Trapdoor Springfields: What’s Your Best Historical Purchase?
Pedersoli’s rifles are close matches to an original. But which $1000 rifle would we choose? Ultimately, it was a coin flip.
The Trapdoor Springfield has a golden history, having been used by the U.S. armed forces from 1873 until it was supplanted by the Krag around 1892. The Trapdoor gets its name from its top-opening, hinged breech, which is no paragon of strength but adequate for the hottest black-powder loads of its heyday, and for many “normal” 45-70 loads of today, or at least reproductions are. Buffalo Bore’s “lever” ammunition and other brands specifically intended for use in modern single-shot rifles and other weapons with strong breech designs have no place in Trapdoors, neither old nor new ones.
We take a look here at two new Trapdoor rifles by Pedersoli, in normal Rifle length and Officer’s Model form (about $1,000 and $1,100 respectively), and compare them in handling to an original full-length version. Though we would not expect perfect function nor outstanding accuracy from the original (in fact it had an internal problem and we were not able to test fire it), we were interested in the overall handling qualities it might have, compared with the new ones. Herewith, our report.
A close examination of this Italian-made Pedersoli rifle against an original Springfield Trapdoor rifle revealed the Pedersoli to be an extremely close copy of the real thing. There were a few contour differences in various pieces of metal, but by and large the new one is a gratifyingly close copy. The feel and overall balance of old and new were essentially identical. The biggest differences were in the rear sights, the original having a tiny square-bottomed notch, while the new one had a wide-angle V. Both gave excellent sight pictures, and we suspect the two types of sights were most likely seen on originals as well.
The Pedersoli rifle had well-polished metal parts, with all parts blued except for the breech block itself, which was case hardened, and the escutcheons that held the lock-attaching bolts. These were left white. The bluing was truly outstanding here, with a deep, rich look to all parts. Even the ramrod was well polished and deeply blued. It was impossible to tell the finish of the original rifle, but it may have had a case-hardened receiver. Its metal work appeared to have been well polished because we saw no evidence of machining work, but the finish was slightly frosted overall, with a rich brown patina that looked great but didn’t tell us much about the original bluing.
The lockwork inside the Pedersoli was a fine match of the original’s metal, and the workmanship was excellent there as well. The mainspring had a fine polish that indicated great care taken in its manufacture. There was no apparent finish on the wood within the lock cutout, and if we owned this rifle we’d coat it with linseed oil or something better, to make sure it stayed in good shape.
The new rifle’s wood finish looked like a decent oil job with the pores left slightly open, just like on the original rifle. The steel ramrod was retained by its own spring-like stiffness via a catch set into the stock near the muzzle. There were two swivels near the muzzle, one for stacking and the other for a carrying sling, which would also attach to a swivel at the front of the trigger guard. The trigger guard had all the grace and intricate contours of the original rifle, and was a beauty to behold.
The Pedersoli’s lockwork matched the original rifle in its characteristics. To load either rifle you pulled the hammer back two notches. This permitted the breech to swing up past the nose of the hammer. A cartridge could then be inserted, and the block closed upon it. With this new rifle, closing the breech required a slight lift on the latch lever or a strong bump with the hand, which were unnecessary with the original and with the new Officer’s Model, tested below. The latter rifle had a different hammer setup, which we’ll get to shortly. To fire the loaded rifle, it was necessary to ear back the hammer to its third notch, and then press the 5.3-pound trigger. After the shot, opening the breech block zinged the empty case rearward against a protrusion in the bottom of the breech, which caused the brass to spin upward out of the rifle. (After a few shots we were able to catch the empties.) The extractor would also bring a loaded round out of the chamber.
The sight picture, as we said, was a wide V that gave a sharply defined view of the inverted-V front post. If you flipped up the ladder of the rear sight, you got what appeared to be a large aperture. We tried the aperture on the target. It caused the gun to shoot slightly high, and didn’t help the excellent accuracy. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
If you didn’t want to shoot the loaded rifle immediately, you could lower the hammer to its first notch. The technique was to pull slightly rearward on the hammer until you could pull the trigger to begin lowering the hammer, and then release the trigger. If the hammer then happened to slip, it would not fire the gun.
At the range, we selected a 50-yard target because we didn’t know where the gun would print. Our shots landed slightly left and low of where we looked, but close enough that we wouldn’t try to center them if we owned this rifle. That was good, because we didn’t see any way to apply windage to center the grouping, short of bending the front blade, which was securely affixed to the barrel. Neither was there a way to move the rear sight, it being bolted securely to the barrel. Though there was zero windage adjustment, we could easily change the elevation as needed.
