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I don't wish to poke the bear here too hard, but want to point out some historical points in regards to some references made in this thread. In regard to Elmer Keith, and the thanks forwarded earlier in the last few discussions to him blowing blackpowder Colts and us now having lessons for learning by it so we don't have to... I'd like to make mention it was blackpowder 45colts he pushed to the breaking point in early days, by use of blended, ground powders and heavy, modified, oversized 45-70 bullets. His own writings go on about the specific Colt (he blew) being rebuilt by Sedgley, topstrap & all and put back into service the remainder of his days.

Also to note, following that, when Elmer switched to 44special and championed the stepping stones to 44mag by it, he used pre-1900 frames to do so... his very famous #5, which he used 25+ years from 1929 through 1955 before the 44mags came to fruition, was in fact a standard SAA frame from 1896 before modifications. His long range flat-topped Roosevelt 44special Colt was a flat top job executed on an even older frame, said to be an early 1890's one. Both those Colts shot his 17.5gr smokeless 2400 load without whimper, steady diet, for over 25 years.

Also to note, it's common knowledge that Dick Casull in the 50's also chose a 1902-era standard frame SAA Colt as his base gun in building a custom chambered variant of 44mag that predated the release of the actual 44magnum. That 1902 Colt still exists, and has been written on in handloader magazine fairly recent actually ... yes, it too was fit with (then/50's modern) cylinder steels and a new barrel, but the frame remained a 1902 frame. Quoted by himself by testing & destroying different era frames to be deemed to have the necessary metallurgy to withstand what he was doing... which-too I'll remind you guys is far, FAR beyond what anyone of us is loading like anymore. We're taking full 44mag levels in that 1902 frame Colt of his.. still said to be as tight as ever, 100% working order.

These guys I mention weren't alone. The list of names can go on. There was an array of shooters coast to coast, and gunsmiths alike through that era who endured such projects, programs and R&D work like I just stated. The field proofing and evidence has been lived out by them, and done to a level & degree 10-fold to what todays minute number of Colt shooters could ever try replicate... let alone at cowboy level loads. As far as I'm concerned, that old data beginning with Keith, the miles made by those guys and the kind of rounds fired & documented through their guns will forever trump any argument that can be made against Colt frames modern-day. History is-so supposed to teach, but we gotta remember the history that's been lived & proven is what's supposed to do the teaching... is re-writing it the way we view it looking back (even if we don't like it or agree) really the proper thing to do??

I don't think so myself.. I'm sticking with the writings and proofs by Keith, Casull, Lachuk et'all.
 

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I am loving that post by rooster.

Also I would hope the priority is safety of the shooter over the firearm.

I treasure my Colts. I hope someone enjoys them after I’m gone. Everyone should decide for themselves how they want to enjoy their collection but for me part of the draw of the SAA is knowing that it’s a Wild West era firearm and I can shoot it and enjoy it today. Just like Ferraris are meant to be driven, Colts are meant to be fired. Again, I’m not trying to make a call on what others do with theirs. It’s just how I choose to enjoy mine, whether it’s an SAA, an old Ace or even more valuable and hard to replace guns like my MAS-38.
 

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Discussion Starter #43 (Edited)
Rooster glad you joined the conversation. Your guns and loads specifically came to mind early on for this topic. I've forgotten, if I ever knew, what are the ages of the Colt frames you have built on that you shoot with your bear loads? Calibers, top loads? And who built the cylinders? Were barrels replaced? Base pins as well?

My take is you are right, if you have a good smith to put a gun together correctly and keep it running right if you aren't knowledgeable enough to do so. Sedgley, Casual or Hamilton S. Bowen come to mind as "good". But they and their guns aren't/weren't ever the norm. I do all kinds of chit I wouldn't recommend anyone try @ home.

But back to Elmer. Flat top guns with rebuilt and heavier top straps, recut base pin holes and bigger base pins, while shooting (likely late 1st Gen) 44 special cylinders is how you rebuild a SAA to take the power of Keith's later 44 Special loads. We all know now 45-70 .458" bullets aren't a good diet for a 45 Colt .451" barrel.

