By Terril J. Hebert
I often get a chuckle when someone points out the “dirtiness” of some range ammunition over others. No matter how much you shoot at the range with “dirty” ammo, you will never get close to the level of filth of black powder shooting. Especially when the pace is increased with percussion revolvers.
Black powder revolvers are a literal blast to shoot. The loud coughs of gray smoke spewing out of octagonal barrels, the sound ringing in the trees, and a thumb-sized hole in the target visible once the smoke clears. But once you pack up to go home, the fun is over. It is cleaning time.
Some loathe cleaning, others think of it as therapy. Those unfamiliar will avoid black powder just to avoid the gruesome aspect of cleaning, though the actual task is less intensive than one might expect. But there is still more involved than spraying on your favorite oil and calling it good.
Black powder and some substitutes contain sulfur and the burned salts left over, given enough time and humidity, can rust a gun to the point of being unsafe to use. It does not help that the guns are usually made of carbon steel with a high polished blued finish. Bluing is the traditional choice on percussion revolvers. It is gorgeous to look at and it has a good amount of resistance to rust and corrosion, but even the best bluing wears and the gun will need to be re-blued. Even the best care won’t prevent that.
In recent years, a few models have been offered in an all-stainless-steel construction. These models represent the ultimate in low-maintenance black powder, but they’re still not perfect. Depending on the metal’s composure and any damage it incurs, stainless steel can indeed stain. Not to mention the clear culture shock from the fact that the old timers never had stainless steel.
Recently, I ran into an offering produced for Taylor’s & Company that seemed to promise a bridge between tradition and the rust resistance we have come to expect as modern shooters. They’re offering a Remington New Model Army revolver in their “black rock” finish—a nitride finished black powder revolver. I took the plunge and several days on when I opened the generic Uberti cardboard box I was greeted by a very subdued revolver. If there ever was a word to describe the Black Rock, that word is subdued.
The Black Rock, at its heart, is a Uberti-produced Remington New Model Army revolver.
The solid all-steel receiver and the sights—consisting of a trench rear and a drift-adjustable front post—are recognizable and familiar to modern eyes. Those features stand in stark contrast with the eight-inch octagonal barrel and the six-shot un-fluted cylinder. The grip frame is all steel except for the brass trigger guard. The walnut grips are well contoured, but stained in that ugly Uberti red I never cared for. We can’t forget that distinctive webbed Beals patent loading lever that rides underneath the barrel.
As with most Uberti pistols, information on the maker and caliber is discreetly hidden under the loading lever while the necessary proof marks are sitting small on the frame.
Operationally, the Black Rock is a .44 caliber single action handgun requiring that the hammer be cocked for every shot fired with the hammer being afforded a half-cock notch for loading and disassembly. The gun can be safely carried with all six rounds loaded thanks to milled slots that serve to contain the hammer between loaded chambers.
Instead of the usual high polished blue, the Black Rock wears a nitride finish. This style of finish, first pioneered by GLOCK with their “Tenifer” finish in the 1980s, is made to resist rust and corrosion on a level that bluing can’t. The finish on the Black Rock is certainly duller and it the metal parts have a certain texture to them. The gun has a subdued blue-black finish that surprised me when I worked the action.
The pistol had no oil at all on any of the moving parts and I could hear the squeak of the cylinder pin as I worked the pistol, yet the gun worked slickly as if it had been oiled. After a bit of cleaning and lubrication, I was ready to hit the range to see how nitride would stand up to a gun that truly shoots dirty.
The Black Rock has the distinction of being the test bed for several velocity experiments, so it was made to eat a variety of powder and bullet combinations. The two primary projectiles used were Speer .457 inch diameter 147 grain round balls and home-cast Lee 220 grain conical bullets. I used my standard Graf & Sons FFFg black powder along with Pyrodex P and Triple 7 in my testing. For fire, I used my standby Remington No. 10 percussion caps. For lubrication, Crisco was the choice.
Although I’m a big fan of using paper cartridges, I mostly shot the Black Rock with loose components. The first step of loading is making sure we have a clear gun. This involves putting the hammer to its half-cock position and putting percussion caps on each nipple. Firing with caps alone will clear out any oil left over from storage and ready to gun for sure-fire results.
With that done, put the hammer to half-cock and drop a premeasured amount of powder down each chamber, following the powder with your bullet of choice before rotating the bullet under the loading lever and forcing the projectile into the chamber with the lever’s arm. Rotate and repeat the process until you are fully loaded.
I found the .44 caliber chambers easy to hit with loose powder and bullet. With a round ball, the cylinder has a capacity of over forty grains of powder but you will need to back off the charge when using the longer conical bullets.
The balls were easy to drop onto a chamber and seat, but the .450 inch conicals were easily started into the chamber mouth with a thumb before being pushed home. I made sure to put my Crisco lubricant over each chamber mouth when using those undersized conicals, but you will get much more shooting done with lubricant or wads which keep black powder residue soft.
It can be a little tricky getting those small No. 10 percussion caps onto each nipple, which is the last step of loading. The slot where the back of the cylinder can be accessed is too small for a capper—which I never use anyway. But working my meaty hands in that small space can be a bit of a challenge. With all that done, you can lower the hammer onto an empty chamber or between chambers on one of the safety slots.
On The Range
If there ever was a revolver that would benefit from a nitride finish, it’s the “1858” Remington design. The enclosed solid frame traps black powder fouling and on some guns, I can only go about eighteen rounds before the pistol becomes harder and harder to cock and manipulate.
