The muffled beat of our horse’s hooves on frozen sand sounded steadily into the crisp desert air; air still frosty with dawn’s coming. Buffalo tracks lay on the ground before us, fresh in leftover snow where the afternoon sun doesn’t reach its fingers. We were hunting the buffalo, following their trail in a once-in-a-lifetime effort to put bison meat in the freezer and a buffalo robe on the floor.
My buddy Dan had drawn a cow bison tag for Utah’s legendary Henry Mountains. It was mid-December, we’d found buff after three days of hunting, and our lust to close with the herd was palpable on the air. We followed the tracks, Dan riding loose in the saddle with his buffalo rifle in hand.
Dan opted to hunt his buffalo with a lever-action Winchester 1886 chambered in 45-70; one of the most influential repeating rifles in early American history. It was the first lever-action repeater strong enough to be chambered for the big bore “buffalo” cartridges of the day. Designed by John Moses Browning and produced by Winchester from 1886 to 1935, the rifles were originally chambered in .45-70 Springfield and .45-90 WCF, among others.
Black Powder was the standard propellant of the day, but the ’86 action was so strong that it made the transition to smokeless powder with ease, being chambered for the smokeless powder .33 WCF cartridge just after the turn of the century. The largest round it was originally chambered in was, to my knowledge, the massive .50-110 Winchester. Rifles were produced in a variety of configurations and with barrel lengths ranging from twenty to twenty-eight inches.
Today, original Winchester ’86 rifles are hard to find and very expensive, especially if they are in even reasonably good condition. If you’re fortunate enough to find an original, the old rifle may be aged or worn to the point that it’s not functional, but taking it to a regular gunsmith for renovation will significantly decrease its value. But if you’re anything like me you love shooting and using vintage firearms, and owning one that is non-functional is, well, just not much fun. Enter Doug Turnbull.
Doug grew up and worked in the Creek Side Gun Shop; the largest firearm shop in upstate New York at the time. In 1983 Turnbull started a firearms restoration business, focusing on matching and restoring original finishes on vintage firearms – particularly color-casehardening.
Today he is known as one of the finest restoration artists in North America, and perhaps the only one who can actually make your vintage lever-gun more valuable. Typically, when a vintage firearm is refinished it looses much of its value. Not so when worked on by Turnbull Restoration.
For those of us not fortunate enough to own a vintage Winchester rifle, Turnbull also offers contemporary lever-action rifles that have been “Turnbull Finished”. Essentially, they take recent production rifles, polish the metal to match the work of the late 1800s, and then refinish everything with Turnbull’s legendary bone charcoal color casehardening, bluing, and vintage-type wood finish. Dan’s buffalo gun was one of these. It sports simple but nicely grained walnut, a 26-inch blued barrel, shotgun butt plate, and spectacular color casehardening over most of the metalwork.
Dan ordered his rifle chambered in .45-70 Springfield, mainly because a wide variety of ammunition is readily available in that caliber.
Buffalo hunting on the Henry Mountains is notoriously tough, so we opted to forego traditional ammunition in favor of a load that would offer a bit more velocity and reach when used with the rifle’s simple iron barrel sights. I ordered some of Hornady’s excellent LEVERevolution ammo in 250-grain MonoFlex and 325-grain FTX iterations, and also some Black Hills ammo stoked with their 325-grain solid copper fluted-point HoneyBadger projectiles.
I didn’t keep records of accuracy averages and velocities during testing, so you’ll have to take my word for it; each of these loads shot consistently and grouped well.
All three loads grouped high though, in fact, the 250-grain MonoFlex load (the fastest of the three) grouped almost eleven inches high at 100 yards. I didn’t want to remove the front sight and replace it with a taller one (who wants to mess with a Turnbull rifle!) to bring the point of impact down. Black Hills’ 325-grain HoneyBadger ammo impacted about four inches high at 100 yards, which would work perfectly.
The solid copper bullet should maintain all of its weight upon impact, which combined with the design’s chisel-like frontal “X”, should enable the bullet to drive deep. The flutes create a surprisingly devastating temporary wound cavity when shot into ballistic gelatin, and should be equally devastating on game. I was on pins and needles to see how the projectile would perform on a bison.
I hung a bison vital-sized steel target against a little mesa, and Dan exercised the Winchester at 50-yard intervals. The traditional rear sight sports an adjustable ramp, and Dan was able to use it to make consistently good groups out to 350 yards. The rifle bellows with authority and kicks with enthusiasm when loaded with high-performance loads, but the shotgun-style buttplate rendered recoil tolerable, if not entirely comfortable.
Capacity on the Turnbull Winchester 1886 is eight plus one. The action is very strong and fast but must be worked with authority. In the hands of a good lever-gun man, the rifle is capable of sending a massive amount of lead downrange in very short order. The trigger in Dan’s rifle is quite fair by lever-action standards, breaking at an average of 5 pounds 2.5 ounces. The overall weight of the rifle comes in right at 9 pounds 5.5 ounces.
