Pedersoli Howdah .45 / .410 Pistol
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Founded in 1957 by Davide Pedersoli (1924-1996), the Pedersoli Company specializes in accurate, high quality, reproduction firearms. It is located in Gardone, V. T. Italy, the center of Italian gun making. Pierangelo Pedersoli followed his father Davide at the Company helm and today his sons, the third Pedersoli gun making generation, are working at the Company.
The Pedersoli Howdah Pistol is certainly one of the more unusual firearms we have reviewed. Distributed in the USA by our friends at the Italian Firearms Group (http://www.italianfirearmsgroup.com), this is a double barreled, side-by-side, break-open pistol with 10 inch barrels, a beavertail fore end and a pistol grip instead of a butt stock.
Think of a double barreled shotgun with the barrels sawed off about an inch in front of the fore end and the stock sawed off behind the pistol grip. Legally, however, this is not a sawed-off shotgun. It is a factory made pistol with 10 inch rifled barrels and therefore completely legal.
This is a beautifully finished, all steel and walnut gun, without any plastic or aluminum alloy parts. It comes in a fitted, foam padded, hinged polymer case that is ideal for protecting the pistol during trips between home and gun range.
The Pedersoli Howdah Pistol is modeled on the Ithaca Auto and Burglar pistol ("Model A") made from 1921-1925. As the name implies, the Ithaca pistol was intended for convenient use from an automobile and also to dissuade burglars (home defense). It was a smooth bore pistol, usually in 20 gauge chambered for 2-1/2 inch shells, and based on a 20 gauge Ithaca double barreled shotgun action. It was equipped with a typical shotgun brass bead front sight and no rear sight at all, as it was intended to be pointed like a shotgun, rather than aimed like a pistol.
A "howdah" is the basket platform mounted on the back of an elephant in which people would ride. Hunters in British Colonial India hunted tigers from howdahs in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Sometimes, the big cats expressed their resentment at being shot at from the back of an elephant by leaping atop the elephant and attacking their tormenters. Armed with a single shot or double barreled rifle, which had usually been fired by the time the tiger attacked, a big bore pistol stored in the howdah became the hunter's last line of defense.
Originally, howdah pistols were simply double barreled rifles sawn-off at both ends. Made for the purpose howdah pistols were eventually introduced. These were usually chambered for powerful black powder rifle cartridges of the day, such as .577 Snider. Some howdah pistols were chambered for shotgun shells, instead of rifle cartridges, presumably using slug or buckshot loads. Later, I believe, some howdah pistols were even chambered for Nitro Express rifle cartridges.
The hunter's rifle and howdah pistol could use the same ammunition, preventing confusion when reloading. Shooting one of these creations must have been almost as exciting as the tiger attack itself! However, howdah pistols were also chambered for more conventional, and manageable, big bore handgun cartridges.
There isn't a lot of visual difference between the true howdah pistols made at the end of the 19th Century and the later Ithaca Auto and Burglar pistol. However, howdah pistols generally had rifled barrels to stabilize bullets and rifle sights, while the Ithaca pistol was a smooth bore shotgun designed for use only with shotgun shells.
The modern Pedersoli Howdah Pistol reviewed here has fully rifled, six groove barrels. However, this rifling is slower and shallower than the rifling in a Colt SAA revolver. It accepts both .45 Colt cartridges and three inch or 2-1/2 inch .410 bore shot shells.
Note that the Pedersoli Howdah Pistol is proofed to a maximum 1100 BAR or 15,954 psi; in other words, for standard pressure .45 Colt cartridges. It should NEVER be use to fire high pressure (28,000 psi) cartridges intended for use in Ruger Blackhawk revolvers and T/C Contender pistols. Nor should shells using steel shot be fired in this pistol.
Naturally, when shooting .45 Colt cartridges, which have a maximum cartridge overall length of 1.60 inches, the bullet has an extraordinarily long jump (free bore) to get from the three inch chamber to the beginning of the rifling in the barrel, which is not conducive to best accuracy. The rifled portion of the barrels is about 7-1/4 inches long. In any case, double barreled rifles and pistols are known for "minute of pie plate" accuracy, which is to say if you are an accuracy nut, you should look elsewhere.
The supplied sights are typical of what you might find on a classic howdah pistol. There is a ramp mounted brass bead front and a folding, windage screw adjustable (but not elevation adjustable) express type rear sight. Except for the lack of any elevation adjustment, this is the sighting arrangement common on Nitro Express rifles. Express sights are not as precise as the square notch and square front blade Patridge type sights supplied on most pistols today, but they are fast to acquire.
