An Apology and More Shooting the .36 Navy

by Tom Kelley

Well, last month's mailbag failed to include a recent correspondence from my Regional Commander. My recent column on a speed loader for the Henry Rifle found favor with some readers, however, A. C. Baird was quick to point out that the current N-SSA rules do not allow such a device on the firing line during N-SSA events. Having now pointed out this omission, I apologize to any and all who may have adapted this device to their skirmishing routine only to find we can't use them at N-SSA Henry events. Mr. Baird is correct, these devices are not allowed, and I erred in recommending them for such use.

When I went to my copy of the N-SSA rules for verification, I discovered that they were very outdated, and I will be procuring a new set at the Spring Nationals. It would probably behoove all units to purchase a copy of the official rules and keep them handy and updated, something I will be sure to do in the future. Thanks, A.C.

Well, last November (2001) I introduced our readers to the .36 Navy Colt revolver, and I must say I was a little harsh on the revolver for being so cantankerous and finicky. I have worked on my Navy shooting over the mild winter here in the Mid-Atlantic region, and I am happy to report I have some good tips to pass along to keep that Navy Colt on the line.

The smaller caliber .36 requires a little more attention when loading due to the smaller orifice in which to place the powder charge. Often times during loading the powder will spill and can add to the mess around the cylinder when shooting. I found that the .36 powder tubes available from many sutlers will hold a powder funnel flask spout and make the whole job of loading the .36 Navy Colt cleaner, easier and faster.

I also changed to Number 11 size percussion caps for the Colt for a couple of reasons. I had a lot of trouble with the No. 10's flying all over the place and getting down in the works of the Colt. I thought a bigger cap might have more surface area to stick to the nipple. I also had a occasional misfire when the No. 10's were not all the way down on the nipple, but down as far as you could safely push them, so I felt a bigger cap would be the answer. For whatever reason, the No. 11's performed much better on my Navy Colt then No. 10's and now I look for No 11 caps whereever I go.

Another tip that .36 Navy Colt shooters may find helpful is making and using paper cartridges for their revolvers. Many years ago (August 1995), I ran an article on Paper Cartridges for the .44 revolvers, and that article is posted on my website, Click here. I found during my experiments with the Navy that straight walled paper cartridges are harder to load than tapered ones, and had a hard time finding a good mandrel for the tapered paper cartridges until I found that the long flask spouts work perfect for this task. I now use the powder flask spout exclusively to form the paper cartridge. This is a great way to make paper cartridges for the .36.

I start with one-half of a single sheet cigarette paper like the TOP brand, or a 1 3/8" by 1 1/2" piece of nitrated paper if you make your own paper. Before starting, I scribed a line on the brass spout by placing it into a cylinder chamber and rotating it while I marked the point that the top of the chamber came to on the spout. I then wrapped the paper starting at this line on the spout, and had enough at the bottom of the cartridge to fold over and make a bottom. The cartridge is filled with the powder charge, then any filler to be used, and topped off with the round ball. I used Speer .375 round balls for my cartridges.

The completed cartridge is easy to load, however, I had a problem with ignition with all that paper at the communication hole of the nipple. I solved this problem by drilling out the nipples to 1/16 of an inch, which allows me to use a drill bit of that size as a nipple prick to open the hole after loading. Smaller communication holes were resulting in bent wires on the nipple pricks I was using. Using this larger hole technique, I never had a hang fire during testing.

The paper cartridges were fun to shoot, and easy to load, however, I really felt like there was a better load waiting out there to be discovered. I read some of my old columns and remembered how well the oversized .490 ball worked in the .454 Remingtons. With this information, I set forth to find some .390 round balls at a local sport shop. After a couple tries, I found some, and was very pleased with the results the .390 round balls gave in the Navy Colt.

Being only .015 larger than the standard .375 round ball, the .390's could be loaded without having to be resized first. The larger projectile results in a larger bullet equator engaging the barrel rifling, and proved to be accurate in initial testing. I have included the first results in the chart below, as well as a .375 load for comparison. I kept the powder charge low in this test to be safe, and I plan to use incremental increases to see if I can tighten up the group I am getting with the .390. Shooters should be mindful of the increased pressure from the larger, tighter projectile and not go off loading full charges as a starting point if they want to try the .390 bullet.


Average Velocity

Group Size

.390 Round Ball

10.3 g FFF Goex

.36 WonderWad(tm)

.5cc filler

CCI #11 caps

425 fps

6.0 inches

.375 Round Ball

18.5 g FFF Goex

.5 cc filler

CCI #10 caps

901.0 fps

5.25 inches

I now hold a much higher opinion of my Colt .36 Navy as a serviceable Revolver for Team events. During my testing, I was able to get the Navy to function well and reliable for 3 relays - 18 shots. That's enough for a Revolver Match and enough for me.

One last trick I employed on the .36 Navy was a legerdemain I learned from the late Tom Ball. Tom taught me to use white lithium grease to fill the cavities in the revolver around the hand, finger and hammer. This grease catches the errant spent cap and will usually keep it from jamming up the mechanism of the pistol. During one trial, I fished 7 of 18 caps from the grease. And the one time I forgot to use it, I didn't fire all 6 shots before a spent cap created problems. How much to use is a personal thing, but use enough to work. I would rather have greasy fingers that an out of service revolver. Know what I mean.

So, until the next time, advocate responsible gun ownership, shoot safe, and have fun.

2002 by Tom Kelley

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index