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Thompson/Center Arms’ Patriot Pistol: Classic Replica Muzzleloaders

The Patriot with the author's homemade ramrod made of resin-impregnated wood with antler tip.
The Patriot with the author’s homemade ramrod made of resin-impregnated wood with antler tip.

Single shot, mass-produced target arms were always a small part of total pistol production, and it was a remarkable achievement for Thompson/Center Arms to make an entirely new muzzleloading target pistol when they introduced the Patriot in the early 1970s. With its one piece walnut stock, semi-saw-handle grip, brass furnishings, set triggers and adjustable sights and price of under $200, this gun was an instant success.  National Muzzleloading Rifle Association shooters quickly started to register good scores with the Patriot at local and national matches. Here was a factory gun that could shoot 10s at the 25 and 50 yard slow-fire targets out of the box at far less costs than a custom-built gun.

Although well received, the market for such a specialized gun was small, and when T/C had a plant fire in the section that made the Patriot in  1996, there was little incentive to resume production. I was fortunate enough to acquire the pistol as a used gun in the early 1980s, and shot matches with it at my local club and elsewhere in the state. It was not unusual for me to be off to a shoot somewhere nearly every weekend. During this process I built a custom loading stand for it using some nearly 200-year-old heart pine planks salvaged from my house and fashioned a custom tapered ramrod out of resin-impregnated wood and deer antler. This rod was much stronger than the original wooden rod.

The load that I used was a charge of 20 grains of GOEX FFFg, a spit lubricated patch made of washed pillow tiking along with a styrofoam wad cut from egg crate foam with the sharpened end of a .45-70 cartridge case. It had been decades since I had last shot the gun and I had forgotten where I held on the target. As it turned out I held below the black bull of the 25-yard slow-fire pistol target and dead center on the 50 yard target so that I could shoot at both ranges without making sight adjustments. I was frankly rusty, but the old gun proved that it could still perform. Had I done my part, it would have shot a nearly perfect score. You can see a video of me loading, shooting and wiping the gun between shots at:


Patrior with last targetUsing the old single shot reminded me that there is no better way to learn to shoot pistol than with the Patriot or a similar quality muzzleloader. The beginning shooter does not have the temptation to go bang-bang-bang-bang as with a semi-auto as he must pause between shots as he cleans and reloads. Each shot is a distinct event, and he has the chance to concentrate on sight alignment, breath and trigger control. The gun’s excellent set triggers largely eliminates the trigger-control problem, which leaves only the remaining two factors to concentrate on. Precision work can be done with this pistol at much less costs than shooting center-fire cartridge guns.  Once basic shooting techniques have been mastered with this pistol, the shooter can move on to more powerful muzzleloading hunting pistols, three-gun NRA matches, Cowboy Action or any of a number of other shooting sports that require multi-shot guns.

Patriot pistols occasionally appear on used gun markets at prices between $300-$400 which is less than the cost of having a custom gun built that will deliver similar performance.


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Dixie Arms Company’s New Pietta Snubnose: The coolest percussion pocket pistol ever.

Dixie's Pietta-made Snubnose .44-caliber percussion revolver with bird's head grips and no loading lever is an interesting development on what large-caliber percussion pocket revolvers should have been.
Dixie’s Pietta-made Snubnose .44-caliber percussion revolver with bird’s head grips and no loading lever is an interesting development on what large-caliber percussion pocket revolvers should have been.

One of the fun things about replica black-powder guns, is that man’s inventive nature has the opportunity to make guns that never were, but perhaps should have been. One example is the Yank 1851 .44-caliber Snubnose revolver, which is made by Pietta and was recently introduced by Dixie Gun Works.  This is a round-butt pocket pistol, albeit a bit on the large size. This snubnose has a 3-inch barrel and among modern revolvers compares most strongly with the similar-sized Charter Arms .44 Special Bulldog.

Remington used as back-up on deer hunt.
Remington used as back-up on deer hunt.

As I am working on a new book, Black Powder Guns for Self Defense, I  needed to try out one of these snubnosed guns. Its closest existing competitor, a Pietta made Remington 1858 Sheriff’s model with a 5 1/2-inch barrel, was definitely a holster pistol that I carry as a back-up gun on primitive weapon hunts. This new gun with its bird’s head grip promised to be much more pocketable as a hide-out gun for Cowboy Action Shooters where the guns are as much fashion accessories as competition tools.

