These Huge .44’s Were The Magnums
Of The Pre-Civil War Era, And Are
Faithfully Reproduced In Italy.
By John Taffin
Uberti’s five models of Dragoon pistols begin with the 1847 Walker, followed by the 1848 Whitneyville/Walker Transitional Dragoon, and then the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Model Dragoons.
The four models of Dragoons offered by Uberti with the Transitional Model are priced at $459, and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Models sell for $10 less. I have had considerable experience shooting several examples of each of the Dragoons as well as the Walkers. They are all well fitted, lock-up tightly and nicely finished in blue with a case-colored frame and one-piece walnut grips, which are well tailored to the grip frames. All have been excellent shooters, with the ability to outshoot many modern handguns. This is especially astonishing when you consider the rear sight of all the Dragoons is a notch, which is only revealed when the hammer is cocked.
The Transitional Walker Dragoon averages just over 1-inch for five shots at 20 yards, using 30, 35, 40, and 45 grains of Hodgdon’s Pyrodex P, which is comparable to FFFg black powder. With 45 grains, muzzle velocity is well over 1,050 fps. For the 1st and 2nd Model Dragoons, I use charges of 30, 35, 40, and 45 grains of Pyrodex P from Hodgdon’s as well as 35 and 40 grains of Goex FFFg. Groups are just barely over 1-inch for 5 shots at 20 yards with the 45-grain charge of Pyrodex, averaging right at 1,050 fps. All these are assembled by volume, not by weight, with Speer 0.454-inch roundballs and No. 11 CCI Magnum percussion caps. With FFFg black powder using the same size roundballs muzzle velocities run just under 1,000 fps.
Going to my records from several years ago, I found using the Uberti 3rd Model Dragoon with 0.454-inch Speer roundballs and CCI Speer 11 caps showed my best results were attained by pushing the Dragoon a little, using 50 grains instead of 40 grains of powder. With 50 grains of Goex FFFg and Crisco placed over the seated ball to fill out the cylinder, muzzle velocity is right at 990 fps with five shots grouping into 1-1/4-inch at 50 feet. Switching to Pyrodex P, using the same charge and lubing with Crisco, the muzzle velocity is 955 fps, with 5 shots grouping into 1-3/8-inch at 50 feet. Basically, the results are the same with black powder or Pyrodex. Charges below 50 grains resulted in groups in the 2-1/2- to 3-inch neighborhood with this particular Dragoon.
Two 2nd Model Dragoons with powder flask, capper and roundballs.
Be sure and charge the pistol by pouring powder from the flask
into a separate measure.
Variations of 3rd Model Dragoons include a folding leaf rear sight (middle left),
while the others include a 4th frame screw for a detachable shoulder stock.
I won’t spend a lot of time here talking about the cleaning, and they definitely must be carefully cleaned after shooting. With all the black powder solvents we now have this is much easier than it used to be. All cap-and-ball sixguns operate the same way. The powder charge is placed in the cylinder chamber, a wad is placed over the powder if desired and an oversized roundball is seated using the built in rammer under the sixgun barrel. That’s the simple outline. Before any percussion pistol is loaded, especially after it has been stored in an oiled condition, percussion caps should be placed on each nipple and fired to clear the charge holes. Again this is before loading. If this is not done, there’s a good chance the loading will push oil into the nipple charge hole and the gun will not fire.
Pour powder from the flask into a measure before charging the chamber. I find the see-through powder flask and adjustable powder measure from Thompson/Center invaluable. The clear plastic may not be traditional but is certainly is handy. By pouring powder into a measure first, there’s no chance of an ember setting off the entire powder flask. Once the charge has been placed in the chamber, a lubed wad is then pushed into the front of the chamber by hand. A roundball is then placed over the wad, the cylinder rotated under the rammer and the ball seated solidly compressing powder and wad in the process. I then leave the rammer in the front of the chamber as it holds everything just right while I place the next powder charge, wad and bullet.
