Two Letters Re: Cap and Ball Revolver Options

Hello James,
Thanks for a great site.

Here in New York City you can own an antique or reproduction black powder revolver, but if you have caps, bullets and/or powder then you are considered to possessing an unregistered pistol. (A felony.)

As you always say: “check your state and local laws .”

Thanks, – Richie from New York City


Dear Mr. Rawles,
I read with interest the letter about Cap and Ball Revolvers as a workaround for restrictive gun laws.   I have long advocated this to some of my friends and acquaintances,  who, for one reason or another, are not allowed to own a modern handgun.   I would, however, like to add the following:

The Colt model Cap and Balls, like the 1851 Navy, 1860 Army, and 1861 Navy, and their copies, were fine weapons in their times, but are now obsolete, and in my opinion, as survival weapons, and almost useless.   They are of a design known as an ‘Open Top’ , and are structurally weaker than more modern weapons like the 1873 Peacemaker, and other more modern revolvers that have a ‘top strap ‘ on the frame, so that the cylinder is totally enclosed and supported by the revolver frame.  After a relatively few rounds they can begin to ‘shoot apart’, and become mechanically loose and their timing fails.   This is not what you want or need in a survival weapon.

That being said, is there a better alternative?  Yes. there are two.   The first is the Italian made copies of the Remington Army Model 1858, in 44 caliber, with a steel frame, and second, the Ruger ‘Old Army’ in .451 caliber, in either blue steel or stainless steel.  I am going to confine my comments to the Ruger, but they apply equally to the 1858s.   It must be noted that, at present, Old Army’s are not in production by Ruger, but they are available at Gun Shows, Gun Shops, and online at GunBroker and AuctionArms web sites.  At the present time, prices for the Ruger’s  range from $ 350 to $ 600, depending on the model, and the condition.    If you want them, get them while you can.   The prices will only rise.    They have the advantage that they can be shipped interstate with no restrictions,  with no FFL requirements.    For those who do not like records, that is a plus.

The Ruger Old Army is basically a update of the 1958 Remington made with Ruger’s coil spring design and investment casting technology.   They have integral loading levers, and are made very strong.   Both the Blue and the Stainless models will last a lifetime, though my bias is to the stainless models, for resistance to the corrosion of black powder, and the ability to ‘bury’ them in an emergency,  and come back later to retrieve them.   The Old Army is a six shot, and can be carried with all six, with the hammer resting on one of the six notches located on the back of the cylinder between the percussion nipples.  
Ruger made the Old Armies in two formats, the Blackhawk style, with a flat top strap and adjustable target sights, and the Vaquero style, which has a rounded top strap and fixed sights like an Colt Peacemaker.   They also come in Long Barrel ( 7 1/2″ ) or Short Barrel ( 5 1./2″ ).   A competent gunsmith could even shorten then barrel, remove the loading lever,  and make a hide-out or belly gun out of a  Vaquero style Old Army that would make it a good, if somewhat large, backup gun.

They can be fired with both round ball or conicals, ( my preference ) and the ignition is reliable if they do not get too wet.   Loading is as for the Colts, and please see Mr. J.M.’s letter as it is very accurate.  

And there is one final advantage to the Old Armies and the 1858s, especially the Stainless ones.   R&D Conversion Cylinders are available for about $ 250 each in both Blue and Stainless for both the Ruger Old Army and the  Remington 1858s, and will allow you to shoot 45 Long Colt cartridges, providing you follow the procedures and loading instructions.  Remember, these are not modern weapons, and cannot take “hot” loads.    That said, a person who is lawfully barred from owning a cartridge revolver might purchase one of these older style revolvers, and keep one or two cylinders in reserve for emergencies.  (Again, consult your state and local laws.) While these are not the equal of a modern 1911 or a Glock, with extra black powder or conversion cylinders, they would be much better than nothing in a survival situation.   And, if only black powder and percussion caps are available,  they may be much more useful than a higher tech gun for which no ammunition is available.
Respectfully, – P.R.W.