July 2015

         My website has had this page for over 10 years. I looked at it recently and realized it needed revising. So this is dual purpose, appearing in the Cowboy Chronicle and on my website.  Frontiersman category has both grown and gotten more competitive. 
Most Difficult Category
         Frontiersman category in SASS requires black powder or black powder substitutes used in all of the firearms, percussion pistols fired duelist (one handed), any SASS legal pistol caliber rifle, and either a SXS shotgun or a lever action shotgun (no pumps.)
Black Powder categories are separated from other shooters into their own categories because Black Powder:
—smokes-a lot. The shotguns, particularly, lay out huge clouds of smoke.
—requires extra care and feeding. Often black powder guns have to be cleaned before the match is over.
—requires different, generally more difficult loading and cleaning techniques.
         Add to that Frontiersman requires percussion pistols. Each one has to be recharged between stages. Where loading a cartridge pistol takes 15 seconds, loading a percussion pistol requires 1-5 minutes, preferably with no distractions.

Ten Bears shooting Colt 1860 Army, 2002 Winter Range, 3rd place

Pre-Civil War Technology
         The replicas of old guns all use Civil War era technology. Getting 5 good bangs from each gun for each stage can be a challenge in itself. Colts dropped their loading levers in mid string, had poor sights that usually shot high at our ranges, and became hopelessly jammed with spent caps. Remingtons seemed better but had their own problems.
         These guns, unmodified, are hard to use in Frontiersman. The ones that work have usually been prepared by gunsmiths who understand percussion pistols. Larsen E. Pettifogger has written about prepping both Ubertis and Piettas, and his articles are in the Cowboy Chronicle archives. He is not in the gun-smithing business, however, and only preps guns for himself now.

         The only one I know personally who specializes in percussion pistols is Rowdy Yates at Lee’s Gunsmithing 344 N. Magnolia, Orange, CA 92866, Phone: (714) 921-9030, e-mail: info@leesgunsmithing.com. Rowdy is semi-retired.  Call him before sending him any guns. (Other gunsmiths who can and want to work on these guns and want to be included, contact me.)


A Savior
         But there is a pistol that was built to modern standards and is, for a percussion pistol, very reliable and easy to shoot, the Ruger Old Army. Unfortunately Ruger no longer makes it or supports it.  This makes guns on the secondary market expensive and hard to find. 

        It came in a stainless version, a plus in a percussion pistol, and it has good sights and action out of the box. Rowdy Yates prepped mine.


Stainless Steel Ruger Old Army with 7-1/2" barrel and fixed sights. The original ROAs had adjustable sights. These were the first that were SASS Legal for Frontiersman category

         Ruger no longer makes the stock nipples.  A very popular replacement, Treso, is no longer in business, but some vendors still have some.  But there is a really good replacement.

Stock Ruger nipple on left (Stainless Steel), Treso nipple made of AMPCO bronze, center, and SliX-Shot stainless steel nipple on right.

SliXprings SliX–Shot nipples
—Part# 830825RS— Most Ruger Old Army models with long 12-28 x .250” threads.
—Designed to allow lighter hammer springs. 
—Fit Remington #10 caps perfectly, hole inside is tapered “venturi” allowing hotter spark
—“Vent ports” in sides reduce back pressure allowing lighter hammer springs and cause spent caps to split and fall off on next cycle or stick on the cap, minimizing cap jams.
—Stainless steel.

Note that they recommend Remington #10 caps. So do I. I've tested everything on the market and some out of production caps. Remingtons are the most reliable. Some nipples work best with #11.

         Another replacement nipple is sold by Track Of The Wolf.
They sell a stainless steel nipple that has the original Ruger Hex nut shape. The advantage of this is you can use a 3/16” socket wrench instead of a nipple wrench.


         There are several substitutes available and “Wholly” black powder is available in some areas.

         Black Powder
         Both 2f and 3f will work in your percussion pistols and can be used in cartridges for your rifles and shotguns.  Most progressive reloaders forbid the use of black powder in their machines.

