America has always had an affinity for big guns in large calibers, and biggest and most famous of the all is probably the Colt Walker. When horses were a thing, the Colt Walker was a “horse pistol.” Weighing in at about four and a half pounds, and fifteen and a half inches long, you will be hard pressed to find a larger pistol throughout the history of repeating firearms.
Designed in 1840s as a collaboration between Texas Ranger Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker and Sam Colt, the gun eventually hit the shelves in 1847, the same year that Colonel Walker actually died in the Mexican-American War. He was carrying two Colt Walkers at the time, in saddle holsters as they were designed to be carried. Movie characters such as Clint Eastwood in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” have carried the guns in belt holsters, but that was uncommon back in the day. Surprisingly, the Wikipedia is pretty sparse on the gun. I have said for many years that the Walker really was not a significant firearm in history. But in firearms development it was pivotal.
At that time, America was not obsessed with large calibers. A hundred years prior, American gunmakers had scaled down the Jeager rifle, which had come over with German and Dutch immigrants into what we now call the American Longrifle. The Jeagers had been as large as 75 caliber, and the Longrifles were more often in 40 or 45. And in pistols it was no different.
The Walker emerged as “too much gun” for most shooters. Horse soldiers didn’t take longer shots with a pistol than infantry did, so they didn’t need such a big heavy pistol. All the way up through the Civil War, 36 caliber revolver dominated sales of the Colts, both military and civilian. All of the Colt copies made in the south, as well as the Whitney were all in 36 caliber, which is really a .375.
The Walker is called a “44 caliber” like most big bore cap and ball pistols, but like the rest it actually takes a .454 ball. The bore diameter is more like .451 or so. I personally use .457 balls, because I feel like if you shave more lead from the ball it increases the bearing surface on the rifling.
My focus in this Black Powder Project has been to examine these guns in the light of a practical and useful firearm. A lot of people are stuck in cities where there is nary a gun dealer, and to get a handgun takes a crazy amount of paperwork. For some people, even owning a pistol is impossible, even though in a red state they would be able to legally walk into any gunshop and buy one. In most of those states you can still buy a black powder pistol and have it shipped to your door. In the others you may have to ship it to an FFL dealer, but from what I have seen, no permit or 4473 is every required. There are no federal laws governing these guns at all.
The Walker is a formidable handgun. You will see in the video that it fired a standard 141 grain lead roundball at over 1,200 feet per second. That is 500 or so foot pounds of muzzle energy. Compare that to a heavy 9mm round the 147 grain, that even in a 12″ barrel, does not reach 1,100 fps. Even a 44 Magnum fires a 240 grain bullet at only about 1,300 fps. in a 6″ “Dirty Harry” sized barrel, so we are approaching magnum velocities, even without loading the gun up to snot.
I don’t load the Walker as heavy as it will go, because I know that with pure lead, once you get supersonic, over about 1,100 fps, you start to really get barrel leading. If we were making bullets for a cartridge gun we could just add some antimony and the bullet will get harder and more resistant to leading, but in a cap & ball revolver you can’t do that. Ideally the ball or bullet will “shave” as you compress it into the cylinder with the loading lever, so you are left with a lead ring. This insures a consistent jump to the forcing cone, and usually prevents the bullets in subsequent cylinders from moving forward with recoil from that which is currently being fired.
I also tried the Eras Gone Dragoon bullet. Some molds are currently available as I write this, but they are more often than not sold out. That page at Eras Gone says that they do not fit the Walker without modification, but the bullets scoot past the loading cutout on all three of my guns just fine. I don’t think the information on that website has been updated in some time. He is still linking to a really bad paper cartridge making system that most people have moved on from as well.
Paper cartridges are great for the Walker. I use the system that everyone uses now, from Star & Bullock Hardware at cartridgekits.com. The powder dipper that comes with the kit, with the dipper edges showing, loads to about where you see here with the conicals, and loaded to overflowing, where you see with the balls. More powder than this will most likely lead your bore, but if you want more, all you have to do is cut the paper longer. i will include a video on how to make paper cartridges here as well.
For a 260 grain bullet, the Walker screamed that sucker at over 1,000 fps. And again, not loaded all the way up. Consider what I said before that the 6″ 44 Mag is clocking only about 1,300 fps on a 240 grainer, this is a not a gun and a load to be trifled with, or that you need to increase at all. Lesser loads have killed many a buffalo and grizzly.
I use Hodgdon Triple Se7en in the FFFG granulation for all of my black powder handguns now. It isn’t that I don’t have or can’t readily get FFFG black powder. I have a ton of it. It’s that I don’t necessarily get to cleaning my guns the same day, and it is safe to leave them for a few days because it is a modern powder that does not contain sulfur, and does not not readily rust your guns. It also increases performance quite a bit, and does not crap up your cylinder gap. With real black powder you have to clean your cylinder face regularly with a wet cloth or it will begin to bind. And if you force it, you can bend your internal parts.
In the video you will see that I also tried the roughly 220 grain Johnson & Dow bullet from the same Civil War ordnance era, and I also saw in excess of 1,000 fps. That mold has not been available for a while, but it just so happened when I went to collect up links for this article that it is. They also do sell the finished bullets, however, at cartridgekits.com.
The Walker is a fairly accurate pistol, even with these fairly heavy loads. A roundball will generally be the most accurate bullet for cap & ball guns. I have 1911s that don’t shoot as well as the Walker with .457 roundballs. The conicals hit harder, but they would take some tuning to see where they like to be loaded, and the most accurate loads are never going to be full power, with any gun really. At normal gunfight distances the Walker is plenty accurate, and it’s long sight radius lends itself to taking longer shots. Just remember that when you rest a revolver, and especially a BP revolver, on a bag or something, it will burn it if too close. A lot of heat and pressure escape that cylinder gap.
When I was shooting the Walker, I did not intend to fire my at that time unfired Colt 3rd Generation. But it is identical to the current Uberti Walker, and I picked it up by mistake, loaded it and shot it. So my groups went from roughly point of aim on the Uberti to about 8″ high on the Colt. Until about five years ago, the Italian gunmakers couldn’t have cared less if your guns shot to point of aim or a foot high, so most of them shot a foot high, and that was the case on my real Colt. This also confirms my suspicion that the 3rd Gen guns were all made completely in Italy and perhaps screwed together in New York. Don’t waste your money on a “real” Colt. The modern Uberti is better for actual shooting.
I should mention that a standard cap & ball holster will not fit the 9″ barreled Walker. i do have a holster from a seller on Ebay that is nice, and reasonably priced. If you are one of those Americans who just want the biggest, the Walker is probably for you. RINO and perennial POS career politician Texas Governor Greg Abbot (who you jackasses in Texas just blew your chance to get rid of) named the historically irrelevant Colt Walker the official handgun of Texas last year. It was designed by a Texas Ranger, but the Colt Paterson was also made famous by Texas Ranger Jack Hayes, so BFD.
As a self defense gun, the Walker is probably overpowered and cumbersome to be practical. There are better choices for sure in a cap & ball pistol. But if you have tiny feet, and you just want the biggest, it might just be the gun for you.