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Origins of Hunting Cartridges

By Tom Strickland
Where it all started

In the beginning, there was the muzzle loader. Be it matchlock, wheel lock, flintlock, or percussion - all were loaded from the muzzle. However a very few were breech loading, the designs of which sprang from the minds of men with names such as Ferguson, Hall, etc. These forward looking designs were not appreciated for various reasons and did not see manufacture in large quantities, if at all.


The mid 1860s saw the major and minor European powers searching for a breech loading rifle to replace the percussion fired muzzle loaders of their armies . The French had the Chassepot needle gun, the British were converting the P53 Enfields to the Snider system, the Russians with the Berdan (1870), and although the German military adopted their Dreyse needle gun in the 1840s there was a definite arms race towards breechloading rifles ....especially after the defeat of the Austrians in 1866 (with their front loading weapons) by the Prussians using the Dreyse.


The French and German needle guns were a bolt operated design and not fed with self contained brass cased ammunition but with a paper cased cartridge. The long "needle" (or firing pin) punctured the paper case, and made contact with the primer. The Chassepot was replaced with the Gras (1874) and the Dreyse was replaced by the Mauser model 1871, both using self contained brass cased ammunition. Both the Snider and Berdan were designed to use brass cased ammunition.

During this time all of the European countries developed/adopted their own versions of brass cased breech loading rifles for their militaries. The list is long and books have been written about each. I will not even attempt to open that complicated can of worms but instead will try to touch a bit on the US designs.

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