How to SHOOT Black Powder Pistols for the First Time

This series is sponsored by:
Star & Bullock Hardware – Paper Cartridge Former Kits
http://www.cartridgekits.com
Etsy Store

The important thing about taking on a new hobby is to actually go and start doing it. Hopefully by now you have secured yourself a black powder pistol after I showed you how where and why. And now it’s time to burn some powder, which I also showed you where to get it.

This series is sponsored by Star & Bullock Hardware at http://www.cartridgekits.com

One of the problems out there right now is a lack of percussion caps. If you can only get #10, get some #10s. You may have to fire your hammer twice per cylinder, but they will work. The Remington and RWS caps are much softer than CCIs, and will snap much more reliably on the first try. Ideally you want #11.

There is also a percussion cap making system you can purchase, but they are a bit behind on orders right now. I don’t have time to review it this week, but there is a video on their website.

Once you have your caps and powder, you’ll need some balls or bullets. They do have some bullets at cartridgekits.com, but they are pricey, like all other ammo these days. Otherwise, you should secure some balls, which are still readily available, for now, at reasonable prices.

For a 44, you want to look for .451, .454, or .457. The .451 will seat easily, and it will get progressively harder as the ball gets bigger and the cylinder shaves a thicker ring. The Johnson & Dow bullet is .460 at its widest, and is much harder to shave and seat. Note that the J&D bullet does not fit a ’51 Navy 44 without first tapping the bullet in from the side. If you secured a Ruger Old Army, the .457 is the right roundball, and the conicals work fine.

For a 36, you are looking for .375 roundballs. Don’t ask me why they didn’t just call the calibers what they are. I was not a consultant on that project. Likewise the conical bullets are going to be larger, like .390 for the Richmond lab bullets, and those are particularly difficult to shave. Watch the included video for a tip on how to deal with that without beating up your gun.

There are other accessories that will make your job easier. Certainly a powder flask with a spout makes dumping powder at the range easier. You can cut the spout for how much powder you want, then hold your thumb over the mouth, tip it upside down, work the lever, and put the lever back. Then lift your thumb over the chamber.

In my video I showed you that you don’t need that though. So don’t get overwhelmed thinking that you need a lot of extra toys to shoot your gun. Just go and shoot it. The toys are fun and can come later.

Likwise all of the stuff at cartridgekits.com. Paper cartridges are awesome. You can make them while you are binge watching Deadwood again. Then there is no powder mess and fumbling at the range. With a capper it is almost like using real ammo.

The capper you can also buy. It can help you seat pesky #10 caps on BP pistols so that you don’t have to strike them twice as often. It gives you a little hand right there to help seat the cap deeper.

If you find yourself on able to find #10 CCI percussion caps, using a capper as a hand to seat the cap further down on the nipple can sometimes help so you don’t have to hit them twice.

Put the gun on halfcock so you can turn the cylinder freely.

Start by snapping a cap in each cylinder. The manufacturers suggest this to get manufacturing or cleaning oils out of the nipple. I personally never do this, but can’t neglect mentioning it.

Then pour your powder into the cylinders one by one. Leave at least a half of the ball or bullet size at the top of the cylinder empty to make sure you have plenty of room to seat the ball or bullet. Once I do a few, if I want more snot out of my shots, I can gradually up it to where the ball is at the top under full compression.

I demonstrate using the traditional FFG Goex, which is available out there right now, but if you can snag some Hodgdon Triple Se7en in FFFG, go for it. You will have less headaches from black powder fouling your cylinder gap, and it is easier to clean. Pryodex P also doesn’t foul, but it stinks to high heaven. ANY black powder or BP substitute will work in your percussion pistols. In this climate, you have to grab what you can.

I am explaining how I do it, no instructing you on how you should do it. It is thought generally that it is impossible to dangerously overload a black powder firearm with black powder or a substitute, but hey you never know.

Then, being careful to not dump your powder, put one ball at a time on top of the powder and rotate the cylinder so that the ball is under the rammer. Then unclip the rammer and smoothly seat the ball. If you are loading difficult conicals, you may want to use a steel tube over the lever as I show in the video. If you can’t seem to seat without dumping the powder on the other cylinders, just do one at at time.

These .454 balls shaved relatively easy in this old Italian ’58 Rem. Generally .451 is suggested, but again, grab what you can. For a Ruger Old Army you want .457 as the cylinder is wider. Conical bullets like the Johnson & Dow are as much as .460 and shave a lot harder, especially in “sheriff” sized guns with short loading levers. I showed in the video how I deal with this.

Do not cap your cylinders yet. Because though I am not a safety nanny, there is a safety step you have to do here. Take some bullet lube, grease, or even Crisco, and cover the top of the cylinder with whatever you are using. Or buy some lubricated wads and use those.

