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My personal interest is Black Powder pistols. I think most people have a preference as to whether they use a single shot flint lock or percussion or possibly a revolver such as the .44 1865 Remington or the Colt Navy .36. It is important as with any muzzle loading firearms to ascertain what is the best load to get accurate and consistent performance. Just because you can put 40 grains in the chamber, do not assume that this will be the most accurate. My Old Army Ruger shoots best with a .357 ball and 22.6 grains of powder. Any inaccuracy is normally down to me! I am something of a traditionalist and always use black powder. Even with reproduction firearms I feel they were made to shoot with black powder and not a nitro substitute. For my pistols I normally use fine grain powder as I can use it in my percussion guns and also my flint lock flash pans. 

To start with I would like to look at a reproduction Le Page single shot percussion pistol  made by Armi Sport. It  has a  9 inch .45 caliber stainless steel octagonal rifled barrel with a and double set triggers.

I have found that it shoots very well with the same load as my Old Army Ruger being 22.6 grains of fine black powder. using a lubricated .010 of an inch linen patch and .440 diameter ball  weighing 128 grains. The  ignition  is  from    a   No.11 percussion cap. It is always open to debate, as I personally find the single shot rifled barreled pistols shoot more accurately for me than the  revolvers do.

When loading my single shot Le Page I always use the loading stand and a brass funnel to ensure all of the powder goes right down to the back of the breech and does not stick to the walls of the barrel. It really does not matter too much if you want to use a powder flask as I tend to do most of the time but if you want to ensure greater accuracy in your loads, you may wish to use a set of plastic files and pre-weigh your powder charges using grain scales.

Considering all the safety precautions, I should mention that some people feel that when using a powder flask to load the powder directly into your firearm, this does carry a risk. If after firing the last charge, there should be smoldering residue left in the barrel, it many ignite the powder you are poring down the barrel and blow the flask up in your hand.  To avoid this you could decant the powder from the flask into a small plastic file and then pour it down into your barrel. Obviously this would not stop the powder igniting but you would not risk a flask exploding. This is also why you must wear safety glasses when charging any muzzle loading firearm.

The actual loading of a Le Page .44 single shot percussion pistol

From the point of safety, it is assumed that before any loading takes place, or we pick up the pistol, the shooter will being wearing safety glasses and hearing protection.

The instructions given in relation to right hand etc are because I am right handed. However, the reader can use the opposite hand if necessary. This may appear unnecessary, particularly if you own the firearm. However, it is good practice to ensure the pistol is not loaded. You will note this is just a matter of using the loading rod as a measuring stick. By holding the loading rod between your thumb and fingers and placing it into the barrel, you can tap it against the breech face to tell you it is empty.  Another way is to wrap a piece of green electrical tape around the loading rod level with the muzzle when it has nothing in the bore,  this makes a very simple quick visual check.

Next make sure there is no percussion cap on the nipple live or fired. At this stage you need to “cap off”. The purpose of capping off is to ensure there is no dried oil or debris in the nipple or the  channel leading to the powder charge in the barrel. With the pistol uncharged, pull the hammer to half cock, place a percussion cap on the nipple point the gun down range, pull the hammer to full cock and fire. If the report does not come out of the muzzle you should repeat the exercise. If there is no cap on the nipple at all, you know you are safe. As you will see in the picture (below left) the pistol is stood in the loading stand and the hammer is at half cock.

For the purpose of demonstration we will use a medium size powder flask filled with FFFG fine grain black powder. In reality I have used both FFFG and FFG medium grain black powder and have not noticed any real practical difference in the actual shooting of the pistol if it loaded correctly. It is  important to ensure the nipples are clear and you are using the correct percussion caps to ensure a good ignition source. The spout on the flask throws a charge that when measured weighs 22.6 grains. As mentioned previously we are going to use a brass loading funnel. With the pistol stood vertically in the loading frame, place the funnel in to the bore of the pistol.

Hold the powder flask vertically in your right hand. Place your index finger over the spout and tip the flask down pointing the spout towards the floor. Keeping your finger firmly on the spout, open the gate with your thumb. Give the flask a little shake and release the gate. You should now have a measure of powder. Keep your finger on the spout and hold the flask upright. You now have a full charge of power in the spout.

Next we have to load the patched ball. We are going to use a .010 thou. lubricated patch under a .440 caliber soft lead ball. First place the patch centrally over the muzzle, due to the stickiness of the patch it will stay in place. Next place the ball on top of the patch and with your thumb give it a gentle press to hold it steady. 

The last thing is to firmly seat the patched ball on the powder. For this you will need to use the loading rod. It is essential that there is no air gap between the ball and the powder. An air gap can cause the barrel to bulge or burst at the point of firing.

It is now just a matter of pouring the powder into the mouth of the funnel. Once all the powder has been poured into the funnel, give it a little sideways  tap as you lift the funnel out of the bore. This is just to make sure none of the powder has stuck in the brass tube.

We now have to get the ball started into the barrel. For this we use a ball starter. It is a round ball of hard wood with on short projection and one long one. First we are going to use the short ball starter. Hold the round wooden ball in the palm of your hand and with the short end down with a firm pressure push the ball into the muzzle as far as the wooden ball will allow. Now turn the ball starter over and push the ball in further with the long end.

The pistol is now fully loaded with powder and ball, it only remains to put the percussion cap on the nipple. The pistol is now removed from the loading frame and held with the muzzle towards the target. With the hammer at half cock keeping the pistol pointing down range and  place a cap on the nipple.  The pistol is now ready to fire when the hammer is set to full cock.

You will note that this pistol has “two triggers”. The back one is curved and the front is straight. This is what is known as a double set trigger. Holding the pistol in you right hand and pointing the pistol in the direction of the target, pull back the hammer to full cock. Pull the rear trigger and you will hear or feel a click. The front straight trigger is now set and very light. only about a 2lb pull. Take aim, gently touch the front trigger and fire. Once fired, the pistol is placed down on the firing bench with the muzzle pointing down range and the fired cap can now be removed. At this point I normally replace the marked loading rod in the barrel to show it is empty.

The actual loading of the six shot Old Army Ruger .44 Cal

From the point of safety, it is assumed that before any loading takes place, or we pick up the pistol, the shooter will being wearing safety glasses and hearing protection.

Loading the Old Army is similar to the single shot Le Page except you do not use any patches or a loading funnel.