Revolver re-build, Field Carry system, and deer hunt

Deer season is upon us (Joe; no Hunting category?) so I thought this a good time to post it.

Following is a very long, detailed account of customizing a reproduction Colt 1847 Walker percussion revolver and using it in a deer hunt in the 2016 muzzleloader season. It assumes the reader has some understanding of the Colt open top revolver design and its inherent problems, and contains lots of technical photos and jargon. I also introduce a paper cartridge “Field Carry” system which I’ve developed for percussion revolvers, making things simpler and easier for the shooter while in the field on the move. There are bloody butchering (necropsy) photos cataloging the terminal performance of the gun and ammunition. You have been warned– If you read on you may be extremely bored, fascinated, or shocked or disgusted, or all of the above.

In summer of 2016 I got an Uberti Colt 1847 Walker revolver for ballistic testing (more on that in a future post), and for hunting. It had the usual free-floating cylinder gap for which Uberti is known (short cylinder arbor, so tapping in the barrel retaining wedge too far jams the barrel against the cylinder) but when I shimmed the cylinder arbor to produce a consistent gap I noticed that the barrel was barely touching the front of the frame’s water table. I had to reduce the shim thickness to allow the barrel to come back farther, and then shorten the breech end of the barrel to produce a cylinder gap.

Shown are the brass plugs I made, so as to mount the barrel on a lathe between centers and face off the end of the barrel. The one with the taper fits into the forcing cone, so I can machine down past the inside of the large end of the forcing cone and the plug will still have some “thrust bearing” surface against the barrel. The plug has already been cut by the facing tool. If I decide later that the gun needs more barrel pressure against the water table I can now easily re-mount barrel in the lathe, take more steel off at the breech end, and then shorten the arbor shim. So far I’ve only taken about five thousandths off the end of the barrel.

Another thing about this gun is that where the barrel meets the water table it doesn’t meet up square, but rather hits on the left side first and then angles over slightly. If the gun shoots to the right of aim, I will not be surprised. I’ll fire it like it is and see how it performs before I do anything else.

The shim I put down into the blind end of the barrel’s arbor bore is about .085″ thick, machined from half inch brass rod (the Walker arbor is huge compared to the later Navy and Army Colts). Once I decide the barrel-to-frame fitting is done, I may bed the shim into the barrel permanently, with epoxy.

The plugs fit snug into the muzzle and the breech ends. To turn the barrel I used a regular dog at the muzzle end, protecting the finish with vinyl tape, and placed a brass shim under the set screw. The dog had plenty of room for the front sight, without touching it.

My Walker is a recent production, Cimarron imported Uberti. Supposed to be the top of the line in repros. Maybe it is, but to expect a perfect gun for around 400 dollars is asking too much. I’d rather pay more for one that’s all set up nice and ready to go, but such a thing is not offered as far as I know, unless you could order a new gun sent to a gunsmith and have it set up before you get it.

Added to that is the fact that some of the historically accurate reproduction features, like the wedge going in from the right, and the loading port shaped for the rather odd (by today’s standards), pointy-nose Picket bullet, make it harder to load paper cartridges, especially with the wide flat point bullets used by modern hunters. Do you want historically accurate or more useful version of the old gun? This is about striving for the latter.

I’ve seen where people who claim to know say the original Colts didn’t have the arbor bottomed out hard against the barrel either. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never had an original, but if Colt made them the way all Uberti Colt repros are made then I say Colt did it wrong. Others who own 1840s and ’50s original Colts tell me the arbor does sit hard against the inside the barrel’s arbor bore, setting a consistent cylinder gap. I choose to believe the latter.

Anyway I intend to modify the loading window at the right-hand side of the barrel to accept my custom 200 grain wide flat points (Accurate Molds 45-200S), and the 240 grain Kaido bullets. I see it as a cheapo gun with zero collector value and so I can do with it what I want and no one will make me feel guilty about it.

Would it shoot fine just as it came from the factory, for those who use only round ball or the 170 grain Picket bullet, and the Uberti recommended charges? Absolutely.