The factory Uberti/USFA/Standard size cylinders get similar praise as being able to take some really hot loads. Gun writer, Brian Pearce, has published data on that several times. Can't remember the specific big bore handgun smith that has also promoted the idea but the info is available. Off topic obviously as a Uberti size cylinder is not a Colt.

Make is a modern Colt cylinder in 41 magnum and we know that will work as well. At least for a while. But again we aren't talking the norm.
 

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"Protect and preserve those old Colts for posterity."

Only reason for the thread"

Every single shot through a gun causes wear to that gun. True, guns were made for shooting, antique flintlocks, antique percussions, antique SAAs, antique engraved guns. All made for shooting. Just because you can does not mean you should. I will protect and preserve my 100+ year old guns by not subjecting them to any more shooting wear. Hopefully, future generations will treasure them. If other people want to shoot their artifacts and believe them safe, based on whatever information they believe credible, enjoy.
 

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Discussion Starter #45
Elmer Keith's #5. Not your typical SAA.

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Curious so I looked up some of Rooster's comments from another thread. Neat stuff for sure. But again not your typical SAA either. Certainly not a apples to apples comparison for a older SAA.



"Two of my shooter Colts have had a special process done to their frames, one to the cylinder as well, but this one has actually not so far as I know. This one does have 2nd gen parts; as in barrel & cylinder, and has a brushed electroless nickel on its nickel parts. While that doesn't do anything to change metallurgy, it-does eliminate the ratchet battering the recoil shield from repeated stiff loads, and also due to the 50,000psi electroless lining inside the frames base pin holes it makes them resistant to wear out of round/concentric too. The other aid to advert frame wear is that Belt Mtn locking base pin that puts the rest of the recoil stress on the locking screws hole in the barrel vs. that little black powder-pin retaining screw that Jim & Dave commented so many times about cracks developing at due to recoil. The Colt retaining screw doesn't hold the belt-mnt pin at all in this ones case; it's just there for looks now. Beyond that, the serial range on this one also does fall after Colt had upgraded their own metallurgy from straight wrought iron they started with, so listening to the guy that did my heat treat on the others (he has a degree in metallurgy) I'm more than confident my shooting in this one will hold up very well. The guys reasoning behind electroless nickel had to do with the electroless plating fusing directly to the metal too, and not just a coated plate like electro-nickel is, which yes while not adding to any metallurgy of the metal-frame itself, this nickel will pass 180 degree bend tests even with that hard 50,000psi 60-ish BNH it carries, so warpage and metal fatigue from firing theoretically should be greatly minimized compared to a plain-old untouched (& early) Black powder frame that a guy (should) we weary about.

That's more less the explanation I got when I was buying, and it made good sense to me. I have no idea how much it was fired before, but no doubt it had to be extensively... and since it's been here, as my own, I can vouch for roughly 3000 smokeless rounds of my own with nadda for any change in dimensions, cylinder gap or base-pin wear to speak of; k, maybe a little bluing wear. But that's it. I have to say I believe all I was told regarding the rest. "
 

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Well, here it is, from serialization tables in the back of the Blue Book of Gun Values. http://www.nramuseum.org/media/940941/serialization-date of manufacture.pdf

1900, at serial number 192,000, "revolvers built to handle smokeless powder". Perhaps the original source material for such poppycock. But, of course, this book is a great source of fiction. I will gladly sell any first generation Colt Single Action Army revolver in my collection at the value listed in this book, as it is pure fallacy.

IF the misnomer didn't already start with the falsehood that the blackpowder frame was that without the crosspin, and at approximately serial number 165,000 the smokeless powder frame came out, and the goal for some, at one time, was to locate a frame with the crosspin, and prior to 182,000, the idea being that one could own a pre 1899 (and thus antique) Colt Single Action Army revolver that was designed for smokeless rounds. Of course, as made clear, this is not the case. Perhaps it should have been made clear decades ago that ALL frames without the crosspin were designed for black powder rounds. SOME frames with the crosspin can be fired with smokeless rounds, these having been produced 1905 or after, or perhaps 1912, as suggested in this thread.
 

