Cap and Ball Revolver Ballistics


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Low Key
February 11, 2006, 07:44 AM
There has been a lot of debate over the stopping power of cap and ball revolvers, whether they actually have any or not, and comparison with modern smokeless loads and projectiles. And the answer is…it depends!

There are a lot of variables involved in “stopping power” such as the weight, speed, and shape of the projectile as well as its composition. You could also consider the wound channel created by a given projectile and the amount of tissue and nerve damage done by that projectile and how deeply the projectile penetrated the target. You could consider the kinetic energy dumped into the target by the projectile and how effective was that energy in doing the job, stopping the target? You could also consider the mental state of the target as a variable, because in some instances it greatly affects the “stopping power” of a given projectile.

I’d like to think about the pure lead round ball and its terminal ballistics. Gatofeo writes…

The late gun writer Elmer Keith (1898 - 1984) wrote a book, "Sixguns" in the mid 1950s. In it, he included a chapter on cap and ball revolvers. I believe this book is still in print.
Keith learned how to load and shoot these revolvers from Civil War veterans when he grew up in Helena, Montana. In 1912, at the age of 13, he began carrying a Colt 1851 Navy in .36 caliber.
Keith noted, "A percussion sixgun thus loaded will shoot clean all day if you blow your breath through the bore a few times after each six rounds are fired. It will also shoot very accurately if it is a good gun."
"I had one .36 Navy Colt that had a pitted barrel, but with the above load it would cut clover leaves for its six shots, at 20 yards, all day with seated back and head rest and two hands used between the knees to further holding," Keith wrote.
"For its size and weight nothing is so deadly as the round ball of pure lead when driven at fairly good velocity," Keith wrote. "Maximum loads give these slugs fairly high velocity from a 7-1/2 inch barrel gun.”

I happen to agree with Gatofeo and Mr. Keith based on my own limited experience. I’ve taken several balls back out of my targets and, in general, they are semi-flattened and sometimes rather jagged on the flat edge. Upon impact with a target, the soft lead of a round ball deforms and flattens and brings around 50% of the total surface area of the ball in contact with the target. This wouldn’t really cut through flesh as much as it crushes and tears its way through and dumps a large amount of its kinetic energy into the target.

Looking at kinetic energy figures can be deceptive though. If we were to judge only from some of the ft/lb figures we see, we could expect that if we were to shoot some small critter with some of these bullets we would blow the little squeaker into the next county. But there is a lot more going on than just kinetic energy figures, though they can be an indicator of a bullets performance.

I found the following article on the net and although it does not mention cap and ball revolvers, it does give some very interesting information about what is really going on when a bullet strikes a target and we can make some inferences to the performance of the round ball and conicals we like to shoot. Its 2 pages and well worth taking a few minutes to read the entire article.

http://www.steyrscout.org/terminal.htm


Here is what I conclude after reading the article, and keep in mind that these are my personal opinions, you may happen to agree or you may not. There is not any one single factor that you can use as the ultimate judge of stopping power. I think that stopping power is a combination of many things all happening at the same time. You would take into consideration the speed of the bullet, its shape, its weight, its diameter, how it behaves after impact on the target, the mental state of the target, where you hit the target, and how often.

The pure lead round ball would be an effective stopper. It’s large enough to poke a good sized hole in you and with 40gr of pyrodex p pushing it; it’s moving along at a pretty good pace. Though the weight of a .454 caliber ball is 143 grains, the speed at which it is moving and the way it behaves after impact make it a deadly projectile. For the average opponent, not the guy with the one and a half inch hole ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIS CHEST AND SHOWING DAYLIGHT THROUGH IT who continued to run and pump lead downrange at the cops for several long seconds, the 44 caliber round ball would most likely put most opponenets on the ground fairly quickly.

There will always be those at the far ends of the spectrum as far as opponents go. Some would go down for the count with a flesh wound from a 22 caliber pistol, and there are others who won’t go down unless the entire head is removed from the neck with the first shot. Cap and Ball revolvers put a lot of men into a pine box in their hayday of the 1850’s-1890’s, and most men were tougher then than they are now.

