Shooting Black Powder – The Traditions “Trapper” Percussion Pistol in Caliber 50

Traditions “Kentucky” (top) and Traditions “Trapper” (bottom)

My first excursion with the Traditions “Kentucky” (http://guntoters.com/blog/2018/10/07/pulling-me-in-part-2/) was so enjoyable that I already knew that another ‘Capper’ was going to be welcomed into the family, and there are many of them from which to choose. Pedersoli of Italy makes some fine reproduction of early firearms in both flintlock and percussion pistol persuasions; albeit, on the expensive side.  I wasn’t ready yet for flintlocks or for percussion revolvers. Both are more complicated than the simple, single-shot percussion pistol (or long gun, for that matter). The decision was made to search for another single-shot ‘capper’ pistol that would be within my budget.

The decision fell to two choices, a Lyman ‘Plains’ pistol or the Traditions “Trapper” pistol. I wanted to stay with the .50 caliber, since I had a pretty healthy investment in it. A toss of the coin said that the Traditions “Trapper” pistol was the winner, and one was ordered.

The Traditions “Trapper” pistol, as with the “Kentucky” pistol can be ordered as a kit. A kit may come later, but a factory-finished pistol was more to my liking at this time. Since the ‘Trapper’ and Kentucky pistols are “Traditions” brand, the short familiarity with the brand was also a plus.

The Traditions “Trapper” Pistol

Caliber: .50 cal
Barrel: 9.75″ Blued Barrel, Flintlock Ignition, 1:20″ Twist
Trigger: Double Set Triggers. Pistol may be fired with trigger set or unset. Screw between the triggers adjusts trigger pull weight.
Length: 15.56”
Stock: Select Hardwood
Weight: 2.85 Lbs.
Normal projectile: .490 lead ball with .010-.020 in.

patch

Ignition: #11 percussion cap
Nipple: 6×1 metric threaded nipple.
Sights

From the Traditions website, we have:

Most of the early mountain men and traders carried a single-barreled pistol and they were popular for years. These pistols had proven themselves reliable, and that was of great importance to a trapper who might have to stake his life on a pistol’s ability to provide a back-up shot in what could be a desperate situation. The Trapper pistol’s primitive-style adjustable rear sight, octagonal barrel and doubleset triggers (capable of firing set or unset) allow you to predictably put your shots on target. This particular pistol is .50 caliber and has a 9.75″ octagonal blued barrel. It is 15.5″ in length and has a select hardwood stock.

While more ornate than the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, the “Trapper” pistol would be far from those carried by elite gentlemen of the time. The “Kentucky” pistol, I would wager, would be more of a ‘working man’s’ pistol than the ‘Trapper’ pistol.  I think that this “Trapper” design was more of a trade-off between what would be considered a ‘working man’s pistol’ and a ‘Gentleman’s pistol.’ However, from what I have read, a “Gentleman’s pistol would be more discrete and would be more like a small-caliber derringer. Large pistols were meant for war and dueling. Regardless, the Traditions “Trapper” pistol is a modern-day replica of a percussion pistol that could be placed in the 1780’s to the late 1800’s. Many early flintlock pistols were converted to percussion pistols as were percussion pistols converted to cartridge version when cartridge ammunition become prominent.

So, let’s take a look at the lock, stock, and barrel of the Traditions “Trapper” percussion pistol in caliber 50.

The Lock

As was mentioned previously, the Traditions “Trapper” comes with double-set triggers. The rear trigger is used to set the front trigger. To set the trigger, the rear trigger is pulled, which sets the front trigger, and it does not matter what position the hammer is in. When ready to fire, the front trigger is pulled (actually more of a nudge than a pull). There is a substantial difference in pull weight between an unset trigger and a set trigger. The ‘set’ trigger pull on this pistol is about 1 pound.

The front trigger is spring-loaded. When cocked, there is very little pre-travel in un-set mode. In “set” mode; however, there is no pre-travel at all. You had better be ready to shoot when you put your finger on this trigger

The set trigger pull can be adjusted, and instructions are included in the manual. However, I felt no need to adjust the trigger, as it was fine from the factory. Also, the instructions are not well-written. And, when testing the set trigger operation, it should be obvious that this is done on an unloaded firearm.

