1873 Springfield Trapdoor Ammo

This is a discussion on 1873 Springfield Trapdoor Ammo within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Hi All I have a new to me rifle added to my collection today a 1873 Springfield Trapdoor s/n# 198401 , I'm trying to get ...

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    Senior Member Array TomEgun's Avatar
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    1873 Springfield Trapdoor Ammo

    Hi All
    I have a new to me rifle added to my collection today a 1873 Springfield Trapdoor s/n# 198401 , I'm trying to get info on it especially ammo .

    I think I will be using Blackhills 45-70 black powder 405gr loads if I can find them , previous owner reloaded for it which I will do as soon as I get the setup but for now I will have to buy and I'm looking for recommendations .

    I am also looking for a serial # data base to look up the serial number this rifle has all US stamps and is original .

    Thanks, All
    "If you want peace, prepare for war." Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    Old Paratroopers never die , we just regroup!!
    82nd ABN DIV.. GOD Bless our Troops!!
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    Senior Member Array TomEgun's Avatar
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    Thank you Sir!
    "If you want peace, prepare for war." Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    Old Paratroopers never die , we just regroup!!
    82nd ABN DIV.. GOD Bless our Troops!!
    Foward Observer 3/505thPIR - A/319thAFAR
    87-91 "Just Cause - Desert Sheild/Storm"

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    VIP Member Array PAcanis's Avatar
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    You're welcome.
    I don't reload for mine, I figured I wouldn't to shoot it that much to make it worth my while, but FWIW the "experts" recommend shooting lead only bullets out of them. I've fired Remington jacketed soft points out of mine the few times I've shot them. The one with the Buffington rear sight shot way high, but the one with the shorter rear sight was right on the money at 50 yds.
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    Senior Member Array TomEgun's Avatar
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    A few quick shots .
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    "If you want peace, prepare for war." Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    Old Paratroopers never die , we just regroup!!
    82nd ABN DIV.. GOD Bless our Troops!!
    Foward Observer 3/505thPIR - A/319thAFAR
    87-91 "Just Cause - Desert Sheild/Storm"

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    Paging bmcgilvray... paging Bryan...
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    You rang?

    The Springfield “Trapdoor” models represent another gun for which I hold a special affection. I grew up around these rifles, having an uncle who had several of them and who handloaded for them, shot them and hunted with them for the fun and the entertainment of it all. He’d gathered these rifles up years before I was born for as little as $5 each. He only ever used smokeless powder loads as far as I know. I got benefit of shooting them with my cousins.

    It was his Trapdoors, Springfield 1903’s, ‘03A3’s, M1 Carbines, and 1911s, along with my dad’s own M1 Carbine that gave me an appreciation for U.S. military arms, an interest that continues to this day. When I was a young teen I thought every household that held guns would have .45-70 Trapdoors as standard equipment. When I married at 21 I was afraid I’d never be able to buy another gun again so made a “last” firearms purchase, a Trapdoor Springfield so as to insure that I had one on hand. The M1884 Trapdoor here is among the longest held firearms in the menagerie.

    I handloaded for my Trapdoor from the start. Handloading was something else that I thought every firearms owner did; the factory ammunition only existing to provide emergency convenience and a source for empty brass cases. I first used variations of the handloading recipes my uncle had used and these centered around mild charges of relatively fast-burning powders and loaded to low velocities with cast bullets. My uncle was struck and killed by lightening while on a fishing trip, taken far too early. I miss him though I was only 14 at the time. His sons divi’ed up his vast firearms collection, including the Trapdoors.

    A few years afterward, a cousin did crack the “trapdoor” at its hinge on one of the rifles, using a charge of 2400 with a Remington 405 grain jacketed flat-nosed bullet. There may have been some upward “monkeying” with the charge weight of 2400 involved as well. It must be realized that a jacketed bullet of the same weight as a similar cast lead bullet will generally raise pressures. Best to work up loads all over again when entertaining a change in bullet style, even if it weighs the same.

    When I got my Trapdoor I shot up four boxes of factory Winchester Western and four boxes of Remington ammunition which formed the foundational supply of the .45-70 cartridge case inventory still on hand. Those old cases from 1978 are still being cycled through the loading press. Only about 240 .45-70 cases are kept in the ammo locker. Not one cartridge case has ever been lost to a crack or a split though some of them have been reloaded multiple times, some with black powder handloads, and some having been fired in multiple .45-70 rifles and even in a .45-90 rifle.

