A hybrid primitive-style match with paper targets is a hit with local muzzleloader club
There are several aspects to “primitive shooting” with our muzzleloading arms. This includes “loading from the pouch” instead of using a shooting box. It certainly includes using a patched round ball rather than the modern elongated bullets. And primitive shooting does include using
targets that are not the typical bull’s eye style, and usually not paper targets.
However, my club recently enjoyed a very good shoot that was primitive in nature, even though all of our targets were paper and they were all shot for what we might call the typical “bull’s-eye” score. I want to illustrate how a primitive match can be held while using paper targets. It is easy and it’s a lot of fun.
A couple of our targets did have scoring rings; it’s hard to get away
from that. And the four targets I’ll mention were all posted at 25 yards
for off hand shooting. Each of the targets will be described and talked
about as the match is covered.
The rifle I used in this match was my Kunz-style .50-caliber flintlock
with the 42-inch barrel. This rifle “got fed” with 50-grain charges of GOEX FFFg powder under .495-inch Speer swaged balls, which were wrapped
in .015-inch prelubed patches from Bridgers Best. The match was for five
shots at four different targets for a total of 20 shots, filling the morning quite nicely.
One thing that worked really well was my rifle’s flint. It was one of the English black flints from Track of the Wolf, selected and put in the gun’s cock just before the match started. All 20 shots were fired without giving that flint any attention, other than to “check the edge” by feeling its sharpness with my fingertip, carefully. No knapping was needed or necessary and my rifle spoke with good, fast ignition for all shots fired.
THE FIRST TWO targets I posted were the “turkey” and the “tin can.” I selected the turkey as my first target mainly because it seemed to be the largest, giving me something that was easy to see. That turkey target also had a white bull’s-eye “aiming point” in the middle. The tin can target was posted next to it.
That turkey target had circular scoring rings that have no relation
to the turkey, other than starting somewhat in the middle. The scoring
rings do not refer to any kill zone and they basically ignore the head or heart of the turkey. You could miss the turkey and possibly still receive a score (of 6) for that missed shot. If we were hunting, we would certainly consider putting a hit where bagging that turkey would be a rather sure thing.
My first shot did not give me a “dot in the white,” which I could have seen from the firing line, so I could only guess that it was in the black part of the turkey. That first shot might have been the 8, which hit slightly high, but that is just a guess. With my second shot, I could see a hit in the white bull’s-eye, which told me to just keep
goin’ without any changes.
NEXT, OF COURSE, was the “tin can,” which had been posted right beside my turkey target. This picture of the tin can, or “beer can” as it is called on the target, has scoring lines around it, but our scorekeeper made sure every shooter understood that only shots that hit the can would be scored. That takes away a lot of the possibilities for earning points and puts us closer to the “hit or miss” conditions of more primitive shoots. And that tin can is smaller than the common size, only measuring 2½ inches wide by 4½ inches tall. It’s a good target, for sure, and shooting at it is certainly different from shooting at a bull’s-eye target.
Hits couldn’t be seen while shooting at the tin can. At the same time, while I was shooting, I couldn’t see any hits “in the white” beside the
can, so that was a good indication and I just kept shooting. I’d fired four of my shots at this target when our scorekeeper called out to see who wasn’t finished. I had one shot to go and the others were waiting for me to shoot before a cease fire would be called so we could change our targets.
That really didn’t make me hurry but I will always believe that the “high 10” on my target was my last shot. When we went forward to change
our targets, my group on the tin can delighted me, to say the least. My
score of 50-4X was the top tin can score for the day, but my partner Bob
DeLisle was barely one point and one “X” behind. We were both doing some
rather good shooting, but the match wasn’t over yet.
DURING THE CEASEFIRE, I pulled my turkey and tin can targets and posted the buffalo and the crow. Like my first two targets, these two were posted side by side and I shot the buffalo first.
The buff alo might qualify for being the most primitive of the targets we used in this match. The buffalo is black, of course, and it is divided into scoring areas, but not scoring rings.
The scoring areas are relative to the areas where a shot should be placed for a good kill, if this was on an actual hunt. Like an actual hunting target, there is no aiming point or bull’s-eye on this buffalo. A shooter still needs to be selective with shot placement, just as if
those shots were made while hunting.
The most difficult target of these four was certainly the crow. This crow was only 2¾ inches tall through the body, and while it did have scoring rings, the high score area was not in the middle. The 10-area was slightly forward of the thickest part of the crow, which meant that the best aiming point was not where most of us would automatically hold our sights.
