Handguns are mishandled more than any other type of firearm.
Because of their ease of handling, relatively compact size and light
weight, I’ve seen more handguns pointed in the wrong direction at
the wrong time, and have seen more accidental discharges than with any
other breed of gun. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not
condemning handgunners. I consider sixguns among my favorite arms.
What I am getting at is that because of the above stated reasons,
coupled with a fantasy-type approach taken by some gunners, undoubtedly
spurred on by television, books and motion pictures, handguns are
carelessly handled more often than are longarms. let’s face it,
who among us has never fantasized that we were a pistol totin’
hombre in a make-believe adventurous situation? Such fantasies however
are best left in our thoughts, and not in our gun hand. During the
Western craze of television in the late 1950s and early 1960s it was not
uncommon to hear of some poor cuss who forgot to unload his six-shooter
when facing down a TV villain, and wound up with a bullet hole in his
television set or, worse yet, himself–not to mention his damaged pride!
While firearms today are used for sport by the majority of us, we
must never forget that they can be dangerous if mishandled. Black
powder six-shooters are no exception. Here are some safety tips that
you should always follow.
Never point your sixgun toward another shooter or any bystanders.
Whenever you are at a shooting range, or at your favorite plinking locale, always keep your revolver pointed downrange. This is an easy
rule to unconsciously break, since handguns are so easy to wield.
Unlike a longarm, we tend to move about more freely with them, and are
thus more likely to carelessly point them in the wrong direction.
Because percussion revolvers are loaded through the front of the
cylinder’s chambers rather than the rear end, as in a metallic
cartridge revolver, special precautions must be taken during the loading
process. The safe method for loading any cap and ball six-shooter is as
follows: First, after making sure that there are no obstructions, such
as oil, in the nipples or chambers by visually inspecting them then
firing a percussion cap on each nipple, bring the hammer to the
half-cock position, then pour in your powder charge. Fortunately,
because of the limited size of a revolver’s chambers, such arms
cannot be overloaded with black powder to where they are dangerous to
fire. They can, however, be overloaded as far as proper seating of the
projectile is concerned. With too much powder in the chamber, the
projectile cannot be seated below the mouth of the chamber, thus
preventing the rotation of the cylinder.
After the powder charge has been poured, place an
appropriately-sized projectile, sprue down, in the chamber, then with
the revolver’s loading lever, seat it tightly and evenly over the
powder. Next, place a small amount of grease, or your favorite brand of
revolver lubricant, on top of the ball to prevent a multiple discharging
of the chambers. If you are using the thick cloth-type wadding such as
the Ox-Yoke Originals’ “Wonder Wads” instead of grease,
then the wad must be placed directly over the powder, be compressed,
then the ball is seated firmly over the wad. Lastly, place the cap over
Because the gun’s muzzle is pointed upwards during loading,
and the shooter has a tendency to press the arm that the revolver is
held in against the body for support, the barrel is sometimes placed in
a direct line of fire with his face. Always angle the revolver’s
muzzle away from your head!
Once your percussion revolver is loaded, make sure that it is
carried in a safe manner. Many of these 19th century designed wheelguns
were made so that the hammer rests on the nipple. Of course as with a
Peacemaker-type cartridge revolver, this is dangerous. Some original
cap and ball cylinders were made with special notches cut in, or small
pins protruding from, the rear of the cylinder. These were designed so
that the hammer could be locked in a lowered position with a
fully-loaded cylinder without its resting on a loaded chamber. A word
of caution is in order though, as many replicas have omitted these
“safety” pins, which at best are rather weak, they should not
be considered as true safety devices. With revolvers like the
percussion Colts, carrying the gun with the hammer resting on an empty
chamber is still the best method. On Remington-type revolvers, I have
found the notch between each chamber is a reliable retainer for the
hammer, when the hammer is lowered into said notch, and such sixguns can
be carried safely with the full complement of a half-dozen rounds
With single-action metallic cartridge revolvers, vintage or modern
made, the old frontiersmen’s method of bringing the gun to half
cock, then loading one chamber, rotating the cylinder and skipping a
chamber, then loading the next four, is still the safest way to load.
