Can’t Buy a Gun Now? Why Not Use a Black Powder Revolver For Home and Self Defense?

Uberti 1849 pocket revolver

Courtesy Uberti

Since buying conventional cartridge firearms is difficult at best right now, have you thought about buying a black powder revolver for self-defense? Specifically, the cap and ball variety. We’re talking about the cowboy action guns, meaning those chambered in .38 Special, .44-40, .44 Special and light .45 Colt.

If you can’t get your hands on a conventional handgun right now, black powder firearms are a viable choice.

Black powder revolvers

Hmaag / CC0

You’re likely to find more than one black powder revolver in better gun stores even now – usually Cabela’s will have a few that have been collecting dust in their case for years – as well as the supplies needed to shoot them.

These are guns that you can easily buy now and get the ammunition for them, too.

Credit: Speer Ammunition

Supplies are likely to be ample. Not many people think about black powder handguns any more, but the guns and cowboy action powder — smokeless powders engineered to produce lower pressures than standard smokeless propellants — are liable to be on store shelves along with the caps (primers) and lead ball or conical bullets.

Even if they’re not, black powder firearms don’t require a background check. That means you can usually get them shipped directly to your door (check your local laws). If you have no other alternative and need something to protect yourself and your family, a black powder revolver is worth considering.

Does a black powder revolver make sense? This is a far more viable self-defense alternative than one might think, provided you’re smart about it.

Depending on what’s going on in your part of the country, this could be the only gun and ammunition you can get right now. And they’re plenty potent enough to put down hostile personnel.

After all, cap and ball pistols were the only game in town until metallic cartridges first entered widespread use in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Credit: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

The Colt Walker revolver (which we’ll touch on momentarily) was capable of killing a man or a horse at 100 yards, and was known for great efficacy when used in the Texan/American/Mexican war. Wild Bill Hickok killed Davis Tutt at 75 yards with a Colt Navy revolver, which is even more amazing for reasons we’ll get into shortly.

However, there are some caveats and quids pro quo that go along with cap and ball revolvers. So, what do we know about black powder loads?

Bear in mind this is the Reader’s Digest version, and I’m skipping some details here. Feel free to expound in the comments.

Calibers

Black powder revolvers were made for a specific caliber of ball or conical projectile, with the cylinder length usually determining the maximum powder charge. Common calibers were .31, .36 and .44, though the projectiles were more like .323, .375 and .454 inches in diameter.

Small cap and ball revolvers, such as pocket models in .31 caliber, held a typical charge of 15 grains, the medium pistols in .36 caliber typically held about 20 grains and .44 caliber revolvers held anywhere from 40 to 60 grains, depending on the model.

The Colt Walker pistol held a 60-grain charge, but also had a habit of exploding when charged with the maximum load, which is why fully one-third of the original factory run of 1,000 pistols were sent back with ruptured cylinders.

Colt reproductions are the most common, with reproductions of Remington Model 1858 revolvers being available as well.

Remington 1858 pistols were produced in .31, .36 and .44 (see above) calibers. The Remington 1858 – by virtue of having a top strap – was known to be stronger than the Colt design and thus could tolerate stouter powder charges.

What do these loadings translate to in terms of velocity and energy?

Power

 

Bear in mind that the propellant used makes a huge amount of difference, just as it does with modern ammunition.

Projectiles available today for the Colt Walker are typically 110- to 143-grain swaged lead balls, as the Walker was not designed with conical projectiles in mind due to the design of the loading ram (the bullet must be seal the cylinder with the powder behind it) though Picket-style conical projectiles can be used with some modifications. According to our Colt Walker review, the author also used 170-grain Picket conicals that he cast himself.

His loadings averaged 1158 feet per second and 506 foot-pounds of energy for the Picket conicals using 60 grains of Goex 3F black powder. Speer swaged lead balls (143 grain .457″ diameter ball) averaged 1115 fps over 60 grains of Goex 3F (roughly 395 ft-lbs of energy) but 60 grains of Swiss 3F yielded 1278 fps and 508 ft-lbs of energy.

By contrast, that is slightly less powerful than modern loads of .357 Magnum, but more powerful than 9mm.

The Colt Dragoon has/had a maximum charge of 50 grains of powder. John Taffin, writing for Guns Magazine, tested a Colt Dragoon replica using 141-gr .454-caliber ball, and achieved the highest velocity he published of around 1050 fps with 45 grains of Pyrodex P, which translates to 345 ft-lbs of energy.

Not as impressive, but in the same neighborhood as a slightly hot 147-gr 9mm load.

A post on CivilWarGuns.com catalogs some .36 caliber loadings using a Model 1861 Navy with a 7.5-inch barrel. The highest velocity achieved was an average of 901 fps, using a .375-inch lead ball. Speer’s round ball of that caliber is 79 grains, which translates to 142 ft-lbs. In other words, less powerful than .380 ACP.

Remember when I said that Bill Hickok killing Davis Tutt at 75 yards was impressive?

Effectiveness

Is there any gel testing when it comes to black powder revolvers? Not much, but some.

Guns.com did a gel test of some black powder pistols and found they had some definite potential.

