Grits, the breakfast staple of the South, is a mystery to many who live beyond the Grits Frontier which is bounded by the Mason-Dixon Line to the north and to the west by the Big Thicket area of East Texas. Increasingly, those who don’t know grits are being exposed to them by migrants from the South and a much more mobile U.S. Military. Even in Alaska you can purchase grits in the larger grocery stores.
Grits are corn that has been dried, boiled in caustic lye to remove the husks and had the central germ removed. The starchy result is dried hard, ground into grit-size particles and packaged. The Native Americans perfected this technique to produce hominy (an Algonquian name), and the dried, pounded result was grits. Hominy, or in Spanish “Maiz Pozolero,” is sold in cans, and resembles a white, soft garbonzo bean with a bland taste.
Grits have very little taste. If taste was measured on a color scale and white was tasteless, grits would be buff, at best. Grits derive the majority of their taste from the salt, pepper, butter and heavy gravy that is put on them or through mixes of cheeses and seafood as in Cheese Grits and Shrimp n’ Grits. Pre-soaked and cooked slowly, grits can become very smooth and is called “Southern Ice Cream,” although it is eaten hot and not cold.
As typically eaten, grits are put on a plate. They should still be slightly runny when hot, but will set up more firmly as they chill. On the plate they should be hot enough to melt butter and properly accept the usual salt and pepper put on them. They are not served in a bowl with sugar and milk as one might Cream of Wheat. Most Southerners consider Cream of Wheat a poor substitute for grits. In truth, both are equally bland, but at least grits have some texture.
Grits are best, and often, served with red-eye gravy derived from cooking salt-cured ham, quail gravy or with the gravy derived from wild game. They are not typically served with fried chicken. With chicken, rice is the preferred cereal. The heavier the gravy, such as the mix of pan scrapings and onions derived from cooking livers, the stiffer the grits can be.
Grits consolidate rapidly after cooking. They may be covered, refrigerated, mixed with water and reheated for a later meal. It is also common for old grits to be formed into a paddy and fried in a frying pan and served as a pancake.
Experimentation with two modern percussion revolvers reveals that they will muster the 500 ft./lbs. of energy usually considered to be the threshold value for taking deer-sized game. Testing with Cabela’s stainless steel .44-caliber cap-and-ball Buffalo revolver with its 12-inch barrel and adjustable sights along with Ruger’s stainless Old Army demonstrated that the use of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder enabled this threshold value to be obtained with bullets as heavy as 240 grains.
These revolvers are individualistic. The Italian-made Pietta Buffalo sold by Cabela’s has slightly tighter chamber and barrel dimensions that the Ruger. Without question the now discontinued “Old Army” is the better-made gun, but the longer barrel (12-in. vs. 7 1/2) of Pietta’s Buffalo gives it a ballistic advantage. The Pietta uses a slower twist which is advantageous with round-ball loads, whereas the Ruger’s faster twist allows it to shoot heavier, and longer, bullets with greater accuracy.
While these tests were limited, they did demonstrate the power of these pistols, and I will use them on game later this Fall. A table giving the load and test results appears below.
Hunting Load Development
Black Powder Revolvers
Pietta. Cabela’s Stainless “Buffalo” with 12-in barrel and adjustable sights made by Pietta. These loads are not recommended for the brass-framed version of this pistol.
Bullet Weight Powder Charge gr. L. vol. H. Vol. Av.vol. ME
Ruger Old Army Stainless with 7 ½-inch barrel and adjustable sights.
.457 RB. 145* Trip-7**40/30.7 916 1008 963 299
.457 RB. 145* Trip-7 35/28 1000 1011 1004 325
.457 RB. 145* Trip-7 35/? Hodgdon data 987 314
.457 RB. 145* Pyro.P 40/31.3 977 1061 1019 334
Buffalo 180 Pyro.P 40/31.3 1127 1176 1156 534
Lee Real 250 Pyro.P 30/23 NA NA 866 416
Lee Reel 250 Trip-7 30/22.6 894 912 904 454
Kaido*** 240 Trip-7 35/28 961 999 987 519
* A felt lubricated Wonder Wad was used under the round balls. When velocities increased to the point where these wads were destroyed accuracy suffered.
