Say Howdy to The Howdah Pistol

(Royal Armouries)

Let’s say howdy to the Howdah pistol. If you were to search the time in the modern era, you’d likely find yourself looking at a very expensive double barrel pistol capable of chambering .45 Colt and .410. It’s a sweet, Italian-made gun produced by the famed Italian firm Davide Pedersoli. No offense to Pedersoli, but those aren’t Howdah pistols. They are the equivalent of saying a Umarex MP5 in .22LR is the same as an HK MP5 in 9mm. The .45 Colt and .410 would be absolutely anemic Howdah calibers, and big game hunters in the 1800s would laugh at such small caliber pistols.

The Howdah – From India With Love

The term’ howdah pistol’ is rooted in the howdah baskets that were attached to Indian elephants. These spacious baskets allowed men to ride on the elephants during hunts and military campaigns. They were a symbol of opulence, affordable only to the wealthiest. The howdah was a vital tool for hunters pursuing dangerous game.

Anyone on foot could quickly become a tasty snack for bears, leopards, and other dangerous game in India. This becomes doubly true if you fail to land a stopping shot. A wounded animal kills faster and more viciously than one that can still retreat. If you were sitting atop an elephant, it’s unlikely you’d be attacked. Not only are you high in the air, but elephants are massive creatures and provide their level of intimidation to other animals.

This is true for most animals, but tigers have a different threat level. A wounded tiger proved more resilient and violent than other animals. They could and would climb an elephant and attack the men taking cover in the howdah. A male Bengal tiger has almost 600 pounds of claws, teeth, and fury. The hunters could quickly become the hunted.


When they got that close that fast, your rifle would likely be too big to handle in such close quarters. It might also be empty after you fired two rounds at the tiger. What stops a tiger at a few feet? Rounds like .45 Colt and .455 Webley might tickle it. That’s where the howdah pistols came in.

The Howdah – Meaner Than A Tiger

The Howdah pistols redefine big-bore pistols. The first Howdah pistols were massive muskets that began production in the 1790s and were popularized by the East India Company. The modern and more popular designs were double barrel cartridge firing pistols with rifled bores. The calibers varied widely.

They included the massive .577 Snider and the .577/450 Martini Henry calibers. They also used 20 and 16-bore calibers. To put this into perspective a .45 Colt round weighs 250 grains and is considered large. The .577 Snider fired a 470-grain projectile. It’s an absolutely massive cartridge. These Howdah pistols were more akin to sawn-off rifles than standard handguns.

(Royal Armouries)

Twin-barreled pistols were the most common option, but there were four barreled options as well. The four barreled guns were quite the sight and looked like an industrial-sized pepperbox.

Admittedly, the big rifle cartridges gained the same power, speed, and accuracy as a short-barreled pistol. However, the purpose called for a big cartridge at often close ranges, so this wasn’t a big concern.

(Royal Armouries)

Many of these pistols featured recesses to mount a stock for a more precise aim and likely for a massive increase in recoil control. Barrel lengths could vary widely from 6 to 12 inches, and likely too many minor variances to catalog the various models. Many different companies produced these guns, so the variances are difficult to catalog.

Beyond the Hunt

The howdah pistols were spread amongst numerous European colonial powers. They were most popular with British men. Many of these well-to-do British men would come home to fight for their country in World War I. They often served as officers, and they came back from their colonies with the howdah pistols they carried. They brought those pistols to the battlefield with them.

Normal Webley revolvers were scant at the time. As always, stores of guns dried up quickly, and conscripted men and fresh officers may not have a sidearm if they didn’t bring one. Thus, the big Howdah pistols went to war.

The Micro Sized .410 Howdah would be a subcompact pistol

They went from killing tigers to killing Germans. These guns were very limited in their war use and were likely quickly replaced with standard Webley revolvers when possible.

The howdah pistols were big, massive hand cannons that faded away as more powerful cartridges propelled by smokeless powder became the norm. The big guns faded away, but they left their mark. They are still massive guns that are collectors’ favorites. The Pedersoli might not have been a tiger hunter choice, but its the closest we can get to modern howdah.

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.