Black Powder Pistol Home Defense

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Ok Ok Ok, so you have to defend your homestead and all you have is black powder. Do not knock it, for certain legal reasons and in some jurisdictions, the only handguns available fire black powder. Furthermore, many black powder handguns can be acquired for lower cost than a functional cartridge one.


Over the past decade or so, there has been amazing advances in black powder bullets. Using sabot rounds many black powder rifles can meet or exceed the performance of modern center fire cartridge firing breechloaders. However, these rounds are not available for black powder handguns. This leaves owners of these using 1870s technology.

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The Hopkins and Allen 45 and the Ruger Old Army are two different spectrums of the black powder handgun category, yet both can still be used for self-defense if you had no other option.

A .451-caliber lead ball with about 28 grains of FFF powder you will generate 687fps at the muzzle and deliver 144-foot pounds on target. Modern steel framed black powder revolvers such as the Ruger Old army can be loaded to a much higher capacity than old brass and pot metal guns. With such a revolver if you use a much tighter fitting .454 or .457 ball and up to 46-grains of powder you can see your ballistics double. When looking at a 190-grain .457 swagged and lubed lead ball hitting the target with over 350-foot pounds of energy delivered, this is effective. When you compare this figure to modern .357 Magnum loads, it is equivalent.

Remember that with older and imported designs such as many of the Italian-made brass cased revolvers and pistols; be sure to read your maximum loading limits. These often cannot be loaded over 15-grains of powder. With an 80-grain .36 caliber lead ball, this will produce anemic 100-ish foot-pounds of energy on target. This is the same realm of .32ACP. While that round was a self-defense cartridge for most of the 20th century, it is regarded as obsolete and ineffective.

With a shortage of anything other than ball ammunition for these revolvers and pistols, it is probable that your round will over penetrate in a self-defense or home defense scenario. This is where shot placement and careful consideration of where your round will end up comes into play. This problem is vastly multip0lied when using a single shot pistol over a revolver. The odds of being able to have the 20-30 seconds required to reload a single shot black powder piece in a crisis for a second shot are improbable.

Weapons handling.

For decades, many home and business owners across the globe protected their lives with a loaded and stored black powder pistol or revolver. In the early 18th century, it was almost a requirement that any traveler riding outside the town's watch carry with him a pair of 'horse pistols' holstered on the pommel of his saddle to ward off robbery. Many a wayward soul on both sides of the law and under a great many flags has been dispatched with the help of a black powder handgun.

If you do find yourself turning to a black powder handgun for self-defense, remember a few things.

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1. Check your load and your primers often, at least once a month. Unlike a cartridge-loaded handgun that can remain armed and ready for decades, black powder can become displaced, your wad can dry out, your cap can fall off, etc. etc. etc. This is particularly valid with black powder revolvers. Stray clumps of powder or dried out wadding can lead to disastrous chain firing.

2. Fire your black powder piece regularly to ensure your point of aim, functionality, and weapons manipulation techniques.

3. Be aware that the blast of smoke, flash of the percussion cap, and the resulting fouling of the weapon are all going to lead to a much harder tactical situation in your home or office.

4. Practice your weapon's manipulation techniques with an unloaded firearm in the same area as you expect to use it. If you are walking down the hall for the first time at 2am with your trusty Remington 1858 and its 7-inch barrel when you go to check on a bump in the night, this is bad.

Remember above all else, I am not recommending you protect yourself with black powder. Modern, safe, and reliable centerfire firearms using smokeless cartridges are preferred every time. However, if you have nothing else, it is better than walking down the hallway with a can of soup.

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May 29, 2012  •  06:57 PM
Huh, I have two Italian-import reproductions of the .44 cal 1858 Remmington "New Army" -- and they throw those .454" lead balls with plenty of force to move the steel targets I practice on. My Walther P-1 ("modernized" P-38) in 9mm "parabellum" barely gets those same targets to move. So how is it that an Italian import cap-n-ball is so ineffective?
p.s., those Italian imports I have take 35 grains of FFFg -- not 15. Oh, and my tiny, useless .32 is just as effective at moving those steel targets as my 9mm "parabellum".
May 29, 2012  •  07:11 PM
Some older brass frame imports only take 15.....all i was stating was check with your manufacturer to make sure before you load 50.
May 30, 2012  •  01:51 PM
I leave my uberti 1858 remmy loaded for 3 to 4 months at a time and it always shoots fine.Its the only gun I leave loaded in my house.
May 31, 2012  •  08:05 PM
this hd stuff is becoming stuped IF tshtf AND zombies attack and all i have is bp? make a bomb and kill myself NO WATE i still have knives in the kitchen and an axe in the shed
June 1, 2012  •  03:26 AM
i have my 12 and 20 guage to use also 38 snubnose and a 9 shot 22 revolver. but i have a braziliam made double barrel BP pistol. i think it is 30 caliber. shince it has a display stand i have considered loading it and keeping it on the mantle availble if i could not reach the others. too bad my artritic hands rendered me unable to use the 44 mag and 357 confortably.
June 7, 2012  •  12:42 PM
Hey great article! Thanks for it. I would definitely rather have a cartridge firearm. But if all I had for a zombie apocalypse was black powder bullets I think I might live for a little while. I think I would rather just use the Black powder to blow the zombies up rather than shoot them actually.
January 19, 2014  •  05:16 PM
@christophereger 1858 New Army (Pietta) Brass Frame, manual is very clear on 28grms if using Pyrodex P.
January 19, 2014  •  06:18 PM
@webrat55 Thanks for the update. The comment about 15 grms in the article was directed at those with older guns for safety sake. As always, consult your manufacturer for the specs on your individual piece