Smoothbore Spencer: Tracing a Mystery Gun

Today’s firearm is not a normal gun; it is a conversion of a Spencer into a shotgun. My question is, what path did this weapon travel? What did it begin as, and how did it come to be in its current form?

Let’s see if we can puzzle this out looking at the evidence in the gun itself…

Hi guys thanks for tuning in to another Video on Forgotten weapons calm imean I am here today at the Rock Island Auction company I’m taking a look at Some of the guns that they are selling In their upcoming February of 2016 Regional auction and this one is a bit Unusual it’s kind of a different sort of Gun and it presents a very cool Opportunity to do something that I Really enjoy which is to take kind of a Mystery gun and try to work backwards And figure out what it really is What where did this thing come from and What different stages has it passed Through to get from the factory to where It is today now if you look at the Catalog description of this gun in the Description text below specifically you Will find it described as a smoothbore Conversion of a Spencer now the Spencer Of course was purchased in large Quantity by the United States military During the Civil War there was an 1860 Pattern and also in 1865 pattern of the Spencer they were the most numerous Carbine purchased by the the Union Army In terms of actual use in combat they Were like the third most common a lot of The purchased Spencer’s didn’t actually See combat but they remained a standard Arm of the u.s. cavalry after the Civil War into the western expansion period so They’re really cool they’re an early

Lever action repeating rifle one of the Very first effective repeating rifles They fire originally would have fired a Fairly hefty cartridge for this period The 56 caliber about 56 50 56 52 or 56 50 Spencer the the exact cartridge Changed a couple times at any rate it Was basically a 350 grain bullet running At about 1,200 feet per second so Reasonably powerful much more powerful Than say a Henry repeating rifle Substantially less powerful than Something like a 45 70 at any rate this One is a bit of a mystery in some ways So why don’t I bring the camera back Here and let’s take a closer look at it And explore what this rifle might Actually Be all right so when I see a rifle Described as smoothbore or a firearm Described as smoothbore the first thing I’m going to do is well if I don’t Expect it to be a shotgun which a Spencer should not be a shotgun let me Go check the bore it’s a little hard to Get a shot straight down the muzzle here On camera but this is indeed a Smoothbore barrel and it gauges out at Just right about 20 gauge which is like 59 60 caliber so that checks out now our First the next thing you would normally Check would be where is the rifle Normally marked with all of its Identifying information and on a Spencer

That’s right here on the top of the Receiver yeah there’s nothing to read There that has all been worn completely Away so that is going to make this Process both trickier and more Interesting because we do not have Factory information really to go on now What we do know is that there was no Such thing as an official government Issue Spencer shotgun there were some Shotgun conversions of other military Rifles done that would typically have Been done for troops to use foraging Food in the field on the March that was Done with chapter Springfield’s for Example it’s done with some other guns But it was never done with the Spencer And we know that from the historical Record so right off the bat we can Scratch that possibility off the list This is not an official Springfield Armory conversion now without this Information the next thing that we have That we can go on is a serial number so There’s our serial number one six one Eight that’s a pretty darn low serial Number tens of thousands of these guns Were purchased by the Union and in a Couple of different serial number ranges So with a serial number like that there Are two possibilities this could be a Pattern of 1865 carbine or it could be a Pattern of 1860 rifle so with the 1860 Guns the first 11,000 or so that were

Purchased were rifles and after that the Guns were changed over to carbines Springfield started buying carbines so That the military was buying carbine At that point so if we don’t know the Model number which normally would be up Here those are our two options now Before we can determine which of those Options this gun was take a look at this This side tang originally if this were Originally made as a infantry rifle it Would not have this tang if it were made As a carbine it would have this tang and There would be a bar here with a ring to Attach a single point sling to a cavalry Sling now the bar is that the Tang is Here the bar is gone someone has cut the Bar off and replaced the holes with Screws so that tells us that this was Originally issued as a carbine so Between the presence of this and a Serial number under 11,000 we know that This was an 1865 patterned carbine now We can get some verification of that From the fact that it has this little Device in front of the trigger this is Called a Stabler cutoff and it is a Magazine cutoff for a Spencer this Little tab at the front of it prevents The action from opening any farther than This when the cutoff is engaged so if I Rotate it out of the way like so now I Can open the action farther in this Configuration you will open far enough

