Thursday, May 12, 2005
Range Report, Martini
I present to you(as an example of 'I really shouldn't get this but it's so pretty...) the BSA Martini model 12. Or maybe 13.
'Maybe' because there was no clear-cut point in the serial numbers that defines the difference, and no 'Model Whatever' stamped into the barrel. But it looks exactly like the model 12 shown here, so it's a 12. Yeah, I know he's got a better picture. Bite me.
A little history. First was the Peabody, designed by Mr. Peabody("To the wayback machine, Sherman!") in the mid-1800's. Then a Swiss named Martini redesigned the action, making it simpler. The British adopted it as the 'Martini-Henry' as their first manufactured military breechloader in the .577-.450 cartridge. Then they began using it, in a MUCH smaller action, as a smallbore rifle, and made them for many years.
One thing you may notice, mainly on older ones, is a ring around the crown, maybe with 'ParkerRifled' stamped into the muzzle around the ring. These rifles were used a lot, and heavily, and many had the bores either shot out or messed up due to bad or no cleaning. So Parker Hale, along with making other good things, made and installed barrel liners for them. That link above, near the bottom, has some good information on that. This one was relined at some point, and the bore is spotless.
Another thing you'll probably find, if you get hold of one of these, is exterior rust ranging from light to nasty, and badly caked old oil & powder fouling in the action. The exterior of this one was pretty good, two places with some pitting was all, but the innards... One of the nice things on these actions is you pull a pin from the right side of the receiver and the works all pivot out for cleaning. Which is a good thing, because the innards were bloody awful. No rust, but lots of crud. A couple of good soakings with carburetor cleaner cut most of that out, disassembly and cleaning/oiling got the rest. Another of the nice things about these is the action is so damned simple- a screw for the trigger to pivot on, one to hold the trigger return spring, one to hold the striker bushing in place in the breechblock; three pins that the breechblock, lever and extractor pivot on. No other screws, very simple and elegant.
This model used a tang-mounted peep sight, and a front 'tunnel' sight with changeable inserts. The rear has six different aperture sizes(turn the dial to change) for different conditions. Yes, it was pretty crudded up, too. Carb cleaner and oil time again.
If you look closely, you'll see a sling swivel eye soldered to the barrel(standard) and two in the forend(extremely variable; sometimes you find holes all over the forend where people moved them around. The other piece on the bottom rear is a brass box to hold inserts for the front sight.
Now down to the shooting, which was at 30 yards. These things usually have fine triggers, this one being no exception. I'd guess breaking at about 2 lbs., with no creep or drag. Rear sight adjustments are click and positive. To load you pull the lever down, which pivots the front of the block down so the top of it makes a ramp to the chamber. Push a cartridge all the way in, pull the lever up, ready to fire. There's no safety; the military rifles had a cocking indicator on the right side of the receiver(insert sargeant screaming "YOU DON'T LOAD UNTIL YOU'RE IN BATTLE OR ON GUARD!"); most of the target/sporting rifles had something of the sort, in this case a lever that shows above the right side of the breechblock when the action is cocked.
This range doesn't have an actual bench, just a shelf in front of the shooting position. So I just had the forend resting on a bag, using my left hand in front of the trigger guard as the rear rest, so I don't expect to shoot as well for ammo testing or sighting in as I would at a bench. Nevertheless, as long as my eyes held out it shot extremely well, several groups with different ammo going into 1/2" or less. When I get the chance to sit down at 50 yards with a solid rest, I've no doubt I'll be very happy with the results.
Note: I've had a chance to shoot four of the various models of these rifles, and I've found something interesting; they all shot at least as well with Federal Lightning ammo as they did with any match-grade stuff we tried. I've stopped calling this Federal the 'cheap' stuff, I now say 'inexpensive'. As well as it shoots in many firearms, 'cheap' it ain't. Especially when it groups as well as $5/box match stuff, as I've seen several rifles do.
I'm very happy with this rifle. Well-balanced, wonderful trigger, quite accurate, and sometimes with some interesting history behind them. I've seen two with the stock stamped with the name of the school and rack position, from when they were used for musketry practice(Kim du Toit has some more on that here). If you have a chance to pick one of these up, you'll probably be happy with it, too.
The ammo used in this test was Federal Lightning, now sold as Fed. Champion; Eley Sport; Golden Eagle Match Rifle; and Federal Gold Medal Target. This particular rifle didn't like the Golden Eagle very much, and the Federal and Eley just about tied.
Thanks to an adventurous man, there are now a lot of 1871 and 1885 model Martini-Henry rifles in the original .577-.450 chambering on the market. Here's one source, here's another. These are originals that have been in storage for a hundred years or more, and from what I've read almost all are in shootable condition, with many still having 80% or more of the original finish! Ammo is mostly handload your own, but even if you don't shoot it, this is a chance to buy a unique old firearm. Maybe if I stopped drooling at things like this Martini, I might be able to save enough to get one of the 1871's one of these days...
Followup, 100 yard tests, here