But that’s not why I got it. I got it to optimize it for my style of shooting, possibly use it for deer hunting, and mainly as a ballistics testing platform to find if, or where, there’s a point of diminishing returns in powder charges for a nine inch barrel, because I intend to make my own revolver at some point. How much velocity is gained between a 45 grain charge and a 50 grain charge, using 200 to 250 grain bullets, in the same gun with the same chambers, same barrel and the same cylinder gap? I intend to find out because it will determine how much chamber volume I think I want for my own gun.

There were sharp edges, sharp enough to cut you easily, on any and all Italian repros I have. On the Colts it’s always the front circumference of the recoil shield and the hammer slot in the frame, plus the outside edges of the water table. That’s just for starters. Every one I’ve gotten, I’ve gone through and taken off the sharp edges all around. This Walker is no exception. All the action springs tend to be brutally stiff also (which makes sense as policy if you’re not meticulously fitting all the moving parts) and a brand new Uberti from a couple years ago had its hammer cam essentially rubbed off by the bolt leg because the cam was so soft and the bolt spring so stiff. So when we say these Ubertis are good guns, we should qualify that by saying they’re good guns considering they’re at or near the bottom price range for a handgun.

Just as an FYI, I got a new Ruger Single six, which was a bit more expensive, and it too is a “good gun” but for the large, sharp, hanging burr at the rear bottom of the frame which cut into my hand, the rather unnecessarily wide cylinder gap, and the front sight which shot loose the first time I had it out. I refer to these as “project guns”.

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To shorten the shim to get any more pre-load at the barrel-to-water table (and there’s hardly any right now) I’ll have to either shorten the barrel more, or face off the cylinder, or a combination of both, and probably make a wider wedge (though I still have some way to go with the original wedge). It turned out that a little barrel shortening seems to have done the trick.

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Now fitting the loading port to accept conicals other than the pointy Picket ball. Aside from the issue of fitting a wider ogive and meplat under the plunger, any bullet that protrudes, at full diameter, above the cylinder face by more than about a tenth inch before ramming will strike the inside of the plunger bore. Since the plunger is significantly smaller than the bullet, the bullet jams in there and goes cockeyed. Therefore the whole thing gets opened up at the back. The first photo is of the port as it came from the factory. Note the lint stuck to the jagged edge. Also note that the lower edge of the port hangs inward over the chamber. The second photo shows the grinding partially done. It still has a way to go but at that point, with some wrestling, I can actually load 40 grain cartridges having my 200 gr conical or Kaido’s 240 gr conical. Once I’m done grinding and polishing I plan to be able to load 45 and 50 grain carts with either bullet and have them slip in easy and seat straight. We’ll see how it goes.

Oh; you do see defective bluing on the cylinder and in the chambers. It came that way and it didn’t bother me enough to consider returning it.

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I got the loading port opened up enough, I think. Now I’m makin’ some “combustible envelope” paper cartridges for it. 40 grains Old Eynsford 3F, a GF1 (Gatofeo #1) lube cookie (card, lube pill, card) and a Kaido 240 grain bullet, so I call it a 44-40-240. Had to make a new rolling dowel to make paper cases, so the cookie would fit snug in the paper case over 40 grains of powder, and at the same time sit snug over the powder. It’s a balancing act getting the dowel’s taper and starting diameter just right until the volume under the bullet (or lube cookie) is just right. All you need for making the dowel is a sharp knife, or a belt sander. I used a belt sander. I didn’t use a lathe for a dowel until I had everything figured out and tested, now I can crank them out on the lathe in short order. Later I tried some 50 grain carts with a 200 grain bullet. I found some “Super Jumbo” hair curling or perm papers, which give me two of the longer, high capacity Walker cartridge cases per sheet.

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This Walker seems to have a straight cut arbor wedge slot, front and back, unlike some of my other Colts in which they put a taper in the forward wall of the slot so the pressure is more centered. On the Walker that leading edge at the front of the slot is already biting into the soft steel wedge.

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Sept 7th 2016; Took the Walker out for a little shooting for the second time, this time using 45 grain paper cartridges (Old Eynsford 3F) with the Accurate Molds 45-200S flat point bullet. It’s almost a full load with the grease cookie behind the bullet. I’m sure it’d take 50 grains, but that’d be about it.