    The popularity of many different black powder cartridge arms rose in the 1970s/early 1980s with Phil Spangenberger and Rick Hacker being among the then popular gun writers who extolled their use and with specially prepared black powder loads that duplicated original 19th century cartridge performance. I was sucked into this and played with the Trapdoor with both 405 grain and 500 grain cast lead bullets loaded with 70 grains of FFg. Also tried the military issue “carbine load” of 405 grain bullet with 55 grains of FFg, the original of which was supplied to troopers who carried their shorter-barreled and lighter Trapdoor carbines on horseback in leather scabbards. It was said that the original .45-70 loading, with 500 grain lead bullet over 70 grains of black powder administered punishing recoil out of the Trapdoor carbine. There is some truth to this as even the Trapdoor infantry rifle with its 32 1/2-inch barrel gets unpleasant in short order when being fired over the bench rest while using 500-grain bullets, fueled with 70 grains of black powder.

    Later I grew weary of the clean-up stage always required after a shooting session with the messy black powder and returned to employing smokeless powder for all loads, except when preparing special small batches for someone else to be able to experience shooting an original Trapdoor Springfield with original type ammunition. It is a glorious thing, the sound and the fury … and the smoke. Otherwise it’s a drudgery, both rifle and cases requiring a complete bath, the rifle being carefully dried of all moisture and treated with preservative grease in order to prevent demon rust from manifesting itself on all surfaces, bore and exterior. I religiously cleaned my rifle from the beginning, having been amply warned. Black powder residue is quite corrosive and special attention is required after shooting it. Cleaning just after use is required and neglect is not an option unless one likes rust and pitting, inside and out.

    The smokeless load I used for years employed IMR 4227 and good factory equivalent velocities were obtained with this load and with low apparent pressures. Trouble is, the small charge involved requires a filler or else the powder charge may be found oriented anywhere within the cavernous case. Actual chronograph tests were conducted early on with my Trapdoor and this handload to discover that elevating the muzzle straight up and then carefully lowering the rifle to the sand bags on the bench left the powder charge oriented just in front of the flash hole at the rear of the case, giving good consistent velocity readings and great groupings at 100 yards. To shake the charge down to the front of the case where it would be oriented just behind the bullet’s base rendered huge 200 fps velocity variations and poor accuracy. Loading the cartridges willy-nilly without all this muzzle-elevating business gave uneven results hence fillers were employed. Kapok and Cream of Wheat were both tried and they helped but left me feeling unsatisfied. SR 4759 was also tried with much the same results.

    I finally settled on the lightest charge weight of IMR 4198 as the perfect low-pressure, factory velocity duplication load with the 405 grain bullet, cast or jacketed. This load gives consistent velocities no matter where it is oriented within the cartridge case and appears to give low pressures. I’ve shot 2 ¼-inch groups at 100 yards on occasion with this load. Somewhere around here is kept a lucky 1 ¾-inch 5-shot group, shot at 100 yards off the bench rest with the Trapdoor .45-70 and this load. The old rifles will reward attention to bench rest technique details with good accuracy.

    Some like to use some older Du Pont data in the oldie .45-70 rifles. Apparently a case full of IMR 4831 or similar slow-burning stick powder will yield low pressures due to the way the powder burns in the .45-70’s straight-walled cartridge case. I have never been able to bring myself to load according to the Du Pont data contained within one of their old pamphlets kept around here, wincing at the thought of filling up a cartridge case with IMR 4831, crushing the powder charge with a bullet in a compressed load. It’s probably fine but not for my rifle.

    While we’re at it, I disagree with the school of thought that claims that jacketed bullets wash the rifling out of the bores of 19th century black powder cartridge arms because of the “soft steels” employed in their manufacture. I’m no metallurgist but have shot too many jacketed bullets through all manner of Trapdoor and Winchester rifles and all the rifles ever did was reward me by shooting better and better over the years. So, I’ve concluded that it’s bunk unless one is shooting a great quantity of ammunition rapid-fire over many shooting sessions. The rifling is still sharp as ever in these rifles after many years use, occasionally with jacketed bullets. It’s best just to find a bullet one’s rifle likes to shoot well and accurately and go with it.

    I’ve never ventured into any sort of high-performance .45-70 handloading. This despite having a Winchester Model 1886 .45-90 on hand which gives perfect satisfaction when used with .45-70 ammunition in much the same way as using .38 Special in the .357 Magnum revolver. The Model 1886 was considered a strong action design suitable for “enhanced handloading” of .45-70 ammunition. It was the Model 1886 that some older reloading manuals aimed for in their publication of “performance” .45-70 handloads as they featured a set of loading data for the Trapdoor and a different set for the Model 1886. Later the enhanced data was focused on the Marlin Model 1895 and the .45-70 Siamese Mauser conversions. Still later came the special handloading data suitable for the Ruger No. 1.

