Pedersoli John Bodine Rolling Block S.821
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- Last updated: 14/12/2016
As a Black Powder Cartridge Rifle shooter, by far my favourite rifle is Pedersoli’s Sharps Silhouette. The blend of this classic side hammer/falling block cartridge gun with the improved pistol grip butt makes for something that not only looks good, but shoots very efficiently too - certainly when combined with their excellent tang and tunnel long range sight sets.
However, another of their reproduction BPCRs from that period of time and history, which in my opinion never quite made the grade, was the Remington Rolling Block (RB). It’s funny, as technically the roller was mechanically more efficient in design with its tandem breechblock and hammer set up, which offers a faster lock time than that big old side-hammer Sharps.
Whereas the Sharps used a lever-actuated falling block action, the RB’s breech system is far simpler. The breechblock is a steel quadrant that hinges rearwards to expose the chamber, by means of a big thumb lever. Locking is achieved by the hammer as it falls, as parallel/underneath to the nose is a lug that slides under the breechblock, thus stopping it from opening. It may sound primitive but it works well. So well, in fact, that by the late 1800’s the Rolling Block design was the first choice for American Match shooters.
Pedersoli produce the three big American BPCR designs of the late 1800 - the Sharps, Trapdoor Springfield and Rolling Block in a variety of models. The RB has always been considered the cheapest option if you are looking for a gun of this type. Price-wise they are usually £100 less than an entry level Sharps 1874 Sporter, yet offered a heavy 30” octagonal barrel and the ability to shoot well. However, the trigger has never been a patch on the double set unit of the 1874 and that in my opinion has always held the design back.
At the early Quigley matches you would see new shooters with Rolling Blocks, yet if they came again they would usually have Sharps. The reason was the fact that the naturally heavy, and for that matter basic, trigger could not offer the same smooth and light pull. Which as we all know does contribute considerably to accurate shot release… and it got to the stage that at least 90% of the field used Sharps rifles in one make or another, with Pedersoli’s once again leading the field.
A few years ago Pedersoli decided to give the old Roller a bit of a re-think and came up with their John Bodine model. Though looking similar to the standard S.870 Long Range Creedmoor, this offered a proper double-set trigger as found on the Sharps 1874 Sporter. They now also offer the Creedmoor #2 Rolling Block with the same mechanism.
This apparently simple modification has lifted the Rolling Block from an entry-level rifle into something that is equal to, and maybe better than a comparable Sharps. The trigger was never intended to be a double-set unit, so a fair bit of re-engineering had to go into the action to fit in the extra and longer mechanism. As can be seen the guard is now considerably longer and I believe that the action is too. No matter, the end result is a very efficient, adjustable double-set unit.
The trigger lever is at the front and behind this is the set lever, in-between is the weight adjuster screw. Like all double-set units the rear lever is pulled to set the mechanism with the front one used to release the shot. Typically you can get down to some seriously light pulls, which if you aren’t aware can be very tricky to use.
As a rule of thumb I apply the set function once I have cocked the hammer and keep my trigger finger outside the guard until I need to make the shot. Then I place it carefully and pull. There’s no take-up to speak of, just the feel of the pad touching the lever then a slight back pressure and that’s that. For iron sighted guns like this that have to shoot 600-yards, maybe 1000-yards you do need a good trigger.
Like all their BPCRs the John Bodine is a beautiful looking rifle. The action is colour case-hardened, with the breech block and hammer in blue and the heavy 30” octagonal barrel in matte black. The wood is medium coloured walnut with a light varnish finish. The butt shows a pistol grip with chequering along the sides and a plain steel plate at the rear. The splinter-type forend is plain with a German silver, semi-Schnable end cap. Basically, the Pedersoli quality we have come to expect…
Sighting-wise Pedersoli fit the rifle with a tunnel front sight and, of all things, a basic barrel-mounted elevator wedge rear sight, which is easily removed. Also included is their USA 430 Universal Long Range Creedmoor vernier/micrometer type tang sight. This is an excellent design, but I have the slightly improved USA 431 on my Sharps Silhouette, though I have opted for the Professional Hadley-style eyepiece (USA 463). This replacement unit offers a dioptre system with eight different sized apertures that can be used to suit lighting conditions. Suffice to say a small hole on a dull day makes both the front sight and target very hard to get on to.
The front tunnel comes with a plate of sight inserts that offer different shapes and styles to suit your eyes, or the target. What you use is just a matter of trial and error…
The John Bodine is available in two chamberings only; 45-70 Government and 45-90. Though a BPCR fan I run my Sharps on smokeless powder in 45-70, as I found it a lot more convenient to use. My pet load is 30-grains of Hodgdon H4198 with a 500-grain (hard cast) Silhouette-style bullet. This is a bit kicky, but it does give you enough power to get out to 600 yards and beyond. This load can be reduced to 28-grains, if it’s a bit stout. If you want to be traditional and use Blackpowder then the 45-90 is to be recommended, as it’s reckoned to be the most efficient case size for this propellant.
Cock and Roll
Unusually, the John Bodine comes from the box with its butt removed, which you have to fit yourself. Pedersoli say that it’s something to do with avoiding damage in transit. Likewise you will have to fit the tang sight, which means finding a very slim bladed screwdriver to remove the blanking screws from the tang. A word of advice here; anything screwed on will get loose due to recoil, so I would advise you to use Loctite thread seal when mounting screws and also keep a driver with you to make sure the windage and hinge screws can be kept tight. There’s nothing worse halfway through a shoot than seeing your tang sight flopping about with a subsequent nose-dive in accuracy…
Running the RB is easy; cock the hammer all the way back (two clicks), place your thumb on the breech block lug (top right) and roll it open. Slide in the cartridge and flick the block back into position, this last action is sprung so it will close by itself. In this position you have the choice of using the standard trigger pull, which is not too light, or setting the mechanism.
The unload is a repeat of the above, only this time it’s your thumb power that will actuate the ejector. This will unseat and move the empty case back a bit, but it will have to be removed by hand. On the Sharps, with its lever-powered, falling block action, the case is completely ejected if you operate it fast enough.
The John Bodine is a heavy rifle, weighing 12lbs with the sights on, which is 1 ½ lbs more than my Sharps Silhouette. This makes it that much more recoil friendly, which is an advantage with the top end loads and bullet weights. Usually these rifles are shot off a rest or crossed sticks and are not really considered off-hand equipment.
The John Bodine with my 45-70 loads shot very well, printing 1 ½ ” at 100 yards. Recoil as expected was less violent than my Sharps and overall I found it a very capable rifle. At first did not like the way the breech operated, but I soon got used to it, though loading/removing the cartridge is a bit slower perhaps…
The improvements in the standard Rolling Block mechanism have made the price of this model and the Creedmoor #2 considerably higher. The John Bodine costs £1030, which is a about £175 more than the Sharps Silhouette and £300 above the standard single trigger RB. However, this also includes a good set of Pedersoli sights, which are extra on the Silhouette.
Technically I think the John Bodine Rolling Block is better than the Sharps and probably the way to go if you are serious about BPCR shooting.