** This was a 3-4 year-old old jar of Triple Seven that had apparently somewhat deteriorated in Georgia’s hot, humid atmosphere. With fresher powder the velocities increased a significant amount. In the Ruger Old Army, 35 grains of the fresh powder produced higher velocities/energies than 40 grains of the older powder. If your Triple Seven has lumps or cakes up in your container, it may not produce best results.
*** This was the first shooting of “Kadio’s C&B Revolver Hunter” which is designed to be a universal bullet for percussion and cartridge revolvers that will provide longer-range performance. This first lot of bullets was both lighter weight, 240 vs. 255 grains, than designed and slightly undersized. The heavier, larger bullets would be expected to give better performance in the Ruger Old Army.
A video was shot over the three days that the guns were being tested and cut to give an eight-minute overview. Many products used in the video were furnished by the manufacturers. It may be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7OqKuVp-eg if you have any problems viewing it below:
Percussion revolvers from the Civil War to the present day have inherent problems related to the percussion caps, powders and loading methods that they use. These are, by far, the three most common problem areas for both original and replica guns. Parts can break, as with any gun, and components may be lost while cleaning, but the most common set of problem have to do with obstructions on the ends of the cylinder that prevent it from rotating for the next shot.
The most common cause of a cylinder tie-up is a fired copper cap whose fragments are binding between the rear of the cylinder and the fixed breech of the revolver. Fortunately, the cap metal is soft, and usually a pull on the hammer helped along by twisting the cylinder with the fingers can bring the next chamber into the fire position. However, on occasion it will be so stubbornly wedged that it is necessary to remove the cylinder to clear this obstruction. Solid-frame revolvers, such as the Remington pattern are more prone to jamming than the open-topped Colt designs.
Occasionally a hunk of cap will be blown back into the action and allow the cylinder to rotate but blocks the hammer fall to prevent the next chamber from firing. Usually this can be cleared by recocking the hammer and inverting allowing the offending hunk of cap to fall. More rairly I have had to tease it out with tweezers or completely disassemble the gun.
Black powder fowling will build up on the cylinder pin and accumulate after each shot. Guns with small smooth cylinder pins, like the Remingtons, will bind up after shooting a few cylinders of black-powder loads. If shooting black powder, it is good practice to clean this pin after every 10-12 shots and re-greese it. Colt revolvers have grooves milled into a larger pin, but even they will foul over time. Using black-powder substitute powders that yield less residue can help prevent this problem.
Ball creep can occur when a loaded bullet jumps forward in its chamber sufficiently to catch against the barrel and prevent the cylinder from rotating. Elongate bullets are a little more prone to this than round balls. This condition most often occurs when using heavy loads in modern replica revolvers and recoil becomes noticeable. Backing off on the load will reduce recoil and allow more space between the end of the bullet and the end of the cylinder. Although the bullet may still move, it may not extend beyond the cylinder end before all of the rounds are fires.
Should a bullet jam a cylinder, you can often push them back into the chamber with the fingers. If this does not work the cylinder can be removed and the balls re-rammed back into place. A third alternative is to take a pocket knife and trim the lead bullet/s flush with the end of the cylinder.
If you hunt with these revolvers, as I do, always take some extra caps, something with a thin pick on it (a folding knife with an awl) and a sharp thin blade for trimming protruding bullets. If you shoot percussion revolvers long enough you will experience all of these problems. Until someone makes a percussion cap that completely disintegrates on firing, the jamming of metallic caps will continue to cause difficulties.
Recoil can also cause loose-fitting caps to come off their nipples and sometimes fall free of the gun. Crimping the base of the caps so that they fit tightly on the nipples and/or using No. 10 instead of the more common (and slightly larger) No. 11 caps can prevent this from happening.
