Black Powder Enthusiast — Van Rhodes

Nov 03, 2014

Van Rhodes didn’t grow up with black powder guns.

“My family just had the typical kinds of guns and shotguns around the house,” he said.

But the moment he fell in love with guns was the first time he saw one at an auction. He bought it.

“After that first black powder pistol I bought, I found they were just fun to shoot,” Rhodes said.

“I’m intrigued by their history and the fact that they are beautiful guns,” he continued. He said black powder firearms originated in the U.S. in the 1800’s. They were the weapon of the American Civil War.

As with everything having to do with the Civil War, there were divisions.

“The Union forces used guns with steel casings, and the South used guns with brass casings,” said Rhodes, adding that high metal costs at the time were probably the deciding factor in which metals to use.

One of the most famous guns, because of its history in the Old American West, was the Colt 1851 Navy revolver; a .36 caliber black powder pistol designed by Samuel Colt between 1847 and 1850. It was so popular it stayed in production for 22 years.

Rhodes has a Colt Navy 1851 revolver in his collection.

“I bought it from a guy, and then wasn’t quite pleased with it because it had a mechanical problem,” recalled Rhodes. He returned the pistol to the seller. After researching more about it, he decided it could be fixed, and so he bought the gun back again.

He sent it to a gun smith in Bloomfield and, now, the revolver fires perfectly.

“The first time I used it, I shot a rabbit with it,” he remembered. He even, at one time, had a horse that would let him ride and shoot, a rarity because black powder guns are very loud. Most horses become afraid of them.

He said protective ear and eyewear are a must when firing a black powder weapon. “Sometimes little pieces of metal can shave off during firing. So you always want to protect your eyes.”

It is also important to hold the gun properly, keeping your hand well away from the cylinder.

“And, these guns have no safety, so you have to always pay attention to what you are doing,” said Rhodes.

After his first gun, Rhodes was hooked. He now has five in his collection.

Many gun enthusiasts don’t like black powder because they regard it as too inaccurate. But Rhodes disagrees. He said once one is used to a black powder gun, they can be used effectively for hunting.

Because these guns are not at all on the cutting edge of technology, ammunition can be difficult to come by. Rhodes makes his own out of lead. But he noted even lead is becoming harder to find and relatively expensive. The lead is molded into balls that are placed in the gun’s cylinder. The cylinder holds six shots.

“I think I like black powder because it takes you back to the old days,” pondered Rhodes. There is a lot of history when you hold a black powder gun; from the Civil War to Wild Bill Hickock.

“All of that history just gives the guns a real romance,” explained Rhodes.

Though black powder became popular in the U.S. especially in the 1800’s, black powder was actually introduced in America in about 1675. American powder was generally of lower quality, so England restricted the manufacturing of black powder among the colonists. It wasn’t until after the American Revolution that small mills started springing up to make ammunition.

American gunpowder continued to be of less quality until E.I du Pont, founder of the world’s third largest chemical company, took on the production of gun powder in 1804, and became the leading gun powder producer.

Missouri encourages the use of black powder weapons in hunting during the “Alternative Methods Portion” of the deer hunting season, which is Dec. 20-30.