After the fifth cartridge has been inserted, pull the hammer back to
full-cock position. This will bring the empty chamber into line with
the hammer. Then by depressing the trigger while keeping your thumb on
the hammer, you can safely lower it to the empty chamber. As far as
this ol’ pistoleer is concerned, this is the only safe way to carry
a single-action revolver!
If while shooting a percussion sixgun, you are forced to remove a
projectile from a loaded chamber, be sure to remove the cap first. It is
also a good idea to unscrew the nipple with your nipple wrench and empty
the powder charge out. Once this is done, it is then safe to proceed
with the removal of the projectile.
If you experience a misfire, hold the gun downrange for a good 45
to 60 seconds, as you would with a rifle. You may have a hangfire
(delayed ignition) on your hands.
Shooting glasses and ear protectors should be considered as
standard equipment-especially with black powder arms. Sometimes it is
necessary for me to pose for photographs, or take part in a theatrical
or historical scenario, without such aids, otherwise, I use them every
time I shoot. I know that because of the nostalgia aspect of
muzzle-loading, modern glasses and ear protectors look out of place,
however, when it comes to your personal safety, common sense must
Incidentally, this is a good time to throw in a couple of hints
aimed at those of you who shoot from horseback. Briefly, there are
three basic rules to remember. First, never point your gun toward your
mount; anytime the revolver is drawn from the holster, raise the muzzle
upward until the moment of firing. If you load your six-shooter while
mounted, remember to aim the gun to the side–away from your animal.
Secondly, don’t fire your revolver near his ears or head–the noise
could injure your animal’s hearing and the resulting blast could
hurt him and/or frighten him to the point where you will never be able
to get near him with a gun again! Lastly, and this may sound silly to
some of you, but believe me, I’ve known of fools who have done
this–don’t use your horse’s head as a rest! I’ve
actually known of horsemen who have done this, then brag of how well
trained their animals are. Such carelessness and insensitivity is pure
bull! I consider myself pretty well trained around firearms, but I sure
as hell don’t want someone to pull the trigger of their sixgun
while using the top of my head as a rest for the butt of their revolver.
Don’t be that sort of jerk!
If these simple procedures are followed, you can enjoy a lifetime
of handgunning fun. When handled safely and responsibly, sixguns can
provide some of the most fun and safe shooting imaginable. I’ve
enjoyed shooting and handling my revolvers for a long time and I look
forward to an even longer, pleasureable association with them in the
future–how about you? SHILOH INSTRUCTION MANUAL UPDATE
In the August issue, I reported on the Shiloh Rifle Co.’s new
instruction manual for their Model 1863 Sharps percussion replicas.
However, in that article, I should have mentioned that this booklet may
be obtained only from the C. Sharps Arms Co., P.O. Box 885, Big
Timber, MT 59011. Although I had the correct address, I listed the
Shiloh Rifle Mfg. Co. title in error. This has resulted in an
accounting confusion within these two companies, which are separate
entities. The C. Sharps Arms Co. offers custom Sharps rifles built on
Shiloh rifle actions as well as acting as a sales office for the Shiloh
Rifle Mfg. Co.
If you are contemplating purchasing one of these handly instruction
manuals for the loading, operation and care of a Shiloh–or an
original–Sharps percussion breechloader, send $2 to the C. Sharps Arms
Co. This will avoid any confusion and facilitate quicker delivery to
you. BLACK POWDER SAFETY EDUCATION PROGRAM
AS a service to muzzle-loaders, we are reprinting the following
letter from the NMLRA.
“The National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association and the
National Rifle Association have jointly agreed to develop and implement
a comprehensive muzzle loading safety training program. The program
includes development of student manuals, instructor training materials,
and an instructional film. All components were developed
simultaneously, building a stronger, more effective, and therefore more
“The need for a safety film and the upgrading of our
instructor qualification process was necessary, and the NMLRA Board of
Directors welcomed this opportunity to do so. In addition, cooperation
between the NMLRA and NRA, long sought and greatly needed, is being
“The program addresses rifle, pistol and shotgun in three
separate courses. Each course consists of history, nomenclature, safe
loading procedure, and appropriate elementary marksmanship practices.
