Cowboy Action Shooter's Discussion Group

Re: Colt or Remington

Posted By: Hellgate <>

Date: Monday, 9 April 2001, at 12:45 a.m.

In Response To: Re: Colt or Remington (Hellgate)

Keith, Your email came back undeliverable so I am posting hear what I sent you:


Hellow from America. Sorry you guys are stuck with percussion only for

pistols. Hope it never happens here. Governments love unarmed peasants.

Here's an article that I wrote for the Cowboy Chronicle for SASS back in '96

Following is a letter ov advice I saved to reuse since it is a common subject

of CAS postings regarding perCUSSIN' pistols. Feel very free to email me for

advice/info. I live for this stuff! Let me know if you got this letter. Feel

free to share the GOSPEL with others. Here goes:


by Hellgate Tye #3302

My very first "real" gun was an 1861 .36cal Colt Navy I got when I was in high school that still shoots like a charm. I just happen to like the looks of a Colt and donít have anything against the Remingtons other than Iíve never owned one and rarely shot any. When I first started CAS I used it to shoot the "modern" category because my other pistol was my grandadís flat top .357 Blackhawk. I found out real fast why the old timers switched to fixed ammo and to smokeless powders. However, the old timers were SERIOUS when they shot at something and staked their life on their equipment. When I want to be serious Iíll use my AR-15 but for SASS I just want to have a good time and enjoy life shooting with a bunch of similar types who donít mind me smokin' and smellin' up the range. Too many shooters are scared off using cap & ball guns because of all the foibles of black powder itself and unreliability of percussion firearms. Iím hoping that some of the things Iíve learned from "competitive" cap & balling will help others to dig theirs out of the back of the gun safe or even go buy a couple of them to get started.I have found them to be quite reliable once you get a few "bugs" out. They are an inexpensive way to get into Cowboy Action Shooting. Decent revolvers can be had for as little as $100 mail order for those like me that are too cheap to spend a small fortune.

I will organize my discussion of making your Colt cap & ball (C&B) revolver run smoothly by talking about the various parts Iíve had to deal with that have fouled up my shooting a stage. I am experienced but not an expert and will bow humbly to the gunsmiths and others who know more than I.

FRAME-Brass frames have been known to "shoot loose"especially with heavy loads but I have known of others that never had any problems. I think that case hardened steel is preferable to hold things together. Loose alignment pins can be snugged up by tapping a small dent with a center punch next to the hole they slipped out of then tapping them back in place on the frame. The mainspring can be lightened to smooth the action by filing or grinding the edges to narrow it down. Be careful, too light of a spring can cause some major problems: (1) Hammer blowback will let caps fall down between the hammer and frame and the rest of the caps wonít fire [5 seconds each and youíre standing there cussing and trying to clear a loaded gun under the clock] (2) Fouling buildup may slow hammer fall and not hit the caps hard enough [more misses] (3) The point of impact could change if there is a major difference in spring tension [still more misses] (4) Too light of a trigger pull can be a safety problem [DQ or worse].

SIGHTS-Colt C&Bís frequently donít shoot to point of aim ( three of the five Iíve had shot to the right). All of mine shot high (no problem). I look at the factory sighting notch as merely a reference point. If the gun shoots high you can cut (with a Dremel tool) or file the sighting notch in the hammer deeper. To lower the point of impact further you can grind the top of the hammer down and deepen the notch accordingly. Plan on ruining a file or two on the case hardening. You can always adopt the six oíclock hold if you are anywhere close. If the gun shoots low you may want to use conical balls since they are heavier than the round balls ( around 200grs vs 140 for .44s and 130gr vs 81gr in the .36) and impact about 2" higher at 10-15 yds. You could take a little off the front sight but there is not much to work with. If the gun shoots wide it gets a little trickier. What I have done is to cut (with a file or Dremel) the sighting notch off center to the appropriate side. If the cut is too far over I just fill in the notch with acid core solder and with a flat jewelers file cut a new notch. The solder can be easily filed to shape and darkened with touch up bluing. The front sight can be filed on one side to move the point of impact over a little. Check for burrs on the barrel wedge slot.

BARREL-The loading lever latch may not hold during recoil dropping the rammer into the cylinder and freezing up the works. This will happen the first time you take the gun to try it out or not at all. A little filing of the bevel to allow a deeper mating of the latch and barrel catch will prevent the loading lever from ever dropping again. The wedge may be replaced with an aftermarket one if it wears and canít be driven in far enough to narrow the cylinder gap adequately. If the cylinder gap becomes way too wide you may have the cylinder pin shooting loose and it is time for a new gun or a gun smith. Burrs on the wedge slot may cause misalignment of the barrel to the frame and contribute to shooting off point of aim. They can be filed off but if the gun shoots straight, leave them be!

NIPPLES- If the caps fit snugly, all cylinders fire, and the caps donít get blown back then leave them alone! Buy a variety of caps until you find what brand gives a snug fit. I borrowed a Remington from a friend during a match and all four remaining caps fell off with the first shot (I think thatís called four misses). Donít waste your time pinching caps to make them fit; get the right size. There are too many other things to keep track of during a match. If one chamber doesnít always fire you can make a shim out of fine copper or other soft small wire bent into a circle and pounded flat like a small thin washer and placed under the nipple where it seats in the cylinder. That will raise it a few thousandths to where it will fire. When a cap falls between the hammer and frame (the gun goes "clunk" and you go nuts) you are getting blowback of the hammer. There are 3 causes I have identified: the hammer fall is too light, the flash hole in the nipple is too big or the load is too heavy. Get a stronger mainspring, replace the nipples, or use a lighter charge and/or bullet(no more conicals). I have replaced the nipples in all my pistols with Uncle Mikeís nipples. They are stainless, have smaller flash holes, and the #10 Remington caps I use snug up beautifully on them. Thread sizes are 6x.75mm and 12x28 depending on the make of pistol. Ruger Old Army replacement nipples are 12x28 and the other Uncle Mikeís revolver replacement nipples are 6x.75. Prior to a match run a nipple pick through each flash hole after cleaning oil out of the chambers before loading.

