Thursday, September 17, 2009

Biweekly Gun Shots 20 - I'd Rather Be In Philadelphia...

...well maybe not if I had this little pistol pointed at me. This is a replica (firing replica or so I would think) of the infamous Philadelphia Derringer. It is a neat little gun, and I speak from experience. Back in the early 80's (the 1980's not the 1880's) I bought a CVA Philadelphia Derringer kit (I am pretty sure the one pictured is the CVA brand since it looks exactly as I remember mine except for the bluing). Basically what you got were all the parts in a box and you had to put them together and finish them in order to get something that remotely looked like the one in the picture. I say remotely if only because I was unable to do a hot bluing job on the barrel of mine and had to settle for cold bluing which did not leave anywhere as nice a finish as has the one in the picture. In addition I think the wood finish on mine was a bit nicer, but not by much. By the way, I found that pic at:

When I opened the box for mine - which was a CVA brand - I read the directions before doing anything else. That was a good idea otherwise I may have been very frustrated very quickly. You see the inletting of the wood was only partially completed, probably 90% or so and I had to cut it, gouge it, and sand it to make sure all the metal parts would fit. I suppose that made it a bit more fun than just snapping it together like a plastic model. By the time I was done mine looked a lot like the one in the photograph accompanying this blog except as I said for the barrel which was blued but much lighter despite numerous attempts to darken it.

If I recall correctly mine was in .45 caliber. It was a blast to shoot. I used something called Pyrodex, if I remember right, for gunpowder. Technically it was not an explosive as is black powder but was instead a propellant. You have to be very careful with this stuff and with black powder - any spark can set it off. The fact that it was not listed as an explosive made it easier to buy. It also was supposedly not as corrosive as black powder, but I always cleaned out the barrel well after shooting mine and I changed the nipples frequently. The nipple to which I refer are that part of the gun under the hammer over which you fit a percussion cap as an ignition source. It basically funnels the spark from the cap to the powder charge.

This derringer was my first experience with black powder shooting (and it has been very limited since then). Shooting it opened up my eyes to a few things. First of all - when you pull the trigger you hear a little pop when the primer ignites. Then after a lag of a second or split second the gun fires with a bang. It takes the powder a bit of time to ignite as compared to brass cased ammo. When the pistol does fire there is a huge gray cloud of smoke that exits the muzzle as the bullet goes down range. In essence when guys in the old days shot at someone, not only did their target have time to get out of the way, but they lost sight of their target due to the smoke. Then they had to reload. Reloading included pouring a measured charge of powder down the barrel, then placing a wad (cloth patch) and the lead ball down the barrel and ramming them home with the ramrod. Then you cocked the pistol, placed a cap on the nipple, took aim if you could still find your target, and you fired again. Wow, what a way to shoot it out but that is pretty much the way it was done.

Of course, I never depended on my Philadelphia Derringer for anything except fun shooting. I used to blast gallon water jugs with it and that would burst into a spray that you could actually see as it spread out further than the cloud of smoke from the barrel. If you did it right and took the wind into consideration you could avoid a face full of smoke and even have the smoke blow to the right or left to give you a clearer filed of view sooner. I wonder if position on battlefields were ever chosen with that in mind. The little was not all that accurate at any good distance but i could hit that at which I took aim out to at least 10 yards. Not bad in my opinion, and lots of fun at that.

I don't know if CVA is still in business. I googled "CVA Philadelphia Derringer" kit but only found old info on them. There are other companies offering such pistol kits today though, so if you are interested in getting one they are available. Where I live, here on Long Island in NY state - they do not require a pistol permit unless you have the components with which to shoot them such as powder and percussion caps. Dixie Gun Works offers a decent variety of black powder gun kits including a Philadelphia Derringer - see:

I had that gun for years and am pretty sure I brought it back east from California where I purchased it when I was in the Border Patrol. I probably sold it, I seem to think it was at a garage sale or gun show, or something like that, so I may have still owned it when we bought our house. I do sort of miss it. It was not very high quality, the trigger was horrendous, but it was a fun gun for sure. I may have to pick one up for myself some time down the road, probably a higher quality brand this time. That will be some time in the future though because for now, I still have my sights set on something a little larger like a bolt action hunting rifle in .308. Enough on this stuff for now, I have got to go get ready for work - working a late shift tonight.

All the best,
Glenn B.