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Advice for beginner

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Jul 15, 2023
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after joining this forum in the summer I feel I have learned a lot reading old threads, and I have acquired a couple percussion rifles.
A repro Colt 1861 special and an original 1842 smooth bore. Many years ago I use to shoot percussion revolvers regularly, but never long guns.

I currently have Covid and will be isolating here on the farm for another five days. I want to take advantage of my forced downtime to learn to use the Colt Special.

I know the military loaded with a paper cartridge, but I will have to make do with what I have on hand.
My goal here is just to get my feet wet and get a feel for the rifle.
I have a 50 yard range on my property.

I received a quantity of minie balls with the Colt, but the whole issue of bullet lubes is a bit overwhelming. The lube only needs to go into the bullet grooves correct? The only thing I have on hand is some TC bore butter that I used to use to cover the loads in revolver cylinders. Can I just fill the grooves with that? Should I lube the entire bullet, or try to keep it just in the grooves?

The powder I have on hand is Pyrodex RS.

So, the plan is to start with 45 grains of pryodex by volume, poured from a powder measure into the barrel and then just load the minie directly on it. With revolvers I use a lubed felt wad between the powder and ball, not necessary for the rifle correct?

Another confusing issue, swabbing the bore. I assume swabbing just refers to running a wet patch on a cleaning rod down the barrel between shots, is this necessary to prevent cookoffs when reloading? Or just to make clean up easier?

I know these questions seem very elementary to everyone here, and I could just go to Utube videos, but i have much more confidence in the level of expertise on this forum.

Not trying to wring all available potential out of the rifle at this time, just want to get started.

My goal is to eventually shoot N-SSA , but I am a ways off from that.

Thanks in advance to all who take the time to reply
Your assumptions are correct load powder than the bullet with lube on the outside and damp patch between shots if necessary. The bore butter will work.
You're getting a good start. The actual bore diameter varies with these guns and the Minie should be .001" to .002" under that size. If the ball just drops down with hardly any ramrod effort needed, it may not group well. The Minie ball's hollow base allows the expanding gases to expand the ball, sealing the bore and engaging the rifling but they won't do that consistently if undersized. For now, just give it a go, lube the rings only (none in the hollow base) and make sure you seat the ball on the powder. If it starts to get tight during loading, wipe the bore with a moist patch before you continue to the next shot. The barrel, powder, humidity, ball size, will tell you what it likes and you'll get the hang of it. These are really fun guns to shoot! I would join N-SSA in a heartbeat but I live on the wrong end of the country. So, I just go to the range and challenge myself to hitting a steel plate out at 30 yards or so as quickly as I can. So far, I enjoy my 1841 Mississippi the most. The two-band guns are decidedly faster to load.
For safety reasons is it necessary to swab the bore with a wet patch between every shot, at this point I won’t be speed loading, and I won’t load directly from a flask
For safety reasons is it necessary to swab the bore with a wet patch between every shot, at this point I won’t be speed loading, and I won’t load directly from a flask
Well, swabbing between shots is not necessary. It just isn't. That's up to you. You are correct that you do not load directly from a horn or flask. Load a measure, pour charge from measure into bore, then load the ball.
What you have described will work, it may not get you the best accuracy but will work. Get comfortable with the gun then work on the details. You will need to measure the bore and use a pure lead minie no more than .002 under bore size, experiment with different lubes, beeswax based with lard, olive oil, coconut oil work well. Usually a charge of 3f black powder of around 40 to 45 grains works well, again experimentation will be necessary. @dave951 is the man when it comes to info on these rifle muskets!
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Lots of stuff posted here not relevant to your situation since you mentioned N-SSA.

I am a Team Commander in the N-SSA and yes, I shoot these critters in N-SSA competition. I have two muskets I use for musket competition and one is a Colt.

My advice on the Colt-
1) Since you're in VA, get some real black powder. Don't bother with Pyrodex. Get good quality caps. Back Creek Gun Shop is the goto for N-SSA members and is run by a long time member.
2) Lube- Bore Butter NO NO NO and again NO. Mix some beeswax/lard and dip lube just the grooves. Do not fill the base with anything. If you're not leaving the farm for a bit, just smearing the grooves with Crisco is a good start.
3) Wads- NO
4) Swabbing between shots- NOT Needed with proper lube and minies. I've run a Zouave as many as 60 shots straight with no loss of accuracy or fouling issues.

Don't be surprised if the Colt doesn't group if you use Pyrodex and are using minies from an unknown source. We've been over how to fix this issue but if you're just itching to send some lead downrange, have fun but don't expect much.

My advice on the 1842-
1) Ditch the Pyrodex...... ESPECIALLY since this is an original.
2) Lube- I dip lube the ball for mine in musket lube, load and fire but I'm not wasting any time so the powder doesn't get contaminated.
3) No wads
4) Wiping- you might have to till you find the correct size ball. At the very least you'll have to use a brush to break the fouling.

Further comments- since you're in VA, make the acquaintance of Rob Harrison- Team Commander of the 48th VA. He lives very near Fort Shenandoah and is a great resource to help you get started on the right foot. On this forum, he's @PapaRob
Wiping between shots stems from a desire to maintain the same bore condition from shot to shot. The design of the Minie ball and the matching of the diameter of the Minie ball to the bore means the grooves of the Minie ball are doing the job of maintaining a bore with a consistent level of fouling. Wiping may not be necessary.

@GreyGus. Listen to @dave951.
Well, swabbing between shots is not necessary. It just isn't. That's up to you. You are correct that you do not load directly from a horn or flask. Load a measure, pour charge from measure into bore, then load the ball.
I have never swabbed between shots, not counting some cleaning swabs after a while due to buildup.
I also have a repro Colt 1861 Special / Signature Series, and it's a lovely rifle. Just a couple brief observations to the OP: 60 - 65 grains is a good load (3F black powder); and: it groups better with a nice, tight Minie ball (lubed) and no wads; and (finally): your main challenge is going be sight picture with that tiny front sight blade.
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Sell or trade the pyrodex. I’ve looked at several rifles prior to purchasing, every one that has pyrodex used in it was a pitted out rust bucket. If you have to use it, clean , clean, and clean a third time to make very sure you are not having any corrosion! And check the gun every day!
Like several other fellas said, you need a Minie just .001-.002 undersized for best accuracy. I do not enjoy casting bullets, especially Minies, so I get mine from Pat Kaboskey, the Civil War Bullet Man. He will lube and size them to your specs. I shoot original muskets, and have great success using his bullets. My rifled muskets (all original) will not group on a 55 gallon drum at 50 yards using Pyro RS. Apparently in my rifles, it does not develop enough "ooomph" to make the skirt engage the rifling, resulting in key-holing at 25 yards. Have great results using Pyro P, Goex 3f, Swiss 3f. Using 60 grains by volume, the only charge I use, they all group under 2" (best I can shoot open sights) at 100 yards. I have used 3f 777, also very accurate, but too hot for my comfort level in antiques. It goes supersonic (1250fps chronographed), with a loud crack, using a 510 grain Minie. No damage to my rifles, but that is nearly 200 fps more than I get with the other powders. I don't need a magnum musket, so if I use 777, I back off to 50 grains. PRB's shoot great in my rifles, but 18" high at 50 yards, and I am not jacking with original sights.