Shooting Black Powder – Part 2, Traditions Percussion “Kentucky” Pistol, 50-Caliber

It was a typical Sunday morning, just another Sunday morning that is reserved for BS, which stands for “Breakfast and Shooting” among me and my two shooting companions.

After breakfast, we head off to the gun club and range to which we belong, and talk about mundane things like how the universe was created, quantum physics, all while trying to dispute Einstein’s’ Theory of Relativity. If you believe that, welcome to the other BS part of the equation.

I had brought my EDC, the Rock Island Armory 1911 FS Tactical, and planned to shoot several magazines of ammunition through it to keep my sanity intact. However, this solemn occasion was also to introduce myself to a new version of an old firearm – a single-shot percussion pistol. And, needless say say, the EDC remained in the holster.

Single-shot percussion pistols can be found in kit or assembled form from various firearm vendors both online and locally. If you order online, it will be delivered directly to your abode, as no FFL is required. You can find flintlock and percussion models in rifles and pistols. These firearms range from basic to extravagant. As with many firearms, it depends on what you want and how much money you want to spend. While I yearned for a Kentucky Long Rifle, or a Hawken Rifle, I needed to come back to earth (you may not and that’s fine) and start out on a smaller scale. What I found was the Kentucky Pistol in .50 caliber loading.

There are two versions of the Kentucky Pistol that I have found; flintlock and percussion. Supposedly, the Kentucky Pistol was a favorite of David Crockett (1786 – 1836). It is not said if ole’ “Davy” had a flintlock or percussion version. But, since the percussion cap was introduced in 1820, it is possible that “Davy” had one (or two) when he was killed at the Alamo, but that is only speculation on my part. I opted for the percussion pistol. For two reasons; I was not ready for the flint lock version of this pistol, and I was not ready to concern myself with flashovers from a percussion revolver, which I understand does happen but can be prevented.  I just had not worked myself into the “prevention” part with confidence and would hold off on venturing into percussion revolvers for a little bit longer until I became more educated about them.

Once the EDC was fired, and I was pretty satisfied with the day’s shooting results, it was time to haul out the big gun.

So, let’s take a look at the 50-caliber Traditions “Kentucky” pistol in percussion flavor.

The Kentucky Pistol:

Weight: 2.75 Pounds
Overall Length: 15 Inches
Barrel Length: 10 Inches
Twist: 1:20
Trigger Type: Single Stage
Black Powder Caliber: 50 Caliber
Barrel Finish: Blued
Sight Type: Blade Front
Ignition Type Percussion
Stock Finish Wood
Grip Material Wood
Country of Origin United States of America

The Kentucky Pistol is, of course, a muzzle-loading firearm.

No accessories are provided with the pistol, and as such, I had to get a few things together before the pistol could be shot:

  • Powder flask.
  • Powder measure.
  • Nipple wrench.
  • Lubricated patches of the proper thickness (0.015”).
  • Black Power or Pyrodex (powder loading is 20-25 gr. of FFFg (a.k.a., 3FG) or 17 gr. of Pyrodex for this caliber, according to the manufacturer). Pyrodex P was selected due to the fact that I could not located 3Fg black powder locally.
  • Swaged lead balls of the proper diameter (.490”).
  • Percussion caps (#10 for this pistol. But, #11 stainless-steel nipples are available for this pistol and other Traditions BP products).
  • Ball starter.
  • Ramrod (the one that comes with it looks nice but is useless).
  • Wet Wipes (Oh boy, I was gonna’ need these!)
  • Possibles bag (or other method for carrying all of the above).

As is noted above, there is a considerable investment in shooting black powder firearms. Not only the investment itself, as it relates to “Possibles,” but also it is an investment in time locating and researching web sites to ensure that you get the most correct components as possible (notice how I worked ‘possible’ in?).

Moving onto the Kentucky pistol itself, one will find the overall length of the pistol impressive at 15 inches with 10 inches of that being the barrel. It is a handful to hold, and at 2.72 pounds it is not light, but not any worse than an all-steel Government Model 1911.