Our test load consisted of a reasonable handload, because we could not obtain .45-70 ammunition locally that we could guarantee would be okay for a Trapdoor rifle. So we made our own. The load consisted of a 350-grain flat-nose jacketed bullet in front of a modest charge of Hodgdon’s 4198 powder. The load proved to be excellent, and gave fine accuracy out of this rifle. Our best three-shot group measured just under an inch at 50 yards, and we had no problems whatsoever with this fine rifle.
The touches on our Officer’s Model included checkered wood, though the overall wood quality was not a lot, if any, better than on the standard “Rifle.” The short forend of the Officer had a beautifully inletted, graceful metal cap that was polished and left in the white. The ramrod was of wood, not steel, and had a tricky serrated end that was supposed to keep it within the rifle. However, during our brief shooting, we noted the ramrod overcame its springiness and “trick” lock and began to move forward, so keep a close eye on yours if you buy and shoot one of these.
The 26-inch barrel was as well polished and blued as on the full-length rifle, and it had a tube added beneath it to accept the wood ramrod. There was one barrel band, not two, and it was case-colored. The action was also case colored, in addition to the breech block, and it was an attractive job. The opening lever was blued, as was the aperture sight and its base. The hammer and its lockplate were left white. The trigger guard, butt plate, aperture sight ladder, and single-set trigger were nicely case colored. The trigger had an adjustment for its set letoff, but we left it alone. In fact, during our shooting tests we used the trigger normally, to get an idea of this rifle’s performance compared with the standard rifle. Pushed forward and set, the trigger broke at 4.5 ounces. Unset, it broke at just over 4 pounds, with some creep.
The stock finish on this model was about the same overall quality as on the full-length rifle. The pores were slightly open, and the oil-like matte finish to the wood permitted seeing the grain easily. Workmanship throughout was on a par with the other rifle, so your extra money would go for all the little touches that including the checkering, which was well-enough done, but by no means perfectly pointed up. The sights were also distinctly different. The front was a big gold dot on top of a post, and you had the option of drifting it to correct windage, though this was also handled by the aperture rear sight. The aperture was not really the only rear sight. There was a big U-shaped notch in the top of the action that served as a super-fast rear sight. We used it to help set the aperture. The aperture was adjustable for elevation in that the aperture itself was a screw that tightened itself to the upright ladder. It had a knurled outer surface to permit that. But if you loosened it, especially if you loosened it too much or too quickly, you lost what you had previously set. There were no reference marks, but we suspect experienced shooters will soon make some. The aperture also moved sideways when you loosened it, so you had double trouble for windage. We found the big, fixed U-notch rear sight handy here. We peered through the aperture and lined it up with the front sight, and with that U-notch, to get the aperture located close to where it should have been. We messed with it until we had shots hitting near where we looked, and then left it strictly alone.
This rifle was a bit handier than the full-length rifle, and that might be important if you wanted to use it for hunting, or for specific Cowboy Action events. In practice, we didn’t get quite the fine accuracy out of the Officer’s Model as we did with the rifle, though we got what was probably enough accuracy. We suspect careful load selection would improve it drastically. Note that the shorter barrel here gave higher velocities with our handload than the 32-inch barrel on the rifle.
The action was slightly different on the Officer’s Model. There were only two notches for the hammer. The first permitted loading and unloading, and we found the breech block on the Officer’s Model closed significantly easier than the rifle’s. That first notch is where you’d leave the hammer to carry a loaded rifle. The second notch was all the way back, fully cocked and ready to rip.
Gun Test Recommends
Pedersoli Trapdoor Rifle, about $1,000. Buy It. If this were our rifle we’d love to play with black-powder loads in it, with cast-lead bullets. We would probably not shoot it a lot with black powder, though. The rifle’s steel butt plate gave us more than enough recoil with our relatively light test load, and a full charge of black powder behind a heavier, more authentic bullet would most likely be a terror on the shoulder. Some early 45-70 loads used a 500-grain bullet, with 70 grains of black, inside the roomy early cases, and that spells lots of kick. We liked this rifle a lot, and appreciated its fine quality. We congratulate Pedersoli and the importers for giving us such a great piece of U.S. military history that we can shoot, or just hang on the wall.
Pedersoli Officer’s Model, about $1,100. Buy It. Recoil didn’t seem to be much worse here despite the lighter weight and higher velocity. Any long bench sessions with either rifle would get your shoulder’s attention, so shooters beware of these steel butt plates on serious rifles. We thought this was an attractive and handier alternative to the full-length rifle, and we generally thought we’d be happier with this slightly fancier rifle, despite its reduced accuracy (as tested so far). However, the other rifle was a tack driver, and many would choose it for that reason alone over this one. We suspect the buyer of either of these Pedersoli rifles would be happy for a long time to come.
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