The Pedersoli Howdah Pistol appears to be built on a 28 gauge shotgun frame. It measures 1.90 inches across the breech faces. This is a box lock action with an attractively color case hardened frame.
The front 7-3/4 inches of the barrels are joined to the rear chamber section using monoblock construction. The join line is covered by light engraving about 2-3/8 inches forward of the breech end. Interestingly, the forward section of the barrels appear to have been machined from a single steel billet, not made individually and joined by soldering or brazing, as would be typical of shotgun barrel construction. However, the top and bottom ribs are not integral with the barrels.
The barrels pivot on a replaceable hinge pin and are held closed by double under lugs, leaving a clean breech face. The wide 0.472 inch rib between the barrels is matte finished to cut glare, while the rest of the barrels are highly polished and luster blued.
Because a 28 gauge frame is much wider at the fences than a pair of .410 barrels with normal thickness tubes, the two would not match-up. To remedy this, Pedersoli simply made the breech end of the two barrels so thick they would be as wide as the frame's standing breech. This resulted in barrel walls 0.2275 inches thick at the breech! The result is very heavy barrels that add unnecessary weight to the gun.
In addition, the wide breech spacing means the sharply tapered barrel's muzzles (wall thickness 0.077 inch) are unusually far apart. Not only do the barrel tubes not touch at the muzzles, an unsightly 0.2908 inch spacer is required to fill the gap.
The large, comfortable pistol grip is oval in cross-section and should fit even the largest hands. However, the reach to the front trigger of this two trigger pistol is very long. We found the rear trigger easy to reach with our medium size hands, but we had to turn the pistol in the shooting hand to reach the front trigger.
Double triggers work great on a shotgun, because the gun is supported by the non-shooting hand on the fore end and braced against the shoulder. A straight hand stock allows the shooter to slide the shooting hand about 1/2 inch forward or back to change triggers in an instant and this slight change in grip has no effect on shot placement.
However, the Pedersoli Howdah Pistol's grip positively prevents sliding the hand to access the front trigger and, as any experienced pistolero knows, the shooter's grip must be identical from shot to shot. Moving a handgun in the shooting hand will result in a change in point of impact. A more easily reached single trigger would have been a better choice than double triggers for the Howdah Pistol.
Both triggers release after a lot of preliminary creep, but the pull weights are excellent. The front trigger pull measured 2 pounds 3.9 ounces; the back trigger measured 2 pounds 4.3 ounces per our Lyman Electronic Digital Pull Gauge.
The triggers are twisted slightly to the right, a refinement seldom seen in these ambidextrous days that is intended to make pulling the triggers more comfortable for right handed shooters. Very nice!
When shooting, the support hand should hold the pistol under the fore end, not wrapped around the shooting hand on the pistol grip, in order to balance the Howdah pistol. (Similar to the way a shotgun is held.) Otherwise, the gun's approximately four pound weight and massive 10 inch barrels make it very muzzle heavy.
Both the fore end and pistol grip of our test gun are attractively figured walnut with a gloss oil finish. The beavertail fore end is secured to the barrels with an Anson type push button latch and the pistol grip is attached to the frame with a through bolt. A laser cut, fine line, point pattern checkered area wraps around the fore end and there are generous checkered panels on both sides of the pistol grip.
A single extractor lifts both shells from the chambers, but they must be removed manually, which slows reloading. Selective automatic ejectors are not available, a serious oversight in a pistol that might be used for home defense.
The large, checkered, top tang safety is of the automatic type, meaning it automatically moves to the "safe" position when the pistol is opened for loading. Automatic safeties are irritating to many shooters under the best conditions and poisonous in self-defense applications. Imagine reloading in an emergency and being unable to pull the trigger, because the stupid automatic safety is on! Fortunately, automatic safeties are easy to disable.
Tiger hunting is completely banned in India, from a howdah or otherwise, as tigers are a critically endangered species. For protection in the field from dangerous North American predators (primarily bears) a .44 Magnum revolver is both much easier to carry in a holster and considerably more powerful, not to mention more accurate and with three times the cartridge capacity.
Today, the only somewhat practical application for the Pedersoli Howdah Pistol would be auto or home defense, using .410 buckshot loads. (If .45 Colt is your defensive load of choice, you are better off with a six shot revolver.) However, we found two hands are generally required to shoot the Howdah pistol with any accuracy and two hands are also required to reload the pistol, so shooting out of a car window while driving would be very difficult.