    So, even though a Winchester ’86 is on hand, all .45-70 handloading accomplished around here is suitable for shooting through the Trapdoor Springfield, a rifle experts consider to have a relatively weak action. It must be stated that some effort was made by our own ordnance department to test the Trapdoor with early versions of the .30-40. The actions held the 40,000 psi .30 cartridge development but it must be noticed that the ordnance experiments never made it into production or were adapted as an appropriate cartridge conversion for the Trapdoor. Main reason for this has to be because a repeating arm was desired by this time in our armament history but a secondary reason is bound to be because the new cartridge development was hard on the Trapdoor action design. The Trapdoor action is said to be suitable for pressure levels more in the 25,000 psi max range.

    The Trapdoor is interesting anyway as the design amounts to nothing more than a expedient conversion adaptation of muzzle-loading Civil War era Springfields to be able to utilize a self-contained metallic cartridge. Our military had huge numbers of Civil War Springfields on hand after Appomattox and cost-conscious officials didn’t want to waste them just to be able to go over to the “new fangled” yet efficient metallic cartridge. So Springfield Armory civilian employee armorer Erskine S. Allin cobbled together a handy conversion. These converted muskets, in both .58 and .50-70 soldiered on for a short yet colorful post-Civil War period in our history. By the time the year 1873 rolled around and the .45-70 cartridge was conceived, Springfield Armory was cranking out brand new rifles made to the Allin design because officers in the War Department liked it so well. They continued to do so right up until the early 1890s, a pretty long run for what amounted to a stop-gap, cost-cutting conversion design.

    The design is weak but entirely suitable for the low-pressure cartridges for which it used. The design was not without flaws beyond its low-pressures restriction. In the days of black powder, the Trapdoor was prone to give extraction problems when it became both fouled and hot from rapid extended firing such as when a thousand Indians descend on you at Little Big Horn for example. Soldiers were known to die during the Indian War period, their hands futilely clutching a Trapdoor rifle or carbine with a fired cartridge case stuck in its chamber. At best it was a vexing thing to encounter during a fire fight. All things considered, it was unconscionable that our ordnance department armed our nation's troops with a rifle with such an obvious deficiency.

    For modern recreational shooting, the Trapdoor is really keen. The Trapdoors I’ve been around have all displayed excellent accuracy from the bench rest on the 100-yard range and the rifles are easy to hit with at longer distances through use of the excellent original equipment sights. The M1873 rear sighting equipment is perfectly usable but the M1884 Buffington rear sight is a marvel and shows the influence of a 19th century target shooter in its design. It’s probably a bit over-engineered and technically too precise for battle requirements.

    The Trapdoor will shoot high unless someone has exchanged the original front sight for a taller blade to bring the bullet down to point-of-aim at 100 yards or so. No failing this, it was considered expedient to be able to aim at an enemy and be able to strike him somewhere between the head and crotch at unknown distances. This compensated for the .45-70’s trajectory for at least a couple hundred yards. I’ve installed a homemade front sight blade on my Trapdoor for the convenience of range shooting and field shooting to 300 yards or so, not liking to hold under a 100 yard target 12-18 inches, depending on the handload being used. I just taped the original blade underneath the steel butt plate with a bit of masking tape and tightly reinstalled the butt plate. It’s resided there for a quarter of a century now. Before changing the blade, I did take a deer with the Trapdoor on one occasion by aiming beneath him at 90 steps, the bullet hammering him broadside through the lungs with resounding thump, delayed slightly after the rifle’s report due to the fact that the 500 grain bullet had all the muzzle velocity of a high-velocity .22 long rifle load. Unlike .22 long rifle performance on deer-sized game, the .45-70 authoritatively dumped the deer on the ground right there.

    So, remember not to be disappointed if one’s Trapdoor shoots quite high for it’s going to do so unless the front sight has been changed for a taller one. Also remember that one can’t mount the wicked looking cruciform bayonet to his rifle once he’s installed a taller front sight. I’ve got a bayonet for my rifle but it’s not been fixed to the rifle for years.

    Selected factory loads and handloads from my personal .45-70 handloading notes. These loads are safe in my rifle. Work them up in yours. All loads fired in a M1884 Springfield .45-70 with 32 1/2-inch barrel over a Oehler Model 12 chronograph.