         American Pioneer Powder and American Pioneer Powder Premium Grade
         These can be used in progressive reloaders.  They work with smokeless bullets and poly coated bullets. No special black powder lube is needed. I recommend 3f for all main match guns. Premium Grade 3f is exceptionally clean in the loading machine. It is also easier to clean up in the guns. You may leave your guns uncleaned without worry of corrosion (but leave them oiled). It "travels well," meaning it's low maintenance at multi-day matches.

Hodgdon Pyrodex
         The original black powder substitute has the advantage of wide availability over “wholly” black. It is also approved for use in progressive reloading machines. Clean every day after use.  Treat it like real black powder. Bullets need black powder lube.

Hodgdon Triple Seven
         Can be used in progressive reloaders. Works with smokeless and poly coated bullets.  Designed for hunters, it is 15% hotter than Goex. Read the loading restrictions before using.

Percussion Tools

         Treso flask—easy to use, easy to refill. In high humidity, empty it after each shooting session and clean out with compressed air–not necessary if you live in the desert.  Use Hornady One Shot case lube on moving parts. You may need 2 for a 6 stage day. Similar flasks are available from CVA and Traditions.

         Powder Spouts—Get a powder spout for your heaviest load and 5 grain intervals down to 15 gr. Then you can tailor your load as needed.

Filling the Powder Spout
         Instead of capping the spout with your finger, use an empty case (.45 ACP shown) with spent primer wired to the powder spout–more consistent, doesn’t get wet and contaminate powder.

Use a Snail Capper
         Get at least 2 Ted Cash Snail Cappers. Inspect caps. Remington caps should be green inside. If they look brown, put them in a “practice only” container.  If they look like brass, throw them away.

The Red Marker Trick
         Paint one nipple red using a permanent marker (Sharpie)–the pistol’s nipple!  It won’t be permanent.  You’ll have to do it before every match. Now you know where the empty chamber is.  It makes for interesting conversation at the loading and unloading tables.

Marking the Empty Chamber
         Aspen Filly engraved mine for me with a circle around the empty chamber.  It doesn’t wash off. She also engraved the last 3 of serial number on side of cylinder at that chamber, so even if you forgot to paint that nipple red, you can find the empty chamber.

Loading (first, the traditional way)

Before loading the first time in the morning, put a cap on each chamber and fire the caps (safety down range). That will burn off any oil in the nipple hole. If you have a stainless gun and keep the cylinder and nipples free of oil, you can skip this. If in doubt, pop the caps. Test doing without it on practice days to see if your gun fires reliably on the first shot without it. With substitutes or BP I have never needed a nipple pick. Commercially available picks don’t fit in Treso nipples.

Put the revolver on half cock so the cylinder can be rotated.

Put the red nippled (empty) chamber under the rammer.

To start with, push the rammer down to lock the cylinder in place so that the first chamber after the red nippled one is in the loading position.


Put your index finger tip over the powder spout. (See page 1 for a suggestion about using a spent case instead of your finger. Turn the powder measure upside down. Push the powder release with your thumb. Shake the powder a couple of times. Release the powder release button. Turn the powder measure right side up. LOOK AT THE SPOUT. You should see powder to the end like so:

Carefully place the tip of the nozzle in the chamber and turn the measure upside down.

Check the chamber for a consistent level of powder. (If you are using a Wonder Wad or equivalent, insert one and ram it. We didn't use wads in this instance.) Insert a .457 Round Ball. Release the rammer. Rotate the cylinder one chamber so the ball is centered under the rammer.

Begin to seat the ball. The rammer should be centered over the ball.

Firmly seat the ball.

You should have a little ring of lead cut off by this action (visible under the ram). Using a rag or, in a pinch, your finger, rotate the cylinder one turn and remove loose lead rings. This also cleans the cylinder face. Spin the cylinder until it spins freely.

If you have trouble with the short lever of 5.5" barreled guns, TK4B Enterprises makes the SliX-Hand, an extension for your loading lever.

For a little extra, you can have it powdercoated your favorite color and your SASS number engraved on it