This prevents what is called a chainfire.

When you fire a cylinder, a lot of fire is compressed into the cylinder gap, and flames shoot out of the sides. If you do not put something over the adjacent cylinders, they can ignite. Not a fun time.

If you are not using properly lubed paper cartridges, you should make sure to cover the top of your bullet with either a lubricated wad, or a finger of lube, grease, or even Crisco. This will prevent the chainfire of adjacent cylinders when the flash escapes your cylinder gap.

Paper cartridges, when lubed correctly have the lube already there, and you just thumb it down into the cylinder. If you don’t lube them correctly, (like the tool on youtube selling lube sticks with his cheapo cartridge kits on Etsy shows you), make sure to still lube the cylinder as it should be.

Once your cylinders are lubed, then you can cap them. As I showed in the video, it is much easier with a capping tool, but one is not required.

I inserted a segment showing you RWS #1075 caps, because the CCI #10s are very hard and nearly always require two hits on at least a couple cylinders. If you can find the RWS caps, or Remington brand, you don’t have to worry about the size. They have an expanding body, and they are made from thinner copper, so they always go bang the first try. I know that powderinc.com is taking back orders for the RWS caps, but you have to order 1,000. I had been planning to start this Black Powder Project and happened to have ordered a sleeve of 2,500 before the pandemic.

If you can find RWS or Remington percussion caps, they are much more maliable than CCI #10 caps, and will fire the first time in your gun without any effort. These nipples are made for #11 caps, which are difficult to find.

Thats it. Shoot your gun. One warning though, that if you are shooting real black powder, take a tupperware with some soapy water to the range with you, and wipe your cylinder face after you shoot each cylinder. If you don’t, black powder will leave enough fouling that it can make the cylinder hard to turn. Shooting paper cartridges with plenty of lube makes this less of a problem, because the lube keeps the whole mess gooey and greasy. But it never hurts.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Dale May 6, 2021, 10:03 pm

    Another question. I thought I better know how to dismantle the revolver for cleaning before I started shooting. But I can’t get the wedge loose on my 1851 Navy Pietta. any thoughts on how to tap it out without totally buggering it up? Are you going to have a article and video on hoe to properly dismantle and clean a black powder revolver? If so I look forward to it. I now have most of the items needed to load my pistol and the rest should arrive in a week. Can’t wait to start shooting.

  • Dale May 4, 2021, 2:36 pm

    I am very new to BP shooting. My revolver is a Pietta 1851 .44. Years ago I came into possession of the same basic revolver and did have a chain fire. I was very fortunate that I only had 2 cylinders loaded. Where can I get wonder wads of the right size? And am I correct that you can load the ball without putting lube between the ball and powder as long as lube, or crisco, is put on the end of the ball? I’m getting a lot of conflicting info on this subject in my internet research.

    • Paul Helinski May 4, 2021, 10:17 pm

      Yeah the conflicting info is why I get so irate at these interfools who don’t actually shoot them. You don’t need a wad between the ball and the powder. But over the ball you do. The 44 wonder wads work great, and you can use a fingerful of any grease. Crisco gets a little dodgy in south florida lol, but see the video in the recent paper cartridge article on how to make black powder lube. It is on your youtube.com/gunsamerica channel as well.

  • Rolland Caldwell May 3, 2021, 4:46 pm

    I found your video informative and for the most part spot on. That said, you could not pay me enough to go shooting with you. You are instructing newie’s and committing one of the cardinal sins of safe shooting. When someone calls you on it, you blow him off and resort to grade school tactics by calling him names. With that attitude I have no doubt that you would be the idiot that smokes while making your paper reloads for your revolver. There is absolutely no excuse for having BP in an open jar next to a gun you are shooting after just warning about sparks around the stuff. You can huff and puff but in the end you made a bad mistake. Be a man, admit it, appologize for it and move on.
    Once again I would like to thank you for attempting to initiate more people into the black powder fraternity.

    • Paul Helinski May 4, 2021, 8:59 am

      Because you are more responsible than me right, and everyone else who reads this? Because whatever indoctrination you got in college or through the media taught you that someone has to tell you how to be safe, and set up rules for you to be safe, and to create government structures for you to be safe, right? It isn’t that you, and everyone else, are equally responsible for your own safety, and equally capable to provide for your own safety as you see fit, right? And that arbitrary line in the sand is up to you to decide, when you sit back and watch someone from the outside, right? You are the arbiter of what is safe, because have to feel above everyone else, or you are completely useless, right? Well my perspective is that those of you who feel the need to rise above others and nanny them are actually responsible for the downfall of America. We have lost our republic to the useless masses. That’s why I have such a strong reaction when useless fools like yourself craft your useless holier than thou comments. You were too stupid to see that you were being indoctrinated, and now we have lost it all.