If you want to see percussion revolvers in action, I have a 7-part video series, “Modern Percussion Revolvers” on YouTube that covers the guns, prepping a new gun, loading, shooting, cleaning, developing hunting loads and hunting with the gun along with others on black-powder guns, hunting and shooting (including my gator hunt). To find out about my books, videos, blogs and radio show “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures” ( handgun hunting, shooting and guns, among other outdoor topics) go to www.hoveysmith.com.
A brief video “Shooting Replica Civil War Revolvers” is at :http://youtu.be/50-N_0a9X7I and also available in an earlier blog post if you do not have direct access to YouTube.
Known by various names from around the world and made in Europe, the U.S., the Indian Subcontinent and now China, this class of knives folds its blade into the handle, but significant portions of the blade extend beyond it. Most commonly these are lock-back blades and frequently have a collapsible guard. This design allows a long blade to be carried in a shorter-length knife which is ideal for foot hunters who may be pursuing wild boars and hence the German name of Saufangers or Boar Stabbers.
It is dangerous for a writer to attribute a knife design to a particular person, but Paul L. Holmer in the April, 2002, issue of Knife World makes a reasonable case that this knife, if not invented by, was certainly popularized by Admiral Charles Henri Theodat D’Estaing du Saillans (1729-1794) (And you thought you had problems picking out a name for your child.). As a Vice Admiral of the French navy he fought the British navy during the American Revolutionary War and was wounded in an assault on the British- occupied city of Savannah, Georgia. He is attributed with designing, or at least popularizing, these knives as compact utility and fighting knives that could be used by sailors as working knives when folded or, when opened, as dirks in a fight.
Hunters saw these knives with their long blades as stabbing knives for finishing off or killing
game. When killing a red deer or boar with a knife, the blade has to have sufficient length to reach the heart of the animal when driven in from behind the shoulder. When not in use, their shorter lengths made them less cumbersome to carry when chasing game with dogs on foot through the rough, tangled country where animals like to live.
Operating and locking mechanisms were only limited by the ingenuity of man, which was considerable in this case. These included buttons (common on English knives), levers (often used on those from Central Europe) or less commonly ring locks, pushing down on a secondary blade in the handle or the “pump lock” which is commonly used today with a cut out in the back of the knife where a downward push on the spring unlocks the blade, according to Holmer. These knives often have two locks. One lock secures the blade when it is closed and another to locks it open.
Examples that I have seen mostly English with the push-button locks or Germanic with a lever lock, such as shown on the Chinese made copy of a Marble knife shown with a watermelon in the lead photo. This is a handsome knife that is handled in stag and is patterned after Marble’s version of the Germanic Saufanger. These never “caught on” in the U.S., although most cutlers made something like this during their history. One interesting derivation was produced by Case.
The fact that these are somewhat uncommon, interesting looking and have a diversity of designs make these knives highly collectible. I am not a collector, but am more interested in the utility of this design, rather than the appearance or supposed value. When I had a chance to purchase a new, well made, example of this type of knife from Smoky Knife Works, I grabbed it. There are much cruder examples available from Pakistan, but this Chinese-made example is far superior to those, and better that many of the high-priced, beat up, examples that I found at the 2011 Atlanta Blade Show.
Because these knives have blades that extend beyond the handle they require sheaths. Typically the European sheath has a thin leather belt strap which is often missing in older knives. I prefer the thicker, more robust sheath provided with the Marble knife which is larger and secured by both stitching and rivets.
As I received the knife in mid-Summer, I had no game to kill with it. However, it you want to impress kith and kin at your next watermelon slicing, this knife will do the job very well. I will employ it in a more fitting setting when the occasion presents itself.
My most recent, and spectacular, experiences with a cartridge design adapted to muzzleloading was with the Traditions 1873 revolver that is manufactured in Italy and stamped “ASM” on the barrel. This gun looks like the Colt Peacemaker down to even having a cartridge ejecting rod. I used it in conjunction with a seven-part series of videos on the “Modern Percussion Revolver,” and had both double and triple fires where two chambers fired at once (one event) and three fired at once (two events). This video is available at: http://youtu.be/FSWL6tCXDrU.