We also have the witness of several members on this forum and it’s sister site The Firing Line, who tell that they have effectively taken deer with the 1858 Remington loaded with a round ball over 40 grains of powder and have had a humane kill from that load. Also, these revolvers have been used to kill hogs; both domesticated and wild with humane kills as well. Anyone who has been around pigs knows that they are pretty tough animals, and anything other than a good solid hit won’t put one on the ground, it will only make him mad at you!

These guns are definitely worthy of our respect, and are not the toys that some would proclaim them to be.

:)

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Beartracker
February 11, 2006, 08:33 AM
Wow Low key! This is a really great post and sums up my feelings on this subject perfectly. Many years ago I decided that Kinetic energy figures are subject to way to many variables to be considered accurate when it comes to wound ballistics.
I know first hand what a round ball from a .44 will do to a deer at 20-25 yards and have never had a deer go over 40 yards with one. Also know what happens when a hog is hit by one after a friend nailed one a while back.
If you go along with what some so called experts claim the .44 C&B would be no more efficient than the old .38. I'm here to tell you that is just not the fact
at all.
The .36 has also placed many a men on Boot Hill and many a LARGE critter on the ground.

TrafficMan
February 11, 2006, 08:43 AM
The .36 has also placed many a men on Boot Hill and many a LARGE critter on the ground.


exactly. 620,000 died in the Civil War...A war fought almost exclusively with percussion firearms.

Steve499
February 11, 2006, 09:24 AM
Low Key, although it's not from a revolver and I have absolutely no idea about velocity, I can attest that a .32 caliber, round pure lead ball from my squirrel rifle is at least as destructive to a squirrel as is a .22 magnum hollow point. I was surprised by that when I started hunting with mine several years ago. The shots taken (by me anyway) when squirrel hunting are all very close, probably 75% within 25 yards, so the round ball's primary weakness of rapid velocity loss isn't much of a factor.

I have also been surprised at the penetration of a .451 round ball on a hog I butchered. I was wanting to recover the ball to examine it but it had penetrated the skull and neck, then gone on into the throat where it apparently travelled along either the esophagus or trachea into the parts you don't eat. (Gutpile :) ) I wasn't able to find it since I left those where I shot the hog and the coyotes had had their way with them by the time I went back to look. I have used a .38 special with 158 grain semi-wadcutters to butcher several hogs and have never had that kind of penetration. I have heard that a percussion .44 is comparable to a .38 special but I don't believe it!

Steve

mec
February 11, 2006, 09:30 AM
A local doctor is a civil war buff and has put together a good presentation on Civil War field medicine. Most of the wounds seen were made by the .58" Minie/Burton bullet. A surprising number of soldiers hit solidly in the chest with these things survived. One picture he put up showed a guy with a huge bullet scare right over the sternum at the xypoid process. Hard to see how he survided but he did.
Jim Taylor witnessed a guy getting show with a ball-loaded original 60 army. He lived but the ball went through his chest, a kitchen cabinet door and lodged in a loaf of bread. The ball diameter and penetration are there. All it takes is a little luck to complete the "stopping power" equation.

armoredman
February 11, 2006, 09:44 AM
If all I had was a pair of 1858s, or even 1851s, I would not feel underarmed.:cool:

Low Key
February 11, 2006, 11:46 AM
It seems there are several of us on here who don't feel under gunned when we have a 44 c & b on our belt. :D I often have my 58 laying somewhere near me around the house as a home defense weapon and I sometimes carry my 5.5in Remington 58 concealed in an IWB holster when I am out around town or visiting my Mom in the next county over. I don't feel the least bit under gunned and I can swap out a spare cylinder just as fast as I could use a speed loader in my S&W mod 10 38spec. :)
If I'm going into the cities near here though, I still carry by 1911 and a spare mag with me. I carry what I think suits my environment.

mec
February 11, 2006, 11:59 AM
I worry about broken springs at just the wrong time. Lately, I don't worry about that nearly as much as I am getting good service life out of my Uberti lock work. The springs I've broken in the last few years have been the hand spring. Gun will usually still cycle if you point it down. If the trigger bolt spring busts, you are a great deal more out of luck.