A .31-caliber ball of unpublished grain weight (and unpublished velocity) over 15 grains of FFFg powder penetrated 11 inches in 10 percent ballistic gelatin. A 130-grain Lee conical projectile, fired from a .36-caliber revolver and seated over 25 grains of same, penetrated 26 inches in gelatin leaving barely any wound cavity and retained 100 percent of its weight with the nose being flattened into a wadcutter-like shape.

They also tested a Colt Dragoon, using a 220-grain Lee conical bullet (.456 caliber) and loaded with 55 grains of powder, which is about the absolute limit of what you want to load in that pistol. The bullet penetrated 29 inches, producing a wound cavity in the first six inches and also retaining 100 percent of its weight.

No chronograph results were shown, but the author estimated 1000 fps for the Dragoon, which would translate to 489 ft-lbs. That would be in the same neighborhood as .45 ACP +P.

Granted, this is not the kind of ballistic performance that’s desirable for personal protection regarding handgun ammunition. But…the question is could you use a black powder revolver for self-defense if that is all you have?

You bet. They’ll poke serious holes in people, and that’s what modern guns do too.

Black powder revolver

Pietta replica Remington New Model Army 1858 revolver DarkSaturos90 / CC BY-SA

If you wanted a recommendation for one, I’d opt for a reproduction of the Remington 1858, such as those made by Pietta, Uberti or – if you can find one – the Ruger Old Army, Ruger’s 1858 clone.

I have two reasons for doing so. First, I think they look cool as heck. Two, the Remington can swap cylinders (a speedloader for when you’re marching though Georgia) and – and this is a big reason – the Remington can rest the hammer between cylinders, so you can load and carry all six.

That is IF you can’t find a cartridge revolver and cartridges, because I’d take one of the single action clones in .38 Special or .45 Colt every day of the week and twice on Sunday before I bought a cap and ball pistol for personal defense.

 

There are plenty of people right now who, depending on their circumstances, can’t get their hands on a cartridge firearm, ammunition or both. That can be either due to supply problems or regulatory restrictions.

The benefit of a black powder revolver is they are available and don’t require government permission. You don’t even have to go to a gun store if you want to avoid the crowds. You can have one shipped directly to your home (again, check your state’s laws).

There’s a lot to be aware of when it comes to owning and operating black powder revolvers (see the video above for the involved loading process), so reasons not to get one is a good topic for another post.

What do you think, though? Sound off in the comments.

comments

  1. avatar Jay still alive but who knows for how long in Florida says:

    Get out the Crisco and fill up that good old smoke pole you haven’t shot in 35 years.
    I know mines a bit cooked.

    1. avatar Art out West says:

      A homemade steel pipe shotgun probably makes more sense, provided you could scrounge up a few shells.

      The black powder gun might make sense for some people, in some circumstances.

      Frankly, an unarmed person should probably just grab whatever melee weapons they can get their hands on. Baseball bat, machete, sledge hammer, steel pipe, improvised spear (knife duct taped to a shovel handle), etc. Wasp spray maybe

      For basic home defense, that stuff and a bit of firm resolve will probably do. Next time around, buy a firearm before it is too late.

      More importantly, we must bow the knee and confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ, calling on Him to rescue us, while there is still time. Ultimately, He is all that matters. He alone is Lord, and He alone rescues.

  2. avatar Hasaf says:

    I would be hesitant to recommend a black powder revolver to a, “need a gun now,” person. It takes practice to be able to load a black powder revolver so that it is both reliable and does not chain fire.

    I like black powder revolvers and have several, I just question going from “never owned a gun” to loading a black powder revolver and trusting it, unfired, for home defence.

    1. avatar Old Guy in Montana says:

      +10…what he said !

    2. avatar Ron says:

      Eh. Back in the day, people learning how to use these things were beginners too. As I said below I don’t agree that it takes a specialist or someone with vast experience to learn how to use them.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Yeah, but I suspect that back in the day, only people who were interested ever tried, and then went through 50 rounds or so in the back yard before relying on it. Today, my guess is anyone with the slightest interest in a black powder arm already has several normal cartridge guns. With no interest and no respect, I can see a lot of danger.

        1. avatar Bloving says:

          I’m with Larry on this one.
          There is a simple reason we don’t use or recommend black powder revolvers for personal defense anymore: they are too complicated for a complete noob to load and use effectively without first taking the time to study and practice with them – and I can assure you, next to ZERO of the panic-buying first-timers who have come into my shop in the past two weeks is the type who would have that level of commitment.
          If someone didn’t have the presence of mind to protect themselves the easy way, prepare themselves and have a gun BEFORE this insanity began… I would have great reservations about them being mentally prepared to learn to do it the hard way.
          This is a bad idea.
          🤠

      2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        “Back in the day,” we didn’t have a feminized population that was dumbed down with all manner of wailing about safety regulation and liability lawsuits. You either got smart, or you got injured or dead.

        After WWII, we as a nation decided to allow stupid people to reproduce – and here we are, with people who can find a way to kill themselves with a Nerf bat, and then their next of kin will rush out to hire a late-night TV lawyer to sue someone.

        Black powder arms are an IQ test – which someone can fail – spectacularly.

        1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

          How long would you estimate a loaded BP revolver good for in a humid environment, like my little shit state, Florida?

          Days? Weeks?

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Days? Weeks?’