I have owned and shot numbers of Pietta’s revolvers. The Snubnose has the best fit and finished of any Pietta revolver that I have shot. It features a richly blued barrel,  color case-hardened frame and magnificent one-piece dark walnut grips with exhibition-grade checkering. I examined the gun closely as I degreased it prior to shooting,  and I found nothing to alter my impression that this pistol is a quality firearm.

A home-built stand for the Colt Walker and a commercial stand for the Remington 1858 and similar-sized colt pistols.
A home-built stand for the Colt Walker and a commercial stand for the Remington 1858 and similar-sized colt pistols.

I tried round-ball loads and Kaido Ojamaa’s 220-grain and 240-grain flat-nosed bullets.  Loading of round balls can be done with the separate brass loading rod provided with the gun or using a revolver cylinder loading stand. These stands are available from Dixie Gun Works and others and allow percussion revolver cylinders to be more easily, and uniformly, loaded than charging the cylinders in the gun. My homemade stand allows me to load three sizes of  revolver cylinders with one instrument.  I now use softened beeswax-based bullet lube as a over-ball seal, and this permanent non-sticky lube is much easier to apply when the cylinder has been removed from the gun. A  video of me loading and shooting the gun may be seen  at:

With the round ball I used 25 grains of GOEX FFFg to produce a velocity of 582 ft./sec.  and an energy of 103 ft./lbs. The heavier elongate bullets produced less velocity with 25 gr. of FFFg and the 220-grain bullet proceeding at 533 ft./sec. and having an energy of 139 ft./lbs. The 240-grain bullet pushed by 22 gr. of FFFg obtained 458 ft./sec. and 112 ft./lbs. By way of comparison, the percussion Remington revolver shot a 137 grain round ball at 628 ft./sec. with a resulting muzzle energy of 160 ft./lbs., and   a .44 Special shot from the Charter Arms revolver had a velocity of 638 ft./sec and an energy of 215 ft./lbs.

Table: Revolver loads

gun                                bullet                    charge gr/ffg                 velocity ft./sec.                       energy ft./lbs.

snubnose                   137 rb.                      25                                   582                                            103

snubnose                   220 KO                     25                                   533                                            139

snubnose                  240 KO                     22                                   458                                            112

Remington 5 1/2     137 rb.                        37                                   725                                            160

Charter .44 Spl.       246 rn                         N/A                              628                                             215

Of these loads, the 220 grain Ojamaa bullet appeared to be the best choice for the percussion snubnose pistol for maximum effectiveness, although the less expensive round ball load is fine for plinking and cowboy-action use.

When the gun was clean, it’s hammer tended to pluck caps, but functioned well once the hammer was dirty with black-powder fouling and if it was operated sharply to encourage spent caps to fall free of the action. Putting a dab of grease on the face of the hammer prior to shooting also helps prevent the caps from sticking to the hammer face.

For potential self-defense uses I think that this revolver would have enjoyed good sales in the 1860s. This is the second attempt that I am aware of for Pietta to put this style of grip on its reproduction Colt revolvers. Colt used a similar grip on its first double-action revolver, The Thunderer. Although it is non-authentic on percussion pistols, using these grips results in a large bore percussion revolver that can be carried in a pocket for those who have use for such an arm. As with all percussion Colt single action revolvers, this pistol is best carried with its hammer resting on an empty nipple, rather than depending on it’s staying securred on the small pins located on the rear of the cylinder.


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Making a Hunting Gun from Brunswick Rifle Parts

At the start of the project I have a completed rifle to use as a guide, along with original and replacement parts.
At the start of the project I have a completed rifle to use as a guide, along with original and replacement parts.

My primary interest in black-powder guns is hunting with them. While I appreciate the usefulness of historic reconstructions and fine art as done on Golden Age Pennsylvania rifles, I am much more interested in taking original and replica guns back to the woods and using them to take deer, hogs and other game. With the release of stocks of old military pattern guns from the Royal Arsenal of Nepal that are available from Atlanta Cutlery, the supply of historic British Empire Guns from the 1750s-1940s was enormously increased.  Over the past decade I had purchased, used and cleaned a number of them. They went on waterfowling and deer hunting adventures with me, including using an original Brunswick rifle to take a deer at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Georgia. The video, “Brunswick Rifle at Hard Labor,” may be seen on YouTube at:

Rifle lock before cleaning.
Rifle lock before cleaning.

