Monthly Archives: May 2018

Three Dog Night… er… Afternoon


Three Bulldogs- .450, .38 and .32

No, really- I will write about something other than Bulldogs soon, but this is a range report and, well, all I shot were the bulldogs.  Two of the three needed test firing, which produced mixed results.

First of these was the folding trigger .32, which the Belgians refer to as a ‘Puppy.’ It’s a small bulldog, so I guess that makes sense, right?  This one is from an anonymous manufacturer and sports Belgian proofs. I got it off Gunbroker a couple of years ago- it was sold as a ‘parts-gun’ for $50. Technically I suppose this was true, but all of the parts were actually there… Someone had, at some past time, sawed the hammer-spurt half off and then broke it the rest of the way, so the first order of business was cleaning that up. Then after reassembly and some handling the two springs that usually break- the hand spring and trigger return spring- broke. I replaced them eventually (after the gun had spent far too long sitting around the shop) and decided it was time for a test-firing.

The problem is that the gun is chambered for .320 Revolver (or .32 Short Colt) which is basically unobtanium. After some research into the cartridge I decided the simplest thing to do was to ream the chambers to accept .32 S&W, which is very similar to the .320 revolver in pressure, bullet-weight etc.

Even at 5 yards this little revolver is quite challenging to shoot.

Two things were immediately apparent- one, that I was only getting ignition about 50% of the time, and two- that it is very difficult to shoot this little revolver accurately!  The ignition issue is due to the firing-pin striking the very top of the primer. Sometimes a re-strike is effective, sometimes not.  The last thing this revealed is that the ejector rod is really not adequate- it barely gets the cartridges moving. It’s far easier to pop the cylinder out and use the base pin to remove the spent cartridges- which really isn’t significantly more difficult than using the ejector anyway…

So- alterations to the firing-pin are needed, and I have some thoughts for a project involving this gun- but more on that later.

Next up was the Forehand & Wadsworth .38. I’ve already done a blog post about this one, so we don’t need to go into details of the work done so far.  The first six shots went quite nicely, as you can see- these were fired at a brisk pace at five yards.

Bit of keyholing here, and the shots drifted to the left as my grip on the too-small handle deteriorated…

I was using my standard .38 S&W load- a 150gr. SWC- and it was a bit snappy in this gun. Between that, my large hands and the genuinely tiny grip my shots were slipping to the left by the end of this string. This one was shot at 7 yards- paying more attention to my grip-

This was the last six-shot string fired without interruption. While the leading problem is greatly reduced it has not been eliminated. After a couple of cylinders full lead stopped up the works and the cylinder needed to be fussed with before shooting continued. More adjustments to the hand seems to be in order.

Last but not least it was Leo’s turn.  Since this revolver is labelled ‘British Lion’ I’ve started thinking of it as Leo. OK then.  This revolver works a treat, and is quite reasonably accurate.

This was shot with as center-hold in the sights; I usually hold at 6 o’clock with this gun.

This gun did not require testing, but the load did.  I was shooting a 198gr HBLRN slug over 2.0gr. of Trail Boss, and the only change from the last time I fired this load was the new loads have a roll-crimp. This makes for a notably louder report and more recoil- though it is still far from being objectionable.

Double Action at seven yards fired rapidly

…and the same at ten yards.

The current load is certainly adequate for close-up target work, but I think I am going to work on some loads with different powders. Red Dot is at the top of the list, and at some point some FFFg black powder is going to get into the mix.

Not an entirely successful afternoon at the range, but I learned things so it’s all good.  I really do like Leo; I think a period-style shoulder holster is called for here…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 May 2018

“A Little Powder, a Lot of Lead!”

“A little powder, a lot of lead! Shoot them once, shoot them dead!”  This basically sums up the British philosophy for revolver cartridges from 1868 to the end of World War 2.  It’s relevant because of a new acquisition…

I mentioned my Forehand & Wadsworth bulldog on a cowboy action shooting forum, and one of the members mentioned that he had a Bulldog that he no longer shot, and that he might be willing to part with it. Negotiations commenced and in the end he sold me the gun, some bullets and brass he had adapted from .45 Colt for an unrealistically good price. Thanks to ‘Baltimore Ed!’

The gun, about fifty pieces of brass and a couple hundred bullets. Ed also sent three balloon-head casings to get precise dimensions.