This gun was shot with 30-grain loads of FFFg black powder and Pyrodex Pistol Pellets that were within the range of loads recommended by the manufacturer. The cylinder was being slammed back into the fixed recoil shield with sufficient force to detonate one or more caps in addition to the one fired by the hammer. Examination revealed that the cylinder could freely move to the rear under finger pressure against the resistance of the hand’s spring . This was no problem with this design when used with cartridges like the .45 Long Colt and .44-40 Winchester, but became serious indeed when a muzzleloading cylinder was basically dropped into the same frame.
I had successfully used this Traditions 1873 before with different loads, and I will do another blog post on it for those who might own this revolver. It may be possible to still shoot this gun if the loads are kept to lower pressures, other caps are used, the nipples modified, frame shimmed, etc. to make it a fun to shoot black-powder revolver – so long as top-level loads are avoided.
I gave the gun a good try with a reduced load and series of blanks. Multi-fires were eliminated by using 20 grains of FFg and a round ball, but the small clearance between the cylinder and back plate tied up the gun with the blank loads AND the hammer took two impacts to fire the caps. I gave up on this gun and don’t plan on shooting it again. It is a poor retro adaptation of a cartridge-gun design with too much wrong with it to solve outside of replacing major components. The video footgage may be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GTnNLaE2kU if you cannot view it below. Many products shown in these videos and photos were provided by the manufacturers.
The 1873 Black Powder was made to be an inexpensive-to-shoot cowboy-action pistol that in muzzleloading versions might be owned with much less trouble than its cartridge-gun look-alike in some cities and states. It was not intended to be used at maximum permissible operating pressures, but to shoot low-pressure black-powder loads at less cost than purchasing increasingly expensive cartridges. This rational was different from that of most other companies who converted cartridge guns into muzzleloaders.
Often the reasons for retrofitting an existing cartridge gun design was to adapt an existing design to make sales in a new market. If you are a gun making company and witnessing a rise in popularity of muzzleloading guns, it is understandable that you might want to participate in a growing market as inexpensively as possible by converting one of your existing guns into a muzzleloading design. This approach was tried by Remington, Ruger, Savage and Mossberg. The first three companies put muzzleloading barrels on their rifle actions and Mossberg makes a muzzleloading barrel for its popular Model 500 12-gauge shotgun.
These were all mechanically successful. The Remington was wonderfully accurate, the Savage Model 10 ML could even be used with some loads of smokeless powders and the Mossberg provided a one-gun platform that could be shotgun, slug gun or muzzleloading rifle. The user who already owned and shot Remington rifles could get another one that operated just like the guns had, was well supported with a line of Remington-branded components, domestically made, easily to have worked on and received exposure through a high-quality marketing campaign.
Why aren’t these guns still being made?
The bolt or pump-action operating mechanisms are not necessary in muzzleloading guns because all pressures are contained in the barrel by the breech plug. Competing designs that were not bolt-action could be lighter weight, have longer barrels and most importantly for the consumer, were a damn sight easier to clean. The Remington bolt mechanism was an SOB to take apart and put back together after each shooting. Although the rifles were tack-drivers and their bullets were effective, competing designs were much more user-friendly. Of the bolt-action cartridge designs, the Savage was the easiest to dissemble and clean.
Austin & Halleck used a new bolt-action for their muzzleloaders that easy to take apart. These guns had problems with weakening springs, reliability and packaging. I lost a shot at a swan with the shotgun version, and I gave up on the rifle during a South Dakota buffalo hunt after weakened springs and a too-short firing pin fail to pop the 209 primer. I still shoot the A&Hs, but I have strengthened the springs and now know how to better adjust the firing pin strikes. The guns were shipped in a lightweight plastic case. One that I received had a very high quality maple stock gouged and even had a hunk broken off of the pistol grip which was a result of being battered by a loose solid steel disassembly rod.
