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Obsolete Military Cartridges; Dreyse Needle Gun, Trapdoor Breech Loaders & More

As military technology changes there is much that becomes obsolete. One example are the cartridges used by the military. New gun, new cartridge. Many became sporting cartridges long after their use as by the military establishment.

Dreyse Needle Gun

Take the Dreyse needle gun. The developer Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse was a German gunsmith. Dreyse developed the first viable breech loader using a complete cartridge in 1836, 15 years before the 1849 Sharps, but it was not a complete self-contained cartridge. The paper or linen cartridge comprised a combustible case, powder and bullet. But ignition was via an external cap. Dreyse gun was a smoothbore and the cartridge complete with the primer just behind the bullet. The firing pin had to penetrate the base of the cartridge, pass through the powder charge to touch the primer. Pin was exposed to combustion heat and byproducts on firing. Because of the long firing pin that resembled a needle the gun was called the Dreyse Needle Gun. It was essentially a single shot bolt action and the rifled version was eventually adopted by and introduced into Prussian service from 1848 onwards. But there were problems:
• The firing pin spring tended to break.
• Exposed to the combustion heat and byproducts the needle tended to get dirty and the gun misfire. It was determined that for reliable operation the needle needed to be replaced every 12 rounds.
• The heated and fouled breech made bolt operation difficult, requiring great strength to overcome.
• Erosion of the barrel where connected to the cylinder was excessive.
• Firing tended to affect obturation resulting in the escape of hot gases back towards the gun operators face.
• Shorter range than the French Army’s 11mm Chassepot rifle, also a needle gun. The Chassepot service the French from 1866 to 1874, another obsolete paper cartridge.

Trapdoor Breech Loaders & More

After the US Civil War, the army adopted the ‘trapdoor’ breech loader in .50-70 used by the infantry. Many 1863 Sharps were converted to metallic cartridges in .50-70. There were many rimfire Spencer rifles used in the early Indian wars. The .50-70 was replaced in army service by the .45-70 in 1873, rifle being a trapdoor model as well. The .45-70 fought up through the Spanish-American war and was carried there by the regular infantry, while the volunteer Rough Riders led by Teddy Roosevelt were carrying smokeless powder Krag-Jorgensen rifles in .30-40 Krag.
A note: both the .30-40 Krag and the British .303 fired round nose bullets that limited range and increased the arc of the bullet at longer ranges. Both the Brits and American Army where caught by the Boers and the Spanish using modern 7mm Mausers firing pointy Spitzer bullets, longer range and flatter shooting with no smoke put out like the trapdoor Springfield rifles. The .50-70 and .45-70 still enjoy a following today. The .50-70 was used to help decimate the buffalo herds and where sold to buffalo hunters. The .45-70 enjoys a continued popularity and is alive and well while .50-70 is still loaded and in limited use. The .52 caliber Spencer 56-56 cartridge was still loaded up through 1920.

Custom Designed & Built Portable Shooting Ranges

There some hardy souls that are rollin’ there own ammo for the Dreyse, but no commercial cartridges. Perhaps there are some that still shoot the Chassepot as well, but no factory loads. So that is just a sampling of obsolescent military cartridges. Shooting Range Industries designs and builds custom shooting ranges. Contact us to learn more today!

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