58 Caliber Muzzleloader

It wasn’t the game that the author expected to take with it, but his big .58-caliber flintlock still performed well in the woods.

Let me begin this tale by reviewing some background and a few technicalities. The rifle that is the real centerpiece of this story is a .58-caliber flintlock, in the fullstock Hawken style. That was the last rifle made for me by the late Dave Dolliver. It was my second .58-caliber rifle, but compared to some of the other muzzleloading calibers, I had very little experience with the .58s. Getting more experience with the .58s was something I did set out to do and when that experience came, it came in good measures.
The design for this rifle came from two original Hawkens, which are both featured in John Baird’s book, Hawken Rifles: The Mountain Man’s Choice. From the lock to the muzzle, it copies an original full stock Hawken that has a 39-inch barrel. From the lock to the butt plate, my new rifle follows the lines of the Modena Hawken and the Modena-style patch box is included. There is one difference, however.
While both of these originals are percussion rifles, my gun is a flintlock. No original Hawken mountain rifles have been found with flintlock ignition, but I do believe some were made.
This rifle was finished in late summer, now more than a few years ago. Then it was taken to the range to be sighted-in and that took just a few shots. I’d fire a group of three shots, then file down the front sight to bring up the point of impact. That was repeated five times and with just 15 shots fired, the rifle was hitting very close to center at 25 yards. Then it was tried at 50 yards with the powder charge raised from 60 grains (which was used at 25 yards) to 80 grains. The target at 50 yards was very good too.

THE NEXT WEEK was spent camped with Les Miller high in central Washington state’s Cowiche, on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, looking for deer and elk, during the early season. There was plenty of meat taken by other camps but that kind of luck just didn’t shine on me. However, I did make one rather good and lucky shot.
That took place on Thursday, our fifth day of hunting. It looked like we’d have a dry day, unlike previous ones with rain and snow. In the morning I grabbed the .58-caliber Hawken and headed out to a favorite ridge where I could sit and just watch the hillside below.
Les was going into the canyon with hopes of making something move for me. I picked a good sitting spot, but the wind shifted so I moved. At my new spot I caught a glimpse of what looked like a dark, round critter running downhill, away from me. It didn’t make a sound and it disappeared behind a tree only to reappear for just a moment before it was gone completely. That, I’m pretty sure, was a running blue grouse. (Some have suggested that it might have been a turkey, but all I saw was the silhouette.) Then the wind shifted again so another move was made, taking me to my third spot.
My third spot was a good one. I was anchored very comfortably next to a stump, which was also next to a spruce tree, so I had very limited visibility to my left. Of course, I was also hidden rather well in that direction.
My view downhill was very good, as well as to my right. Best of all, at this new location, the wind was in my favor. Nothing stirred or entered my view for about two hours, when a nicely furred coyote came by. It went right in front of me, coming from my left and continuing to my right.
When it got well past me, perhaps just 30 yards away, I eared my rifle’s hammer back to full cock. To do that silently, I held the trigger back and pulled the hammer back until it stopped. Then the trigger was released and the hammer was eased forward so the tumbler in the lock could engage the trigger sear.
That was done with no noise at all. But then I set the trigger and there was no way to muffle the very quiet “click” that set triggers have. That quiet click of the triggers sounded more like a loud “clank!” to the coyote in the silence of those mountains.
The coyote turned with a surprised look on its face, as if it was saying, “My gosh! That’s the click of a set trigger!” Then it bolted and ran at full speed going straight down the open hill.
When the coyote bolted, going so fast that my eye could barely follow it, a voice inside me said, “Not a chance now.” At the same time, another voice inside my head said, “Give it a try!” Perhaps I listened too much to those voices and the argument they were having because I don’t recall actually squeezing the rifle’s trigger. When the sights were aligned, giving the running coyote just a little lead, the big rifle roared.

THAT LOAD WAS a heavy one; it was really meant for elk. Behind the patched .565-inch round ball was 120 grains of GOEX FFg powder. The big flintlock rifle fired without any hesitation at all and I saw the dead coyote go skidding out from behind the rifle’s cloud of smoke. After skidding the little distance that I could see, the coyote completely disappeared. It had slid over a small drop in the hillside and that hid it from my view. My next step, of course, was to reload the .58, using a pre-measured powder charge that was carried in an empty 35mm film container and a prepatched ball, patched with a prelubed .020-inch patch from Bridgers Best, from the loading block, which hung around my neck.
Before reloading the rifle, however, I had to stand up. I had been sitting there, without moving, for over two hours and my legs were sound asleep. That meant standing up was quite a chore and while I was somehow able to rise, there was nothing quick about it. Once I was able to stand, reloading the rifle was easy and with the rifle freshly loaded and primed again, I headed down to find the coyote.
After getting down to the old skid road that was below me, I saw the coyote lying there, stone dead. At first I could not find where the bullet had hit. That was a mystery until I noticed a puckered-over entry hole right in the back of the coyote’s neck.
The .58’s ball had hit the critter in the back of the neck and then exited out the mouth, which left no exit wound. I was sure glad I hadn’t listened to that voice that had said “Not a chance now.” A bit later I stepped the distance off back to where I’d shot from and that distance was 79 uphill paces. My uphill pace is just a bit shorter than while pacing on level ground, so the actual distance for the shot was about 70 yards, if not a hair more.
The fur on that coyote was certainly in prime. That became my trophy for this hunt and I cased out the skin using my Remington Bullet knife, keeping only the tail attached. Then the skin was carried up the hill and back to camp where Les was already waiting for me. He quickly grinned and complimented my good shot. Later, back at home, my .58-caliber Hawken, the rifle I’ve named “Ol’ Uncle Dave” in honor of its maker, was awarded a small low-dome brass tack put in the bottom line of the stock behind the trigger guard for its first good shot at a critter.

Photo by Musketman