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November 19, 2007

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Go Ahead — Have a Martini!

I have recently come to the conclusion that at least when it concerns the most important things in life — women, guns, cars and adult beverages — men are only slightly more intelligent than unicellular organisms. While that other sex, women, grow, change and evolve, men apparently have their critical circuits fused at an early age. I could tell you this story about jerking sodas in my grandfather’s drugstore in Memphis and this really hot girl in a poodle skirt and ankle bracelet…but I won’t.

Instead, I’ll use that sleazy tease to explain why I’m crazy about Martini-Henry rifles. The falling block, self-cocking single shot Martini-Henry protected the British Empire from the 1870s until the turn of the century. They were big, ugly brutes, lobbing 577-450 bullets behind a huge load of black powder at the Empire’s enemies around the globe. You’re probably the most familiar with Martinis from the 1964 movie Zulu! (complete with exclamation point), starring Michael Caine, where 1,000 British soldiers with Martini-Henrys held off some 4,000 incredibly good Zulu warriors at Rorke’s Drift in Natal Province, South Africa.

So anyway, at some formative time in my life I see Zulu!, and the single-shot rifle circuit fuses shut on “Martinis.” I’d been prepped for this moment by over-exposure to the old Frank DeHaas book on single-shot rifles, Single Shot Rifles and Actions, which I’d poured though with the intensity that only a young male primate who has not yet discovered the opposite sex can. My theory was that since I had never even seen a Winchester High Wall or Low Wall in any of the Tennessee gunstores — the early 1960s were hardly a high-water mark for single shot rifles — and all the Remington Rolling Blocks and Trapdoor Springfields were beat to crap, a Martini-Henry, or at the very least, one of the Cadet Martinis, the training versions in .310 Greener, was within my reach.

I spent a lot of time planning, plotting, outlining caliber conversions…and then I discovered girls!

Flash forward to the more-or-less present. My first reentry into Martini World was a couple of years ago when I stumbled into master gunsmith Vic Samuel, who builds flawless little gems out of Martini Cadet actions that he travels all over the world to scavenge. I had him build me an homage to all the Cadet converted to .357 “crow guns” back in the early 1960s…you can read the whole story on the Cadet at the DOWN RANGE TV.

That still left me jones’ing for a full-size Martini-Henry…which is where I still am, but two important things have changed:

1) There’s a flood of full-sized Martini-Henrys on the market, thanks to the unearthing of the Kathmandu armory described in Christian Cranmer’s book Treasure is Where You Find It. Essentially, military arms “treasure hunters” got permission to “mine” a collapsed Nepalese armory in Kathmandu, where they discovered an incredible treasure trove of cannons, knives and small arms, including thousands of well-preserved Martini-Henrys in various flavors. All of a sudden the relatively obscure guns are available all over the place for bargain prices.

2) Richard Pumerantz of Ten-X Ammo thought it might be a cool idea to shoot one of the old guns. Now that’s more complicated than you might think. The 577-450 loaded ammo was for the most part as dead as the dodo; brass availability was sporadic and of wildly varying quality; the paper-patched bullets were notoriously hard to reload and accuracy typically resembled shotgun patterns. What the heck, Pumerantz thought.

He talked Starline into producing modern-quality 577-450 brass, then launched into a quest to create a bullet and load combination that was both safe and accurate in the mid-1800s guns. He ended up with 3-shot 100-yard groups dangerously close to MOA out of his two guns (yes, yes…your results may differ). He then sat down with Dillon Precision and created a Frankenstein combination of the Dillon 900 shotshell reloader and the metallic cartridge 650 reloader to actually manufacture the 577-450 rounds on a commercial basis.

So last weekend I went out to a range in Southern California and through the smoke launched a bunch of brand new 577-450 rounds through a long-lever Martini-Henry, and, hey, it was everything I thought it would be. Big booms; lots of smoke; large holes in the target…all I need is a time machine!

The Complete Story of Michael’s Martini Cadet .357 Conversion
More than You Ever Wanted to Know About Martini-Henry Rifles
Vic Samuel's SSA Enterprises
Treasure is Where You Find It, by Christian Cranmer
You can also see the opening of the 60-minute documentary on the Katmandu find here on YouTube
Ten-X — Ammo for Guns You Didn’t Know You Wanted
Zulu! Reviews
Get the DVD with the Lurid Cover
Real History of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift

Michael Bane


Chas Piette

There were only 139 British soldiers at Rorke's Drift http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorke's_Drift

joel hoffman

i like the intro, short circuits and girls reminds me of me.I feel the same way bout lever action rifles,growing up watching THE RIFLEMAN .We're not alone ,they (Ford) just released a "new" version of the mustang from steve mcqueen's BULLIT.

Mark D. Spencer

Robert Snapp is the king of the Cadets. He refines the trigger and gives them a saftey. Also, a member of the Custom Gun builders guild. He lives here in Clare,Michigan.


My mentor & friend built a .218 Bee on a Martini cadet,that would group .75"for 5 shots consistantly at 100yds. He used a .22 long rifle barrel, and built a stock with a pistol grip and called the thing a "free rifle", and shot it in matches offhand. After about 2yrs. the competiters wouldn't shoot against him any more, and he offered to sell it to me. I asked how much and he said $100, I said for a free rifle, that is too much. I have regretted that decision for 28yrs. because he died, and all he had was given to the city, and the city destroyed every firearm in his collection, about 80, and some were one of a kind, just like him. And yes, I still miss him.


Shaky you did miss out. When my dad passed away I received all of his Martini's 14 in all with 2 .310's cadets and a cadet converted by BSA to a .218 Bee among others. The 218 is the best shooting thing I have ever shot. I have no doudt it would do 5 in .75 if not better. I have a few Martini's that I would like to identify anyone know of a source? Thanks