Frontiersman Category for Dummies

Ruger Old Army, 7-1/2" barrel, 30 gr. American Pioneer Powder

A 7-1/2" barreled Ruger Old Army using 35 gr. of APP qualifies as a Horse Pistol. It's not eligible for pocket pistol side matches.

Third Edition, March 2006
Most Difficult Category:
Frontiersman category in SASS requires black powder or black powder substitutes used in all of the weapons, 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.

Pre-Civil War Technology

Ten Bears' 186- Army with "antique" finish

Ten Bears' 1860 Army, 3rd place, Winter Range 2002

The replicas of old guns all use pre-Civil War technology.. Getting 5 good bangs from each gun for each stage can be a challenge in itself. Colts (clones, of course) 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. This gives me more and more respect for people who actually fought with these weapons.
A Savior
Ruger Old Army
But there is a pistol that is built to modern standards and is, for a percussion pistol, very reliable and easy to shoot, the Ruger Old Army. It comes in a stainless version, a plus in a percussion pistol, and it has good sights and action out of the box. Its only downside is it's one of the most expensive pistols in the class. As the price of Italian clones climbs with the drop of the dollar, this becomes less and less the case. Add in the gunsmithing needed to make a Colt clone really hum, and the Ruger might be cheaper. (There are people who shoot stock Colt clones in competition successfully, but ask Rowdy Yates what was done to the guns he won the national championship with in 2004.)
Ruger Old Army, 7-1/2" barrel, Stainless Steel
Ruger Old Army, Stainless Steel, 7.5" barrel, fitted with Eagle Ivory Polymer checkered Gunfighter grips
Prepping your Ruger Old Army
  • Take the stocks off the guns. Check the innards for slag, rough edges, etc. Clean and degrease the guns to get rid of the shipping/storage lubricants. Re-lubricate the innards with the lube you want to use. (See below).
  • Remove each nipple one at a time and coat the threads lightly with Never Seize anti-seize compound. Retighten.
  • Shoot the weapons. If they shoot reliably, to point of aim, and with a reasonable trigger pull, do no more. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Resist temptation
Do not replace the hammer spring with a lighter spring. Percussion caps are not primers and normally take a hard hit to fire. Everyone I know who has lightened the hammer spring on a Ruger has returned to the stock one. After shooting my pistols a few months I obtained a Wolff spring kit for 3 screw Rugers from Brownell's with the intention of trying their trigger spring, not the hammer spring. I waited until the guns were thoroughly broken in and installed the trigger springs then, putting both triggers below 4 lb. and quite crisp. That's pretty much all the average non-gunsmith shooter can do to these marvelous pistols.
Ruger Old Army, 5-1/2" barrel, Stainless Steel, American Elk Grips
Ruger has added 5-1/2" barreled Old Armies in blue and in Stainless. They have become THE weapon of choice in Frontiersman. Shown here are a stainless pair. I sent them to Rowdy Yates of Lee's Gunsmithing for action jobs before using them. They operate as flawlessly as you can expect from percussion pistols. The stocks (grips) are Eagle American Elk (since replaced with Eagle Gunfighter grips because they fit my hand better).
Gunsmithing the Ruger Old Army

When the 5.5" barreled models came out, I just had them shipped to Rowdy Yates at Lee's Gunsmithing. Rowdy is a national champion in Frontiersman, and his shop is one of the finest CAS gunsmithing operations out there. He understands percussion pistols. Not just any gunsmith should work on them. Most will lighten the hammer spring. The gunsmiths who "know," don't. Larry Crow of Competitive Edge Gunworks, who does Red River Drifter's custom-barreled Rugers, doesn't change the springs.

The result of Rowdy's work is a very reliable pair of percussion pistols. Caps don't jam up the action, and caps fire if the caps are good and properly installed (We'll get to that). The triggers are under 3 lb., and cocking pressure is reasonable (compared to a Uberti Remington, it's non-existent). The Forcing cone was smoothed, and everything was blueprinted. It excells in the 3 things I consider really important in a match pistol, reliability, reliability, and reliability.

Ruger Old Army 5-1/2" barrel with loading lever down.

The center pin is "captured" on the 5-1/2" model. If you need to remove it you'll have to remove that screwed on fitting on the front of the barrel. But it makes taking the cylinder out and putting it back in easier as the cylinder pin doesn't come out and have to be put back in.

You have a little less leverage than on the long-barreled model. This isn't a problem with pure lead balls, but I got a batch of balls that the maker apparently hard-bullet alloy instead of pure lead. I still have most of them. Using a cylinder loading tool (see page 3) makes that a non-issue.

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