.36 Navy underpowered?


February 2, 2012, 07:19 PM
Watched a program about Jesse James. One of the so-called experts said many Confederate Guerillas used Navy Colts but the bullet being.."so small" took too long to kill and many wounded Yankees were later executed- throats slit, shot in head etc!
MY reaction was HUH? first time I ever heard that one! I know James Butler Hickock ie "Wild Bill" didn`t gripe about his pair Navy .36`s taking too long to kill.My guess is shot placement has a lot to do with it and that trying to shoot somebody when your`e riding a horse while prolly holding the reins in your teeth may not be all that good for precision shot placement.
I`m not looking to start a war here, just interested in your thoughts on the subject. Perhaps it`s just hype, legend or extremely good publicity but this is the first I`ve ever heard that the Navy .36 wasn`t a good weapon.What do you think?

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February 2, 2012, 07:24 PM
Well in light of the fact that the closest approximate in "modern centerfires" is 380acp then yes by that standard 36 caliber cap n ball was pretty anemic. The British agreed and was one of the more legitimate reasons they rejected colt patent revolvers for service in the mid 19th century

posted via tapatalk using android.

Ron James
February 2, 2012, 07:38 PM
> The navy accepted the .36 caliber because they didn't have to worry about shooting horses. The Army wanted the gun in 44 caliber because there were many times they had to shoot the horses out from under the other guys Calvary. That's the simplified reason between the two guns. As with every caliber there are two camps. There are those of us who believe placement with a small caliber is better than a miss with a large caliber, then there's the other camp that believes that it is better to miss a bunch of times with a large caliber than accuracy with a small caliber ( tongue in cheek :D )

February 2, 2012, 07:43 PM
A .375" round ball is about 80 grains. Mike Cumpston says he used a 125 grain conical in a .36 Remington, with 22 grains Swiss 3F and got an average velocity of 978 fps. That's a bit better than a .380 Auto, and a bit less than a 9mm Luger. Conicals were often used in the .36s back in the day.

Yes; with good shot placement a .36 is good enough. You can be hit with a 50 BMG and survive after all. Anyway, the .31 and .36 percussion guns were extremely popular for self defense back in the mid to late 1800s.

Hot loads with conical bullets in the 180 to 200 grain range in a .44 percussion revolver with an 8" barrel will pretty well exactly match a modern 40 S&W and come pretty close to the .45 Colt. Not exactly screemin' but more than adequate at close range.

February 2, 2012, 10:40 PM
Interesting & informative replies. Thanks ,RW Dale,Ron James, Omnivore.
Ron, you reminded me regular army would shoot the horses out from enemy cavalry.Think guerillas were more interested in shooting the riders,tho.
Omnivore,I was thinking round ball but yeah,conicals were also used.good point about bullet weight & velocity.
RW, now that you mention it,it seems to me I vaguely remember that in the 19th century The British army required their officers to furnish their own revolvers and specified .455 caliber.
I guess if you joined a guerilla group, you were REALLY motivated, and you used whatever weapons you could get your hands on to strike back at enemy you hated . If the raid was successful, there might have been some loot, including better weapons you could use to upgrade your firepower with.

February 3, 2012, 07:10 AM
Mostly, C&B revolvers did not outright kill you. It was the infection that came about from the conditions of the day that killed you. Or resulted in loss of limb. The use of handguns by mounted fighters was in it's infancy during the CW. Many 36s were used quite effectively then and after. The round ball presented a blunter profile than the conical and hits a bit more effectively. The 44 is just more of the same.

February 3, 2012, 09:11 AM
Ditto on Strawhat's comment. The objective was not necessarily to kill the enemy outright, but to remove him from the action. Whether by death, wounding etc. A wounded soldier got care which took up other resources and man power. Death from any wound was more probable than not. A Gut shot soldier dying from peritonitis and sepsis was a lingering painful death. Wars were still fought by the numbers. Throw a thousand soldiers at a line of enemy troops, do it again. The exceptional carnage of such frontal assaults was devastating. If wounded anywhere, what was the average soldier's response? Did they crumple up and lick their wounds hoping to beat the odds, or realize they were dead anyway and fight on to the last breath?

Then what was the reaction in the guerilla actions. Did the civilian targets react the same as the soldiers or did they simple fold when wounded, to be slaughtered like sheep later. Those civilian targets were more likely to be farm families and unarmed towns people with a few having a shotgun. Not much fire power against mounted men with revolvers.

