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Britain's big .577 Snider.

One of the more interesting parallels in the evolution of small arms is the development of the U.S. "Trapdoor" and the British "Snider." In the 1860s, both countries found themselves sitting on huge stores of perfectly fine, but obsolete muzzle-loading muskets. The Yankees had their .58 caliber Springfields and the Brits, their .577 Pattern 1853 Enfields. The self-contained metallic cartridge era had arrived almost overnight, and military establishments throughout the world were scrambling for a modern, breechloading arm, well realizing national security depended upon it.

The most economical and immediate solution to the problem was the conversion of existing muzzleloading muskets and carbines into breechloaders, using original barrels, locks and stocks. That's exactly what the United States, Britain and several other European countries did.

Whereas the caliber of the U.S. Trapdoor was changed from .58 rimfire to .50-70 in 1866, the Brits kept their .577 Snider cartridge in service well after the adoption of the .577-450 Martini-Henry in 1871.

Why bring up the Snider at this point in time? Because Snider carbines and muskets have suddenly hit the surplus market, thanks to the detective work of International Military Antiques, which is bringing us the treasures found in the Lagan Silekhana Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal. IMA has two models available: a 3-band rifle and an ultra-rare Royal Bodyguard carbine.

There's another reason as well. Sniders, in shooting condition, are one of the great fun guns of the surplus world. There is just something very satisfying when you hear a big .577-caliber bullet slam into the 100-yard backstop. It's the "whop" and the "wallop" that endears the Snider to me, plus the big shotgun-shell-size .577 Snider cartridges are impressive in-and-of themselves. In fact, the Snider is about as close as the average shooter will ever come to owning a .577 Express rifle.

A final reason is there is a bunch of Snider enthusiasts around the world, lead by "Coyote" of Mom's Old Guns, who hang out at "britishmilitariaforums" easily accessible through Coyote's home page at www.oldyoti.com. It is "'Coyote," who has re-created the proper molds, dies and cases to keep these intriguing old smoke poles booming, and the Internet traffic that flows back-and-forth among Snider fans is some of the most entertaining and informative on the Web.

An American Invention

Jacob Snider, Jr., an American living in Pennsylvania, originally patented his Snider action and conversion process in 1862. The concept of a hinged, side-swinging breechblock combined with a self-contained cartridge was not new. There are a number of examples of German wheel-locks appearing as early as the 1550s exhibiting a similar design, but Snider refined it with a series of patents dating from 1862 to 1865.

Together with a centerfire cartridge designed by Col. Boxer, the Snider system for converting the Enfield into a breechloader was approved in September 1866. Ironically, Snider died in October 1866 and never saw the realization of the British Empire armed with his invention.

The first use of the Snider in combat was in 1868 in the hands of British troops during their assault on Magdala, the capital of Abyssinia. Based on casualty figures, the Snider performed quite well.

The variety of models exhibiting the Snider action is impressive. There are the common 3-band long rifle; the less common 2-band short rifle; and my personal favorites, the short and handy, Cavalry, Artillery, Engineers, Constabulary, Gaol, Yeomanry and Cadet carbines.

There are three, progressive action designs identified as Marks I, II and III with various Patterns indicated by * or **. The most distinctive difference among them is the locking system. The Mark I and Mark II actions feature a hinged block locked at the 6 o'clock position by a simple detent and spring. In 1869, the Mark III action featuring a massive locking bolt at the rear of the block activated by thumb latch is approved. The "Marks" are normally clearly stamped on the top of the receiver ring.

The major conversion of surplus Enfield stocks occurred between 1866 and 1869. Beginning in 1869, brand new Sniders were then manufactured featuring the Mark III breech and steel barrels normally marked "Steel" (the older musket barrels being iron), however, some of the rifle clubs of the day considered the old iron barrels more accurate than steel and ordered their Mark III's so fitted. It's just impossible to generalize about Sniders!

This brings up the very interesting subject of rifling forms and twists. The land diameter of the Snider is .577" and the bore diameter, .590". The British "gauge" the barrel as a "25" bore, and you will find the numeral "25" stamped on the left side of the barred at the breech.

