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Accessories Teach me to shoot: Part 11

Teach me to shoot: Part 11

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10

This is the continuing fictional saga and guest report of a man teaching a woman to shoot. Today Jack will start teaching Jamell, how to shoot a muzzle loading rifle.

Our guest writer is reader, Jack Cooper. Take it away, Jack.

Teach me to shoot

by Jack Cooper

This report covers:

  • The mountain men
  • Black powder
  • Characteristics of black powder
  • Safety first
  • Possibles bag
  • Charging the rifle — step one
  • Charging the rifle — step two
  • Black powder grain sizes
  • Loading the ball
  • Ramming the ball home
  • Cap the rifle
  • Clean the bore
  • Finishing

Things have certainly taken a turn since I started teaching Jill to shoot. Now I’m teaching her friend, Jamell, how to shoot a muzzleloading rifle, to prepare her for the custom rifle she is having built. At least I thought it was going to be a rifle. Let me stop for a moment and bring you all up to speed on what it is that Jamell wants to do.

I didn’t have time to take pictures while I was teaching Jamell, so I asked B.B. if he would insert some photos for you of the things I am describing. Thanks, B.B.

As you know, Jamell is a sculptor. Among the subjects she sculpts, animals are very prominent. Several years ago she began researching wild animals to learn more about how they look in their natural state. She discovered that sportsmen know more about animals in the wild that anyone — because they spend more time observing them. So Jamell started reading modern hunting magazines, as well as books from the classic period of hunting — by authors like Bell, Donaldson, Keith, Whelen and so on.

The mountain men

One thing lead to another and before long Jamell became seriously interested in the lives of the North American fur trappers of the mid-nineteenth century. We call them mountain men. What she wants to do is experience as much of what they experienced, and a flintlock was part of that. But upon further research and talking to the gun maker, she found out that what she wants is not a flintlock rifle. Very few early mountain men owned rifles. They needed a weapon they could hunt everything from birds to bears with, as well as defend themselves — and that’s not a rifle. It’s really a smoothbore gun that can shoot shot for birds, buck and ball (a large-bore-sized lead ball with several large buckshot on top of it) for deer and antelope and a ball alone for elk and bear. It’s an all-purpose gun that really has no equivalent today. That is what she decided to have built,and today I’m going to start her out with black powder and loading a gun through the muzzle.

Black powder

First we talked about black powder. It was just called gunpowder for the first 600 years of firearms history, and it was not always the same thing. Over the centuries men learned how to make powder better, which means more powerful, cleaner burning, and more specialized to match the type of gun in which is is being used. It wasn’t always black, either. There was beige powder that substituted other chemicals for the charcoal that gives black powder its characteristic color. But what we know today as black powder was by far the most common type of powder used over the centuries, and it is definitely the powder used by the mountain men.

Characteristics of black powder

Modern smokeless gunpowder is not explosive. It only burns very fast when it is contained tight enough to allow the pressure to build. Black powder, by comparison, is actually an explosive. It has a burn rate of 11,000 f.p.s. under the right circumstances, which you can compare to TNT that burns at 24,000 f.p.s. We characterize black powder as a low to medium explosive, where TNT burns fo fast it is a high explosive.

I demonstrated this for Jamell by burning both smokeless powder and black powder outdoors. The smokeless powder burned very hot but relatively slow. When the fire got to the black powder, though, it went up in an instant with a pop! Jamell said she has seen old western movies where a trail of powder was lit to burn up to the powder keg, and it went slow. I told her that was Hollywood at work and never to try it herself.

[EDITOR’S Note: When I was in my teens a friend said the same thing to me. He poured a tablespoon-sized pile of black powder on the sidewalk and proceeded to try to light it with a lighter. I backed up 20 feet while warning him to stop, but he succeeded in lighting the pile. He lost the tip of his right thumb in the small explosion that didn’t make much noise, but removed the flesh from the tip of his thumb in an instant. DO NOT EXPERIMENT WITH BLACK POWDER!

When she saw how black powder burns Jamell was impressed. I told her that everything she did when handling it had to be done with safety in mind. She could use nothing that sparked, for even static electricity can set it off. People who used it all the time knew this as well as we know how dangerous gasoline is today. And still there are “accidents.”