February 3, 2012, 09:33 AM
My general take on these calibres, is that the .36 evolved into the .38 S&W, and the .31 evolved into the .32 S&W.

Foto Joe
February 3, 2012, 09:53 AM
zimmerstutzen nailed it dead on, then as now, the idea isn't to kill outright. The idea is to take as many men out of the fight as possible thereby giving you the advantage in manpower. It's much more effective in war to wound a man and in the process take three others out of the battle than to kill him so that those three others simply pass him by.

February 3, 2012, 09:59 AM
As I understand things, the most popular .36 Navy cartridge conversions were chambered for several different cartridges, both rimfire or center fire, each with with a bullet diameter in the range of .375 inches.

The last and most popular of these was the .38 Long. The .38 Long was superseded by the improved, inside lubricated .38 Long Colt.

That should help with the answer to the original question!

Old Fuff
February 3, 2012, 10:06 AM
The principal reason that Quantrill Guerillas carried .44 revolvers is that they usually armed themselves through battlefield capture, and that's generally what the Yankees used. At the time Quantrill was shot and captured he was supposedly carrying (among others) a Colt 1862 Police Model (.36 caliber with a lighter powder charge then the “Navy.”).

Elmer Keith, who as a young man carried an 1851 Navy, and knew several Civil War veterans who had also done so, had a high regard for the .36, which he believe was a much better "man-stopper." then the .38 Special.

Without question, from the perspective of being a “stopper” the .44 had advantages over the .36, but I have never found any contemporary accounts that this was a serious considerations when the various irregular guerilla groups selected revolvers, and period photographs confirm that at least some Quantrill Guerillas, and others carried 1851 Navy Colt’s – usually in pairs.

J.T. Gerrity
February 3, 2012, 10:38 AM
I saw that show, too, and was bothered by the same attitude; that a .36 caliber ball won't kill a man, just slow him down. HeII, a .22 will kill you if you're hit the right spot!

Everyone is forgetting Wild Bill's shot at Davis Tutt at 75 yards. It could have been a fluke, but it still had enough oomph when it reached him to put him down with a hit to the heart. Then there's Phil Coe, the unfortunate Mike Williams, a couple of rowdy Union soldiers and a host of others that Hickok dispatched with single shots from his .36 cal. Colt Navies (though from closer ranges). I'm not sure if he was using conicals, but I doubt it.

Then there are the Texas Rangers' Patersons. Definitely using ball ammunition, Sam Walker, Jack Hays and the rest routed the Comanches at Walker creek and elsewhere, then carried the pistols with them into the Mexican War.

Now, there's no doubt that a .44 caliber pistol is a more powerful weapon in every way and, given the choice, it's what I'd choose to carry. It's one of the first things Walker insisted on when he and Colt got together to design the "improved" revolver. Still, I'm always bothered when folks underestimate the power of black powder firearms and consider them to be somehow impotent, especially the Colt Navy (which is arguably one of the most famous firearms in history) and other smaller caliber guns. If they didn't work, people wouldn't have bought them, and tens of thousands of gunshot victims would have lived to a ripe old age...

Just my opinion :)

February 3, 2012, 11:08 AM
Mostly, C&B revolvers did not outright kill you.
Poor shooting did not outright kill you. The gun just did what it was told to do, something that's been true for hundreds of years but people still don't get.

February 3, 2012, 01:31 PM
I wonder if people in the old west were just more likely to surrender to fate if shot with anything. Back then, a torso shot was pretty much a death sentence. As soon as you were shot you just figured you were a dead man due to infection and poor surgery techniques. Some guy with dirty fingernails and a scalpel was going to tie you down and fish around for the ball.

February 3, 2012, 02:07 PM
I think that in the old days the .36 was a more marginal round primarily because of the wide loading variations that were used in actual practice.
For instance the difference between loading ~20 or ~30 grains of powder in a Colt verses a Remington can make for significant enough variations in lethal performance.
Also during the war, the powder and cartridges being produced could have been more susceptible to being of poor quality, and maybe even powder spoilage to a degree.
And then there's the wide disparity in the distances that the .36 was being used at during actual combat.

Whereas some have said that the .36 makes a good small game getter, others have claimed that's it's an adequate man stopper. Thus, how it's loaded and with which powder can make a world of difference in performance.

