Hunting with Pedersoli’s Howdah Double-Barreled Pistol
Davide Pedersoil named their gun the Howdah Hunter. The double-barreled pistol was 18 1/2-inches long, had two .50-caliber rifled side-by-side barrels and weighed about 5-pounds. As I write about hunting with black-powder pistols and this gun was called a “hunter,” I took it on as sort of duty to go out and hunt with it.
There were some problems. We don’t have many, if any, howdahs in Georgia. These wooden, leather and fabric structures sit on elephants’ backs and in India were used as mobile hunting platforms. Tigers would sometimes claw their way up the elephant’s trunk or flanks in an attempt to attack the hunter/s. The howdah pistol was a large calibered double-barreled pistol designed to be used as a last-ditch means of self-defence.
Cartridge versions were chambered for large capacity black-powder cartridges like the .577 Snider, and I suspect that the 12-bore was the most common muzzleloading caliber. Pedersoli, the Italian gunmaker, decided to use some of the components of their muzzleloading shotguns and rifles and produce a double-barreled pistol on the style of these very uncommon, historic arms.
The pistol that I requested from Dixie Gun Works had two 50-caliber rifled barrels. The gun is also available from Dixie Gun Works, Cabela’s and others with .58-caliber rifled barrels, 20-gauge smoothbore barrels or with one rifled and one smoothbore barrel. It is always a challenge to get double-barreled guns of any sort to shoot both barrels to the same point of aim. Some makers have attempted to solve this problem by putting adjustable sights on top of each of the two barrels or by providing set screws to apply pressure on the end of one barrel so that it could be adjusted.
The Howdah Hunter had only a front bead sight. If I was to do anything to get the barrels to shoot together, I would have to do it by developing different loads for each barrel. In the meantime, I had arranged a hunt in Texas where I would shoot from tower stands at hogs coming into bait. This was the closest that I could come to shooting from a Howdah. (Although, I can see some real potential for hunting on elephants for hogs in Florida and on the Gulf Coast where the thick, tall vegetation and flooded swamp makes hunting very difficult to do on foot. Hunters do the next best thing by putting high seats on airboats and swamp vehicles.)
After much experimentation with powder charges and bullets, I found that I could achieve 2-inch groups at 20 yards. To get the maximum power from the gun’s 11 1/4-inch barrels, I changed the number 11 nipples to the larger musket cap size and elected to use Hodgdon’s FFg granulation Triple Seven black-powder substitute powder. To keep variables to a minimum, I decided on a charge of 60 grains of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder in both barrels. I used a 370 grain Thompson/Center Arms MaxiBall in the right barrel which gave 1022 fps. and 853 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy. The bullet that shot closest to the bull from the left barrel was a Buffalo Bullet’s 270 grain Ball-Et which had a velocity of 1088 fps. and 710 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy. Recoil was noticeable, but controllable. The delivered energy,which would still be above the 500 ft./lbs. often considered as the minimum for deer-sized game, gave me confidence that these loads would be effective on hogs, provided that I put the bullets in the right place.
Additional complications were that the trigger pulls were long and hard in addition to the not inconsiderable problem of no rear sight. Since this gun was a “loaner,” I could not smooth up the triggers as I usually would. Although it would not appear so, shooting guns with only a front sight, or even no sights, requires more skill that shooting a similar gun with a full set of sights. The guns must be held exactly the same way from shot to shot, the eye must elevate the front bead to precisely the same point while attempting to fight through the trigger pull. It was very helpful that I would be able to shoot from a solid rest by bracing the gun on the stand’s safety rail.
The hogs were extremely cautious coming into the corn. They had obviously been shot from this stand many times before. It took minutes for me to ease the pistol into shooting position, silent cock the right hammer and wait for the largest log to be in a position. I wanted it to face directly away from the stand so the bullet would have the maximum opportunity to strike the spine even if there was a several-inch error in elevation. This ideal shot did not materialize. When the hog had moved a little away from the others, I aimed at the top of the front shoulder.
I started the long trigger pull. A breath and a half later the trigger broke, and the shot fired. The hogs scattered, except for the one that I shot. The heavy bullet had passed close enough to the bottom of the spine to immobilized the hog, but it was still alive. I cocked the other hammer. This time I sighted at the back of the animal’s head and, although fighting another tough trigger pull, managed to put the shot where I aimed. The hog died within seconds. The Ball-Et passed through the spine, the shoulder and was found in well-mushroomed condition under the skin on the far side.
My quest with the Howdah Hunter had ended. Both bullets were delivered to where they needed to go. I was very happy to put the Hunter back into its box and return it to Dixie. That hunt provided material for the 2010 edition of Gun Digest. I had enjoyed the experience of working with an interesting and historic gun of a type that I would have likely never had a chance to handle, much less take on a hunt.
A more detailed account of this hunt is in my new book X-Treme Muzzleloading which is to be published this fall. For information on it and my other books go to www.hoveysmith.com.