> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Defense without Modern Firearms - Black Powder



Defense without Modern Firearms - Black Powder

For a variety of reasons, some are unable to own modern firearms--be it local laws, something in their past that disqualifies them from firearms ownership, an unwilling spouse or whatever.

Someone under those circumstances should not simply give up on coming up with a feasible means of defense. While modern firearms are clearly going to be superior to old school methods, that doesn't mean a survivor should give up and trust his family's defense to a Louisville Slugger or $10 machee.

Melee weapons are of course the easy answer--every home in America has at least a few potential improvised weapons. Unfortunately, that means that by default, anyone and everyone post-collapse would at minimum have some kind of melee weapon. And many will have ranged weapons, mostly in the form of modern firearms.

We've all seen the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the trained swordsman spins his giant sword around menacingly...then Indy shoots him dead. Don't be that guy.

Beyond conventional firearms, there are actually some fairly decent ranged options--including black powder firearms, antique firearms, bows and crossbows. This entry focuses on options for black powder weapons, and I'll have entries in the future on other options.

Black powder guns aren't considered firearms by the BATF, though local laws may place some restrictions on them. You can purchase black powder weapons through mail order and have 'em shipped right to your front door, no questions, no paper work. About as tough as buying a chess set or spare socks off the internet. Sporting stores will usually have some options too--in particular, Cabela's generally has a pretty good selection.

Modern black powder rifles are quite popular for hunting purposes, and benefit from modern bullet design and technology. With the right rifle and bullet, you can get great accuracy--under 2" groups at 100 yards--which is more than enough for hunting and dealing with a 2-legged threat at distance. Muzzle loaders have been used to hunt elk, moose and bear, so stopping power is not an issue, either.

While your rate of fire with a muzzle loader will never be exceptional, there are speed loaders available to help give you a bit better reload time. Multiple rifles and a reloading assistant could also help. A muzzle loader would not be my choice for up close fighting, but it could certainly be made to work in a standoff or sniper capacity. 

Stock image from Cabela's.
To move beyond single shot capacity, there are revolving carbines on the market. The Uberti Cattleman's carbine pictured above is one option. Having six shots of .44 ball ready to rock is nothing to sneeze at. Your reload times will be horrendous, so you would need to make those six shots count. But basically the 1850's version of the AR-15.

As a secondary weapon and for closer quarters purposes, a reproduction cap-and-ball revolver would be the way to go. Again, six shots of lead ball is nothing to sneeze at, and a big Colt Dragoon revolver has to rank pretty high on intimidation factor. Again, due to slow load times and limited capacity, an extra gun or two could be an asset. There's a reason many in the Old West carried multiple guns, and not necessarily for cool-guy dual wielding.

A reproduction LeMat revolver from Dixie Gun Works.

In the Deathlands series, Doctor Theophilus Tanner carries a LeMat revolver, which is a beast of a gun--9 rounds of lead ball AND a single 20 gauge smooth bore barrel. A very cool gun and a lot of fire power. Reproductions are available, though they aren't cheap.

One advantage of reproductions of old firearms is that they can easily be passed off as non-functioning collectibles. Pick your time period, add some other collectibles and you're good. A guy interested in history, with some fake cowboy guns and a collection of Louis L'amour books is hardly threatening, even in the most paranoid society.

Another advantage of black powder weapons is that they can be sustained post-collapse. You can cast your own lead ball and, with proper ingredients, make your own black powder. Percussion caps and primers would be an issue for non-flintlock guns, but they can be purchased relatively cheaply for stockpiling (around $3-$6/100).

While black powder firearms will never be the ideal, they are certainly an option for those who can't own modern cartridge-fired firearms. A black powder rifle backed up by a revolver or two would give a survivor the ability to hunt, deter aggression and fight at range--a great advantage over attackers with melee weapons and the ability to at least return fire against aggressors with modern firearms.

Rule #1 of a gun fight is to bring a gun. If you can't bring a cartridge fired gun, black powder is going to be your next best option.


