Ruger Old Army Cap-N-Ball .45 Revolvers

By Chuck Hawks with Gordon Landers

Ruger Old Army
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

After achieving tremendous success with his fine Single Six, Blackhawk, and Super Blackhawk single action cartridge revolvers, the late Bill Ruger set out to design and produce the finest cap and ball revolver ever made. The result is the Old Army, which is based on the three-screw Blackhawk lockwork and uses the same grip frame. This is a traditional single action revolver with a half cock hammer position, not the Ruger New Model lockwork with the transfer bar ignition system.

According to Ruger, the Old Army features an interlocking base pin and rammer assembly that will not unlatch during recoil. It also makes cylinder removal more trouble than with Ruger single action cartridge revolvers or Remington pattern cap and ball revolvers. The Old Army is available in satin stainless steel, gloss stainless steel, or blue finishes; it can be had with or without fully adjustable target-type sights, and with a 5.5" or 7.5" barrel.

A summary of the specifications of Ruger's Old Army .45 revolver are as follows.

  • Type: muzzleloading, cap and ball, six-shot revolver
  • Caliber: .45 BP
  • Proper ball or conical bullet diameter: .457"
  • Overall length: 13 1/2" (with 7.5" barrel)
  • Weight: 2 7/8 pounds

The gun that is the test subject of this review syniopsis is a stainless steel model with 7.5" barrel and adjustable sights. My friend Gordon Landers had taken delivery of this revolver just three days before we test fired it at our local gun club's outdoor pistol range.

The Ruger Old Army feels good in the hand. The satin stainless metal finish is attractive and durable. There is virtually no cylinder endplay, the bolt locks the cylinder with minimal movement, and the flash gap is tight and uniform. The rosewood grip panels are a different story, indifferently finished and poorly fitted to the frame.

The hammer draw is fairly stiff due to a heavy coil mainspring (typically Ruger) . . . The stock trigger pull was excessively heavy, and gritty, with plenty of travel. A little work with a stone eliminated the gritty feel and reduced the pull weight to 4 pounds, but the travel remains.

The Old Army's rear sight is identical to the fully adjustable type supplied on Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk revolvers. The front sight is a ramp front blade sweated onto the barrel near the muzzle. These excellent sights are probably the best feature of the gun.

The Old Army .45 is intended for use with traditional black FFFG, Pyrodex P, or Triple Seven FFFG powders, and should never be used with smokeless powder. For the shooting portion of this review we used GOEX brand FFFG black powder (20 and 25 grain loads). We also used RWS #11 percussion caps, Ox-Yoke Wonder Wads, and Hornady .457" diameter round balls.

After the revolver is loaded the hammer must not be left at half cock--this is not a safe hammer position. The hammer should be pulled back slightly, using the thumb of the shooting hand, just enough to free the sear from the half cock notch . . . rotate the cylinder as necessary so that one of the safety notches on the back of the cylinder (between each chamber) is directly under the middle of the top strap and therefore directly beneath the hammer. Then slowly lower the hammer until its tip comes to rest in the safety notch.

This process is much harder to describe than to do. With a little practice safe operation becomes almost automatic, like shifting a manual transmission car. Do not load one of these revolvers until you can handle it safely 100% of the time.

Pulling the trigger on a blackpowder revolver produces a flash, a bang, and a cloud of smoke, but not much recoil. Shooting the Old Army feels about like shooting a target load in a .38 Special cartridge revolver. Ruger Old Army revolvers can deliver fine accuracy once the optimum load for a particular revolver is found.

After shooting is finished, all black powder revolvers must be thoroughly cleaned; even stainless steel models like the Ruger. Black powder residue contains salts, which will attract moisture and cause rust and corrosion if not removed. Hot water with a little 409 cleaner added works well for the purpose. After the gun is clean, use a little gun oil or a synthetic cleaner/lubricant like Prolix to lubricate and protect the lockwork.

The stainless steel Ruger Old Army represents the final development of the cap and ball revolver. It is a gun of which Bill Ruger was justifiably proud.

Note: A complete review of the Ruger Old Army revolver can be found on the Product Review Page.

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Copyright 2003, 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.