Identify My Guns – Breechloading Zulu Shotgun

Adam Scepaniak
by Adam Scepaniak

It has been awhile since we have done an “ Identify My Guns” segment, but we are glad to be back examining odd, reader-submitted firearms! In this article, we examine a breech-loading blackpowder rifle that was converted to shoot centerfire cartridges and then converted again to shoot shotgun shells. Often looking very rough in condition (and even that can sometimes be an understatement) the Zulu shotgun can be an enigma to identify if you have not seen one before.

history: breech-loading Zulu shotgun

Most of these firearms were a French military rifle that was a percussion muzzleloading musket. Some of them were actually stamped as being a Model 1857 (signifying the year they were introduced) while many others had no markings at all. Then, through trade a significant amount of these rifles were converted in Belgium to be actual breechloading rifles in 1867.

This adds to the confusion of the firearm as we make our way to its final designation as a Zulu shotgun or Zulu rifle. People who own, sell or talk about these rifles will often interchangeably call them: Model 1857, Model 1867, Model 1857/67, Belgian 1857, French 1857, Zulu, Belgian 1857/67 Zulu.

With that many names inter-twined together you can understand why there is obvious room for confusion. Knowing the history and growth of the firearm helps explain a lot of those names though.

Now, back to the history of the firearm. If any Belgian did not find a use for this firearm, they would then likely end up in African trade and altered once more. The newest makeover included a chamber expansion to 12 Gauge and the bore being reamed and smoothed out. Also, the stock would be cut in half so it had a stock fitting of a shotgun.

This final conversion allowed for the weapon to accept what was more modern 12 gauge shotgun shells. While this design and mechanism seems tremendously outdated to us nowadays this was a vast improvement over a slow-to-load, blackpowder muzzleloader.

specifications: breech-loading zulu shotgun

While many firearms that came to be breech-loading zulu shotguns were complete abominations and were often referred to as mongrel guns, most had similar traits that you could identify them by.

  • Barrel Length: Typically 33″ but this could vary widely
  • Stock: Crudely chopped half-stock to resemble a normal shotgun (imagine a modern bolt-action stock that you asked a 12 year old to cut by hand – that crude)
  • Caliber: 12 Gauge shotshells (a conversion from .70 Cal to .73 Cal)
  • Sights: Rifle sights were removed and a plain bead front sight was installed

value: breech-loading shotguns

At the time that breech-loading zulu shotguns were being sold in the late 1800s and early 1900s they retailed or sold for around $3 – $5 per firearm. We all understand your dollar went a lot farther back then, but for comparison repeating shotguns (pump-action shotguns) were being sold in Sears stores at the time for around $15 – $20.

Fast-forward to today and what are they selling for?… Well, the condition of most of the breech-loading zulu shotguns you might encounter are horrendous. To find one in mint condition is incredibly rare, but that still will not command value. Most breech-loading zulu shotguns sell for around $50 – $100. For one to fetch money beyond that threshold, the buyer either is uninformed or they are buying it for its history or character.

Special thank you to TFB reader Joe Dickie for sending in pictures of his personal firearm for us to take a look at and examine here today! We appreciate it!

And as always… if YOU have a cool… weird… unidentified… intriguing… or unique gun you would like us to feature in our next “ Identify My Guns” article, feel free to comment below and I will reach out to you.

Adam Scepaniak
Adam Scepaniak

Editor | AllOutdoor.comWriter | OutdoorHub.comWriter | TheArmoryLife.comWriter | Tyrant CNCWriter | MDT Chassis SystemsSmith & Wesson Certified ArmorerGlock Certified ArmorerFirefighter/EMSCity CouncilmanInstagram: strength_in_arms

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3 of 22 comments
  • Muzzlehatch Muzzlehatch on Jul 10, 2018

    Back in the mid-60s when I was in high school, a teacher brought in a British Army Snider-Enfield carbine from the 1860s that had a smooth bore and was distributed to army cooks so that they could hunt game to supplement the boring food that was issued to the troops. I suppose that it fired a shotshell version of the .577 Snider cartridge.

    • Iksnilol Iksnilol on Jul 11, 2018

      @Muzzlehatch Could have been .410. Seen Enfields converted to that.

  • Jonathan Ferguson Jonathan Ferguson on Jul 21, 2018

    The reason for the confusion is that these shotgun conversions were carried out on a range of different base guns of the 'Tabatière' type; the Mle 1857 was the muzzleloading rifle, the 1857/67 is the Tabatiere breechloading conversion of same, and the Mle 1867 is the scratch built equivalent. So the various names can be correct depending what the base gun is, although there is no such thing as a M1857 shotgun conversion; it didn't have the breechloading trapdoor. Unless someone was creating shotguns by both reaming out AND converting 1857s, which hardly seems worth it.