SDMB Black Powder Thread

Inspired by this thread.

How many of you shoot black powder? Do you prefer single-shot rifles? Single-shot pistols? Revolvers? Which caliber(s) do you like? What do you like about shooting black powder? What don’t you like?

All save one of my black powder firearms are Colt’s revolvers. Some are Colt 2nd- and 3rd-Generation, but most are Uberti. The one non-Colt is an Ethan Allan pepperbox. I bought it in kit form. I’ve never finished it, but it’s close. The barrels have been blued. All I have to do is take it apart and work it over with a fine file to loosen it up, and sand and finish the stocks. I’d like to get a percussion Lyman .50 Plains Rifle someday.

My revolvers are predominantly .36 caliber. I have one .44 (a Walker) and a couple of .31s (Colt and Uberti Colt 1849 Pocket Pistols). I’ve only fired the Navies (.36).

I like the ‘ritual’ of shooting black powder: Measure the powder (by putting a finger over the flask’s spout, working the lever with my thumb), pour it into a chamber, put the ball on top, rotate the cylinder so that the ball is under the ram, seat the ball with the ram, top the chamber with lubricant when they’re all loaded (to prevent flashover, and to make it easier to clean later), put a percussion cap on each nipple. I like the smoke when I pull the trigger. Nothing like smoke after a bang. The Navies are well-balanced and pretty darned accurate. There’s little recoil, and they don’t seem to be as loud as modern pistols using smokeless cartridges. I normally load them with 15gr. FFFg, which makes them very economical.

But what I like most about shooting black powder is knowing the history of their use in the Old West. It’s amazing to me that people fought wars with these things. I’m reminded of a Steve Earl song where he sings: My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt / Shoot as fast as lightning but it load a mite slow / Load a mite slow I soon found out / It can get you into trouble but it can’t get you out. When I shoot black powder I think of how people lived. No running water, no indoor plumbing, chopping wood to heat a cabin they built by hand, a ten mile trip taking an entire day, mountains and prairies and rivers and trees and for the most part being able to go wherever one wishes. Even with a replica, it’s like handling history.

One thing I’ve done to make loading a little faster is to make combustible cartridges. I soak cigarette papers in a mixture of potassium nitrate and water, cut rolling papers to size and soak them for a while, then lay the papers out to dry. I brush off the excess saltpeter and roll them around a lead ball and brass tube, gluing them with a glue stick. I pour the black powder down the tube, remove the combustible cartridge, and glue the end down. (I probably don’t have to bother nitrating the already-nitrated rolling papers, but what the heck.) At the range all I have to do is put the paper cartridge into a chamber and crank down the ram. It takes some time to make the cartridges, but it’s a lot quicker to load at the range.

I don’t much care for cleaning afterward. It’s not hard, but it’s a little messy. I take the barrel off of the revolver and remove the cylinder, then remove the nipples from the cylinder. I clean everything (including the frame) with the hottest water I can stand with dishwashing gloves on and dishwashing soap. I use a regular cleaning brush and swab on the barrel and cylinder. After a good rinse I dry everything with paper towels. I normally just blow out the nipples after cleaning them, rather than firing caps in them. Everything gets a nice coat of oil, and the revolver is reassembled.

I feel uniquely qualified to respond as I still smell of sulfur from this morning’s session at the range. I shoot with the N-SSA and we were working up loads and practicing safety with a new member. We had a great time and he is learning quickly.

Anyway, I own three muskets, all reproductions. There’s the Parker-Hale copy of the 2-band Enfield, the Zoli Zouave, and the hand built 1855 Harper’s Ferry (this one contains some original lock parts). Then there is a Rodgers and Spencer .44 cap & ball revolver, because it fits my hand better that the Remington, and the Colt’s just are not accurate enough to shoot in competition. My carbine is a Smith, and I have a Henry iron frame model in .44-40.

This year the team will be trying out its very own mortar, and if we win the lottery tonight, we will run out and buy a cannon.

For non-Civil War era events I have an 1855 Browning that I shoot at silhouettes.

So for me, it’s the history, the rhythm, the smell (really), and the fact that since I cast each bullet, weighed each charge, loaded each one into the firearm, that when it goes off, I am responsible for the entire success or failure of every shot. It also makes me appreciate each shot more than buying a brick of .22s.

Only the revolver gets the hot soapy water treatment. The rest get cleaned with patches soaked in a mix of windshild washer fluid and Dawn dishwasher detergent (2 oz. Dawn per quart of ww fluid.)

On my list of things-to-get is a Remington bp revolver, of a model I can never remember … 1858 or 75? Similar to the type I associate with Jesse James, but with more brass (one needn’t spend much time with me to realize I’m not a firearms historian). And a Hawken. And a long barreled Kentucky type.

Anyway, I’d love to get into black powder. I don’t have the time or money to pursue my current interests, so I might as well add another, right?

Probably the Remington 1858 New Model Army. Here’s one in brass, but I’d recommend the steel frame.

Here is Lyman’s Great Plains Rifle, which is essentially a ‘Hawken’. Here is a Kentucky Rifle. Notice it is much longer than the Hawken, and is of a smaller caliber. I’m not an expert on Kentucky rifles, but IIRC people found that they lacked the ‘punch’ they needed for the larger Western game and the Hawken came about as sort of an up-caliber carbine version of the Kentucky long rifle.

