Gemmer Spencer For Sale

P.O. BOX 535025, GRAND PRAIRIE, TX 75053 (800) 722-8462, WWW.PACT.COM

STORY & PHOTOS: JEFF JOHN

Anew era was born at the close of the American Civil War. For the first time in history, the American gunsmith, long accustomed to building rifles from scratch using few store-bought parts, was presented with a huge cornucopia of widely different arms using technologies forged for war he could shape into arms more suitable for harvesting game as well as defense. The sporterized military rifle was born.

Unlike previous wars, the great variety of small arms were not turned into government arsenals for rehabilitation and re-issue. There were just too dad-blamed many different models shooting exotic ammo alongside the conventional muzzleloaders. The various ammunition systems tried all proved wanting save one — the metallic cartridge.

The firearms thriving in this new era were ones easily adaptable to the new metallic cartridge with the pendulum eventually swinging to the centerfire reloadable cartridge, which quickly overshadowed the rimfire. The Civil War's Sharps, Henry, Remington and Ballard all grew in form and wrote their own chapters in the expansion of the West as centerfires. The war's most spectacular rimfire repeating rifle — the

Spencer — wrote a brief, but memorable chapter before fading into history.

The Spencer acquired a well-deserved reputation for strength, reliability, accuracy, dependability and rate of tire during the Civil War. Newspapers carried stirring accounts of Confederate soldiers retreating in a hail of Spencer gunfire believing they were up against a force seven times larger than it really was. The Union soldier could fire his seven shots and reload from cover while Johnny Reb had to stand and load his musket using tactics developed before the birth of this country and the battlefield evolved forever. Now, the fight could be taken to the enemy in all conditions. The Spencer didn't misfire in rain nor did its ammunition decay in the cartridge box during a long march

or spoil in a river crossing as did paper ammunition.

The Spencer proved its worth again in the Indian Wars, most notably against Roman Nose and the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers at Beecher's Island where 51 US Cavalry held off 600 Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho Indians in 1868. Despite such success, the Army surplused off the Spencer in favor of a single-shot rifle.

Because of this legacy, the Spencer repeater became one of the first — and

I believe the first — military rifle to see extensive customization at the hands of gunsmiths. From here on, every nation's service rifles were fair game for civilian improvement. You can argue the vast surplus of arms captured from Napoleon after Waterloo were the first sporterized military rifles, but such

Spencer rifles take down easily for cleaning with the removal of the lever pivot screw. Then, the whole breechblock can be pulled down and out of the receiver.

"Trade Muskets" involved little more than sawing off the barrel. Plenty of Civil War Springfields were customized by boring the barrel smooth for shot, and this was "sporterizing" in the most basic sense.

Most Spencer conversions, though, often called "Buffalo Spencers" by collectors, centered around re-barreling Spencers (selling for about $20 surplus in 1869) with a heavy octagon barrel for the 56-50 or the flatter shooting 56-46 round.

New Spencer Sporting Rifles cost $45 at this time (as did new Winchesters), while a Remington-made cast steel barrel "made to order" could be purchased for $5 from the Great Western Gun Works 1871 catalog. A "good iron barrel, all regular sizes" cost $1.85. Gunsmiths definitely had an incentive and while the barrels cataloged are ostensibly for muzzleloaders, it's not inconceivable a barrel for a Spencer could be ordered.

Shackles

Few shops tackled making a new buttstock because of the complexities of

One of the parameters of this redesign of the 56-46 cartridge was the desire to form the 56-50 Starline cases in one pass through the sizing die without the need for neck reaming or trimming. Dave Kiff of Pacific Tool and Gauge made the reamer on John King's drawings. After lubing the Starline brass with Imperial Sizing Die Wax (now owned by Redding), the cases were formed in one pass through the RCBS sizing dies with minimal effort.

Myinitialthoughts were a hunting load with a 300-grain jacketed .451" bullet RCBSmade thedies, at 1,100 to 1250 m workpeffectly.

fps. King and 'hch°?e fomHuntingonDies .451 pisto bljHetS speer and cast bullet ratlw than .458 copper-case, rifle bullets because the short, stubby case won't handle bullets heavier than 300 to 325 grains anyway, and pistol bullets of many weights and profiles exist below that while there are virtually no .458" bullets weighing less than 300 grains. The trouble is, most of the pistol bullets both cast and jacketed leave little leeway in seating depth and cartridge overall length is critical in a Spencer's functioning.

The Speer 300-grain Plated Flatnose looked promising as a jacketed bullet for hunting. I was just able to crimp it in

If the overall length wasn't set right, soft cast bullets under full magazine spring tension would jam and the breechblock would scrape a chunk of lead off the bullet's nose. Traditional Keith-style semi-wadcutters wouldn't feed a lick. This gun likes what it likes and feeding is problematic otherwise.

M.L. McPherson, a specialist in lever

RCBS made the dies to size the Starline Brass down in one pass and they work perfectly. Few trays handle the wide 56-50 brass, but these from Huntingon Dies do. Jacketed bullets were 300-grain .451" from Speer and cast bullets were standard .45 Colt bullets seated out. An original copper-cased 56-46 Spencer round is shown for comparison.

