Trouble-Shooting Cap and Ball Revolvers

Modern percussion revolvers have their uses as when the author used this Ruger Old Army to help dispatch a Georgia alligator.

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 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.

Replica C&B revolvers are available and fun to shoot.

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.  

Bullet creep is more common with heavier bullets and hotter loads.

 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  

  A brief video “Shooting Replica Civil War Revolvers”  is at : and also available in an earlier blog post if you do not have direct access to YouTube.

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One thought on “Trouble-Shooting Cap and Ball Revolvers

  1. Hovey awesome test! and great footage! Now you are ready to experience magnum like performance with your percussion revolvers. I can’t wait until you hammer a big boar or deer…. and believe me it will hammer them real good. I have been doing it for years. We appreciate the hard work and great info you are providing the black powder handgun hunting community. You have proven through load development, documentation and hard work that these old-timers are not weak and only good for small game but are very capable weapons able and willing to tackle big game with authority just as good as the modern hunting revolvers of today.

    Now you are ready to write a percussion handgun hunter’s hunting book! Keep the videos coming and keep up the good work!

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