      • KO May 4, 2021, 1:12 pm

        Dang, your rant about risk vs safety and the downfall of America is exactly his point about admitting a mistake and moving on. When enjoying an activity full of risks, it only makes sense to mitigate the unnecessary ones. He didn’t call for the ATF to create a new law or to monitor your range behavior. There’s a reason that people, even (especially) experienced operators get shamed at the range for NDs, muzzle sweeps etc. Everyone makes mistakes and many have seen have seen the results when you don’t get away lucky. You make it about ego and righteousness. I too like your article(s) btw and appreciate the work you do.

        • Paul Helinski May 4, 2021, 10:26 pm

          The fact that you use N for negligent instead of what has been A for accidental for generations shows how these sickening nannies have polluted our sport. Nobody, not even the nannies, do everything as safe as they could with every aspect of their lives. And life is a dangerous place full of accidents and potentials for accidents, Our Republic has been lost because people like you feel the need to consider their self righteous nonsense reasonable. It isn’t, and it isn’t required. It’s N for negligent now. But when did that happen? While you were assuring everyone that they should calm down and not be passionate about personal responsibility and those who would consider themselves above you. It takes a village remember? You are not capable of deciding what is safe for you, so society has to nanny you to create an illusion of safety. But wait till you see what all of you fools bought and paid for, and worse, believed in.

  • The Same Guy as Above May 3, 2021, 12:57 pm

    Ok – I see that any comment I make you aren’t going to approve. You’d rather resort to name-calling, calling me a lier, etc. than looking at what I said might be right – and you might be wrong.

    Do some research, then come back and give me the apology I deserve. Even if I’m wrong, and I will be the first to admit, I won’t stoop to your level. I’ll admit I’m wrong, apologize, and go on with my day.

    You might want to think before you give advice that could get someone hurt – or is your ego more important?

    • Paul Helinski May 3, 2021, 1:24 pm

      I generally delete safety nanny comments. Any idiot can watch the video and see that the can of powder is far from the gun, and that the cup has very little powder in it. I believe in personal responsibility, which the safety nannies as a rule do not. That is why they get deleted here. You are no superior, and we don’t need your interfool help. Some idiot on youtube, who apparently never played with black powder as a kid, claimed that the mason jar would shatter and kill me if a spark flew in. It would just flare up, and would not even move. Everyone can do things safer, or just not do anything at all. You want dangerous. Go try to do what farmers do to put food on your table bloated privileged stimmy fueled table. Guns are child’s play compared to that.

      • BP Shooter May 7, 2021, 7:47 am

        Then I guess you disagree with everyone at NMLRA? Try leaving an open powder container on the line at a match and see if anyone disagrees with your comment. 4H Shooting sports and the NRA also has those rules. I’m thinking you may get shown the way out if you ever show up to a real competition – especially with your attitude. No one cares if you get injured, we ALL care that you give bad/dangerous advice (chain fires) to new or inexperienced shooters. It sounds like you need to grow up and get over your superiority complex, Mr. Black Powder God.

  • Lewis Newland II May 3, 2021, 11:59 am

    I will say one thing YES you better put grease or a grease wad between ball and powder I was there when it happened when the other cylinder went off. We were using a Ruger old Army.

  • IBetYouDon'tPostMyReply May 3, 2021, 9:46 am

    There is NOT two camps? You need to get out more…

    Are you telling me that a properly fitting ball will sometimes fall out? Your statement is “…but even a heavily ringed ball can fall out sometimes…”. If the ball is properly sized, and it falls out, then it wasn’t properly sized. I’m calling BS here.

    There is NO WAY a spark can travel past a lead ball and into the powder below IF it is a properly sized ball (to the cylinder). Cylinder bores vary greatly between manufacturers and even within a single cylinder. With properly sized balls, a chain fire can NOT occur from the front. There are many videos, tests, etc. showing this to be true.

    Stop relying on “I’ve heard” or “I’ve always” and look at the real world test data. Properly fitting caps – unlike what you mention in the article by giving DANGEROUS suggestions by saying basically any cap will work; and use the cap size for your specific nipple size, and you will not have chain fire.

    Never leave a nipple without a cap or cover. I do use Wander Wads (home made is fine) to decrease fouling, properly sized balls, and properly sized caps. I understand that different cylinders have different size diameters and nipples come in various sizes. In 30+ years of shooting BP pistols, I’ve never had a problem and never had a chain fire.

    If you can prove me wrong, please do. The data/tests are out there, and MANY years of shooting with other experienced BP pistol shooters will echo what I’m saying.

