How to Load a 1851 Navy Colt Revolver

Written by robert sylvus
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How to Load a 1851 Navy Colt Revolver
The 1851 Colt Navy revolver uses only black powder as a propellant. (0861 - revolver de collection (vue de dessous) image by Michel Bazin from

The 1851 Navy Colt, known as a cap and ball revolver, uses a distinctive octagon barrel and does not have a top strap over its cylinder. Colt manufactured 257,340 of this model between 1851 and 1873. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody carried 1851 Navy Colts with them. Its accuracy and reliability made the 1851 Navy Colt popular on both sides during the Civil War. Several companies manufacture modern reproductions for recreational use.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Gun cleaning patch
  • Gun cleaning rod
  • Nipple-pick
  • Percussion caps
  • FFFg Black Powder
  • Powder measure
  • Pre-cut wads
  • Lead ball

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  1. 1

    Inspect the barrel, cylinder chambers and nipples for grease and debris. Use a gun cleaning patch to wipe all exposed metal. Use a gun cleaning rod to push a patch through the barrel and into each cylinder.

  2. 2

    Push a nipple-pick through the hole in the centre of all six nipples. A nipple-pick looks like a needle with a handle.

  3. 3

    Move the hammer to the half-cock position. You will hear a click once it reaches half-cock.

    How to Load a 1851 Navy Colt Revolver
    Move the hammer to half-cock position. (0864 - percuteur de revolver (collection) image by Michel Bazin from
  4. 4

    Place a percussion cap on each nipple. Point the gun in a safe direction and fire each cap. This will dry each nipple and cylinder chamber base before loading.

  5. 5

    Place the hammer in the half-cock position. Point the muzzle upward. Rotate the cylinder to allow the spent caps to fall off.

  6. 6

    Measure 21 to 28 grains of FFFg Black Powder in a powder measure. FFFg refers to the size of the powder grains. Dump the black powder into a cylinder. Repeat this for each of the remaining cylinders.

  7. 7

    Place a pre-cut wad into the mouth of each cylinder. Lubricated wads will make cleaning easier.

  8. 8

    Place a lead ball in a cylinder chamber's mouth. The lead ball must be the same size as the calibre marked on the side of the gun. Rotate the cylinder until the ball is in line with the loading lever plunger. Pull down on the loading lever until the ball seats firmly on the loose powder. The ball should be 1mm (.040 inch) below the cylinder edge. Repeat this for each chamber.

  9. 9

    Cover the lead ball with a non-petroleum based grease, like vegetable fat. This will prevent chain firing.

  10. 10

    Place a percussion cap on each loaded nipple. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

Tips and warnings

  • Leave one chamber empty if you want to carry the gun around. Set the hammer on the empty nipple to prevent accidental firing.
  • Always follow all gun safety rules.
  • Only use Black Powder. Smokeless powder produces more pressure than this weapon can handle.

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