Anyway, with that load, which is close to what I’ll be using most of the time, it hits in a nice cluster about 13″ high at 30 yards, and as expected it’s hitting a little to the right. If I figure it correctly;
30 yards = 1080 inches
The gun’s sight radius is 12.5″
1080/12.5 = 86.4 sight radii
The error of 13″ over 86.4 sight radii; 13/86.4 = about 0.150″, which is the amount of sight elevation change I need, either by raising the front sight, lowering the rear sight, or a combination of changing both front and rear. That’s a lot of adjustment. Did I mention that these guns are not expensive?

The sights are not adjustable, other than by filing them down or replacing them.

After much investigation I decided to replace the front sight with a Marble Arms fiber-optic or a Williams Fire Sight, dovetailed into the barrel. They come in different heights, and I have a couple heights on order in both green and red. Such may be blasphemous on an 1847 Colt, but it’s a repro after all, and it’ll make for a nice black powder season hunting pistol for my old eyes. From today’s experience, that gun looks like it may be one of the better that I own for accuracy, or maybe I just got lucky today. Time will tell.

In the meantime here’s a photo of the water jug I shot at ten yards with the last shot of the day. I’ve shot a lot of these jugs with rifles and pistols, and this one exploded more like it was hit with a rifle in the 30-30 Win. or 7.62 x 39mm category. That’s not a scientific test, but it looks good anyway. Even at ten yards I had to aim at the bottom of the jug for a high center hit.
Also; after handling this thing for a while, the 8″ Remington 1858 Army seems like a compact, lightweight gun, so if you’re feeling that your Remington is a bit big and heavy, handle a Walker for a week or two and then the Remington will feel more like a pocket pistol.

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Below is a pic of a 45 grain cart for the Walker, next to a 30 grain cart for the Remington or Colt Army. Both have the 45-200S, wide flat point bullet and a grease cookie. The 45 grain cart overall length is about 2.06″ not counting the twist tail. An upcoming project will be a 36 or 40 round belt box and some six pack boxes for the larger cartridge.

I do want to get it out with a chrono soon. I have some carts made up using the 240 grain Kaido bullet with 40 grains OE 3F. I’ve fired a number of them already but don’t have any velocities for you yet. The heavier bullets do seem to print a little higher, which is to be expected. Much more work to do, as time allows. Fortunately the skies have opened up and we got some sweet rain, and so now I’m less concerned about starting a fire with this thing.

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My 58 year old eyes have been having a hard time with old timey sights. Black on black sights are great in the ideal lighting conditions at a static range during business hours, but they tend to disappear in other conditions. Anyway, the original sights were hitting about 14″ high at 30 yards, so something had to be done. I finally got the new front sight installed. The Marble Arms front sight was designed for a rifle, but it’s height looked about perfect for what I needed. The blasphemous part is that it’s a fiber optic sight (I’ll argue that it’s an 1840s type fiber optic – no, shut up).

I took it out and fired it at around seven yards, out to thirty yards. It’s pretty much dead on, such that I’ll have to shoot at greater distances from a rest to see if it needs any further adjustment. So far the hammer notch, which serves as the rear sight, is as-shipped from Uberti, but at some stage I may want to widen and deepen it so as I can see some daylight around the dot, which I prefer. The sight picture photo was taken at a distance closer than my eye would be when shooting with hands extended, so you see daylight around it. With the gun farther from the eye, that daylight is gone.

I grossly miscalculated (or rather, failed to calculate at all) in that when it was cut to depth, the bottom flat in the barrel dovetail is nearly twice as wide as the sight dovetail. That leaves open dovetail on both sides of the front sight. I should have filed the sight (male) dovetail much shallower, and then cut a shallower dovetail in the barrel. Oh well. It works great as it is, but it’s a bit ugly.

The idea was to have the standard Marble Arms dovetail so I could interchange front sights at will (green for red, etc.). Nice idea, wrong dovetail. Since this gun is a test platform, I’m not too bummed about it, but I feel a little stupid for not having anticipated this.

As per usual, the dovetail was cut initially, at its narrowest, using a plain old hacksaw, and additional slots were cut in between to remove more steel so there’d be less hand filing. Then lots of hand filing with a flat file and then filing with a safe-edge triangle file to finish it off. Fit and try, fit and try, fit and try, until the sight can be tapped into place with a brass punch and be tight enough to stay put.

