So you want a cap and ball revolver?
Copyright 2011 by Gatofeo
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So you want a cap and ball revolver?
Purchasing one should never be an impulse. Here are some points to ponder:
SIGHTS ––- If you want one because of its historical context, then you'll get a revolver with crude sights (unless you buy one of the Remingtons with adjustable sights, which is historically incorrect).
But even with historically correct rudimentary sights a cap and ball revolver can do some fine shooting.
For maximum accuracy, get a Remington design or a Ruger Old Army with modern, adjustable sights.
The Old Army is not historically correct; employing modern springs and design, but it is still a cap and ball revolver, and an exceptional one at that. Alas, production of the Ruger Old Army has ceased and prices for new and used guns have risen commensurately. If you want one, you’ll pay a hefty price for it.
Me, I’ve never purchased one because I’m a history nut. I’d rather shoot an historically correct revolver, with all its limitations, as a vicarious trip to the past.
This is not entirely fanciful of me.
I live in the remote Utah desert near the Pony Express route, Kit Carson’s hangout, ancient springs where wagoneers once obtained water and modern cowboys still manage cattle from horseback (but now wear a cell phone instead of a sixgun!).
CALIBER ––- I have both .36 and .44 caliber revolvers and suggest that, for the beginner, he buy a .44-caliber. Hornady and Speer sell balls of .451 .454 and .457 inch, and they are readily available.
However, the two manufacturers only make a .375 inch ball for the .36 caliber. I prefer a .380-inch ball for better sealing in the chamber and obturation (sealing) in the bore. If you want .380 inch balls, you’ll have to cast them yourself or special-order them from a black powder supplier online.
If you buy a .44, you won’t have the problem of special-ordering balls or making your own. However, if tomorrow Hornady or Speer introduce a .380 inch ball, then I’d recommend the .36-caliber because it uses less powder yet is plenty accurate and powerful for targets, tin cans and small game such as rabbits and grouse.
BUY A STEEL FRAME ––- Brass frames may look pretty to some but they don't hold up as well as the steel frames. Also, I've seen few brass-framed revolvers that were truly well-made. Most are clunkers. Yes, there are clunker steel-framed guns out there but not nearly as many as brass-framed ones.
The Confederates made brass-framed revolvers because they lacked iron foundries and the machinery to make iron or steel-framed guns. A few reproductions of these Confederate, brass-framed guns are made today, and some are high quality. But overall, brass-framed guns are not as well made as their steel brethren. They lack the final fitting and polish necessary for a smooth action.
Brass-framed revolvers must also be loaded with lighter loads. Use of maximum or near-maximum loads in a brass-framed revolver will eventually damage the gun. The problem lies in the force that such heavy loads generate, slamming the cylinder back against the frame with each shot. Steel-framed guns can take this force, brass-framed guns cannot and they will eventually suffer damage and not lock up tight.
Spend the extra few bucks and get a steel-framed gun.
Stainless steel guns offer strength, rust resistance and – if highly polished – a certain panache. I’ve yet to see a poorly made stainless steel cap and ball sixgun. For the beginner, it’s a good choice.
HUNTING ––- Plan to use it for hunting? Frankly, most cap and ball revolvers are not suitable for hunting anything larger than coyotes.
The Ruger Old Army has taken deer, when a conical bullet is used, but you have to get very close.
The Walker and Dragoon revolvers have the power but lack the necessary accurate sights. A notch in the nose and a brass bead for a front sight are non-adjustable and not conducive to the fine accuracy required for hunting.
Yes, deer have been taken with a cap and ball revolver but the cap and ball revolver is rather under-powered for such a task.
The .36-caliber with a full charge pushes an 80-grain ball at 1,000 feet per second. This is equivalent to the .380 Auto.
The .44-caliber 200 to 220 gr. conical bullet can be propelled to about 850 fps, perhaps 900 fps in a Dragoon or Walker (but here again, these revolvers lack fine sights for the necessary bullet placement). These ballistics are a notch below the .45 Auto (230 gr. full metal jacket bullet at 850 fps), a caliber not highly regarded for deer.
The smaller deer of the South, particularly in swamps where ranges are close, may fall to a .44 cap and ball revolver but it shouldn’t be considered for larger deer.
