Good Muzzleloading Starts Here
Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt
Getting started in muzzle-loading can be a little tricky because we can only be as good as our instructors. Finding proper help sometimes can leave a new shooter on the short end of the stick. The big problem is that new shooters probably won’t know if they are being taught or shown the right stuff or not.
The very best way to get started down the right trail with muzzleloading is to find a good club and look into their activities. If those activities interest you, that’s a great start because you’ll be surrounded by a gang of shooters who share your interest. Black powder clubs are easier to find than you think. Ranges or sportsmen’s clubs in your area should steer you in the right direction.
I met an experienced cowboy-action shooter named Mike Moran who suddenly got very interested in the primitive side of muzzleloading. It’s considered primitive because we use traditionally styled muzzleloaders and not the more modern styled guns, and we still like camping in lean-tos and tepees, as well as wearing buckskins at our events. These folks are referred to as “buckskinners.”
Moran thought such doin’s were worth a try, so he bought a rifle kit, put it together and then signed up as a shooter for the rendezvous of the Paul Bunyan Plainsmen near Puyallup, Wash. (In the 1800s, American fur traders periodically met at designated places to be reunited with friends and family during weeklong gatherings called rendezvous, during which the traders would camp out, practice their shooting and throwing skills and enjoy one another’s company.) Once registered, Moran asked if someone could give him some help or guidance and he was directed to join a group of shooters that I was guiding and scoring.
Since Moran introduced himself to me the day before a shoot, I was ready for him when we got to the firing line the next morning. Moran didn’t score very highly at that event; one of the reasons was that he had not sighted-in his brand new rifle.
Moran did afterwards, and his scores have made a steady rise since that day. In fact, he recently outshot me. He has now graduated so far that he uses a flintlock rifle (a bit more difficult to use over a percussion), teaches other beginners how to shoot muzzleloaders and is now the new president of the Washington State Muzzleloading Association, which is an organization dedicated to providing shooting experience and prizes to young shooters.
The Boy Scouts of America is another group that promotes muzzleloading for young shooters, and a couple of our local groups here in western Washington are Troop 310 from Rochester and Troop 141 from Tenino. Craig Brown, a range-safety officer and instructor, personally guides these groups of youngsters, along with some volunteer assistance, through wooded trails where the scouts get a chance to shoot muzzleloading rifles at hanging steel targets. Among the activities these scouts enjoy include attending the annual Rain-de-voo (Western Shooting Journal, April 2014) of the Puget Sound Free Trappers, a subgroup of the Capital City Rifle and Pistol Club in Littlerock, Wash., each year.
While out on these trail hikes, Brown makes sure that the muzzleloaders are never primed (or capped) until the boys are on the firing line and in a firing position. He is the only one in the group who actually has percussion caps, which, of course, are necessary for firing. When a scout is in position, Brown caps the rifle, which prepares the already-loaded gun for firing. This process allows him to work with just one shooter at a time, making the activity very safe.
The scouts shoot on the Puget Sound Free Trappers’ range and the club is in favor of the training and experience the scouts receive, so the boys are allowed to camp and shoot there for free. If the scouts pay anything at all, I would guess it is just enough to cover the costs of the powder, ball and percussion caps.
My own start into muzzleloading might be worth telling about. I was in my midteens and working part-time in Ed Hilton’s gun shop. Ed had an original “Kentucky rifle” in .40 caliber, a flintlock that had been converted to percussion long before I ever saw it. This was in the late 1950s, and at certain times when there were no customers in the shop, one of us would ask, “Who is buying the Cokes?” With that as a cue, Ed would get the old rifle and the horn and bag, plus a paper target, and step outside where the target was posted on a large stump. Ed did all of the loading and we’d each take just one shot. The shooter with the hit farthest from center had to buy.
At that time a bottle of pop from a machine that kept the bottles hanging by their necks while cooled in cold water was just 10 cents. The Cokes, and yes, Nesbitt’s Orange, were all very chilling and quite refreshing. Those dimes were more treasured than dollars are today, and buying the pops, which I usually did, took all of the money I had, but I never missed the opportunity to shoot that old rifle.
If you would like to know more about the Washington State Muzzleloading Association, you can visit them at wamuzzleloaders.com. ASJ