Firing / testing black powder revolvers
It’s no secret I like older guns. I don’t know why that is. But the last time I went to a Cowboy Action shoot I noticed one guy with cap and ball revolvers. Everyone on the firing line groaned….. he was placed as the last shooter on the relay. Probably because these guns are notoriously slow to load and a bit messy ?
So here are two of the many cap and ball revolvers I own myself. I’ve played with these types of guns since I was a young teenager. In fact, the very first handgun I personally bought was an Italian copy of a Remington – Beals New Army…. also called an 1858 Remington by some folks. I mowed grass all summer long when I was 14 so I could buy my first handgun… a Remington Beals revolver. I still own that particular gun these days. It’s in rougher shape because back then I didn’t understand the importance of keeping it very clean. At the top of this photo is a Uberti made 1847 Colt Walker. It uses up to 60 grains of powder per chamber! They were designed to be used during the War with Mexico to kill enemy cavalry horses at 100 yards. A cavalryman on foot in combat was easy pickings for mounted troops. To give you an idea of the power of this handgun, the old .45-70 military cartridge was so named because it utilized a 70 grain powder charge in it’s case. That’s only 10 grains more powder than one individual chamber of the big Colt. The gun in the lower part of the photo is a newer Remington Beals New Army. I shoot it with 30 grains of powder.
BOTH revolvers are loaded with my cast bullets made from soft lead and weighing 200 grains each. The earlier Walker projectiles were round lead balls at about 143 grains weight or so. With this 200 grain conical, I can only squeeze 50 grains of powder in each chamber.
The Colt Walker averaged about 1050 – 1175 feet per second velocity. But how did it do as far as accuracy ?
This is typical of the Colt style open topped revolvers. The rear sight is a simple notch in the hammer that’s not even visible until the gun is fully cocked. So the group shot at 25 yards is high and to the side a bit.
You’ll notice the target holder. A local acquaintance of mine here has introduced me to these excellent disposable target holders. Political parties litter the sides of the highway during election cycles with these yard signs. During an election, it’s illegal to deface or remove these signs. After the election is over, the political parties have about 5 business days to remove them. Around here it’s common to see these signs still on the side of the roads months after the fact. What better use for these discarded signs than to repurpose them as target holders ? Not only does it help clean up our streets, but these things are free bullet catchers! I can’t think of a better use for them myself. And it’s sort of a commentary on our political process in the US today.
Firing the Uberti Colt Walker, you’ll notice as I did how the ramming lever dropped down and jammed the cylinder. This happened on the original guns as well. The short term solution back in the day was to tie a leather string on the barrel to hold the rammer in place. The problem was addressed with the 1848 Colt’s Dragoon First Model and subsequent models afterwards. You’ll notice too the stouter recoil despite the massive 4 1/2 pound weight of the gun.
The Remington is a bit more miserly with it’s powder requirements. 30 grains of 3FG powder gave about 775 – 800 plus feet per second through the chronometer, using the same projectile.
What the Remington lacks in power compared to the massive Colt Walker, it makes up for in accuracy. The Remington has a top strap over the cylinder, and much better sights. After firing the Walker, I was overcompensating with the Remington by aiming a bit too low. Once I saw how the shots were striking the target, I adjusted my aim a bit and fired it more like a modern revolver. The last 3 shots in the cylinder were pretty much spot on.
Firing the Remington Beals was more like a modern handgun we use today.
The Remington will give me similar ballistic performance as a modern .45 ACP cartridge… or pretty close to it. The Walker was the most powerful handgun in production until the .357 Magnum came along in the 1930’s. So — which one of these two revolvers will I take on a hunting trip this season? Heck… why not BOTH? After all…. I’m hunting from a tree stand in Maine. My furthest shot will be about 35 yards from a stand about 20 feet in the air. I couldn’t imagine how tired I’d be lugging about 7 or so pounds of shooting iron on my hips all day, but I’ll only be walking to and from my stand. The loading supplies will be in a possibles bag slung over my shoulder. Volumes were written in the 1930’s about the killing power of the then new .357 Magnum killing everything from elk to bears and deer. Today most folks don’t consider the .357 anything more than a self defense round. But I’m convinced with more practice to ensure good shot placement, I can bag a critter with my chosen firearms this season. The soft lead 200 grain projectiles should to the trick if placed in the boiler room of Bambi. And it’s not like I wouldn’t have 11 more to follow up with if the first one doesn’t take immediate effect. For the distances I’ll be hunting I see no reason why this wouldn’t be an effective and challenging hunting season this year. Would I risk a longer shot past 50 yards ? Probably not. It wouldn’t result in a humane and clean kill in my opinion. But hunting with these revolvers adds a bit of sport to the hunt, and will take considerable pre season practice. Who knows? I may not even get a chance to shoot at all.