Chronograph data, for 200 and 240 grain bullets, 45 and 40 grains O.E. 3F respectively, to follow soon.

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Chrono data, Sept. 17th, 2016; The Uberti Colt Walker barrel and arbor were fit for a small cylinder gap (less than .003″) when the barrel wedge is tapped in tight. The loading port is modified to take wide flat point conical bullets. Lube is Gatofeo #1 in the bullets’ grease grooves and in a lube cookie (card, lube pill, card, under the bullet). Caps; Remington #10. Nipples were Uberti originals. Conditions; about 60 Deg. F windy and raining lightly. All loads were in the form of paper cartridges. All shots fired from standing at 20 yards. No chronograph reading errors appeared (overcast conditions are good for this chronograph’s ability to sense the bullets, which is why I seem to end up chronographing in the rain a lot).

Load #1. Clean bore. 45 grains Old Eynsford 3F, lube cookie, Accurate Molds 45-200S bullet (average weight 203 grains, in pure lead), lube-sized to .450″.
Pre-loaded and left in the chambers for approximately two weeks.
Six shots;
High; 1066
Low; 1030
Extreme Spread; 36
Average; 1045
(energy; 492 ft. lbs.)

Load #2. Same 45 grain load as above, but loaded with two lube pills in the cookie (card, pill, pill, card) instead of one, and fired immediately after loading. Starting with a lightly fouled bore, having fired only the previous string of six;
Six shots;
High; 1128
Low; 1058
Extreme Spread; 70
Average; 1081
(energy; 527 ft. lbs.)

What to make of the difference? 1. The lube may have seeped past the .443″ card into the powder during the two weeks the loads were in the chambers, and in the hot weather we’ve had, it may have slightly affected the powder. 2. I’ve occasionally noticed an increase in velocity, all else being equal, as the gun heats up and the barrel fouls. Take your pick. Also, six shots of each load is a very small sample size. So small, by the way, that listing a Standard Deviation is pointless.

Load #3. 40 grains Old Eynsford 3F, lube cookie with one pill, 240 grain Kaido bullet (thank you, Old Fogey, for the bullets), lube-sized to .449″. The Uberti chambers are closer to .450″ and so this load (cartridge paper completely enveloping the bullet) is essentially a paper-patched bullet. I sized the Kaido bullets to .449″ for the smaller chambers in my Pietta Remingtons, but they load and shoot nicely in the Uberti also.
Six shots;
High; 991.3
Low; 967.7
Extreme Spread; 23.5
Average; 979.8
(energy; 512 ft. lbs.)

What can we make of all this? Apparently, the gun, with Old Eynsford 3F powder, likes 240 grain bullets. Accuracy was excellent with either bullet, with several consecutive holes touching at 20 yards, and more energy efficiency and less velocity deviation seem to accompany the heavier bullet.

At some point I may try 50 grains of powder with the 45-200S, and maybe 45 grains with the 240 Kaido. That’s probably about as spicy as I’m willing to go.

Right now I think I’d feel confident taking this setup out in the deer fields come muzzleloader season, but I’ll do more shooting with it at greater distances before making that decision. A pistol isn’t a rifle, and I’d need a relatively close shot.

The hammer blows back enough (from blast coming back through the nipples) that after most shots the hammer ends up sitting on a flattened cap that’s come off and has fallen about half way down the hammer channel in the frame before the hammer went forward again and caught it. That’s not “cap sucking” (a common assertion – the hammer pulling the cap off) it’s “cap blowing” (the flash-hole blast is pushing the hammer back with the spent cap). A few times the hammer was driven back enough to knock the cylinder out of battery. That’s rough on the lockwork. For this gun I ordered some Treso nipples, which have a substantially smaller flash hole. On my way back to the house today I stopped at the Post Office and the new nipples were there waiting for me. I’ll install them before I fire this gun again. I know from experience with other percussion revolvers that the Tresos will reduce “cap blowing” (and the attendant trauma to the action) substantially.