The lock work is nicely inlaid into the stock. The lock work itself, is typical of that found on these reproduction pistols. The same lock work can be seen on all Traditions percussion firearms and also seems to be standard on other side-lock percussion firearms as well, even the Perdersoli versions. The lock used on the Lyman pistol; however, differs in that the Lyman uses a coil spring rather than a flat spring. I’ll be posting a review of the Lyman “Plains” pistol at a later date.

The Stock

The stock is hardwood, but I can’t tell what kind; however, it is supposed to be Walnut. The stock and component fit is excellent (but not perfect) and everything seems to blend well with each other. The finish seems to be “Walnut” and is excellently applied. The finishing has a satin appearance and the wood has a very nice grain structure.

The muzzle end is capped off with a brass Nose Cap, which is held in place by two Nose Cap Screws. Unlike the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, the barrel is not attached at this point.

A “thimble,” which is used as the ramrod guide, is held into place by a Barrel Rib and mounting screws.  The ramrod is also held into place by a spring that is internal to the stock. The ramrod is also of hardwood and capped with brass ends

A Wedge holds the barrel in place at the center of the stock, while a Tang Screw holds the tang into place within the stock. The Tang is an interesting affair. The tang hooks over the breach end of the barrel. Unlike the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, in which the rear of the barrel is held in place by the Tang and Tang Screw, the Tang of the “Trapper” pistol allows the barrel to be swung upward and out of the stock once the Wedge is removed. This negates a lot of wear and tear on the wood in which the Tang Screw is secured.

The trigger guard is brass and reminiscent of the Smith & Wesson No. 3 Schofield revolver used by the Russians. A finger rest is provided outside of the trigger guard that looks like, well, another trigger. With the set-trigger, and because of the sensitive set trigger, this rest may have been the place to rest the trigger finger before mounting the front trigger when in ‘set trigger’ mode. In fact, I use it to rest the trigger finger of my support hand when gripping the stock with a two-handed hold and it works well for that, since you cannot get both hands completely behind the trigger guard.

The trigger guard extends all the way to the bottom of the grip, where it meets up with a brass Grip Cap that is held into place with a Grip Cap Screw. The Grip Cap adds some weight to the butt of the pistol, which adds a balanced feel to the firearm.  In the early days, these pistols were also used as bludgeons when empty and the Grip Cap came in handy for bludgeoning. In fact, some were very ornate and were capable of doing some serious harm to one’s cranium and other extremities they might come across.

The grip area is nicely contoured and fits the hand surprisingly well. An almost wedge-shape protrusion is just above the hand when gripping the pistol. I have seen this on other period pistols and can only surmise that it acted somewhat like a ‘Beaver Tail” grip on today’s firearms.

The bore of the barrel is above the top of the hand (or close to it). As with modern firearms, the higher the bore axis, the greater the muzzle flips upward. This ridge may have been handy when firing with wet hands or when the stock would rotate in the hand due to the plowing of the butt in the hand. With the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, I can place my hand so that it is almost on top of the grip where the recoil is directed mainly into my hand rather than trying to rotate the butt around in my hand. The recoil on these pistols, when using a moderate load (25 grains), is so soft that I would rather shoot this pistol than a snub-nosed .38 Special revolver with standard loads.

With light loads; however, recoil is very soft and muzzle rise is very little. Due to the heavy, octagon barrel, the pistol does seem “barrel heavy,” but then feels just right when a proper grip is taken.

The Barrel

The blued, 9.75” octagon barrel is rifled with a 1:20 twist. You can shoot ball, Minnie ball, and sabot ammunition, but not at the same time.

The barrel is stamped with several markings to include country of origin (Spain), caliber, and most importantly to only shoot with black powder or Pyrodex only. Never, ever, never shoot modern smokeless powder through firearms designed for black powder or black powder substitutes.  The aforesaid may be stated in incorrect English, but serious injury or death could ensue from not heeding what was said.

When I first cleaned my Traditions “Kentucky” pistol and shone a light down the bore, I could swear that these barrels were chromed lined. I have only seen barrels that seemed to be so, comparatively, highly polished that were chrome lined. The rifling is deep and distinctive and that .50 caliber bore is very impressive. The Traditions “Trapper” pistol exhibits the same type of rifling; deep and distinctive.

