Shooting the 1863 Remington "Zouave"


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While not really a reloading article, thought I would share my experience with the 1863 Remington Zouave replica by Antonio Zoli.
I don't have experience with "Zouave" replicas produced by other makers - therefore this may be applicable only to this particular maker or even just to my particular rifled musket.

I have always wanted to shoot a black powder muzzleloader, but not just any muzzleloader. I wanted something that even if not historical by itself, will at least have some historical aura about it. As usual, anything that has any historical ties (including replicas) comes at a price, that is why I was really excited to run across a great deal on this used 1863 Remington "Zouave" replica.
Lots of controversy exists on whether or not this particular model was ever used in the American Civil War, or even if it was at all issued to the troops prior to the end of war, but nevertheless - it was produced and it was used, and it was also considered a very accurate firearm of its day.

Back in a day I was pretty oblivious to the meaning of the rifling twist rate, rifling depth, and even to the fact that .58 caliber can mean anything from .565 to .595. The only thing I knew was - that this rifle was designed specifically to shoot a .58 caliber "minie", and without any hesitation I went on buying shooting supplies for my "Zouave". As a result I have end-up with a Lee .575 500 grain mold for minies, a number of already cast bullets from a Lyman mold (possibly 575213OS), and a couple of cans of pyrodex powder - 2F and 3F.

My first experiments were with the Lyman bullet and after the first few fouling shots at 25 yards I was eager to move to 50 yards and beyond, but was extremely disappointed when only half of all the shots have actually printed on a 4'x4' target frame at 50 yards. And no matter what load was used - minies just flew wherever they were pleased.
Observing my frustration, somebody at the range had pointed out to me that these replicas, although close to the original in appearance, may have some differences, such as a slower rifling twist rate or fewer grooves than in the originals - to (as they say) accommodate needs of a modern shooter that might want to shoot patched balls along with the "minie" balls, and to (what is more likely) cut the cost of production.
With this information I had nothing else to do but to find some .570 balls and patches, which I did. And surprise, surprise; - it performed absolutely beautiful up to a 100 yards.
Although happy with the results - still wanted to shoot it well with what the rifle was supposedly designed for - the "minie" ball.
At this point I have done what should have been done the very first day - slugging the bore. It measured at .585 bore and .592 groove diameter. The "minie" ball should be of a slightly smaller diameter than the bore size for easy loading and its skirt should expand upon firing to grip the rifling, but either .575 bullet is way too small for my bore or it does not expand enough to grip the rifling due to the skirt thikness. Recovered bullets showed very light traces of rifling if any. So I've tried several things to get a better bullet to rifling contact:

    First was to increase the charge;
    Then to try different lubes to provide initial gas seal;
    Third - to manually reduce the skirt thickness.

Although some spotty improvements were observed - none was practical. These replicas are not designed to withstand heavy loads and I had no desire to go above 85 grains of FFg; lubes and wax failed to provide sufficient seal; and skirt thikness reduction is a very dirty process, hazardous to health and environment.
Don't know why, but good solution always comes last (at least for me). And it was just then when I have found an article on paper patching, and as I continued on a subject - more references unearthed. The solution appeared to be simple yet elegant. And, as later turned out, extremely practical. It took little time to find the suitable paper, and some experimenting to get the correct patch size. It was smooth sailing afterwards.


Some people tend to be intimidated by the paper patching process, and so was I, until tried to do it for the first time and was amazed by how easy it is.

See it for yourself:

    First you will need to prepare some paper patches and bullets. I use regular tracing paper (25lb), it applies well to the bullet and is very strong when dries.

    Then you will need to build a factory... or go my route and use paper plates

    Soak the patch and wrap the bullet in it like a candy


    Twist the end, press it in with another bullet, and set it to dry


    The bullet is ready to be used.
    I dip it in Crisco just before loading into the barrel, but other lubes should work just fine.

A couple of successful hunting seasons and target shoots had passed since the initial write-up and I have finally ran out of Lyman minies, giving myself an opportunity to try out the Lee mold.

Lee minie appears to have larger cavity and thinner skirt walls comparing to the Lyman bullet that I had, and it may perform better without a paper patch.