  1. I have to say I am glad someone has finally brought this topic up for discussion. I have kept a couple of these type firearms in my inventory for years for two reasons. First because I enjoy history and the Civil War/ Old West in particular. Secondly they are slightly more sustainable in a TEOTWAWKI event. You mentioned that reloading times would be horrendous for a Cap and Ball pistol. While that may be true for a LeMat or a Colt pattern revolver, not necessarily so for the 1858 Remington New Army. The Remington New Army is loaded with six .44 caliber round or conical lead rounds like the others mentioned. This revolver has the ability to keep preloaded cylinders and quickly switch them out with the empty one. This is the same revolver as that used by Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider and a couple of his older westerns. So as with all things, if you practice this maneuver reload times could be greatly reduced.

    1. Excellent point! I'd forgotten about the New Army and ability to swap cylinders. That would be the "the" way to go.

      Here's a clip from the above mentioned Pale Rider.

    2. Black powder 'non-firearms' are pretty inexpensive, supplies are not that bad and even though reload time is pretty atrocious, I have NEVER fired a 'modern' handgun that points as naturally as my cap and ball Navy Colt. Shoot it once and you begin to understand at least one reason why Mr. Hickok was so effective in his chosen profession.

      The Remington shown looks to have a very similar grip/layout and would probably be a LOT faster to reload. Good call, Anonymous :)

    3. To further my thought on the New Army. The Uberti Cattleman's carbine that you pictured in your article is based on the same Remington New Army that I mentioned in my first reply.
      So that being the case, a person that owns both the carbine and the New Army Revolver plus a few extra cylinders has the ability to reload either with commonality of cylinders. This follows the school of thought that was common in the Old West. cowboys and many modern preppers believe that having a revolver and a rifle in the same caliber will make stock piling/ supplying more streamlined.
      Personally I think that black powder would be the perfect option for those that can't for whatever reason have cartridge firearms. Plus I believe that they would be a good back up for preppers after their cartridges run out during a very long TEOTWAWKI event.

    4. Cylinder interchangeability between pistol and carbine would be great. If feasible, this would be THE way to go for black powder. Pretty cool; the spare cylinders are expensive, but having the ability to reload six rounds rapidly would be a very serious advantage.

      I'd probably add to the carbine/revolver with a larger bore modern muzzle loader for big game hunting, and an air rifle for small game.

  2. Anyone have any experience with some of the pre charged high caliber air rifles. They have some in 357 and 44 and 45 I believe. Have started to look into them but wonder if since the air resevior is st 2-3000 psi it can be stored charged or has to be emptied for long term storage. Would hate to have to get the pump out to charge the rifle with zombies walking up the driveway.

  3. A far more sensible attitude to black powder firearms than we have over here, I envy you. Muzzle-loading firearms work well for defence dispite only having 1 or 2 shots at a time, when you know what to do with them.
    A smoothbore .60 cal flint pistol loading with buckshot will take out a lot of raiders in one shot.
    Flintlocks are also one of the very best survival guns you can get for many reasons.
    Regards, Keith.

  4. Great points. The Lemat is just pure cowboy tacticool. When I was a 19 year old and I wanted something to keep in a night stand drawer I used an old blackpower revolver. For me it was easyer to use that a 12 gauge.

    All Great points.

  5. Awesome article Brother Alexander the Wolf.

    I can load and fire both barrels of my 1870 smoothbore .68 caliber in less than a minute...and I'm betting old and feeble!

    During the French and Indian war and also our revolution there was a company of sharpshooters called Rodgers Rangers that trained to load and accurately fire three shots per minute with a flintlock...

    If you want to play with something really nasty, look up the "Tannenberg-handgonne" which is basically a hand held cannon from the 16th century...

  6. With a reproduction of a Sharps rifle you get a pretty good single shot rifle. They are expensive, but they are FUN guns.

    You can get pretty good range, and ok extended firepower. Yeah a six shot revolver rifle will give you better short term fire power, but for extended fire power a Sharps is pretty dang good.

  7. Great post! Wyzyrd's absolutely correct about those Navy revolvers. BTW, a felon needs to check their local laws before buying a black powder weapon, some states don't recognize any difference between modern firearms and muzzleloaders.

  8. Here's a demonstration of a speed load with a New Army. Pretty darn quick, coming close to reload times with a modern revolver and speed loaders.