It’s been said that Uberti recently spiffed up the T-spring setup to keep the loading lever from dropping so easily. Maybe. In this outing the lever dropped completely only a few times. Other times it drops only part way, and as often as not it stays up against the barrel. Eventually I’ll Jerry rig (Yankee rig?) some sort of lever latch, probably from a later model Colt. Filing the T-spring for more positive engagement with the lever is another option, but I like the idea of having a latch at the end of the lever.

All shots went off without the slightest suggestion of hang fire. After at least 48 shots with no maintenance to the gun of any kind other than blowing across the chambers and down the bore after every six shots, the cylinder was still turning easily. That is in contradiction to the common assertion that you cannot get off more than 12 or 18 shots without dismounting the barrel and wiping the fouling off the cylinder arbor. The reason I can shoot indefinitely is because I use lube cookies which contain enough lube to keep the black powder fouling soft, and I blow down the gun after each six shots, the moisture from which also softens fouling.

Now I have to lay out all my chronograph equipment so it can dry.

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Sept 19th; I should mention also that the barrel wedge never budged in any of the former shooting. After 48 consecutive shots the wedge still had to be tapped out for disassembly and cleaning. Those who say that the Walker will loosen up after shooting a lot of full-house loads are the ones with the short barrel arbors and insufficient pre-load against the frame’s water table, resulting in a loose gun which will batter itself. Those I know who specialize in customizing the open top Colt pistols for competition tell me; you fix that inherent problem and the gun will take full loads for years and years without issue. I believe it.

Got the new nipples installed. They were extremely tight going in, I but they went in. I suspect that the 1/4 -28 threads are a very close match to a metric thread, or that the Uberti metric thread was selected as a very close match to 1/4 – 28 or whatever it’s supposed to be, but not a perfect match. The new nipples start in OK, and then get harder and harder as they go in. That points to, or at least suggests, a slight mismatch in pitch. On my other guns the Treso nipples go in snug, but don’t build in tightness to the point of getting brutal like these Walker nipples. FYI; in the 19th Century they were called “cones”. That’s probably better in that it would result in fewer Bevis and Butthead style chuckles.

Don’t know when I’ll get out to shoot next. We made 35 gallons of cider (apple juice) yesterday, and we’re making more next week and the week after…

I made up another rolling mandrel for a paper cartridge that holds 45 grains under the point where the bullet is tight in the taper. Much easier to make the 45 grain carts now. With those cases I made some cartridges with 50 grains of Olde Eynsford. They’re not good and tight at the bullet with 50 grains instead of 45, but they work well enough. A lube cookie goes atop the powder and the Accurate Molds 45-200S bullet goes on top of that.

That load chronographs at an average of 1,094 fps, for a muzzle energy of 540 foot pounds (actual average bullet weight is 203 grains). That’s barking, spitting fire and smoke, at the heels of the modern 10mm Auto energy range.

The rear sight notch in the hammer was finally opened up and the gun was taken out on at least two occasions to get an idea of what I could do with it. I decided, without much tweaking of loads and such, that it was good for hunting at 50 yards or less. At 100 yards I could get bullets on paper, but with nowhere near the required accuracy. Fifty is about it for this load and gun, for now. That’s plenty.

Muzzleloader deer season started Friday after Thanksgiving. My first time out I took the 50 cal rifle, and saw nothing but another hunter. I asked him over for coffee (a latte, brewed with fresh ground coriander) but he declined. He’d taken a long shot on a buck, injuring it, and had been attempting to pick up its trail for hours. Don’t be that guy.

After that I started taking the Walker pistol, pre loaded with a cartridge in each of two chambers, with only one chamber capped, in deference to the the state rules regarding double barreled rifles. They are silent on the subject of a percussion revolver for big game, so I improvised and adopted the multi-shot rifle rules.

First time out with the revolver, I sat up in a tree and watched a small fledgling deer for near two hours. It was behind my tree from where I was sitting, and so I had to twist my neck and shoulders around to see it. It would have been a difficult shot, so in spite of having a bead on the little bugger more than once, I never took a shot. Anyway, it was a very small deer. There are better choices.