Low Key
February 11, 2006, 12:12 PM
I've thought about the broken spring at the wrong time thing, and from what I've heard about the quality of replicas from 10-15 years ago as compared to what we are getting from Pietta and Uberti today I would have been really concearned back then but not so much now. The parts in my 2005 Pietta's seem to be good quality and with the proper care, look as if they will last for quite a while. I think the Italian replica makers are learning that their sales improve as the quality of their product improves.

Manyirons
February 11, 2006, 12:17 PM
I worry about broken springs at just the wrong time. Lately, I don't worry about that nearly as much as I am getting good service life out of my Uberti lock work. The springs I've broken in the last few years have been the hand spring. Gun will usually still cycle if you point it down. If the trigger bolt spring busts, you are a great deal more out of luck.

Hence Ruger Old Army if its serious such as boar hunting! Local 'Smith in the full bore super tune converts Remmies/Colts to new parts and coil springs, kinda 'rugerizes' 'em. Some people do cowboy shooting and other types, gun failures=lost match, or wild boar or other animals that bite=stitches at least.

At the very least a really good music wire hand spring AND an extra gun!

Beartracker
February 11, 2006, 12:32 PM
Here's one for you..I have had my Pietta Remington's for several years now and have never had to replace any parts or springs after a few thousand rounds fired from them. This includes very hot loads at time for Deer hunting. Never had a hand spring break or a trigger spring and I have lightened the trigger spring on both of them years ago.
I did have to replace a hand on one of them while tuning due to taking off to much metal in the tuning process but that was no fault of the manufacture.
One of these gun's breaking doesn't concern as much as a semi auto jamming at the wrong time :) When I'm in a serous problem area my 44 mag is in my truck or on me. Around the house or woods it's my Remington .44 with 40g and a ball or now I like the big 200g conicals. Around the house or yard the Navy is just right, Mike

Duncaninfrance
February 11, 2006, 02:40 PM
It seems there are several of us on here who don't feel under gunned when we have a 44 c & b on our belt. :D I often have my 58 laying somewhere near me around the house as a home defense weapon and I sometimes carry my 5.5in Remington 58 concealed in an IWB holster when I am out around town or visiting my Mom in the next county over. I don't feel the least bit under gunned and I can swap out a spare cylinder just as fast as I could use a speed loader in my S&W mod 10 38spec. :)
If I'm going into the cities near here though, I still carry by 1911 and a spare mag with me. I carry what I think suits my environment.

You know I never had to even think about a hand gun being anything but a tool for target shooting. Here in rural France people still leave their cars outside the shop with the engine running because they know no one will steal it! I can drive anywhere (within reason) and not feel threatened. I am sure it will come eventually because of the high number of immigrants in the big cities but here in the country life is still very quiet. Can't say I envy you!
Duncan

Beartracker
February 11, 2006, 03:54 PM
Duncan, When I was a kid growing up things were a lot different here too. Never locked your doors or windows and left the keys in your car. As kids we could go just about anywhere we wanted and never worry about anyone kid napping or molesting us. Our call to come home when playing in the neighborhood with other kids was when the porch light came on.
I could go on and on about how great it was but that was when we had maybe 5,000 people in my little town, now there is 42,000 the last time I checked and it's all high rises and condos. It was all farms, woods to hunt and play in. That's all gone. Some people over here call that ..."progress" but not me.:( Mike

Low Key
February 11, 2006, 11:00 PM
I live out in the country, in a small town thats not near any major cities and we don't have a high crime rate here. Things do happen from time to time, as they do anywhere, and a lot of it is drug related...junkies looking for the easiest target so they can afford their next high. I carry as a matter of preparedness primarily, my Dad always said it's easier to have your gun in arms reach if you need it than it is to run to the nightstand drawer in an emergency. My Dad was a police officer also, so he kept his weapon near at all times and that is just what I grew up with and what I'm used to. It's not the 1000 people that walk by you and ignore you that cause you problems, its the one guy on meth that thinks you're an easy target that ruins your day. It's a sad truth about this messed up world we live in. :( I guess my point is that I don't feel unsafe where I live, but I try to keep all odds tilted in my favor.