          Read where Hickock swapped out his ammo every day. But, who knows what is real and what is legend with him?

        3. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          I honestly have no idea – I’ve never lived anywhere so humid. I have absolutely zero experience with that level of humidity. I’ve lived in some “normally” humid locations, but nothing like Florida.

        4. avatar Sam I AM says:

          “I’ve lived in some “normally” humid locations, but nothing like Florida.”

          Attended a conference in Orlando one May. The hotel was about six long blocks from the venue. First morning, I decided to walk to the location. Started at 0730 for 0800 start time. Arriving at the front entrance, dripping with sweat, I looked down and noticed the razor sharp Obama style crease in my suit slacks was completely gone. Three days of that, and never regretted not being in Florida again.

        5. avatar Defens says:

          Since black powder is hygroscopic, I”m guessing that even a stainless steel percussion revolver would be subject to a lot of corrosion, even unfired, unless you kept it scrupulously clean. That’s even assuming the powder and cap would remain viable for longer than a couple of days.

    3. avatar arc says:

      Kids figured it out almost 200 years ago, now the weapons come with user manuals and theres always full30 for instructionals.

      1. avatar Big Bill says:

        Well, to be fair, the kids had a lot of adults around to give instructions.

    4. avatar The Pontificator says:

      Just a few days ago I saw a confused consumer looking at what few cans of smokeless pistol and rifle powder were on the shelf at local hardware store. Since there were no store employees in sight I tried to help the guy as to what he was trying to do.

      “I need powder for a 44 Navy gun.” I explained to him that the powders he was eyeing were not for black powder guns he got confused and a little defensive. I again tried to explain to him that the store did not sell the items he was looking to purchase and good luck.

  3. avatar Cucamonga Jeff says:

    Unbelievably bad advice. Black power guns are not for the novice gun buyer. Too easy to make a mistake when loading and either blow your face off or have a click with no boom. There is a reason these things went out of fashion.

    1. You are incorrect. Because if you have the right equipment it is almost impossible to make a mistake. So in fact it is your advice that is incredibly bad. As I’ve taught numerous first time shooters, mostly female, with black powder weapons. And almost all of them fell in love with shooting black powder.

      1. avatar Defens says:

        David,
        Although with proper equipment and reasonable training, I agree that black powder is fun and straightforward. However, I’d have to disagree that a cap and ball revolver is a good choice for a never-before-owned-a-gun person, with no viable source of real training and no idea of the procedures involved. Sure, you might find a decent YouTube video, but as likely as not you’ll find disinformation there.

        For the first time gun buyer in panic mode – one who might be lucky enough to figure out how to load a mag on his or her own, I have to agree that a percussion gun is an incredibly poor choice – likely worse than no gun at all.

        For someone who is savvy and mechanically minded, sure, if you’re between pistols buy a Remington replica and have at it.

        1. Defens

          Gee, I wonder how so many of our relatives ever happened to survive through the 1800’s. . . .

      2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

        it’s when they fall in love with shooting white powder that the problems start.

      3. avatar Defens says:

        Simple. It’s because they didn’t buy a gun from Cabela’s off the internet, have it delivered by UPS, and try to figure it out on their own. They came from a culture where they learned to shoot at an early age and had hands-on, guided experience.

        Give the amount of personal hand-holding that a new shooter these days needs, with a modern firearm, the notion that the average urban semi-liberal, with no prior experience with firearms, is going to be able to safely figure out a black powder gun on their own is silly and potentially dangerous.

        You state you’ve taught tons of black powder shooters. That’s admirable! Do you just point them at a table with the gun, powder, caps, wads, and grease and say, “There you go – load it up!” Or do you walk them through the process?

        Unrelated question – is your screen name just an alias, or did you really write for Outside and other journals? If so, I’ve been a fan for a long time.

        1. Defens –

          Taught myself when I was in my early teens. And there are quite a few others that I personally know that have done the same. There are quite a few books and videos available to instruct those that are interested. And it seems that you assume that a lot of people are just complete idiots. Rather than realizing that there are a very large many that know what they are doing, in addition to knowing how to instruct others as well. Presumption never helps anyone, rather it just drives others away.

          And no, the author is just a relative of mine.

    2. avatar Ron says:

      I don’t agree. I think it is good advice. Following the proper procedure for maintaining and loading them is certainly capable by people today. In the days these firearms were used, the vast majority of the population was uneducated and many were illiterate. It doesn’t take a specialist to use these weapons. Anyone who can read and follow directions can use them as effectively as someone in the past could. Which although far from ideal, is better then being unarmed. Six rounds is better then none, and is still better then any bow or any spray. And the intimidation factor from a black powder muzzle blast would be quite effective.

      1. avatar Big Bill says:

        I think you’re right. In this day and age, when YouTube is available, people today should be able to master black powder arms easily.
        But then, I watch YouTube videos about car crashes, and I think to myself: “You’d think with all the vids about how to drive, along with in-school instruction, and the need to renew your license every once in a while, people would know how to drive. But they demonstrate the fact that they don’t all the time.”
        Then add in the really stupid things people do (eating Tide pods, licking ice cream in stores, licking toilet seats, etc), and a reasoning person would come to the conclusion that loading a black powder firearm really is beyond the ken of the normal person, UNLESS that person has some pretty decent instruction. Given the propensity of people to actually eat Tide pods, it becomes evident that, in fact, far too many people are not capable of understanding that eating detergent is bad, much less loading said firearm.
        it doesn’t help that there are people who are saying that it’s easy.
        Can some people do it right? Obviously.
        Can everyone drive safely? Obviously not.
        There’s a lesson there.

