Shooting the #*@!! Revolver

No Civil War period weapon is harder to understand and master than the Percussion (pronounced "yur cussin'") Revolver, yet there are thousands of them out there and they continue to sell as though the buyers really think that they can make them work. They should have asked me first.

I purchased my first cap pistol from Dixie Gun Works in 1973. It was a brass frame .36 caliber kit, and took me about 3 weeks to assemble. I couldn't wait to shoot it. I went to the range, with a couple other guns to shoot as well, and when the moment of truth came, no paper target was safer from puncture. I had no idea where my shots were going until an unknown shooter, apparently amused, informed us that he could see the balls coming to earth on the BACK of the dirt berm behind the target. This was my only percussion revolver experience for ten years, when in another weak moment I purchased a Navy Arms Reb Revolver in .44 caliber.

The Reb was obviously going to be better, since somebody else had assembled it. However, it still took about 25 shots to punch 10 holes in the target, and nobody knew where those holes were going to show up. Always a glutton for punishment, I next purchased a Rogers & Spencer. The R&S has a solid frame, and became my best pistol for target shooting.

These three pistols taught me alot about shooting Col. Colts' Equalizer. Most importantly, not only are no two pistols the same, a revolver is basically 6 different pistols in one, because each chamber can have different characteristics. So load development is tedious, to say the least. Anyone attempting to develope good groups is going to find that you can shoot some chambers good all the time, but you can't shoot all the chambers good all the time.

Choosing the right projectile is also difficult. Round balls come in many sizes. For .44 revolvers, there are .451, .454, and .457 bullets, to name a few. You should try each bullet, and select the one that loads best without alot of trouble. When you compress the ball in the cylinder, you want to shave a little ring of lead from around the diameter of the ball, but you don't want to have to use a hydraulic jack to get loaded either. The larger the ball you can safely load repeatedly, the more flat surface that projectile will offer to the rifling in the barrel, and, theoretically at least, the more accurate the load will be. After having said all that, and I have tried more than 30 different round ball/powder combinations in my R&S, the reader should know that I now shoot a .456 220 grain round-nosed bullet cast from a Lee mold # 90384.

During a recent experiment to see what the maximum load for the R&S was, I discovered I could load 25 grains of FF blackpowder, a .44 Wonder Wad and the Lee bullet with enough room for the cylinder to revolve. Having thus loaded the cylinder, I figured emptying it at paper would be the quickest way to dispose of the loads. Never, ever, had I considered this a target load possibility. The result with this load was a 10 shot group of 9 inches, but more importantly, the best 7 shots were in a 5 1/2 inch group! I had fired ten shots (two cylinder fulls) because the first group was so good, I had to reload to see if I could duplicate the results. And I did.

Years ago, I had given up on the Lee bullet, but at that time I was using approximately half as much powder. Now, with maximum loads, that old revolver is better than ever. Both cylinders (I have 2 that fit the R&S) shoot this load well. Stance is important when pistol shooting. Competitions require shooting with one-hand only, and the short sight radius of a pistol multiplies any error or flinching when shooting. For practice at home, I hold a ten pound weight with my shooting arm stretched out, for 30 seconds at a time, to try and build up strength. A grip strengthening device is also helpful to develope shooting muscles in your hand and fingers (for years, I thought gun control meant being able to hold that *#&@! pistol steady).

To further test my hypothesis, fellow N-SSA nimrod Jim Womelsdorf came over yesterday with his 1858 Remington Army Model Revolver. Using the Lee conical and FF powder again, we proceeded to match group sizes between conical and round ball loads. And once again, the conical outscored the round ball. We both need a lot of work holding that hogleg steady, but the best load I have ever found for a blackpowder pistol is 20 to 25 grains of FF powder, a Wonder Wad and a conical bullet. Don't forget the importance of a felt over powder wad in the equation. I use Wonder Wads because they are impregnated with an agent that helps keep the bore clean, but they also reduce spills in the loading process and serve a vital SAFETY function of eliminating chain fires during discharge.

Learning the mechanics of how a revolver works will also improve your skill with that weapon. All reproductions presently available are classified as single-action revolvers, which means you have to mechanically cock the hammer with your thumb before discharge. When you pull back on the hammer, a small spring fed finger attached to the hammer pokes through the frame and pushes the cylinder clockwise, rotating the next chamber under the hammer. When the hammer is completely cocked, a small square protrusion raises through the frame above the trigger and locks the cylinder in place until the hammer is released during firing.

Any misalignment in this mechanical process means problems in accuracy, usually due to cylinder misalignment with the barrel. You can visually check each chamber for cylinder/barrel alignment. Every cylinder has to lock up firmly and completely every time. Signs of uneven wear on the little square holes around your cylinder might indicate that your cylinder stop needs work. Also, signs of uneven wear on the back of the cylinder might indicate a problem with the cylinder hand. If you have a favorite pistol that shows any of these mechanical wear signs, you should get your hands on a copy of the July 1987 issue of MuzzleBlasts magazine. Bob Kiser, a National Champion pistol shooter, wrote an excellent article on "Tuning and Care of The Remington Replica Revolver" which was printed in that issue. Hope this article has helped you shoot your #*@!! pistol better. Until the next time, have fun and shoot safe.

(c) 1991 by Tom Kelley
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