This is a British Lion revolver, in the style of a Webley British Bulldog. It’s chambered for .450 Adams (also known as .450 Boxer, .450 Corto, .450 Colt and , in the US, .45 Webley.) There is no serial number or indication of who the maker is, but there is every reason to believe that the gun is of British manufacture. Both the cylinder and frame are marked ’45,’ and the barrel, frame and each chamber are marked with a Birmingham proof mark. The specific proof was in use from 1813-1904, so it is not useful in dating the revolver. The use of the name ‘British Lion’ also points to British production; Webley had trademarked ‘British Bulldog’ so a domestic maker using that name would be in front of the law shortly. Manufacturer’s in Belgium, Spain and the US were under no such constraint and were not shy about applying the ‘British Bulldog’ moniker to their guns.

This is the proof mark found all over the gun, from the Birmingham Proof House

The weapon appears to have had a blued finish originally, which has transformed over time to a fairly uniform gray patina. There is no serious pitting or rust. The walnut grips are complete, appear original and feature the sort of flat checkering used in much of the 19th century.  The gun has a very solid feel; fit and finish are good throughout, and it seems like a very robust weapon of good quality.

The chambers are in very good shape, and the bore is lightly pitted but with strong lands and grooves. The previous owner has fired the weapon, and it seems to function just as it should. The Double-action trigger pull is not overly heavy and very smooth, with no ‘staging’ points. The single-action pull has no take-up, virtually no over-travel and is a very crisp 4lbs. or so. The cylinder has almost no end-play and locks up acceptably tightly.

This weapon does not have the Stanton Patent rebounding hammer that some other British Lion revolvers do; the hammer must be cocked to the safety notch before the cylinder will rotate freely. It appears that this gun was meant to be carried with all five chambers loaded and the hammer in the safety notch.

The sights are unusually good for a vintage handgun, and consist of a half-round front blade and a surprisingly deep and well-defined V-notch in the rear; one can obtain a good sight picture.

This gun was sold to me as a shooter, and given its quality and condition I have no reservations about firing it. Which requires suitable ammunition, of course. The .450 Adams cartridge was the first metallic cartridge to be adopted by the British military in 1868 and remained in service until 1880- though as it could be fired from later .455 caliber revolvers it remained a ‘second standard’ cartridge until the end of WW2. The cartridge continues to be produced to this day as .450 Corto, manufactured by Fiocchi.

In it’s original loading the .450 Adams used a 225gr. round-nosed lead bullet over a charge of 13gr. of black powder, probably FFFFg. From the service-length Adams revolver this generated 725fps and around 263ft./lbs. of energy. Shorter-barreled guns like the Webley RIC and even more so the Bulldog got rather less performance from the round.

Aren’t they adorable? They’re like little cartoon bullets…

As you might guess loading data for smokeless powder is a little hard to come by, so I was left to develop my own load for this cartridge. Trail Boss seemed the best, safest bet. it has a very high volume to weight ratio, and works very well in cartridges designed for black powder. Trail Boss’s maker recommends developing a load by filling the case to where the bottom of the bullet will sit after loading, then removing a bit for a safe starting load. I decided to start work with a 200gr RNFP bullet, and following the instructions led to a charge of 2.0gr.

I was frankly dubious- .44 Colt, itself not a particularly powerful cartridge, uses 4.5gr. of Trail Boss. I tested the load from my 3″ Sherrif’s Special and they went bang and punched neat holes in the target- produced a pretty good group, too.  It seems adequate, but in the future I am likely to do some penetration tests, maybe comparing it to the same bullet with a black powder load.

Since Baltimore Ed had provided me with a couple of hundred bullets I decided I would use those. These were 230gr lead round-nosed bullets with a hollow bored in the base, leaving them with an average weight of 198gr.  I loaded fifty of them for the first range trip.

This afternoon I was off to Champion Arms indoor gun range to but some shots through this gun.  For the most part it went well; there were no issues with the gun, but there were a couple of issues with the ammo. The problem was that without a proper roll-crimp a few of the loads launched the bullet before pressure could build up, and as a result a few times the gun went ‘Pamf!’ instead of ‘bang!’ The third time this happened the bullet stopped in the bore, but was easily dislodged with a cleaning rod. I’ll need to come up with a proper crimping die, after which I expect these loads will be quite satisfactory.