        1. avatar Old Guy in Montana says:

          Hope you don’t mind if I saved a copy of your excellent comment for future use. Much better than I could have written it.

      2. avatar Defens says:

        Just a quick point – uneducated and illiterate doesn’t mean a person isn’t fully capable of learning and applying complex tasks. I’d wager that a grade-school-educated guy like my Dad, who taught himself gunsmithing, is a far better candidate to take on any number of complex engineering or construction tasks than just about any recent Ph.D. grad in political science. Just sayin”

  4. The black powder .44 is an excellent home defense weapon and will stop someone dead in their tracks. All one has to do is consider the number of Civil War veterans that lost their arms and legs. Because when that ball hits bone it flattens big time and causes a hell of a lot of damage.

    1. avatar Hannibal says:

      Civil war soldiers losing limbs had little to do with the efficacy of the ammunition at the time and a lot more to do with the state of battlefield medicine.

      1. Negative, it had EVERYTHING to do with the efficacy of the ammunition:

        Wounds inflicted by the conical Minié ball were different from those caused by the round balls from smoothbore muskets, since the conical ball had a higher muzzle velocity and greater mass, and easily penetrated the human body. Round balls tended to remain lodged in the flesh, and they were often observed to take a winding path through the body. Flexed muscles and tendons, as well as bone, could cause the round ball to deviate from a straight path. The Minié ball tended to cut a straight path and usually went all the way through the injured part; the ball seldom remained lodged in the body. If a Minié ball struck a bone, it usually caused the bone to shatter. The damage to bones and resulting compound fractures were usually severe enough to necessitate amputation. A hit on a major blood vessel could also have serious and often lethal consequences.

  5. avatar possum says:

    . A .36 is pretty impressive in ballistic gel. The prices have certainly increased over the years. In my opinion Uberti makes the best, BTW before the .357 came along the Walker was the most powerful revolver in America

    1. Yes indeed, the .36 was one of the most accurate revolvers I’ve ever had. Although I prefer the .44 for knock-down power.

  6. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    better than nuttin’.
    the .31 will front pocket.
    if i ever find a stainless ruger under 5hondo i’ll grab it.

  7. avatar Thomas J. Morris III says:

    Not good advice legally for NJ. The same as a Sig 220 or S&W 686 as far as NJ is concerned. NJ makes no distinction. Even a pellet rifle must go through NICS the same as a 30-06.

    1. avatar Doug says:

      Are hand cannons legal in NJ. Piece of pipe capped on one end with a touchhole down near the end. Black powder, and whatever you want for a projectile. A little slow and a lot dangerous, but these aren ‘t normal times.

  8. avatar jwm says:

    Don’t forget muzzle loading shotguns. They are not regulated as to how long they can be. Cut a 12 ga. down to pistol size and it is still legal.

    1. avatar MouseGun says:

      Front stuffer scatter guns are cool as hell, but they cost so much New you could probably get two new mossy 500s for the same price.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I currently have 3 mossy pumps in my safe that i bought new. Probably cheaper for all 3 than a serviceable muzzle loading double gun.

        But in this exact set of circumstances where gun shops are being closed and back ground checks cannot be done a person may have to get a BP firearm or do without.

        Or look into a PCP air rifle. They are also very expensive. But they are, in most places, not a firearm and can be mail ordered in like a BP firearm.

  9. avatar MiniMe says:

    These last-minute-panic gun buyers are in this situation because deep inside they’re anti-2A bigots, but reality beotch-slapped them in the face… *hard*, so they are being hypocrites and rushing out to get a gun now.
    They don’t even know how to use a gun safely, what type to get or what caliber to use. They couldn’t be bothered to learn ‘cuz guns = icky, but you think they’ll learn how to safely fire a black powder gun in a panic?

    I must say that is seriously doubtful.

    1. avatar Possum says:

      For humans like that my advice is a hair trigger Glock with the front of the trigger guard removed. Speed kills

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “For humans like that my advice is a hair trigger Glock with the front of the trigger guard removed.”

        It’s possible to make a trigger from possum hair?

        1. avatar jwm says:

          Is fur considered hair?

          And yes, speed does kill. Ask any possum flattened and baking in the sun on a high way.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Is fur considered hair?”

          Wellll, that’s a fair question.

        3. avatar Arc says:

          Fur and hair are usually separate things. Guide hairs vs fur, one holds better form than the other.

          *fluffs out*

        4. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Fur and hair are usually separate things. Guide hairs vs fur, one holds better form than the other.”

          Wonder if Possum knows that, I mean about a “hair trigger”?

        5. avatar Defens says:

          I don’t believe so. Only rabbit fur. The descriptive term for a light trigger pull is actually a corrupted form of “hare trigger.”