Hunting with a cap and ball revolver requires the discipline to get close, and put that ball or bullet exactly where it needs to be for a quick, humane kill. From what I’ve observed, few hunters today have the patience or skills for such a stalk.
TARGETS AND PLINKING
For target work, it used to be said that the .44 was king. But the .36 caliber can hold its own with the .44 caliber out to 50 yards. Unfortunately, very few .36-caliber cap and ball revolvers have been made with modern, adjustable sights.
I have an Uberti-made copy of the Remington .36 with modern Patridge sights, made in 1973 and like-new. Unfortunately, it places its balls above the target at 25 yards and the rear sight will not seat low enough to bring the group down onto the target.
Another problem is the shallow rifling of the bore. At 25 yards, from a benchrest, I get 4-inch groups – hardly target accuracy. I’ve tried a variety of balls and conical bullets, and varying loads and powders, all without success.
By contrast, I have a Pietta-made Remington .36 with fixed sights that, with the same loads, put its balls into 2” groups at the same 25 yards. My Colt 2nd generation 1851 Navy is slightly more accurate at the same distance.
Today’s Ubertis are among the finest cap and ball revolvers made, and they have rifling slightly deeper than the Piettas to shrug off the effects of fouling in the bore (generally grooves of .010 depth as opposed to the Pietta’s .008 depth).
Remington .36s with modern adjustable sights are made today, but not for import into the U.S. They are, however, available from a Canadian dealer – who cannot ship them to the U.S. So, Canadian and European shooters take note – you have an opportunity that we American shooters do not.
HOW ACCURATE? ––- Just how accurate is a properly loaded cap and ball revolver? They’ll amaze you.
At 25 yards, from a benchrest, it’s not uncommon for a fixed-sight revolver to put six lead balls into half a playing card. Some will do better if they’re well-made and finished.
My Uberti-made Remington 1858 will often put six balls into a 2-inch circle from a benchrest, at 25 yards. That’s with fixed sights, too.
Most cap and ball revolvers will shoot tighter than a modern semi-auto pistol. Some will give a target-grade .38 Special a close run out to 25 yards, fired offhand.
But much of this accuracy depends on having a quality pistol, using the proper components and taking the time to load it consistently. Like a modern firearm, consistency is the key to accuracy.
EASE OF MAINTENANCE ––- A stainless steel revolver is best for easy maintenance. The Remington has fewer parts than the Colt, but is not quite as easily reassembled in my experience. You have to grasp the mainspring with pliers to wrestle it in. No big deal, just a minor aggravation. The Colt disassembles more easily than the Remington design but has more parts to lose or misplace.
In the 1980s, Colt made a limited run of stainless steel cap and ball revolvers. These remain the only stainless steel Colt designs I’ve seen. Only the Remington designs or Ruger Old Army are currently available in stainless steel.
How I wish someone would come out with a Colt 1861 Navy in stainless steel!
EASE OF LOADING ––- In my experience, the Colt is more forgiving during the loading procedure if you make a mistake.
If you can't quite get a ball down past the mouth of the chamber, because of an accidental overcharge, you can remove the ball by firing the Colt without its barrel assembly.
A. Remove the barrel assembly by tapping the wedge from right to left all the way. Use a hardwood stick or nylon-faced hammer to avoid marring the wedge and adjacent areas.
B. Place caps on all loaded chambers to prevent flashover and gently rotate the cylinder by hand while you cock the hammer to bring the offending cylinder under the cocked hammer.
Obviously, you must be very careful when doing this. Keep your hand and fingers away from the front of the cylinder.
C. Fire the ball out of the cylinder to clear the chamber. The ball leaves at low velocity, because most of the powder is blown out unburned, but it can still injure. Be careful!
If you can't seat the ball in a Remington, you have to remove the cylinder, remove the nipple, then use a toothpick or brass pick (never a spark-producing metal) to pick out some of the powder. With some of the powder out, replace the nipple, return the cylinder into the frame, reseat the ball deeper and recap it.
The Remington has more clearance between the frame and cylinder than the earlier Colts, so you can more easily load conical bullets. The Colt 1860 .44 and 1861 .36 have even more room for conical bullets.
LOADING PROCEDURE ––- The procedure is identical for all makes of cap and ball revolvers.
