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Black Powder Guns For Survival
Previously I reviewed that homemade guns book, by that Brown fellow, so this is just another alternative that I’d like touch on. Specifically, we will be discussing non-cartridge firing breech loaders or muzzleloaders, as opposed to cartridge firing black powder guns. For a variety of reasons (felony conviction, and a misdemeanor domestic abuse charge also results in a lifetime ban) there are many that are unable to purchase conventional firearms. But you’ve made all those enemies along the way, and you’re a little closer to the ghetto than you like to be. Fear not, all is not lost. Black powder guns are declassified as firearms under the 1968 gun control act, and in most states, will ship right to your door, no questions asked. Also keep in mind that while it is legal in most cases to possess these guns, any criminal act, or even a justifiable case of self defense, may result in being tried as if you did possess or use an actual firearm (More info in link at end).
Cap and Ball Revolvers
There are two major types: the Colts and the Remington's. The Colts are an open top design, and the Remington’s have a top strap over the cylinder, as does a modern revolver. Proponents in favor of the Remington will argue that the top strap adds additional strength. Personally, I think that it makes little difference, as you would be hard pressed to load a modern steel black powder revolver so hot that it will come apart on you. And even in the unlikely event that this were to happen, that added top strap on the Remington’s will be of little consolation as the gun flies apart as shrapnel in your hands and face. One major advantage of the Remington is that the cylinders are designed to be replaced quickly, but aside from this advantage, the Colt is a superior designed weapon in my opinion. The cap and ball revolver provides you with 6 shots typically (Though some are 5 shooters) so you do have a little more fire power at your disposal, and some of the longer barreled models can reach out fairly effectively to around 75 yards. Sometimes you will see brass framed cap and ball revolvers being sold. Brass framed revolvers are generally less costly, but also have less strength, and can possibly warp or stretch from firing hotter loads, though with lighter loads, they should be fine. Still, if at all possible, spend a little extra and get a steel framed revolver. A typical .44 cap and ball revolver is said to be about equal to a standard .38 special load. A typical .36 caliber is said to be about equal to a .22 long rifle. There are exceptions to the above however. For example, a .44 Colt Walker revolver can hold a whopping 60gr powder charge, but most .44’s max out at about a 30gr maximum powder charge. Yes, you can purchase a cartridge conversion cylinder for the more popular cap and ball revolvers, that will convert your gun to fire modern center fire cartridges, and will slip right into your gun without modification. But keep in mind that the moment you place one into your gun, it becomes a firearm, and is then subject to the same regulations. The conversion cylinders are also very expensive, and for the price of one, you can usually purchase another gun, or several spare cap and ball cylinders, or shooting supplies. You will have to decide what is a better use of your funds. With the cartridge conversion cylinders, you are limited to low velocity cowboy loads, and the manufacturers specify that they are not to be used in brass framed guns.
As one might expect, the .44 cal is the best suited for self defense. However, I can think of a few reasons where it would be advantageous to have the smaller .36 and .31 calibers. The little .31 cal typically uses around 10 grains of powder, so a 1lb can of powder would provide a lot of target practice (7000 grains in 1lb, so 7000/10 = 700 shots per can of powder. The .36 has a typical starting load of about 15 grains, so only slightly more powder than the .31. Some cap and ball enthusiasts have reported using appropriately sized buckshot for their .31 and .36 cal guns, and with good success. It’s also far cheaper to buy an 8lb bag of buckshot over the round balls that are 100% pure lead, and are sold specifically for these revolvers. However, it should be noted that buckshot is generally harder, containing around 7% antimony, so it may be necessary to load the cylinder off of the gun to prevent from damaging the ramming mechanism of the revolver.