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Couple of years ago I paid top dollar for a matching number, 4 3/4", but very well used (up), 45 from 1900 that was not proofed. I then lettered it. And thought what a great early Colt! If eventually rebuilt properly I'd have a fine "shooter". Knowing I was pushing the gun/numbers I replaced the well worn 1900 cylinder with a new 2nd Gen cylinder. Trying to be on the safe side the gun should then be good for smokeless! Now I know that is not true. That was two years ago and the gun had finally been rebuilt to like new. I realize now what I really have is a BP gun, new cylinder or not.
Great news for you, Cozmo. From 1883 to 1912, Colt cylinders were not serial numbered, in whole or in part. You can simply locate another cylinder of the same vintage that is not well worn and of the finish desired to be similar to your Colt and put it in your Colt Single Action Army revolver and no one will know that it is not original to the gun. Our little secret...Shhhhh!
 

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Rooster glad you joined the conversation. Your guns and loads specifically came to mind early on for this topic. I've forgotten, if I ever knew, what are the ages of the Colt frames you have built on that you shoot with your bear loads? Calibers, top loads? And who built the cylinders? Were barrels replaced? Base pins as well?
Where to start.

I see you dug some old posts up already, more regarding my nickelled 44 looks like though (& I see now that I put 60BNH mistakenly in that old post; that should have been 60rockwell/RC) but nonetheless... I since have learned that that frame did-too undergo a triple heat treat process before its electroless nickelling was done, which on its own gave the frame a hardness of basically 40. Dick Casull's 1902 was hardened to 44 or 46? by his own proprietary process much like the guy I dealt with was doing. My guy told me those old frames can range anyplace between 10 & 20RC as-is when they left the factory through the 70's & 1880's until the processes were thoroughly perfected toward 1900. A person can clearly see by these differing numbers why such soft frames could stretch or begin letting go after prolonged use, let alone by using smokeless later on. My own 44, being an 1893 frame, which did undergo special treatments that most others (at least from that era) haven't sits at basically 40RC, today, but how much that differs from a proofed factory heat treat on a 1912 Colt, or a 1945 model, hell if I know. But it does go to show what a standard, plain old blackpowder frame Colt from the 90's can be made to do, if a guy wants to look at it that way... or, in times where the old Colts were (& still may be) that guys only option. You start to see where Colt was coming from in starting the VP program, and why the late 80's factory returns or reworks were ok'd ... the metal numbers from then were where they really started resembling today numbers. It was becoming steel that could be altered and worked into a good reliable, strong piece.

Anyway.

The flat-top rendition I had done in relation to Keiths #5 & his Roosevelt Colt though, that was done on an 1897 SAA, one year newer than what the #5 was, but has-not had any heat treat done like I just finished explaining whatsoever. The thickened, heavy flat-top welded up like the #5 & Roosevelt Colts were is where the strength comes from on it. The barrel too, started as a bran new (very current manufacture) pac-nor blank, and the cylinder as an unused, new old stock 2nd Gen 357 cylinder reamed instead to 41 special. The advantage I feel this one has (besides the topstrap) is in the base pin, by being a modern tool steel material that uses a lock up inside the bottom circumference of the barrel, which exerts the recoil forces there rather than through the blackpowder screw or crosspin which unloads it into the thin frame cuts where Jim & the others noted cracks starting on some. The factory cross-pins & the frame-screw base pin retainers become pretty well ornamental with the use of the bowen style barrel lock base pins. And the concern for recoil stress-cracks in the frame is eliminated.