The Turnbull Winchester 1886 rifle we tested is a spectacular firearm. The color casehardening, in particular, is extraordinary. We had zero malfunctions, the rifle shot well, and carried nicely in the hand and in a saddle scabbard. Accuracy was good.
We stepped off our horses and tied them when the bison tracks grew hot. Following carefully, Dan spotted a horn flashing in the sun amongst a hilltop copse of Junipers. A circuitous stalk put us within range, but the buffalo were still out of sight in the thick desert timber. Then the breeze stroked us across the back of our necks, and the herd erupted in a wave of pounding hooves.
When they paused 175 yards distant Dan placed a HoneyBadger bullet through a big cow. She had started to move just as his trigger broke, and she departed in the shadow of the herd’s dust. Following, we jumped the cow and Daniel finished her. The Black Hills bullets performed admirably, each one passing completely through the bison.
We processed the buffalo, loaded the meat onto our horses, and slid the long Turnbull rifle into its saddle scabbard. Swinging into our saddles, we pointed our horses toward the trailhead, eight miles distant. It had been a great hunt, with a great rifle, for one of America’s most iconic animals.
Gun owners permitted to carry concealed weapons in the state of South Carolina are soon likely to join residents in 45 other states who can carry their hand guns openly in public — a proposal that has frustrated gun-control advocates, doctors and top law enforcement leaders but was a resounding win for many Republican lawmakers.
With three days left on the legislative calendar, the Senate voted 28-16 mostly down party lines after a more than 12-hour debate to pass H. 3094, a House-sponsored bill that would allow only concealed weapons permit holders the right to carry their hand gun in the open.
Charleston Sen. Sandy Senn was the lone Republican to vote against the legislation.
The Republican-controlled Senate made a handful of changes to the bill. They ranged from removing the $50 cost of the permit application fee, to limiting the federal government’s intervention and to requiring clerks to report pertinent information to the State Law Enforcement Division within five, not 30, days that would prohibit someone from buying or owning a gun.
But senators also rejected dozens of amendments that included a Republican-pushed attempt to expand the measure by eliminating the law’s existing permit and background check requirement entirely, and also Democrat-led efforts to enhance background checks.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed, but I actually, I have absolutely no regrets,” said state Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, who pushed but lost 25-21 his effort to remove the permit requirement. “I won’t give up advocating for it. I was so close.”
Obviously, Martin said, “the Senate’s not ready for it yet.”
The bill goes back to the House, likely to reject the changes, triggering a six-member joint panel to hammer out differences.
Congratulations to senators Massey and Martin. Shane Massey was the S.C. senator who successfully got the bill pulled from the SC senate judiciary committee where they intended to stall it until dead this calendar year, aided by turncoat SC senator Luke Rankin.
Actually, the attempt to remove the permitting requirement entirely, i.e., constitutional carry, was opposed by Shane Massey. I don’t know if the opposition was real, or if the attempt to amend the bill to remove permitting would have been a poison pill for the bill, losing S.C. senators who would have otherwise been in favor of open carry. But at least Mr. Massey did his part to strip the bill from the hands of Mr. Rankin, who needs to be primaried and thrown from office.
Also to senator Martin, who led a valiant effort for constitutional carry this term. As you might expect, I approve of his goals and I hope for the best during the next legislative season.
As I observed before, “The ninnies, frightened and the tepid must see for themselves when the state is let out of its cage that the sky doesn’t fall like law enforcement and “The Karens” said it would. They’re like a frightened, psychologically stunted animal who has been caged its entire life, afraid to leave the confines of its own imprisonment.”
When the world doesn’t end and blood doesn’t run in the streets as predicted by law enforcement and “Karens against Everything,” the time will be ripe for this again soon.
I listened to much of the debate today. Most of it was ridiculous. The ninnies tried everything in the book, from stalling tactics to endless yapping, to poison pill amendments. One awful senator, an obvious law enforcement sycophant, worked hard for an amendment that would have had LEOs confiscating weapons in any encounter for the sake of “officer safety.”
So he would have had men handling others’ weapons, a stupid, awful, terrible idea. I’ve discussed this before. Weapons might be modified, the officer may never have seen that particular weapon before, rounds might be chambered, or they might not be, safeties might be engaged, or they might not be, hammers may be cocked, they may not be, striker fired pistols may be half cocked, or they might not be, trigger jobs may have lightened the pull, or maybe not, the pistol might be single action, or it might be SA/DA, guns could drop if they’re handled (causing people to try to catch them), and all manner of NDs can occur. Some holsters are retention, others not, and on and on the variations could go.
It is a profoundly, terribly, incredibly stupid thing to begin handling weapons just because someone likes authority, walks up and demands it. It’s a great thing that amendment was defeated.
Now. It’s important not to let up. First, the little differences between the House and Senate versions must be hammered out, and that, quickly so. Then finally, the governor’s office must be flooded with mail, email and phone calls to ensure he keeps his word and signs the bills into law.
This has been a long slog, but it’s not over just yet.
Then next session we’ll focus on constitutional carry.