After a couple days off during wind and driving rain, I was ready early Tuesday, the week after Thanksgiving, 2016. Before dawn on a nice day, while walking toward my tree stand before legal hunting hours, I startled up a beautiful, big buck with a nice rack on him. He’s as good as they get hereabouts. He had a nice doe in tow, and either would have been a good take. We were looking at each other, fifty yards apart. They were dead still. Not only is he at the edge of my chosen distance for a shot, it was still several minutes before I could take a legal shot. We stood there looking at each other. Time passed. We’re all being very patient. Due to the quartering-towards angle, I decided not to shoot unless I could get closer. Just about legal time to shoot, I veeery slowly took one step, and he bolted, the nice doe following. It was not to be.

Meanwhile, legal hours were on, and it was getting brighter, near to sun-up. I hurried up the steep, rough slope, and climbed into the tree stand. It’s a lot of work, and I was huffing and puffing, trying to be quiet about it. Near the time I was just about settled in, I turn to my left and there’s a nice, three point buck looking straight at me, about fifteen yards away in a straight line from my position, and a little below me (the tree I’m sitting in is on a very steep slope, so it’s a loooong way down behind me, and there is ground level to my eyes, about 30 yards in front).

The Walker pistol is still snapped into the holster, so I very slowly unsnap it, very slowly draw it out, and very slowly bring it to a firing position. Meanwhile, I and the buck are staring each other in the eye. He hasn’t seen anything like this up in a tree before and isn’t sure whether to be curious or run like hell. He hesitated, then takes one step, presenting me with the perfect, broadside shot.

CRACK!

This time I can see well enough through the smoke. The shot felt good. Should be right on. There’s always that moment of doubt, but this was one of those shots that is so controlled by circumstances that there is no sense of deliberate control or even thought behind it. After the decision is made to harvest this animal at this time, the rest is on a sort of “automatic pilot” and when the shot presents itself the gun fires. That after-shot doubt didn’t last long. The buck lunged, stumbled, tried to get up, stumbled some more, flailed, kicked up some dirt, went down, writhed, raised his head up at me and gave me one last, accusatory look, then went limp.

I figure it was less then ten seconds from bullet impact to dead still. Probably closer to five or six. I didn’t bother priming my second shot. I lasered the distance from my position in the tree (using a period 1847 laser range-finder of course) to where the buck was standing when he was shot, right next to that bush. 16 yards. I climbed down (it was nice to not have a rifle, which would need to be tied to a line and lowered from the tree first – just holster the pistol, snap the retaining strap and climb down) and then measured the distance he’d traveled after being hit. 16 yards also. Clean kill. Picture perfect, even. Sixteen and sixteen. I named him “32”.

Shown is 32 where he fell, and the right shoulder entry wound after skinning.

Notice the blood on the left front leg. That was a curious thing, given that no exit wound could be found until after skinning. I felt around extensively at the kill site, and there was NO exit to be found in the hide, and no bullet could be felt under the hide. Curiouser and curiouser.

The photo below is the exit wound. Note that it is lower than the entry. That’s because I was shooting from above him. As far as I could determine, the bullet traveled straight through, like a laser beam. Note also the proximity of the point of the “elbow” in relation to the exit wound. I never did find an exit wound in the hide and you’ll see why; the far side (left) leg must have been raised when he was hit, because the bullet struck the center of the elbow joint, breaking the left humerus clean in two. That’s why he didn’t go far – the left leg was completely snapped and he was trying to use it in vain. The bullet DID exit, and with enough power to snap the humerus. That’s good energy and excellent bullet performance (don’t underestimate the soft lead, cast bullet), though the 50 cal muzzleloader rifle ball would have splintered the left leg bones and kept going. The deer has enough loose hide in the arm pit area that, with the raised left leg, the bullet exited the chest and smacked the elbow joint without penetrating the hide. The shock at the elbow resulted in a minor skin break, which leaked the blood onto the left leg.

Notice the protrusion forward of the shoulder joint at the very front of the animal, to the left in the photo. That’s the free end of the broken humerus, still attached at the elbow, poking straight forward from inside.

Next is the inside of the left leg, after it was removed from the carcass. The bullet is in there. After removing the meat you can see the destruction of the leg. The elbow joint was hit almost perfectly on-center and the bullet flattened out against it, sticking fast to the bone.

