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Rifle Reloading Guide
Rifle Magazine
May - June 1999
Volume 31, Number 3
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 183
On the cover...
The Ballard No. 7 Long Range .45-90 rifle features
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Features
To the general shooting public, the name Ballard might not have quite the mystique as Sharps, High Wall or rolling block, but among single-shot rifle enthusiasts it certainly ranks right up there among them. Unlike Sharps and rolling blocks, the Ballard along with the Winchester High Wall went on to become the darlings of the Schuetzen shooting crowd. One reason the Ballard is said to be preferred by precision-minded riflemen is that it carries a lightweight centrally hung hammer.

The basic design of the Ballard breechloading rifle was developed in the early 1860s by C.H. Ballard, and production was done during the Civil War by the Ball & Williams Company of Worchester, Massachusetts. Even during this gun-hungry period, the new Ballards, mostly made for a variety of rimfire calibers, had lackluster sales. It seems one of the most noteworthy customers was the state of Kentucky, which purchased several thousand in carbine form for their state cavalry. After the war years, the basic Ballard patent was shuffled about by various owners. However, in 1875 rights to it were purchased by the J.M. Marlin Company, later to become the Marlin Fire-Arms Company. Until 1891 Marlin produced a wide array of rifle styles based on the Ballard patents. Not all of them were target rifles.

Several, such as the No. 5 Pacific Rifle, were intended solely for the big game hunter. By its name this particular model was aimed at the hunters of the American Northwest.

The Pacific Ballard, as it is generally called, was a specific style of rifle. Of course, like all Ballards, the action was of falling block design with exposed hammer. Pulling the trigger guard down lowers the breechblock, which in turn exposes the chamber for loading. If an empty case is in the chamber it is extracted at this time. After a fresh cartridge is chambered, the trigger guard is raised, which closes the breechblock. Unlike some other versions of the falling block single-shot rifle, the Ballard's hammer must be manually cocked after the breechblock is raised. Also, it should be stressed that the Ballard's breechblock should never be lowered while the hammer is at full cock as that can break the trigger.


All Pacific Ballards had a wooden wiping rod carried beneath the barrel and secured with two steel ferrules. Also, the Pacific model had a distinctive finger lever with ring at the rear through which the shooter's little finger could pass. That and the curve of the lever itself gave the same feel of having a pistol grip style stock. The buttstock itself was of deep crescent shape and capped with steel. Forearms were of a separate piece of wood with a very small Schnabel at the end. Sights consisted of an open buckhorn style rear coupled with what Marlin referred to as a "Rocky Mountain" front. Today we simply call it a silver blade front.

From when it was first introduced in 1876 until production ceased in 1891, the Pacific Ballard was chambered for at least 14 different calibers. These ranged from the .38-50 Ballard Everlasting to the .50-70 Government. Eight of those 14 chamberings were for the Ballard Everlasting cartridges (see accompanying sidebar). These were simply cartridges having very heavy case walls so they would last the handloader almost indefinitely - hence the Everlasting name. The six non-Everlasting cartridges were .38-55, .40-70 Sharps Bottleneck, .44-77 Sharps, .45-70 Government, .44-40 Winchester and .50-70 Government. The second, third and sixth of those cartridges were discontinued in 1880.

In 1991, almost exactly 100 years after the Marlin Fire-Arms Company discontinued production of the Ballard patent single shots, a Montana-based company called Red Willow Tool & Armory began limited production of several versions of Ballard rifles.

In 1991, almost exactly 100 years after the Marlin Fire-Arms Company discontinued production of the Ballard patent single shots, a Montana-based company called Red Willow Tool & Armory began limited production of several versions of Ballard rifles.

The company got off to a shaky start. By 1994 production of the new Ballards was moved to Cody, Wyoming, and this time the company was called The Rifle Works & Armory. Still its existence was not well known. However, in 1997 it acquired new owners, a new name and a new president.

The new owners I don't know or care about. The new name is Ballard Rifle & Cartridge Company L.L.C. The president I know all about. In my opinion about the best thing that can happen to a gun company is for a national champion class shooter to become its president. That's what happened to the Ballard Rifle & Cartridge Company, when my former shooting partner Steve Garbe took over its management at the end of 1997.

