lyman still lists them and so does RCBS.† Starline is making 45-70 cases along with Winchester, and Remington.†† Federal, Black hills, Ultamax, Remington, Winchester, and a number of custom outfits, are loading 45-70, so finding brass shouldnít be a problem. The 45-70 max length is 2.105, and 2.100 trim length. If youíre in need of shorter .50 cal brass (carbine, or cadet), I suggest Buffalo Arms, 660 Vermeer Court, Ponderay, ID 83852.

†Bullets can be tricky. Springfield 45-70 bores are claimed to be from .457 to .462 or larger. 50-70ís are from .512 to .518. 3 or 5 grooves make it hard to measure the exact bore diameter unless you have a fixture made for odd number of grooves and lands. Hardness of the alloy and size of the bullet are considerations in deciding whether to use black or smokeless powder. Smokeless works better with wheel weights or harder. You wonít need to pay hundreds of dollars for a custom mould to stay in the top group of shooters.† Itís hard to beat the standard Lyman of 385gr. 457124 in the 45-70, or 425gr 515141 in the 50-70 with smokeless cast from wheel weights. Leeís 45-70 offering of a hollow base 405gr 459 caliber, is the best buy anyone could make that wants to shoot black powder out of either a much worn crowned barrel, or better yet a perfect as issued barrel. I wish theyíd offer a hollow base in the .50 also, because it does so well in the .45. 


Leeís 450gr 515-450F is a bargain too. It shoots as good in all my guns as any 50 cal moulds Iíve tried. RCBS has two 50 cal moulds, and both drop lead bullets that are almost to small for good accuracy. The two I have drop .514 diameter bullets with very hard 50/50 linotype/wheel weight mixture. Unless you try to use aluminum tape between the blocks to make them a few thousandths bigger, theyíre just ďOKĒ for smokeless in the trapdoor. 458 RCBS moulds have a different nose profile that takes some getting used to. With the exception of the 45-500-BPS, theyíre all gas check type and not the best for anything but smokeless powder. The 500gr needs to be seated .7Ē into the case as it engages the rifling because of the diameter and that doesnít leave room even for much slow smokeless powder.† A 500gr 45 cal. Bullet needs to be driven fast enough to keep it stable. Iíve had them keyhole right from the muzzle when trying to develop light smokeless loads. The best light moulds for the 50-70 is a .52 caliber 358gr† .521 offering from Rapine. The 520375 were intended for the 52 Spencer, but it fitís my needs perfectly. Any of their .52 Smith, Maynard, Spencer, and Sharps moulds should work just fine in your 50-caliber trapdoor when size down to .518 or so.† The Black powder trapdoor matches Iíve attended, 500gr to 540gr are the shot by almost everyone. Buying 1-20 to 1-30 tin/lead alloy custom smelted being the normal procedure. Getting it in 50 to 100 pound lots to save on UPS shipping.


    Primers are stickler. Some people say magnum, and others want only standard. Winchester WLRM is the hottest, but Iím talking trapdoor here not long-range 1000+yds shooting. My neighbor shoots Master class with both Sharps and 1884 trapdoor in black powder matches. He uses Federal large rifle magnum primers. Match magnums are also available. For my basic hunting needs shooting smokeless, Iíll stay with my standard large rifle primers. After trying all four major brands, I canít say I can recommend one over the other. It gets confusing enough switching powder and bullets. Just stay with one brand, to avoid confusion.


     Iíve tried over 25 kinds of Smokeless powders in my trapdoors. A few favorites are 2400, 4198, HS-6, 3031, 4831.† 4831 is the dirtiest by far. A problem which shows up with the slower powders is unburned powder particals that are left in the chamber after firing and extraction.† These particals foul the action so badly that the next round canít be chambered until you clean them out. The unburned powder farther down in the barrel may not look good, but it wonít stop that next slug from hitting next to your previous shot. Itís Ok at the bench, but while in the field hunting, youíd like to have the option of a quick second round if possible. 10grs of any fast trap powder will be safe and accurate at 100yds with both the .50 and 45 caliber rounds. If you want to see how well your gun will shoot, try a case full of any brand of 4831. I can almost guarantee good groups from any gun. You can usually extrapolate trapdoor loads from 45-70 to 50-70 using the same bullet weight. Keeping your velocity at 1250fps for the 50-70, and 1315 for the 45-70 will be velocities the sights are set for.