CYLINDER-If you have calipers, measure the inside diameter of the chambers. If one is off then mark that one as the empty chamber that you donít load. Or you can set up six targets and shoot from a rest into each target from the same chamber several times to see which cylinder groups the worst and mark that one as the empty (6th) chamber. I use 1 or 2 dots of fingernail polish or enamel touch up paint to indicate which cylinder to not load. You could also just take the nipple out to mark it but I would hate to try to scramble for a spare if a stage called for "shoot five and reload and shoot a sixth". Marking the 6th chamber takes away one more thing I have to remember (like "did I put powder in this one or not? Oh well, too late now!") Get an in-line capper for those stages where you do a "reload" by merely capping the second charged (with powder and ball) revolver. The capper goes faster than using a cartridge gun (your ONLY advantage with a C&B!!). Remingtons have too small of nipple cutouts for a capper to be used and you must fumble with loose caps under the clock.

FOULING- Pyrodex or Black Mag powders probably foul less but since I havnít shot either in my C&Bís I will let others make the call. Even when using an under the ball lubricating wad, I put an over the ball lube in each chamber. This keeps the cylinder face fouling soft as it blows out of the gap and prevents cylinder binding against the barrel. Depending on the temperature I use different chamber greases; cool/cold temp=GOOP or other lanolin based hand cleaner, fair/warm=Crisco, hot=1000 Plus or Wonder Lube. Plastic 12-20cc syringes (though not very "period") help in filling the chambers. I sometimes spread a little black powder lube on the face of the cylinder to wipe off fouling if time permits between stages. I use the heaviest grease I can find (Lubriplate) on the cylinder pin. It keeps fouling from being blown in between the cylinder and the pin thus slowing or stopping cylinder rotation. Donít get too tight of a cylinder gap or fouling will stop the cylinder from turning. Conical balls, under ball wads and over ball lube all keep barrel fouling to a minimum. A rag to wipe your hands and gun grips off after loading helps in cleanup and prevents a slippery gun in rainy weather (yes, us Orygun Rangers still shoot when it is only raining "lightly").

BULLETS-If your club uses ringers or allows a hit (without falling) to count then a .36 cal Navy is fine. If fallers are used then the 80-82 gr ball of a .36 isnít going to work. LEE makes a conical 130gr bullet mold in .36 cal that packs more punch and might work. I have found that .44 cal round ball works fine for fallers and the conical ball molds throw 200-220 gr bullets that knock down anything you hit right.

MODELS & FIT- The "Navies" (1851 & 1861) have smaller grips, 7 1/2" barrels and can be had in both .36 and (historically incorrect) .44 cals. The Army, Dragoon and Walkers are all .44cal and have larger grips. The Dragoons and Walker are "horse pistols" that are noticeably heavier but throw more powder and smoke than the other "belt pistols" designed to be carried on the person.

Donít let all these things that can go wrong with a C&B discourage you from giving them a try. Figure that you arenít going to break any speed records but youíll have a whole lot more fun than anyone else at the match as long as you keep that smoke wagon turniní. After a short while you sort of get a rhythm in loading that can be, shall we say, meditative. Think of all the time you will save not having to process your brass plus youíve got a free reloading outfit built onto each gun! Youíll also grow to appreciate why Wild Bill Hickock carefully cleaned, oiled, and reloaded his two "Navies"on a frequent basis. You can bet he took the time to do some "debugging" too. (end)

Dropped caps:

Before you go getting alot of work done on your gun, try a few other things first. (However the Frank Leman makeover works. Colt shoulda done it 150 years ago.) Capguards (plastic rings to put around the caps to prevent splitting) would be one more thing to drop into the action to screw things up. At least the caps can get flattened out better than the plastic rings. You are either getting blowback of the caps or your hammer is lifting them off the nipple and they're dropping into the action. Here are some things to try:

1) Stone the rough spots on the hammer face and the safety cutout a little bit to take away sharp edges that catch the cap and pull it off the nipple where it gets tipped off when wings of the cap catch on the frame cutout and the cap falls off the hammer face into the "works"as it is cocked. Check the length of the nipples; maybe one is high and scores the hammer face and creates the rough spots.

2) Shoot lighter loads. (less powder, less lead, or a coarser powder i.e. ffg) to lower pressure [and therefore backthrust] on the cap & hammer face.

3) Get a heavier mainspring to keep the hammer down onto the nipple. ("tuning" of a SA usually includes lightening the mainspring but that allows the hammer to be blown back with the spent cap and dropping the cap under the hammer). The heavy original spring is strong for a reason (to keep the hammer down and whack through fouling to explode the caps).

4) Replace any cap with a flashole larger than the rest, don't load that chamber (designate it the "open" chamber) or replace them all. A larger flash hole will also add to the jet of flame coming out the back of the nipple to blow the cap off.

If you do all these things and you are still having problems then I'm outa advice. They've worked for me quite well so far on alotta different Colt C&Bs.