A. Snap a cap on each nipple, before loading, to blow all dust, oil or crud from the chambers. Do this twice to ensure a clear, dry chamber.
B. Use FFFG (triple F) or FFG (double F) grade black powder if you can get it. My experiences have shown it beats Hodgon’s Pyrodex or 777 for accuracy. FFFG grade is preferred for all cap and ball sixguns, from the petite .31 to the ponderous Walker .44.
C. Use a well-greased wad between the ball and powder, and seat it firmly on the powder before seating the ball. The rammer should come to its full stop, or nearly so, when seating the wad. If not, and you’re using a small amount of powder because you want a mild load, use another wad to fill the space.
There must be NO space between the powder, wad or ball, or a dangerous condition exists that may blow up your gun.
D. Use a well-oversized ball. For the .36 this means .380-inch, for the .44 it means .454 or .457 inch balls. Forget what the manuals recommend (.375 and .451 inch) and use the larger balls. Why? When you ram the balls into the chamber, the larger balls create a wider bearing surface for the rifling to grip. This seems to aid accuracy.
Note: Ruger recommends a .457 inch ball in its revolvers. This is wise, but some Ruger owners report even better accuracy with a .460 inch ball. Experiment for yourself.
E. Seat the ball firmly on the seated wad. There must be NO air space between the powder, wad or ball.
The Remington is noted for having a fairly short rammer, forcing you to use full charges or, with lesser charges, filler between the ball and powder to ensure no space between projectile and powder. This filler can be felt wads or, more commonly, corn meal or Cream of Wheat. I prefer corn meal, because if you add a little too much it compresses; Cream of Wheat does not compress.
The Colt has a fairly long rammer which, if you use light loads, may push the projectile down far enough to position it directly on the powder.
If you have any doubts whether the ball will be seated far enough, add a little filler or extra wad before you seat the ball.
F. Use a soft or pure lead ball. In my experience, conical bullets are not nearly as accurate as the ball. Plus, they are often more expensive unless you cast your own from scrap lead.
An exception is the Lee conical bullet. I have had very good accuracy using this conical bullet; much better than any other. I lubricated it with the Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant (see “Lubricating Felt Wads” below). Unfortunately, no one offers the Lee design commercially and you must cast your own.
G. Use proper-fitting caps. Some nipples require No. 10 caps, others require No. 11 caps. Initially, buy both to determine which fits all the way down on your nipples.
Before seating, pinch the cap into an oval shape so it clings to the nipple better. The caps that are too large or small may still be used to clear the chambers before loading (see A above).
Nipples made by TRESO are the finest you can buy, and many shooters swear by them, but they are expensive. They fit the cap better, if you don’t pinch the cap into an oval shape, but most of the time there is nothing wrong with using the nipples that came with your revolver.
STRENGTH ––- This is largely a moot point when you're talking about the use of black powder or Hodgdon Pyrodex P, which is designed to be used volume-for-volume against black powder. This means that the same powder measure you use to throw X-amount of black powder can also be used for Pyrodex.
However, Hodgon 777 propellant is not designed to be used volume-for-volume. You MUST reduce the amount of 777 by 15 percent. Hodgdon does NOT recommend 777 in any brass-framed revolver. It’s powerful stuff!
If you plan to use 777 powder as well as black powder and Pyrodex P, then the Remington would be better. It is definitely stronger than the Colt. But as I've said, if you’re using black powder or Pyrodex, then the matter of strength is moot.
Sooner or later, some jackleg will tell you, "Ya know, if ya put a pinch of smokeless powder in the chamber first, it'll shoot cleaner." Beware of this person; he's a moron. Cap and ball revolvers are NOT designed for smokeless powder. Period.
Even Ruger, which builds the strongest cap and ball revolver ever made, will void the warranty of any Old Army that has had smokeless powder in its cap and ball cylinder.
The weakness is not a question of metallurgy; it’s a question of design. Nipples and caps cannot take the pressure that smokeless powder produces.
QUIRKS ––- There are certain peculiarities of the Colt and Remington designs.
The Colt has a large cylinder pin, with circular grooves around it, to collect fouling and hold grease. The Remington has a small diameter cylinder pin without grooves. Generally, the Colt fires more shots than the Remington before the cylinder begins to drag from fouling built up on the pin.