    I use a poly-foam wad over the powder in both 50-70, and 45-70 when the case is less than 75% full. The foam comes in sheets that are about ľĒ thick. 1Ē squares cut with a scissors, and pushed over the charge with a pencil will hold the powder in place and because the squares are bigger than the case and the foam grips the case walls tight. You can turn the case upside down and tap it and the powder stays put against the primer. Weighing next to nothing, it doesnít add any pressure to your load.† Plus itís easier and quicker to add than the powder type plastic fillers or kapok. Iíd rather not add any more mass to my loads with heavy fillers like cereal.


    A couple of ideas about wringing the most out of black powder loads are here for your consideration. Black powder can be shipped to your door if you want to pay the extra hazard fee. The one key to consistency is buying your powder in case lots to keep velocity from fluctuating from one lot to the next. A pound will last about 100 rounds on average. Equivalent powders like Pyrodex or the new Triple Seven are a little easier to find. Triple Seven may turn out to be the powder of choice if youíre not in strict black powder competition.† Swiss 2F seems to be the powder of choice for match shooters. Elephant, and Goex brand are available by mail order from several sources. Some Chinese powder we tried burned dirty and was not accurate.† It was the worst we have tried. After annealing 300 rounds of brass to make them all a consistent neck tension, we found that by not sizing after shooting, better groups can be had by just seating bullets in unsized cases. Case life is enhanced also by not overworking. Some type of compression system should be used with black powder.† Black powder columns compressed to 90% of actual column heigth is average for a lot of shooters.† Many new black powder shooters do† not understand this. Itís trial and error to see what works for your gun. Using the bullet only to compress the charge will distort the lead and accuracy will suffer. Weighing each charge for match shooting is a must.† The solid head cases we use today will hold just as much black powder as the old balloon head cases did. Donít believe the old notion that you canít get 70 grains of black powder in modern case. Some match shooters get up to 72 grains of compressed powder. Youíll need to keep your smokeless cases separate if you enlarge your flash-holes for black powder shooting. If youíre shooting a Remington rolling block or a trapdoor, donít expect top-notch results from your hand loads with bullets sized for one then shooting it in the other. Bores from Remingtonís are generally .512 with 5 grooves, and Springfieldís are usually .515 or larger with only 3 grooves. Getting bullet-sizing dies for anything over .512 usually entails getting it honed out to .515 or larger. RCBS and Lyman offered .515 at one time, but are rarely found now.† Iíve found .515 to .517 bullets shoot sub 2Ē at 100 yards from a bench with any trapdoor that hasnít had the muzzle enlarged from excessive cleaning wear. Bullets need to be around .514 in my New York State rolling block.† At a recent gun show a trapdoor receiver was lying on a dealers table that had been split on top.† I inquired if it was from shooting smokeless. ďNo, a† standard black powder load!Ē was the answer.