To feed around out of the magazine in The buttstock if I have the cutoff Engaged it will not so this is done so That you can load the magazine up and Then single load cartridges for shooting Until such time as you want access to The magazine exactly the same function As the magazine cut offs on bolt-action Rifles at any rate these were only added On the 1865 pattern although that’s not Conclusive because about 12,000 earlier Guns were modified to retrofit them with A Stabler cutoff so the cutoff itself Doesn’t tell us anything necessarily but It’s definitely indicative of this rifle Being in military service after 1865 so Alright so at this point we know that This gun started off life as in 1865 Carbine we have a few more questions to Answer now this gun is currently in a Rifle configuration it’s got a long Barrel it Got three barrel bands it’s got a sling Swivel the carbine would have had a much Shorter barrel and a much shorter wooden Handguard so did this what what order Did everything happen in did this get Converted into a rifle and then into a Shotgun it’s conceivable that someone Would take the carbine put on a longer Barrel and then later on decide that a Shotgun was a more useful tool for them And say bore out the barrel to get rid Of the rifling to turn this into a

Smoothbore shotgun it is worth pointing Out here that the chamber has not been Cannot been changed in any way so while It’s a smoothbore barrel that’s about 20 Aged this still uses 56 caliber Spencer Cartridges now there were a couple of Companies at the time that did Manufacture shot shells for Spencer’s And this was the converting a Spencer to Smoothbore was a not super common but it Wasn’t known and available option that You could have done by gunsmiths and the Reason you would is that a shotgun in Many ways was a more Universal tool for Someone who wanted to say be a settler Or travel or maybe they just wanted to Shoot birds instead of deer that sort of Thing so looking at the barrel up close We get another interesting little clue There’s the front sight from the rifle However in front of it you can actually See the remnants of a bead sight that is No longer there but you can feel it on The inside you can see it on the outside And that’s that’s curious why would Someone have first off if this started Off as a rifle barrel why would you have Put on a bead without getting rid of the Front rifle sight you can’t even see it Past the sight or if it’s a shotgun why Would you have gone back and taking the Bead off and put on a rifle sight so Because this has a bead sight that tells Us that this did not start off life as a

Rifled Spencer barrel this was a shotgun Barrel that was adapted to the Spencer Receiver now we get further confirmation Of that by taking a close look at the Rear sight here which is sitting up Fairly high this is the correct style of Rear sight for a Spencer But this dovetail should be much deeper In the barrel if it were truly a Spencer Barrel so what we can start to conclude Here is that someone converted this gun Into a shotgun and then later on someone Else or maybe the same person decided That they would like to have the gun Looking like a Spencer infantry rifle as A wall hanger perhaps as a reenactor it Could be a number of reasons maybe they Just like the way that looks better so The gun was then retrofitted from being A smoothbore with a bead sight this rear Sight was then installed the bead was Removed this rifle front sight was Installed and probably at that time the Wood the front handguard on this gun was Was replaced with a full-length rifle Style front handguard and the proper Rifle bans it’s interesting to note that For example this front band is pretty Nice This rear band or middle band is pretty Nice the bluing on that sling swivel is Much much better than anywhere else on The rifle but then this rear band has a Bunch of pitting and finish wear on it

So what is probably the case is that as A shotgun this had a short handguard Because why bother with a long handguard And this is probably the original rear Barrel band perhaps dating all the way Back to when this was actually an Infantry cavalry carbine then when it Was retrofitted to look like an infantry Rifle someone acquired probably Reproduction or new manufacture middle And front barrel bands to complete the Piece so I think that’s about as much Information as I’m going to be able to Pull out of this rifle from what I have Available to me my conclusion on this And I may be wrong and if I am I would Love to hear from folks who have more Detailed knowledge of the Spencer but my Conclusion here is that what we have Started as 1865 carbine it was at some point in Civilian life converted into a Smoothbore shotgun with a short wooden Handguard and then later on converted Again to look like an infantry rifle Despite still having a smoothbore barrel Well thanks for watching guys I hope you Enjoyed the video I hope you learned Something and I always enjoy taking a Rifle like this and going through the Process of figuring out what every what Everything on it indicates and tells us About its history so if you would like To own this one yourself as I mentioned

Earlier the description text below Includes a link to rock island’s catalog Page where you can take a look at their Pictures and if you’d like to place a Bid on this for the February auction you Can place a bid right through their Website thanks for watching

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