Thursday, October 7, 2010

Colt Style Cap and Ball Revolvers

I really enjoy shooting Cap and Ball revolvers. They are in some ways the essence of “Classic Firearms”. There are several things to know if you want to have a trouble free shooting session with cap and ball revolvers. First, don’t use petroleum base lubricants, I have found that they encourage fouling and have poor performance. Thompson Center Bore Butter is an excellent lubricant. There are also good non petroleum based cleaners on the market, if you have a Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops near you these can be bought off the shelf. Second, know how to safely handle, load, and disassemble your revolver. Follow all the safety rules for shooting any other firearm. Third, here are items, supplies and techniques I have used:

o Hornady "One Shot" Muzzleloader Cleaner and Lube Protect ant
T/C Bore Butter
o Mobil 1 synthetic grease.
o Crisco (inexpensive), or Ox-Yoke revolver seals (sort of expensive), or Cabelas BP lubricant
o Lubricated Felt Wads
How to lubricate a Cap and ball revolver for shooting.
o I lubricate the revolver by putting lubricant on a patch and running it in the bore and each chamber (not too much).
o I also put lubricant on the revolver base pin, and a little on the front of the cylinder.
o I place a very little on the nipple threads prior to instillation.
o Lubricants I‘ve used are Mobil 1 synthetic grease (a non traditional lube) and Thompson Bore Butter. I can also make a good one with 1/3 olive oil and 2/3 bees wax.
o I make sure the nipples are clean and not blocked (either by firing caps with and EMPTY chamber or using the straightened paper clip).
o Hornady swaged lead balls (.375 for .36 Cal) (.451 or .454 for my .44 cal 1860 Army revolvers) (.454 or.457 for the Walker and Dragoon revolvers).

Propellants and Caps
o Remington #10 percussion caps (very good caps)
o Pyrodex "P" grade Black Powder Substitute
o .44 cal Pyrodex 30 grain pistol pellets for my 1860 .44s
o Goex FFFG Black Powder
o American Patriot Powder BP Substitute
o I use Goex FFFG black powder as it is the most accurate I've tried. I have found that Pyrodex P is nearly as good as Goex FFFG. I've used APP (formerly "Clean Shot") but it is not as accurate. Remington #10 caps work well in revolvers and they're hotter that other brands giving good ignition. I’m still experimenting with Pyrodex 30 grain pellets.

o Nipple Wrench for Walker /Dragoon and a smaller one for 1851/1860 models
o Spare pistol nipples (sometimes sold with the wrench in a packaged deal.) The best nipples are Treso bronze nipples, but I use Uberti and Pietta successfully also.
o Powder flask (type and style is up to you)
o Powder measure or an empty spent 38 Special casing (44 Special for 44 cal)
o Paper clip straightened out (to clean nipples in the revolver)
o Capper for percussion caps

• To charge the revolver, I use a powder measure to measure the FFFG BP or Pyrodex P for each chamber. I go from the flask to the measure. I use a felt wad seated by the loading lever, and then I seat the ball with the loading lever. I cap the chamber with Mobile 1 grease, Crisco, or an Ox-yoke .36 revolver seal. Make sure the revolver cylinder turns freely (i.e. the balls are seated deep enough) Repeat for each chamber. The revolver must be on half cock for this operation.

• To cap the revolver, I use a capper and cap each nipple, I use a small piece of soft wood or antler to give the cap a second push to make sure it's fully seated.

• After the revolver is fully capped and loaded it's ready to cock and fire. In between loadings it’s a good idea to clean the nipples with the paperclip. There are other ways to load these great old revolvers, some people do not use the felt wads, and it's possible to use to make combustible paper cartridges for them. I never lead from the flask to the chamber, that's why I use a cartridge case as a measure.

• Given the difference in revolvers and techniques, the revolver will have to be cleaned at intervals if it's being shot all day. In my experience it's every 18 to 30 rounds.

Some Tips
o Keep your supplies organized in a good shooting box; this is especially important if several calibers are being shot.
o Chain fire prevention. Chain fires occur (they are very rare) when two chamber ignite at the same time. To prevent this make sure your ball shaves a little lead circle when being seated in the chamber. This will seal the chamber. Next, make sure the percussion caps are a snug fit on the nipples. Caps and nipples vary so some experimentation may be required to find the correct combination for a particular revolver.
o Keep your eye on the wedge on Colt type revolvers. It can work loose during shooting and cause a misfire or fall out of the revolver.
o Keep a rag handy in your shooting box. It helps remove fouling during the shooting session.
o Most Colt style cap and ball revolvers shoot high at normal pistol ranges. If in doubt aim low until you can see the point of impact.
o Lead balls tend to bounce off hard (metal) targets
o Keep a screwdriver set handy as screws may loosen during the shooting session.
o HAVE FUN!!! These revolvers are a unique way to experience history.


  1. I to enjoy shooting cap and ball revolvers. It is a very big part of our history.

  2. You are 100% correct, it's a great feeling to hold history in your hand, and have the same experience as our ancestors.