The Remington is much easier to sight on a target. Its square groove in the top of the frame, and square front sight, line up well. Many Remington reproductions come with tall front sights, making them shoot low. This is good because, after you find an accurate load, you can file down the sight a lick at a time and bring the point of aim to coincide with the projectiles’ point of impact.
The Colt employs a wedge to keep the barrel assembly attached to the frame. This must hold them together tightly. If the wedge is not tight in the frame, accuracy suffers.
The Remington is a solid-frame and no such adjustment is required.
In time, particularly with heavy loads, the Colt's wedge will be battered narrower and no longer hold the barrel assembly as tightly as it once did, or the slot through which the wedge passes is made wider. A new wedge is required, or you can put the wedge on an anvil and carefully widen it again by a few taps with a heavy hammer. A lot of checking is required with this method. Don't overdo it.
The Remington is pretty much trouble-free, except for its propensity to become fouled quicker than the Colt because of its smaller cylinder pin.
BALANCE & POINTABILITY ––- The Colt revolvers win hands down. Even today, the Colt 1851 or 1861 Navies are considered the best-balanced revolvers ever produced. You can easily develop a point-shooting instinct with them that is amazing. The Remington feels massive in the hands and doesn't point nearly as well.
ACCURACY ––- For a long time, the Remington was credited with being far more accurate than the Colt. In more recent years, shooters have begun to understand that the wedge in the Colt must be in tight for it to be accurate. A well-made Colt can be just as accurate as the Remington. I shoot both and have proven this to myself many times.
CLEANING ––- Cap and ball revolvers require cleaning far more quickly than a smokeless powder revolver. Black powder and Pyrodex are corrosive, promoting rust. Even Hodgdon 777 will promote rust because any fouling draws moisture.
In any case, all of the approved propellants create far more fouling than smokeless powder and will soon gum the action and draw moisture.
In a damp climate like New Orleans or Seattle, you may find rust on it the day after firing, because of the (black powder) salt or (Pyrodex) perchlorates in the propellant.
Much of the time, you can get by with just cleaning the cylinder inside and out (remove the nipples and clean them as well), cleaning the bore and wiping fouling off from the frame, hammer and loading lever.
However, eventually you’ll need to clean the guts of that revolver as fouling builds. How often depends on how much fouling is inside the action, and the humidity in which it’s stored. Here in the Utah desert, I can go for months without cleaning the inner action; in Seattle, where I once lived, I’d have a week at most before I’d have to clean the interior.
Eventually, you’ll need to completely disassemble it down to its last screw and tiny part, clean each part thoroughly, oil or grease as required and reassemble.
Many smokeless powder shooters have ruined their cap and ball revolvers by neglecting to clean them, or clean them thoroughly. If you’re lazy or procrastinate when it comes to cleaning smokeless powder guns, then a cap and ball revolver is not for you.
Owning a cap and ball revolver requires a little extra care ––- almost immediately ––- but with the proper cleaning equipment and knowledge it’s not an onerous task. Most of the time, a cap and ball revolver can be quick-cleaned in 20 or 30 minutes, or detail-cleaned in an hour or 90 minutes.
Some shooters just can’t handle this. If you’re one of them, cap and ball revolvers are not for you.
I prefer hot, soapy water for cleaning my revolvers. At the range, in my fishing tackle box of goodies I keep a small spray bottle with a mix of water, a few drops of Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent and a little rubbing alcohol. On a patch, this cuts the grease and fouling nicely.
At home, I use a plastic tub of hot, soapy water with a bar of Ivory soap. Ivory’s great because it floats and you can always find it to lather a scrubbing brush.
The revolver is disassembled down to its last screw and part, and the wooden grips are set aside. Do not immerse the wooden grips!
Don’t forget to remove the nipples from the cylinder; you’ll need a nipple wrench for this (Ruger supplies one but the other manufacturers do not).
Collect a variety of brushes, from tiny to toothbrush-sized. The smaller brushes are often found in gourmet cooking stores. They make short work of fouling inside the frame.