I found a thread with some period loads for the .36 that were posted by Gatofeo, and IIRC it was also posted on THR as well although I didn't search for it. His last 2 statements are the most telling, "So, as far as a "standard load" for the old Colts, there ain't no such animal! The soldiers used what they were issued, and that issued ammunition varied greatly."

Original, historic loads for cap & ball revolvers

The February 1975 issue of the American Rifleman has an interesting article on what loads were used in Civil War .36 and .44-caliber paper cartridges for Colt revolvers.
No mention is made of Remington or other cap and ball revolver charges but they were likely identical or nearly so.
No granulation (FFG or FFFG) is noted in the article. Round balls were not used in paper cartridges, but were loaded loosely.
There was a surprising disparity in bullet weights and powder charges in paper combustible cartridges for the Colts, according to the article.

Conical bullets for the Colt M1860 Army .44-caliber revolver ranged from 207 grs. to 260 grs. Powder charges ranged from 17 to 36 grains of black powder.

Conical bullets for the Colt .36 Navy ranged from 139 to 155 grs. Charges ranged from 12 to 21 grains.
Nearly all of these variations are found in prepared, paper cartridges manufactured by private contractors. It appears that U.S. government arsenals made few paper revolver cartridges, preferring to contract this task.

Union Army ordnance manuals of 1861 specify a load of 30 grs of powder with a .46-caliber, 216 gr. conical ball in Colt M1860 revolvers of .44-caliber.
The same manual specifies a .39-caliber conical bullet of 145 grs., over 17 grs. of powder, for the .36-caliber revolvers.

An official Confederate States publication specifies a 250 gr. conical bullet over 30 grs. of powder for the Colt M1860 revolver.
The Confederate specification for the Colt Navy is the same as the Union (.39 caliber conical of 145 grs. over 17 grs. powder).

In the 1860s an average load for the Colt M1860 .44 revolver was 25 grs. of powder with a 146 gr. (about 460" diameter) round ball or a conical bullet of about 230 grs.

The average load for the Colt Navy was 15 grs. of powder with an 81 gr. (about .380" diameter) round ball or a conical bullet of about 146 grs.

Old loadings will occasionally list a 218 gr. conical bullet with a 40 to 50 gr. powder charge. This is intended for the Colt Model 1847 Walker or the later Dragoons, which have a larger capacity than the Colt M1860 .44 revolver.
Of great interest in this article is the apparent dissection of original paper cartridges and the weighing of their powder charge and conical ball weight.
The results follow:

Hazard Powder Co. - 211 gr. conical / 36 grs. powder
Bartholow's - 260 gr. conical / 19 grs. powder
Johnston & Dow - 242 gr. conical / 35 grs. powder
Unknown - 257 gr. conical / 17 grs. powder
Unknown - 207 gr. conical / 22 grs. powder
Hotchkiss - 207 gr. conical / 22 grs. powder

Hazard Powder Co. - 141 gr. conical / 21 grs. powder
Bartholow's - 139 gr. conical / 14 grs. powder
Johnston & Dow - 150 gr. conical / 17 grs. powder
Unknown - 155 gr. conical / 12 grs. powder
Unknown - 149 gr. conical / 13 grs. powder

The 2003 Dixie Gun Works catalogue recommends loads very closely resembling the above, but with a ball, not a conical bullet.
All .36 caliber revolvers: .376 inch ball over 22 grs. FFFG black power.
.44 Remington and Colt original gun: .453 inch ball over 28 grs. FFFG black powder
.44 Remington and Colt reproductions: .451 inch ball over 28 grs. FFFG black powder
In my own experience, I've obtained the best accuracy in reproduction guns with balls measuring .380 inch in the .36 and .454 or .457 inch in the .44 Remington and Colt. I have never fired an original cap and ball revolver.

In "A History of the Colt Revolver From 1836 to 1940" by Charles T. Haven and Frank E. Belden, the authors list load recommendations from Colt in the 1850s and 1860s.
Haven and Belden note, "FFG black powder is best for the large and medium-size revolvers, and FFFG for the small pocket models, but any grade that is available will work reasonably well."

Gatofeo notes: In my own experience, I use FFFG in my .31, .36 and .44 revolvers with fine accuracy. I don't see much need to use FFG powder in the .36 and .44 revolvers if you can get FFFG.

Colt recommended the following, more than 125 years ago:
1 dram = 27.3 grains (grs.)

