Selecting a black powder revolver

I got the black powder bug last year. Wanted top play around with cap and ball, but the loaners available to me were not quite what I wanted. For one, I didn’t want to ruin someone else’s gun by accident if I ever failed to clean it properly. For another, it’s not much fun to shoot a gun that doesn’t shoot close to point of aim and, with fixed sights, the chances of either .36 or .44 I had in the studio having POA=POI were not great.

Enter Pietta .44 Target model, imported by Traditions. A fairly close replica of the  Remington New Army produced from 1861 on, it’s not completely authentic and I am OK with that. For one, none of the originals were stainless. For me, this is a big plus, as gun cleaning isn’t my greatest competency.

For another, I am pretty sure that none of the originals had adjustable target rear sight or Patridge front sight. Typical cap and ball revolvers either use a notch in the hammer or in the topstrap. Topstraps are usually convex and shiny, leading to specular highlights right in the sight picture. Eight inch octagonal barrel gives ample sight radius: if I am going to deal with slow reloads, I might as well make each shot count. The choice of .44 caliber was made with the same thought.

I am also not a fan of loading five chambers out of six available for safety. This gun has historically accurate safety slots between chambers, so loading all six is just fine. The gun design makes cylinder removal fairly each, so I would be able to use an external loading stand for added convenience.

The basic load is a Pyrodex pellet equivalent to 30 grains of powder: by a happy coincidence, that’s the recommended load for 140-grain roundball with this gun. I am lazy and somewhat clumsy, so one pellet is easier for me to handle than loose powder. 0.454″ ball is slightly oversized to ensure tight obturation. And a percussion cap to set all this off. Expected muzzle velocity would be just under 900fps. Not much velocity is gained by going with round ball over a heavier, more effective conical bullet…but I am doing pure target shooting at moderate ranges, so easier loading and less recoil win over better terminal performance.

In theory, Pyrodex is a bit less sensitive than black powder. In my use, that’s a minor issue amply compensated by increased convenience.

For the same reason, pre-cut Wonder Wads are preferred as a sealant over messing with petroleum jelly. Just as I prefer digital cameras to film, I am a fan of results over process and not willing to go beyond what little concession I am making to historic authenticity by using a cap and ball in the first place.

Given the unusually cold weather around here, I wonder how much success I would have trying to cap a nipple with gloved hands. I now have enough ingredients for 100 shots. Since the solid topstrap makes the revolver more sensitive to fouling around the forcing cone, I wonder how  many times I would have to clean it to go through all that powder and ball. The mildly OCD side of my mind also notes that 100 isn’t divisible by 6 without a remainder.




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29 Responses to Selecting a black powder revolver

  1. og says:

    Use a capper. You can charge the capper in the warm and use it with gloves. Cva makes a nice one.

    • Dirk says:

      I was going to suggest the same thing. There are black powder rifles at the Boy Scout camp I go to as an adult leader, and the range officers use a gadget, which I guess is called a capper for that purpose. The ones they use look more like the Rifleman’s Capper at

  2. kevin says:

    I haven’t shot blackpowder for about 25 years and wow, this stuff makes it some much easier. I may need to look into this.

  3. Pingback: SayUncle » Selecting a black powder revolver

  4. Weetabix says:

    Another point on the plus side: I’ve read that Pyrodex and Triple 7 are easier to clean than regular black powder. I use the Triple 7 pellets in my (stainless 😉 ) rifle because that’s what’s available locally. The combination is quite easy to clean quickly.

    They also make presoaked lube/preservative/anti-rust or whatever patches that make finishing up a breeze.

    Have fun! It probably goes without saying that we like your photos.

  5. Will says:

    That’s a beautiful pistol.

    It does bring up a question.

    Can you shoot black powder at an indoor range? Seems like they would frown on that.

  6. Gunnar Wolfieson says:

    I purchased a Pietta clone of the 1860 Army in .44 last year. Already had a powder flask and spouts from a previous pistol so I’m shooting the Holy Black. The 1860 shoots high at 25 yards because apparently they were designed to be shot a an enemy 100 yards away from horse back.
    Make sure that the balls are over sized and shave a good ring off when seated and make sure that the caps are a good fit on the nipples. I refitted my 1860 with true #11 nipples to better fit the common sized caps. Nothing more annoying that caps that fall off when shooting and allegedly an open nipple is and invitation to a chain fire event.
    These guns are a complete blast to shoot! I look forward to the photo shoot!

  7. Nick says:

    The fun thing with these is that, since they’re ~not firearms~ under the law, you can do fun things like this:

    I wish this thing had adjustable sights, though.

    Additionally, rolling up powder in rolling papers is as convenient as the pellets and a lot cheaper.

    (Sorry if this submitted more than once, I’m having difficulties with the captcha)

    • Sigivald says:

      Important note – they’re “not firearms” under Federal law, specifically the NFA and GCA, as stated.

      They are firearms under many State laws, e.g. around carry and possession and the like.

      Always check first.