        6. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “I don’t believe so. Only rabbit fur. The descriptive term for a light trigger pull is actually a corrupted form of “hare trigger.” ”

          Possum hair, rabit fur….maybe I should have used a better descriptor, like “hairy” trigger.

  10. avatar Fred says:

    I love “Cap and Ball” Black Powder revolvers. As mentioned, they require more training than modern firearms, and I would not recommend them for first time buyers, unless they had access to someone ale and willing to train them, and a place to practice. They are quite lethal.

    There are states, notably New Jersey, where they are treated no differently than any other handgun; you need a Firearms ID card, and a Pistol Purchase permit in order to purchase one from an FFL, and NO, it cannot be shipped to your door. not even if it’s a Flintlock! Just sayin’.

    A quick look at any of the websites that sell them will reveal a list of jurisdictions like that…

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      If you buy bP guns in PA or DE you won’t be asked for id.

      Just sayin’

  11. avatar CTstooge says:

    “Shoots like lightnin’ but it loads a might slow…”

    1. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      Get you into trouble but she can’t get you out

  12. avatar Sam I Am says:

    I’m thinking if a black powder revolver (even the cartridge type) is used for defense indoors, all the smoke detectors will go off (a distraction to be sure), and it will be several seconds before you see the attacker again (either upright and threatening, or taking the dirt nap).

  13. avatar I Haz A Question says:

    I was going to build a Hawken rifle this summer from one of the nicer DIY kits, but held off so I could focus on something else that needed attention. I may revisit the idea later this year if we’re well past the whole COVID-19 issue.

  14. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    fyi
    One of my favorite channels.

    “American Convicted Felon Everyday Carry (EDC)”

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      …except black powder is also prohibited for felons here in CA, unfortunately.

  15. avatar Jim from LI says:

    Cap and ball revolvers are undeniably the last option for armed self defense, but are far from being utterly inconceivable. A few points:

    – Although in the eyes of BATF they don’t qualify as “firearms”, local laws vary widely. In NY they are legal to possess UNTIL you have assembled the components required to make them fireable; they must then be registered like any other handgun. YMMV.

    – Forget everything you ever learned about keeping your guns oiled. Petroleum products will ruin black powder and caps. Use commercial black powder lube or raid the Crisco in the pantry. When you receive your Italian replica from the FedEx man, disassemble and thoroughly remove all traces of the oil it was apparently dunked in before shipping.

    – Forego authenticity. Genuine black powder is tricky to work with. Smokeless powder is a propellant, BP is an explosive. Use a BP substitute, such as Pyrodex or Triple Seven. For a new shooter, stick with a .44 caliber pistol and use the Pyrodex pellets. They’re premeasured and make loading simple.

    – Percussion caps are about as sensitive to moisture as cartridge primers, but they don’t seal as tightly on the nipples as a primer in a case. If the gun is being stored for home defense, some clear nail polish applied to the joint around the base of the nipple (yes, I said it again) helps seal the chamber from humidity.

    – In keeping with what I mentioned above, when it’s time to clean the gun, keep the Hoppes #9 on the shelf. Clean with hot soapy water, a dedicated BP cleaner, or another water based product like Simple Green.

    – I concur with Sam’s advice; a replica ‘58 Remington is an excellent first BP gun. It’s an all around much better design than the Colts of their time, and the most similar to a modern revolver. Spend the extra for a steel frame model if you can, they hold up better than the brass jobs.

    – These guns have the same safety flaw as the single action army, their hammers will all rest on the percussion cap “primer”. There are no hammer blocks or transfer bars. Although the Remington has generous safety notches between each chamber, it’s far safer to use the “cowboy load” and keep the hammer down on an empty chamber.

    So they’re nobody’s home defense weapon of choice, but they’re much more effective than charging a home invader with a baseball bat.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      All of my Colt replicas have a spot between the cylinders to rest the hammer, with a little nub that fits in the slot of the hammer itself. Or you can leave them on the loading half cock that locks the hammer in place.

      1. avatar Jim from LI says:

        They do, but those safety pins are so small that it doesn’t take much to bump the cylinder away from one. I would never put my faith in them for an extended period. Even Colt didn’t think enough of them to carry them over to the SAA. Compare them to the deep notches on a Remington cylinder. And if the hammer notches on replicas were durable enough to serve as safeties, replacement parts wouldn’t be as widely sold.

    2. avatar Cloudbuster says:

      I’ve never had any more trouble using actual black powder than I have pyrodex or other substitutes.

      1. avatar Jim K says:

        It’s one thing if you’re a highly experienced black powder shooter. But to recommend that a total novice undertake a highly complex sequence of steps to defend themselves… I’d feel responsible if any of a GO-ZILLION number of problems got someone killed. Examples:

        1. Accidental double charge (or more) of powder
        2. Improper sequence of powder, patch and ball
        3. Failure to properly seal cylinder results in chain ignition on an 1860 style SA.
        4. What about wet powder in a real situation?
        5. What about either bad caps or the myriad of problems presented by a Flintlock?
        The more I think about this the more inclined I’d be to recommend Bear Spray! There’s ton of alternatives in this crisis to black powder. Then when the crisis passes several things must be done. Vote progun politics is most important then join NRA and buy a proper firearm and get TRAINED. Then practice! Join IDPA and practice a lot.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          I did not see that the article discussed only loose black powder. Seem to remember a note about black powder cartridge firearms (rim fire?) as well. Those would be my choice, if I actually had a choice.