.44 Dragoon: 1-1/2 drams of black powder (41 grs.) and a round bullet of 48 to the pound (about 146 grs, which calculates at about .46 caliber) or a conical bullet of 32 to the pound (about 219 grains).

.44 M1860 Army - Powder charge about 1/3 less than the Dragoon, or 27 grains. A conical bullet of 212 grains (33 to the pound) or the same round ball used in the Dragoon above (about .46-caliber or 146 grs. weight).

.36 M1851 Navy - Powder charge of 3/4 of a dram (20 grs.) and conical bullet 140 grs. (50 to the pound ). Or a round ball of 81 grs. (86 to the pound, which would be about .379 or .380 diameter).

.36 M1862 Pocket and Police - Conical bullet over 15 grs. of powder. No weight is given the conical bullet for this model but it's known that it had its own bullet mould, casting a shorter and lighter conical bullet than the Navy .36 revolver.
Presumably, the .380 ball above is used with the same powder charge. In my own 1862 reproduction, I use 20 grs. of FFFG under a .380 inch ball.

.31 Old and New Model Pocket Pistols - Conical bullet of 76 grains (92 to the pound) over half a dram (13.5 grains) of powder, or a round ball of 50 grs. (140 to the pound and about .320 inch diameter).
Gatofeo notes: Present day 0 buckshot measures about .320 inch and makes an excellent ball for the .31-caliber cap and ball revolvers. Cheap too!

.265 M1855 Sidehammer: Ball of 35 grains (200 to the pound, about .285 diameter) or a 55 gr. (128 to the pound) conical bullet. No charge is listed, but I would guess that 10 grains of powder would be correct.....
....So, as far as a "standard load" for the old Colts, there ain't no such animal! The soldiers used what they were issued, and that issued ammunition varied greatly.


February 3, 2012, 03:01 PM
Thanks for a most informative post. It seems like Gatofeo covered just about all the bases.
Every spring my muzzleloading club holds a Border Skirmish. We get together and shoot about 40 pre-rolled paper cartridges using powder loads and Minie Balls common in the CW era .577 cal rifled muskets.
There are 2 types of ammo- we issue packs of 10 paper cartridges & caps with either the Frankford or Watervliet style Minie ball. Each type performs slightly differently and by the time you get a feel for how one type shoots, your`e issued the other one.
Since theyre made up in advance by club members using the techniques of the 1860`s theyr`e nowhere near as consistant as modern factory loaded ammo or even your own pet load .So the point about soldiers having to make do with what`s issued is well taken
My Musket likes a Parker Hale moulded Minie ball with 55 grains FFG best. It`ll certainly shoot other loads, but not as well as its favorite.

February 3, 2012, 03:13 PM
All they had to do was give the injured person a drink of water: it sure killed all the good and bad guys in the old westerns, one minute they're talking and breathing, but thirsty and one drink and boom they're dead.

Phantom Captain
February 3, 2012, 03:49 PM
J.T. Gerrity said:
Everyone is forgetting Wild Bill's shot at Davis Tutt at 75 yards. It could have been a fluke, but it still had enough oomph when it reached him to put him down with a hit to the heart.

It's my understanding that that shot was made with a .44 Colt Dragoon and not a Navy. Regardless, it's still impressive!

Ron James
February 3, 2012, 04:40 PM
Sorry, don't mean to be offensive, but the ideal of any army issuing weapons that are only meant to wound rather then kill is rather far fetched .. If you only wound the other guy, OK, that how it gos, but the purpose is to put him down for the long count., not to just to wound him so he can return to action later. Come on folks, don't accept these old myths as facts and keep puting them out .

February 3, 2012, 06:05 PM
Sorry, don't mean to be offensive, but the ideal of any army issuing weapons that are only meant to wound rather then kill is rather far fetched ..

The idea is not quite that far fetched. The Hague Convention of 1899 and other conventions drafted limitations to the laws of war that outlawed the use of hollow point bullets, bombing from the air and chemical weapons. Yet hollow point bullets are preferred by individuals for self-defense and by most U.S. police agencies because they certainly are more effective.
It shows that the world powers would rather not simply kill the enemy by using any means, but only by using the prescribed, more humanitarian methods which may not be as lethal.

The main effect of the Convention was to ban the use of certain types of modern technology in war: bombing from the air, chemical warfare, and hollow point bullets. The Convention also set up the Permanent Court of Arbitration.