Sometimes retrofitting modern technology does O.K.; but most often the more pure older, and simpler, designs are better. One of the more outlandish recent examples is a crossbow front end for the AR 15 platform introduced two years ago by PSE. The crossbow is very powerful, it works, takes specialized arrows and you can purchase a new crossbow for the same price as this crossbow front-end assembly. Nevertheless, if you really like your AR’s and you want to shoot arrows …..
Shooting black-powder guns of any sort requires an added commitment of time, effort and knowledge gathering beyond that required of cartridge gun users. If using black powder and almost all black-powder substitute powders, it is necessary to strip down the gun, wash in soapy water, dry, oil and then reassemble the guns after each use. The longer these guns sit, the more difficult it will be to disassemble them and the harder they will be to clean. In humid climates, such as in the Southeastern U.S., rust and corrosion starts immediately.
You can remove the surface materials with ordinary gun oils and solvents, but the corrosive combustion products are in the micro-pores of the metal below the oil film where they can rust and corrode metal. In 90 percent humidity, this corrosion starts immediately on brass (also a problem for black-powder cartridge cases), is delayed a bit on carbon steels and a bit more for stainless steels. Stainless alloys are more corrosion resistant than other steels, but they will corrode if left in prolonged contact with these very corrosive combustion by-products.
Even in dry western climates these black powder combustion by-products will build up overlapping films and “set” on the surface of interior parts making it increasingly difficult to operate the gun. Beyond the third cylinder-full of loads, it is necessary to remove the cylinder of many revolvers and clean the cylinder pin to keep them operating long enough to develop loads. As a range expedient, I often use rubbing alcohol (which also contains water) on a rag to clean these pins prior to re-greasing them. This keeps the guns going long enough to complete chronographing and load testing. If this is not done you can deform the interior parts by putting too much strain on them while attempting to cock these revolvers.
I have had people bring me percussion revolvers with loads in the chambers that were almost a solid black mass with crusted-on black powder. The guns had been shot to the extent that they refused to cock. First, take the caps off the nipples if they are not corroded fast to them. Then, remove the wooden grips and put the entire gun into soapy water (Dawn dishwashing detergent is excellent, but almost any body or bar soap will do) and let it soak. Do this before you even put a screwdriver on the gun. After soaking for an hour or so, all of the components will disassemble much more easily. When wetted, powder charges can be teased out of chambers after the nipples are drawn. Use wooden tooth picks or brass rods to pick out the charge if it is not liquified. It’s wise to re-soak the cylinder in water after the nipples are removed if there is any granular powder visible in the chamber. Finally, rinse the chambers in clean water and drive the balls out of the chambers with a small brass rod. Take your time, use fitted screwdrivers and go slowly.
Black-powder loads in guns stay “alive” forever. Similar care must be used when cleaning an original gun which may be worth thousands of dollars (I remember when you could buy them for $125 in the 1950s.). If you do not have the patience to do this correctly, then have this done by another person who knows these guns and has the proper tools to clean them.
In the video I drop the assembled action parts of two guns, CVA’s Confederate Revolver and North American Arms’ .22 percussion pistol, into the water with instructions to “sling them dry and then put on a mild heat source to remove any interior water.” When these assemblies are in the water I use long bristled brushes to get as deep into the gun as I can to remove any surface materials. When they come out I use Q-tips, twisted ends of paper towels and rags to soak up as much water a possible. The mild heat source is the eye of an electric stove. When the part is hot to the touch, that is sufficient. Let it cool, but while still warm re-oil. This allows even deeper penetration of the oil into the metal.
If the gun is not going to be used, but only displayed, Conservator’s Wax may be applied to hot metal which will protect the gun against almost anything, including salt-water soaking, as long as the gun’s protective wax coating is not broken. This cleaning, heating and waxing is the proper method for museum storage of firearms.
If at all possible, clean these guns the same day they are shot. This has kept me up many late nights after matches where I might have five or more to clean. I could often clean two single-shot guns in the time it took to do one revolver. In this video it took me from 30 minutes to an hour to clean the guns. The Cabela’s Buffalo revolver took an hour because I smoothed up a couple of parts with a grinder and oil stones prior to reassembling this new gun.