The Nepalese did not throw anything away, and there were numbers of Brunswick rifles with broken stocks in the Nepalese arsenal. Atlanta Cutlery sold these as “parts guns.” To insure that I had spare parts for the rifle that I owned, I bought one of these $99  “parts gun” packages. I cleaned these up and discovered that the barrel was apparently better rifled than the one on the gun that I owned, and I begin thinking about building a new gun around this parts. Although the old parts were very grimy, showed signs of hard use and had  some mangled screw heads, they were mostly intact. I noted a crack on the brass trigger plate, but thought that I could repair the trigger plate with solder, which I did. You can see what Atlanta Cutlery has available at their website

I was able to purchase the needed replacement stock and brass parts from The Rifle Shoppe in Jones, Oklahoma. The patch box lid, head and hatch were the only parts that I could not immediately obtain.  You can see their webpage at and request a very complete catalogue of  replacement parts for historic muzzleloading  guns.  In the meantime, Atlanta Cutlery began to offer brass patch boxes that they had made in India to sell with their completed guns. I received the patch box from them and found that it was a better fit on my Rifle Shoppe stock than on my original gun. I was not surprised as these hand-made guns are very individualistic. Among the 13 (and continuing)  YouTube videos that I did/am doing on the gun, one was on inletting the Atlanta Cutlery patch box to my newly-stocked rifle. I discovered that the Cutlery patchbox was a much better fit on my new stock than on the old gun. So, I  fitted the patchbox to the new stock, and you can view this video on YouTube at:

BR Brunswick Rifle with patch box and balls

The  Brunswick rifle hunting gun is largely finished with the salvaged parts installed on a new finished stock with the addition of a brass patch box from Atlanta Cutlery.

Starting off cautiously with a patched round ball load and increasing from 60-85 grains of FFg black powder, I found that my optimum hunting load was likely to be 80 grains of  GOEX FFg, an 11-gauge 1/4-inch cardboard wad (available from Dixie Gun Works), 30 grains of Cream of Wheat filler, one thickness of Thompson/Center Arms Bore Butter, lubricated pillow tiking cloth, a thinner canvas patch of top of that and the belted ball cast from a custom mold made by Jeff Tanner in England who has a website at   The double patching was needed because the ball cast for the older rifle was slightly small for the new gun’s barrel. Although this set of components was not ideal, it did indicate that the new barrel would, in fact, shoot better than the old, although the original sights could not be adjusted to hit the point of aim at 50 yards.  I had a tang-mounted peep sight and a fiber-optic front sight that seemed likely to work on my new gun. These new sights would allow me to sight in the rifle at reasonable ranges and determine if it seems worthwhile to order a new better-fitting mold.

The refinished Brunswick rifle is shown with fired patches and the lock and barrel from the author's original gun. The hand lens was used to inspect the barrel between shots for signs of gas leakage.
The refinished Brunswick rifle is shown with fired patches and the lock and barrel from the author’s original gun. The hand lens was used to inspect the barrel between shots for signs of gas leakage.

Old guns like this put together from 150-year-old salvaged parts may be dangerous or unsafe to shoot. Have any such gun inspected by a competent black-powder gunsmith before use and frequently inspect for any signs of failure. The Brunswick rifle is particularly prone to get balls stuck down the barrel after a few shots. This was a historic problem with this gun and continues. Wipe the barrel between shots to help prevent this problem at the range. Should the problem persist,  work the barrel with a 12-gauge brass bristle brush and re-clean. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SHOOT OUT STUCK BALLS. These are hand-welded barrels that were forged from strips of steel pounded around a mandrel that can become unwound like a spring. If you own this gun buy a ball extractor, like the end of a wood screw, that fits on your heavy range rod and use it to pull these balls.  

The use of modern sights on this gun does not disturb me as I am not attempting to make a historical replica, but to use these old parts to construct an effective hunting rifle that I can use on primitive weapon hunts where scope sights are not allowed. Should I need to use a gun without fiber-optic elements, I still have my old rifle. The patch box latching system provided with the lid was not satisfactory to me because it apparently required a wooden block to be put into the box cavity to attach the spring. As I also needed to have the sights attached and other parts drilled to set pins and screws, I shipped to gun to Gunsmith Terril Herbert, who is now located in Daytona Beach, Florida. Herbert specializes in muzzleloaders and British Empire guns, and may be contacted at