The recovered bullet weighs 202.3 grains and has most of the GF1 lube still in the groove (the weather hardened the lube to such a degree). It was a cold morning. The bullet kept nearly all of its original mass.

Here’s the buck’s heart. The bullet took off the valves at the top. That’s the other reason he didn’t go far.

Below is shown the best part of this hunt with a Walker pistol. That’s over 70 pounds of venison there, and in addition to that we have several nice soup bones. I picked that carcass clean. The neck, mostly stripped of meat, goes into a crock pot for eight hours, and then the remaining meat all comes out easy, right down to the white bone, and nothing’s left. That makes the basis for a large, nice stew. Slow-cooking makes any cut of meat falling-off-the-bones tender.

And so the next time you’re communicating with your state fish and game department, and you’re trying to get someone to acknowledge your percussion revolver as a big game weapon, here’s some pretty good evidence that it’s not only feasible, it works very well within its proper limits.

Washington State game regs used to specify a minimum of “45 caliber” for a pistol on big game, and further stated that the caliber MUST be 45 “as stated by the manufacturer”. Several years ago I wrote to them stating that the old “44 100ths” caliber is by todays standards a solid 45 caliber (nominal .440 bore and .450” to .454” groove diameter). No exceptions. The next year they took out the “as defined by the manufacturer” part. They also require a pistol with at least eight inches of barrel, and the ability to take 45 grains or more of black powder according to manufacturer’s recommendations. That leaves the Colt Walker as the only available percussion revolver I know of, that meets the requirements. I intend, if I live long enough, to change that, see? Hunting the muzzleloader season gives you more latitude in target selection, and there are fewer people out at that time. The later season is also colder, which I like, and there is sometimes snow on the ground which can be a Godsend if you should need to track a bleeding animal into the brush and ravines.

And; I’m glad I didn’t get a shot off at that prize buck earlier that morning. He was pretty far off, it was not an ideal presentation, and this younger guy is better eating.

Also, the bullet did not strike any shoulder bone going in. It did hit the 4th rib dead center, cutting it in two. After wrecking both lungs and the heart, it hit between ribs 4 and 5 on the way out, taking a chunk out of #4, THEN it broke the off-side humerus clean in two.

With all that, I’d say that a quartering shot, well placed, would be plenty effective, so long as you’re not too far away, you know the anatomy of the aminal and you’re sure of the bullet placement. Also a bullet heavier than 200 grains would probably be a better choice, but as you see, this one at ~203 grains did more than well enough in an ideal situation. ~240 grains is probably in the Goldilocks Zone in bullet weight for the Walker, and for an Army revolver also (based on this story and on my chronograph tests of both revolvers).

Some general points regarding hunting;
Adrenaline often messes up the process. In excess it only gets in the way, so when it comes on, you have another challenge to overcome in addition to all the others. Rather than deal with it while taking a shot last year, I aborted, and watched that deer walk away, getting a different deer on another day. This time I got lucky and the adrenaline didn’t flow, or at least not to excess.

Also I think it’s worth mentioning that I’ve passed up three shots in two seasons. “Getting lucky” involves knowing your limits, having a narrow “Shoot Now” parameter, and avoiding some shots altogether. No Hail Mary shots just because you’re looking at a big beautiful buck or some such. I’m very glad that I didn’t take those other shots, because things usually work out better later, on another day, with another deer, just like this one did.

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I later got around to form-fitting the Walker’s loading plunger to the wide, flat point bullets. Also, the barrel’s loading cutout needed a little bit more relief to clear all the bullets I use. It had been working, but the bullet was hitting part of the barrel inside the loading port prior to seating, and the plunger was biting into the bullets, deforming them. Now the heaviest bullet sits in the position prior to the loading position, and can be rotated into loading position, all without touching the barrel at any point. And of course the plunger no longer deforms the bullets.

That works out well because both of my custom Accurate Molds bullets (45-200S and 45-225L) have the same meplat diameter. As it is, the plunger sits down over the bullet ogive by about 1/32″. I could have faced off the plunger on a lathe, and I may yet, but I’ll try this for now. Round ball and the Lee 450-200-1R round nose will now be flattened upon loading, but this gun is optimized for the hunting bullets. One could get additional plungers if that were a concern. For me it’s not a concern.