Because Coyote at Mom's Old Guns studied rifling twists extensively while designing his line of Snider bullet molds, I want to quote him on the subject. "The conversion rifles are equal to their later Mark III brothers in accuracy with all things being equal. All of the 3-band infantry rifles, even the Mark III's, have the wide, shallow, 3-groove Enfield 1:78"-twist rifling. All of the 2-band short rifles, on the other hand, have 5-groove Enfield rifling with a 1:48" twist. As for the carbines, it depends on the model. The Cavalry, Garrison and Engineer carbines all had 5-groove rifling with a 1:48" twist, while the Yeomanry and most of the Constabulary and Cadet carbines were fitted with 3-groove barrels with a 1:78" twist," said Coyote.

But then again, you will find Engineer carbines with original Lancaster oval-bore rifling. It's just impossible to generalize about Sniders!

You will find a variety of makers' names on Sniders. Much of the Snider conversion work was carried out under government contract by major firms like B.S.A. (later B.S.A. & M co.) and L.S.A. Co.

In addition, makers like C.G. Bonehill, Alexander Henry, P. Webley & Son, Thomas Turner, Barnett and Hollis & Sons, produced military and sporting models for the Colonial and private sales trade.

The conversion of the British military from Sniders to Martini-Henry's began in late 1874 and was completed by 1880. Most of the exchanged Sniders were shipped to India. Production of Sniders to fill Colonial orders, however, lasted to the end of the 1880s, which is remarkable when you think about it. Here was the .577 Snider being produced right up to the time of the launching of the .303 Lee-Metford in 1888. But, then again, we, Yanks, kept our .45-70 Trapdoors right into the early 1900s long after the introduction of the Krag.

Shooting

The original Snider cartridge was formed with a wrap of cardboard and, later, of sheet brass attached to an iron head topped with what we would call a .573" (undersize) Minie bullet over 70 grains of Fg black powder.

Quoting from the 1887 Treatise on Ammunition, "The bullet is made from pure lead, weight 480 grains, the hollow in the head is closed by having the lead spun over it, the hollow parts being necessary in order to get the bullet of sufficient length for good shooting, without unduly increasing its weight, and to get its center of gravity in the proper place, the hollow in the base is also used to give the expansive action to the bullets. The plug, made of clay, and soaked in beeswax, closes the rear cavity, and on firing expands the bullet." Sounds exactly like a P-1853 Enfield Minie ball being loaded in a brass cartridge case! Essentially, it was.

A thoughtful reader in Canada once sent me several spent Snider bullets pictured here. They were recovered from Lake Ontario where it was the general practice for Snider-equipped Canadian troops to shoot at floating targets. This is an earlier form of the Snider bullet that features a wooden plug in the nose cavity. The clay plugs in the hollow skirts are clearly visible. Note the considerable nose expansion of the one bullet that appears to have hit its mark.

Rather than use an undersize Minie, the thinking today is to load a full .590" bore-diameter bullet. Coyote's Lee-made Snider moulds come in a variety of weights and designs--hollow base, solid base, heavy 480-grain freight trains for fast twists and--my favorites--the solid base 430-grain Mini-Hunter and 430-grain SWC suitable for all twists. All the moulds drop a .590" diameter bullet when fed a 1:20 tin/lead alloy. The Sniders also shoot exceedingly well with .590" to .600" roundballs. I recommend most shooters try the roundball load first. It can be loaded without dies.

There are three sources for cases. The most available are Coyote's brand, formed from CBC brass 24-gauge shotshells, and Bertram's from Australia. Kynoch cases are being made in Europe, but currently are not imported to the United States.

Modern .577 cases suffer from excessive case capacity when loaded with sane weights of black or black powder substitutes. The answer is the use of a suitable filler, and the filler of choice is currently a 50/50 mix by weight of Cream of Wheat and FFFg black powder. The "COW," as the combination is affectionately called, works perfectly. The Cream of Wheat is consumed by the FFFg upon firing.

Lee loading dies and shell holders for the .577 Snider are available from Coyote and will also be cataloged by Lee this year. These are large-bodied dies and must be used with a press threaded for 1 1/4" dies. Lee's Classic Cast press is designed for the job.

