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Case Histories: .577” Snider

Case Histories: .577” Snider

I’ll begin with an apology. The subject of this month’s scribbling is old, military in origin and with a history big enough to fill a book. The limits of my one page précis mean that I’ve had to omit many interesting details. Anoraks, please don’t write!

ANGLO AMERICAN

Our British born subject bears the name of an American inventor, making it easy to confuse the origins of this multi faceted cartridge. I’ll explain; Joseph Snider invented a swinging block conversion that would enable U.S. Civil War muzzle-loading rifles to be adapted to shoot ‘breech-loaded’ cartridges. It failed to win any significant interest in the USA but was adopted by the British military to convert their .577 muzzle-loading Enfields. There is still some controversy over the man to whom the cartridge design credits should be awarded, but the most likely candidate is Col. E M Boxer (yes, the primer man) since he is also credited with the development of the coiled brass cartridge case – a feature of early .577 iterations. It was logical that the new cartridge bore the name of the conversion, hence the .577 Snider. Gun and ammo were adopted for service in 1866/7.

CASE HEAD OR HEAD-CASE?

The original cartridge had a brass head staked to a double skinned coiled brass body covered with paper, looking not unlike most shotgun cartridges of the early/mid 20th century. Subsequent developments would see further coiled brass foil (usually around .003” to .005” thick) case body designs, ultimately resulting in a homogeneous billet drawn brass case of the type more familiar to modern reloaders. The dimension 14.7mm is often appended to the nomenclature, although that actually converts to 0.5787”.

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  • Case Histories: .577” Snider - image {image:count}

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  • Case Histories: .577” Snider - image {image:count}

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The original cartridge was black powder charged, with 73-grains propelling the 450-grain, RN, lead bullet at approx 1275 fps, the same charge behind a 350-grainer only gained around 50 fps. The practical range was not much more than 100 yards, not because of energy but due to the exaggerated trajectory of this large blunt pill travelling at a revolver velocity. Early rifle bore size was inconsistent leading ammunition designers to capitalise upon the ‘one size fits all’ virtues of the Minie bullet concept. The Ball Pattern 1 comprised a 525-grain hollow base, bees wax-lubed ‘Minie’ with a clay expander plug inserted into the base to generate engraving pressure. Powder quality varied but a typical load was approx 70-grains of RFG BP with a fibre or wool wad under the bullet. Interestingly, the case was ring crimped into the bottom one of the four bullet cannelures.

Ball rounds were assembled with approx 75-grains of BP (with quality modern powders like Goex the charge is reduced to around 55 – 60-grains), card or fibre wad, ‘grease cookie’ blob of lube and a thumb-seated .600” cal pure lead ball. Moulds for both are quoted by Lyman and Lee respectively. Accuracy and safety will totally depend upon the relationship between bore and bullets, even with the Minie. Barrels must be slugged and chambers measure before you design your cartridges.

DIY THE MODERN WAY

Machined cases with Boxer primer pockets from Australian specialist Bruce Bertram are listed by Henry Krank. The only other ‘new’ case makers I’ve found are from Track of the Wolf in Elk River, Minnesota. Alternatively; Donnelly’s’ Book of Cartridge Conversions and Frank Barnes COW suggest chopping about half an inch off a 24-gauge brass shotgun cartridge case. The case appears to be a rimmed straight wall design but closer inspection reveals a slight taper and fire forming will reveal the actual chamber profile. Also Lee Precision (Henry Krank) offers an £82, steel, 3-die 1-1/4”x12 thread set including a sizer die, powder through expander die and a bullet seater die for presses designed to handle .50 BMG reloading. At the other extreme, Midway USA offer an RCBS 3-Die Set 577 Snider 1”-14 thread with 1-1/4”-12 thread adapter bushing for $469! Load data for both BP and nitro are widely published with IMR 4198 seeming to be the favoured brew.

NOT FOR THE POT

There are a number of classic/historic comps for which the Snider-Enfield is eligible. Indeed, this is the only advisable form of pot hunting as its performance as a game or pest taker is extremely poor. Marques and designs of Snider-Enfield abound, from the original conversions to later Snider constructed carbines. I’ve fired a few but never owned one. That’s my loss.

 

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