And those scoring rings were only partial rings; only shots that hit
the crow would earn any points. Bob and I both saved this target for last and we shot at our crows at the same time. After I had fired my
first shot at the crow, Bob signaled to me with his fingers that I had hit slightly high and to the left.
When I fired my second shot, Bob held two fingers together, meaning that I had doubled (to shoot through or near the same bullet hole) or nearly doubled my first shot. After my third shot, Bob held three fingers together. That went on for all five shots and my shooting at the crow target gave me my best group of the day. Bob’s crow target was also very good, with a group that was close in size, if not smaller and “better centered” than mine, which gave him two more points. Bob and I were the
only shooters who scored over 40 on this tough target.
WELL, THAT’S HOW OUR little match went. I just wanted to show how a paper target match could lean toward the primitive side of shooting traditional muzzleloaders. It’s a lot of fun. Enough fun to be thought of as more relaxing than stricter bull’s-eye shooting, as well as being inviting enough to bring some new shooters into our circle. Let’s hope these “fun matches” bring in some new faces.
Tennessee Valley Muzzleloading’s Fowler is just one of several excellent muzzleloading guns they make, either as finished guns ready to shoot or as kits. I have built guns from TVM’s kits before, so for this Fowler, I ordered one again. The kit I ordered is called a “TVM Kit,” which means several important steps are already done. TVM also makes the “Builders Kit” for more advanced ‘smiths where more work is needed.
Getting the TVM Kit does cost a little more, about $150, and to me that is well worth it. The TVM kit for the Fowler has a base price of $850 but options (like the sling swivel) can increase that.
The TVM Kits come with the barrels fully inletted, the butt plates fitted, and the locks fully inletted. In addition, the screw hole through the stock, the breech plug and the lock plate is already drilled. That’s important because the alignment of the lock and barrel needs to be good. Although these tasks are done for you, there are still a lot of things to do on the TVM Kits. In other words, getting the TVM Kit instead of the Builders Kit simply gives the buyer a much better start.
I wanted this Fowler to be on the “handy” side, so it was ordered with the 36-inch-long barrel instead of the longer 42-inch. Other features in this kit include the brass furniture. The option for furniture is either steel or brass. My kit also came with the fittings for a sling, a swivel at the front and a large button at the back. One other option was the selection of a Durs Egg lock from L&R Lock Company. That completed the kit as ordered from TVM.
Additionally, I asked for very plain straight grained wood with no figure. That was just what I received and I do compliment TVM for that. My reason for wanting very plain wood was because I intended to artificially stripe the stock, somewhat like Leman striped his stocks. That might be just a bit out of place on a typical Fowler, but my gun is going to be mine, not typical.
ALL OF THE work assembling this Fowler was done at Allen Cunniff’s small shop. Allen is my Quigley partner and we do a lot of black powder shooting together. He’s also a fine ‘smith and he works faster than most of the ‘smiths I know. I can’t give Allen enough credit for the good work that he did, although he did save some of the task for me.
The first real step in assembly was to more properly fit and attach the butt plate. That is a good place to start and the butt plate then protects the butt of the stock. From there, we located the position for the barrel lugs and the middle lug also became the location for the sling swivel. The barrel is held to the stock, ahead of the lock, with cross pins in addition to the main lock bolt, which also goes through the back of the breech plug, and the tang screw, which extends down to thread through the trigger plate. That’s where progress is measured in sawdust!
Then the gun was complete, as far as assembly goes. Allen did the browning for me on the lock, barrel and trigger. In addition to that, he had heat blued the screw heads. The only thing left to be done was to finish the wood and that was my department. So we took all of the metal pieces off of the stock, gave the maple stock a coating of walnut stain, and I took the wood back to my base camp for the striping and finishing.
The artificial striping was done using Lincoln’s dark brown leather dye, painted on with a very small brush, “painting” each line at a time. My method includes dipping just the point of the brush into the dye, and then painting as many lines as possible before the dye is completely gone from the brush. This means the first line will be the boldest, and the lines keep getting thinner and “weaker” until they basically disappear. And don’t make those lines too straight. Nature doesn’t stripe wood with straight lines. Artificially striping a stock this way takes a couple of hours per side of the stock and that does seem to be slow. Of course, nature takes more time than that.