    Check it out.

  9. Something worth checking out at Cabela's - I like the 5-1/2" barrel variety. I think they have the carbines too. At any rate, this *bleeped* article forced me to go and buy one.

    They're on sale for $230. Seems like a good deal.

    So many goodies, so little money.. ::sigh::


  10. And here's a demo of your "speed" loaders courtesy of Clint Eastwood.... :-D


  11. Black powder shotguns work just fine at close range and if the shot doesn't get them you'll smoke them out with all that burning black powder.

  12. Only thing wrong with them is they are loud.But being able to make your own "ammo" is a good thing.I hunt deer with a plains rifle and can reach out to 150 yds. no problems.

  13. Feed them colts or remmies with paper cartridges just like they did back during the" war of Yankee agression" as my Carolina Buddies call it.

  14. I shoot cap and ball revolvers in Cowboy Action shooting (the gun pictured at the top of this article appears to be a .36 Spiller and Burr revolver which is what I shoot). I have shot GOEX brand black powder and Pyrodex black powder substute. I feel the BEST powder to use is AMERICAN PIONEER POWDER (also sold as Jim Shockey's Gold). It is totally NON-CORROSIVE unlike pyrodex. Pyrodex will rust your guns if you dont clean them quickly but not as bad as any brand of black powder(black will start to rust your guns on the trip home from the range on a humid day) There are other new BP substutes but I have no experience with them.

    I have also shot muzzleloading shotguns and a thing about muzzleloaders is they are not bound by the 18 inch barrel rule. I have a 12 gauge double that is cut down into a "MAD MAX" sized package and it is totally legal under federal and Texas laws. Dixie gun works sells a "Howda" double barrel pistol in .58 cal or .20 gauge.

    Muzzleloaders are easy to learn but they have several "quirks" that are different from cartridge guns. There are several good books about learning to shoot BP guns (Lyman's Blackpowder loading manual is good)
    and several books are available from DIXIE GUN WORKS that are also good. Both Dixie gun works and Cabelas also sell "starter kits" for cap and ball revolvers that have everything you need to get started. All you really need is a tin of caps (size #10 or #11 will depend on what fits your gun, a powder flask with a spout of the right size to drop the correct charge of powder, and balls of the right caliber.
    Another interesting thing are the "conversion cylinders" available that convert them to use cartridges(do NOT use +p ammo, only standard velocity ammo) Taylor's & Co., inc and Kirst Kartridge Konverters I know of offhand. I know there are more companies out there making them now. These conversions work best on the Remington pattern guns and are available in .45 long colt or .45 ACP. (the conversions for the .36 cal guns need special hollow based bullet ammo to work well)

    As Wyzyrd said, nothing feels as "right" and points as good as a Colt pattern gun. The Remington grip is smaller and not as "natural" in the hand. (at least for me) That is why I prefer the Spiller and Burr, it has the solid frame of the Remington with the grip angle of the Colt. The .44 ROGERS & SPENCER REVOLVER is like this as well.
    The one "weakness" of the Colt pattern is that sometimes a piece of the fired cap will drop down the hammer channel and prevent the hammer from falling all the way. The solid frame of the Remington prevents this.

    A word of warning about the Remington pattern guns, they are made by BOTH Uberti and Pietta and the cylinders do NOT exchange between manufacturers so if you want a revolver carbine and a handgun to use spare cylinders make sure you get the same manufacturer for both.

    And, I almost forgot,in the interest of safety, you need to leave the chamber under the hammer empty when carrying cap and ball guns just like all single action revolvers. A loaded chamber under a lowered hammer is an accidental discharge WAITING for a chance to go off. the slightest bump of the hammer will cause one.

    1. Great additions!

      I'd considered discussing the black powder SBS/howda option in the original post, but just did not find a good place for it.

      And an important safety note r.e. an empty chamber. This was standard practice with old cartridge revolvers as well - most modern single actions have safety features to avoid this kind of AD, but make sure to read your safety manual!