Pipe cleaners are very handy for cleaning tight areas, and scrubbing the inside of the cone on the nipple (an area often overlooked). A toothpick jammed into the cone will give you a handle to hang onto the nipple while you scrub its exterior with a soft bristle or nylon brush.
Pipe cleaners are also useful for cleaning screw holes and getting into recesses in the frame.
Only nylon or bristle brushes should be used to scrub the revolver parts. Using a copper or bronze brush will leave tiny, colored scratches on the surface. Save the bronze bore brush for the bore only!
Cotton swabs are also very good for removing fouling from inside the frame. Don’t forget the channel inside the frame, through which the hand passes to push the cylinder as the hammer is pulled.
Leave no area unscrubbed. Some folks believe that a quick swish with soapy water or black powder cleaner will remove fouling. Don’t believe it! Because of the greases used with black powder, fouling clings to metal surfaces. Scrubbing is required.
After cleaning with soapy water, you may rinse with hot water from the sink tap. But before you do, purchase one of those sink strainers with a fine screen. This will keep from losing parts down the drain. I like to use the sink’s faucet, as opposed to rinsing in a receptacle, because it thoroughly removes all soap and other contaminants.
As you rinse each part, shake off excess water. After shaking the cylinder and barrel, run a dry patch into them to remove any last bit of water.
Rinse each nipple in tap water, then give a quick puff of breath to the pinhole at the chamber end. This will blow out any water left in the cone.
Short lengths of pipe cleaners will wick out any water in screw holes, especially the blind holes in the Colt frame.
Place the parts on a cloth towel to keep them from rolling off the counter.
Now, turn your oven to its lowest setting, generally 150 to 200 degrees, and place the parts in a shallow baking pan.
Colt frames should be put in upside down, resting on the cylinder pin and hammer channel, so water in the screw holes is driven out. Colt barrel assemblies should be placed with the breech or muzzle up, to aid evaporation.
Cylinders of all makes should be placed chambers up, to allow moisture to escape from the largest end. The ratchets on the end of the cylinder will keep it slightly off the bottom of the pan.
Arrange everything for easy evaporation of moisture.
After 20 or 30 minutes, retrieve the parts and coat liberally with canola oil, olive oil or Crisco while still warm. Don’t forget to run a lubricated patch down the bore and in the chambers, to discourage rust. Don’t be alarmed if you find a little rust on the patch, it’s normal even if you’ve run a dry patch through after shaking out excess water.
Allow the coated parts a day or two to soak up the lubricant. Steel is porous, so it will soak up more over a few days or even a week. Keep the parts in that baking tray and you won’t lose them. If mama complains, buy a cheap baking pan for yourself.
The wooden grips can be wiped with a damp cloth. Re-oil them with lemon oil – but not lemon furniture polish with wax! Lemon oil is a liquid, sold in small bottles next to the furniture polish. A small bottle will last a long time.
On Colt revolvers, gently swab the interior of the grips where the mainspring rests and recoil with lemon oil. Coating the exterior and interior of the grip, Colt or Remington, with lemon oil will discourage the wood from drying out and cracking. It will also discourage fouling and gun grease from building up.
Allow the wooden grip to soak up the thin sheet of lemon oil for a few hours, then wipe off the excess with a dry, soft cloth. You’ll be amazed at how well lemon oil brings out the grain of the wood, and makes it shine. Lemon oil is good stuff!
Reassemble the revolver while it’s still coated with lubricant. As you replace the nipples and each screw, but a little vegetable oil or Crisco on the threads. This will make removal easier the next time.
Pack the inner workings with a little Crisco thinned with vegetable oil, Bore Butter or any natural, non-petrolum grease. This will help the action shrug off fouling that accumulates from shooting.
Put some grease on the rear of the cylinder too, where the hand bears against the ratchets. Coat the sides of the hammer, and the hammer channel in the frame, lightly with grease with a cotton swab.
If you rely solely on oil on these parts, it will soon be dried by the hot blast of firing and parts will drag. Grease lasts longer than oil in this application. Use only natural greases, not any that are petroleum-based!
LUBRICANTS & GREASES ––- Avoid petroleum-based lubricants such as chassis grease, WD-40, motor oil, STP, etc. Petroleum products tend to create a hard, tarry fouling that clogs the rifling and hinders moving parts. Instead, use natural greases and oils such as lard, tallow, Bore Butter, vegetable oil (safflower, peanut, canola, etc.), Crisco, etc. My favorite oil is olive oil. Use the cheap olive oil; it makes no difference.