The artificial stripes are just a little bit darker than the walnut-stained stock, so the lines are not outstanding or in any great contrast to the darkened wood. Those stripes are actually hard to see until the finish is applied. After the finish is applied, then those lines do stand out and dramatically so! Let me say that I was very pleased with the artificial striping done on this stock and at this time, with words being written before the gun has been fired, I’ll say how I do expect to hear just a few “ooohs and aaahs” from other shooters.
After the striping was done, this stock was finished with Tru-Oil. Tru-Oil is more or less a type of varnish and that makes it rather authentic for finishing a muzzleloader like this Fowler. Nine applications later, it sure looks good to me. And, following the re-assembly of the gun, it was ready to do some shooting.
WHILE THIS IS a “fowling piece,” most of the shooting that will be done with it is with a patched round ball. A lot of birdshot loads will be fired too, but for now the only shooting I’ve done with the new gun has been with round ball loads. Those loads consist of 60 grains of GOEX FFFg powder, a .595-inch diameter round ball wrapped in a .015-inch thick lubricated patch. A 20-gauge is basically a .60 caliber, and for good starting loads, try one grain of powder per caliber, or 60 grains. That’s a load I have used for several years in other 20-gauge smoothbores.
For a target, a 100-yard bull’s-eye was posted at just 25 yards. This Fowler has no sights other than the “turtle” blade at the front, and (of course) no rifling in the bore, so we can’t expect the most in accuracy. But my first shot showed me how accurate the gun might be, printing in the 9-ring at 6 o’clock. That was delightful. Four more shots followed and they all printed rather well on the target. I’d call that first target an excellent measure of success.
Three more shots were fired before I was done for the day. Those were taken offhand at a turkey silhouette hanging at 50 yards. That turkey is a rather small one and I’ve missed it plenty of times before. But this time I hit it two out of the three tries. Now I’m ready to use this gun in the coming Trade Gun Frolic of the Evergreen Muzzleloaders.
Check out these Cool Gun Safes Click HERE to Check it out.
More words about Tennessee Valley Muzzleloading are certainly in order. They’ve been in business for 20 years now and, in my opinion (and I’m not alone), they make the best muzzle-loading kits available. I quickly recommend them with no hesitations. TVM makes a variety of styles and their Leman rifle is certainly one of my favorite front-loading rifles. They can be telephoned at 601-445-5482. They also have an impressive website for viewing their fine guns and kits at tvmnatchez.com.
[su_heading size=”30″]On a cold winter day in western Washington, two duck hunting rookies loaded up on No. 2 shot and expert advice to take on some wily webfoots.[/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]C[/su_dropcap]edarville Farms, located in Oakville, Washington, is an active farm that includes a working millworks facility. But perhaps more applicable to the topic of this column, it is also home to a waterfowl hunting club situated on more than 100 acres with ﬁve swales, a tree-enclosed pond, and 2,500 feet of river frontage. Owner Jon McAninch always donates a couple of two-person guided hunts to the annual Washington Waterfowl Association (WWA) raffle, and since I was one of last year’s lucky winners, I was able to select a partner. I chose Mike Moran, the president of the Washington State Muzzleloading Association, because I knew I could count on him to join me in hunting with a ﬂintlock riﬂe.
Mike Moran (left) and Mike Nesbitt with the ducks they bagged using flintlocks.
Jon and Kurt Snyder – the chairman of the Grays Harbor chapter of the WWA – made our group a foursome. In addition to his duck hunting knowledge, Kurt was a huge help because it was he who put out the decoys and doubled as our retriever for getting our birds out of the water.
Ironically, neither Jon nor Kurt likes black powder shooting with muzzleloaders, and neither Mike nor I consider ourselves duck hunters. In other words, we were going to need their help to collect a couple of ducks, and they were more than glad to provide it.
Mike Moran’s 20-gauge Northwest gun has a 36-inch barrel.
MY “DUCK GUN” OF CHOICE was actually a short-barreled “canoe gun” in 20 gauge with the 20-inch barrel. From my point of view, it shoots with the best of the flintlock smoothbores. And, since I’ve used it in several rifle matches where it served me well enough to give me some rather good scores, this was the only gun that I even considered for my duck adventure.
A side-by-side size comparison of Mike and Mike’s flintlocks. The author’s is on the bottom.
Although Mike is well aware of my faith and trust in short-barreled guns, when he got the kit to make his Northwest gun, he chose one with a 36-inch barrel. I suppose the longer barrel must add some advantages, although I’ve yet to discover what those might be. But despite the difference in length, both of our guns use cylinder bore barrels with no choke at all, so we knew the shot patterns would most likely be very similar. Mike also selected a 20 gauge because that is probably the best all-around bore size for a Northwest gun.
