By Thomas Conroy
USA - -(Ammoland.com)- Reproduction blackpowder pistols have a lot going for them.
They’re inherently interesting devices representing important historical periods, and they show up in a lot of movies that we love.
They’re not considered actual firearms under current BATFE regulations, which means that in most states (sorry New Jersey), you can both send and receive them through the U.S. Mail without any special paperwork or permits.
Many times, a perfectly good, working reproduction blackpowder pistol can be had for less than what you’d pay for a more modern handgun. And current materials and manufacturing make the “new” old blackpowder pistols safer, more reliable and just plain better than the historical originals.
The biggest reason that all shooters need a few blackpowder pistols is because they’re fun! They spit fire and smoke, and make big, loud satisfying BOOMS! Talk about turning heads at the range. And once you know how to properly load, tune and clean them, they can also be very accurate. If you’re a blackpowder newbie, an NRA Muzzleloading Pistol Course would be a great way to get started.
And yes. You will have to give your blackpowder pistol a nice hot soapy bath every time you shoot it. Think of the extra cleaning as sort of like putting up with lousy gas mileage while driving around a mint 1970 Ford Mustang. The little bit of extra hassle is definitely worth the ride!
Here are my Top 5 Blackpowder Pistols for Plinking Fun
5. Any Good Flintlock Pistol.
A good flintlock pistol gives you the twice the sparky, boomy fun as the later percussion cap designs. Yes, they can be finicky, and you might have to learn arcane skills like vent picking and flint knapping. But there’s just something hypnotic about pulling the trigger and seeing a shower of sparks and a white plume of smoke leap up milliseconds before the main charge ignites. Two interesting models to consider are the Harpers Ferry 1805 or the Queen Anne, both from Pedersoli. You can pretend to be a pirate, a colonial frontiersman, a gentleman duelist, or just enjoy making lots of smoky noise while putting big fat holes in the target.
4. Colt 1860 Army
Commonly available from makers Pietta and Uberti, the 1860 Army – and its various models and variations - is a classic. The original has a truly impressive pedigree dating back to the American Civil War – the Union Army accepted more than 127,000 of them before a factory fire put Colt’s production lines out of commission. Today, there are even more of the modern, Italian-made copies in circulation. They are reliable, well-made, and easy to take apart and clean. They’ve featured prominently in many movies, like The Outlaw Josey Wales, or in the final showdown in Quigley Down Under. Taylors usually has plenty in stock.
3. 1858 Remington
A contemporary of the 1860 Army, the 1858 Remington is known to be strong and reliable, and is also made by both Pietta and Uberti. The extra strap of metal along the top of the frame adds rigidity that the Colt open-top designs lack. The design also means the cylinder is held in place with a pin, not a wedge like the Colts. It’s just plain easier to remove the cylinder, making it possible to quickly reload an 1858 by merely taking the empty cylinder out and replacing it with a pre-loaded one – as “Preacher” famously demonstrates with a cartridge conversion 1858 in the final gunfight in the movie Pale Rider. In fact, you can buy cartridge conversion cylinders for the 1858 Remington, the 1860 Army and other blackpowder revolvers from places like Brownells. Just make sure you shoot only either black powder or very light smokeless powder loads through them.
2. LeMat “Grapeshot” Revolver
Currently made by Pietta, the LeMat is a big handful of fun. It gives you 9 shots of .44 caliber along with a 20-gauge shotgun barrel that you can fire by flicking the lever on the hammer to strike the percussion cap on the “grapeshot” tube. It’s heavy. It’s expensive. It’s a pistol. It’s a shotgun. It’s a piece of 19th century Rube-Goldberg engineering. And it’s freaking awesome! One of its most famous users was Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who actually persuaded first the U.S and then the Confederate military to give it a look. I dare you to hold a LeMat and say “Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard” without grinning from ear to ear. You can get one at Dixie Gun Works for less than a grand.
1.1847 Colt Walker
The 1847 Colt Walker was the first big-bore revolving handgun that actually worked well. Currently made by Uberti, it can hold up to 60 grains of black powder in each cylinder, which is almost as much as found in the venerable 45-70 rifle cartridge. Yes, the originals were known to blow up…sometimes…but modern steel and manufacturing has eliminated that problem. Yes, they are huge. Yes, they tend to drop the loading lever after each shot when using full powder charges. So what? It’s a Walker. Crank off six shots from one, and when the smoke finally does clear, you’ll understand. The Outlaw Josey Wales and the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove tie for best cinematic use of a Walker. Honorable mention goes to the John Wayne version of True Grit, in which Mattie Ross totes a Walker. In the Charles Portis novel, Mattie actually carries the only-slightly-less-huge Colt Dragoon.
Blackpowder pistols have been around for centuries. There are an astounding number of models – some mass-produced guns, others carefully-crafted, unique pieces commissioned for the very rich or nobility. No matter how common or rare, they all help us get in touch with history, and are just plain fun to shoot.
Get a little training, some knowledge, and then head out to the range to throw sparks, spit fire, and blow big clouds of smoke. There’s nothing else quite like the thrill of shooting a blackpowder pistol.
Thomas Conroy is a firearms aficionado and writer who lives in the Midwest.