Join Date: March 11, 2006
Location: Upper US
Several correct statements have been made, and I agree with the general feeling that a Damascus barrel gun should hang on the wall. Its not the most fun, but it is the safest thing to do.
I don't doubt there are people, and some very expert people still shooting twist guns. But even with ammo tailored to the specific requirements of twist guns, there is still a risk.
Damascus barrels were made by winding 6 or 8 steel straps around a mandrel and hammer welding them together. Damascus was high grade in its day, and expensive. Cheaper version was made using 2 or 4 straps. These guns were referred to, in the day as "stub twist" or just "twist" while the others were called (true) Damascus.
Again, as others have mentioned, the Damascus method can produce gaps or voids between the straps, underneath the surface of the hammer weld, and so invisible to the naked eye. Modern x-ray and other tests can identify these, but to the best of my knowledge, no (non destructive) test can show if (a hundred years and more of rust or corrosion -possibly) the welds have been weakened, or how much.
Twist barrels can survive shooting with modern ammunition, for a while. But the odds are high that eventually they are going to come apart. No one can say with certainty when, though. You might be able to put a few thousand rounds of modern ammo through a particular gun with no issues at all. OR the barrel might unravel the next time you pull the trigger. Or somewhere in between. This is why we recommend all twist barrel guns be wallhangers.
IT's not un heard of for these old guns to come apart even shooting ammo custom tailored for them. Even guns in excellent condition can conceal potentially dangerous flaws in the twist barrels so the best choice is don't shoot them. Also, many, if not most guns of that era have chambers made for something other than the standard lengths today. 2 9/16" was a popular length at one time. And, even with guns chambered for the standard 2 3/4" length we use today were made to shoot paper shells that used a roll crimp.
Modern star crimp cases should not be used. Nor should anything but lead shot be used (and soft lead is easier on the gun, a possible concern).
My Grandfather had an Ithaca stub twist gun in the early 1900s. He told me he was very fond of it, and used it for several years, until a neighboring farmer "finally" talked him out of it.
I have the gun he replaced that one with. It is an Ithaca "flues model", he ordered with custom features and received in 1909. That gun, while a "plain" field model, has a stock made to my grandfather's specifications (more drop than standard), 26" barrels, choked (to his order) FULL/FULL. It also has a 3 position safety that also allowed the gun to be stored uncocked, without snapping the hammers! Grandpa was very adamant about the fact, that gun should never be dry-fired. There simply was no reason to, ever.
The springs were guaranteed by Ithaca NEVER to take a "set". The barrels are fluid steel, and so safe to shoot with suitable current ammo.
I have a letter from Ithaca to my Grandfather, dated 1949, re-affirming their guarantee on the springs. IT also says that "express" loads were neither desired nor needed, saying it was akin to "using a bulldozer to thread a needle".
The twist gun my Grandfather sold in 1909 blew up in the 1940s. Somewhere around a foot of the left barrel unraveled when it was fired. This is why I do not recommend shooting twist barrels, with anything, today.
You can do it, with the proper ammo, in relative safety, provided you always assume that the gun might fail on any shot, and prepare accordingly. I just don't think you should do it, even taking all the possible precautions. Your gun, your life, your choice. I wouldn't do it, but that's just me.
My Grandfather also loaded his own shells, back in the day. He told me he used DU PONT "Bulk" powder. It was loaded dram for dram as black powder. I have fired a few of those shells, years ago. I would call it "semi smokeless" powder. It has nearly all the smoke of black powder, but only a small amount of fouling compared to black powder. The powder in those shells looks like instant oatmeal, for both color and texture. Neat stuff, but not something one can get today, as far as I know.
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.