Is it safe to fire a 100+ year old rifle?

Discussion in 'General Rifle Discussion' started by JWalls, Nov 3, 2008.

  1. JWalls

    JWalls Guest

    My father has a late 1800's Marlin lever action 32-20 octagon shaped barrel rifle. It has been in our family since it was new, but has not been fired in my lifetime (40 years). My father always told me that modern ammunition was too powerful and would blow the gun apart. Yet, the 32-20 caliber cartridge is still available. Is it safe and/or wise to attempt to fire this rifle?
  2. janikphoto

    janikphoto New Member

    just because the cartridge is still available, doesn't mean it's safe to use. Modern cartridges often use more powerful powder, and can pack a much bigger punch than 100 year old ammo.

    This doesn't mean you can't shoot the firearm. It just means you need to be careful. You need to have a good gunsmith check it out, and you need to have a trusted reloader make up some gentle ammo for it.

  3. JWalls

    JWalls Guest

    Thanks for the feedback...

    I guess pops was right! I'm glad he told me that too, because I would not have known to even ask if it was safe otherwise. As a low paid enlisted man, he never had extra money to have special loads made. No wonder it has not been fired in the last 40 years.
  4. ScottG

    ScottG Active Member

    Have it checked out, then fire it. Haunt the local gun shows, many people sell old ammo. Try to find someone selling vintage leverguns and ask them if they know of someone who reloads or where you can get ammo for it.

    Old West Scrounger has old ammo on hand. These two are new, but one is loaded to SASS specs, ie: cowboy action shooting. They aren't full powered, and the other choice is a reload so they may work for your vintage Marlin.

    Don't go by me though, have a gunsmith check it out for you and verify the ammo before you fire it.
  5. robocop10mm

    robocop10mm Lifetime Supporting Member Lifetime Supporter

    As it was made pre 1900, I would exercise extreme caution in firing it. +1 on getting it checked by a gunsmith with experience in antique leverguns (not just any gunsmith). They have a reputation for having firing pin holes that are over sized and need to have a bushing installed.

    The 32-20 is a bit of a pain to reload (use starline brass), use small rifle primers to help prevent blown primers and locked up actions.

    This could end up being an expensive proposition but ending up with a shootable tie to your ancestors may be worth it.
  6. janikphoto

    janikphoto New Member

    It might be worth it to shoot once or twice with dad and then store it away again. The sentimental idea of using something that your ancestors used could be worth the expense of doing it once or twice, but weekly use would start to get expensive.

    Really old/odd loads can run a couple bucks a shot or more, and I remember reading a story in Shotgun news about a REALLY rare cartridge costing the shooter something like $20 a round (extensive custom work just to make the brass casing). I doubt you'd have to spend that much, but still, a dollar or two per round can add up fast.

    If I was spending a ton on ammo, I'd prefer to be spending it on a barrett .50 cal, but that's just my opinion...
  7. alsaqr

    alsaqr Well-Known Member Supporter

    Present day .32-20 ammunition made by Winchester and Remington is pretty anemic compared with some high velocity ammo that was available in 1930-50. Folks refused to read warnings on ammo boxes and fired the high velocity ammo in Winchester model 1873 rifles and blew them up. So the ammo went away.

    I am assuming that you have a Marlin model 1894 rifle (After 1906 it became the model 94). That is a pretty strong gun: Not as strong as a model 92 Winchester, but strong enough. Have the gun looked at by a competent gunsmith and if he gives you the go ahead, fire away.

    The Marlin model 94 was resurrected about 30 years ago and was chambered in .44 magnum among other calibers.
  8. cpttango30

    cpttango30 New Member

    Now the ammunition makers have toned down many loads with older guns in mind. I would have it checked out by a good gunsmith and shot the darn thing. Guns are not made to be looked at they are made to be shot.
  9. BillM

    BillM Well-Known Member Supporter

    Have it checked out by a gunsmith, then get some "Cowboy Action" ammo for it.
    Black Hills is one manufacturer, there are several others. Pretty mild stuff--even
    available in black powder loads if you want to deal with the mess.

    FWIW, Factory ammo for 32-20 used to come in two flavors. A light load for pistols
    with a lead bullet, and a "rifle load" that used a half jacketed bullet.
  10. 4jeepers

    4jeepers New Member

    I agree any 32-20 ammo that you can buy off the shelf today will not blow up any firearm that was chambered for it if the firearm is in good condition. Take it to a gunsmith and if he passes it go have some fun!