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Thread: How proficient were the man killers of old?

  1. #51
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    Random thought and a question for those who have experience with percussion guns: what's the ignition time like compared to modern ammo?
    Is it noticeably slower?
    What I'm getting at is - if it's slower it seems like that would really encourage a smooth trigger press and long follow through on the sight picture.
    Might be kind a dumb idea, but thinking about the old west I'm picturing the old cameras where you had the big flash from powder,and everyone had to hold still for a long time, and that got me thinking

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  2. #52
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    Blind luck plays a huge part. John Wesley Hardin was shot in the abdomen by Phil Sublette in Trinity City Texas when a drunk grabbed him from behind and pushed him into the line of fire.
    Random nobody.

  3. #53
    Quote Originally Posted by NickA View Post
    Random thought and a question for those who have experience with percussion guns: what's the ignition time like compared to modern ammo?
    Is it noticeably slower?
    What I'm getting at is - if it's slower it seems like that would really encourage a smooth trigger press and long follow through on the sight picture.
    Might be kind a dumb idea, but thinking about the old west I'm picturing the old cameras where you had the big flash from powder,and everyone had to hold still for a long time, and that got me thinking

    Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
    Lock time with my Ruger Old Army is noticeably longer than a modern centerfire or rimfire revolver, and that magnifies the effect of any flinch while encouraging development of good follow-through after the trigger press.

  4. #54
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    Just a few other random thoughts here....

    There is a big difference between the technical skill levels needed to be a "competent gunman" and a world class shooter. It has been said by knowledgeable people that an IDPA Sharpshooter or a C class USPSA shooter has all the requisite technical skill to win the overwhelming majority of gunfights. It can be argued that anyone who can score a dark pin in Gabe White's class is considered an exceptional level of competency when compared to most gun owners (and even most gun carriers). My contention is that most of the old west "gunfighters" that won multiple fights were most likely what we would look at today as competent gunmen. I'd put Hickok and Hardin at a higher level (due to their regular practice- according to Hardin's land lady he did dry fire practice and draw work) but there were other "better than average" shooters too. Arizona Ranger Jeff Kidder was reputed to have practiced regularly and was supposedly the fastest and best shot among his fellow Rangers. Long Haired Jim Courtright was supposedly an excellent shot - performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. I had read somewhere (cannot remember exactly where now) that part of his act was to shoot through his wife's hoop earrings...while she was wearing them.

    So what we seem to find is that the guys that were looked at as the best at what they did apparently put a lot of time into it. And then you have a "lower tier" that were certainly deadly gunmen who won numerous fights but maybe were not viewed by their contemporaries as being "exceptional" as far as their gun handling or marksmanship skills. And then you had a whole bunch of people who did just enough to win a gunfight and not get shot or killed in the process.....kind of like today.

  5. #55
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    Take a quick look at Henry McCarty, William Bonney, Henry Antrim, Billy The Kid - whatever you prefer to call him. He was by some accounts a highly skilled shooter. But if you actually look at the killings attributed to him there really was not much exceptional skill involved. Morton and Baker were killed "trying to escape" after being captured by the "Regulators". The killing of Buckshot Roberts was a rifle fight that Bonney happened to be present at but no way of knowing if he actually hit Roberts. The killing of Sheriff Brady and Deputy Hindman was an ambush with rifles. There is the Joe Grant killing but that was more a matter of outwitting his opponent than out shooting him . Deputy Bell was shot at close range (with his own gun) and Bonney killed Olinger with a shotgun from the 2nd story window. None of this required the skill level of a Max Michel or a Bob Vogel.

    So was Bonney "proficient" ? The evidence clearly shows he was at the very least proficient enough to kill several armed opponents and smart enough to ambush them with long guns or when they were unarmed when possible. None of what he did with a pistol though approaches the "Road Agent Spin" while "under the gun" that Hardin is reported to have used when he killed Texas state policeman Green Paramore in Oct 1871. Those of you who are familiar with the movie The Outlaw Josie Wales - where he hands the pistols butt first and then spins them over and fires- Hardin apparently actually did that "for reals". Now whether he actually did it in the presence of Hickok in Abilene in June of 1871 will always be open for debate and a discussion best had in person where the possible dynamics can be demonstrated. (and Hearne groans..."not again"... ) Leon Metz believes it happened....even if not EXACTLY the way Hardin described it . Hardin most likely embellished the story some. Joseph Rosa is emphatic that it absolutely did not and could not happen. Who knows? I can paint a realistic scenario where it DOES happen and Hickok does not shoot Hardin...because Hardin is being charming (sociopaths do that) and looking for validation from an older "hero figure" , not being truly threatening to Hickok. I think if folks read Richard Marohn's Last Gunfighter and see how Hardin checks all the boxes for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (among other issues) it might make this more reasonable and believable that it may have actually happened...though not quite the way Hardin describes in his book.

