Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Walker Colt and the .44 Russian

Louis L'Amour wrote a great many Western novels and short stories.  Rarely does a story go by without a mention of a Walker Colt or a .44 Russian or if he is feeling expansive, perhaps both.

The 1847 Walker Colt was designed by Samuel Walker and Samuel Colt for the US Army.  It was a single action six-shot revolver using a .44 lead ball and a black powder charge of 60 grain, twice that of a normal revolver.  Until the advent of the .357 Magnum it was the most powerful hand gun ever built.  It weighed 2.5 pounds with a 9" barrel.

Only 1100 of the pistols were made, of which 300 were returned with split cylinders. The flash from firing one shot could and did set off the remaining charges at the same time.  The solution was to pack lard into the open end of the cylinder on top of the bullets or to convert them over time to cartridges rather than cap-and-ball.

Whenever you read of some 10 year old kid packing his father's Walker Colt, you can only hope he never had to fire it.

The .44 Russian was derived from the 1870 Smith And Wesson Model 3, a single action, six-shot, cartridge firing, top-break revolver.  The Russian army initially ordered 41,000 with specified modifications.  The Model 3 was straight bored and fired .44 American externally lubricated heeled bullet cartridges which were the standard at the time, (and which .22 cal ammunition still uses).

Modern vs heeled bullet
Lead bullets were soft and lead would eventually build up in the bore unless lubrication was used.  With a "heeled" bullet (the bullet is the same size as the shell casing, with a step or heel to fit inside the cartridge), the lubrication could be external but would collect dirt. A non-heeled bullet could use a soft lubricant in grooves on the part of the bullet inside the casing. That meant the barrel would have to be of a smaller bore than the chamber holding the cartridge.  So S&W used a .430 bore and a .457 chamber creating not only the first weapon using non-heeled internally lubricated cartridges but also the most accurate American-made cartridge to date, which packed a tremendous punch.

There was a reason that the .44 Russian figured in American Westerns.  There were a great many of them available. While S&W did eventually sell over 131,000 Model 3 revolvers to the Russian army, the .44 Russian nearly bankrupt the company.  As soon as the Russians got the first order, they reverse engineered the weapon and manufactured it themselves as well as farming it out to other European suppliers. The European weapons were high quality and cheaper so the Imperial government cancelled the order and refused payment on revolvers already delivered.




14 comments:

  1. I knew a lot about the Walker Colt, but not the .44 Russian. Both seem to be very high-power guns, with a lot of "stopping" capability. Also a bit heavy to lug around. Thanks for the aded info.

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    1. My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
      Shoot as fast as lightnin' but it loads a might slow
      Loads a might slow and soon I found out
      It can get you into trouble but it can't get you out

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  2. "No plate like chrome for the hollandaise"?!?!? AAAARRRRGH!!! (I love it!)

    Thanks for the fascinating firearms tour! I've handled some older single-action revolvers but never fired one, and I certainly wouldn't want to fire a Walker Colt. I've never been fond of black powder despite its resurgence with the hobbyists.

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  3. Wondered if you had ever fired one of these. I fired a .22 pistol once; couldn't hit the ground with my hat. Can't imagine firing 60 grains of powder. The .44 Russian used only 23. You can make your own black powder. One of my childhood friends used to do it. Then he made pipe bombs to blow stuff up. Today he would be in jail for that.

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    1. That's the truth! Nope, I never fired a black-powder revolver, and although friends had black-powder rifles I never saw the point of messing around with them. I used to shoot double-action revolvers, though - still like 'em better than semi-autos.

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    2. Hard to find decent potassium nitrate for making your own powder these days but there are a few brands of stump remover you can use for it, I have a couple of cans of it.

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  4. I have a friend that has a Walker his dad put together from a kit, you don't have to put 60 grains of powder in them, you can get by with as little of 25 grains. When I shoot a black power revolver I use cream of wheat between the powder and the ball, that eliminates the chance of a flashback. In Fact I use some cream of wheat in any black powder as it helps reduce 'powder pack' as it keeps the wet or oiled patch from wetting the powder and making it hard instead of it burning.

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  5. My current black powder guns are a .45 caliber long rifle and a .50 caliber Trapper model single shot pistol. The single shot pistols are generally more accurate than the revolvers.

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    1. I thought you had some black powder guns from a comment of yours I read somewhere, Billy. That cream of wheat idea is pretty neat. Do you have to carry a second powder horn? Long rifle as in Kentucky Long Rifle?

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  6. Not really a powder horn, a more modern powder dispenser. Yes, like a Kentucky long rifle, but a percussion cap gun instead of a flintlock.

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  7. The original long rifle like Davy Crockett had was only a .25 caliber.

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    1. Seriously? I did not know that. Pretty small bore. I thought they were all .50 or so. All I know is that I would hate to fight arrows with one of those. They get 10 shots, you get one.

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