On the other hand, if stored in the home loaded with the safety on, two quick and reliable shots are available when needed by just flicking off the top tang safety and the Howdah Pistol is handier than a "Coach Gun" type shotgun indoors. With its modern, hammerless, cocks on opening action, it is also faster to get into action than an external hammer coach gun.
Intimidation is an important factor when confronting a burglar, as something like 90% of the time the mere presence of an armed homeowner will scare off an intruder without a shot being fired. While not as intimidating as a 12 gauge tactical shotgun, the twin .45 muzzles of the Howdah Pistol are intimidating.
I suspect few home intruders would stay around to argue the point. If they did, two quick applications of 000 buckshot (8 to 10 .36 caliber balls in total) would likely resolve the issue.
Shooting the Howdah Pistol with .410 shot shells
We took the Howdah Pistol to Creswell Clay Target Sports in Walker, Oregon to pattern the gun with Winchester AA 2-1/2 inch, #9 skeet loads, Federal 2-1/2 inch buckshot shells and three inch Winchester PDX1 Defender personal defense loads. The latter shells contain four DD copper plated discs (about .36 caliber) plus 16 copper plated BB size shot (.18 caliber). Guns and Shooting Online's Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays, Jim Fleck and Bob Fleck participated in the shooting.
We did our patterning at 16 yards, figuring that was far enough for a pistol/shotgun with 10 inch barrels. The results were interesting.
The pattern with #9 skeet loads (1/2 ounce of shot) hit approximately at the point of aim, but was essentially blown, presumably due to the rifling in the barrel. It covered the entire width of the thirty inch square paper we were using, with multiple holes through which an edge-on clay target could fly unscathed. Presumably, some of the pellets were off the paper.
The .410 buckshot loads, which contained four 000 (.36 caliber) pellets in a 2-1/2 inch case, impacted within about a six inch circle and left nasty holes in the target paper. This load hit about four inches above the point of aim, generated moderate recoil and would be a good choice for self-defense. Four (2-1/2 inch shell) or five (3 inch shell) 000 buckshot are probably the most effective .410 personal protection load against human predators.
The PDX1 Defender load shot about a foot above the point of aim at 16 yards and the four Defender Discs impacted the paper essentially as a unit, with no discernible spread at all. (They are supposed to diverge inside the target's body.) The BB shot behind the Defender Discs spread over about a two foot area around the gaping hole left by the discs. We would not want to be hit by this load, either.
We also tried our hands at the skeet field, shooting at the station seven low house target with 2-1/2 inch, #9 skeet loads. We used the left barrel only, since we could easily reach the rear trigger without twisting the gun in the hand. This is essentially a short range, rising, straight away target, as the shooter is standing next to the low house trap. Given the essentially blown patterns we recorded at only 16 yards with skeet loads at the patterning board, we knew we had to shoot fast!
Our four shooters averaged about two targets broken out of five. (Each shooter attempted five targets.) This will certainly not impress experienced skeet shooters, but we were somewhat surprised that we broke any targets, given the holes in our 16 yard test patterns and the very short "aiming" radius presented by the gun's 10 inch barrels.
We experimented shooting skeet targets with the rear sight both up and folded. Because the front bead is mounted on a ramp, folding the rear sight makes the gun shoot low when the bead is seen over the gun's breech.
Chuck, in particular, felt it was better to leave the rear sight leaf up. He aligned the express sights about where he expected to break the target, then called for the target, shooting the instant the front bead covered the target. Because the express rear sight's "V" is shallow, it does not block too much of the scene and Chuck broke the most targets with the Howdah Pistol.
Shooting the Howdah Pistol with .45 Colt Cartridges
About a week later Chuck, Rocky, Bob and Guns and Shooting Online Staff Librarian Cheryl Coleman took the Howdah Pistol to the Izaac Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon to shoot some .45 Colt cartridges; Chuck and Rocky did the shooting for record. We did our shooting in the "pistol pits," which allow a maximum range of 25 yards, which is the distance at which we placed the target stand. (The target stands can be set at any distance from the muzzle to 25 yards.) We figured 25 yards would be plenty for a double barreled pistol, which proved to be the case.