The top of the barrel is a great place to mount sights and Traditions did just that.  The front sight is a brass fixed post but is drift-adjustable for windage. The rear sight is also drift adjustable for windage but also has a crude adjustment for elevation in the form of a screw that sits just forward of the V-notch in the sight. The rear sight is attached to the “drift block” (for lack of a better term) by a single screw.

As was mentioned earlier, the barrel is held in place by a wedge. Once the wedge is removed, the barrel is lifted upward and out by the muzzle. The tang hooks over the breach end of the barrel. Unlike the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, in which the rear of the barrel is held in place by the Tang and Tang Screw, the Tang of the “Trapper” pistol allows the barrel to be swung upward and out of the stock. As was mentioned, this reduces a lot of wear on the wood of the tang.

Ignition is accomplished by the hammer striking a percussion cap, which is mounted on a Nipple (a.k.a. Cone), which is screwed into a Bolster. The Nipple and Bolster Screw (a clean-out screw) must be removed to fully clean the barrel. The nipple is cleaned separately from the barrel and the threads of the Nipple and Bolster Screw are greased before assembly to the Bolster.

Of course, we are talking about black powder here and that takes a little different method to clean than with modern firearms, but you get to use something called “Moose Milk” and who could not resist using that. In reality, it does not take me any longer to clean the Traditions “Kentucky” or “Trapper” pistol that it does with any of my modern firearms; it is just a different method.

Prepping for Firing

As with any new firearm, the Traditions “Trapper” pistol is thoroughly checked over and cleaned.

With this pistol, due to its double-set trigger, and for the sake of safety, the trigger was again checked according to the manufacturer’s literature.

An inventory was taken to ensure that all shooting supplies were in the ‘Possibles” bag. I had forgotten dry patches the first time at the range with the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol and used the pre-lubricated patches for between-shot cleaning, which is not a bad thing – just more expensive than using dry patches. Besides, I think that a lubricated patch removes more fowling from the barrel than a dry patch.

The Cone was removed, the threads coated with an anti-seize grease, and re-installed. The Bolster Clean-out screw was also removed, the threads coated with the same anti-seize grease, and then reinstalled.

The Traditions “Trapper” pistol was ready, I was ready, and it was time for “Powder Pounding” and “Popping Caps.”

At the Range

Compared to my first time shooting the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, I approached this session with the Traditions “Trapper” with a whole lot less trepidation. I was more comfortable with the loading process, cleaning the barrel between each shot, popping a cap or two to ensure there were no Nipple blockages and was, in general, more relaxed.

I would be shooting 25-grains (by volume) of Pyrodex behind a .490 inch ball wrapped with a 0.015 lubricated patch at a distance of ten yards. And, if I really felt cocky, would push the target out to twenty-five yards.

As with the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, shooting was at an indoor range. Adequate time for the smoke to clear, the barrel to cool down, and swabbing out the barrel between shots is just part of the BP shooting experience.

The first shot of the day was simply a “Functions Check” just to make sure the pistol worked and a projectile was sent downrange at the target.  After a quick wipe down inside the barrel, a re-load, and I was ready to settle in with my portable rest and go for accuracy without using the set trigger, which would come later. The pistol seemed to be shooting pretty darn close to aim.

The next shot, after a barrel cleaning (I am using three seasoned patches to clean in between shots), resulted in a pretty close to the ‘X” at ten yards with almost the same POA.

The target was moved to twenty-five yards, and I had a good idea of where to aim to get as close to the ‘X” as possible. In this case, the trigger is ‘nudged’ to the rear, as there is really no pull happening. In fact, you have to sneak up on the trigger.

The last two shots were taken with the trigger in “set” mode. With only about a pound of pressure needed to release the trigger, a little trigger-sensitivity training is needed before pressing it. Luckily, a couple of percussion caps, without a loaded firearm, can be used to gauge the trigger pull, and it is usually necessary to pop a cap or two on this pistol to ensure that there is no blockage between Cone and Barrel. The result was as expected with these old eyes; about 1.5-inches high and slightly right of the “X” by an inch or so. I was completely satisfied with what the Traditions “Trapper” was delivering for my first time out with the pistol.

