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Thread: Assistance with identifying old bullets

  1. #1
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    Question Assistance with identifying old bullets

    I've been trying to direct this inquery to my favorite metal detecting site but its been down all weekend so I thought I'd try here..
    I dug the following up in souteastern Arizona and I'm trying to determine exactly what I have here.
    During my metal detecting trips, depending on the area, I often dug up quite a bit of lead. Most of it is "mushroomed" modern bullets often with copper jackets and boattails.
    I shoot quite a bit myself and have a pretty good knowledge of bullets and cartridges but often I'll dig something up that doesn't strike me as "modern".
    The attached photo is what I dug up Sunday. The bullet on the far left is obviously a typical bullet fired from a cartridge and it appears to be in the .40 caliber+ range. It strikes me as a little larger than something in .30 caliber.
    The two lead balls in the middle have me scratching my head the most. The ball that's the second to the left is the largest I've dug before and I'm fairly certain it came from a blackpowder pistol. The ball that's the second to the right is a little smaller and I can't descerne if its buckshot or also from a "cap and ball" pistol.
    Finally the ball on the far right is a small one I dug up but I'm pretty sure its buckshot from a 20th century hunter.
    What are your takes on these bullets and what advice can you offer on identifying old bullets and lead balls? The bullet on the far left has a strange "base" I guess you would say, isn't smooth or a boattail like I usually see and it wasn't copper jacketed and it did have some faint rifling. Are there any tell-tale signs for identifying 19th century bullets? Thanks in advance for your advice.

    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by AZ_Chris; 01-25-2011 at 07:07 AM.

  2. #2
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    Your link doesn't work.
    Ray Miller
    Sandpoint, Idaho

  3. #3
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    OK there we go.

  4. #4
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    The bullet on the left appears to be a Miniť ball of about .45 to .50 caliber. Hard to say without closer examination.

    The other 3 would appear to be round balls for percussion weapons.

    Common percussion calibers were .36, .45, .50, .54 & .58
    Rockcrusher
    110,000 square miles of desert to play in . . . And the government owns 87% of it

  5. #5
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    The one on the left is a miniball which is actually a conical bullet with a hollow base. The idea was the powder detonation would flare out the base and better engage the rifling. This eliminated the need to use a patch as was used with a round ball; it made for more accuracy and faster and easier reloading. The next one over is a round ball from a 44 cal. cap and ball pistol. Most common were the 1858 Remington and the 1860 Colt Army. They were called 44 cal but the actual size is .451/.452 which is really 45 cal. The next two would be 36 cal. and the most common pistol was the 1851 Colt Navy. Even though cartridge pistols were common, Wild Bill Hickok preferred his pair of 1851 Navys.
    Any experts out there can tell me where I went wrong.
    Ray Miller
    Sandpoint, Idaho

  6. #6
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    Wow thank you for the information.
    I had a hunch the miniball was old, that's why I kept it. The 44 cal. ball was on the large side so that's why I kept it, glad to hear its old too.
    Thank you for clarifying about the 36 cal. balls too. I really had no idea what those were, thought they were just buckshot.
    I know you specified the type of arms that fired these rounds but in southeastern Arizona around the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountain ranges where these were found, what are the odds they were fired by soldiers or calvary as opposed to just ranchers or cowboys? Are these rounds considered military ammunition or were they available to military and civilians "back in the old days"?

  7. #7
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    Glad I could help.
    While these guns were produced by the factories in hopes of Government contracts, they were also readily available to civilians also. Many Civil War veterans from both sides took their weapons with them and used them when they migrated west. In your area I doubt that these were from military as by the time the Army was in that area they were well into cartridge weapons. Mostly used would have been the Springfield Trap Door in 50-70 cal. and then changed to 45-70.
    Ray
    Ray Miller
    Sandpoint, Idaho

  8. #8
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    That's good to know too about the specific rifles models. I know a lot about modern arms but practically nothing about the older stuff.
    So would the Army's cartridge-firing rifles have shown up around the end of the Civil War like late 1860's onward? Basically during the time of the "Apache Wars"?
    I googled both the 50-70 and 45-70 so now I know what the cartridge looks like incase I find any shells out there.
    I found this old cartridge out there too just sitting on the surface. I think maybe a metal detectorist in the past dug it up for me and tossed it aside because it wasn't buried at all. It does not have a headstamp that I could see.



    I also dug up another 5 to 6 slugs in the area that I now think were probably from a 50-70 or 45-70 now that I know what they look like. I didn't keep them though, I tossed them because I thought they were newer. They were short and squat looking, kinda like what you'd call a wadcutter these days.
    Knowing what I know now it should be pretty easy to judge what kind of slugs I'm digging up.
    Lead ball = Old
    Large mini ball = Old
    Then slugs that look like this (not my picture)..



    ..will more than likely be from 50-70 or 45-70 rifles.
    And obviously anything modern that has a copper jacket will be a lot newer.
    Last edited by AZ_Chris; 01-28-2011 at 07:11 AM.

  9. #9
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    The Springfield would certainly have been used in the Apache wars, it was the service rifle up untill about 1900.( It's what Custer's troops had at the Little Big horn) The Army felt that repeating rifles just wasted ammunition and stayed with the single shots. The partial case you showed is somewhat newer as it has the removable primer. More period correct for the Apache wars was the Bennett case that was copper and had an internal primer. You find those and it's spot onName:  case 1 (Small).JPG
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Size:  46.9 KB.Name:  case 2 (Small).JPG
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    Ray Miller
    Sandpoint, Idaho

  10. #10
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    Thanks Ray and Chris, Good stuff!
    I hand load my own ammunition and
    you've piqued my interest in looking
    for antique bullets and casings.

    The pic of the primerless case
    is neat! I would love to find one
    of those.

    The split case looks like the result
    of "over-used" brass coupled with a
    "max" powder charge. I've created a
    couple of them myself.

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