I started out my civilian hand-gunning career- if one doesn’t count CO2 pistols- with replica cap-and-ball revolvers. Partly this was because of a fascination with them. It’s funny; most people develop an affection for these guns because of Western movies or TV shows. I was the opposite. I didn’t much care for westerns, but the first time I handled an 1851 Navy it was instant love. More than that, it felt familiar. Like a combination of coming home and a surprise encounter with a long-lost friend. It was a little uncanny actually. Handling, loading, disassembly were all felt like familiar operations. If there is such a thing as reincarnation I’m pretty sure that in one of my past lives I was intimately familiar with these pistols.
I bought a number of these pistols starting with an 1851 Navy, an 1861 Navy and an 1860 5-1/2″ and 7″. My pride and joy was a Colt New Production 1862 Pocket Police. That was one beautifully made handgun!
I was not what you would call careful with these guns. I had a flask that threw a 30gr. charge, so that was how I loaded them- dump 30gr. in the cylinder and stuff a ball on top of it. In the .36 Navy revolvers this took a lot of stuffing, and what was in the cylinder could no longer be properly called a ‘ball.’ Eventually I bought another 30gr. flask and cut the nozzle down to throw 22-23gr. This made for no loss of performance in the .36s, but less recoil and fireball.
I didn’t just target shoot with these guns. One of the ways a young soldier on Ft.Riley could supplement his income was hunting coyotes, since there was a plague of them in the local area. Dealing with Kansas wintertime weather I quickly learned to weather-proof my cylinders. I’d stick a pin in the nipple and drip candle-wax around it, so that when I capped the cylinder the edges of the cap were pressed into the wax, not only holding the cap securely in place but giving a water-tight seal.
I rapidly determined that the standard greases used in cap-and ball revolvers genuinely suck and melt far too easily. Now, the ball was wedged in there tight enough that I seriously doubt any water could get past it, but just to be safe I’d cover the ball with more candle-wax. On a particularly bad day one of my guns got submerged in the river and still functioned after. Typically I’d load both .36s before setting out on a hunt, but this wasn’t really necessary; on my best-ever coyote hunt I only emptied one cylinder (5 shots)
I didn’t take chances resting the hammer between cylinders or some such; I actually removed the nipple from one chamber and always rested the hammer there. In true cowboy fashion I often had a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill in this chamber ‘just in case.’
When I got out of the service I continued to target-shoot with these guns, but since I had turned 21 I was increasingly interested in cartridge handguns; in fact on my way home after mustering out I had my first 1873-clone handy… complete with a rolled-up twenty in one cylinder.
I moved back in with my folks and a number of factors drove me away from my beloved percussion revolvers- not the least of which was moving back in with my parents. My mother, never a fan of guns of any kind, was less than thrilled with me cleaning these guns in her kitchen and drying them in the oven. One by one they were sold off in favor of more modern guns, and that was the end of my cap-and-ball days. I always had a certain affection for these guns, but it was never enough to put up with the mess and glacially slow reloads.
Eventually my lovely wife found the perfect solution- for Christmas one year she bought me a Cimarron Richards-Mason conversion replica in .38 Special! It was love at first sight all over again. I loved shooting that gun and even took it as a holster-gun when deer hunting.
That was my introduction to the world of cartridge-conversion revolvers, and with my new hobby of gunsmithing and my love of percussion revolvers you can imagine how I’ve been spending my spare time… but that, as they say, is another story.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 5 Jan. 2017
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