RyanM
February 12, 2006, 12:29 AM
Here is what I conclude after reading the article, and keep in mind that these are my personal opinions, you may happen to agree or you may not. There is not any one single factor that you can use as the ultimate judge of stopping power. I think that stopping power is a combination of many things all happening at the same time. You would take into consideration the speed of the bullet, its shape, its weight, its diameter, how it behaves after impact on the target, the mental state of the target, where you hit the target, and how often.

Actually, it's not that hard to rank the various factors of stopping power.

1 and 2. Emotional state. There are a bunch of documented incidents of criminals fainting dead away, even though they were only hit in the arm, or missed entirely. Plus there are the thousands of incidents every single day where the mere sight of a handgun causes a perp to turn and run. The majority of private citizen self-defense incidents are resolved without a single shot being fired.

1 and 2. Shot placement. A shot which hits the cervical spine or lower brain will cause anyone to immediately cease all aggression. A hit to the upper brain is also effective 99.some % of the time. Holing the aorta, heart, or other major artery will cause unconsciousness within seconds, regardless of the person's mental state.

So in other words, emotional state can sometimes override shot placement, and shot placement can sometimes override emotional state. There are many documented instances where a perp fainted dead away after being shot in the arm, or missed entirely. On the other hand, a bullet through the brain stem will more or less instantly kill anyone, no matter what their emotional state is. Emotional state can make up for lousy shot placement, and good shot placement can make up for a crappy (for you) emotional state.

3. Penetration. Good shot placement can make up for inadequate penetration, but lots of penetration can't make up for shot placement, so penetration is third. And, of course, poor penetration can foul up a well-placed shot. You need enough for the bullet to put a hole in something important at most conceivable engagement angles. 12" is probably enough, though 13-15" is better.

4. Amount of tissue crushed. I.e., the size of the hole. A bigger hole is better, as long as it's well placed, and penetrates deep enough. But even a small hole can be rapidly lethal, if it's placed in the right spot. Tons of people are killed with ice picks and screwdrivers and .22s and the like.

5. Size of the temporary cavity, for two reasons. A very large temporary cavity can cause a lot of tearing of tissue, especially if there's fragmentation as well. High powered rifles can "liquefy" a pretty large amount of tissue. But tearing is pretty much negiligible at temporary cavity sizes under 5" or so (even if there's fragmentation), and that's high-powered rifle territory. There's also blunt trauma, which can have some effects on the nervous system, especially if the bullet passes very close to the spine. Because energy roughly correlates with the size of the temporary cavity, this is where energy is on the scale.

Volume of fire doesn't really fit on the scale. "1,000 shots is not firepower. 1 hit is firepower." (paraphrased) -I forget who.


All things considered, I think if I were living in a state where the only option for concealed carry is black powder due to some legal loophole or another, I wouldn't feel too underarmed with a sawed-off Colt 1862 Pocket, as long as it were loaded with full wadcutters. Of course, finding .37" or so wadcutters would be a bit of a challenge...

dwave
February 12, 2006, 12:52 AM
I personally feel that the C&B guns are quite capable of stopping power. I went shooting the other day with two guns, my Pietta 51 navy and my Colt 1911a1. The navy I was using .375 round balls which I believe are 80 or 81 grain, and my Colt had 230 grain FMJ ammo in it. When I recovered the bullets, the pure lead from the .36 was flattened out, where as the .45 was about the same, just a little deformed. If the FMJ was used for defence, it doesn't look like it would leave as much as a hole as the pure lead.

Here are a few pics to show the difference in expansion.
http://www.thehighroad.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=35424&stc=1&d=1139723256
http://www.thehighroad.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=35425&stc=1&d=1139723267

I bet if a pure lead conical was used in a .44 BP gun, it would be pretty nasty in my opinion.

mongoose39
September 20, 2009, 08:42 PM
A 1981 vintage CVA 1862 police's hammer(main?) spring broke after maybe 20 ballrounds (why do you think they call them rounds?) were fired. I took a Ford Model T window springand shaped it to match. 1000 rounds later still works.

dwave
September 20, 2009, 09:05 PM
Did you post in the right thread? This is a thread from 2006 about ballistics.

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