        2. avatar Cloudbuster says:

          You’re missing the point of my post.

        3. avatar Someone says:

          Sam, it mixed both. To the point where I thought that the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
          “Specifically, the cap and ball variety. We’re talking about the cowboy action guns, meaning those chambered in .38 Special, .44-40, .44 Special and light .45 Colt.”

  16. avatar Ogre says:

    Cap-and-ball revolvers were designed to be man-stoppers/killers – see the American Civil War for evidence. They were also used in the Wild West until cartridge revolvers were commonly available. I’d have no hesitation using a percussion revolver if nothing else was available. In my experience, percussion revolvers are impossible to overload, if enough room is left in each chamber to seat the projectile (ball or bullet). The projectiles are dead-soft lead, so even a .31 cal revolver is going to pack some punch, and .36 and .44 revolvers are in the man-killer class (evidence: Wild Bill Hickok, who loved his .36 Colts, and John Wesley Hardin, who preferred .44 Colts in his early days). A little equipment is required – powder flask with a measuring spout, a capper, a disassembly wedge (for Colts and their clones), and either Crisco or treated felt wads to prevent chainfire. If one is a newbie on percussion revolvers, chainfire is the worst risk they’ll face, but a little instruction will take care of that. Many of the replicas today are of so-called “pocket revolvers”, or full-size revolvers with short barrels. These, especially the latter, are capable of being carried concealed IWB (with expanded-waist trousers), or open carried in a proper holster. Or you can just stick the revolver in your waistband. One just has to realize that after one has fired the fifth or sixth shot, that’s it – unless one is carrying multiple revolvers (as gunmen did in the old days) for a New York reload (unless one has a Remington replica with multiple loaded cylinders). Hunkering down to reload can take 5-10 minutes and leaves one vulnerable – so one should make his five or six shots count in a self-defense situation. And then there is the smoke generated by each discharge. Replica percussion revolvers cost about $300 or $400, but as stated, no background check and delivery to your door. I’d avoid getting a revolver with a brass frame – they shoot loose over time with full charges of powder – get a steel-frame gun only. Getting percussion caps should pose no problems, but getting black powder (or a black powder substitute, like Pyrodex) might pose problems until one finds a distributor. Federal law allows private individuals to possess up to 50 pounds of black powder without a home magazine – there is no limit as to how much Pyrodex or other replica powders one can possess. When I started shooting black powder, it cost about $5/lb – today it’s considerably more costly. Anyway, something to think about. A percussion revolver would not be my first choice for a self-defense handgun, but it is a viable one.

  17. avatar MouseGun says:

    story time;
    I was raised on Clint Eastwood westerns, and for as long as a remembered, I wanted a “cowboy pistol”. Now, I’ve been shooting guns since I was five, but my father was hesitant to let me have a handgun. Then, one day when I was about 10 or 11, my dad gave my a reproduction Remington New Army. I was elated! It was the gun from Pale Rider! I finally had my very own cowboy pistol! (And my dad was put at ease because he knew I didn’t know how to load it)
    Fast forward a few years, he shows me how to load, fire, and clean it. I remember cashing a bucket of quarters to be able to afford caps, balls, powder, and I even had enough for a holster. Needless to say, after that, I carried that pistol with every time I went in the woods, and my a critter fell to personal Big Iron.
    Fast Forward a few more years to high school, I used my earnings from an after school job to buy a conversion cylinder, and even though you can only fire “cowboy” loads out of it, it got the job done when it was needed, and to this day I still carry that very pistol with me when I’m camping or out in the woods.
    So, what’s the purpose of this rant? Easy; yes, C&B six guns are finicky, and as others have stated, I wouldn’t give one to someone who didn’t know anything about guns, but if you know what you’re doing, they can, and will, get the job done.

  18. avatar MouseGun says:

    No mention of conversion cylinders? For shame.

    1. avatar John Bryan says:

      For those living under an oppressive leftist statist government conversion cylinders are firearms so the same restrictions apply. And unless you are very lucky your conversion cylinder isn’t going to be a drop-in affair – it’ll probably need some fitting done by someone who knows what they’re doing.

      1. avatar MouseGun says:

        Guess I got lucky. I have two and neither gave my problems with installation.

        1. avatar John Bryan says:

          Mousegun, which cylinder conversion do you have? I’ve been thinking about trying one too – I have a partially finished kit that would be a good candidate for a .38 caliber conversion.

        2. avatar MouseGun says:

          I have one for a Uberti New Army, and one for a Ruger Old Army, both from Taylor and Co.

        3. avatar Chris T in KY says:

          Thanks for the Information!!! I had not heard of conversion cylinders before. Very interesting. I can see a black powder handgun in my future.
          (smile)

          Cartridge Conversion Cylinders video 19 minutes long very detailed.

  19. avatar Defens says:

    If you don’t have a gun and find yourself with a craving for home defense now, how about the notion of a crossbow, rather than a black powder arm? Crossbows are regulated as well in some jurisdictions, but are arguably faster to load and create a wicked wound. Of course, you then have some likely-infected perp bleeding all over your living room carpet, which must be addressed.