    2. Remington 1858, and clones have a series of notches inbetween the cylinders designed to allow you to put the hammer down on a safe location. This allows for 6 shots in the cylinder, and will help prevent accidental discharges. Crisco or a commercial chamber lube will help prevent flashovers, and crisco will also make cleaning easier as it keeps the foulings soft.

  15. Great article and responses.
    Personally I find the 5 1/2" barrel Remington .44 just about ideal. Great handling, lots of power. You are not restricted to round ball - conicals are heavier and a good choice also.
    Swapping capped cylinders may not be too safe - drop one while doing so almost guarantees a great deal of excitement.
    But I'll say this, in a real fight I'd prefer the 5 shots (one empty chamber) from a .44 Remmie to any modern small caliber handgun.

    For a long gun, I'd go with a short-barreled rifled musket like the Enfield. .58 caliber bullet with a hollow base, and bore size or very slightly smaller, needs no patches and loads VERY quickly. Musket caps are large and handle easily.

  16. OK this is going to be another LONG post.
    The gun pictured at the top of this thread is a Whitney .36 cal. It has a steel frame. The Spiller and Burr was an unlicensed copy made by the south during the war between the states and had a brass frame. It is one of the rarest of the civil war era handguns(sources differ on how many were made one book says 716 another says 1451)and they were made of inferior materials(as were many of the weapons manufactured in the south)so the rate of destruction was quite high. Dixie Gun Works has the Spiller and Burr replica on sale now for $245.00
    The Modern reproductions of cap and ball guns are made of modern materials and are nearly impossible to overload as long as you use black powder or one of the modern BP substutes. If you use smokless powder you can blow them up. This is why reproductions all have stamped on them BLACK POWDER ONLY.
    North American Arms co.makes a cap an ball version of their mini revolver that they tell you to use bullseye powder in. thus proving there is an exception to almost any rule.

    If you are going to leave a cap and ball gun loaded for defensive use
    as this thread started out discussing,I would reccomend that you use one of the substute powders (Pyrodex, american poneer powder,Jim Shockey's Gold, Hogden's triple seven or one of the others designed to replace black powder) because true Black Powder is hydroscopic(meaning it will absorb moisture from the air over time unless tightly sealed, thus the saying "keep your powder dry") And if you really wanted to be sure of keeping air and moisture out you could place a small drop of laquer or even fingernail polish on the edge of the cap after it is pressed into place to form a seal like on the primers of cartridge ammunition. Also, discover which size cap fits the nipples of your gun best #10 or #11. The right size ball will shave a small ring of lead off as it is rammed home and should be sufficient to seal the front of the chamber.

  17. Had to split the post,Now for a different subject, some people talk about making black powder in a true EOTW situation. It is doable but not as easy as many people think. saltpetre(potassium nitrate), charcoal, and sulfur in the ratio of 15 parts saltpetre,3 parts charcoal, and 2 parts sulfur is the mix that has stood the test of time in the world's battlefields for centuries. Producing these three ingredients using "kitchen table" methods is quite doable but requires some knowledge of basic chemistry (High school chemistry in the 1970's is more than enough but I'm not sure what they teach now in the public schools) You want the ingredients as pure as possible. then you grind them to the consistency of wheat flour and mix as thouroughly as possible. You now have what is called "meal powder" and it was used in cannons long after "corned" powder was used in small arms. Meal Powder tends to settle and seperate over time, thus making the powder strength vary quite a bit plus the dust is highly flammable. Making "corned" or "grain" powder requires you to moisten your meal powder and work it into a dough, press it into cakes, let them dry, then grind the cakes into small grains and sieve the mix to sort into grains of the proper size. the traditional sizes are ffffg,fffg,and ffg.ffffg is used for priming flintlocks and the others are used as the main charge. REMEMBER you are grinding an EXPLOSIVE that can be set off by friction or static electricity so you need to use non-ferrous materials to grind.
    Now you need caps. Fulminate of mercury was the first filler for percussion caps, but it is REALLY NASTY to produce and quite toxic. Potassium chlorate is MUCH safer to produce and is more stable.(again high school chemistry or freshmen college chemistry is enough to do this) The metal part of the cap could be formed from empty aluminum soda cans. In fact, Dixie Gun Works used to make a tool to make your own caps using the paper strip caps for children's cap guns as the filler.