    Black Powder Handloads

    300 grain Sierra Short Jacket flat point

    70 grains FFG, Goex black powder, Remington 9 1/2 primer 1420 fps muzzle velocity, 1344 ft./lbs. muzzle energy


    405 grain cast lead bullet

    70 grains FFg, Goex black powder, Remington 9 1/2 primer, 1301 fps MV 1522 ft./lbs ME
    55 grains FFg, Goex black powder, Remington 9 1/2 primer, 1162 fps MV, 1214 ft./lbs ME


    500 grain cast lead bullet

    70 grains FFg, Goex black powder, Remington 9 1/2 primer, 1174 fps MV, 1531 ft./lbs. ME (took deer)


    525 grain cast lead bullet

    62 grains FFG, Goex black powder, Remington 9 1/2 primers, 990 fps MV, 1143 ft./lbs. ME


    Smokeless powder loads

    Sierra 300 grain Short Jacket flat point,
    31.1 grains IMR 4198, Remington 9 1/2 primer 1594 fps, 1693 ft./lbs. ME

    Sierra 300 grain Short Jacket flat point, 27 grains IMR 4227, Remington 9 1/2 primer 1408 fps, 1321 ft./lbs. ME
    Sierra 300 grain Short Jacket flat point, 30 grains SR 4759, Remington 9 1/2 primers 1521 fps, 1541 ft./lbs ME

    Remington 405 grain jacketed soft point, 31.1 grains of IMR 4198, Remington 9 1/2 primer 1441 fps ME, 1863 ft./lbs. ME (most accurate in my rifle - took deer)

    Remington 405 grain jacketed soft point, 26.0 grains of SR 4759, Remington 9 1/2 primer 1486 fps ME, 2002 ft./lbs. ME

    405 grain cast lead bullet, 31.1 grains IMR 4198, Remington 9 1/2 primer, 1359 fps MV, 1661 ft./ lbs. ME

    405 grain cast led bullet, 27.0 grains IMR 4227, Remington 9 1/2 primer, 1386 fps MV, 1728 ft./lbs. ME


    Remington Factory 405 grain ammunition 1480 fps MV, 1965 ft./lbs. ME


    Same ol' photos of the rifle as I don't have many. One taken for records purposes and one taken with someone else's camera of me shooting it on our old home place some years back.


    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    OD*
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    I've bought parts from Keith at Trapdoors Galore, good guy to deal with.
    But why did he do away with the Gerry Owen!?!
    "The pistol, learn it well, carry it always ..." ~ Jeff Cooper

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    Quote Originally Posted by bmcgilvray View Post
    You rang?
    Re Bryan's post - now THAT'S what I call hitting the jackpot. TomEgun, did you get all that? No finer source here on DC.
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    Well, don't know about that. A lot of personal opinion based on one person's observation.

    Thanks though, Smitty!
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    Oh yes. Should have mentioned above that the Speer 405 grain jacketed bullet (if they still make it) makes a perfect substitute for the Remington 405 grain jacketed bullet. I've not purchased either in some years, having acquired a number of the Remington bullets from a bulk buy.
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    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    Distinguished Member Array dangerranger's Avatar
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    One of my favorite smokeless loads is 30 grains of H 4198 under a 405 hollow base soft lead bullet from a Lee mold. It shot right at 1300 fps from both a trapdoor rifle and a H&R Buffalo Classic. My second H&R had a micro groove barrel so I had to use a much harder alloy to make it shoot. But the trapdoor shot well with soft lead. This load was very consistent. And made a good target load. And was easy on the shoulder.

    Congrats on the new rifle! The trapdoor and 45-70s are some of my favorites! DR
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    Senior Member Array TomEgun's Avatar
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    WOW allot to take in "I walk with Wise Men !"
    "If you want peace, prepare for war." Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    Old Paratroopers never die , we just regroup!!
    82nd ABN DIV.. GOD Bless our Troops!!
    Foward Observer 3/505thPIR - A/319thAFAR
    87-91 "Just Cause - Desert Sheild/Storm"

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    Senior Member Array TomEgun's Avatar
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    Hi All
    I am thinking when I reload I will use these two recommended by Bryan

    405 grain cast lead bullet, 31.1 grains IMR 4198, Remington 9 1/2 primer, 1359 fps MV, 1661 ft./ lbs. ME
    55 grains FFg, Goex black powder, Remington 9 1/2 primer, 1162 fps MV, 1214 ft./lbs ME

    Which ever is the easiest for me to find powder , does anyone know of a online source for buying 405gr lead bullets? I saw Berry's had the jacketed Hard cast but im a little confused on whether it is safe for the barrel . I see above you said jacketed was fine , Hard cast ?
    "If you want peace, prepare for war." Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    Old Paratroopers never die , we just regroup!!
    82nd ABN DIV.. GOD Bless our Troops!!
    Foward Observer 3/505thPIR - A/319thAFAR
    87-91 "Just Cause - Desert Sheild/Storm"

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    Distinguished Member Array dangerranger's Avatar
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    In the next couple of weeks I'm going to be casting some up for my sons gun. If you PM me your info Ill send you some of those. Have you slugged your bore yet? That will give us a good idea on where to start sizing the bullets. Also let me know if you want them lubed or dry. DR

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