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.
“Modern Percussion Revolvers. Part 3. Loading” may be seen as a YouTube video at: http://youtu.be/kzLfX1UfILA.