Black powder Shotguns
Black powder shotguns are an excellent close range self defense weapon. Unfortunately, black powder shotguns have really gone up in price over the years, and would likely be out of the price range of most financially challenged survivalists. You might be able to pick up a reasonably priced used model at a gun show or a swap meet, if you keep your eyes open. If you happen to have handyman skills, it might be worth looking into building your own (Again, refer to the Brown book linked below). Black powder, being a low pressure propellant, is very forgiving to the home built gun, so this is not as scary as it sounds.
Breech loading percussion rifles
There are a few black powder rifles that are designed to be loaded from the breech. The most common models that fit this example are the percussion Sharps, and the Smith Carbine. Often times a rolled paper cartridge is utilized, and the shooter need only place a percussion cap on the gun to fire it. As one might imagine, such guns are much faster to fire than a muzzleloader. Unfortunately, as with the percussion shotguns, they too are quite expensive. I only mention them for the survivalist that has a little extra to spend. The standard percussion Sharps rifle (i.e not the shorter carbine) has great long range potential in the hands of those that are capable.
Muzzleloading percussion rifles
There are two major types available. The old fashioned side lock such as the Kentucky or Hawken rifles (My personal favorite) etc, or the inline. One advantage of the more modern inline’s is that they are typically a break action (not to be confused with a breech loader) and when closed, they close up tight, and better seal and protect the percussion cap or primer from the elements. They also usually offer a hotter ignition system in the form of a 209 shotgun primer, allowing for more versatility with a variety of modern black powder substitutes (some of which are harder to ignite than the traditional black powder, but offer greater advantages in other ways). You can also load them pretty hot. Most of the inline rifles will take a standard 150gr powder charge. Now it should be noted that when they advertise as being capable of firing a 150gr charge, that they really mean that they can take 150gr of the powder pellets, not loose powder, which would be around 30grs less than this amount. I seem to recall reading that the modern inline rifle with a 150gr charge is about on par with a .30 .30 Winchester, so these guns are quite capable of taking large game. A quick glance over at Cabela’s indicates that you can pick up an inline rifle for quite a bit less (Around $200) than a traditional side lock, so I would have to suggest that this would be a better use of your funds.
In closing, it’s important to note that black powder is a low pressure/energy propellant. Therefore you cannot expect the same performance from these guns as a modern smokeless powder firearm. The old black powder guns often made up for this by having much longer barrels, (necessary to efficiently burn the less effective black powder charge) large bores, and by firing heavy projectiles, therefore adding much weight, and more energy transfer to the shot. These guns also have a very high trajectory, which seems to increase exponentially once you get out past a 100 yards or so. That’s why you will often see the old long range black powder rifles (Sharps, Ballard, Hepburn, Springfield, etc) fitted with the Creedmore long tang sights to compensate for this trajectory. To my knowledge, there are no scopes that will compensate for that kind of trajectory, so black powder shooting much past a few hundred yards requires good eyesight in conjunction with a tang sight. Despite the disadvantages inherent to these guns, some of the old black powder rifles were capable of some very accurate shooting at tremendous ranges.
One of the more spectacular examples of 19th century marksmanship, was performed by a fellow by the name of Billy Dixon at the Battle of Adobe Wells. Billy and his companions were greatly outnumbered by the natives, and facing certain death. Billy then placed in his sights, the chief of said tribe, and let loose with his .50 caliber Sharps, at a range later paced off to be 9/10ths of a mile. The other natives upon witnessing the sudden “weight loss” of their leader (courtesy the “.50 Cal Sharps weight loss program”: a common, though understandably, less popular diet among the native at the time :D ) had lost all will to fight, and decided to head for safer hunting grounds :D
In closing, no, I am not a felon. But I also don’t take kindly to having to get permission from the govt to own a firearm for what should be a basic human right to protect myself or my family. I do own firearms, but they have been in the family for a long time, and were acquired long ago, minus any paper trail. I also don’t believe that if someone made a mistake, and paid for that mistake, that should never have the right to defend themselves ever again.
Most Frequently Asked Firearms Questions and Answers (Touches on the legality of muzzleloaders in most jurisdictions within the US).