Mike's test rifle features color casehardend metal finish, Montana Vintage Arms tang sight and a rather heavy cresent steel buttplate.

 

In 1987 Garbe and I formed a small company to sell SPG Blackpowder Bullet Lube. Garbe developed the lube formula, and the "SPG" name reflects his initials. In 1992 we published the SPG Blackpowder Cartridge Reloading Primer, and it's now gone through several printings. In 1993 we jointly began publishing the SPG Black- powder Cartridge News quarterly magazine.

For years we shot as a team in NRA Blackpowder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette competition. We did this together until I sold my half of the partnership to him in 1995. So I can honestly say that whatever else can be said of Steve Garbe, he darn sure knows what a single shot blackpowder cartridge rifle ought to be.

The rifles produced by the new company show it. The first one I've had the chance to test fire is a reproduction of the No. 5 Pacific Ballard. It is a fine example of single-shot rifle craftsmanship. The test rifle is a .45-70 and sports a 30-inch, full-octagonal barrel that measures one inch across the muzzle. Total rifle weight is 10 1/2 pounds. The action, finger lever, breechblock and buttplate are beautifully color casehardened, while the barrel is blued. Incidentally, these Ballard actions are not investment castings. They are machined from solid bar stock on modern CNC tooling.

Initially the Ballard Rifle & Cartridge Company was offering its rifles either with barrels of their own manufacture with a slight gain in the rifling twist (meaning the twist rate increases slightly from breech to muzzle) or with barrels from the well-known Badger Barrel Company (PO Box 417, Bristol WI 53104). Immediately prior to this writing, Steve Garbe informed me the company was going to cease production of its own barrels and rely solely on Badger barrels. This test rifle carried one of the Badger barrels.

Stocks for Ballards are of two piece configuration with the buttstock attaching to the action with a through-bolt. Instead of screwing to the barrel as with most single-shot rifles, the forearm of the Pacific Ballard is held by a crosspin. Buttstock on the test rifle was a very nicely figured piece of American walnut with 13 1/2 inch length of pull. Its fit and oil finish are just about perfect. The customer has the option of ordering grades of wood ranging from plain to presentation.

As with original Pacific Ballards, this sample came with a brass capped wooden wiping rod carried under the barrel in steel ferrules. Also knowing I was going to paper target shoot with the test rifle instead of hunt with it, Garbe equipped it with a Montana Vintage Arms (61 Andrea Dr., Belgrade MT 59714) vernier tang sight and hooded post-and-ball front.

A Ballard action is not regarded as having the inherent strength of other single shots such as the Model 1874 Sharps or Model 1885 High Wall. It is my opinion that no Ballard made back in the late 1800s should be fired with smokeless powder ammunition regardless of condition. However, the Ballard Rifle & Cartridge Company rates its new creations as safe with modern factory ammunition or black-powder handloads.

 

Since this rifle is meant for hunting and not long range target shooting, I kept to hunting type factory loads and handloads for group shooting. These consisted of the new 405-grain lead bullet factory loads from Black Hills and PMC and handloads using bullets I had cast. Accuracy was fine with group averages running in the 2- to 3-inch range for most loads. Functioning was flawless throughout the shooting of over 100 rounds. The deep crescent butt does punish one when shooting from the bench but probably wouldn't be noticed much in hunting situations.

If I had to come up with anything on the downside concerning this Pacific Ballard it would be that the trigger pull was too light. Unset, the front trigger's pull was only 2 pounds. When set it was too light to measure with a trigger pull gauge. That means it had to be only a couple of ounces. This is a small point as the Ballard Rifle & Cartridge Company can adjust trigger pull weight to a customer's specifications.

Basic cost on a Pacific Ballard is $2,375. (An 1888 reproduction of a Marlin catalog shows a No. 5 Pacific Ballard selling for $22.50 with 30-inch barrel and $24 with 32-inch barrel.) Calibers available are just about any black-powder cartridge dating from the 1870s and 1880s, but I understand three very popular ones are .38-55, .40-65 Winchester and .45-70. For more information contact Ballard Rifle & Cartridge Company, 113 W. Yellowstone, Cody WY 82414.

It might also interest readers to know that Garbe finished second overall at the 1998 NRA BPCR Silhouette National Championships held at Raton, New Mexico. He was shooting one of his .45-70 Ballards.

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