There are a few things you can do to your gun to make your trapdoor shoot itís best. Removing the ramrod is the easiest. That might be one reason why you see so many trapdoors without ramrods, people forget to put them on and lose them. The extra vibration during firing is a detriment to good accuracy. One small item you should check is the ramrod catch on the underside of your stock. If itís broken, replace it if possible. That seems to be a common problem, and Iím not sure why. Keeping the barrel and stock tight together is simple also. Remove your barrel bands and tighten the tang screw down. If the barrel and stock by the end of the wood has any play, you can keep adding shims under the tang with paper or cleaning patch material until it quits rising up.† While putting the barrel bands back on, make sure they are as tight as possible. Using thin card stock about a 1Ē long and 3/8ths wide between the barrel and bands, will keep everything tight. Thatís why the ramrod rifles generally are considered more accurate. They have a slot on the end of the barrel for the wood to fit into. Trigger work can be tricky. I purchased a nickel plated 1868 Springfield many years ago, and someone had silver soldered on the sear and made the sweetest trigger pull you can imagine. Itís the standard I judge all triggers by now. Iíve tried to duplicate that trigger on most of my guns. If youíre using the sling as in modern high power matches, youíll need to reset your sights. Iíve seen guys shoot outstanding groups at trapdoor matches that are 16 inches or more off to the side at 200 yards using a sling. Finding your correct windage setting when using the sling is a must. Casual shooters are happy to get 3Ē to 4Ē group from their guns.† The front sights on the 50-70ís are nothing more than a little hump on the barrel. Itís sturdy for combat, but not fine enough for target shooting. Dixie Gun Works sells a removable Remington Zouave sniper sight that uses a thumbscrew to hold it to the barrel.† After wrapping several turns of electricians tape to increase the barrel diameter a bit, you can easily attach the sight without making permanent changes to the gun.† Older 1866ís thru 1873ís have no windage provisions. Many collectible trapdoors have their sights changed by either adding a Buffington sight or other adjustable sight. Make sure you keep the original sight so not to lessen the value of your trapdoor. Because I know my 1870, 50-70 will shoot less than 2Ē with the right load, but without windage and proper elevation the group will off 6 to 8 inches to one side. Iíve made up a flat universal plate that will fit to the left side of any Springfield. The screws that attach the action to any Springfield are all 3.2Ē center to center. To this plate Iíve attached an old Mossberg .22 target S-100 sight. Now Iíve got windage and elevation for any Trapdoor. No modification necessary to the gun is required. The one limitation is the hammer. It hits the peep if I use too much right windage or use a sight disc thatís too large. Using a smaller peep disc helps. Whatís needed is an elevator like the ones used on Lymanís No. 1 tang sight, only mount it sideways so thereíll be plenty of right windage.† Iím still working on that.†


For the experimenter and for lack of regular components and tools for 50-70, you can shoot fairly acceptable groups with common muzzleloader sabots and most any appropriate bullet size if you have brass. Iíve shot 3 ĹĒ groups using a Hornady 50 caliber sabots. 33 grains of IMR 4198 top off with a 290 grain 45 cal bullet. Some 50 caliber sabots are made for .44 bullets. This same concept could be used in the 45-70 also using 45 cal sabot and 38 caliber bullets. No sizing dies are required. Seating the sabot straight takes a bit to learn. Seating primers with basic punch and mallet still works like it did back in the 1800ís. You can also assemble quite acceptable ammo with lead bullets with just a punch to knock out the primer, and a mallet to seat the primer using a wood dowel inside the case. Lee powder scoops can be used to add powder. A pliers will work to slightly crimp the in the case to hold it all together. They may not look pretty, but theyíll shoot. Knight is coming out with a new .52 cal muzzleloader and sabots. Iíve got a hunch those .52 sabots might be just what Iíve been looking for to fit the 50-70. Stay tuned!


†††††††††††††††††† †



For 25 years, Iíve hunted exclusively with a 50-70 trapdoor. Itís a modified 1868 model with a 20 ĹĒ barrel. Seems like every year Iíd switch loads in the constant quest for a better combination of powder and bullet deer getter. Iíd acquired a new mould, or wanted to try some new bullet lube. The saga goes on to find the perfect load. Just guessing, in those 25 years, at least 15 deer have been taken with it.


Two books that are a great help to reloader for trapdoors are Loading Cartridges For The Original .45-70 Springfield Rifle And Carbine, and 50-70 Shooters handbook. The first one is by J.S. & Pat Wolf, and the second is by Croft Barker.† I highly recommend them both. For production info on the guns and associated equipment, there are a number of good publications. For Collector Only series of books by North Cape Publications has The .45-70 Springfield by Joe Poyer & Craig Riesch, The Trapdoor Springfield by Waite & Ernst, The .45-70 Springfield by Fraska & Hill all give you vast information on the 45-70. Fraska has a second book called .45-70 Springfield Book II that is more about the .50-70 trapdoors, but both are considered ďThe BibleĒ for collectors.


