The Vault

Shooting an 1877 Bulldog Gatling

Thanks to a friendly collector, we had the chance to take out one of the new, gorgeous reproduction 1877 Gatling guns being sold by Colt. It’s a near-exact replica, with the added feature of being able to crank backwards to safely clear any loaded cartridges out of the action. Being a Bulldog model, it has 5 short barrels (18.25″) chambered for .45-70, enclosed in a full brass jacket to keep the action clean. Colt claims it will do 800 rounds/minute, but we got it going a bit faster…

Thanks to an interesting quirk of US gun laws, the Gatling is not considered a machine gun – so anyone who can possess a bolt action rifle can own and shoot one of these. The crank handle is considered a trigger, and each partial turn fires a single round. Since a single discrete motion doesn’t fire multiple rounds, it’s not subject to the registration and transfer tax of a machine gun under the NFA.

As I mentioned at the end of the video, the fellow who owns this gun has a second one for sale at a pretty reasonable price (though keep in mind that new, one of these guns will set you back the equivalent of a pretty nice new car). It only saw a few hundred rounds’ use, and has been thoroughly checked over by one of the original builders. If you are interested, please let me know, and I can put you in touch with the seller.

17 comments to Shooting an 1877 Bulldog Gatling

  • Earl Liew

    Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for the highly-informative technical and video presentation, Ian. As usual, you and your team are on top of your game!

  • Tom

    Great video Ian. A great piece of history. A big “thank you” to the owner for letting you share it.

  • David Thomas

    Very interesting and instructive ! Like the US law, the Gatling would (in theory) be permissable in the UK as it is manually operated. However, should one become available on the commercial market you can be certain that it would quickly be made illegal under the section of the UK Firearms Acts which enables the Home Secretary to move any new (or revived) design “deemed” undesirable into the “prohibited” category…. Bummer !

  • Denny

    I am also joining in with others with admiration and respect. FW is unique source in learning about firearms history in most vivid way. Thanks!

  • eric

    as usual, a very cool video. was there also a wheeled version, because this one doesn’t look very mobile.

    • Yes, most of the other Gatling variants were used on wheeled carriages much like the artillery carriages of the time. The tripod is a much lighter option, though, as the wheeled mounts weigh 500-800 pounds (not including the gun itself).

  • Turk

    One of those “When I Hit Lotto” dreams I have is to own .22 Long rifle working replicas of the Gatling, the Mitraleuse, and the Nordenfelt gun…

  • Ian Hutchison

    How easy is the gun to point? Can one ‘swivel’ the gun back and forth readily? Last question, if someone hooked an electric motor up to a Gatling, would it become a machine gun under law?

    • The gun is designed more for long range fire with a pretty solid T&E mechanism, and not really practical to swing back and forth quickly. You can disengage the T&E screws, but there isn’t a particularly good way to hold onto the gun to control it while moving and turning the crank.

      And yes, it legally becomes a machine gun if you hook an electric motor to it.

  • Mike NEWTON

    As young David Thomas above. There is UK Fire Arms dealer who manufactured a Gatling about 5 years ago. Simplicity and necessity are the mothers of invention. Good Old Gatling! Mike N

  • Leszek Erenfeicht

    It is not by some legal quirk, but Gatling technically really isn’t a machine gun, which is these days defined as an firearm capable of firing fully-automatically. Gatling is ‘machine’ but not ‘automatic’ at all, each shot out of a Gatling is initiated separately, and it is hand-operated. It’s like a giant pepperbox revolver, only you have a crank to turn it, instead of a DAO trigger, and each barrel has it’s own lock. Nordenfeldts, Palmcranzes, Gardners, Raffye or other volley guns are not considered machine guns as well. And keep them that way, because they’re the only machine gun look-alikes readily available to most gun enthusiasts, even where gun laws are in fact anti-gun laws (don’t they all?).

  • That was amazing! And no NFA transfer required!

  • mark

    who is Carl J. Ehbets?
    http://www.google.com/patents/US550262

    this is patent for Gatling?

    • Earl Liew

      Unless I’ve overlooked something, this looks like a patent for a modification to the basic Gatling to turn it into a gas-operated, self-loading fully-automatic gun. I believe General Electric, among others, have in recent years produced prototype gas-operated Gatlings in various calibers as lighter-weight, self-contained / self-powered alternatives to the standard electrically-driven guns, although they have not gained wider acceptance in the U.S. and the West in general. The Soviets, on the other hand, have taken this concept to a new level and perfected it with weapons such as the GSh-6-23 and GSh-6-30 rotary cannons for assorted applications ranging from ground-attack aircraft to naval CIWS.

      One thing I have noticed about Soviet ( and Russian ) automatic arms designers is a very distinct preference for gas-powered operation, and with the massive amount of experience and innovation they have in this area of gun operating systems, it comes as no surprise.

    • Yep, as Earl said that patent is for conversion of a Gatling into a gas-operated self-powered machine gun. I believe Ehbets was a Colt employee at the time, and Colt was the actual manufacturer of most Gatlings. The gas-operated idea never got beyond experimental stage, though, because the US military started moving to Maxims and other single-barrel machine guns around this time.

  • Ripberger

    Does the seller (or anyone else) sell a reproduction with the Aceles Drum feeding system? If so, would a Gatling with that still be considered a “long rifle” under the NFA as long as it is manually cranked? I’ve looked around online and saw reproductions with the Bruce system, but none with the Aceles.

    I could not afford it, but hey, a man can dream, right? :)

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