    Looking at Wyatt Earp for a moment we see a man who was not renowned as a wizard with a pistol he was certainly proficient enough to shoot (probably?-there were 3 people shooting ) George Hoy in Dodge City, put bullets into both Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton in the alley next to the OK Corral in Oct 1881 and to "proactively" kill Frank Stillwell with a shotgun and kill Curly Bill Brocius with a shotgun during the gun battle at Iron Springs (or probably more likely Cottonwood Springs according to True West magazine) and (maybe) even kill Johnny Ringo with a rifle in Turkey Creek canyon .

    The thing we see in common is that all these guys were willing to drop the hammer at the drop of a hat. There was not much hesitation as they had seen first hand what can happen if you don't stop the other guy "right now". It can be argued that Frank McLaury was the most dangerous opponent of the Earps at the OK Corral ho down. Earp testified that at OK Corral he drew and immediately targeted Frank McLaury...specifically not Billy Clanton though Clanton drew first because McLaury had a reputation as an accomplished gunman. Though Billy Clanton actually drew first (allegedly), Earp drew immediately and shot at McLaury hitting him in the stomach. I'd argue that a little proficiency and a willingness to get to work is better than all the skill in the world and an apprehensive mindset. Of course having a high level of technical skill combined with ruthless decisiveness and a clearly defined sense of self preservation is even better. Ask Charles Askins...
    Last edited by Randy Harris; 06-20-2019 at 11:50 AM.

  6. #56
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    Quote Originally Posted by NickA View Post
    Random thought and a question for those who have experience with percussion guns: what's the ignition time like compared to modern ammo?
    Is it noticeably slower?
    What I'm getting at is - if it's slower it seems like that would really encourage a smooth trigger press and long follow through on the sight picture.
    Might be kind a dumb idea, but thinking about the old west I'm picturing the old cameras where you had the big flash from powder,and everyone had to hold still for a long time, and that got me thinking

    Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
    Not that noticable for me

  7. #57
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    Quote Originally Posted by TiroFijo View Post
    May I ask: are you loading round balls or conical? Conicals are much more accurate past 25 yds.

    But from all I've read round balls were by far the prevalent loads of the era, and that's what I was referring to. It is easier and faster to load lead balls in a cylinder vs a conical bullet, they were more common, readily available and well established, and the vast majority of shots were taken at relatively short distances.
    I use round balls because they're cheap and available. It is my understanding that civil war troops used conical bullets and that carried over into Western expansion. Most of the historical stuff shows conicals.

  8. #58
    Hillbilly Elitist Malamute's Avatar
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    When working properly, which can depend on cap make, fit and age on the gun, nipple size and type, size of the flash hole in the nipple, percussion gun ignition has been instantaneous for me. I cant tell any difference from a cartridge single action. I find them quite fun to shoot.

    Clean up has been greatly overemphasized. Hot tap water in a 16 oz or larger cottage cheese or yogurt container, drop cylinder in it, use a bronze bristle brush smaller than the bore, wrap a cloth patch over it, wet in the hot water, run through the bore a few times, (I usually stick the end of the barrel in the hot water and draw hot water into it with the patch/rod) use fresh patch, repeat, until maybe patch 4. the metal should be HOT by then, use a dry patch or two and set the barrel aside to later oil. Use same brush and patches on the cylinder until clean, I pull some patch off the tip to get the bottom of the chambers.. Once clean and hot, a few dry patches, set aside to reload or oil. I tend to reload them right after cleaning while bone dry, oiling other parts afterwards so the caps and powder cant be exposed to the oil easily. Loading a freshly cleaned and totally dry cylinder probably helps the charge life. ive left guns loaded for up to 2 or more years with only occasional hangfires, but they all went, most just like normal. Cleaning should take 10 minutes, maybe less.

    Wipe down the other parts parts with damp patch to remove fouling, dry, grease the center pin, reassemble, oil lock parts as needed. I rarely take nipples out and havent had any trouble with them. its probably good to grease the threads.

    If in the field, Id reload as needed and worry about cleaning it later. Cleaning with cold water also works but not as well regarding drying. When living in Flagstaff I left one percussion gun fired and not cleaned for a year, forgetting about it. It has some very minor pitting in the bore, I cleaned it, loaded it, and drove on. No big deal. I wouldnt have a cow about it. Other areas may be different, but there seems an inordinate amount of angst about cleaning black powder guns. In some ways they can be easier to clean than a cartridge gun that has jacket fouling.
    Last edited by Malamute; 06-20-2019 at 01:21 PM.

  9. #59
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    03RN, I just love that old hound dog of yours. (smile)

    Not that I look to Hollywood for historical information or documentation (good grief no) but a kernel of truth might have been spoken by J.B. Books when he gave the shooting lesson to Ron Howard's character (can't remember the name right now) in The Shootist. The kid said his group on the tree trunk was as good as Books group. Books then said the difference was he wouldn't hesitate. When other's wait, he won't.

    That combined with a reasonable level of skill probably has more to do with survival back then (and now) that being Johnny Go Fast who never misses...on the square range.

    Dave

  10. #60
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave T View Post
    03RN, I just love that old hound dog of yours. (smile)

    Dave
    Thanks, they broke the mold after him. Still miss him.

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