ROA Paper Cartridge Kits – At cartridgekits.com
I wish I could say that everything that everyone believes about the Ruger Old Army is true, but in my experience it is not. After owning probably a dozen of them over the years, and shooting them side by side with the rest of my cap & ball guns, I think they are just no big deal.
But that gun is always going to have it’s fan boys, and I can explain why.
For one, it looks just like a Ruger Blackhawk. So everyone automatically expects that it is better. But fortunately Ruger did not employ that silly transfer bar on the Old Army, so the gun is really closer to a true 58 Remington than it is to a Blackhawk. The frame is beefier, but unnecessary so, and the reason was that the engineers at Ruger designed it to be “extra safe.”
Ruger made the Old Army from 1972 to 2008, and back in 1972 there were very few cap & ball revolvers at all. It was the golden age of people like Val Forgett bringing them into the country under the Navy Arms and many other banners. I was only six years old, but I bought my first Navy Arms ’51 Navy not many years after, and I still have it today.
Even by the time I entered the game there was a lot of buzz about black powder, because prior to this era, muzzleloaders were primarily for an extra week of deer season and hardcore mountain man fanboys. Nobody shot their original 19th Century guns, so having the replicas opened up a new and somewhat exciting avenue for the gun nerds and history buffs among us.
One of the regular topics you would read about was “duplexing.” This means taking a few flakes of a fast pistol powder and dropping it in first, before the black powder. The world was not governed by lawyers as much back then, so some experimentation actually made it into some of the print mags of the day (before they all turned into whorehouses).
Ruger jumped on that trend, and at the time their engineers designed the gun to be able to withstand an entire cylinder full of Unique, which is one of the fastest if not the fastest pistol powder, compressed with a ball…and not blow up. They of course did not advocate this, but that was the story anyway.
I can’t say I ever tried duplexing, because I could carry a cartridge gun legally in New Hampshire, and by then there were plenty of stories about yahoos blowing themselves up with duplex loads. I actually had never heard of that story from Ruger before ten years ago, after I already had several of the Old Armies.
These days, duplexing is irrelevant, even if you wanted to experiment with blowing yourself up. Hodgdon Triple Se7en is not corrosive to use at all, and in the FFFG size it gives you all the velocity you could want out of a cap & ball gun. I am careful to not load my cartridges too hot because I have experienced leading in my barrel, even with a ton of lube double dipped. You have to use regular soft lead with cap & ball guns, because you have to be able to shave the bullet with the loading lever as it presses into the cylinder, so I try to not go over 900 to 1000 feet per second.
Loaded up to snot, the wider cylinders of an Old Army will easily accommodate enough powder to push a ball over 1,000 feet per second, and probably even a 200 grain Johnson & Dow bullet. So why would you need to duplex? That’s my 2 cents anyway.
As I eluded to in the video, my experience with the Ruger Old Army can be summed up in one word.
When velocities are all over the place in a cap & ball revolver, it is almost always because different boring drills were used for the cylinders, and those drills were wildly inconsistent. They may have all been bored at one time, I have no idea. But Pietta makes what they call their “Shooters” revolver in a 58 Remmie, and one of the features of that gun is that the cylinders were all bored with the same bit. It also has progressive rifling, and has won many competitions worldwide. Goes for about a thousand bucks, like a lot of ROAs. One of these days I will cover that gun on my Black Powder Project, because I do have two of them.
I didn’t bring a lot of cartridges with me that day, so my accuracy testing was very basic. But I did unearth what I expected to unearth in shooting both a blued and a stainless model. I haven’t even had the time to sit and clean those guns, so I’m glad I didn’t dirty more of them.
The telltale detail in the video is that shooting roundballs, four shots went into almost one ragged hole, but two of them flew off to the side. Roundballs are always superior in accuracy to conicals. They just don’t pack as much punch in a gunfight.
I didn’t pull those shots at all, and they were rested, so it really tells you the story of what is going on. Chronographing the guns, I also had several cylinders within a very tight range, and outliers that were as much as 200 feet per second off. I am very experienced with making paper cartridges, and was the primary engineer for the kits at cartridgekits.com, so though I didn’t weigh the charges, they were pretty tight.
That means that the Ruger Old Armys, or at least the ones that I have owned, are something of a tragedy. They could have been great guns and deserved the reputation that they have garnered all these years later, but they just don’t. My blued gun doesn’t even fire caps reliably, even the soft RWS 1075 caps I used for the video. And the nipples are original and identical to the others I have. That probably means that it needs a new mainspring, which you can still buy. There is no fixing the cylinder inconsistency though. I could noticeably feel and see the difference between the cylinder diameters putting balls and bullets into the gun.
Now I can’t say that I have dated the Ruger Old Armys that I have owned, so I don’t know if all of the bad ones were made in the 90s, when Ruger fell to shit, or if the guns were all over the place throughout the production. I wish Ruger would come back and make them today, because I have had nothing but positive experiences with Ruger products in the last decade, and the word on the street has been that you can’t beat them.
The positives of the Ruger Old Army can’t be denied. It is a more robust gun than a Pietta or Uberti ’58 Remington. The ROA has a coil mainspring, not an easily breakable leafspring. The linkage on the loading lever is much heavier and more durable under stress, and for sure long term more reliable. I don’t think the beefy frame has any advantage, because a regular New Model Army replica handles the hottest practical loads anyway. But hey the gun does say Ruger, and for many of us that means a lot, which is why I have several.
Ruger stopped making the ROA in 2008 not because the gun no longer had any demand. It was a political and legal decision after the development and commercial success of the Kirst Konverter. This was, and is, a replacement cylinder for the gun that fires the 45 Colt cartridge. Each cylinder on the Kirst Konverter has it’s own little firing pin, so the hammer that would normally fire the cap fires the shell. You are supposed to use only lead bullets with them, so that limits the pressure to where the gun can easily handle it. They make Konverters these days for most common cap & ball guns these says, and there are several copycats since the patent ran out.
I plan to cover cylinder conversions in a future installment, including the one for the ROA. My perspective has always been that a regular ’58 Remington, with easily swappable extra cylinders, is as effective a weapon as you need, and ballistically there is no advantage to 45 Colt. The legal loophole of the conversion cylinders has been around for decades now, so nobody rushed to ban them. It is still $400 you don’t need to spend.
Why Ruger did that, just because someone else made a compatible part for the their gun, is beyond me. But it has led to the ROA becoming something of a misunderstood entity since then.
When you go to buy a Ruger Old Army, there is a chance that the seller will insist that the gun has to be shipped to an FFL dealer. As I explained in the video, I actually personally boycotted Rock Island Auction because they would not send my two won and paid for ROAs directly to me, even though they have been long time advertisers and friends here. I just can’t abide by companies that want to create their own gun laws.
The Ruger Old Army is a cap & ball pistol, period. Under Federal law, it is not a firearm, and it can be shipped directly to your door. Now, there are some states that require that cap & ball guns go to an FFL, but even they do not require a 4473. Illinois, where RIA is located, is apparently one of those states, but state law would not have applied shipping the gun out of state.Their legal team disagreed.
So I guess my point is, for the sake of this series, that you can buy a Ruger Old Army because you want one and can afford one, but do not be fooled into the thinking that they are a superior firearm. They aren’t. You can buy a Pietta New Model Army and a dozen extra mainsprings for a lot less, and your Pietta will most likely be more accurate and consistent, and you can get cheap extra cylinders for it. There is no reason to assume that the ROA is in a class by itself. It isn’t. I just says Ruger on it, and yea, I’ll probably buy another one. 🙂