February 3, 2012, 08:16 PM
Actually soft pointed, hollow pointed or ball expanded cartridges were out lawed because it was believed they caused "unnecessary suffering" Barbed weapons were also outlawed because they caused the same.

Most of the current ex-spurts babblings about wounding an enemy come from some or the early papers on the requirements for what would become the M-16 series. It was stated that they must have the same wounding capacity at under 300 meters as the then current 7.62 NATO round. That meant an ability to produce the same repeatable caractoristic tissue displacement and penitration such as what we do now with ballistic gellatin. It had nothing to do with the idea of producing a wounded warrior so that two others might be taken out to transport him to the rear. Dr. Fackler also later used the term wounding power, but again to describe a weapons capability to displace and or penitrate flesh perhaps after going through clothing equipment or barriers of one sort or another.

Now back to the original topic.

In europe atleast, before the founding of the red cross, it was an unfortunate duty of young officers to roam the battlefield after an action and deliver mercy to those they felt too grieviously wounded to waste time on. I don't see that as a lot different than the supposed throat slitting of the Guerrillas. People in the ACW were wounded by a lot of things and left living if breifly. Even by solid cannon shot.

let's face it the .36s were basiclly 9mms and the .44s basically .45s and that arguement is still going on and nowhere.

I personally would not like to be shot with either and while personally as to carrying into battle might choose one but would not be particularlly uncomfortable if issued the other.


February 4, 2012, 12:32 AM
A .375" round ball is about 80 grains. Mike Cumpston says he used a 125 grain conical in a .36 Remington, with 22 grains Swiss 3F and got an average velocity of 978 fps. That's a bit better than a .380 Auto, and a bit less than a 9mm Luger. Conicals were often used in the .36s back in the day.

If this bolded part is true and consistent then it suggests that the .36 bullets powered with 22gns of black is equivalent of a full power .38Spl or even a .38+P. It suggests too that the lighter round ball would be moving at well over 1000 fps and have similar hitting power.

February 4, 2012, 05:41 AM
There are two methods of increasing power in .36 navy.One I remembered was to use three commercially available powders in one chamber.Second (that I have read on TFL forum) is that you should make powder in even finer granulation than FFFFg,and then put 5 grains of that on bottom,and fill rest of chamber with Pyrodex,but in this method you must pack ball and grease and powder REALLY CAREFUL.Don't remember what was using,just remember that with 145 conical and 26grs of powder using one of these methods got 1100fps.

February 4, 2012, 09:31 AM
It's evident that different guns will achieve different velocities with the same loads. While there is plenty of evidence that 22 grains of powder in an 1851 can produce over 1000 fps with the round ball (Ed Sanow article, 1038 fps loaded with 22 grains), Mike Venturino published test results stating that he only obtained 870 fps loading 25 grains of fffg Swiss in a 2nd Generation Colt 1851 with round ball.

BTW he obtained 7.5" of white pine board penetration with that load firing into a baffle box. He goes on to say that the U.S. Army's 1874 Ordnance Manual states that 1" of white pine penetration correlates to a dangerous wound.
On a side note, he also states that, "Jesse James carried a .36 caliber ball in his torso for over 15 years with no apparent ill effects. Tough guy, that Jesse."

Read the article with full test results listed on page 2 comparing 13 loads:

Old west pistol power: a baffling experience
by Mike Venturino


February 4, 2012, 09:48 AM
Yet hollow point bullets are preferred by individuals for self-defense and by most U.S. police agencies because they certainly are more effective.

I keep HPs in my .38 snub, but generally carry FMJ or LSWC in most of my guns. I used to think that you had to have a HP for self defense. As I have grown older and read considerably more on the topic ~ I'm not as sold as I used to be on that idea.

There are a percentage of the hollow points that don't expand as the manufacturers claim. The hollow cavity fills with clothing, flesh, drywall ... and simply doesn't do what it is supposed to. HPs give more piece of mind to the one carrying it than anything else.

When you get to the issue of penetration and smaller caliber rounds, you have to ask: Do I want the extra penetration to get into the vitals or the possibility the round will open up some?. In reality, an effective HP could make an already anemic round less effective by stopping adequate penetration.

Hand-gun calibers generally do not have the velocity to create secondary wound channels like a high-powered rifle. Your basically punching a hole, and there are no guaranteed one shot stops You better hit the CNS or a large bone to get immediate affects.