The Barrel:

The octagon-shaped barrel is topped of with a dove-tailed brass blade front sight with a dove-tailed notched-blade rear sight. Traditionally, these forearms shoot high at close range and were sighted in at 100 yards. It was said that if you wanted to hit a man in the chest aim for his belly. Since the front and rear sight is drift-adjustable, there is a means to adjust for windage, at least.

The barrel is well-fitted to the stock. There is a screw on top of the Breach Block that secures the barrel assembly on the top of the hardwood stock and also a screw on the brass Nose Cap. The real secret of these types of firearms was the wood-to-metal fit. Two screws secure the Lock Plate to the wood stock, but also add some tension to the stock for holding in the barrel.

The Traditions “Kentucky” pistol is made in Spain, which is clearly noted beneath the serial number, but I do not know if it was made on the plains or if it was raining when it was built. The caliber is stamped on the right side of the barrel while warnings are stamped on the left side of the barrel; one of which being, “BLACK POWDER OR PYRODEX ONLY. DO NOT USE SMOKELESS POWDERS.”

The Stock:

The stock is a handsome hardwood with some impressive grain. The “Birds Head” grip provides a solid feel in the hand and the pistol does not seem “barrel heavy” after you get used to aiming it after a couple of times, or in my case, simply try to line up the sights.

The grip area has a ridge-line that extends from the top of the frame to the end of the grip at the front. This helps to secure the pistol in the hand. The trigger reach is very short, although by appearance it does not look that way.

The frame extends almost to the muzzle and is capped by a nice piece of brass that appears to have a clear lacquer coating. Two brass holders are attached beneath the frame, and which provides a holder for the ramrod along with a Ramrod Retaining Spring that is internal to the stock. The ramrod is capped at both ends in brass. The ramrod is also held in by friction at the front of the barrel. The ramrod, to me, is too short and a “working” ramrod was purchased.

The trigger is in its usual position near the butt of the pistol and is surrounded by a brass trigger guard, which is secured by two steel screws. The trigger is a wonder to pull; you wonder how anyone could pull this thing. At half-cock, the trigger is engaged but is quite a loose affair with free-travel in all directions. At full-cock, the trigger is the same way as at half-cock. The trigger pull is heavy, very heavy. It does break crisp, but it takes some heavy finger pressure on it to do so. I will never complain about a MSR trigger again after yanking on this thing for a while.

The Lock:

The lock is a very simplistic affair. External Lock parts consist of the Hammer and Bolster, and the percussion Nipple. Inside the Lock plate resides the Main Spring, Sear, Sear Spring, and Tumbler. There is a screw on the Tumbler, which is used to adjust the engagement of the sear point on the Tumbler. The Traditions “Kentucky” pistol has a  trigger and, trust me, no hint of any “hair trigger” on this pistol. If it ain’t broke, I am not about to fix it.

The hammer spring is very heavy and it takes bit to pull the hammer back. Like the trigger, the hammer pull is gritty. It will probably smooth out after some shooting. Well, maybe a lot of shooting. (Author’s Note: The trigger did start breaking in after shooting a bit, and it is better, but no lighter.)

Preparing for Shooting:

When you are shooting a black powder, muzzle-loading, percussion pistol you can spark more than just conversation if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing. There are more safeguards that must be in place as compared to shooting modern cartridge firearms.

New Era Possibles Bag

First of all, let me talk about the “Possibles” bag.  While I may be shooting a replica of a percussion pistol made somewhere in the late 1700s, that doesn’t mean that I have to be totally into that. There are more modern “Possibles” bags that fill the need. My favorite is the UTG Multi-functional Tactical Messenger Bag; one that I also use in support of modern firearms and calibers. There are enough pockets and pouches to keep what needs to be separated, well, separated.  For example, I will never store percussion caps and powder together. I use the main pouch for storing a powder flask and a preset powder measure (in a re-sealable plastic bag), rags, and a package of Equate Wet Wipes. Another pouch is used for storing percussion caps, while another pouch is used for storing ball and lubricated patches. A Ball starter and other tools fit in another part of the bag while small accessories (ball puller, cleaning mops, etc.) are stored in a different pouch. The large rear compartment holds the sectional Ram Rod.  I can outfit this bag for single-shot muzzle-loaders or percussion revolvers, as needed.