To ease reassembly, and also improve functionality, use a high temperature grease on the cylinder pins and put a touch of grease on the nipple threads before screwing them back in. Smooth cylinder pins such as on Cabellas’ Buffalo and other 1858 Remington replica revolvers may be put on a lathe and groves milled into them to hold additional lubricant, as Colt did on his guns. While not important in hunting where only a very few shots will be fired per trip, this improvement can be significant when target shooting and significantly increase your shooting time on the range.
Properly cleaned, these guns can last for generations. Uncleaned, they can become worthless wall hangers in a few months. Until you have the time, or develop the patience, to do the necessary “fooling around and fiddling with” these guns in regards to cleaning them, they may not be for you. Go to the range and see of someone else will let you fire a few rounds through their gun. Perhaps this will be sufficient for you to say that you have done it and exorcise this particular demon.
If you are determined to buy one of these guns and shoot it, “Remember, you have got to clean these things.”
“Modern Percussion Revolvers. Part 5. Cleaning” is now available as a YouTube video at: http://youtu.be/_unvG7iBY1w if you have any problems viewing it below. YouTube has branded two of my previous videos “hilarious.” This one may also qualify for that appellation, despite its unlikely subject matter. One of the other one they liked had to do with cleaning a wild turkey. Whoever knew that cleaning up things could be funny?
Sometimes I get carried away with all of the myriad details of a project that I forget what I know very well that I know. In the video “Modern Percussion Revolvers. Part 4. Shooting.” I forgot the rather obvious step of crimping the bases of the percussion caps to make sure they were tight fits on the nipples. In practically, this crimping process presents some problems and inherent dangers – more about those later.
Two unexpected events happened in the first video. The first, and most spectacular, was when the 6 O’clock chamber of the cylinder of Traditions’ 1873 Peacemaker percussion revolver fired when I shot the gun. Two loads went off at once with much smoke and noise. One bullet went out the barrel and the other impacted the bottom of the frame to form a flattened fused lead mass that prevented the cylinder from rotating.
This was not the usual chain-fire event where flame jumps from chamber to chamber, gets around the ball into an adjoining chamber and ignites more than one propellant charge. I had wax wads over the top of the balls and felt wads beneath them to prevent this type of occurrence. What apparently happened was that the recoil from the first charge was sufficient to slam a cap into the back plate with sufficient force to fire the cap and discharge the bottom chamber. On “Take 2,” I crimped the caps on the nipples, and this time three chambers fired simultaneously.
The number 11 caps were a somewhat better fit on the Traditions gun than on Cabela’s Pietta Buffalo revolver. On this Pietta, moving the gun was sufficient for the caps to fall from the nipples. Crimping these caps on the nipples solved this problem, and on “Take 2” the gun fired all six chambers without any difficulties.
With percussion revolvers the only practical way to put a crimped cap onto a nipple is with the fingers, rather than using a capping device. This is very difficult to do when the cylinder is in the gun. First use the fingers to press the bottom of the cap slightly with the fingers and then push them onto the nipples. Then, you place the capped cylinder into the gun. Should this cylinder fall onto a hard surface and one of the caps hits, that chamber is very likely to fire with the ball going in a random direction and perhaps into a leg, foot or the lower body.
I cover my shooting table with carpet. Not only does this provide a non-scratching surface for the guns, it also prevents events like inadvertent cylinder discharges.
I did not understand why there was such a difference in sound in the Traditions revolver when the other five rounds were fired in the first of the two videos. The pellet in the next shot did fire, but very weakly, as if the charge had been spoiled by being wetted. The four other charges had a much more normal response. I had used these pistol pellets for reloading .44 Magnum pistol cartridges, and they had performed very well. The pellets that I used were from an old partial container, and perhaps one of them had somehow become contaminated. I have since received reports of other people having inconsistent results with these pellets, including one who lost a deer because the pellet was a squib load. This sort of performance might be O.K. with plinking cans, but not when hunting.
