The group of smoke-shrouded figures exuded an
air of enthusiasm as one of their number methodically produced
yet more gouts of vapor from the barrel of the stainless
throaty "Boom" rendered also an emphatic
"Clang" - hammer and tongs, shot and bullet strike,
reverberating off of the hills surrounding this hollow on the
edge of the Ozark National Forest.
The event was the spring 2005 convocation of the Confederate
Sixgunners of America and the exact venue was just a few
miles north of Clarksville, Arkansas. The revolver was a Ruger Old Army strongly upgraded by
David Clements of Clements
I approached the scene as the revolver made its
round among the uncommonly skilled shooters - all of them CSA
but a number of them Yankees as well.
Each shooter took his turn, methodically and unerringly
chiming the 6x8" steel hanging danglers 25 yards down
range. The revolver
diverged from the familiar Ruger pattern by way of a pair of
micarta grips and an octagonalized barrel topped by a nicely
sculptured extra-tall front sight dovetailed into a ramp.
When my turn came around, I assayed my usual, classic,
"NRA," "duelist" stance, adjusted my
pince-nez reading glasses and proceeded to accomplish the first
clean miss of the afternoon. I
hasten to report, though, that four of my five shots struck the
steel gonglettes soundly and sent them dancing like barefoot
liberals newly arrived in Hades. Not altogether a bad showing.
The real epiphany came when one Jimmy Pilcher
walked up to the line, glanced at the 25 yard swingers and then
hammered the 8x10" fifty- yard gongs one after another,
dead center, five for five and calmly laid the Clements on the
shooting bench. He insists that the performance was a fluke but
I have not often seen five such perfect flukes in a row.
The modified Ruger advanced from the merely
"interesting" to outright "intriguing."
The output of Clements Custom Guns is always
well represented at these CSA events.
David Clements gets a lot of rave reviews and return
business from the Illuminati of the big bore six shooter world.
No fools they, these enthusiasts have come to respect not only
his gunsmithing ability but also his interpersonal skills and
sound business practices. One
such return customer is Billy Fugett.
Already the owner of a Ruger-based .50 revolver from the
Clements shop, he conceived a desire to own a percussion
revolver that would be clearly capable of taking any and all
game animals and large varmints that he might encounter in
Texas. He contacted
Clements about the fledgling Old Army early in its evolution.
Clements' work included some Ruger Old Army Projects
including back-boring the chambers to increase the powder
capacity of the standard six round, 45 caliber revolvers. Now he
was doing developmental work on the Rugers, expanding the
calibration to .50-inch by way of a shop-made five -shot
cylinder and a similarly enlarged custom barrel. The revolvers
were to be tightly fitted up and optimized for accuracy. Billy entered the picture in time to sign on for the second
"semi-production" revolver, third in the series
counting the prototype. Important
Octagonal Barrel from a Krieger blank -
bore diameter.485". Chamber mouths to match at about
dimension was chosen to allow use of the standard commercial or
mould cast .490" balls used in the fifty-caliber muzzle
loading rifles and handguns.
It is also well suited to the .488 caliber conical bullet
from the Mount Baldy Company
that we were using at CSA 2005. The cylinder on this early
revolver is not line bored as is often the case with modern
custom revolvers. The
frame depth of the Old Army prevented use of Clement's line
boring tooling. As we shall see, this factor did not negatively
influence the revolver's accuracy.
Reconfiguration of Lockwork
For five shot cylinder carry-up.
Extra Tall Front sight
Nicely dovetail-mounted to afford ample
adjustment range for the Ruger adjustable rear sight.
One seating stem configured for round ball and
the other shaped to fit the semi wadcutter bullet. This assures
concentric seating - a necessary component to percussion
The .50 will work with traditional black
gunpowder or any of the modern substitutes but is designed with Hodgdon's
H777 in mind. Not
only does 777 generally obtain the highest velocities among the
modern substitute propellants, but it also leaves the least
amount of fouling to tie up this tightly constituted revolver.
