A Quick Guide To Caplock Firearms

Key Point: Caplock firearms are a type of firearm mechanism that uses a small percussion cap containing a shock-sensitive explosive compound to ignite the gunpowder.

In this article, you will see a breakdown of caplock firearms in detail. You will get to see the origin and history of caplock firearms, how they were used, the types of bullets used, and whether they are still in use today.

Before we continue with the article, it is important for you to be aware of what a caplock firearm is. So here is the definition of a caplock firearm in the next paragraph.

The cap-lock firearm is a firearm designed in the 19th century that uses a percussion cap to ignite the gunpowder that propels the bullet from the barrel of a gun or a pistol.

Now that you got the definition you can now proceed to a more detailed breakdown of caplock firearms. Starting with their history.

History Of Caplock Firearms

Caplock firearms, also known as percussion firearms, were developed in the early 19th century as a substitute for the flintlock firearm.

The caplock system used a percussion cap to ignite the gunpowder, rather than the flint and steel ignition system used in flintlock firearms. This made caplock firearms more reliable and easier to use than flintlock firearms. Take a look at this short 35-second video demonstrating what the loading of the caplock firearm looked like.

Video showing how the caplock system worked

Unlike flintlock firearms, caplock guns did not have problems with misfires due to the flint and steel ignition system.

Their reliability made them a favorite among civilian and law enforcement users in the states. Which naturally lead to the rise of some of the most famous firearms in US history.

Famous Caplock Firearms From History

Throughout history, there have been many famous caplock firearms that have played a huge role in military and civilian life.

Some of the most well-known caplock firearms are:

The Colt Single Action Army This iconic revolver was one of the most widely used firearms of the American West and was popular with both military and civilian users.

Colt firearm

The Remington Model 870 This shotgun was used by military and law enforcement personnel and is surprisingly still in production today.

The Springfield Model 1861 This rifle was one of the most used firearms of the American Civil War and was favored for its accuracy and reliability.

Springfield 1861

The Enfield Pattern 1853 This rifle was used by both the Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War and was even used by the British forces during the same period.

The Enfield Pattern 1853

These are just a few examples of famous caplock firearms that have played a significant role in history. No matter if they were used in military conflicts or for civilian purposes, these famous caplock firearms have left a lasting impact on the world’s history.

Now that we got the history portion out of the way. Let’s take a look at how caplock firearms were used. And what they were used for.

How Were They Used?

Caplock firearms were primarily used for hunting and self-defense. Caplock guns were also used in military conflicts during the 19th century. This was due to the caplock system which was particularly useful for military purposes due to its reliability and ease of use.

Now to delve deeper. We will briefly take a look at the bullets used in these firearms.

Types Of Bullets Used In Caplocks

Caplock firearms were typically loaded with round lead balls, although other types of bullets were also sometimes used.

An example of balls used

The type of bullet used actually varied on the intended use of the firearm. For example, hunting bullets were designed to expand upon impact to cause more damage to the target, while military bullets were designed to penetrate armor and other barriers.

How Caplock Firearms Were Loaded And Fired

Firing a caplock firearm was a simple 5 step process:

  1. A percussion cap was inserted onto the nipple (a nipple was a small protrusion on the barrel)
  2. The gunpowder and the ball were inserted into the barrel
  3. The hammer was cocked
  4. You aim
  5. You fire

Even with the ease of firing the caplock firearms of the era had more than a few drawbacks. As you will soon see.

Advantages Of Caplock Firearms

Like any technology, caplock firearms have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Some of the main advantages of caplock firearms are:

Reliability Caplock firearms are generally more reliable than flintlock firearms, due to the percussion cap ignition system. This makes them less prone to misfires, which can be frustrating for the user. And were dangerous if you are in a war zone.

Ease Of Use A Caplock firearm is generally easier to use than its predecessor the flintlock firearm, as they do not require the separate loading of gunpowder and a bullet. This makes them faster to load and fire, which is vitally important in military or self-defense situations.

However, caplock firearms also have a few disadvantages as you can see in the next segment.

What Are The Drawbacks Of Caplock Firearms?

Despite their reliability and ease of use, caplock firearms had a “few” drawbacks.

The main drawback of caplock weapons was their relatively slow firing rate. This was due to the time required to load and cock the firearm, as well as the need to carry multiple percussion caps. On top of that, caplock firearms were more prone to misfires than let’s say cartridge firearms.

Hence why cartridge firearms were the ones to replace caplock firearms. As you can see in the next section.

What Replaced Caplock Firearms And Why?

As popular as the caplock firearms were they had a few drawbacks, as you saw in the previous segment.

That is why caplock firearms were eventually replaced by cartridge firearms. So what are these cartridge guns? In short:

Cartridge firearms are gunpowder weapons that use a self-contained cartridge with both the bullet and the gunpowder.

This makes cartridge firearms generally more convenient to use than caplock firearms because they do not require the separate loading of gunpowder and a bullet. This made cartridge firearms faster to load and fire, which as you can imagine made the wildly popular with the militaries of the world.

The Main Benefits Of Cartridge Weapons Over Caplock Firearms

Faster Firing Rate

Cartridge firearms have a faster firing rate than caplock firearms, as they do not require the separate loading of gunpowder and a bullet. This makes them more practical for military use, as well as for self-defense and hunting.

Greater Accuracy

Cartridge firearms are generally more accurate than caplock firearms, due to the improved design of the bullet and cartridge. This makes them more effective for long-range shooting and hunting.

And think about it from the military point of view. Greater accuracy equals less wasted ammunition and more effective soldiers. It is really no wonder that they quickly adopted cartridge guns over caplock firearms.

Overall I can say that caplock firearms were an important step in the evolution of firearms. But they weren’t the final step.

That is why their time “under the sun” so to speak was really short. Newer and better technology came along that made the caplock firearm rather obsolete.

In Conclusion

Caplock firearms were a significant improvement upon the flintlock firearm and played a significant role in military and civilian life during the 19th century.

While they have been largely replaced by cartridge firearms today, caplock firearms are still the favorite of many history enthusiasts and civil war reenactors. It has that nostalgic charm that is hard to get away from.

So, to finish things off I want to thank you for taking the time to read this article, I hope you learned something new about this significant piece of firearm history. And if you wish to continue reading I suggest taking a look at my article where I compare caplock guns with flintlocks. You can see the article here.

Take care!

Sources: Flayderman, Norm. “Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values.” Gun Digest Books, 2007