Loading For Percussion Sixguns

Dragoons With Conical Bullets
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The first and the last of the Colt Dragoons are represented
by the 3rd Model Dragoon (top) and the Walker (bottom).

There are five basic models of Dragoon originally produced in the short time frame from 1847 to around 1850. First came the Walker, which was improved quickly to the Walker Whitneyville Dragoon or Transitional Model. The grip frame of the Walker was maintained; however, the barrel was shortened to 7 ½” and the cylinder was also shortened slightly. Then came the three that were actually called Dragoons. The 1st Model had a square back trigger guard and oval bolt slots, the 2nd Model had rectangular bolt slots, and then the 3rd Model went to a rounded trigger guard. The lines are sometimes blurred with these three and overlapping did occur.


Typical groups at 18 yards using conical bullets in the Uberti 3rd Model Dragoon.

Take Your Pick

I have three 3rd Model Dragoons at my disposal. The chamber throats on these are all very close together with the Uberti version at 0.449″: ASM, 0.450″; and Colt Black Powder Arms at 0.451″. Both Hornady and Speer supply swaged round balls in diameters of 0.451″, 0.454″ and 0.457″. My most used version is the 0.454″ with the 0.451″ for cylinders, which are tight, and the Ruger Old Army was designed for the largest round ball diameter.

Measuring the .44 bullets dropped from my Lee molds shows the 200- and 220-grain both at 0.452”. This is also the mold diameter of the .44 Dragoon bullet. However, the Kerr bullet drops out at 0.457″ and the Johnston & Dow is the largest at 0.462″. The latter is especially too large for easy use in the Dragoons. So both of these bullets are sized using the Star Lubricator, which accepts bullets nose forward, so there is no deformation of the soft lead nose. They also drop out the bottom so sizing is very quickly accomplished. I make up batches in both 0.451″ and 0.454″ for use in a wide range of .44 percussion sixguns.

Generally speaking, I have found round balls to shoot more accurately than conical bullets. This is only “generally” as with all sixguns, black powder sixguns also have their own personality and there will be some that will shoot the latter more accurately than the former. When we talk accuracy we are talking at ranges from 15–20 yards with the round balls averaging right around 1″ and the conicals about double that.

Conical bullets for percussion sixguns go back at least as far as the 1847 Walker. Specifications from Sam Walker as the representative of the U.S. Ordnance Department called for a 6-shot revolver with a 9″ barrel accepting 50 round balls to the pound, which comes out to about 32 conical bullets to the pound, resulting in a projectile of about 220 grains. Colt supplied double-cavity molds for his revolvers with each one having a round ball and conical bullet cavity and supplied in .31, .36 and .44 diameters.

Eras Gone Bullet Molds supplies historically-accurate double-cavity Lee molds currently for six bullet designs from the Civil War era. These include the .44 Colt Dragoon Bullet weighing right at 260 grains and as it says, was designed specifically for the longer cylinders of the Colt Dragoons.

Eras Gone has three .44 bullets apropos for use in the Dragoons and I also have round-nosed bullets from Lee in 200- and 225-grain round-nosed versions. Lyman also has a round-nosed bullet but in this case it is a hollow base and weighs out at 167 grains along with the 220-grain Kaido flat-nosed bullets. Most of these I save for use in Colt 1860 Army and Remington New Model Army replicas and herein concentrate on the Kerr, Johnston & Dow and the 260-grain Dragoon bullet.


In addition to the swaged round ball, John also uses these five
.44 bullets. From left to right, 200- and 220-grain round nosed,
217-grain Johnston & Dow, 222-grain Kerr and 260-grain .44 Dragoon.

Bullet Design

Mark Hubbs of Eras Gone has this to say about the Dragoon bullet: “Colt’s Dragoon was a big, powerful revolver and used a heavy bullet to take full advantage of its capabilities. Eras Gone is bringing back a copy of the original Dragoon bullet in all of its glory. This is a big chunk of lead, 0.80″ long, 0.457″ in diameter, and weighs in at 259 grains. Its long heel will allow it to sit deep in the chamber to keep it square when loading. It can also be used as part of a combustible cartridge.

“Colt introduced this classic ‘Sugarloaf’ bullet designed in the early 1850s and it was used all through the percussion pistol era. It was also made at U.S. Army arsenals during the Civil War and we have copied a slug that was made at the Watervliet Arsenal. This bullet was designed specifically for the Colt Dragoon. This bullet is too long to load into most other .44 revolvers such as the model 1860 and Remington New Model Army. It will also work well in the Colt Walker with a little bit of alteration to the loading port.”

Another design is the .44 Kerr Bullet at 225 grains and the .44 Johnston & Dow at about 217 grains. All three of these .44 bullets feature a heel of smaller diameter for easy insertion into the cylinder chamber. The loading ports on the replica 1st, 2nd and 3rd models will accept all of these bullets without alteration, thus allowing loading of the cylinder on the gun, making unnecessary to remove it and use a loading tool.
The .36 sixguns are not neglected with Eras Gone providing the .36 Colt Cartridge Works conical, which weighs about 126 grains, and the .36 Richmond Laboratory, which is heavier at 147 grains. Colt’s most popular percussion pistol was the 1849 Pocket Model with well over 300,000 being sold. This was chambered in .31 caliber and Eras Gone has a mold throwing an 80-grain conical for these little pocket pistols.

With the Dragoons, I mostly use a charge of 30 grains measured by volume with the Kerr, Johnston & Dow, and Dragoon bullets. My best shooting load is with the Johnston & Dow and 30.0 grains of Pyrodex for just under 2″ and 715 fps. However, my preferred load is with the .44 Dragoon bullet over 30.0 grains of 777 (Triple 7) FFFg for a 2″ group at 18 yards with a muzzle velocity of 782 fps. This is equivalent to a standard .45 Colt load. The Uberti 3rd Model Dragoon has been fitted with a Remington post front sight in a dovetail. Normally, replicas shoot high with the factory supplied front sight using round balls and even higher with a 260-grain bullet. The installation of the Remington front sight brings this heavier bullet right to point of aim without having to file on the top of the sight.

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