Although they only fired a cylinder-full of loads in this video, the other revolvers worked fine during the first video. The North American Arms .22 was the most challenging to shoot because of its light weight, primitive sights and relatively hard trigger pull. It grouped about 2 1/2 inches below and left of its point of aim. The point of impact can be raised by filing down the front sight, but lateral errors can only be compensated for by aiming to the right of the target.
When looking back over the first video I did not like it because it gave too much of a negative impression of the guns, and I decided to do another version of this video as “Take 2” using four of the five guns. The gun I omitted, the brass- frame CVA Confederate Revolver, is now featured on a separate video, “Shooting Replica Civil War Revolvers” at: http://youtu.be/50-N_0a9X7I .
Modern Percussion Revolvers. Part 4. Shooting. Take 2. may now be seen on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSWL6tCXDrU. Except for the Traditions 1873, all of the other guns worked perfectly. The new Cabela’s Buffalo 1858 Remington-pattern revolver shot a very good first group at 10 yards with a mixed set of loads.
It took only two shots with the Traditions to empty all six chambers. Both the Pyrodex pellet and 30-grain load of FFFg were too much for the gun. Pressure is not the problem. It is that the recoil generated by the load is causing the nipples to slam against the recoil shield and fire their respective chambers.
Exactly how this is happening I do not yet know. I had used the gun previously with FFg black powder and round ball loads without any problem. Changing percussion caps, powders or even shortening the tops of the nipples might help. For now the most expedient solution is to drop back to a lower recoil-generating load of 20-25 grains of FFg black powder for this gun. STICK TO LOW PRESSURE LOADS WITH THIS GUN for best functionality.
I extracted some stills from the video showing the multiple-fire events and spliced these stop-action shots into the Take 2 video. This was just one of those interesting and unexpected events that take place when you shoot black-powder guns. The only damage to the gun was the end of the cylinder pin retaining plunger assembly was torn off the gun. This complicated removing the cylinder, but I managed to extract the broken plunger parts and pull the cylinder pin. This allowed me to clean and inspect the gun’s frame to make sure it was not damaged by being slammed into by three pistol balls.
As a hunter, broadcaster, outdoor guy, blogger, videographer and writer one of the fun things that I do is to attend the annual Shot Show. I did a radio broadcast from last year’s show and covered as many of the thousands of exhibitors as I could who offered potentially useful products for an outdoor-oriented audience that might include hunters, fisherman and others who really love their guns, gear, knives, bows, crossbows and related stuffs.
I look for innovation, and most especially for those products that are not only new, but are also useful. I was attracted to 5.11 Tactical Products by their rechargeable LED flashlight. These were very bright, white lights that I thought would be outstanding for tracking blood trails. I have owned flashlights by the bucketfuls, but these impressed me for their quality, the pure white spectrum of the light and rechargability.
Looking around they also had some good quality liner-locked folding knives that could serve hunters very well as well as packs, clothing and law-enforcement-related gear. I am a very hard sell so far as clothing goes. Much of what I use is patched up and may be decades old. I did appreciate the design, use of rip-stop fabrics and even found a dark green forest color that I thought I could wear when I hunted. I was impressed enough to feature them on my 2011 broadcast on “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures,” and to form an affiliate relationship with them to help promote what I think is an excellent line of products.
A link to their web page and some of their recent promotional materials appears below.
Percussion revolvers that most people know from the Civil War era are now available in modernized guns that both replicate the originals to varying degrees or are completely new designs. The new guns include Ruger’s Old Army, Pietta’s 1858 Remington-style Buffalo with a 12-inch barrel, an 1873 Colt Peacemaker look-alike from Traditions, and .22-caliber stainless revolvers made by North American Arms. In addition, new powders are available such as Hodgdon’s Pyrodex P in granular and pellet form, Triple Seven and other black powder substitutes as well as bullets, lubricated wads and accessories.
These modern components make these revolvers easier to use, improve accuracy and offer more flexibility for a variety of target, plinking and hunting uses. I am a hunter, and if I have a gun I am fairly well going to kill something with it. This was a real challenge with some of the guns such as the weakly powered .22 revolvers which are best used on small rodents at close range and others with such poor sights that they are best employed for follow-up shots on big game at point-blank ranges.
