Letter From “Falsemuzzle” Re: Black Powder Guns in Survival Planning

An appropriate addition to your selection of firearms should be a black powder (BP) revolver and longarm.
Many very fine guns of these types are sold all over the U.S. and so detailing the good and bad of each is probably beyond the scope of this commentary. Many prefer their own experience in the area when choosing a good BP firearm, and so I will not try to express my own biases here. What counts is having them.
In terms of mobility, pre-cast bullets would be the best bet. In terms of a permanent site, storage of raw lead is perfectly fine (since it never goes bad!).
Quality casting equipment [for lead bullets] helps as does some experience in that area – like anything there is a learning curve which in this case allows for a quick level of expertise derived from having a good time learning. Errors in casting bullets can be re-cast allowing for very cost effective on the job training. Lead essentially becomes the ultimate recyclable material – very little wastage. Recovering bullets from a day’s shooting of your cartridge firearms simply adds to your supply of lead for either your BP or conventional cartridge firearm (assuming that you reload).
Ruger’s products are very well respected – the Old Army is perhaps the best choice in BP revolvers, Colt’s BP series is also an excellent choice (though more pricey). Kit guns can be fun to assemble, but normally require some amount of hand-work to fine-tune. Italian-made BP revolvers by Uberti, or Navy Arms are good choices too.
Personally, I would not buy a Walker-sized revolver simply because of the weight issue. Colt’s Army, or Ruger’s Old Army are well-balanced and handy.
Browning’s discontinued Mountain rifle was an excellent product and pretty collectible. One should track one of these down if you can find one for sale. But like the revolvers mentioned above, the Browning Mountain rifle is not the only great BP rifle available. Kit rifles can be excellent choices too. Aside from being an adult, Federal regulations are very liberal. It is well-worth your investigation of State and Local regulations though, to be sure of you area’s laws.
Calibers do not matter much past knowing what you need your firearm to do. BP hunting journals are excellent sources for this information, while there are typically many books published on the subject available in larger gun stores. Finding a copy of the Foxfire book that deals with making BP wouldn’t hurt, but read as much as you can.[JWR Adds: He is referring to Foxfire Volume 5: Iron making, Blacksmithing, Flintlock Rifles, Bear Hunting…]
Making BP is something I cannot comment on as I have not made it myself. You would be best advised to learn such an art VERY cautiously for two good reasons. Poor BP makes for poor performance, and mishandled BP – poor or good – can be volatile. Learning from BP enthusiasts is a good start, though most will probably tell you to opt for factory made powders.
There is no great mystery to BP grain sizes – though archaic the grains sizes used in most rifles or revolvers is FFFG – you can work with different grain sizes but the largest size is really not going to be an option.
Simply put, any well-stocked retreat should have BP arms, just like it should have a good hunting bow.
For hunting in some areas, the BP seasons are run longer and earlier. Using them conserves your precious cartridge supply. There is no need to worry about “reloading” cartridges cases that soon split, or complicating your life with re-loading equipment. – Falsemuzzle

JWR Replies: I agree that BP guns do have a place in survival planning.  However, if someone’s main goal is getting guns that are outside of Federal jurisdiction (with no purchase paperwork required in most locales), from a practical standpoint they are better off buying pre-1899 cartridge guns from the 1890s, such as the Mausers and the S&W top break revolvers that are sold by dealers such as The Pre-1899 Specialist.  If, in contrast, the intent is to have guns that will remain useful in the event of a multi-generational societal collapse, them BP guns make a lot of sense. Lead for bullet/ball casting can be stored in quantity, and even salvaged wheel weights or battery plate lead could be substituted. Black powder and percussion caps could conceivably be “home brewed”–although there are some serious safety considerations. 

BP arms have lower velocity and hence less stopping power than modern smokeless powder cartridge guns. However, they can still be fairly reliable stoppers.  I would NOT want to be a burglar confronted by a homeowner that is holding a pair of Ruger Old Army .44 percussion cap revolvers! OBTW, since black powder is inherently corrosive, I recommend buying stainless steel guns whenever possible. So make that a pair of stainless steel Ruger Old Army .44 percussion cap revolvers.

If you ever envision BP guns being pressed into service for self-defense, then get models that optimize fast follow-up shots and fast reloading. For example, consider the the Kodiak brand double rifle. Some brands of BP revolvers have cylinders that are relatively quick to change. For those, it makes sense to buy two or three spare cylinders for each gun that can be kept loaded. Of course be sure to have each gun tested with all of the cylinders to make sure that they all function and “register” correctly.