LUBRICATING FELT WADS
Best accuracy will be found with a lubricated, hard felt wad between the ball and powder. If you use a lubricated wad, there is no need to smear lubricant over the seated ball.
I lubricate my felt wads with Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant, a recipe named after me. It consists of a mix of 1 part canning paraffin, 1 part mutton tallow and 1/2 part beeswax, by weight.
With a kitchen scale measure 200/200/100 grams of the ingredients and melt them in a quart, widemouth Mason jar. Place the jar in 3 or 4 inches of boiling water, the safest way to melt greases and waxes.
Place the jar lid loosely on the jar, to prevent water-spits or steam from entering it.
When all ingredients are melted, mix them well with a clean stick or disposable chopstick. Allow to cool at room temperature. Hastening cooling by placing the jar in the refrigerator may cause the ingredients to separate.
I believe that the canning paraffin is crucial to this recipe. It stiffens the wads, apparently helping them to scrape fouling from the bore.
Sharp-eyed readers will recognize that canning paraffin IS a petroleum product. It is, but it apparently lacks the offending hydrocarbons that cause the hard, tarry fouling. That’s what a chemist told me; I don’t know for certain but I know it works.
Once the Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant is cool and hardened, prepare to lubricate some wads:
Remove the paper label from a clean tuna or pet food can. Add 2 or 3 Tablespoons of hardened lubricant to it, heat it at a low temperature on the stove, and when the lubricant is melted add the wads.
Stir the wads with the chopstick to ensure they all soak up the lubricant. Allow to cool at room temperature and snap a plastic pet food lid over the can. Label the can with a wide marker: .44 LUBED WADS or .36 UNLUBED WADS or whatever. The cans can be stacked on top of each other for easy storage on a shelf, or put into your shooting bag for a trip to the range.
Once you run low, simply place the can back on the stove at very low heat, add more wads and lubricant, and replenish your stock.
MAKE YOUR OWN LUBRICATING WADS – IT’S MUCH CHEAPER!
Use only felt made of 100 percent wool. Most felt today is polyester (plastic) which can leave tiny lumps of melted plastic in the bore. Wool won’t do this. Hard wool felt is most often found in old hats, and you can find such hats at thrift stores such as Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, etc.
Please don’t destroy an old, classic Fedora that was your grandfather’s, or a similarly collectible hat! If you can’t find a worn hat, order the material commercially.
An excellent source for new, pure wool sheets of felt is Durofelt of Little Rock, Arkansas. Go to its website at http://www.durofelt.com/, click on Products and then scroll down to Felt Material or Closeout Felt Material. Order the 1/8” thick hard sheet felt, which is perfect for cap and ball sixguns wads. You may also wish to order ¼” thick sheet felt, if you shoot a lot of light loads. Using a thicker, lubricated wad to take up room in the chamber is easier than using corn meal or Cream of Wheat, and the extra lubricant it holds certainly doesn’t hurt.
Durofelt has great prices, and shipping is FREE to U.S. residents. It also ships internationally. Visit the Durofelt website for details.
No, I have no interest in the Durofelt company, but I don’t mind advertising an outstanding company that offers excellent service.
Wads for the .36-caliber sixgun may be cut with a 3/8” or 9.5mm hole punch, or the sharpened mouth of an empty .38-55, .375 H&H or .378 Weatherby case. For the .44 revolver, use the sharpened mouth of a .45 case (.45 Long Colt, .45 ACP, .45-70, etc.). For the little .31, use a 5/16” or 7.5 or 8mm hole punch, or the sharpened mouth of a 7.62 NATO, .30-30, .30-06 or 7.9 Mauser case.
Cut the wads against the end-grain of a sawed log, or a self-healing kitchen cutting board. In a few hours time, you can cut hundreds of wads (especially if you cut two or more layers of felt wad each time) for pennies apiece.
Ox-Yoke sells its Wonder Wads, with a dry lubricant, for about $10 per hundred. If you make your own, and soak them in homemade lubricant, you can save a lot money.
Owning a wad-cutter also allow you to make other wads for different purposes.