Loading data? I recommend you go directly to the Snider loading section at the "britishmilitaria" Web site. There, you will find every conceivable combination from quiet round ball loads to moose-stompers. Stay away from smokeless loads and weigh all powder charges. These guns are now 140-years old and call for the use of black powder or black powder replacements like American Pioneer Powder, Goex Pinnacle, or Hodgdon's 777. My current favorite is American Pioneer Powder. It duplicates black powder velocities, doesn't require special bullet lubes, and cleans up like a miracle.

A couple of pointers on shooting the Snider. Do not bag it when shooting off the bench. Place your hand between the bag and the forearm, and 1 guarantee your groups will shrink.

Snider sights are atrocious to eyes both young and old. The "'V" notch of the rear rifle sight is as deep as the Grand Canyon, making it difficult to maintain consistent elevation. On one of my 3-band rifles, its earlier owner simply filed down the deep "V" to express sight dimensions. The resulting sight picture is vastly improved. Frankly, I find the low carbine sights much easier to see and use even though the sighting radius is short.

There is a saving grace though. Returning to the Snider Web site at "britishmilitaria," you will find a variety of ways to adapt modern sights to those old Sniders without detracting from their collector value.

The Snider is an infectious firearm. Once the Snider bug bites you, there is no turning back. There is just something especially appealing about the big .577 that no other surplus arm can equal. Capture the wave and get them while you can.

COYOTE (MOM'S OLD GUNS)

(.577 SNIDER RELOADING SUPPLIES)

(970)513-8098

WWW.OLDYOTI.COM

(LINKS TO "BRITISHMILITARIA" WEB SITE)

INTERNATIONAL MILITARY ANTIQUES (IMA)

(SNIDERS, UNIFORMS AND ACCESSORIES)

(908) 903-1200

WWW.IMA-USA.COM

.577 SNIDER-ENFIELD RIFLES & CARBINES

IAN SKENNERTON, HARDCOVER, 242 PAGES,

$39.50, WWW.SKENNERTON.COM

RELATED ARTICLE: Disassembly and reassembly.

Be conservative when considering the disassembly of an antique firearm. It's been around for a 100 years or more and will still outlast you and your great grandchildren. If there is no overriding reason why a piece should be disassembled, leave it alone. There's no reason to risk breaking an irreplaceable part or marring a stock.

For example, I don't routinely remove Snider locks if they are operating correctly. The lock is not going to wear out with the limited amount of shooting we'll do, and if removed, there's an excellent chance of splintering or chipping the edge of the lock mortise. For the same reason, I don't routinely separate the barreled action from the stock.

The Snider part that normally needs a bit of attention due to old dried oil and corrosion is the operating breech. Its disassembly and reassembly is a cinch, and once you have the parts spread out, you can readily clean and properly lubricate them.

First, open the breech, ensure the gun is unloaded and pull back on the breechblock to activate the extractor. If the block and extractor move back, great. If not, saturate it for a day or two with G96 Complete Gun Treatment. The block should begin to move. If not don't despair.

With the action closed, remove the small screw at the top right of the breech. This screw ends in a long thin, pin that retains the larger action axis pin.

Note the position of the screwdriver blade slot in the head of the axis pin. It is facing you. When you reinsert the pin, that slot has to be in its original position or else you will not be able to reinstall the small retaining screw.

With a proper fitting screwdriver blade, pry the main axis pin out until you can grab it and remove it. I once had a pin that was so cemented in with dried oil I had to use small blocks of aluminum between the screwdriver shank and the action to provide additional leverage as the pin slowly inched out.

Open the breech and pull it out horizontally while holding the two cylinder-looking metal parts. These are under spring tension and can jump out and roll under the nearest chair. Note that the larger cylinder faces the rear when reassembling. Separate the cylinders and spring. With a small crescent wrench, unscrew the firing pin retaining nut and remove the firing pin and spring.

Clean everything up, lubricate the parts and reassemble in reverse order.

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Title Annotation:SURPLUS LOCKER
Author:Bodinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:2327
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