This hunt took place on a cold winter’s day on Medicine Creek, which is at the high end of the Nisqually River delta, in Washington’s southernmost Puget Sound. And though Jon and Kurt had some established duck blinds in the area, Mike and I took up positions behind a log and some brush beside the slow-moving creek. Less than half a dozen decoys were anchored in the water near us. We were to hunker down to remain out of sight (always good advice), and were told in no uncertain terms that when the ducks came in, they’d be coming in fast.
Our flintlocks were loaded with steel air-rifle BBs. Jon had been very specific about what size of birdshot we might use in our 20-gauge guns. The birdshot, of course, must be steel, and Jon suggested that we use large shot so kills could be counted on; we wanted no wounded birds getting away. He recommended No. 2s or larger.
Since those BBs were most likely harder than the barrels of our guns, due consideration had to be made to put together loads just for duck hunting. First, we’d pour 75 grains of black powder down our guns’ barrels. The granulation of powder I used was Olde Eynsford 2F. Then came the same volume of BBs, contained in 20-gauge Remington Power Pistons. And because the amount of BBs more than ﬁlled the Power Pistons, we generally used Wonder Wads as overshot cards to give the bore a bit of lubricant ahead of the BBs.
Mike Moran helps Kurt Snyder (right) to bring in the decoys.
OUR GUIDES GOT US INTO POSITION after we had loaded our guns. Jon headed out to other parts of the area to scare up some ducks, while Kurt remained with us, primarily as our “retriever.” Kurt was a very good hunting guide. He was able to identify ducks that were coming toward us when they still looked like black dots to Mike and me. We’ll both be eager to hunt with the “Jon and Kurt team” again.
Then some more ducks came in, and these followed a flight plan more to our liking. But all too quickly Mike and I were looking at each other holding empty flintlocks, and no ducks had even broken formation! Clean misses! In fact, very clean misses.
Cedarville Farms owner Jon McAninch admires the author’s short Northwest gun, saying, “This is light!”
Finally the spell was broken. A ﬂight of half a dozen ducks approached, and I picked out one I’d try for. They got into our desired range and I stood up to take my shot. When I rose, the duck swung sharply to its left, my right, but I had guessed that would happen and kept up plus a little ahead of it with my gun. When my ﬂintlock spoke, the duck took some hard hits and for a moment seemed to stop midair. Then it was lifeless and simply tumbled down to the water. The ﬁrst duck of the hunt was mine, but I certainly didn’t take it with my ﬁrst shot.
There was no time to gloat, so I simply reloaded. My gun had just received its fresh load when Mike’s gun roared. When I stood up to see what was going on, there was a wounded duck in the water ahead of us and my gun was quickly unloaded in order to end any miseries the duck might have felt. That was Mike’s ﬁrst duck; he had taken it out of the air and all claims to it were his.
Later, we ﬁnally had some moments to reﬂect on our successful shots. The image of the duck I killed almost stopping in the air actually looked like an easy shot. That was the type of shot we had come to that spot for. In fact, it looked so easy that I have no idea why I couldn’t do it again.
Suddenly a lone duck ﬂew our way and Mike stood up to take the shot. It was a very good shot at a fast-ﬂying bird, and although the duck was hit hard, its speed and momentum carried it through the air to crash behind us. That was Mike’s second duck and it looked like our day of hunting was over. That’s also when the pictures you see here were taken, and in some of them you can see the long shadows that accompany late afternoon photography.
IT WAS AFTER THE PHOTOS were taken that Kurt noticed a dead pintail hen. At ﬁrst it was thought that the hen had been killed by other hunters who were there the day before but the duck wasn’t frozen. It was still warm and, in fact, it showed a single wound to the breast made by a BB, so it was clearly one of ours. It must have taken the hit, perhaps like a heart shot, but continued ﬂying until over or behind us before it reached the ground. Mike suggested that I take it because that would give us each two birds for the hunt. I appreciated the gesture, and claiming the pintail really added to my day.
Here’s author Mike Nesbitt’s favorite 20-gauge “flinter,” with a 20-inch barrel.
