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.
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.
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: http://youtu.be/d_mV62yPpJM.
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.