Colt_No_2_Dragoon_Revolver

Colt Dragoon. Clean regularly.

It must have been a gut-wrenching sound back in the day.

In the midst of battle, as soldiers clashed with sabers and bayonets, you raise a black powder revolver, take aim and pull the trigger.

And you hear a quiet pop.

There should have been an ear-splitting bang, but the percussion cap merely popped and failed to set off the gun powder, failed to send bullet down the barrel toward the opponent rushing you, failed to stop the threat.

As a teen pointing the gun at an immobile stump in a clearing not far from summer camp, the sound wasn’t as much gut wrenching as it was it was nerve wracking. I had been the first to volunteer to take up arms against the stump after our camp leader took us aside for some target practice. The impromptu session wasn’t on any of the brochures, and I’m pretty sure this wasn’t covered by the liability waivers our parents signed. But when someone in a leadership position proposes gunplay, what pre-teen boy can refuse.

Upon hearing the pop, the adult coaching us told me to keep aiming downrange. It was possible the chamber was cooking off, burning the powder slowly, just waiting to go off.

Pulling the trigger again would move on to the next chamber and could blow up the gun — shredding my hand and tearing my eyes — if the first chamber fired into the frame. Lowering the gun without pulling the trigger again could mean it fires at wherever it happens to be pointed when the powder decides to explode.

So, I stood there holding the revolver with my tired, wiry arm, bracing myself for the explosion.

At any moment.

Any time, now.

This must have been hell in an actual fight, when the shooting iron was supposed to save your skin.

After what seemed like an eternity — and long past the point where I would have been dismembered by an opponent — the coach decided it was safe to abandon my dud chamber. The next kid got a turn, and we went through a series of failed discharges — a six shooter that only shot once. It’s a good thing the stump wasn’t particularly aggressive.

What made the nail-biting experience enjoyable was that before we took turns flirting with crippling cookoffs and blinding flashovers, our chaperon had talked up the superiority of cap-and-ball black powder over modern metallic-cased ammo. Old west gunfighters preferred it, he said. What he didn’t tell us was that most duds and cookoffs are the result of poor maintenance.