    1. avatar Ron says:

      A modernized version of that Chinese lever action crossbow would be cool.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      I’m thinking a BP .45 night cause some bleeding on your carpet, too!

    3. avatar miforest says:

      bought one of these 40 yrs ago for 29.95 at meijers thrifty acres. brass frame. replaced the front sight with a screw and fled it flat to get it to POA . had a hoot with it . serious fun. lot of work to clean . with 25 or 30 gr of fffg , lots of smack. it is worlds away better than a crossbow,knife or bat. these were used to kill tens of thousands of men in the civil war . do not discount them ,

  20. avatar Douglas Pratt says:

    I have enjoyed making lots of noise and smoke with a Ruger Old Army for years, and the thing is surprisingly accurate. Not so much my little Pocket Remington 31…still lots of fun but I’m not sure I could hit anything with it.

    I have an awful feeling that NY State has the same restrictions on cap and ball that they have on modern handguns. Idiots. In general, laws have nothing to do with logic.

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “I have an awful feeling that NY State has the same restrictions on cap and ball that they have on modern handguns.”

      In our area, a firearm is any device, or thing, that can launch a projectile. Don’t have confirmation, but I have long wondered if using a spoon to throw mashed potato at some one would be considered assault with a deadly weapon.

      Yeah, slingshots are firearms.

      1. avatar Herb Allen says:

        Piping-hot mashed potatoes flung at the human face can cause burns or even blindness, so yes, that should be regulated as a weapon. New York is sooooo progressive!

        ;^)

    2. avatar Hannibal says:

      Correct… kinda. Apparently you can own one in your home without regulation but it becomes illegal the moment you intend to fire it. That can mean even having the supplies to load it.

  21. avatar Possum says:

    For a time my only firegunm was a bp .36 navy. I found crisco is not good for long term storage. Using pyrodex a felt wad with parafin on top and on the cap it was fine. As a test I submerged it under water approximating about the time one would fall in and get out. It always worked.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      I used wads, but over time they saturated the powder. The other alternative is using corn meal over the charge, which also allow you to get the ball much closer to the end of the cylinder, increasing accuracy.

      1. avatar Possum says:

        I put the wads on top of the ball,

  22. avatar former water walker says:

    Thanks for the lesson. Glad I don’t have to rely on civil war technology. I AM interested in a hunting crossbow😏

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “Glad I don’t have to rely on civil war technology. I AM interested in a hunting crossbow.”

      And rely on even older technology (all tricked-out with modern gizmos)?

      1. avatar former water walker says:

        I doubt my crossbow would explode silly Sam. Not much of a learning curve either. Besides I have an AR15 ya know?😃

      2. avatar Defens says:

        Although I’m the one that brought up crossbows, I’m now rethinking my position. Anyone for a Tactical Atlatl?

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Anyone for a Tactical Atlatl?”

          Now, that is one cool weapon. It would be fun learning how to use it.

  23. avatar ROBERT POWELL says:

    a good number of years ago guns and ammo did a special on short firearms, the blunderbuss was voted the most destructive weapon ever devised for close-in protection. fifty grains of singleF black and a small handful of spent twenty two hulls would shread a five gallon can at fifty feet

  24. avatar Dave says:

    If you can still find this stuff online, purchase a military surplus 26.5 mm flare gun. Then find a sub-caliber insert in .45/.410 or .38 special. There are even people selling 3d printed sights you can put on them.
    It’s just a single shot, but if my only choice was between that and a black powder and percussion situation, that’s what I would do.

    1. avatar Dave says:

      Be advised, there are something like 12 or 13 states that consider the sub-caliber insert in to a flare gun illegal.

      1. avatar Dave says:

        I checked on it. The cost of a surplus flare gun and the insert that lets you shoot 45 Colt or 410 out of it would currently come to something like $180, including the shipping.

    2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

      the flare is devastating.
      and it cauterizes on it’s way through.

      1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

        “and it cauterizes on it’s way through.”

        So is one slip when working on a 35Kv powerline, I’ve heard… 😉

        1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

          it is one time you do not want ~hand to hand~.

  25. avatar enuf says:

    Just checked the Bass Pro and Cabelas within a one hour drive. All black powder revolvers are out of stock both in store and online (meaning none in warehouse). Most rifles and muskets are in the same fix. Some long guns show limited stock in store.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      There are innumerable on line sights that sell them and will ship to your house, including the famous Dixie Gun Works, and Traditions. Shop around for the best prices. You can usually find them on the gun buyer outlets like GunBroker and GunsAmerica.

      1. avatar enuf says:

        Oh yes, I know. Just thinking for most first-timer newbies they are going to check the big box places. Which may mean this is already a thing, if those two big consumer outdoorsy sporting goods outlets have no warehouse stock.

