The Perils of Hand Loading and How to Wrap Bullets

You are hereHome > Firearms > Ammunition

Written by: David Minshall

Whilst researching D. & J. Fraser I came across a couple of interesting items regarding hand loading and ammunition used.

D. & J. Fraser of Edinburgh introduced their falling block match rifle in 1881. The rifle was tried by several Scottish riflemen in the selection shoots for the Scottish Eight to compete for the Elcho Shield. The rifle gained popularity and six of the Scottish Eight eventually competed using the Fraser rifle that year.

Management of the breech loading match rifle was still new to some at the time, the muzzle loader long being favoured despite the success of the American Teams using breech loaders in long range international competition since 1874. The perils of hand loading were still being discovered as demonstrated in the following contemporary text taken from a newspaper report on the 1881 Scottish team trials:

“In connection with the breech-loader it has to be borne in mind that the filling and capping of cartridge cases is a new employment to many of our men, and it is not at all astonishing that some little amusing incidents should occur in connection with that operation. We heard one the other day which was humorously related to a number of interested listeners. It was to the effect that a member of the gallant band, intent upon having his cartridges properly filled and capped, borrowed the new Fraser refiller and cleared the room in order that he might not be distracted during the operation of recapping. His friends had not long gone when a report startled them, and rushing into the room they found their friend prostrate on the floor – the suddenness of the cap snapping having been sufficient to overthrow him and the machine together. It is needless to say that all had a hearty laugh at the little harmless misadventure, but the incident, humorous as it is, shows that our men require a little training in this department, for if there is any slip here its effect must undoubtedly be felt at the target.” 

Glasgow Herald, 15 June 1881

A further note in the press referred to Daniel Fraser’s bullet and paper patching that he used in the 1885 Scottish Eight trials:

“Mr. Fraser is using a charge of 90 grains of U.S. powder and a bullet of 540 grains. He has discovered a new system of wrapping the paper around the bullet, so as to leave the force of explosion to expand the lead more equally than can be done where the paper is twisted in a knot and pushed into the base of the bullet. The system is, we believe, in use in America, but has not as yet been used in this country, so that Mr. Fraser, who discovered it in the course of investigations during the winter, feels that he has obviated one the difficulties which riflemen have had to encounter.” 

Glasgow Herald, 2 July 1885

I’m not sure that the ‘U.S. powder’ is necessarily powder imported from America as I have another reference from 1883 to “Messrs Curtis & Harvey’s U.S. powder.” Curtis & Harvey’s No. 5 or No. 6 are grades commonly cited in contemporary references to loads for muzzle and breech loading match rifles. The suggestion is that the ‘U.S. powder’ is something different.

Americen riflemen adopted the breechloader as a match rifle and used large charges of slow-burning powder. Although this left a heavy residue, cleaning-out between shots removed its detrimental effect on accuracy. So, was ‘Curtis & Harvey’s U.S. powder’ a slow burning powder marketed in the UK or a powder grade for export? I’m keen to hear from anyone with further knowledge on this.

As to the paper patching referred to, the method sounds similar to that used by Frank Hyde in the USA. This has only a small overlap of paper at the base of the bullet, eliminating the twist and maintaining a flat base. Is anyone else willing to speculate as to the form of wrap used by Daniel Fraser, or better still have some original Fraser ammunition to hand to check?