While we’re on the subject of the customized percussion revolver, I’ll show you the cartridge carrying system I’ve developed over the last two years. The 1847 Walker, back in its day, was loaded primarily, if not exclusively, with “loose ammunition”, which is to say, a powder flask and lead ball or a 170 grain Picket Bullet, loaded into the chamber separately. During the period of the Civil War however, the mainstay ammunition (at least for the North) was the combustible envelope cartridge, usually employing a paper case.

I’ve developed a paper cartridge that contains the measured powder charge, a “lube cookie” (a paper card, a lube pill, and another paper card), and the bullet, all wrapped up neat and tidy for a one-step insertion into the chamber and having a pull tab on top for singular removal from the carry box. This greatly simplifies the loading process in the field, with the up-front cost being the learning curve and then the time spent making cartridges.

Part of the system is the means of carrying and dispensing said cartridges, and that includes a leather belt box and a paper cartridge having the pull tab. The belt boxes for Army (44 cal) and Navy (36 cal) revolvers each hold 50 rounds. The belt box for the longer Walker Cartridges holds 40 rounds, and fits the same leather exterior as the Army box core. The box core, which fits snug inside the leather and contains a separate cavity for each fragile cartridge to keep it safe and secure, is 3-D printed and consists of a wood fiber filled PLA plastic. Also in the system is a cartridge 6 pack box, similar to the disposable 1860s designs but re-usable, having a 3-D printed core with a hinged lid and a matchbox style, cardboard jacket having an ink-jet printed, self adhesive label. I’ve worked out a set of rolling mandrels for the paper cartridges cases, one for each load. There’s one for 23.5 grains of black powder (Navy), one for 30 grains (Army), and there are 40, 45, and 50 grain mandrels (for the Walker or Dragoon). Each mandrel produces a case for a specific amount of powder, leaving the bullet (or lube cookie) tight inside the case and tight on top of the powder.

All together (the customized gun, the paper cartridge containing lube and having a pull tab, the means of producing the cartridges, the modern bullet designs and the means of field carry) the system is an improvement in ease and performance in the field over anything used in the 19th century. Below are some pics of the prototype Field Carry system with a “1858” Remington New Model Army revolver. The gun, the cartridge box and a capper are all that you carry with you.

Yes, I know it’s crazy, but I think it beats several other things people might do with their time.
“Hello; my name is Lyle and I am an addict…”

5 thoughts on “Revolver re-build, Field Carry system, and deer hunt

  1. Great post. I read through every part and I really admired your skill when you hand filed and fitted the dovetail.
    Any thoughts to mounting a rear sight on the barrel? I sort of remember it being mentioned when I was more active in black powder shooting and that was forty five years ago or so.
    The only thing I found was some data about a leaf sight on shoulder stocked dragoon revolvers.
    You could mount a short piece of rail on the pistol for accuracy testing and use a red dot sight. That seems both wrong, and cool at the same time.
    Again, great post.

    • Thank you. Yes I’d considered a barrel-mounted rear sight, and even a dot sight. Probably the only reason I haven’t done either is the perceived cost/benefit deficiency– More work for less payoff. Anyway, the hammer notch rear provides a significantly longer sight radius, and the fiber-optic is close enough to being a “dot sight”, sort of, for now.

      If I were rich, I’ve considered making an “Eighteenth Century Reflex Sight”. It would have a brass body, it would run on coal oil, and I’d mount it to a nice flintlock long rifle. Good thing I’m not rich, huh? I’d do even more dumb shit.

      • Well, I thought first of using radium in your Flintlock Reflex Sight, but radium watch dials were much much later than the flintlock era and so you will probably stick with coal oil. For the flintlock era “tac light” you may want to consider using a limelight to power the “tactical light” although I am not exactly sure how you are going to carry the tanks of oxygen and hydrogen. I looked at carbide lamps, but again, they are of the modern era and were used much later than the flintlocks time period.
        Too little of our lives is spent having fun and inventing “dumb shit.”

  2. Lyle, there is a hunting category now. I added the category to this post. If you (and Rolf) want to go back through your old hunting related posts and add the category to those posts that would be really cool!

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