Mike and I decided that additional ﬂintlock hunts would be a good thing, perhaps for grouse or rabbits next time. Different kinds of game offers challenges of another sort, and you’re never too young to learn. We also agreed to do more practice shooting with our ﬂintlocks using birdshot on ﬂying, running, and bouncing targets simply to be a bit better the next time we take those guns aﬁeld. ASJ
Scott Lee developed and manufactured numerous products that changed muzzleloading to include Bore Butter, Wonder Lube 1000 PLUS, Natural Lube, EZ Clean, Wonder Patches, Wonder Wads, Remington Wonder Lube and many more.
SEAL 1 Muzzleloader CLP PLUS is the next generation of products that will clean, lube and protect your muzzleloader.
The paste works as a great patch and bullet lube.
It is time to go to the next step use SEAL 1 Muzzleloader CLP PLUS for all your muzzleloading needs.
Muzzleloader CLP PLUS Benefits:
More rounds between cleaning
Increase Muzzle Velocity
Decrease Standard Deviation
Works with all powders and pellets
Made in the USA
Clean Lube and Protect in one easy step
SEAL 1 never sells direct to your customer all sales go through dealers or distributors
MLP-4 4 oz Jar Dealer $6.33 Retail $10.49
MLA-6 Aerosol 6 oz. Can Dealer $13.78 Retail $22.75
[su_heading size=”30″]Flintlock Construction Inc. offers quality muzzleloading barrels in a variety of calibers, lengths, twists and tapers.[/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]recently purchased a .52-caliber barrel from Charles Burton of Flintlock Construction Inc. (FCI) in northeast Kentucky, and I’m happy to report that it now has a new riﬂe wrapped around it and is performing very well.
My shooting was done using a .512-inch-diameter round ball wrapped in a .015-inch patch. The bore is tapered – just a mere .003 inch within the 35-inch length – but it is easily felt both when loading a patched round ball and when cleaning the gun. That ball-and-patch combination is relatively easy to start at the muzzle, and ramming the patched ball down to rest on the powder actually gets easier as the ball is pushed further down the
bore. At least part of the reason for that is because the tapered bores have their tightest diameters at their muzzles.
These barrels can be straight octagon up to 1 3/8 inches in width for any length out to 48 inches. FCI also offers straight tapered barrels to those same dimensions. Swamped, octagon and round barrels are also available out to 48 inches as well. Smoothbore barrels are made out to 48 inches. Burton also makes a 1 1/8-inch light bench barrel with a false muzzle, and pistol barrels too.
This Leman-styled rifle was built using the new .52-caliber Burton barrel from FCI.
Burton’s barrels are made from 12L14 steel, and several calibers are standard. These include bore sizes of .30, .32, .36, .38, .40, .44, .45, .47, .48, .50, .52, .54, .58, .60 and .62 calibers. What drew my attention to his barrels is his offering of the .52 caliber, and that is what I ordered: a 35-inch barrel that is 1 inch wide with a twist rate of one turn in 66 inches, and having ﬂat bottom grooves. All barrels come with a straight or tapered tang breech plugs and the riﬂing is cut with seven grooves. Twist rates can be from one turn in 21 inches to straight riﬂed, so the buyer has the choice of just about any rate of twist desired.
SQUARE-BOTTOM RIFLING GROOVES are cut to a depth of .010 to .012 inch, while round bottom grooves are cut to .015 to .016 inch. All riﬂed barrels have seven grooves, and typical twists are 1 in 48, 1 in 57, 1 in 66, and 1 in 72 inches. But by using a sine bar riﬂing machine, Burton can cut twists from straight to as fast as one turn in 21 inches.
In addition, he hand laps and shoots all custom barrels before shipping them. My .52-caliber barrel came with a test target that was ﬁred from sandbags at 30 yards with 70 grains of FFFg under a patched .512-inch round ball. In order to shoot the new barrels, Burton temporarily breeches them to an in-line “action” and glues sights to the barrel. All evidence of the sights and the breeching are removed before the barrel receives the breech plug the customer has requested.
When it was time to sight-in my new riﬂe the day was wet and rainy, but I just wore my hat with the “Montana peak” and went shooting. For the initial shots, I posted a target at 25 yards and ﬁled down the front sight to raise the point of impact on the target. The load used for these close-range tests was 50 grains of GOEX FFFg under the .512inch cast ball wrapped in a Bridgers Best .015-inch lubricated patch.
All five shots cut the X on this second target.
With the sight ﬁled so the riﬂe was hitting center, I posted a pistol target for a ﬁve-shot group, and this turned out very well indeed. Those ﬁve shots, by the way, were ﬁred using the Pushing Daisies patches from October Country, cut from .015-inch ticking and lubed with Bumblin’ Bear Grease. Both are very good patches, especially for hunting. In case you are wondering, I consider both Bridgers Best and October Country patches to be equally good.