I keep some .36 and .44-caliber waxed cardboard wads, cut from milk cartons, to place between the greased felt wad and the powder charge. This keeps the lubricant from contaminating the powder charge on hot days or if I have the revolver loaded for a few days.
You can also cut thick, cardboard wads to assemble shot loads in your revolver, using very fine shotgun shot such as No. 9 or 7-1/2. Such loads are useful for shooting rats, mice or other vermin at close range, without damaging buildings.
But leave the snakes alone! Snakes keep the rodent and insect population down. They may give you the creeps, but snakes are our friend.
SAFETY FIRST! ––- Wear hearing protection and impact resistant glasses whenever shooting. While shooting, keep all powder and caps behind you, away from the sparks your revolver produces.
Do NOT stand to the side or let someone stand beside you when firing. Gases, lead shavings, hot lubricant and other debris are ejected to the side when firing.
I cannot stress enough that these revolvers are not toys. They were used with deadly effect for about 45 years (1836 to the early 1880s) and are still deadly.
The late gun writer Elmer Keith, who was taught how to use cap and ball sixguns by Civil War veterans, wrote, “For its size and weight, nothing is so deadly as a pure lead ball driven at 1,000 feet per second.”
The ghosts of millions would sigh and agree. Give a cap and ball sixgun the same respect you would any modern firearm.
CARRY A GRAIN OF SALT ––- Some of what is related at the range, and on the internet, is exaggeration, fabrication, unsubstantiated or downright dangerous. Some of the things I've listed here are my opinion. Others may disagree, and they’re entitled, but I base this on 40+ years of trial, error, observation and more than a few successes.
SUMMARY ––- what you buy largely boils down to personal preference. I like the Remington for its ease of target shooting, and the Colt for its handling qualities. I shoot both. If you really get bitten by the bug, as I have, you’ll end up owning more than one cap and ball revolver.
Shooting a cap and ball revolver is work, but it’s fun to see how the old timers fared with these pistols. Keep the components in a fishing tackle box and buy a box larger than you think you’ll need, because sure enough you’ll buy more accessories.
Store the powder and caps in a cool, dry place such as a spare room, but not near each other. Avoid storage areas with high humidity or heat fluctuations (garage, shed, vehicle, etc.). If you have children or irresponsible adults in the house, keep the powder and caps locked in separate containers.
Enjoy your cap and ball revolver. It’s taken me more than 40 years to learn what I’ve related, and I’ve also dug into a lot of old publications to gleam nuggets of long-forgotten knowledge.
With this Gatograph, you should get an idea of which cap and ball revolver you want; indeed, you may decide you don’t want one after all.
That’s fine. They’re not for everyone.
But if you do get one, you’ll find that the old-timers weren’t hampered by them. They are still accurate, deadly and sturdy sidearms.
Once you fire one, you’ll understand the phrase, “holding history in your hands.”
Copyright 2011 by Gatofeo. No Use Without Permission.
Posted by the author with his permission – Attribution required.
Contact Gatofeo at Gatofeo@cut.net
Good overview for purchasing a cap and ball revolver.
I'd also like to add a couple things.
Polishing the cone may improve accuracy. Brownells used to carry a tool for it. It would work on BP as well as cartridge revolvers for which they were designed. Some groups on S&W revolvers were cut by 30% in the testing done back in the early 80s for a gun magazine article. S&W were pretty good from the factory by the way.
I talked to a man in Sierra Vista, AZ in 1986 who wrote a book on BP revolver accurizing. (Title and Author forgotton. It was 1986.) He stated most BP revolvers had cylinder chambers too small for optimum accuracy. (Done by design to pass proof tests without problems.) He recommended slugging the barrel, then reaming out the cylinder chamber to match the outside diamater of the slugged barrel. (Modification of revolvers was done at your own risk naturally.)
I've never gotten into shooting BP revolvers but always liked the looks of them.
I believe the 3rd Model Dragoon was available with folding leaf rear sight mounted just forward of the barrel. Short sight radieus but an optioin to the standard hammer notch of most Colt's.
There was some guy who was selling improved parts for Colts a few years ago. I don't recall the web site. He had hardened internals as well as hardened wedges and better screws than the stock Italian pieces.