    Ok, I really didn't mean to run on this much but I hope this information proves useful

  18. I got lucky and found a single shot muzzle loading pistol 45 caliber. went ahead and bought everything to shoot it. I used to own a lot of BP firearms and shot them exclusively (back in the 80's) If anyone is thinking of making BP, practice-A lot, it never comes out as hot as the commercial stuff the first few times. I think it took me over a dozen attempts to make good black powder. One item that they no longer make is the tap-o-cap you could make #11 percussion caps out of aluminum cans, if you ever see one BUY IT!!! there are no vendors for it anymore... My thoughts on this, black powder is a no brainer, everyone should have at least one BP weapon, you can also use the black powder for many other things. I have even reloaded my .38 S&W bullets and my 45-70 cartridges with BP, works great you just have to make sure there is no air (lose space) between the bullet and the powder, it needs to pack tightly to work and prevent a blow out.
    I am always looking for non working or broken BP guns, mcamp@gci.net

  19. AnonymousJune 05, 2012

    I have always thought a modern version of the Dreyse Needle Rifle would be just the ticket. Making your own ammunition only requires a lead ball, a cap from a toy gun, gunpowder, paper and glue. It takes a while to make a batch of ammunition, but once you're done you get all the advantages of a musket, with the rapid reloading of a single-shot bolt action.

  20. old article but have to post something here anyway. In the old days, one way they compensated for the long reload time of the cap and ball revolvers was to carry a few. I read a civil war book that stated some men carried as many as 6 revolvers on them. belt holsters, an old type shoulder holster, a chest holster. sometimes if they only had a couple revolvers, they would preload several cylinders and carry them, already capped and ready to go. years ago I used to shoot a lot of Black Powder, and no revolver ever felt as natural in my hand as some of the cap and ball type. I only have one BP pistol now and it is a single shot. I plan on getting a 36 caliber cap and ball soon though, never cared for the 44 cap and balls, they always seemed to be less accurate.

    1. AnonymousJuly 20, 2012

      MiCamp, you bring to mind the movie "The Outlaw Josie Wales" when you mention the load time. That is why Josie carried 8 of them. 2 in saddle holsters, 2 in belt holsters, 1 in each boot top, 1 in a shoulder holster, and a final one thru the front of his belt.
      Plus, I read a book about Terry's Texas Rangers in the civil war and it mentioned that they used all the revolvers they could beg, borrow, or steal. They also liked double barrel shotguns cut down to around 10-14 inch barrels.

  21. Another piece of advise with BP revolvers - generally you want to use Crisco or some other natural grease to seal the cylinders over the seated balls. There is a risk of flashover (non-firing cylinders firing off) if you don't seal them this way, and it also helps give some additional protection from moisture seepage to the powder.

  22. I'm a gunsmith and reloader, and I feel I have something of worth to interject in this thread.

    Black Powder (cap and ball) guns of any stripe are formidable. But why limit yourself to just a muzzle stuffer? Why not combine the two concepts, as was done in the 1870's?

    I have a brace of Colt's 3rd Model Dragoons. VERY intimidating weapons, and I feel completely protected by them when they're on my hip.

    Couple points:

    All metallic cartridges were, at one time, loaded with black powder. That being said, there are a few survivors and olde tymers left over from the BP era that made the transition to smokeless. My favorite cartridge in smokeless or BP is the .45 Colt (aka "long colt"). Throws a 255g bullet at 1000fps. My 'reloading rig' for that cartridge in BP can be carried in a roll smaller than a shoebox. Very light and portable. Another survivor that comes to mind is the .44-40, still in production.

    Brass cases for the .45 Colt can be cleaned with regular soap and water- same as you would clean a BP gun. Since BP is low pressure, there is really no need to size the cases before reloading them. The cases will fire-form to your weapon anyways, but I resize them as a rule. With care, you can reuse cases many, many times.

    Primers can be stockpiled, same as caps can.

