View Full Version : My First Experience Shooting BP!

Matt Wallis
September 3, 2001, 09:05 AM
Hey Everybody! ("Hi Dr. Nick!")

Well I recently aquired a Pietta 1851 Navy (.36) and I finally got a chance to shoot it. Of course, I loved it! Heh, heh. I even found that the gun was pretty accurate (once I realized that it was shooting 6 - 12 inches high the way I was aiming it). This is definitely something that I'm going to be sticking with. I'd like to tell you all how it went and maybe get some input on what I could change around, do better, etc.

Well, it was a short session and I ended up shooting about 25 or 30 rounds through the gun. The gun had been cleaned the night before and lightly lubricated. I was using .375 pre-lubed balls and wonder wads over fffg (the real stuff, not pyrodex).

The first five shots I loaded about 17g (my measure is only marked in 5 grain increments) of fffg. All my shots went high at 15 yards. All but one missed the 8x11.5 paper target I was using. Now I think that's because I was sighting wrong, in addition to the sights being factory preset for a farther distance.

After that I switched to 20g of fffg (17g just felt too wimpy!), adjusted how I was using the sights and just plain aimed lower (the bottom of the target or even a few inches below the target). For the next 20 rounds or so I was hitting on the paper 3 or 4 times out of five. Even got one in the bulls eye! Though in all honesty I have to chalk that more up to chance than to my ability. I was shooting two handed, but with no rest.

Through all this I didn't encounter many problems. The one I had heard the most about (caps falling off the nipples) didn't happen at all. The Rem #11 caps I had stayed on just fine. Now, I did have a cap get stuck behind the cylinder after being shot (twice, I think). Pointing the gun up while cocking seemd to help, just like people said it would. The other wierd cap related prolem I had was that sometimes the caps would stay stuck to the hammer! I litterally had to pry them off with a knife (oh yeah, and I got a bad range ettiquette/safety story to go along with that one. My wife had to yell at me! Heh, heh). That happened also about twice (the caps getting stuck, not my wife yelling at me. :p )

Now, the only lubrication I was using was the light oiling I had given the gun the night before and the wonder wads. That leads me to a couple of questions. First, another guy there shooting BP thought it wasn't safe to use only wonderwads to prevent chain fires. He thought greasing the cylinder over the ball was a must. I told him I had heard mixed advice on that, but thought the wonderwads were supposed to help prevent chain fire. What do you guys think?

Second, by the last time I was loading, it was noticably difficult to cock. Also, though cocking the gun would still advance the cylinder, it couldn't be turned when at half cock (which is where you'r supposed to be able to turn it freely). What can I do to get more shots out of my gun before it starts to freeze up? Is there a lubrication I can actually put on at the range? What do you all recommend?

I'd appreciate any other thoughts and advice you guys might have. Thanks,

September 3, 2001, 10:10 AM
BP is definitely a lot of fun.

I picked up a Colt Walker about 18 months ago. Took it to the range. Loaded it up with 50 grains of fffG, and used these pre impregnated wads between the powder and the ball. I used crisco to seal the cylinders, this was on the advice of a gun store owner who shoots BP frequently.

Blasted it off and filled up the indoor range with smoke! Asked the guys at the front to "turn up the vent fans" and they asked what I was shooting, I told em. They laughed and said I would have to stop that!

So I only got off 6 shots before I had to quit. Surpisingly accurate at 25 yards. Only missed the target once. Heck of a boom when it goes off.

I had trouble with the caps getting stuck too. The only issue I had with the cylinder turning was not getting the ball completely in the cylinder. If it stuck out at all it would prevent the cylinder from turning freely.

Big fun from what was the worlds most powerful handgun until the 1960's. Surprisingly pleasant to shoot, however, at a pistol weight of four pounds the round has a lot of weight to overcome!

4V50 Gary
September 3, 2001, 01:00 PM
If in clean condition your revolver's cylinder rotates freely when cocked but doesn't when dirty, it's a dirty gun problem (like you observed). I've been told by reenactors that it wasn't uncommon for a soldier to urinate or pour water down his gun to clear out the fouling. In all my readings though, I haven't come across first hand accounts though.

Concerning the "wonder wad" versus "lube" theory, the key is to have a ball which is slightly oversized such that when swaged into the cylinder it leaves a small ring of lead at the cylinder's mouth. The results in the powder sealed "airtight" by the ball. Of course, extra safety precautions as suggested won't hurt either. Besides, as a kid, the extra grease was great in clearing the range of other shooters so your buddies cold shoot. I now formally apologize for being a "range slob" to the shooters who I've driven away.