    • Paul Helinski May 3, 2021, 10:22 am

      Yea, I’m saying that you either have your head firmly planted up your ass, or you are just lying like 90% of internet comments. There is no such thing as a properly sized roundball lol. You don’t size a roundball. You shave it when it seats, which sizes it perfectly to the chamber. And yes, it was from experience that I said that. I had a brief period where I put the wad over the powder, and a couple times I had a ball fall out. Didn’t know why, but assumed it was because, once sized to the chamber with a hot gun, the cylinder cooled off and shrunk a tiny bit. Because it is a ball, not a slug, the actual bearing surface that swages into the chamber is very thin, especially with a .451. So it was an observation that it happened, not lying and talking out of my ass like you.

      And nobody said anything about not capping cylinders. We were talking about what would cause a chainfire under normal use of the gun. And with a colt or remington, I doubt that would matter anyway. Just another interfool trying to find self worth.

      • IBetYouDon'tPostMyReply May 3, 2021, 10:30 am

        You’re response solidified my argument. Thanks. You wrote the article, so you obviously know more than me and everyone else. “Just another interfool trying to find self worth.” Yep, you’re right.

        • Paul Helinski May 3, 2021, 1:28 pm

          I have been shooting BP pistols since the 80s, shot SASS for many years exclusively with them, and have been digging into the details of them and writing about my experiences for probably 20 years now. There has never been an argument to how chain fires happen, and interfools like yourself are not used to getting bitch slapped when you lie about your experience and knowledge. I know what I solidified, believe me.

          • IBetYouDon'tPostMyReply May 7, 2021, 7:41 am

            Again, your response solidifies my argument. You may have less experience or more experience than I do, and I really don’t need to justify my experience to you. You calling me names just shows your own insecurities. Look at all of your own comments. If someone doesn’t agree with you, they are either liers, safety “nannys”, “interfools”, or whatever you childish name-calling you resort to give them. Obviously you are one of those guys on the line with the my-way-or-the-highway mentality, even when you are wrong. I’ll look for you at Friendship this year – maybe you can start “bitch-slapping” me in person. I’d love to start name-dropping right now, but I don’t want to bring any of my BP expert friends into your petty business. I’ll leave you by resorting to your own tactics – have a dood day, Mr. Know-It-All.

  • Mark N. May 1, 2021, 2:39 am

    There is a huge disagreement as to the source of chain fires. Some, like the OP, go with the traditional view that it is spark jumping from the cylinder gap. The other view is that chain fires are the result of loose caps, since there is a pretty big spark at that end when the hammer hits the cap. In fact, the still at the beginning of the video show this exact phenomenon. My view is that it is the latter and for this reason: a lubed bullet or a tight fitting ball will seal the cylinder and no spark can reach the powder behind the ball, while a spark from a cap can ignite the rest of the caps if they are not tight.

    Fortunately these chain fires are fairly rare, and many of us have never encountered one. I personally do not lube in front of my balls, but I do put a lubed wad between the ball and the powder. (these are usually stocked by gun shops that carry black powder supplies.) If you do that, the wad won’t fall out of a holstered pistol, and the wad will snuff out any spark that could theoretically gets past the ball. Plus the wads add a bit of scouring action to clean out the barrel from the previous shot as it moves through. But no matter what method you elect, always do some lube because it is the one thing that keeps your pistol from locking up from fouling after just a cylinder or two. as an aside, competitors who shoot black powder three gun will have some sort of supply of water to rinse out their barrels and cylinders between sets to avoid such failures.

    One other thing worth mentioning is that black powder is corrosive, the substitutes less so. Because of this, it is vitally important that after each range session, you disassemble the pistol, removing the cylinder, and thoroughly wash barrel and cylinder with soap and water, then carefully dry them. Some go so far as to use a low heat in the oven or a blow dryer to remove the residual water. Failure to wash off the powder residue will quickly lead to rust and corrosion.

    • Paul Helinski May 2, 2021, 9:47 pm

      Yes, we will be doing a cleaning video next most likely. You are partly correct I think. There were many cap n ball pistols that had no wall between the caps, and those did have problems with the caps chain firing. But the fairly cold sparks that escape the sides of the cap would never ignite an adjacent cap when a wall exists, which is the case with all the colts and remington patterns of the era.

      There are not two camps. An enormous amount of pressure and heat is forced out of the cylinder gap, and if you don’t lube your cylinders, or use wonder wads, you are a fool. Over the powder is fine, but even a heavily ringed ball can fall out sometimes as the gun heats up and the different types of metal expand at different rates. I have never had a wonder wad of the correct caliber fall out.

      And of course, now that these paper cartridge kits are available, with dipped lube, the whole thing becomes a no brainer, and a heck of a lot more fun than filling between stages while everyone else gets to chitchat. You just take your cartridges to the loading table like everyone else.

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