As posted above, lots of folks during the Indian Wars, Civil War, and Westward expansion of this country found themselves very sorry to be on the business end of a Navy caliber revolver. Their velocity is sufficient and the soft solid lead projectile is more than adequate for penetration. It comes back to shot placement or where you "punch the hole" that counts.

Although, I'm sure there were preferences in caliber (.44 or .36) and this is discussed in Captain Randolph Marcy's book "The Prairie Traveler" The 1859 Handbook for Westbound Pioneers, Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-45150-x .

If you look at the numbers of 1851 Navies manufactured by Colt (250,000 produced domestically, and another 22,000 produced in London) VS the number of 1860 Armies (over 200,000) during the 1st Generation era, There does not seen to be a great preference for one over the other.

May 13, 2012, 08:00 AM
I had posted on another thread results of my chronographing of two of my .36 revolvers. One was a Remington Navy the other was an 1851 Navy. I used the same load in both; 22 grains Pyrodex P a 130 grain lee conical and crisco over the bullet. They both clocked over 900 fps for a muzzle energy well into the .38 special range 210 to 245ft/lbs. This makes the .36 a potent killer even by todays standards.


May 13, 2012, 12:32 PM
I read that the roundball was a more effective manstopper than the conical. most likely because of a higher velocity. The comparison to a modern 38Special should be considered in the light of the C&B ball being soft pure lead, and the 38Special being either harder lead alloy or a jacketed or semijacketed bullet. The pure lead will upset more and probably cause more damage. I noticed that in shooting steel plates with a lead alloy, a 45ACP SWC will shatter as much as it deforms, where a 44 roundball from an 1860 Army will just flatten and stay in one piece.

May 13, 2012, 12:37 PM
To put close to that off topic stretch that occurred with hollow point ammo:
the current reasoning due hollow point ammunition being preferred by law enforcement and personal defense loadings is that the HP slug is less likely to over-penetrate and result in bystanders being injured/collateral damage.

May 13, 2012, 01:15 PM
An older interesting thread.

I remember seeing a ballistic gelatin test of revolver round balls. These pure soft lead bullets flattened out and created a larger wound channel than you would expect. My recollection is that Elmer Keith knew a Civil War veteran who preferred round balls in his cap locks because “it took all the fight out of them”.

However, the British went to bigger and bigger bullets. They had world wide experience in fighting locals who were in chain mail, hippopotamus armor, or the general run of the mill Islamic religious fanatic, the type we did not encounter till the Philippines, when we too, went from a 38 to a 45 pistol.

May 13, 2012, 04:43 PM
The concept of a wounded soldier being more disruptive to an Army than a dead one is a recent, 20th century concept. It's only a valid strategy if your enemy cares about all his soldiers. In the past, that care simply didn't extend to the lower ranks.

In the Crimean War (1854-56), the rate of death in Florence Nightingale's hospitals was greater than that suffered by the famous Light Brigade in its devastating charge (British cavalry against emplaced Russian guns).
In those days, most of the wounded died of infection, shock, bleedout and exposure; this was especially true of the lower ranks.
Not until the latter years of the American Civil War did any Army make a concerted effort to use trained medics to retrieve wounded from the battlefield, and return them to a well-established field hospital where triage was practiced.
Prior to this, it was standard procedure to treat the wounded according to rank, not necessarily the need for aid. The surgeon saw to the officers and high-ranking NCOs, and then saw to the enlisted.

The .36 Navy is often compared to the .380 ACP, but I feel this is somewhat flawed. The soft lead ball or conical bullet of the .36 tends to flatten a bit, or greatly, when encountering resistance such as heavy muscle or bone. This creates a larger wound channel.
The .380 ACP is at the edge of reliable expansion of jacketed hollowpoints. And if the hollow is plugged with cloth or leather from clothing, it acts like a full metal jacket and goes in like a drill bit, creating a small wound channel.

The 80-grain ball may be driven to about 1,000 fps with a maximum charge of FFFG black powder (26.5 grains of Goex FFFG in my Colt 2nd generation 1851 Navy). The heavier conical bullet, depending on its weight, from 800 to 900 fps. I know, because I've chronographed them.

