Black Powder .44s
With Conical Bullets

Long Nose Can Cause Trouble
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Bullets (above) for the Model 1860 Army .44 include 200- and
220-grain round-nosed Lee bullets, and Eras Gone Johnston &
Dow and Kerr bullets. Colt Black Powder Arms 2nd Generation
McCulloch 1860 and stainless steel 1860 (below) with Johnston
& Dow cast bullets.

By 1850, Colt had the .44 Dragoon, the .31 Pocket Pistols and the 1851 Navy .36. The Dragoons were too large and heavy for most to consider carrying on the belt and the pocket pistols were just that — for concealed use. The 1851 Navy was just about perfect for belt carry with only one drawback: Power-wise it was about equivalent to today’s .380 ACP. If the Dragoons were too heavy and if the Navy was underpowered, would it be possible to combine the two in a new sixgun?

The engineers at Colt took a good look at the 1851 Navy and discovered the cylinder was too small for six .44 chambers. The solution was quite ingenious. Using the basic 1851 Navy frame, they increased the diameter of the front part of the cylinder and cut a step in the water table of the frame to compensate for this.

So basically the sixgun that emerged, the 1860 Army .44, is simply a converted 1851 Navy. It is always easy to recognize Colt .44s whether they be originals or replica 1860s, or fantasy replicas consisting of the 1851 Navy in .44. The giveaway is the two-diameter cylinder and the step in the water table. With the conversion of the 1851 Navy .36 to the 1860 Army .44, Colt also changed the configuration of the barrel and loading lever, going to a more streamlined round barrel and rack-and-pinion loading lever. The added benefit was it was a lot cheaper to make a round barrel than to copy the octagon barrel of the 1851 Navy.

The original 1860 Army .44s had a loading port that easily accepted conical bullets. This is simply not the case with today’s Colt replicas. When it comes to using conical bullets in the 1860 Army, we soon find once again the reality of the statement “all sixguns are a law unto themselves” with each having a distinct personality.

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Bullets for the Model 1860 Army .44 include 200- and 220-grain
round-nosed Lee bullets, and Eras Gone Johnston & Dow and Kerr bullets.

Eras Gone supplies double cavity Lee molds for
historically authentic .44 bullets.

I have a pair of 2nd Generation Colt Black Powder Arms Model 1860 .44s, which were produced under the auspices of Colt, first using Uberti parts beginning in 1971 and then two years later the production and parts procurement was turned over to Iver Johnson. Colt set the specifications in a 120-page booklet and also inspected these sixguns. They are finely fitted and finished with very smooth actions. They are a cut above the normal Italian-made replicas.

I approached this pair to check out the use of two conical bullets, namely the historically correct Johnston & Dow and also the round-nosed Lee conical bullet. Both bullets could be easily loaded through the port in the 1860 Army McCulloch Model, a blued sixgun with a full fluted cylinder.

However, when I checked the same two bullets in the 1860 Army Stainless Steel version, neither one could be loaded through the loading port. For this model there are two options, namely loading the cylinder off the gun or opening up the loading port with a Dremel tool. Since this particular model is stainless steel, the port could be beveled and re-bluing would not be necessary.

Eras Gone Bullet Molds specializes in period-authentic conical bullets. For the .44 percussion sixguns, they offer the above-mentioned Johnston & Dow as well as the British-designed .44 Kerr bullet. Both of these have a base that is slightly smaller than the rest of the bullet to allow the insertion into the front of the cylinder. They also offer a Dragoon .44 weighing around 260 grains when cast of pure lead. It works fine in the Walker and Dragoon models but also takes up a lot of cylinder space, precluding its use for the 1860 Army .44 unless one is satisfied with very low muzzle velocities.

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Group fired at 18 yards with the ASM 1860 Army using the
Johnston & Dow bullet over 20.0 grains by volume of
Hodgdon’s Pyrodex.

Colt Black Powder Arms 2nd Generation stainless
steel 1860 with Johnston & Dow cast bullets.

One-hundred and fifty years ago, the service load for the 1860 Army was 25.0 grains of black powder. We don’t know just what that particular black powder entails, however, I decided to go with this load for use with the above-mentioned conical bullets. Lately I have been using plastic vials to pre-measure my charges and when ready to shoot, I just pick the appropriate vial to dispense the powder.

I use 1.5 mL vials, available for under $20 for 500 on Amazon. The maximum capacity of these are under 30 grains by volume. For larger charges I go with 2.0 mL plastic vials with a screw-on cap. For this extra capacity the cost is about four times the 1.5 mL vials.

My black powder of choice includes Goex, Swiss, Wano and Elephant Brand FFFg granulations and loaded in the above-mentioned 25.0 grains by volume. Switching to black powder substitutes — which are much easier to obtain — my powders of choice are Hodgdon’s Pyrodex and 777, as well as Cleanshot, all in FFFg. The two substitute black powders from Hodgdon are the easiest to obtain and I can order these and have them delivered to and picked up at my local Cabela’s with no hazmat fee. They are also slightly cleaner burning and easier to clean up after than black powder.

My standard test charge of all powders mentioned is 20.0 grains by volume, resulting in muzzle velocities of 725 to 750 fps. My test vehicles were three ASM (Armi San Marco) Model 1860 Army replicas. The chamber mouth on these is 0.448″ and I ran into problems when trying to use 0.451″ and 0.454″ Johnston & Dow or British Kerr bullets. Seating was difficult with some and impossible with others. I found out why with use of plug gauges. The chambers are not uniform in diameter but rather taper to 0.439″ at the back portion. The Johnston & Dow bullet has a base that is smaller in diameter than the Kerr bullet, so it is usually easier to seat.

During the Civil War Colt made millions of paper cartridges using conical bullets for the Union troops. The cylinders of the original 1860s had to be cut to allow easy use of conical bullets, or troopers would find themselves with a gun jam in the heat of battle. Apparently current replicas are basically cut for the use of round balls. If I find other .44 replicas have the same taper, I will take the easier route and use the .44 conical bullets in the Dragoons, the cylinders of which are much more receptive.

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