The Traditions “Trapper” percussion pistol in caliber 50 is a hoot to shoot. There is smoke (but not bad with Pyrodex) and the muzzle flash is impressive, I never claimed that shooting black powder (or Pyrodex) was a healthy thing to do at an indoor range.

In my estimation, this reproduction version of an 1800’s “assault pistol” was a winner.

Click TRAPPER for quick video.

Issues

The following were issues that I found with the Traditions “Trapper” pistol:

The Wedge:

The wedge was slightly bent. Not paying attention to this caused the wedge to slightly bind against the left Wedge Plate when inserted through the barrel and stock. The wedge was removed and reoriented for proper fit. A tap against the slightly deformed Wedge Plate removed the deformation.

Wood Clean-up:

Some of the wood was cleaned up inside of the stock. This wood was just remnants left over from the milling and was easily removed with an X-Acto knife. After all, these are just “Kit” firearms that are simply assembled and finished at the factory, when it comes down to it.

There were no ‘game-changing’ issues found with the pistol.

Wrap Up Time

Traditions “Trapper” (top) and Traditions “Kentucky” (bottom)

The Traditions “Trapper” percussion pistol in caliber 50 is a lot of fun to shoot. Its bulk and weight really tempers the recoil, which is not hefty by any means.

Even with my aging eyes, finding the sights was fairly easy, as the brass front blade pops even in low range lighting.  The adjustable rear sight is a nice feature, but I found myself using ‘Kentucky” windage and elevation adjustments just to see if I could. A little tap on the sights would have corrected things, but I failed to bring my “sight tapping” tools with me.  It will usually take a session or two to adjust the sights to my liking.

Working with a double-set trigger is a humbling experience and could spoil me from the standard trigger. It was like transitioning from a Double-Action pull to a Single-Action pull, where more trigger time will get one used to it. I look forward to more trigger time with the Traditions “Trapper” pistol.

Like the Traditions “Kentucky” pistol, the Traditions “Trapper” pistol would be an excellent entry point into black powder shooting. It is relaxing and fun to shoot these pistols. Now, if you prefer to shoot 50 rounds in a second while performing mag dumps and torture testing, these pistols may not fit your personality. But, if you want to take a step back into time, shooting black powder (or its substitutes) is an excellent step to take, in my humble opinion. From here, I can go two ways; flintlock or percussion revolvers. I may stray to the latter but, and for now, I want enjoy some single-shot “Capper” shooting.

Regardless, the Tradition “Trapper” percussion pistol in caliber 50 is a nicely-finished pistol from the factory. It is also available in kit form. If that comes to fruition, I am thinking a Cherry-stained stock, and a Brown CeraKote finish, which replicates some early Mountain Rifles that had a rust brown finish on the barrel, and which would provide increased corrosion resistance, would be nice against the brass furnishings. Then, mate that up with a Traditions ‘Mountain” Rifle .50 cal Percussion 32″ Barrel, which has the same barrel finish. Or, even mating the Traditions “Trapper” with a Traditions “Plains” Hawken rifle in the same caliber with a 28” barrel would be sweet!

Of the black powder pistols, the single-shot percussion pistol is my favorite. It is simple and less prone to the challenges of a flintlock or percussion revolver. The Traditions “Trapper” pistol may be reminiscent of pistols used in the mid-1700s to mid-1800s; it is not an exact replica. If you wish for a more exact replica, I would suggest the Pedersoli line. If you are looking just for a single-shot percussion pistol to shoot reminiscent of the period, and is fun to shoot, then the Traditions “Kentucky,” “Trapper,” or the Lyman “Plains” pistol would serve you well.

With the Traditions “Kentucky” and “Trapper” pistols under my belt, a Pedersoli “Howdah” or “Bounty Hunter” pistol could grace the “Capper” stable at some time.


RESOURCES

Traditions “Trapper” Pistol (percussion, .50-caliber): https://www.traditionsfirearms.com/product/Trapper-Pistol-.50-cal-Percussion-Select-Hardwood

 

 

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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