Keith's quote is posted often. It's found in his 1955 book, "Sixguns." In 1955, the only commonly available factory loads for the .38 Special were the 158 gr. roundnose, 158 gr. full metal jacket, and 148 gr. wadcutter target load. The .38/44 load, which was a more powerful loading of the .38 Special, was restricted to large-frame revolvers and not often available off-the-shelf. It bridged the gap between the .38 Special standard loads and the .357 Magnum, but was not particularly popular.
Almost every police department used the .38 Special with the 158 gr. roundnosed bullet at 850 fps. It was and remains a notoriously poor bullet to stop a human's focus on whatever he's doing at the time (trying to attack you or another, engaged in rape, looting, etc.).
So, Keith was comparing the .36 Navy to a notoriously ineffective bullet. This should be remembered when comparing the .36 to the .38 Special.
Handloading was not as widespread in the 1950s as today. Most folks used factory cartridges in their .38s.

Today's .38 Special is a much better focus-shifter than it was back then, with a plethora of hollowpoint or semiwadcutter loads that are far better than the old 158 gr. RN.

Duplex loading of the .36 Navy, with fine-grained powder at the bottom of the chamber, and a coarser-grained powder to top it off, duplicates what target rifle shooters did for decades from the 1850s through 1890s. I rather doubt it was ever done with revolvers. It's more cumbersome to load, requires carrying two types of powder and the effect at the short range that handguns are employed would probably not be noticed.
Soldiers tended to use what they were issued, except for the murderous irregulars who were the barbarians of their day. Most officers and NCOs believed in military standardization, and made sure their troops didn't stray too much from it.

The British Army loved the Colt Dragoon .44 during the Crimean War, though it was a large, bulky, heavy arm. Against horses and Cossacks, it was decisive. The Navy .36 was considered too light against horses and adrenaline-charged Cossacks.
The first British percussion revolver was the Beaumont-Adams, a .442-caliber six-shooter. When the pecussion era was waning, many Beaumont-Adams were converted to rimfire cartridges. It was a good revolver, though I once handled one and realized that it lacks the wonderful balance of the Navy and the sturdiness of the Dragoon. The British did well with it, though.

Is the .36 Navy underpowered?
I think contemporary accounts give a resounding, "No!"
The ghosts of hundreds of thousands killed by the Colt Navy .36 would sigh and agree.

May 13, 2012, 05:19 PM
the current reasoning due hollow point ammunition being preferred by law enforcement and personal defense loadings is that the HP slug is less likely to over-penetrate and result in bystanders being injured/collateral damage.

Not a universal thought process. Statistics on officer involved shootings show a pretty consistent trend. Under stress, the average officer involved shooting has a 2 out of 10 hit ratio. Worrying about the 2 rounds that actually hit the intended target over-penetrating VS the 8 that sped past it, is not a good rationale.

In theory, they expand and deliver more stopping power. Given that handguns don't have the velocity to create a secondary wound channel like a high powered rifle or that hollow points don't always expand as the manufacture(s) claim, indicate that at least to some degree, they provide more psychological comfort to the person carrying them than actual effectiveness. Counting on a one shot stop from any hand gun is a bad practice.

It really comes down to shot placement.

May 13, 2012, 11:06 PM
Excellent response. If I had to rely on a Navy .36, I`d be confident it would do its job- provided I did my part.

May 14, 2012, 04:33 PM
Nope !

May 14, 2012, 05:03 PM
+1 Rcflint.

Round balls made of soft lead get swaged into the cylinder and deformed to make a tight fit. They are not longer 'round' when they come out. They do seem to deform more than conicals of the same caliber. Still the heavier conicals tend to penetrate farther.

If you were stuck in misreable conditions and had to 'make do' with what you had, I'm sure pre-rolled cartridges were a blessing, even if some were under powered.

Overall between the Army and Navy Colts, the Army is easier to load with conicals as there's more clearance and you can certainly put more powder in it. The Army balances better too. The Navy feels small but sturdy, if front heavy.

I'd rather carry either one over a Remington or a Rodgers and Spencer.

May 14, 2012, 09:20 PM
I could be happy carrying the Colt or the Remington. I like the Remington better in some ways, and the Colt better in some ways.
Just my opinion, and worth every penny you paid for it.

May 16, 2012, 09:00 AM
I shot off a couple of cylinders from my Navy .36, a few weeks ago. Shooting off a rest at 50', it shot a group of around 1/2 inch :what:

In the other direction, it was about 2" or so though. I was pretty surprised.

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