Even so, with the tight Barrel/Cylinder gap, Billy finds it
necessary to remove and wipe the cylinder front and back every
ten rounds or so. Like
other black powder substitutes, H777 is a volumetric equivalent
to the original. It does not weigh the same but takes up the
same amount of space in a measure, as would the designated
weight of black powder. In
his experimentation, Clements came to expect that a 50
grain/volume equivalent of H777 under an Ox Yoke Wonder
Wad and the .490" ball would produce an average velocity of
1250 feet per second and 607 foot-pounds of energy a few feet in
front of the muzzle.
Over the 45-grain equivalent of the same powder,
Clements found the 250 grain Mt Baldy SWC doing 1150 fps with
the foot poundage at 734. Either
set of figures, accompanied by reasonable shot placement is
sufficient to sledge down a Texas whitetail or deal decisively
with the most obstreperous of our feral hogs.
The bullet energy in fact, matches and exceeds most of
the 158- grain bullet loadings of the .357 Magnum cartridge with
quite an excess of bullet diameter in the bargain. Clements
considered deep-boring the chambers in the manner of the .45 Old
Armies but found that any substantial increase in powder
capacity would result in inertial pulling of the balls under
recoil. The optimum
charge is the 50 -grain/vol. Loading of H777.
It is not unusual for results to vary
considerably with chronography. The variables are endless,
sometimes unpredictable, and often inexplicable. This is even
truer when dealing with front-loading arms. Billy is a most
meticulous experimenter and apparently has a deft hand on the
seating lever. His
range results were as follows:
170 grain .490 Ball loaded over wonder wad
and 50 Gr/Vol. H777
With the temperature at 79 degrees and
elevation about 500 ft above sea level.
250 grain Mt Baldy Semi Wadcutter and 45 Gr/Vol.
64 (20 Rounds)
Billy attributes at least some of the additional
velocity to the percussion caps used for testing.
He recorded lower velocity and wider extreme spreads with
CCI caps. Clements
also used CCI caps for his testing. Billy's
results-recorded above came with Remington # 11
The initial energy of the ball load has 100
ft/lbs energy over a favored .44 Special combination of 250
grain bullet at 1,000 fps.
The 250- grain bullet load exceeds the original
.357 Magnum loading of a 158 grain bullet at 1500+ feet
per second. There
is enough bullet energy here to satisfy any reasonable handgun
task and then go on to do a journeyman's job on some that are
not reasonable at all.
Billy's extreme spreads show a very high degree
of consistency - well within the expectations that we would
attach to any cartridge arm of similar power and particularly
salubrious with the Hodgdon's propellant. Many of us who
experiment with the percussion revolvers find that H777 turns in
very erratic velocity spreads along with the high velocities.
This appears to be the result of excess compression of
the powder column upon loading.
Billy's front stuffing technique is very deft indeed.
This became even more apparent when he sat down to shoot some
25-yard bench groups. They
fell with metronomic consistency into 1.5" and under.
The best group so far measures just a bit under 70 -
caliber center to center with the 250-grain bullet load. The
overall impression is that this load has a slight accuracy edge
over the swaged round ball.
Billy frequently wonders out loud who, beside
himself would want such a revolver and if there is any real
practical purpose behind his project. I kind of wondered the
same thing before I saw it shot, shot it myself and saw Billy's
research results. Aside from being it's own excuse for
existence, it has several practical attributes that recommend it
to the enthusiast. First
of all it is a very fine piece of the gunsmith's art - both in
concept and execution. The fit, finish and design shout Quality.
On a practical note, it escapes being a
"firearm" as defined by federal law and is subject far
fewer restrictions in most jurisdictions than the cartridge
arms. Under the Penal
Code of the Sovereign State of Texas the percussion revolvers
are not handguns nor even yet, firearms.
There are many and sundry advantages to having a
gun that is not a gun but yet will summon up more kinetic energy
than most conventional handguns - and out-group them in the
For more info on Clements Custom Guns, check out
Got something to say about this article? Want to agree (or
disagree) with it? Click the following link to go to the GUNBlast Feedback Page.