A few ranges hold trapdoor only matches, but finding one in your area might not be easy. Once a year, in August, by Wagner South Dakota there is a trapdoor black powder shoot. They fire plain-based lead bullets with blackpowder only. The match is fired at 200 yards. The Burbank Muzzle Loaders Inc. (web site has their annual 45-70 Springfield rifle and carbine match in Sept. at their club range in Piru, CA. Oklahoma City, Ft. Wolters Shooting Sports Club, Mineral Wells, Texas have trapdoor matches



45-70 Trapdoor loads.† The following I consider as maximum but safe for my guns. Iíve used .5035 as max case expansion with 45-70 trapdoor rifles.


457191. 294grÖ10gr 700-X††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 457124, 385gr†† 12gr 700-X

††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††9gr†† Unique†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 13gr Unique†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 14gr HS-6†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 16gr HS-6

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 16gr 2400††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 22gr 5744

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 20gr 4227††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 23gr 4759††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 29gr 4198††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 29gr 4198

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †27gr 4759††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 39 gr 3031

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 36gr 3031††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 55gr 4831SC

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††


†††††††††† 457122-H†† 348gr 10gr Unique†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 457406 500gr†† 12gr Unique††††

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 13gr Herco†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††12gr Herco

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 19gr HS-6††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 12gr 700-X

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 26gr 5744†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 15gr HS-6

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 27gr 4759†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 23gr 2400

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 22gr 2400†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 25gr 4227

††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††20gr 4227†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 28gr 3031

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 43gr H-322†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 30gr 4198

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††39gr 3031



50-70 Trapdoor loads. The following I consider as maximum but safe loads for my guns. Iíve found .564 is a max case expansion measured at the web with 1868/1870 Springfield rifles. Sometimes dropping a couple of grains will tighten up group. These loads should be OK for most any 50-70 blackpowder era weapons. For 1866 Springfield rifles, charges should be reduced 15% because of the weakness of the action.


518145, 515139, and Rapine 520375† 13gr Red Dot†††††††††††††† 515142, RCBSís 50-515, both are close

These three bullets all weigh within†† 13gr Herco†††††††††††††††††† to 520gr and nasty on the shoulder.

10gr of each other. 347gr to 357gr.††† 14gr Blue Dot††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††12gr Unique†††††††††††††

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 19gr HS-6†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 21gr 2400††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

†††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††22gr 2400††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 25gr 5744

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 27gr 5744†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 26gr 4759

††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††27gr 4759††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 30gr 4198

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 29gr RL-7††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††41 H-322

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 29gr 4198

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 39gr 3031

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 43gr H322

††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

515141, Lees 515-450F, and†††††††††††††† 12gr 700-X

RCBSís 50-450FN are all about††††††† 13.5gr Unique

450grs.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 14gr Herco

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††19gr HS-6

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 20gr 2400

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 25gr 4227

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 26gr 4759†††

†††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††30gr 4198

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 37gr RL-7

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 39gr 3031

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††55gr 4831SC


†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††Errata†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††



    Trapdoors were chambered by Springfield for 20 gauge, 58-60-500-rim fire, 50-45-450, 50-55-450, 50-60-450, 50-70,45-55-405, 45-70, 45-80-500, and 30-40. A total of 570,318 from 1865 to 1893 were manufactured. 5,005 58cal Model 1865ís were all produced in 1866.† 50-70 rifles in various models were made from 1867 thru 1873. 45-70 rifles in various models were made from 1873 thru 1893. 1,376 models 1881 20ga. Foragerís were made from 1880 thru 1885. Beside the regular military, the government offered them to militias, national guards, schools & colleges, fraternal organizations, and clubs.† Springfield Armory was still repairing them in 1906 for reissue. Up to 1916 old trapdoors were made into fencing muskets by Springfield. One guard unit still had rifles in 1940 in their inventory.† 1898 is the last year the government made .45-70 caliber ammunition, and it was of Smokeless type. 4 trapdoor pistols were mfg. 2 in .50-45, and 2 in .36.


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