We used Champion NRA 100 yard small bore rifle targets, as these are large bull's eye targets that measure 14 inches square. We figured we might need the biggest targets we had available, which also proved to be the case. The pistol was supported on the provided shooting table using a Caldwell sand bag.
The only factory loaded .45 Colt ammo we had on hand was Blazer aluminum cased fodder using a 200 grain Speer JHP bullet, supplied by Chuck. The catalog muzzle velocity of this load is 1000 fps from a 7.26 inch barrel. We know from experience this load shoots accurately in our Colt, Uberti and Ruger SA revolvers.
In addition, Rocky provided some reloads using 9.5 grains of Unique powder, Winchester WLP primer and a 200 grain Lazercast bullet in Starline cases. Rocky developed this load for use in his Uberti replica revolvers and the chronographed velocity is 1100 fps from a 7.5 inch barrel.
To see how and where each barrel grouped and how precisely the barrels were regulated, we shot three rounds from each barrel on each target at 25 yards, marking the three shots from the left barrel before firing three shots from the right barrel. The results were six shot groups with both loads from both barrels. Chuck shot the factory loads and Rocky shot the reloads.
We quickly found the Pedersoli shot very high with its fore end resting on the sandbag. It averaged about 15 inches high with the factory load and about 11-1/2 inches high with the reload. Both of our test loads used 200 grain bullets and we suspect the barrels are regulated for factory loads using 255 grain bullets at about 860 fps.
In windage, with Chuck shooting, the left barrel grouped about four inches left of center and the right barrel grouped over the center of the target. With Rocky shooting, the left barrel averaged about four inches to the left and the right barrel averaged about four inches to the right.
Different shooters hold a gun differently and this affects the point of impact, which is why everyone must zero their gun themselves. This gun's barrels are mounted an appreciable distance apart, so the recoil of the left barrel tends to twist the gun to the left, while firing the right barrel tends to twist the gun to the right.
In terms of accuracy, Chuck's three shot group for record with factory loads from the left barrel measured 3-7/8 inches, while his three shot group from the right barrel measured 4-1/4 inches. The total group size from both barrels was six inches.
Rocky's three shot group for record with reloads from the left barrel measured 5-1/4 inches, while his three shot group from the right barrel measured four inches. The total group size for both barrels combined was 10-3/4 inches.
Whether fired with .410 shotgun shells or .45 Colt cartridges, the four pound weight of the Howdah Pistol minimizes recoil. The 10 inch barrels, lacking the cylinder gap of a revolver, reduce muzzle blast. The result is a pleasant pistol to shoot, once you get used to the unusual two-handed (shotgun) hold.
The lack of selective ejectors and the automatic safety don't really matter when plinking at casual targets. The Howdah Pistol is a fun gun for short range plinking, although given the price of .45 Colt cartridges and .410 shells, rather expensive to shoot.
As a plinking pistol, its biggest drawback is the very long reach to the front trigger that makes the right barrel difficult to shoot. Pedersoli really should do something about this.
They also need to do something about the excessive force required to open the gun. Lacking the leverage provided by full length shotgun barrels to cock the heavy hammer springs, we were forced to resort to breaking the Pedersoli over our knee to open the action for reloading. We understand that Italian shooters believe the tighter a gun is out of the box the more precisely it is fitted, but (A) they are wrong, (B) a gun that will "wear in" will also wear out, and (C) this level of stiffness is unacceptable.
Elevation adjustment for the rear sight would also be nice, so the pistol could actually be zeroed for a specific .45 Colt load. Without elevation adjustment, the shooter's only recourse is to experiment with a variety of different loads (bullet weights and powders), hoping to find one that happens to shoot close to the point of aim. To do this with the best chance of success, the shooter should also be a reloader.
We felt the Howdah pistol performed best with .410 buckshot loads. .45 Colt bullets and the Winchester PDX1 .410 load, whose discs essentially fly through the air as a single projectile until something is hit, shot very high in our test pistol.
The Pedersoli Howdah Pistol is a well made and very nicely finished firearm. It seems overly expensive to those unfamiliar with the cost and complexity of manufacturing a nice double barreled gun, but it is actually reasonably priced for a gun of this quality.
Common sense dictates that any double barreled gun that might be used for personal protection should have automatic ejectors and a manual safety. Lacking both of these features, plus the very long reach to the front trigger, makes the Howdah Pistol a less than stellar choice for defensive use. It is, however, an attractive, novel and fun pistol for casual recreational shooting.
Note: This review is mirrored on the Product Reviews index page.
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