Though each course is designed to “stand alone,” they may be
combined to meet a given group’s needs.
“Qualified individuals are identified as Instructor/trainers,
and will be required to attend appropriate training courses. They, in
turn, will conduct Instructor/Training courses. Instructors will be
certified for the rifle, pistol, and/or shotgun courses, depending on
the training courses successfully completed.
“The NMLRA is presently in the editing stage of production of
an instructional film; the actual filming was completed during the first
week of December 1983.
“The history of muzzle loading firearms in American and the
fundamental safety aspect of the fast growing contemporary sport are
both addressed. Education coordinator, outdoors survival instructor and
experienced hunter, muzzle loading enthusiast Lee Robertson, of Utah, is
a featured performer. Glen Lau Productions of Ocala, florida is the
production company. As the program comes together over the next several
months, specific information will be made available to the members of
the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association and the National Rifle
Association.” REFERENCE BOOKS
With the constant arrival of new enthusiasts to the sport of black
powder shooting, it is a good idea to occasionally review products and
research material that veteran hobbyists often take for granted. Here
are a few books that, through the years, have become standard reference
works in their field.
Carl P. Russell’s excellent volume, Firearms, Traps &
Tools of the Mountain Men, published by the University of New Mexico
Press, should be in every buckskinner’s and fur trade buff’s
library. This 448-page, 6-inch by 9-inch softcover book is chock full
of scholarly research and useful information. Briefly, it covers
virtually every major type of hand tool utilized by that hardy breed of
frontiersmen known as “Mountain Men.” This work covers such
arms as the swivel cannons used on keelboats, flint and percussion
plains rifles, pistols, knives and more. There are also chapters
devoted to axes, traps, bullet moulds, flint strikers, blacksmith
equipment and a host of fascinating objects of use in the early American
West. This book is heavily illustrated with quality line drawings of
actual museum specimens of these tools, each with a citing of the source
of the original artifact. All in all, this work is a valuable reference
tool for anyone interested in this colorful period of history. It is
currently available for $11 postpaid (in the U.S.) from Dale Seppa,
Dept. GA, 103 Sixth Avenue North, Virginia, MN 55792.
Another excellent reference work available from Dale Seppa is Arms
& Equipment of the Civil War, written and illustrated by Jack
Coggins, and published by the Fairfax Press. This interesting book
covers the infantry, cavalry and the artillery, along with the
engineers, signal corps, railroads, medical departments, quartermaster corps, and the natives of the Union and the Confederacy.
This edition is in 8-1/2-inch by 11-inch, hardcover format, and has
160 pages of facts, illustrations and diagrams of the arms and tactics
used by both sides during our nation’s bloodiest conflict. There
are also several cross-section drawings of ammuntion and firearms
detailing their operation and construction. As a quick reference piece,
I feel this book is among the best of its type. It is a must for Civil
War and 19th century U.S. military arms buffs. It retails for $10
postpaid (in the U.S.).
Indian Wars military students will enjoy the following books from
the University of Oklahoma Press, Dept. GA, 1005 Asp Avenue, Norman, OK
73019: Carbine & Lance, The Story of Old Fort Still, written by Col.
W.S. Nye is a worthy effort that traces the history of the most
prominent military post in the old Indian Territory of Oklahoma, from
the days of the U.S. Dragoons up to modern times. The book is well
written and provides enjoyable reading along with solid, factual
information. Now in its 11th printing, this 361-page, 6 by 9-inch book
would make a worthwhile addition to any frontier historian’s
bookshelf. It sells for $14.95 in paperback and $16.95 in hardcover.
Custer’s Luck, by Edgar I. Stewart has long been considered a
standard reference work on the man who undoubtedly could quality as
America’s most controversial soldier. The book deals with Lt.
Col. George Armstrong Custer and his famed 7th U.S. Cavalry during the
period of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, or the “Battle of the
Greasy Grass,” as the Indians called it. The volume looks at the
man, his policies, and the events that preceeded this famous fight, as
well as the historic clash itself. If you are a Custer buff or a
cavalry hobbyist, then this book is definitely for you. It measures 6
by 9 inches, is 522-pages thick, and retails for $14.95 in paperback and
$25 in hardcover edition.