RCBS made the dies to size the Starline Brass down in one pass and they work perfectly. Few trays handle the wide 56-50 brass, but these from Huntingon Dies do. Jacketed bullets were 300-grain .451" from Speer and cast bullets were standard .45 Colt bullets seated out. An original copper-cased 56-46 Spencer round is shown for comparison.

the cannelure and get reliable function at a length of 1.560". Sometimes the first round out of the magazine would be a little balky, but for the most part it runs fine. Let the bullet wander out just .005" and it stops running entirely. Run the bullet out to 1.610" and it starts running again, but is beyond the crimp.

action rifles and wildcat cartridges, worked up some of the initial loads using NECO's QuickLoads. Keeping the pressure down to 15,000 psi, initial loads using RL-7 and Blue Dot looked the most promising for the high performance loads and good ol' reliable Unique proved ideal for plinking loads. My initial "fun load" of 8 grains of Unique under a 250-grain .45 Colt bullet was accurate and pleasant but did not obturate the case enough to seal the chamber. Some gas blowback occurred (wear safety glasses always when shooting). guns

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I've wanted a Gemmer Spencer after owning an original 56-46 "Buffalo Spencer" (which looked like it was made by a blacksmith and chambered with a drill bit), but original Gemmers cost in the low five figures when found for sale at all. Also, as the cost of original military Spencers climbed, the cost of busting one up became prohibitive and only black powder should ever be fired in originals.

Then the Italian Spencers came along. Since some Gemmers were made utilizing the military butt, I had an option if no stock carver would take on the job. I'll stop short of saying they all lit their hair on fire and ran off into the night screaming at the prospect of carving a Spencer stock.

It so happened one of John King's better customers wanted a Spencer Sporting Modelbuiltaroundhisoriginal action. King opined how impossible the stock was to carve because of all the parts needing to come together exactly. I pointed out the originals were mass-produced during a war most likely on waterwheel driven equipment. And every original we've encountered was perfectly fitted.

That was enough. King sat down with the original Spencer and my "Spencerini" as he dubbed it, and figured out how they were made. It helped to look at the Spencerini and see how not to make a Spencer stock. For all the good work on these guns, the otherwise decent wood of my Italian copy was ill fitted and actually broken inside.

King made the pattern for the Gemmer on my Italian stock and welded the center of the military Spencer buttplate with all the magazine tube retaining hardware to a Hawken crescent buttplate from

Track of the Wolf. King installed a 28" Green Mountain .452" barrel, 1" across the breech and .865" at the muzzle, chambered with a reamer ground by Dave Kiff of Pacific Tool and Gauge.

The fore-end has the twin keys favored by Hawken and Dowels on Demand provided a wiping rod of Orange Osage, which gives a colorful accent to the front of the gun. Sights, entry pipe and steel rod tip were from Track of the Wolf.

In preparing to do the final finish, I tried to think like Gemmer might have, while adding my own accents. For one, I figured Gemmer wouldn't have browned any parts if the case hardening was sound, so I left the hammer, trigger plate and lever with their case hardening intact. I doubt Gemmer would've heat or nitre blued any parts, but I love the look of highly polished nitre blue parts against the flat brown finish, so my breechblock, screws and keys were all nitre blued.

The brown finish is basically the old Zischang formula as made by my friend Roger Renner. It is also available from Track of the Wolf. The metal was polished to a 220-grit finish, ensuring no deep scratches were present (they'll etch deeper as the acid works). Then I simply wiped on the chemical and let the gun rust. It took about a week to achieve the dark brown applying chemical in the morning and evening. I did not card between applications and let the rust slowly build for a coarse brown finish. All of the case hardening must be removed for the acid to work (I learned that the hard way). After I was satisfied with the color, I washed the gun in hot water with a little baking soda and wiped it down with Rig. Oil is necessary, but don't use a corrosion fighter. They'll try and remove the rust you've just spent so much time creating.

I finished the interior of the stock's inletting with Permalyn and gave the exterior a hand rubbed oil finish with Pilkington's Golden Brown stock finish, both available from Brownells. guns

Jeff prefers Phil Pilkington's method of "sanding in" to finish the wood. Said method uses the sanding dust from whiskering the wood to fill the pores and gives the wood a true hand-rubbed finish. Permalyn seals the action inlet from moisture. A look inside the action mortise shows some of the complexity stockmakers face.

Jeff prefers Phil Pilkington's method of "sanding in" to finish the wood. Said method uses the sanding dust from whiskering the wood to fill the pores and gives the wood a true hand-rubbed finish. Permalyn seals the action inlet from moisture. A look inside the action mortise shows some of the complexity stockmakers face.

getting everything to fit together right — namely the lock, sling bar, triggerplate, magazine tube and buttplate all have to line up exactly. One shop was undaunted — the Hawken Shop, purchased from Sam Hawken by John Philip Gemmer in the 1860s. J.P. Gemmer, an able gunsmith in his own right, knew the frontloader's days were numbered and began to produce full-blown custom Spencers with the styling of the famed Hawken muzzleloader. (Gemmer soon added conversions of the more powerful Sharps and Trapdoor Springfield rifles, too, as the Spencer fell from favor.)

The basic Spencer action was heavy and adding a heavy octagon barrel increased the weight enormously. Some tip the scales at 14 or 15 pounds and are grossly underpowered monstrosities. Alas, the limited power parameters of the rimfire cartridge, its expense (it wasn't reloadable) and the inflexibility of the action to handle longer, more powerful cartridges along with the sudden glut of surplus arms as the hawken spencer

MAKER: ARMI sPoRT vIA MILANo 2 25020 AzzANo MELLA (Bs), italy

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P.o. box 906 FREDRIcksburg, TX 78624 (830) 997-9090 www.ciMARRoN-FIREARMs.coM cusToM woRK: JoHN KING P.o. BoX 700, KILA, MT 59920

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AcTioN TYPE:

Lever Action

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