The Pyrodex P powder had been transferred to the Powder Flask before leaving home. A portion of powder in the powder flask would then be transferred to a Powder Measure set at 25 (for now), which is in-between the minimum (20-grains) and the maximum (45-grains) limits. Black powder, if you have read my black powder introduction (http://guntoters.com/blog/2018/09/22/pulling-me-in/) is measure by volume and not by grains.

A fresh silhouette was set at 7 yards distant just to make sure that I could actually hit a target with it a close range.

All the necessary items were set out on the shooting table; balls (.490-inch), #10 percussion caps in an-inline cap holder/dispenser, powder, ball starter, lubricated patches (0.015-inch), and assembled ramrod.

The first order was to transfer the desired volume of powder to the preset powder measure. Then, while holding the muzzle upward, empty the contents of the powder measure into the barrel and tap the barrel a few times to ensure that the powder gets all the way down into the barrel.

Place a lubricated patch centered on the muzzle and then place the ball on top of the patch. Grab the Ball Starter and push the ball down with the short starter and then follow up with the long starter rod until the ball is as far down as possible. Then, follow up with the ramrod by pushing the ball and patch down further until firmly seated again the powder. A few more taps on the ramrod for good measure. I certainly don’t want any air gap between powder and patch. Getting the ball started is the hard part, while trying to hold the pistol upright, stabilize it and the short ball starter, and then whacking the ball starter to get the ball rolling (so to speak) into the muzzle.

You would think that the next step is to pull the hammer back to half-cock and set the percussion. That normally would be true, but I like to place the powder flask and powder measure somewhere out of the way.  In other words, I want anything that can ignite away from the muzzle of the pistol. Once that is done, I can move on.  Note that I am shooting at an indoor range where ventilation is artificial. If I were shooting at an outdoor range, I might change my thinking a bit.

The hammer is pulled back to the half-cock position to place a percussion cap on the nipple. The muzzle must always be downrange when doing this. While it is rare for a percussion cap to ignite while installing one, the muzzle must be pointed down range – just in case. The in-line cap installer keeps my thumb from being seriously hurt due to the barrier between the cap and my thumb. Still, it is good to be gentle when placing a percussion cap into place.

The percussion cap is on; the barrel is filled with powder, patch, and ball (in that order).  The only thing left to do is to point the damn thing downrange at the target, line up the sights to the POA, pull the hammer back to full cock, and pull the trigger.

I figured that one of three things was going to happen; (1) The pistol was going to blow up in my hand, (2) There would be a misfire (if I did not seat the primer correctly), (3) The pistol was going to fire and the ball would exit the barrel and, of course, there is a 4th thing, a hang-fire.

If the percussion cap did not ignite, this pistol has second-strike capabilities – simply pull the hammer back to full cock and pull the trigger again. It is possible that the first hammer drop seated the percussion cap, and the second hammer drop will do its job.  A hang-file, on the other hand, is a different proposition.

Shooting

I am not afraid to mention that I pulled that trigger with trepidation, given that three out of four possibilities would sour my experience with the pistol.

The cap went bang, and the pistol did very shortly afterward.  A big hole appeared in the target high and left of POA. But, I attributed that to worrying about what the pistol was going to do rather than where I was going to hit on the target.

A couple of lubricated patches were run through the barrel to clean out as much fouling as possible, and then the loading process was repeated; powder, patch, ball. I actually tried aiming the next shot offhand and a hole appeared high but to the right of POA.  So far, I had a 12” group. (Click Second Session Shot to view a short video.)

I loaded up another round and let my friend, Mike, shoot it. I can’t say that his accuracy was better than mine, but given we were shooting a pistol, especially a black powder pistol, that we had never shot before, at least the side of a barn should be scared. Then, I decided to up the ante.

The powder measure was set to 30 (volume), which increased the charge by 5. This time I rested the pistol on my portable bench rest. The result was a little bit better than before. I also realized that my powder flask had a 30 dispensing tip on it, which meant that I might be able to load directly from the flask rather than transferring powder to the powder measure. To set up the powder flask, I simply place a finger over the tip of the powder flask while pressing the dispensing knob with my thumb. Then, release the dispensing button while keeping finger over pour spout (it is important, by the way, to get your finger and thumb coordination acting correctly on this. And, yes I speak from experience.). Place the flask up right before removing finger (important as well). I set the poured tip-full of powder from the flask into the powder measure, and sure enough, 30 in the flask was 30 in the powder measure. It was time for the last shot of the session.

