Cap and Ball Revolver Basics & a New Pyrodex Product

The open framed Colt Army and Navy models were the most popular percussion revolvers used in the Civil War. Although the Colt is still a favorite with many casual shooters and reenactors, competitive target shooters prefer Remington or Rogers and Spencer six-guns, which have solid topstraps with rear sight grooves. The latter guns provide a better and more consistent sight picture than that offered by the Colt's hammer notch rear sight.

Whatever their sights, all cap and ball revolvers, original or reproduction, are loaded the same way. Although I have covered it in the past, a refresher course in revolver loading might be timely. The usual procedure is: first, check the cylinder to make sure the gun is unloaded; second, swab the revolver's barrel and chamber with a dry cleaning patch to remove any residual oil; third, snap a percussion cap on each nipple to remove any remaining oil in the nipple channels; fourth, load each chamber with a measured charge of FFFG black powder, usually 15 to 20 grains for a .36, 20 to 25 grains for a .44, followed by a soft lead swaged or cast round ball rammed home with the gun's integral loading lever; fifth, slather a thick grease over each chamber mouth; sixth, pointing the gun in safe direction, slip caps over the nipples. The six-gun is now ready to fire. To reload and fire again, repeat steps four through six.

The addition of grease to the chamber mouths is believed by many to prevent a "chain-fire" or multiple chamber ignitions, as well as provide lubrication to keep down powder fouling. While chain-fires from the front of the cylinder are virtually impossible with tight fitting balls, the grease may provide some lubrication. A Wonder Wad between powder and ball most likely provides a better solution to the fouling problem, however, sweeping black powder residue down the bore with each succeeding shot. Caps must fit the nipples snugly. Ill fitting caps are the most common cause of chain-fires and misfires in a percussion revolver. CCI recently introduced a new #10 cap size, which fits many Italian made replicas as well as original guns quite well. Some replicas require size #11 caps. Most original guns use .454 or .457 diameter round balls. Some reproductions work best with .451 balls.

Civil War soldiers loaded their cap and ball revolvers with combustible cartridges, simply inserting the prepared cartridge, containing both powder and conical ball, in the front of each chamber, ramming it home and then capping. Some of today's shooters make combustible cartridges out of nitrated paper, which work much the same way. Another form of cartridge uses the soft plastic tubes sold by the Winchester Sutler (4154 Hunting Ridge Rd., Winchester, VA 22603. Catalog $3. (703) 888-3595, noon to 10:00 PM). I load each tube with powder charge, Wonder Wad and ball for a convenient way to carry ammunition.

A few months back, I mentioned a new product, Hodgdon Pyrodex Pistol Pellets. Since then I have actually used these pellets, and a report on their effectiveness is now in order. The use of Pyrodex pellets seemed to make cap and ball revolver shooting less messy, faster and much more consistent than any previous method of loading. Pyrodex pistol pellets are offered for .44/45 caliber handguns in a pellet equivalent to 30 grains volume of FFFG black powder and are sold in a convenient jar type container of 100 pellets. I recently took a jar of pistol pellets to the range, and found them a pleasure to work with in my Navy Arms Remington reproduction. To load a revolver with Pyrodex pistol pellets, simply drop a pellet in each chamber, insert a Wonder Wad, ram, insert a ball, ram and then cap the gun's nipples. I used the pellets in my Tom Ball accurized and rebarreled Navy Arms Remington .44. Accuracy, as can be seen from the photograph, was excellent. The only drawback I encountered was that I was unable to load the pellets in my Euroarms reproduction Colt 1860 Army, due to the configuration of the gun's frame. They loaded and fired with ease in my large framed Colt Second Generation first Model Dragoon, however.

Unfortunately for reenactors, Hodgdon does not recommend the use of pistol pellets with blanks. Without the pressure provided by a ball, the charge is unlikely to burn completely, and pieces of flaming pellet may travel down range. Pyrodex has also not been approved, to date for N-SSA use. Hodgdon does report, however, that pistol pellets have proved very successful in loading .45 Colt metallic cartridges, a plus for participants in the fast growing sport of Cowboy Action Shooting who like to shoot the "old fashioned way."

For further information, including a free Pyrodex manual, write to Hodgdon Powder Company, PO Box 2932, Shawnee Mission KS, 66201 (913-362-9455) href="">

If you want to lubricate your minie balls the "old fashioned way," with beeswax and tallow, you need good quality beeswax. One excellent source is Endless Mountain Apiaries, New Milford PA (570-465-3232, FAX 570-465-3241, or email Marcie Babitt at ). Catalogs are available on request.

Endless Mountain sells 100% pure beeswax, cleaned but not filtered or bleached in one pound blocks for $3.90 each plus shipping and handling. they ship UPS and accept most major credit cards.

-30- Photo Caption (to follow by mail) 1.) The author's Navy Arms Remington, re-barreled and tuned by gunsmith Tom Ball, and a target shot two handed, rapid fire, at 15 yards with .457 balls, Wonder Wads and Pyrodex pellets.