The Posse has been utterly derelict in keeping up with one of our former mainstays: gun reviews. We will remedy this defect immediately.
Our current selection is a significant departure from earlier weapons. Instead of a modern self-defense or sporting firearm, today we are going to look at a more archaic device: a black powder pistol.
Though black powder seems exotic to us, for the majority of the gunpowder era it was the standard propellant. It was only in the last century or so that modern 'smokeless' powder became established.
In fact, black powder filled the first cartridge weapons, including the famous Winchester rifle and Colt Single Action Army. It was only later that these weapons were modified to use the new propellant.
This particular specimen is Connecticut Vally Arms 'Colonial,' a special subset of black powder weapons, known as a "kit gun." That is to say, it is purchased unassembled and it is up to the new owner to put it together and provide the final finish on the parts.
This allows the owner to customize the weapon and at the same time avoid any federal (and in many cases state) paperwork since unassembled black powder weapons are largely unregulated. I bought this at a second-hand store for $25.
That being said, it needed some work. The finish is worn, one of the lock plate screws was missing, it had no ramrod, the nipple for the percussion cap was the wrong size and the hole for the front site was drilled off-center and crooked. Hence the low, low price.
Still, there is something to be said for a firearm fixer-upper and I greatly enjoyed the work I did on the Colonial.
It is (obviously) a muzzle-loader and takes .45 caliber balls. The barrel is rifled, but there is no twist - I assume the grooves are there to absorb the (considerable) fouling that accumulates.
This is not an accurate weapon. One could never compare the target grouping with that of a modern weapon. Even the short-barreled Taurus 85 is a veritable sniper weapon compared to this club. At about ten feet you can be reasonably sure of hitting a 12-inch target.
And yes, it is much like a club because after you fire it (at extreme close range) that is what you are likely to use it for. Even though this is a reproduction, the style of grip is faithful to its original era (roughly the 1840s - after the development of the percussion cap but before the advent of the revolver).
Purists may sniff at the fact that it does use a percussion cap, and certainly this undercuts the name given to it (the only "colonies" that might apply would be Canada or Australia, since the U.S. became independent long before percussion caps were invented).
On the other hand, if one wants the feel and billowing smoke of a "pirate pistol," caps are a lot easier to deal with than the loose powder of a flintlock.
And oh does this thing throw smoke! That is part of its charm, and its short range (and the fact that you get to make the cartridges yourself) allows you much more control over how far that ball will go.
Oh yes, that is the other thing about black powder: you have to roll your own. The rule of thumb I've seen is that one should use one grain per caliber of the weapon, thus 45 grains is a good starting place for a .45 caliber pistol. It seems to work with the Colonial.
Preparing for a shooting session involves the meditative process of gathering paper, powder and a dowel rod (to serve as a rolling guide) to make the cartridges. Because I'm cheap and I have no illusions of accuracy, I use newspaper. Roll, twist, measure, pour, twist. Repeat as needed.
The one caution I must add regarding black powder is that it requires a lot of additional tools to use. One needs a powder measure and a different solvent (smokeless powder solvents are oil-based and do not work on black powder residue) - a modest expense to be sure, but something that must be priced into the initial purchase.
On the flip side, bullet molds are easy to come by and one can accumulate quite a bit of black powder and have a multi-year supply if desired. "Bullet bubbles" don't really apply to black powder shooters.
All in all, I've enjoyed my foray into this area of shooting. Black powder pistols (and muzzle-loaders in particular) are fussy and fiddly, but that is part of the charm. It gives one something to do between range sessions. While not suitable for anything other than plinking, the Colonial is a lot of fun and a welcome addition to the Posse's collection.