      • Paul Koning says:

        Indeed. Witness the recent case in the People’s Republic of NJ, where an old gentleman got arrested for owning a 3 centuries old flintlock without a government license.
        Of course, what Nick says is true in all civilized states.

  8. Richard Douglas says:

    I have found the fixed sight .44 Remington clones made by Pietta to be very accurate with small doses of Pyrodex…the reduced charge (24 grains) thrown by the standard stem on the powder flasks sold by Cabela’s mated to a .454 roundball allows for aluminum cans and 20 soda bottles to be picked off easily at 25 yds or so with no need for Kentucky windage. The upside to greasing with shortening or lard over the balls is that the lube gets blown around the forcing cone and into the cylinder pin, helping keep the powder residue soft.

  9. Lyle says:

    I’ve been told that each gun is different in this regard, but when using the Pyro pellets in my Pietta Remmie I sometimes get a slight ignition delay.

    I use a slightly modified Ted Cash snail capper. It holds a full 100 caps, so it’s probably all you’ll ever need for a day of percussion shooting. The Remingtons have capping cutouts in the cylinder that are too small to use the factory stock snail capper, and so you need to either modify the capper, or widen the cutouts for each nipple position on the cylinder. I’d be glad to help you out with that any way I can, because I really like that snail capper for convenience and would like to share the joy. I keep mine on a lanyard around my neck, so it’s right there and doesn’t get lost in a pocket or something.

    Take Scott out with you if you can – He has an Uberti Remington of mine, which he needs to take out and try.

    Some people use a loading stand exclusively, but really, the gun itself is a decent loading system. I’d rather have less to pack around with me. Others use the cylinder swap feature to the max, and bring a dozen or more pre-loaded cylinders along. That’s not only expensive, and heavy, it means you have that many cylinders to clean.

    You should be able to crank out fifty or more rounds without fouling becoming a problem, but that means using the right ingredients. Probably one of the best thing you can do in that regard, I’m beginning to realize, is to blow moist breath over the cylinder face and down the bore after every six shots. It’s amazing how much that frees things up. You’ll be playing kissy-face with your gun, but if you can get past the Range Nazi mentality that would often envoke, you’ll find it really works.

  10. Lyle says:

    Also see my treatise on “Field Carry” here;

    In short, it means carrying everything you need for a day of shooting, on your person, with no need for a table or to even set anything down, with maximum convenience and effectiveness. Using cartridges of some kind in that case becomes preferable– Pluck, stuff and press, cap and shoot. It also involves spending time up front at home so you have more convenience at the range or in the field.

  11. Mike OTDP says:

    Use real black powder…and if you want accuracy, try around 15 grains with a Cream-of-Wheat filler. Most of the top shooters at the World Muzzle-Loading Championships are using loads in this range.

  12. Huck says:

    Pyrodex? Oleg, if you’re going to experience BLACK POWDER shooting, use black powder. True, it’s messier to clean but it’s the real McCoy. (plus it smells better)

    Using the Remington New Army model variant is, IMHO, a good choice. I’ve been shooting black powder since the late 1970s and I consider the Remington New Army to be the best of the cap and ball revolvers.

  13. Ray says:

    That’s a nice revolver. You will never regret buying SS. Just remember to remove the nipples EVERY time you shoot or the rust bugs will make them part of the cylinder.

    • Oleg Volk says:

      Are wrenches for that a special order item, or would a regular socket wrench fit?

      • Lyle says:

        It is a special wrench. Some people have reported success using a wrench (actually it looks more like a screwdriver) designed for automotive tire valve stem installation and removal. Otherwise call the Possoble Shop and talk to them. They can get you the hardened nipple wrench you need. Most of the Italian stuff is soft steel and will begin to deform immediately.

        Also; it is NOT necessary to remove the nipples every time you clean, so long as you’ve greased the threads thoroughly before you use the gun. Some people report having gone years without removing them, and then being able to remove them easily. So far I’ve gone only several shooting sessions, over several months, without removing them, and they’ve come out perfectly well. That’s with blued steel guns too, as I so far have no stainless.

        So yeah; you’ll get widely varying opinions on all of this stuff.

  14. Weetabix says:


    Would a smidge of breech plug grease help when reinstalling the nipples?

    And, Oleg – always listen to Mike OTDP on matters black powder. 🙂

    • Lyle says:

      Probably, but I’ve always used Bore Butter. Breech plug grease will of course work well, but breech plugs in rifles are generally not removed for years and years and years (unless it’s an in-line designed for breech removal as a regular part of cleaning) and so it’s over-kill, but it’ll certainly work. There shouldn’t be any significant gas leakage into the threads, and so if your nipples are properly fit and properly tightened there isn’t going to be much fouling getting in there anyway. I wash my chambers out with water and treat with Balistol, and I’ve never had a problem getting a nipple out after several cleanings without removing them.