All things considered, the Burton barrel with the tapered bore loads easily and shoots very well. The small amount of shooting I’ve done with this riﬂe probably hasn’t done the barrel any real harm, but more shooting will certainly be done – and sooner than later.
Prices for Burton Barrels vary, but all are very reasonable, starting at $185 for a breeched straight riﬂe barrel, such as mine. Prices do not include shipping, and Burton asks for 50 percent of the barrel’s cost when an order is placed, with the remainder due when the barrel is received. Delivery is generally made in three to six months, as no barrels are kept in stock. All barrels are for black powder only.
To learn more about Burton gun barrels, or to place an order, visit fcibarrels.com, or call (606) 780-7709. ASJ
The author sights in his new .52-caliber FCI barrel from the bench.
[su_heading size=”30″]Part II of III – Loading And Safety[/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB SHELL
[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]We[/su_dropcap] began this three-part series on blackpowder last issue, where we covered its invention, refinement and today’s four grades – five, counting a special Swiss version.
This issue we turn to loading the powder and safety, and wrap up next month with tricks of the trade.
There are a few things that you should be aware of to get best results. First, always make sure your gun is empty. If you buy a new muzzleloader, then you can put a rod down the barrel and mark the rod to establish the depth that indicates an empty barrel. When preparing to load a used muzzleloader, remove the nipple where the percussion cap would be placed, and make sure you can see clearly through to the inside of the barrel. If it is blocked, the gun won’t fire, and the only thing you will get is a small pop from the cap.
A method often used to clear or establish a clear nipple channel is by firing a couple of caps without any powder in the barrel. Simply place a piece of paper or something light on your bench, and then aim the end of your barrel at the object and fire. The piece of paper should move when your channel is clear because the percussion cap alone is enough to cause a tuft of air. Once you have established that, you have a clear barrel and you are ready to load.
Muzzleloaders come in all sorts of varieties, calibers, styles and ignition systems. The one thing they have in common is the way they are loaded, hence the name. Fifty-caliber Lyman caplock (top left), .50- caliber Lyman flintlock (bottom left) and an original pair of 1837 French military caplock pistols (below, right).
When loading a round ball, a patch must be used in order for the ball to be accurate and prevent blow by, which would rob the shooter of power and accuracy. You can buy precut patches or experiment with your own. An old sheet makes good patch material because it is both tough and consistent in thickness. The patch should be placed on the muzzle, then the ball seated on top of it. It should have some resistance to seating but not an excessive amount, as you might end up with a ball stuck halfway down the barrel. There are signs that help to indicate if you are using the proper amount of patching. You can usually find the fired patches on the ground, especially if you are shooting a number of rounds. If the patch shows rifling marks without excessive tearing, then it is probably the right size. If there are no markings from the rifling, then this might indicate that the patch should be a little larger. If you do get a bullet stuck in the barrel, you can pull it out with a bullet-removing screw.
However, this can be quite a chore.
You should always use a measuring device to pour the powder into the barrel – never do it from a flask containing a large amount of powder. If there is a live spark from a previous firing, this will cause an explosion. Pouring a small amount of powder down the barrel will help minimize the harm if there still happens to be a smoldering cinder. This does happen – to the careless! There are adjustable measures made just for this operation. This practice is especially necessary if you are shooting patched balls, because some of the cloth might stay lurking in the barrel and can cause mischief. You can swab between shots to avoid that problem, but don’t count on this to thoroughly rid your barrel of hazards.
I knew a guy who participated in reenactments. He was on a crew that was operating a cannon with a 2-inch bore. His job was to swab the barrel then push the bag of powder down afterwards. The bag of powder weighed 1 pound. One time after the team fired, he swabbed and then shoved the powder down the barrel, instantly losing most of his right hand. There was still a cinder in the barrel from the previous bag, and when he pushed the powder down, it went off. The long rod with a disc he was using to push the powder down was the same diameter as the barrel. When the canon went off, the disc removed most of his hand because it became a projectile. Safety requires methodical steps and preparation.
Once the powder is in, you can seat the bullet. Initially, there will be a little resistance, but it shouldn’t be excessive. If it is, find out why before attempting to push it the bullet in too deep. A bullet stuck in the barrel is a pain to remove, although it can be done usually with a corkscrew-type device.