So what’s it like to shoot? Some guns you pick up, and you just ‘click.’ It’s like you’ve been shooting it for years from the first shot. This is not one of those guns.  The ergonomics are different than modern revolvers- not bad, just different. It took some adaptation to shoot the gun well, but by the end I was getting the hang of it. As sometimes happens with me and revolvers I found this gun easier to shoot accurately double-action. Recoil, by the way, is quite light.


Five shots at seven yards

Another five, fired at a brisk pace at ten yards.

Overall I am extremely pleased with this gun. It functions flawlessly and is a pleasure to shoot. I’m pretty pleased with the loads as well, and I think a good roll crimp will sort them out nicely.

Regarding British Lion revolvers- my researches thus far have confirmed that they were made in Britain, and they were considered at least nearly the equal of a Webley for quality. They were offered in both .442 and .450 calibers, and some were nickel plated and engraved. As to who the maker was, when they made them etc. I have not been able to discover a thing.  Perhaps more information will come to light in time.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 May 2018



Not-So-British Bulldog

In the 1860’s Philip Webley & Son developed a solid-frame, large caliber double-action revolver with a five-shot cylinder. These were relatively compact guns chambered for a .44 Rimfire cartridge, .442 British (also known as .44 Webley) and .450 Adams. These developed into the Webley RIC, which stood for Royal Irish Constabulary who adopted the weapon, and a short-handled, short barreled variant that become known as the British Bulldog, which name Webley trademarked in 1878. Webley later produced variants in .320 and .380 Revolver, but only guns forty-caliber and larger received the ‘British Bulldog’ name.

The classic Webley RIC- father of the famous ‘British Bulldog’ and Dr.Watson’s sidearm of choice.

These guns were widely imitated in Europe- mostly by the Belgian cottage gunsmithing industry- and in the United States. The quality of these guns varied from excellent to rubbish, and calibers of these ‘knock-offs’ ranged from .22 Short to .45 caliber.  These guns became very popular in America during the western expansion, and in fact General George Custer was reportedly carrying a pair of these guns when he was killed at the Little Bighorn.


The best of the American copies were introduced by Forehand & Wadsworth in the late 1870s. The gun was available in a single frame size and chambered in a seven-shot .32 S&W version, a six-shot .38 S&W and a six-shot chambered in .442 British. While not up to the quality of Webleys these were decently-made, robust little revolvers. No records exist of production numbers, but they must have been reasonably popular judging from the numbers of surviving examples.

The company’s name changed to Forehand Arms in 1890, so guns labelled ‘Forehand & Wadsworth’ were produced prior to that time, and are classified as antiques by the BATF.

Given my love of ‘snubbies’ I have long desired a proper British Bulldog, but alas the prices of Webleys are out of my reach. I was offered a F&W .38 Bulldog last year, but finances were tight that month and I reluctantly turned it down- which decision I’ve regretted it ever since.  So when I came across another at an affordable price I snatched it up- maybe a little faster than I should have. More on that later…

Bulldogs load through a gate like most single-action revolvers.

This gun has a hammer-safety that blocks the hammer from moving fully forward unless the trigger is pulled.

Here’s the loading gate, which may be opened with the hammer at rest The cylinder free-rotates when not firing, so there is no half-cock notch for loading.

This picture shows the operation of the ejector rod. This is stored in the cylinder-axis pin. You simply pull it forward, rotate it to the right then push the shells free with the rod. It only pushed the expended shells part-way out, but they are easily removed manually at that point.

The gun shoots well enough, but it shaves lead with each shot. After a cylinder or so enough lead will build up to block the rotation of the cylinder. In addition, of course, to spraying hot lead out of the gap at high velocity. Not good.

Accuracy is reasonable- this group was shot rapidly at 5 yards.

Another issue is that the cylinder axis pin is stuck. Soaking did not loosen it, and the retaining flange was ground off some time in the past to allow it to rotate with the cylinder. That’s pretty annoying, and had I examined the gun a little more thoroughly I’d have noticed this.  It’s well and truly stuck too; a 1/4″ drift and hammer didn’t budge. OK, I’ll drill it out; there are enough of these guns out there that I might well be able to find a replacement, and if I can’t it’ll be a doddle to fabricate a new one.

OK, I didn’t know that I was purchasing a project-gun. That’s just more fun, right?

Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 April 2018