Compared with the matchlock, wheellock and flintlock systems that preceded it, the concept of firing a gun using a pill, tube, tape or cap containing a percussion compound would seem to be quite simple. You just put the percussion device on the gun, and pull the trigger -- right?
This is true as far as it goes, but despite the system's simplicity, thousands of game animals are missed each year because percussion guns failed to fire. The percussion system appears so obvious that most hunters do not give it the attention that it deserves.
The elegant, but delicate pill locks and tube locks are long gone. Tape primers used on some Civil War Muskets and Sharps' rifles are presently regaled to cap pistols. What remains for modern black-powder shooters are percussion caps in several varieties and sizes, 209 shotgun primers used on a number of in-line (and a few sidelocks) rifles and shotguns, and adapter systems to use small rifle primers such as for the Markesbery rifles and shotguns.
All modern percussion caps are made of copper with a dab or wafer of percussion compound glued to the inside top of the cap. Caps made by Remington and CCI and are produced in the U.S., and others imported from England, Germany and Italy are also found in the United States. The most commonly used sizes are No. 10s for percussion revolvers and small pistols and No. 11s for many percussion rifles and single-shot pistols. Older replica rifles, outside of military long arms, take the No. 11 caps. Muskets, Sharps rifles and Civil War carbines use the larger top-hat musket caps, which may come with or without flanges on the bases.
Nipples have their own series of ills that may prevent a cap from functioning. These include being battered at the top, or breaking so the cap does not fit the nipple. Nipples are clogged by firing residue and do not allow the flame to enter the barrel. The top of the nipple can be chipped or worn preventing the hammer from striking the nipple squarely and firing the gun. The nipple can be cross-threaded and may be blown from the gun, possibly injuring the shooter or a bystander. Another problem can rise if several guns have been cleaned at once and the wrong-threaded or size nipple is installed on a gun.
Hammers sometimes have problems, too. They may not strike the nipple squarely, resulting in unreliable ignition.
Other problems include: the hammer may be too small to be used on a gun, particularly when a gun is converted from a No. 11 cap to a musket cap. Or the inside of the hammer can be misshapened from repeated impact and not hit the cap squarely. Or the hammer may simply break.
Small Rifle Primer Replacements
This system employs a small device that replaces a conventional No. 11 nipple. The top screws off so that a small rifle primer can be inserted after, which the device is screwed into the nipple seat of the gun. A spring-loaded plunger in the top of the mechanism is hit by the hammer and fires the primer and the gun. This system is probably the most weatherproof of all ignition systems, but is slow to use for a second follow-up shot.
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