Elmer Keith had his own theory about why percussion revolvers could chain fire. He surmised that when the caps were too loose, would slip off the nipple when the gun fired, slam against the breechface of the revolver and ignite. Keith's remedy was to use only caps which were snug on the nipple. Can't recall where I read this though. Any Keith fans out there?

Oh, was also told that in the old days, soldiers would fire their revolver, raise it muzzle up and shake it while cocking it. The idea was to free the discharged cap such that it wouldn't jam up the revolver later. Can't recommend this on the range though for obvious reasons.

Congratulations and continue having fun with your Pietta.

September 4, 2001, 09:48 AM
Shooting real BP in these old revolvers will cause a lot of foulings, sometimes enough cause problems with the clyinder rotating. I've found that pulling the clyinder pin, and wiping it down before loading helps.

Chain fires: I to have heard a lot of different reasons for and methods to prevent them. This is what works for me, on my .44 cal '58, which I shoot monthly at Cowboy action shoots.

First the ball must be slightly oversized so you shave off a small ring of lead when you seat the ball - this creates a tight seal that makes it hard for flame from a shot to penetrate. I place a wonder wad under my balls and I believe this helps. You have the tight seal from the ball, then an additional 1/8" inert barrier.

The second thing I believe prevents chain fires is to cap every loaded clyinder. I know of people who will say the chamber is not loaded, if charged and left uncapped, but personally I feel that the open nipple is just asking for troubles. There is an awful lot of flame from a clyinder and IMHO it wouldn't take much for a spark to get into a nipple. If the chamber is loaded, cap it.

The only time I have ever had a chain fire I was using a ball that was same size as my clyinder, no wad, but I was using grease on top of the ball. The recoil from the pistol would throw a lot of the grease out of the clyinder, and left with the "undersized" balls flame managed to find the powder.

So that's been my experiance with cap-n-balls and chain fires. BTW I've got an article on my site about shooting these fun old revolvers if you feel inclinded to surf over.

September 7, 2001, 01:03 AM
Remington makes a #10 percussion cap that fits/stays on the pistol-sized nipples very well. They do sometimes split wide open on detonation, but so do the #11's.

Cap n ball
September 13, 2001, 09:58 AM
When I clean my revolvers,(Remington 1858 and Colts 1851) I break them down completely and put all small parts, nipples and screws and hand etc. into a wire tea egg and dip and shake in a solution of warm sudsy water for about three or five minutes. Then I clean each piece using patches and q-tips. For larger areas such as on the frame I use pipe cleaners with wire strands in them . Most Italian replicas such as Pietta often have rough castings and little moulding pits that fill up with residue. I gradually have cured this by smoothing rough places with a used manicurist's emory board. It takes a while but eventually you can remove all the rough edges and little pits. It makes for a smoother action but can only be accomplished over time. On the Colt there are lubrication rings around the spindle that holds the cylinder. I fill these with high grade gun grease and wipe off all the excess. I clean out the cylinders with a bore brush and more warm soapy water, dry completely and then spray a little oil into each hole then put a clean patch in each to keep moisture out. The hardest places to clean are the milled out places around tha nipples and is a pain to really get clean. I use anything that works, toothpicks and pipecleaners and small borebrushes. Re-seating the nipples and tightening them with a nipple wrench and then I use compressed air all over the mechanism to drive out any small droplets of water or excess oil. When I prepare to shoot the piece I remove the wads from the cylinder and fire a cap off on each to burn out the oil. I have found that the less oil or grease I have in the mechanism the longer I can shoot without fouling. I only use crisco or lard on the cylinder if I'm out in the brush with the gun and may not fire it for a considerable time. I use wonder wads and I've found that pinching the caps prior to pressing them on the nipple will cut down on problems. Glad to hear your having fun with your new piece!

Aim low and squeeze.

Matt Wallis
September 13, 2001, 06:06 PM
Thanks Guys,

I posted this over on the SASS wire too and got lots of responses. They're worth reading if you want, although by this time you'll probably have to do a search for the thread.

Long story short... I started using crisco on the cylinder pin and on the first and fourth shots. Went 25 rounds without a hitch. Also my first two shots were in the ten spot at 15 yds! So I'm startin' to get the hang of it.

Thanks again,