It was also time to push the target to 10 yards.

You can view a short video (MOV file) by clicking the link that follows and view in your favorite media viewer:  Final Session Shot (raw video)

The resultant shot is shown below.

Taking Out the X after some “Kentucky Adjustment” for windage and elevation! The last Shot of the Session.

For this last shot, I took my sweet time and tried to get the best sight picture that I could. I would aim slightly right and low of the X, try to get the best trigger squeeze that I could pull off (no pun intended), and observe the result. What resulted was a large hole in the middle of the X that, between the ball and patch, was totally obliterated (shown in the image above). I was a happy camper at that point and would end the shooting session on a high note. I was also hooked on shooting more black powder (or Pyrodex, if you will) in the future.

Recoil with this combination of powder and ball was very manageable. The recoil is more of a push into the hand and not a snap as with modern powders. And, since the barrel is almost directly in line with the hand, the recoil is straight back into the hand.  The only thing that I regretted was not having another quick shot to follow-up with, but a ‘New York Reload’ with another pistol, or shooting a double-barred pistol would have been nice.

A few more lubricated patches were run in the barrel to clean out some fouling, the shooting equipment re-packed in the ‘Possibles Bag,’ and the first session with the Traditions ‘Kentucky’ pistol came to an end.

Shooting at the indoor range was not as bad as I thought that it would be. I spaced my loading and shooting with enough time for the ventilation system do its thing. The Pyrodex seemed to shoot cleaner than the pure black powder firearms that I have seen.

Hooked – Line and Sinker!

The Traditions ‘Kentucky’ pistol is the best single-shot ‘capper’ that I own, but then, it is the only one that I own.  My intuition tells me that it won’t be the last. After this range session with it, I am now slowly becoming a ‘Pyrodex Junkie’ and I’ll be seeking out other ‘Cappers’ to add, while working my way to the ‘long gun cappers.’  I also hope to try out a few BP revolvers and well and will writing reviews on any BP firearm that I shoot. (Lord, I hope that I don’t become one of those people that rant and rave about black powder like irritating Glock enthusiasts who rant and rave about their Glock pistols! Just kidding, Ron! (inside joke))

I believe that the Traditions ’Kentucky’ pistol, my ‘BP Starter Pistol,’ was the right choice for me to get started in the BP fun. I would also recommend this route to anyone who would like to start shooting Black Powder semi-automatic (one pull – one shot) firearms. It is a good way to learn about what went before cartridge firearms, and you start building an appreciation of those who used these firearms under the stress of battle.  The Traditions ‘Kentucky’ pistol is simply a good jumping off point from which you can decide to journey further into Black Powder shooting, without a (very) large outlay of money in the long run, or stick to your modern firearm. After all, how many times can you say that you shoot a .50 caliber handgun? With Black Powder, you can experience shooting the .50 caliber, or even a .58 caliber firearm if you so desire. As with most trips, it’s about the journey and not so much the destination, especially if you build your firearm from a kit. But, I was in a hurry for the experience. And, purchasing a finished Traditions ’Kentucky’ pistol found me hooked – line and sinker. (Sinkers, lead balancing weights, etc. can also be melted down and made into ammunition. There is nothing like the smell of molting lead early in the morning. It smells like – molting lead, which is known – among most all other things, to cause cancer in California!).

Link to Pulling Me In!! An Excursion into Black Powder and Percussion Caps: http://guntoters.com/blog/2018/09/22/pulling-me-in/


RESOURCES:

Traditions Kentucky Pistol (percussion): https://www.traditionsfirearms.com/product/Kentucky-Pistol-.50-cal-percussion-select-hardwood-blued

Of course, the pistol (and others) are available at various web sites that carry black powder firearms and accessories.

 

 

About Taurian

Taurian is an Oath Keeper, veteran, former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Until retirement, Taurian had over forty-seven years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer. After leaving home at the age of ten without any shoes, Taurian continues on with many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.

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