After thirty, the gun will usually need to be taken down and the inside of the frame wiped off before the dirty business can continue. I tested the Black Rock for a solid month firing about two hundred rounds with no cleaning.
For the sake of full disclosure, I did smear Crisco on the cylinder pin on three occasions, however this is very little lubrication given the time, the number of rounds fired, and the neglect I ultimately put the pistol through. It’s worth noting that finishes like nitride and Cerakote add some inherent lubricity so even if bone dry, the pistol will still work for a little while.
I shot the Black Rock at the distances of ten and twenty-five yards. The gun points naturally, making one-handed offhand shooting easy with the longer eight-inch barrel balancing things out. The sights seemed to align organically, and the front sight was thin enough to take a fine bead on small bullseye targets while still being easy to pick up.
The grip fills the hand well, though it may be a little much for those with small-sized hands to keep a firing grip and cock the hammer, which is a little further forward compared to a Colt design.
Recoil is tame with the Black Rock, given that the pistol weighs over 2.5 pounds and you can tinker with your loads. The lowest powder charge was twenty grains and the bullets seated quite deep in the chambers. The gun barely jumped at all. Maximum loads of with a round ball over forty grains or a conical bullet over 35 grains produced much more recoil and blast, but nothing snappy.
A .457-inch round ball over twenty grains of powder, regardless of powder type, proved to be the most accurate loading for me, though the heavier charges weren’t too far off the mark. At ten yards shooting offhand with one paw, I could predictably peck a four-inch bullseye.
Taking as much of myself out the equation, I managed to get consistent 2.2-inch groups at twenty-five yards off the bench. The sights helped, as did the trigger pull which breaks at just over five pounds with no take-up.
The Black Rock was fun to shoot and it’s always encouraging when you can hit what you are aiming at, too. Through the test, it powered through black powder fouling without cleaning or rust issues. That doesn’t mean shooting was always perfect.
There is a downside to every pistol, and the Black Rock is no exception. I’m not talking about nit-picking details like the stain on the wood grips or the scratches that eventually came on the nitride finish. The grips are passable in presentation and no scratches got to the bare metal, unlike the blued guns it shared a range bag with. The gun and the finish are tough, but there are some observations.
I noticed while shooting loads higher than thirty grains that the spent caps would blow back against the recoil shield. This binds the action somewhat, but every time this occurs, a determined cock of the hammer cleared it and I was onto the next round without any real delay. This isn’t a problem as much as it is a minor inconvenience when trying to shoot quickly and I concede that going beyond a thirty-grain charge is really entering handgun hunting territory.
The only other issue consisted of the loading lever’s retaining screw working loose and the loading lever itself came off while loading. A handy screwdriver took care of that problem, but I was reminded of the value of Loctite. A drop on the relevant screws and those screws won’t go anywhere, especially relevant for a field pistol.
A Good Buy?
Today there is a big emphasis on guns that can be rode hard and put up wet. Taylor’s Black Rock Remington is one of them. Life has a haphazard quality and that extends to maintenance and TLC for our black powder guns. Chances are that your blued steel gun will be perfectly fine until you get back to civilization, but it’s nice to have more forgiving options. I’m rather surprised that Cerakote and nitride finishes didn’t catch on more in the black powder world until recently.
The Remington, for all its strengths, is more sensitive to fouling and debris than other designs due to its enclosed solid frame. Yet I was able to put many rounds downrange with minimal lubrication, some abuse to the finish, and no cleaning along with less-than-ideal storage in humid east Texas air. The gun never rusted out and it never got so fouled that the gun was unusable. And it did it all while still looking the part.
Though the Black Rock costs a bit more than a standard New Model Army, the extra change is worth it for the added protection and lubricity the finish offers. It opens the role of the black powder revolver from curiosity at the range to a serious field tool.
Specifications: 1858 Remington Black Rock
Caliber: .44 caliber utilizing a .451 to .457-inch projectile
Weight: 2 lbs. 12 oz.
Barrel Length: 8 inches
Trigger Pull: 5-6 lbs.
Sights: Milled notch rear and dovetailed post front
Safety Features: Safety catch notches between chambers. No manual safety.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Aesthetics: * * * * *
The robust Remington design looks handsome and futuristic for its time. A traditionalist can still appreciate the look of nitride over stainless.
Reliability: * * * *
A percussion revolver won’t get a full rating here. There are plenty of loading steps to screw up, but the 1858 Remington Black Rock performed very close to 100 percent for longer periods of time when dirty, something that can’t be said of standard Remington models.
Accuracy: * * * * *
My terrible shooting aside, the Black Rock is mechanically very accurate at reasonable distances. Or, at the very least, more accurate than you might think. This opens up the doors for everything from a fun plinking gun to a close-range deer-getter.
Handling: * * * *
Even with maximum loads, recoil is quite light thanks to the weight of the pistol. The grips are well-formed and the gun is well-balanced, but perhaps a tad front-heavy. The smaller hammer requires a little more reach than some other revolvers of the time. Colt fans may not be impressed.
Overall: * * * * 1/2
The Black Rock is a good nod to the Remington New Model Army, taking advantage of an already rugged design and updating it with modern materials and finishes. This replica is a step above a standard Uberti Remington. It takes the shootability, accuracy, and reliability of the classic Remington and dials it to 11. Any quirks were those conducive to the original design. In the end, traditionalists and newbies to the sport can walk away fat and happy.