      Since you brought up rifle breech plug grease; I’ve cleaned my percussion rifle with water probably fifty to a hundred times in over fifteen years and never once removed the plug. Will it come out if for some unforeseeable reason I need it out? Yes. So OK, use breech plug grease and never remove your nipples afterwards. Your grand kids will still be able to remove them if they for some reason ever need to.

      Some of the 150+ year old originals have stuck nipples, but that’s a whole different order of magnitude.

  15. Ray says:

    Black powder and almost all the “subs” are highly corrosive, cleaning your smoke wagon after every shooting session will give the maximum life span to your weapon. The fine pits that form on and in BP firearms are the result of H2SO4 erosion, not rust. The rust comes AFTER the acid damage. Removing the nipples and giving the cylinder and nip’s a THOUROUGH hot water and dish soap bath(or other cleaning agent for the “sub’s”) will not only stop the formation of micro-pitting but stop and eliminate the build up of carbon that adversely effect’s loading and MV. Most “modern” shooters have not the slightest clue how to maintain a firearm when shooting “corrosive”, and that’s the world you’ve stepped into. The “old timers” had fitted wrenches and screw drivers to take their “smoke wagon’s” apart to clean them (the tools you need)–and they used them. I honestly think that my cap-locks are harder to clean and maintain than my flintlocks. Hum… I think I’ll buy a match lock next

    • Oleg Volk says:

      Could a dishwasher be used (with wood grips removed)?

      • Lyle says:

        That would be massive overkill in one sense, and still some rubbing is necessary to remove the fouling, especially the cap fouling. There are probably as many ways to clean the gun as there are shooters, but it will help in the long run to try to make it as efficient as possible. Simply removing the cylinder, spraying some Ballistol/water mix on all the interior surfaces and around the nipples, then rinsing in plain hot water and swabbing everything out is enough, followed by a light coating of Ballistol. I toothbrush around the nipples and pipe-cleaner the nipple bores too, and Q-Tip the hammer and hammer cutout in the frame with Ballistol/water, leaving all the lockwork assembled in the frame. Every several shooting sessions you can break the whole thing down for a deep cleaning, but some people don’t even do that much for years, and still report having new-ish guns.

        Depending on the load you use, and the number of shots fired before cleaning, there is a very wide range of possible fouling conditions at the end. Using a lot of lube in the chambers, I’ve gotten to where one swab down the bore, one direction, leaves it shiny clean (pushing out a soft glob of goo in the process) and other times I’ve gotten a thick build-up of hard fouling that took a lot of water and several patches to get the fouling out of the bore.

        So one of the tricks is to find a load that leaves the gun easy to clean at the end of the day. My method has been to use a lube cookie behind the lead, or a small dab of Bore Butter over the fets wad and behind the lead. Others use grease over the lead. Others have reported that no lube whatsoever, just powder and lead, plus blowing through the bore and chambers after each six, leaves the gun running for many shots and easy to clean. I don’t know about the latter, but certainly the type of powder used is a major factor, and there are several others.

      • Mike OTDP says:

        I tried that once with a stainless steel revolver. Then scrubbed the surface rust off. Never again.

        Here’s my cleaning procedure:
        1. Remove cylinder and nipples.
        2. Remove nipples, brush clean with an old toothbrush.
        3. Run a patch soaked in cleaner (I use Simple Green at home) through each chamber. Put cylinder to soak in a cup of diluted cleaner.
        4. If you have running water available, flush the cylinder window and barrel with it. Hold the gun upside down for this to keep water out of the lockwork.
        5. Scrub barrel and frame with patches soaked in cleaner. This should take 3-4 patches.
        6. Dry barrel and frame with patches. Lube one patch (I use Ballistol), run it down the bore, then rub it over the outside of the gun. Spray some lube into the lockwork.
        7. Take cylinder out of soak, clean each chamber with a patch soaked in cleaner. Run the patch to the bottom of the chamber, then turn like turning a screwdriver. Repeat as needed. Dry the same way.
        8. Lube with a patch soaked in lube. Lube nipples. Reassemble.

        Total time: 12-15 minutes, with practice. Do a complete disassembly and cleaning annually unless you’re shooting a lot, in which case do so every 6 months.

  16. Sigivald says:

    This makes me want to finally fire the San Marco 1851 Navy I’ve had for years…

    (I got derailed by buying the wrong powder for it, and never got back to it…)

  17. "lee n. field" says:

    I kind of got the bug too. Last gun show locally there was a table with 4 on what I now know to be Remington replicas, at $200 each. I had no idea if that was a good deal or not, but the idea of being able to just pay and go, as opposed to the usual state police check and 3 days that they do here, was attractive.

    I picked this up, as it looked like a useful book:

  18. Rick Hostetler says:

    Hey Oleg, never tried a dishwasher, I guess it might work. What I do with mine are take them apart completely and dump everything in a pot off hot water with some dishsoap, then pull out pieces, clean them of with a rag using patches and a dental probe to get into the tight spots. Oil everything up real good, put it back together and wipe down excess oil. Takes a bit, but I’ve got 30 year old cap & ball revolvers that are still in perfect shape.

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