Sturm, Ruger & Co. 'Old Army' BP-7  
Written by Accutron on 2007-06-18  

When discussing percussion revolvers, there are three categories: Antiques, Replicas, and Old Army.

In 1972, Sturm, Ruger & Co. released the Old Army BP-7, a percussion revolver built with modern steel and a modern lockwork design, while retaining the classic lines and basic functionality of a Civil War-era firearm. Designed as a hunting pistol, the Old Army is legendary for its power, accuracy and indestructibility, and ranks as the third most powerful percussion revolver ever produced, out-pow(d)ered only by Colt's problematic Walker and multiply-revised Dragoon revolvers, both of 19th century design and manufacture. The Old Army is also one of the most accurate pistols ever produced, capable of extremely tight 0.75" shot groups at 25 yards with the proper load.

The Old Army is aesthetically modeled after the Remington-Beals 1858 military revolver, but with a larger frame and other enhancements. About 130,000 units of the Remington-Beals revolver were manufactured during the U.S. Civil War, outnumbered only by the Colt 1860 Army, of which 200,000 units were produced. Due to its lower cost and high quality, the Remington-Beals eventually outpaced the Colt 1860 in sales, distinguishing itself from the open-topped Colt with the addition of a top strap.

Though created in the image of the Remington-Beals design, the Old Army is built upon a Ruger Blackhawk frame, with the original 1955 three-screw Blackhawk action and 1962 'XR3-RED' grip frame. Unlike virtually all other percussion revolvers, the Old Army employs a coil spring mechanism instead of a much more typical, failure-prone leaf spring mechanism. Secondary enhancements include an adjustable rear sight and a positive-latching bullet rammer. The Old Army's rammer delivers superior loading leverage, and is immune to the incidental unlatching problems (and consequent jamming problems) seen in other revolvers.

The Old Army was first released in 1972, with adjustable sights, 7.5" barrel and a blued finish. In 1976, Ruger introduced the stainless steel KBP-7, which has since become the iconic variation. In 1995, Ruger introduced a variant with classic fixed sights, to meet with the rigorous competition requirements of cowboy action shooting. In 2002, Ruger added the availability of a factory 5.5" barrel, historically a very common aftermarket modification.

The example pictured in this article is the traditional 1973 BP-7 configuration, now discontinued: 7.5" barrel, adjustable rear sight, 'XR3-RED' aluminum grip frame, 95%+ blued finish, walnut grip panels, 140-prefix serial number dated to 1977. The 1973 issue BP-7 is nearly identical to the original 1972 BP-7, but has the standard Old Army frame profile instead of the rarely seen flat-top profile of the 1972 issue.

Before 1972, all of Ruger's revolvers used a conventional unblocked direct-strike hammer mechanism, standard to the Colt Single Action Army and other single-action cartridge revolvers that Ruger modeled their Blackhawk after. This traditional configuration required the operator to carry the weapon with one chamber empty, and the hammer down on the empty chamber. This meant that the hammer had to be fully retracted to its armed locking position before a loaded chamber would be moved into firing position. The technique was widely accepted, endorsed by the gun industry and shooters alike. Despite this, a few injuries were attributed to Ruger revolvers being carried with all six chambers loaded. The subsequent litigation pressed Ruger into modifying the firing mechanism on all of their single-action cartridge revolvers to prevent accidental discharge from a partial hammer retraction.

Although Ruger continues to have their old three-screw cartridge revolvers on product recall with an offer of free safety 'upgrades', the Old Army retained the highly esteemed three-screw mechanism throughout its entire production lifespan. The transfer bar system is unnecessary, because the Old Army makes use of Remington's innovative notched cylinder concept, with deep safety recesses milled between each nipple, in which the hammer can safely rest. This innovation was not an original component of the 1858 patent, but was added in 1862 at the request of the U.S. Ordinance Department.

Ruger released nine known major variants of the Old Army, all of which are now discontinued:

BP-7 (1972): Blued, 7.5" barrel, adj. sights, wood grips.
BP-7-B (1972): Like BP-7 but with brass grip frame and squared trigger guard; beware modified BP-7's with aftermarket grip frames.
KBP-7 (1976): Stainless, 7.5" barrel, adj. sights, wood grips.
BP-7F (1995): Blued, 7.5" barrel, fixed sights, wood grips.
KBP-7F (1995): Stainless, 7.5" barrel, fixed sights, wood grips.
BP-5 (????): Blued, 5.5" barrel, wood grips.
BP-5F (2002): Blued, 5.5" barrel, fixed sights, wood grips.
KBP-5 (????): Stainless, 5.5" barrel, adj. sights, wood grips.
KBP-5F-I (2002): Stainless, 5.5" barrel, fixed sights, ivory grips.

Other production variations include a '200th Year' USA bicentennial KBP-7 with scroll engraving and carved grip panels, and a change in 1985 from aluminum to steel grip frames on the blued models. Another change introduced to all of Ruger's firearms is the addition of their infamously verbose safety warning stamped on the side of the barrel, a warning which garners such adjectives from gun owners as 'ugly', 'nasty' and 'sissy'. The safety warning was added to Ruger's entire product line over the course of a few months, from late 1977 to early 1978. The BP-7 pictured in this article is a pre-warning example, manufactured in early 1977. Such pre-warning Rugers command a modest premium over otherwise identical post-warning examples. For more details on earlier Old Army variations, refer to the table below, originally published in The Ruger Collectors' Journal, June 1980.

As of January 2008, the four actively produced variants of Old Army, the KBP-7, BP-7F, BP-5F and KBP-5F-I, were terminated due to declining sales, and all remaining 'clean up' pieces were sold off by April 2009. Criticisms of the Old Army include excessive size and heft, poor balance and a lack of historical accuracy per 19th century revolver patterns and technologies.

The Old Army is typically loaded with .457 round lead ball and a maximum blackpowder or equivalent charge of 40+ gr. Because of its modern steel construction and inherent chamber volume, it is impossible to overload the Old Army when using blackpowder. Though the Old Army can anecdotally withstand extremely small smokeless charges, the author strongly advises against any field experiments to confirm this information. With a hot-running blackpowder substitute like Hodgdon 777, the Old Army can deliver muzzle energies in the range of 700 ft-lbs @ 1200 fps, twice the energy of a standard .45 ACP cartridge, and 20% more velocity.

The author's recommended target load for the Old Army is 20 gr. of Hodgdon 777 FFFg equivalent, Ox Yoke 'Wonder Wad' and Hornady .457 cold-swaged lead ball. An excellent hunting load is 35 gr. of 777, and a 220 gr. .456 conical bullet. Such a recipe is capable of magnum-like performance, and is supposedly powerful enough to penetrate the full length of a wild boar, should the need arise. 777 is preferable to blackpowder and traditional sulfur-based substitutes because it produces higher chamber pressures, generates less fouling and is relatively non-corrosive. The author uses CCI #11 magnum percussion caps, and has found them to be reliable, with a consistent, proper fit.

Because of its large frame size and under-barrel rammer, finding a holster for the Old Army can be difficult, especially if you aren't in the market for some silly custom-made cowboy holster. For a quick-and-dirty solution, the author recommends an Uncle Mike's 'Sidekick', size 9 (8109-1, 8109-2 for left-handed use). For something a little better, try a size 7 holster from Sportsman's Corner. The size 7 is custom-built for the Old Army, and is an excellent holster once a few usability modifications are made, namely the removal of a poorly designed utility pouch.

Ruger 'Old Army' Instruction Manual (PDF)
Ruger 'Old Army' Parts Booklet (PDF 126K)

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