It is imperative that the bullet is solidly seated to the powder in the chamber. Otherwise, serious damage can occur to the firearm and shooter.
After you get your round started, follow through using your long rod to seat it. The bullet must be tight against the powder. If there is no resistance from the bullet going down the barrel, it might move forward creating some airspace, so be wary of that. This could destroy the gun and cause injury.
I knew someone who destroyed a .45-caliber that way. He required medical attention caused by splinters lodged into his forearm. If you are unsure, flick the rod against the load a couple of times. If the rod bounces, then it is ready to go. You can mark the rod with a piece of tape if desired for future loading once you establish your load.
Blackpowder-measuring tools were created for very specific purposes and are a much safer way to load a muzzleloader. Top to bottom above is a priming tool, powder measure and primer measure.
Sometimes people forget to put the powder in first. This is a pain, but it can be resolved. Just take off the nipple and work some powder into the barrel. You should put at least 15 to 20 grains to have enough to shoot the ball completely out the barrel. Make sure that the projectile exits before trying a regular load. Compressed air can also be used to push the ball out. There are two types of people who shoot muzzleloaders: those who forgot to put the powder in and those who will in the future.
Just in case you bump or drop your gun, it is not a good idea to prime before you load. With a flintlock, just prime the pan and you are ready to go. For this article we will stick with conventional muzzleloaders as opposed to inlines.
BACK TO THE POWDER
If you are new to this game, you might wonder how much powder to use. Ideally, a new shooter would spend some time with an experienced blackpowder user. There are also books that can help. Blackpowder doesn’t produce as much velocity as the smokeless variety, no matter how much you use. At some point the powder just won’t burn and will simply come out the end of the barrel. You can put an old sheet on the ground in front of the gun to determine if you have too much powder. This test can be very informative.
In my .50-caliber Hawkins, I use 90 grains of FFG black with a 370-grain maxi ball. My velocities run almost 1,300 feet per second, and the load is very consistent and accurate. I have tried more powder but the gain was negligible, thus wasn’t worth the extra powder. If you are shooting a .45-caliber with a ball, 70 grains is a good starting point. If you are using a .58-caliber rifle with Minié balls, then 60 grains is a good place to start. I find that lighter loads in these guns generally produce better accuracy.
Powder horns were and are still common among muzzleloaders. The horn is strapped to the shooter and stores the bulk of their powder.
Just like reloading, you might experiment with your gun to see which combination works best. There are several brands of powder out there, so if you like to experiment, try what is available in your area. If you order online, be prepared to pay a hefty hazardous material fee, so ordering a large quantity helps cut costs. I order it by 25-pound cases. There are also fees for just smokeless powder and primers, but not loaded ammo.
Bob Shell smoking up the range with his .50-caliber flintlock.
The round ball is the basic, most widely used bullet and has some advantages. It is often very light for the caliber, which reduces the amount of powder needed for workable velocities. Another advantage is it reduces recoil. Properly loaded it is very accurate and is used for all types of target shooting. For hunting, it’s OK for certain types of deer, but might lack the penetration for large, heavy-boned game, especially past 100 yards. Due to its low density, it doesn’t carry or penetrate well. However, a .36-caliber ball makes a splendid small-game round. There you have the basics of muzzleloading blackpowder. Stayed tuned for part III of What Is black Powder, where we cover tricks of the trade. ASJ
Loading blackpowder may seem like a simple process, but there are inherent dangers if steps are not completed thoroughly and methodically.
[su_heading size=”27″ margin=”0″]Step 1: Read The Instructions[/su_heading]
Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt
[su_dropcap style=”light”]H[/su_dropcap]unting with muzzleloaders is popular enough that most states have special or separate seasons for hunters using them. The rules for those seasons vary, so if you are setting up a hunt, even near home, do a little homework to see which guns, calibers, sights and styles of ignition are favored during those times.
In my home state of Washington, the ignition must be exposed, which means an in-line rifle that has an enclosed percussion nipple and cap are not allowed. Also, Washington does not allow scopes on muzzleloaders when used during the muzzleloading seasons. Scoped muzzleloaders can only be used during modern-rifle seasons because they are using modern sights. Washington also has a minimum bore size of .40 caliber for deer and .50 caliber for elk.
My personal choices for muzzleloaders and smoothbores are the old-looking percussions and flintlocks that follow traditional styling. Others may favor the newer in-line rifles, which are often shorter and lighter, as well as easier to carry. I won’t argue with that. What I will say is whichever style of rifle or smoothbore you prefer, do a few things to get that gun ready before heading out on the hunt, even before sighting it in.
