Modifying and Shooting the Ruger Old Army and Other Large Percussion Revolvers

Ruger 14 (2)

I have long maintained that Bill Ruger’s Old Army was the best percussion revolver yet made. I have owned the standard stainless steel 7.5-inch model for decades and taken deer and alligators with the pistol. During my work with other percussion revolvers such as Pietta’s 1858 Remington .44 Buffalo with a 12-inch barrel and a Uberti Colt Walker Replica, I had made various modifications to enhance the hunting capabilities of the revolvers.

On the 1858 stainless Remington, which was sold by Cabela’s with a mirror-bright finish, I had the gun nitride coated by H&M Coatings of Akron, Ohio. This dulled finished was much less likely to spook close range animals, particularly deer and wild hogs. More work was needed on the Walker. It not only received a nitride coating, it had a new loading lever, sight base, action job and cap-retaining pin installed by Dykes Reber and Michael Brackett, Gunsmiths in Arkansas and Georgia who are specialists in reworking percussion revolvers.

Although I had built what I called a Super Walker and successfully hunted with it, I was still not satisfied. The Walker was/is a powerful pistol, but it is a weak design. I thought a better choice for a deer and hog-capable percussion revolver would be my Old Army with bored out chambers to increase its power capacity and a longer barrel. Dykes Reber mentioned that he did such modifications years ago when the Old Armies were readily available, but had not done any recently because the supply of new guns had dried up.

I had Reber install a 14-inch barrel on my pistol, deepen the chambers and install a sight base so I could scope the gun. Thus modified I was convinced that I had built as good a percussion hunting revolver as could be managed, short of modifying the frame and lengthening the cylinder. My intention was to load this shorter-cylindered gun with Hodgdon’s Triple7even to make it as powerful as the Colt Walker in a more reliable platform.

This objective was achieved. When the three pistols were shot, the 14-inch Old Army with Kaido Ojamaa’s 255 grain Keith-style bullet generated 1039 fps. and 611 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy. This compares with the Colt Walker which with a 200 grain Ojamaa bullet and load of 55 grains of Olde Eynsford FFFg recorded 935 fps. and 388 ft./lbs.  The round ball load from the 1858 Buffalo with 25 grains of Olde Eynsford had a muzzle velocity of 1060 fps. and energy of 352 ft./lbs.

In previous testing the 7.5-inch Old Army had produced 50 fps. less energy than the 14-inch-barreled gun. The longer-barreled Old Army had a higher velocity and greater energy that the unmodified pistol, but  not tremendously so.  It did produce energy figures that were better than black powder loads from the Colt Walker and shot significantly better groups, 5-inches vs. 12 inches, at 50 yards. The Old Army was an easier to use, more durable and more reliable hunting handgun. You can see the results of this shooting at:

Although the modified Old Army is a more powerful and reliable hunting handgun than the Colt Walker, it is not a .44 Magnum. In terms of cartridge handguns, its load of Triple7seven most closely compares with Elmer Keith’s loads in the .44 Special that he shot from his single and double-action revolvers in the 1930s. His pioneering work ultimately resulted in the Remington .44 Magnum. Keith used his .44 Special loads to finish off deer and elk when he was guiding clients in the Idaho wilderness.

While I am confident, and have demonstrated, that these percussion revolvers can kill deer and hogs up to the 200 pound range with good shot placement, I do not  know what the reasonable upper limits of these loads might be on big game. My suspicion is that the Triple7even load from the Old Army will work on animals up to about 300 pounds, but I have not demonstrated this capability. After this season’s hunt with the modified Old Army, I will have a better grasp of what size game animals can be reliably taken with this pistol.

I have killed hogs with the .22 short rim fire shot from a single-shot pistol, although I do not recommend the caliber as a hog-killing round.  Earlier this year a person killed a 800 lb. wild hog in his yard with a .38 Special. I do not recommend that round either. What I am looking for in a pistol round is one that will penetrate through the gristle plate and shoulder of a boar hog, go through both lungs and disable the off-side leg. Big hogs are dangerous. Once a boar reaches a weight of over 200 pounds, he has little fear of anything that walks. At 600 pounds and larger he is the undisputed king of the Southern forest. Will the longer-barreled Old Army reliably kill such a beast? I don’t know, but before I make claims about the magical killing power of this load, I want to see it done.

The Super Walker now has a new home with a new owner in Texas. He has access to hogs, and is anxious to see what it will do, as am I. I feel as if I had sent a child off to school and am looking for their first report card.

2 thoughts on “Modifying and Shooting the Ruger Old Army and Other Large Percussion Revolvers

  1. I’m looking at using my 7.5″ ROA, expanded chamber capacity by Clements /Custom Guns, with 255 grain EK style Kaido, pushed by maximum load of 777 fffg I can fit in it…and hope for about 1000 fps / 550ft-lb performance. Range inside 25 yards. I plan on high shoulder shot placement on Michigan Whitetails that approach 200#. Do you think this reasonable shot placement? I’d like to take out 2 shoulders….as I hunt thick woods/swamps…and I’m a bit colorblind and tracking is a challenge. When I shoot with a them in the traditional broadside heart/lungs – they ofern can go 100 yards…even from a shotgun / muzzleloading rifle.

    I want to reduce tracking if possible in this difficult area I hunt.

    Thanks, Todd

    • For an instant drop you have to go with a spine shot. A big high lung shot deer will go even further. At 25 yards from a tree stand you should be able to drill one into the spine. The best shot is to wait until the deer is facing or straight away and aim for the backbone down through the lungs hart, or as near as you can, depending on how the animal is presented. That way a hit anywhere up and down the deer will drop it and then you will be able to take a follow-up shot which you should do immediately. The best way to find deer in thick cover is to use a dog. Any dog is better than none. I train mine on deer as I shoot them whether I actually need to use them or not. As with any pistol shooting a powerful load will not substitute for poor shot placement. Practice with your Ruger and get to know it well. Drill it in the spine, put in a quick follow up shot and that deer should be yours.

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