Elmers & Crofts were the only Colts I ever knew (to date anyhow) to instill such tweaks & improvements into a Colt, but surely theirs were among the hardest pushed Colts that were tickin along back then, so these small touches were wise. (Coincidence??) The bowen locks like mine uses into the bottom side of the barrel are merely a modern simplified version of what was figured out ages ago in Elmer & Crofts navigating of Colts few minor points of concern on the old guns they started it all with. How they made them work then, and work well, crosses right over to today (to this discussion) for anyone still pointing at the hiccups and concerns all being noted in the old guns... there are things that should be paid attention to for sure, things to be avoided, and smarts that can be tapped into to understand the weaknesses (and strong points) on all your guns.. even the blackpowder ones. You can get a pretty decent idea where the truths and lines all lay once you can piece this stuff together. Too many are too fast to scoff at those old mods, too fast to call those guys crazy or stupid. Hell. They were the ones who had things figured out in 1920's that this forum is still disputing on 100 years later! ha
 

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Discussion Starter #49 (Edited)
Thanks Rooster. I appreciate the time offered and your guns.

One of Rooster's heavily modified early SAA Colts rebuilt as a much stronger flat top with a new barrel and a rechambered Colt 357 magnum cylinder among other mods. Nice gun.

"The flat-top rendition I had done in relation to Keiths #5 & his Roosevelt Colt though, that was done on an 1897 SAA, one year newer than what the #5 was, but has-not had any heat treat done like I just finished explaining whatsoever. The thickened, heavy flat-top welded up like the #5 & Roosevelt Colts were is where the strength comes from on it. The barrel too, started as a bran new (very current manufacture) pac-nor blank, and the cylinder as an unused, new old stock 2nd Gen 357 cylinder reamed instead to 41 special. The advantage I feel this one has (besides the top strap) is in the base pin, by being a modern tool steel material that uses a lock up inside the bottom circumference of the barrel"

709071



Been an interesting discussion to date.

I got curious as to what some of those I have quoted prior had any reason to rethink the VP proof marked guns or the 192000 number as the "golden rule".

This from noted author John Taffin today via email. Short and succinct.

"The "experts" can't seem to agree just when smokeless really began with SAAs so it is probably better to err on the side of caution with a valuable old sixgun."

I'll add, YMMV :)

.
 

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"SOME frames with the crosspin can be fired with smokeless rounds, these having been produced 1905 or after, or perhaps 1912, as suggested in this thread."

We are back where we started. What happened in 1905, or 1912, that made SAAs stronger and capable of shooting smokeless powder. What new verifiable information has recently come forward to support these 2 dates and contradict the statements of experts in the field who published different information in the past? If it is said that previous experts were wrong, and Colt period advertising and the VP application on rebuilt guns (by the manufacturer) was wrong, we need documentable proof. I am willing to learn, but want to see some source information.

"The "experts" can't seem to agree just when smokeless really began with SAAs so it is probably better to err on the side of caution with a valuable old sixgun."

That statement by Taffin is very vague and does not add any opinion on the proper date for the use of smokeless powder. Erring on the side of caution is good advice for all aspects of life, but his statement really does not add anything to this conversation from a research standpoint. Taffin made it more clear when wrote-

"The company did not guarantee their revolvers for use with smokeless powder cartridges in catalogs and other forms of advertising until 1898. A notation in Colts’ shipping record specifically states that Single Actions serial numbered between #175,000 and #180,000 are NOT guaranteed for smokeless powder use." (A Study Of The Colt Single Action Army Revolver, by Graham, Kopec, and Moore, 1976).
We could conclude from this the #180,000 of 1898 began the smokeless powder sixguns."
 

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Most assuredly Colt began selling smokeless powder guns in 1900. Of this, there cannot be any question. Indeed, I have one, a 1900 Colt Automatic Army trials gun. The advent of semi-automatic pistols only came about due to the development of smokeless powder cartridges. To be sure, Colt was working with smokeless powder guns by 1899. However, the same was not true with Smith and Wesson, who offered the .38 Special in 1899 as a BP cartridge and did not certify their guns for smokeless until a number of years later. This does not mean that Colt did not continue to use up BP parts on into the smokeless era, as Marlin did on their rifles.
 

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Discussion Starter #52
Interesting comments GRI.

S&W made single actions right up to 1912 but all their frames date back to before 1900.

