Reloading Percussion Revolvers While Hunting

One of two WMAs that I hunted while attending a conference in Branson, Missouri.

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I was having considerable trouble finding and  killing squirrels on a recent hunt in Missouri. The dry weather prevented silent approaches through the noisy leaves on the forest floor.  Only in the stream bottoms and walking on the relatively soft soils around food plots did I ever  get close enough to try for three squirrels. This turned out to be an exercise in “How not to kill squirrels.”

Got tree, but no squirrel.

 I had driven 500 miles from Georgia, had only three mornings to try for them, was hunting in new areas and also trying to see if I could find some hogs to take with the Pietta (Cabela’s stainless steel Buffalo) revolver for an upcoming Gun Digest article. The result was that I had gone through a lot of expense and trouble, and I needed  some dead squirrels.

Besides the pressure to produce a desired result, age is giving me increasing problems with seeing the pistol sights and the target squirrels with any degree of sharpness. With my glasses on I can see the squirrel clearly, but not the pistol sights. With them off I have a crisp view of the pistol sights, but the squirrel is almost invisible against the tree.

Although not planned that way, I did “bark” a squirrel and blew a slab of bark off an oak tree with a .44 caliber ball fired from across a creek valley. The squirrel escaped, apparently uninjured. Barking might actually work on a hard-barked tree like a hickory, but in this case  only an inch-thick hunk of bark was blown from the oak.

I made the decision that when I had fired my five shots (I carry on an empty chamber.) that I would  reload the entire cylinder, rather than recharge each chamber as I fired. I picked out a soft rock and sat down. I had a clear area to lay out my components and reload. This was not as convenient as doing it using a loading stand on my kitchen table, but it did get the job done with a minimum of pick-up and put-down motions.

Reloading the five or six chambers of a revolver cylinder requires considerable handling of multiple components. This is best done at a relatively clean, flat spot where you can sit down and take your time.

 (Making up and using paper cartridges can help this process, as was done in the 19th Century. My loads are chamber full prior to seating the ball and require considerable compression to load the balls.  Paper cartridges, even using combustible nitrated paper, would be too long to fit into the chambers under the loading lever.  If I tore open the cartridges and poured the loose powder in, this would likely result in spillage.  Others may elect to use paper cartridges with different powders and/or lighter loads, but I will stick with reloading loose components for my big-game-powered loads that I use on everything to  keep from having to readjust my sights. )

 I first put powder and a .44-.45 caliber felt Wonder Wad in all of the chambers and seated the wads. Then I seated all of the balls and flipped away the cut rings of lead with the tip of a knife blade. Following this, I put wax wads over the top of the lead balls. Next, I removed the cylinder, crimped the no. 10 Remington  caps and fitted them on the nipples. After reassembly, I was ready to resume my hunt.

Although I suppose that it is not  impossible that a person might need to reload a five or six-shot revolver  in the field while hunting big game, it is more likely to be necessary on a small-game hunt. Occasionally there are times when squirrels are seemingly everywhere, but more often I take one or two on a morning’s hunt. With handguns of any sort my kill ratio averages about one squirrel for every two or three shots. My shot opportunities with pistols are also fewer, as I do not shoot at moving squirrels or at squirrels where I cannot be sure that I have a backstop  to catch the lead balls once they pass through the animal.  And no, these bullets do not blow the squirrels to pieces. The balls just punch a .44-caliber hole through them and mostly take out ribs which have no significant amounts of meat on them.

 If you are interested in hunting with percussion revolvers, I have a dozen or more posts about them as well as ten YouTube videos (wmhoveysmith channel). These are interesting guns, and new powders and bullets now allow the best of them to be considered for serious short-range use on deer and similar-size game.  I will have also have a radio show, “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures,” that will highlight small and big game hunting with these pistols on a future episode in the Fall of 2011.

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