It’s not that expensive. While I recommend Uberti, there are less-expensive brands out there. You may even want to pick up a brass-framed one (less durable, but cheaper) to play with. Dixie Gun Works has a steel-frame Colt 1851 Navy on sale now for $175. Ad $20 for a powder flask, plus a pound of FFFg black powder, a box of .36 balls, a tin of percussion caps, some Bore Butter (or Crisco), and an inexpensive cleaning kit, and you’re ready to go. All that including the gun should be less than $250. (Oh, I gave the price for the Navy because I like the Navy – Bill Hickock’s fave, doncha know – and because it uses less powder and less expensive balls than a .44 like the Remington.)

This thread took a nosedive. Since I am interested in more answers to Mr. L.A.'s questions, I’ll give it a bump.

I own a pair of Uberti’s Remington 1858 New Model Army pistols. Fun to shoot, when you don’t mind slow. Lots of smoke, easy to handle. Otherwise my procedure is just like Johnny’s.

I have one of the Pietta Remington 1858 New Army replicas, and the slower pace of shooting is what I think I like most about it.

Loading up a 9mm magazine and ripping off 10-15 shots can be kind of mindless.

Measuring out your powder, pressing your balls in and putting the caps on for your six shots and having to make them count is much more interesting to me.

I use Goex black powder rather than Pyrodex or Triple-7, mostly because the smoke and smell are a huge part of the fun.

And… it doesn’t hurt that my Remington replica is surprisingly accurate. I’d expected something passable in the way of accuracy, but it’s probably right up there with my Ruger 22/45.


Did anybody else read this as ‘SDMB Black Power Thread’? Just me? Okay then…

How do you like the Pietta? They seem to run about $100 less than Uberti. How’s the quality? One thing that bugs me about them is that they offer the Navy pistol in .44 (Army) caliber.

Seems decent to me, although I don’t have much experience with other makers of black powder guns. Fit & finish isn’t quite where it is on say… a S&W 686, but for $200, it’s not a bad gun at all.

I have several BPs that inherited from my dad. One is a kit Hawkins in .45 that I’ve shot a few times.

My dad had a hankering for a long-barrelled rifle, so he bought a 36" .45 barrel and an action and make the rest in a modifed Hawkins style. I’ve not shot it, I keep it hanging over the fireplace. I seem to remember that he never got it to shoot quiet as accurately as he had hoped.

I have his Walker replica. I’ve shot it a few times.

He had a .44 Dragoon replica. I think my sister has it now. I was shooting it once when it cross-fired. It scared the dickens out of me, but did no real damage. I had greased the face of the cylinder, but it still cross-fired.

I’ve considered carrying the Hawkins as a utility gun a few times just for nostalgia’s sake. One thing stops me: at the end of the day, you have to fire the darned thing to clean it. Okay, you don’t have to, but it’s the easiest way. It makes me appreciate the difficulty that the mountain men and the soldiers had to endure in maintaining their weapons. I don’t have running water at the farm, so I see how the daily maintenance on a BP rifle would be a real pain.

I had the darn thing misfire once. I did not have a real extractor and I had a devil of a time getting the ball out with an improvised one. I quickly bought a fiberglass ramrod with an extractor attachment. I haven’t shot it since. Like a lot of my hobbies, it takes a back seat to real life.

You could use a CO[sub]2[/sub] discharger.

I think the majority opinion is that when you shoot off two or more cylinders on a cap and ball revolver the accidental ignition is more likely to be from loose caps than from fire getting past the seated ball.

On the other hand, I hope it never happens to me. I have a feeling that it causes black stains in the front and brown ones in the back.

I keep getting some black powder on the cuffs of my good shirts. Does anyone know where it might be coming from? Smells like brake dust.

I’ve never heard of such. Thanks. It looks very similar to the emergency tire inflator I keep in the saddlebag on the motorcycle.

I have a Smith carbine and a Colt police revolver – they are both the real thing and I’d never think of shooting them. The other real thing is a Colt Army SA, but it takes a fixed cartridge. I shoot that but with a reduced charge.

The real shooters are a Japanese made 1861 Springfield from Dixie Gun Works and an Italian Zouave, both .58 cal. The last two are a real hoot to fire and reasonably accurate, in my hands and with my myopia, at 100 yards. I’ve been deer hunting with the Springfield and can attest that it will knock a 200 lb Whitetail buck down as quickly and cleanly as any 12 gauge slug.

I do make cartridges for both .58 cal rifle-muskets. The process is essentially the same as described above for pistol cartridges but I use onionskin or tracing paper and a piece of half-inch doweling with a 60 grain charge and a 500 grain minnie ball.

I know that those save a shooter or two at each silhouette match I enter. They seem to work best for the small caps, like the No. 10s (I think that’s the number.) But they do work great on the right nipple, or cone if you prefer. Depending on the end on that inflater, it could work, too.

Would you part with that Smith? Guns are made to be fired, IMHO. There are hundreds of originals getting fired on any given competition weekend. The originals are tighter and shoot better than all but the most expensive reproductions. I’d love to step up to competing with one.

I had a teammate, who has since passed on. He shot an original Maynard. It was the ugliest carbine ever. The barrel just behind the front sight would rust like steel wool in a sauna. I asked about it once.

He explained how blood would soak onto the porous steel of the time, and showed me how a bloody had dragging that carbine would leave the exact same print.

All of a sudden I was transported back. It was me trying to hold on to that Maynard. I have never felt so connected to the past. It was scary. Because my hand fit the blood stains just right.

The thing is, I can’t shoot a Maynard, there is not enough gun for a 6’2" SOB to hold on. So, I shoot a Smith, but would love to upgrade to an original.

One idea for a cheap extractor is to get a 2-3 inch wood screw (the kind with the really wide threads) and just screw it into the ball.

Once it’s in good, just grab the screw with pliers and pull it out. Works like a charm.