I think Colt's semi auto (and smokeless) guns tell us a lot about the quality of the steels and heat treats used in the early 20th Century guns. Most notably the SAA. The early 1911 has a forged frame and was certainly up to the task as few have failed by comparison to how many were made and well used. We've known for years were the frames crack before failing when they do. On the other hand it was a good bit of time after the 1911 date before Colt sorted out the heat treat required on the slide. Not uncommon to see slides that were too soft and the slide lock notch unusable in short order or the end of the slide cracking from lack of proper heat treat. Obvious that a 1911 by design can contain cartridge pressures that a SAA is unable to.

Early Colt semi Auto pistols
Model 1900
Model 1905
Model 1911 (first commercially available in March of 1912)

"Colt began hardening the front 1/3 of the slide in 1925 by heating them up then quenching them in oil (thus the reason why 1925-45 slides often have darkened front ends), and a hardened insert was pressed into the breech face around the firing pin hole. The barrel locking lugs remained unhardened as there was no way to do so without warping the slides. In 1943 the slide stop notch was flame-hardened to resist peening wear, and you can tell those by a bright half-moon shaped ring of color around the notch. Slides that were properly heat treated along their entire length were developed late in WW2, but they didn't replace the older slides until after WW2. Commercial pistols made from approximately 1950 onwards, and post-1950 GI contract slides were all properly heat-treated and thus known as "hard" slides."

The Colt SAA was Army issue from 1873 to 1898. All BP guns.
Only took 40 years for Colt and the US Army to sort out the 1911 properly.

Easy to understand why high quality ammunition makers like Black Hills states their ammo is not suitable for firearms built prior to 1920.

The more I read on the subject of early "proofed" Colts and Colt's metallurgy the better I understand Taffin's most recent comment.

"The "experts" can't seem to agree just when smokeless really began with SAAs so it is probably better to err on the side of caution..." John Taffin 8/21/'20
 

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...Easy to understand why high quality ammunition makers like Black Hills states their ammo is not suitable for firearms built prior to 1920...
Because of lawyers? Better safe than sorry? Unknown type of guns that they may be used in? Including Mexican and Belgian copies of Colts?

Because we know that:
  • There was never a warning from Colt about shooting post 1900 VP SAAs with smokeless.
  • There isn't anything written in gun magazines or test reports in the 120 years since 1900 about weak or blowing up SAAs with SAMMI spec smokeless loads.
  • Colt certified them (Verified Proof) with smokeless.
  • People don't worry about shooting .45 Colt New Service, .41 Long Colt or .38 Special in Colt Army/Navy DAs, or .38 Special Army Specials from the same period with smokeless.
 

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Of interest is the nasty little secret about early Colt automatics (1900, 1902, 1905). The only thing keeping the slide from coming off is a small piece of bar stock. Since they have not been shot much in post war years, you do not hear about the bar failing, but failures were known due to fracturing of the bar. This led Browning to change his design in 1910. I wonder what metallurgy went into this critical small part in 1899?
 

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I do enjoy reading threads like this for many reasons. I still learn from them or it's a good reminder about things for me. It also makes me happy that there is no need to worry about a modern SAA in good condition. I do have one built in 1909 I always felt it was new enough to be safe and I do shoot it. Of course if ti had worn cylinder notches Ka-Boom! This thread also reminds me of the conversations I had many years ago with my gun mentor as he explained how Winchester added nickel to their barrels. I'm sure you guys know all about WP proofed barrels.
How many of you would shoot an early 1903 Springfield rifle? I had one that was rebarreled during WW11 but I never fired it. Why take the chance when I have ones with better heat treatments?
Happy shooting everyone.
 

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Discussion Starter #56 (Edited)
We could talk about what Colt has done to keep their guns in one piece in modern times. Stronger alloy steels have helped. Intentionally over size .45 cal. cylinder throats have as well.

Just a few off hand mic numbers from Colt parts. These may not be exact as I didn't bother to look up what the numbers are actually suppose to be. Just what I had on my mic this morning.

SAA cylinder wall thickness from a 38 Special? .115", but less .03" for the bolt slot. Makes the cylinder wall .112" thick.

Same in a 45 cylinder? .05" thick, less the .03" lock notch makes a 45 cylinder .02" at the lock notch.