I’m going to be very basic about this because one year, during a muzzleloading season, we saw a new hunter beside his car trying to load a brand-new in-line rifle. The box that the gun came in was on the hood of the car, and his friends were trying to help by reading the printed instructions out loud. I don’t know how things went for that group, but in my opinion, that wasn’t the best way to start.
Before taking that first shot, you should be well equipped with all of the extras you will need. Yes, powder, patches and balls or elongated bullets, plus flints or percussion caps fall into that basket, but that’s simply the ammunition, and those things are usually, I hope, already established. Some things that are often not considered are cleaning patches, black-powder solvents, and a cleaning rod or jag for the ramrod. While those things are often not given the priority they deserve, they are actually the things that are needed first. The reason is that almost any new rifle will come with oils in the barrel and in the breech of the gun. This should be wiped out before anything else! Yes, those oils will probably be burned out with the first few shots – that is, if the gun will fire. But the oil in the breech area can completely block the flash channel – that important link between the spark of ignition and the main powder charge. If the flash channel is blocked the gun will not fire. A very easy way to clear the flash channel on a percussion is to simply snap a cap or two, but be sure your gun isn’t loaded before doing so. This can be especially true if you have purchased a used muzzleloader. They are often put away while still loaded. Sounds elementary, but most accidents are.
It is a good idea to snap the first cap while aiming the rifle in a safe direction. Then snap a second cap with the gun’s muzzle close to the ground so you can watch for movement in the blades of grass, or even just in the dust as the blast of the cap comes through the barrel. Seeing something move near the gun’s muzzle is a good indication that the flash channel is clear.
Clearing a flintlock’s flash-hole with a flash-hole pick. Yes, the pan is primed.
On a flintlock you clear the short flash channel with a flash-hole pick. I often do that both before and after the gun is loaded. Just poke the pick through the hole and after the gun is loaded you should feel powder grains moving or crumbling as you push the pick through. With that done you know the spark from the flash pan can reach the main powder charge. In fact, do that with a flintlock any time you think it is a good idea.
In addition to wiping out the bore, swab it with a good black-powder lubricant, such as Wonder Lube. That will help break in the new barrel. You should use a natural oil rather than a petroleum product, in my opinion.
Now you should be ready to sight in your rifle. Many of the custom-made muzzleloading rifles come with rear sights which are not yet notched. Cutting the notch is left to the buyer. The reason is that each shooter prefers a different size or even style of notch. If each shooter cuts their own notch, everyone ends up satisfied.
Cutting the notch isn’t a problem, and it is certainly a small job. I prefer a narrow V-style notch and cut in it with a small knife file. While the shape and width of the sighting notch is up to each shooter, the way it is cut into the rear sight is worthy of a little discussion. I almost always cut those notches from the back of the sight with the file at an angle so the notch will be deepest at the front. When the eye looks through the notch, you will only want to see the silhouette of the sight.
Open the rear sight notch using a small knife file. This allows the shooter to customize the visual to their preference.
With those things done you are all ready to head to the shooting range and make sure your rifle is sighted in with the bullets and powder charges you will hunt with.
You might ask me if I had done all of those things before getting my first deer with a muzzleloading rifle. Well, yes, I did. It was a fine whitetail buck taken at 125 yards on a cold snowy November afternoon, using a .54-caliber Hawken-style rifle loaded with 120 grains of FFg under the patched round ball. The .526-inch ball simply tore all of the “plumbing” from the top of the heart. Let me add that I had already been shooting for a couple of years at monthly matches and rendezvous. I will also say that I had some very good teachers, members of the Cascade Mountain Men, a muzzleloading club that is still flourishing and more than ready to accept more new members. You can visit them at cascademountainmen.com.
For those thinking about getting a muzzleloading rifle, I will quickly recommend the Lyman Great Plains Rifle. The Lyman GPR is one of the most authentic muzzleloaders on the market and it comes in either .50 or .54 caliber, with a flintlock or percussion ignition, and is available in a right- or left-handed model. I know a lot of shooters who use the Lyman GPR and they perform very well.
Now, if you take these steps before taking that first shot, you’ll be off to a good start. That good start, of course, is the real beginning and foundation for a successful hunt. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information about the Lyman Great Plains Rifle, visit Lyman’s web site at lymanproducts.com.
Lyman’s Great Plains Rifle is available right- or left-handed versions.