  26. avatar Mark N. says:

    .45 Colt cartridge pistols are NOT legal to ship to your door. Per the Federal regulation, any firearm that can fire modern and readily available ammunition can be sold only through an FFL (or private sale in the states that permit it), even if the particular handgun, e.g. an original Colt 1873 BP, will not be sold by an FFL except with a BGC, and will not be shipped to your door.
    The max powder loads are misleading. Mos shooters find that a lesser charge gives better accuracy. For example the .36 Colt Navy will hold 25 grains of BP or substitute, but paper cartridges of the era usually varied between 12 and 17 grains, and modern shooters generally only load to 20. The same is true for the .44 colts. Designed to hold 35 grains, Army regs of the era had loads of 30 grains, and from what I have read, shooters today vary between 28 and 30.
    I have a Pietta 1860 Army in .44 cal that, because of differences on how the cylinder is bored, will actually hold 45 grains. Originally, the .44 was built on the 1860 Navy frame (to save time and money) and the frame and mechanicals are unchanged, because of which it has a stepped cylinder that retains the diameter of the .36 Navy at the base the nipple end, (where the hand interacts with the cylinder), the bore was stepped as well, .44 to the end of the large portion of the cylinder, and .36 the remainder of the way to the bottom.

  27. avatar Robert Lee Kirschner says:

    First pistol? 1981,18 year’s old. Ruger old army. SS. Has a one off,Winchester 1892 style aluminum/brass shoulder stock my late brother designed/made. Took a doe with it black powder season
    Love that gun. Been year’s, but this makes me plan on making smoke with it, soon as MILITIAGAN warms up. 40grains ffg,round lead ball? Wouldn’t stand in front of it. But then? I’m a fool. I routinely carry a Beretta Tomcat or model 81 in 7.65mm 32acp. Hot summer day? Beats leaving Ruger 1911 at home. Bang on people.

  28. avatar Nate in CA says:

    Do I agree with the sentiment of the article? Yes.
    Do I believe cap-n-ball can be effective? Yes.
    Do I want a bunch of mouth breathing, wife-beater, glue-sniffing, slack jawed yokels giving my beloved percussion doo-dads a bad name and/or negative publicity? Please NO!

  29. avatar Psycho Bob says:

    Also? I want a cowboy. 45colt cylinder. ALWAYS, dry fire a cap,before loading first session. Paper clip,visually clear nipples. Use lubricating “wonder wad”over powder. Let er rip. Less messy than grease. Back then freinds always complained. Hurry up,the Indians are charging. But they had to set up my steel plate chickens (6) while I reloaded.

  30. avatar Buff cousin Elroy says:

    I wouldnt want to get shot with one

  31. avatar conrad says:

    Light somebody up with a black powder revolver and I’ll guarantee you a spot on the news.

  32. avatar Dog of War says:

    Well any gun beats no gun. :p

    And you know… I always wanted one of those reproductions of the LeMat revolver. Thous things were just rad… a revolver and a one shot shotgun in one weapon. 😀

    1. avatar Possum says:

      Me too, I’d also like to have one of them gunm knife pistils the pirates used

  33. avatar Jim Kononoff says:

    Black Powder for self defense? What’s the very worst sound you could ever hear? A “click” when you expect a BANG. Every black powder shooter has experienced ignition failures. In competition that’s not a problem. But when it’s life and death? I’ve been an NRA Instructor for 31 years and under these circumstances I’m not sure I’d be comfortable recommending that firearm novices be using primitive firearms that are not only extremely complex in the load and fire sequence but difficult to fire with the accuracy needed to stay alive.

  34. avatar TickTalk says:

    A friend of mine had a number of his bp guns stolen.. a few were recovered when the moron ended up in the hospital.. he tried to load a 45 acp cartrige into a new army by hammering it into the cylinder from the front.. of course. It doesn’t fit, so he pulled the nipple and used a small screwdriver and hammer from rear to try to get the cartrige back out.. I was disappointed he didn’t even lose a finger.
    You know that some of the people buying BP now are the same ones who try to put diesel in gas car because it is cheaper…

  35. avatar Raymond Morgan says:

    I’ve shot cap ‘n ball revolvers for close to 50 years. After my first day at the range with one, my basic reaction was “thank heavens for cartridge firrarms!” Still enjoy shoot them, but I would be hard pressed to rely on one of I had any other option that used self-contained cartridges, even a cartridge conversation of a .31 Colt.

    For a total firearms novice, a machete or ax would probably be a much better choice.

    Defensive use of a BP revolver really hinges on the caps. Original Colts, Remingtons, etc. were made with very carefully sized and shaped nipples that (usually) matched a no.11 cap. Modern reproductions seem to be a bit more haphazard. A “lost cap” can be a big impediment to effective shooting. A dab of nail polish can help a lot, but the build-up can create problems with reloading. On guns i shoot often i just spend a few dollars and buy first-class replacement nipples.

    On a couple of my guns the only way I can get the caps to stay on is to use no. 10s. The problem here is that these too small caps significantly increase the chance of dropping a spent cap into the action. Again, not something that aids combat effectiveness. An easy fix for this is to point the muzzle straight up before recocking the hammer. Not anything like a 100% solution, but a good habit to get into even if using good nipples and proper size caps.

  36. avatar Chris says:

    Hell just get a hand held blunderbuss. And you can fill it with anything you have on hand. Nails tacks glass cut up silverware sand etc. Even gravel.

  37. avatar neiowa says:

    More info about “cowboy action powder — smokeless powders engineered to produce lower pressures than standard smokeless propellants” please?

    I have a Uberti 1858 Army. The extra cylinders don’t interchange. Never got around to figuring out the problem.

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