1911 chamber? .110" thick. No lock notch required.

I know, who's counting right? A 38 SAA cylinder, and a 1911 chamber has 5x more metal in the chamber wall than a 45 Colt SAA cylinder.

SAMMI spec on a 45 Colt? 14K cup
SAMMI spec on a 45 ACP 21K cup

Difference in pressure curves between black and smokeless? It is where the rubber meets the road in this discussion.

"The Colt New Service was introduced in 1898. It was an up-sized and strengthened Colt M1892 and Colt Firearms first large caliber revolver with a swing-out hand ejector cylinder. It was made in the popular large caliber revolver cartridges of the day: .38-40, .44-40, .44 Russian, .44 Special, .45 Colt, and .455 Webley."

Funny to me that folks want to argue so vehemently what is safe or not safe for a specific load (smokeless powder) when the same gun in good condition can so easily still be used with black powder.

Of course we all want to believe what we read. And gun magazines and their writers are the source of all true knowledge :)

We are talking Colt SAA guns and Colt metallurgy from 1893 (first traverse locking frames) to 1912 when the 1911 first became commercially available. (being generous to Colt IMO when you look at the overall data from that era of firearms development)

We started out with a PSA to "be careful". With just a little research "a conservative choice in powders" seems prudent to me if you are intent on shooting a pre 1912 Colt SAA.

Good luck and good shooting! 🙈
 

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I have shot black powder in modern .45 Colts actually chronographed one of my loads. It was a 255gr SWC in front of 35grs of 3fg BP. This filled the modern case so that seating the bullet compressed the charge about 1/8". This load gave 2-1/2" groups off sandbqags at 25 yds & chronographed just under 1000fps from a 5-1/2" Ruger .45 Colt.
Don't ever believe BP .45 Colt loads aren't accurate & powerful, they are.
 

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Some people talk as if black powder causes no wear to a gun. Any load that shoots a 255 grain bullet at 1000fps is pounding a gun, even if the burning rate is different than smokeless powder. Sure BP is safer than smokeless, but if we are talking about cracked barrel throats, cracked frames, bent frames, and stretched frames in guns with inferior steel, it seems that a 255 grain bullet at 1000fps would certainly stress an old gun that has what is believed to be inferior steel. To say that a powerful load like that (a standard BP load) has no detrimental effect on an old gun with inferior steel seems questionable. I have shot many BP loads, and I know they are powerful from the recoil. What effect and what wear they cause on the inferior steel of the old guns we are discussing I do not know. We are talking about our irreplaceable, expensive collector items.

On another thread a guy just bought an 1882 44-40 that he said he is going to shoot. I hope he means with black powder. But his gun would be the early iron gun. Would those powerful standard BP loads have no detrimental effect on those early weak guns? There was an article in the American Rifleman a while back about metal fatigue in old guns. Sometimes a gun just says "I have had enough".
 

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I do enjoy reading threads like this for many reasons. I still learn from them or it's a good reminder about things for me. It also makes me happy that there is no need to worry about a modern SAA in good condition. I do have one built in 1909 I always felt it was new enough to be safe and I do shoot it. Of course if ti had worn cylinder notches Ka-Boom! This thread also reminds me of the conversations I had many years ago with my gun mentor as he explained how Winchester added nickel to their barrels. I'm sure you guys know all about WP proofed barrels.
How many of you would shoot an early 1903 Springfield rifle? I had one that was rebarreled during WW11 but I never fired it. Why take the chance when I have ones with better heat treatments?
Happy shooting everyone.
I have an old Winchester 94 w/the cal. stamped 30 W.C.F which to most people means it's a blk pwdr only,but right after the caliber marking is a small paragraph between it & the receiver that reads "nickel steel barrel especially for smokeless powder"
 

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I have an old Winchester 94 w/the cal. stamped 30 W.C.F which to most people means it's a blk pwdr only,but right after the caliber marking is a small paragraph between it & the receiver that reads "nickel steel barrel especially for smokeless powder"
Winchester did not change from the 30 W.C.F marking to the 30-30 marking until 1950.
 
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