Solid-frame all-steel revolvers can take loads of Triple Seven powder which develops 10 percent more energy that the same granulations of black powder. Additional killing power is added with magnum-strength percussion caps and modern conical bullets. These improvements, combined with adjustable sights and long barrels, have the potential of improving these revolvers’ capabilities as killers of smallish big-game species. I am investigating the hunting potential of these guns in a 7-part video series.
Part 3, “Loading” reminded me that there are some contradictions in the literature about these guns in that they are sometimes called .44s or .45s in different references. The Colt designation for these guns was that the .44 was considered the Army caliber, whereas the .36 was the Navy caliber. Replica .44 guns take .454 balls made of pure lead. As these are loaded, a ring of lead is cut from the bullets by the steel cylinder walls. Leading of the bore is prevented by putting lubricant over the top of the bullets, which also prevents chain firing. This is when flame jumps from chamber to chamber and the entire gun fires at once – a spectacular event. Lubricant over the top of the ball and a felt wad beneath it helps prevent chain-fires.
The Pyrodex pistol-pellet load gave uncharacteristically non-uniform performance in Traditions’ Peacemaker look-alike. The first load apparently caused sufficient recoil to cause the 6 O’clock chamber to fire because the cap slammed against the gun’s backplate. The next shot sounded like a squib and the others fired normally. Some lube did get into the “squib” chamber during loading. This appears to have spoiled the pellet which partly ignited, but did not generate normal pressures. Additional shooting revealed that this revolver would not shoot round-ball loads primed by CCI Magnum percussion caps and charged with either Pyrodex Pistol Pellets or 30 grains of FFFg without simultaneously discharging one or two other chambers. More work with this gun will be needed to develop workable lower-pressure loads. DO NOT TRY HEAVY LOADS IN THIS GUN.
For reasons probably having to do with the barrels or tooling he had available, Bill Ruger’s Old Army uses a larger .457 bullet. Sometimes these are called .45s, although they are only fractionally larger that the .451-bullets used in the .44s. Also, conical revolver bullets are sometimes designated as .45-caliber for the Ruger and the slightly smaller balls used in Colt and Remington replica revolvers are called .44s. Muzzleloading rifles, that are commonly called .45s, very often use a .440 round ball and patch. These round balls are not intended for .44-caliber revolvers.
Although elongate, or conical, bullets were originally available for percussion revolvers, several more modern styles have been developed that give better results. The one shown in this video is Buffalo Bullet Company’s Round Nose Pistol Bullet (stock no. 44050) . On the box this is labeled as “.44-caliber, .451 diameter.” This is the size designed for the Ruger Old Army revolver. In the video I call it a Ball-Et which is a designation the company uses for a line of similarly shaped rifle bullets in various calibers.
The Pyrodex pellets that are shown are special pellets designed for pistol use and marked “for CAP and BALL REVOLVERS.” These are also sold in round containers in contrast to the rectangular boxes used for the rifle pellets. These do not have the black-powder priming charge molded on the end of the pellet as used on Pyrodex rifle pellets. These pistol pellets do not work well as blank charges. They may project as flaming missiles out the end of the barrel if fired with only a wads because insufficient pressure is generated to combust the powder. Shooters have reported inconsistant results with these pellets in percussion revolvers.
Ox-Yoke Originals makes both the lubricated felt wads (No. 4400) as “Wonder Wads 1000 Plus,” and the wax chamber seals as “Revolver Wonder Seals” (No. OXO2344). These can be purchased from dealers or ordered on-line from Dixie Gun Works, Cabela’s or other catalogue stores.
Pyrodex pellets and substitute black powders are often more difficult to ignite than black powder, and I use CCI Magnum No. 11 percussion caps. This size cap is “standard” for replica percussion guns, except for those that use the larger musket cap. Originally, there was a variety of nipple sizes and caps to fit them, with smaller guns taking smaller caps.
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.
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