Pedersoli Howdah Pistol
By: Derek Landers
Derek Landers looks at Pedersoli’s reproduction Howdah cap’n’ball double pistol that harks back to the days of the Raj
For the vast majority of us, the only chance to view large wild animals will be in a zoo or safari park. While there will be some who have been to Africa or elsewhere, seen the native wildlife and ‘shot’ them with a camera, I think there will be very few who have had the opportunity, or the inclination, to shoot to kill. It has always puzzled me as to why such an activity is called sport. There was a time, however, when big game hunting was a popular pastime among the gentry as is borne out by the number of animal heads on walls around the world. High on the list of these trophy hunters were the British diplomats and army officers posted to India during the nineteenth century, where large animals were plentiful.
The Oxford dictionary defines howdah as: ... a seat for riding on the back of an elephant or camel, typically with a canopy and accommodating two or more people.
While these swaying perches do not seem to be the most comfortable mode of transport, I suppose for the gentleman traveller of the day on the Indian sub continent, they were the equivalent of a chauffeur driven limo. With your own driver and guide, and the probability of a whole entourage following with the absolute necessities, the fact that you could shoot wild game from the relative safety of your lofty seat was an added bonus. With one or more large bore, double barrelled, muzzleloading rifles in your howdah, and someone else to do the reloading, trophies were more or less assured. There was of course the chance that you may not hit what you were shooting at from a moving deck, especially as the early guns were cumbersome smoothbore flintlocks, and the chance of an irate tiger attacking your howdah was a distinct possibility. Even with a second gun, swinging it into position in such a confined space was no easy task, so an equally powerful pistol seemed like a good idea.
Initially these pistols would be single shot military examples chambered in .75-calibre, the size of the standard musket of the day. With the advent of the percussion era bore sizes reduced slightly and double barrelled pistols became more common, with rifled barrels predominating in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, followed quickly by breech loading models employing the “new” metallic cartridges. These latter guns were most often chambered for the .577 Snider rifle cartridge and offered two quick shots and a fast reload should the need arise.
Double muzzle loader
While large bore muzzle loading pistols now see limited use, it is to the credit of the Italian arms manufacturers that they continue to produce a variety of reproductions of these guns for enthusiasts, whether shooters or re-enactors. Davide Pedersoli is a prime mover in this area and their Howdah model seen here is a good example of the quality firearms manufactured by the company.
The pistol is certainly a good looker and picking it up shows that, at 2.2kg it is not overly heavy, but those thick barrels throw most of the weight forward, making single handed shooting a little more difficult. Trying to shoot the pistol two handed on its own proved rather awkward, the easiest way being “from the hip”, probably frowned upon at most shooting clubs.
Adding the shoulder stock brought a whole new ball game and it instantly became very manageable and a joy to shoot, even with the heavier powder charges. The black 28cm barrels have a nice gloss finish with the slightest of scroll engraving near the breech, and are fitted to the stock via the hooked breech method. The flat top rib has a brass post front sight and no rear, testament to its ancestry as a ‘point and shoot’ weapon for close range use. The lock plates (with scrolls and a big cat etched on both sides), hammers, trigger guard and butt plate all have a nice pale case hardened finish.
The butt plate is both decorative and functional, providing a secure hold for the attachable shoulder stock. The walnut stock has sharp chequering around the pistol grip and a smooth fore end. The pistol is equipped with a wooden ramrod with brass tip, but this was left in place as a purely decorative item during the test, loading being done with a steel rod. The shoulder stock is a nice piece of oiled walnut, without a butt plate, with black metal fittings and screws. Where these fitting come into contact with the pistol stock they are covered with soft leather to prevent damage to the wood. With the star-shaped plate fitting nicely on to the pistol butt and the clamp around the grip the stock fits extremely tightly and is comfortable to hold.
No tack driver
So, what’s this wild animal stopper like to shoot? While this gun will possibly find a bit of use in Europe as a hunting weapon (wild boar?), I doubt that you are going to win any target competitions with it. I would place this pistol in the ‘fun gun’ category and if you have the sort of cash to spend for a bit of fun then you will certainly get your money’s worth. Using a .490” round lead ball and .005” patch, initial powder charge was 50 grains of Henry Krank’s fine black powder. Shooting the pistol on its own, offhand, at anything much more than about thirty metres showed just what it was intended for – fast acquisition of large targets at close range. Recoil was easily manageable due to the weight of the pistol, but that front heavy bias and lack of any sights meant that while you would probably hit your tiger, a clean shot on a fox or anything smaller would prove a challenge. Clip on the shoulder stock, however, and things improved considerably, as the pistol is turned into a carbine. Your tiger should probably now not be safe within fifty or sixty metres and upping the powder charge to seventy grains took this out even further, providing of course that you can do your bit.
At twenty five metres, using the lower powder charge, point of impact was several inches above the perceived point of aim, this dropping a couple of inches with the 70-grain charge without any significant increase in recoil, but with noticeably more muzzle flash. Trigger pull is smooth and relatively light and the pistol performed faultlessly during a morning’s shooting.
Barrels were easily removed for cleaning and reassembly proved that tolerances are very close with barrels and stock having to be pressed together extremely tightly to get the wedge to enter. This pistol is listed in the catalogue as also being available in .58 calibre to make a great pistol/rifle combo with your Enfield or Springfield rifle! Now, if only Pedersoli would bring this out in .45/70…
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