Once all chambers are loaded, then—and only then—are the percussion caps placed on all nipples, with the sixgun pointing safely downrange. It is easy to see why as the muzzle is just below you as the powder, wad, and bullet are put in place. If you enjoy life, you don’t want a loaded gun facing towards you with a cap on the nipple. The use of the lubed wads provides lubricant for the barrel, helps reduce fouling and, most importantly, they seal each chamber against a flash traveling to the next chamber, setting it off as well as the chamber under the hammer. Without sealing the chambers against this, it’s possible for two or even three chambers to ignite nearly at once with one ball going down the barrel and the others coming from the front of the cylinder alongside the barrel.
When maximum loads are used, there is no room left in the chamber for a wad. In this case, the front of each chamber is sealed with grease. I use T/C Bore Butter, which is a lot less messy than the old standby lube, Crisco. Even when I use a wad, I still add the grease as it helps keep fouling down. Then and only then are caps applied to the nipples at the back of the cylinder. If the caps aren’t tight enough, they will fall off as the cylinder is rotated; they must be a press-fit on the nipple or slightly squeezed to fit properly. I use Speer 11 or 11 Magnum caps and keep both in my shooting box. A too-loose fired cap also has the tendency to fall into the action exposed by a cocked hammer.
Properly loaded, these percussion pistols will shoot as well as any modern sixguns, and are an affordable way to relive the earliest days of the Old West.
In order are the Uberti 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Model Dragoons. External differences
are minor, but include the shape of the cylinder, locking notches and triggerguards.
Origins Of The Dragoon
The legend says, in 1830, Sam Colt got his idea for a revolving pistol from watching a ship’s wheel, and how it could be locked into place. In 1836, Sam’s idea became reality with his first revolver, the Colt Paterson 5-shooter. It was underpowered and had no triggerguard, instead it had a folding trigger that came down as the hammer was cocked. In spite of this and also being very fragile, it was still a tremendous improvement over single-shot pistols. Now a Texas Ranger carrying two pistols had ten shots instead of two.
By 1845 Congress had annexed the Republic of Texas, making war with Mexico a foregone conclusion. By this time, Colt was bankrupt and the Paterson factory was closed. The Texas Rangers were drafted into United States service, with two of those Rangers being Jack Hays and Samuel Walker. In 1846 Zachary Taylor sent then-Captain Walker back to recruit volunteers from Maryland as well as acquire more Colt revolvers. The problem was there were no more Colt revolvers, and Sam Colt would have to start over. Walker and Colt put their heads together, and in late 1846 Sam Walker ordered 1,000 “heavy” revolvers, complete with several improvements. These would be true sixguns with 9-inch barrels in .44 caliber.
Colt contacted Eli Whitney Jr., who did have a factory, and the agreement was made for Whitney to produce the Colt revolver, which became known as the Model of 1847 Army Pistol, or more commonly, the Walker. The Walker weighed 4-1/2 pounds, with a much larger frame and grip than the Paterson, a square-backed brass triggerguard and a loading lever mounted under the barrel.
Sam Walker held his Colts in high esteem, saying they were good on man or beast out to 200 yards. However, the Walker Colt would be short-lived and more improvements would soon arrive, for as effective as it was it had two major drawbacks. Walkers were huge sixguns, and the loading lever often dropped under recoil. In 1848 the Transitional Dragoon appeared. The grip frame, the mainframe and working parts remained the same, but the cylinder was shortened slightly and the barrel was cut back to 7-1/2 inches. The locking arrangement of the loading lever was also changed, moving it from the center of the lever to the end with the spring-loaded male end matching up with the female stud on the barrel. This particular model is known as the Whitneyville/Walker Dragoon. The major improvement, which also carried over to future Dragoons, was a locking latch for the loading lever located at the front and attached solidly to the barrel. The new arrangement worked. The original Walker and the Transitional Model had a somewhat U-shaped mainspring. With the arrival of the first Model Dragoons, this was changed to the flat spring found on all traditional single actions ever since. Over the next three years, three more improvements would be made, resulting in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Model Dragoons. The first improvement resulted in the square-backed triggerguard and grip frame, which is much like the grip frame of today’s Super Blackhawk. Bolt cuts on the cylinder of this 1st Model are oval in shape. These cuts became rectangular on the 2nd Model, and then the 3rd Model went to a rounded triggerguard.
Hodgdon Powder Co.
6430 Vista Dr.
Shawnee, KS 66218
P.O. Box 856
Lewiston, ID 83501
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104