    While you are limited in stockpiling various grades of BP (50 lbs is the limit), in a SHTF scenario, it would be good to know how to make BP from everyday sources. I have a book called "The Do-It-Yourself Gunpowder Cookbook. By Don McLean". It's a really well done "How To" book on making Black, Red and White gunpowder with all necessary precautions. I HIGHLY reccomend buying and reading this book if you are interested in post-apocalypse survival.

    BP is much easier to make than smokeless. It requires less tools, but MORE care, as BP is very sensitive. It isn't a question of "if" the BP you are mixing up will ignite accidently sooner or later, but "when" it happens... take suitable precauctions and follow the instructions TO THE LETTER.

    Reasonable bullets can be cast from automobile wheelweights. I say "reasonable" since I have no idea what alloy of lead they used when they made the wheelweights. If you require 100% dead soft lead, you can scavange that from any car battery (but what you do with the acid is up to you.. be careful). Most bullets designed for BP use are either dead soft, 20-1 alloys or 30-1 alloys, depending on what you're using.

    Learning how to "paper-patch" bullets is a good idea, too. Paper patching came into being before the invention of the gas check. Paper was wrapped around the bullet to provide for a better gas seal and, to some extent, better accuracy since the bullet/paper combination gripped the rifling better. It also allowed for higher pressures and velocity (and thus, range) because the paper protected the base of the bullet during ignition. If you don't have a supply of gas checks, you can make do with paper-patching.

    Last point: Many revolvers made today are chambered for the Old Tymer cartridges that survived the transition. If you don't care for anything "new" (like me) you can have certain BP revolvers converted to fire metallic BP cartridges.


    Also, there are revolvers made today, using modern steels and closer tolerances, that are designed to use BP cartridges:


    One last thing: In a BP rifle, such as the Sharps, 1885 Hi Wall, or Rolling Block, with the right load and sights, phenominal long-range accuracy can be obtained = literally out to 1000 yards, and beyond (US Army scout Billy Dixon cleanly dropped an Indian at the Battle of Adobe Walls from a distance of a later measured 1,538 yards (9/10ths of a mile) using a Sharps "Big Fifty").

  23. Just a quick point for Michigan residents-black powder is treated the same as a modern firearm-both long guns and the sill "pistol purchase" garbage. Get out while you can.

  24. Thank you all for this interesting exchange. Seems like I've found a den of like minded fans of old school shooters since I too, as a SASS shooter, often like to carry a 44 cap & ball 5½" Pietta 1858 New Army revolver with an R&D cartridge conversion cylinder in 45 Long Colt, necessarily with hammer down on an empty chamber (no safety notch, but the back up cartridge cylinder contains six.) Since there is no ejector rod I find it necessary to include among my gun belt accessories a wooden kitchen implement as a dowel to push out any stuck empties when reloading the removed spent cylinder. The smokeless Cowboy Action loads recommended for use in these cylinders are still formidable for defense purposes, especially with 255 grain bullets, and as the gunsmith here says, it is possible to increase velocities with reloads using BP or an equivalent low pressure substitute (I prefer 777 or the newer Alliant sub.) No FFL requirements, the cartridge conversion cylinders being only considered a "part" by the ATF, and in Arizona anyone can purchase these items and their accessories over the counter, or by mail order.

    My experience of more frequent misfires when leaving cap & ball loads for a time has me preferring metallic cartridges in my carry gun. Perhaps the problem was or contamination of the caps, or grease seeping into the chamber and affecting the powder, but, whatever it was it is no surprise to learn that Wild Bill Hickok religiously fired, cleaned and reloaded his Navy Colts on a daily basis, an option I don't have.

    Question: Are all black powder firearms free from FFL requirements? What about modern replica black powder cartridge firearms? How old does an original black powder cartridge firearm need to be in order to be recognized officially as an antique?

    Regarding lead for balls or cartridge bullets, I too collect lead whenever possible, including wheel weights, even if they are alloyed and considered harder than ideal, leading to increased barrel leading (which can be avoided by paper patching,) but another good source a plumber friend educated me about is the very pure lead in the joints of sewer plumbing in and around older housing, just one pipe replacement job with modern materials providing a significant poundage. A heavyish (5lb)hammer breaks the joint lead away from the discarded pipe easily. Of course, there are also local recycling and scrap merchants.