Now it was time to learn how to load a muzzleloader. I have a Tennessee Po Boy percussion rifle. It’s not a flintlock, but many of the steps are the same, so we can start with it. When Jamell gets her flintlock we can transition to it, and she will already know a lot.

Safety first

The first thing to learn about loading a muzzleloader is safety. You are loading the gun at the end the bullet comes out. if anything goes wrong during loading, you will be at the worst possible place! So rule one is never stand in front of the muzzle. Only put things in front of the muzzle that you don’t mind losing! That sounds like a joke, but it’s serious. Load a muzzle loader from the side — never from in front of the muzzle.

Possibles bag

What I do is rest the butt of the gun on top of my foot (boots are good things to wear when doing this) and hold the gun with my left hand. If I need both hands at any time, neither one of them is in front of the muzzle. And never allow the muzzle to point at your body! This all sounds scary and dangerous when you read it, but in actual practice, it is very easy to do. You will notice that people who shoot muzzle loading guns usually wear a small purse-like pouch. That is called a “possibles” bag that holds all their reloading supplies. Many people wear a powder horn on a long thong, and if they shoot a flintlock they have two horns — a big one for the main powder charge and a small one for the priming powder. My Po Boy is a cap lock, so I have a percussion cap loader in my possibles bag.

At the range I laid all of these things out on a shooting bench so Jamell could see them. But once she starts shooting, almost everything goes into the possibles bag. You don’t need to work this way when you have a convenient table but it’s good practice to learn to load from the bag because in the field it’s all you have.

Charging the rifle — step one

The first step with a caplock is to fire a percussion cap without a charge of powder. This blows away any obstructions, so there is a clear path for the fire from the cap to get to the powder. We cleaned the gun thoroughly after the last use and then oiled it lightly to prevent rust. This first step makes sure the pathway is clear for the fire from the percussion cap. This also gave me the chance to tell Jamell that percussion caps are also dangerous and they ignite when crushed.

Charging the rifle — step two

Next we measure some powder and pour it down the barrel. My Po Boy is small enough that I insert a small funnel in the muzzle to pour the powder into. Black powder is measured by volume — not by weight. This is especially important for muzzle loaders because it frees you from the need to use a conventional powder measure. That saves a lot of time. In the 19th century mountain men had the tips of antlers they hollowed out to contain the powder charge. I use an adjustable brass (non-sparking!) powder measure for my Po Boy, but Jamell will want to buy or make a traditional measure for her gun.

The rule of thumb in the old days was to place a ball in the palm of your hand and then cover it with powder. This is very ambiguous because it depends on how large your hands are and how much you cup them when pouring the powder. I advised Jamell to ask the maker what charge of powder she should use with her gun. he will know better than anyone. Then make a measure to throw that charge.

Black powder grain sizes

Black powder comes in different sizes of grains. The most common sizes are FFFFG (4F), FFFG (3F), FFG (2F) and FG (1F). The more Fs the smaller the gains, and the faster the powder burns.

There are other things to consider, like the black powder substitutes that have pistol powders and rifle powders, but I advised Jamell to use black powder only with her flintlock. Black powder also varies in quality from the cheap brands to the premium brands. It sounds a lot like airgun pellets, doesn’t it? Starting in the early 19th century England made the finest black powder and people paid a premium for it when they could get it. Today the Swiss are making some of the finest black powder, and that is what I use in my Po Boy. It costs about double what the cheap brands cost, but I don’t shoot enough to make that a consideration.

My Po Boy is .45 caliber and I load it with FFG Swiss powder. I showed her how to “throw a charge” of powder into the measure and then run a knife blade across the top of the measure — called “striking the charge.” Then dump the powder into the muzzle/funnel.

Nelson Lewis combination gun powder in measure
Pour the black powder into a measure like this. This is FFG powder.

Nelson Lewis combination gun powder funnel
A funnel in the muzzle makes it easier to pour in the powder.

Loading the ball

The next step will differ with each type of gun being loaded. I shoot a patched ball, so what we do is lay a patch on the muzzle then place a ball on top of the patch. The ball is a few thousandths of an inch smaller than the bore of the rifle, and the patch takes up the difference. My patches are about 0.015-inches thick and my ball is sized 0.010-inches smaller than the bore. The patch material fills in the grooves and even compresses a little, making a tight fit to seal the bore.

Nelson lewis combination gun patched ball
This patch fits the ball well and does not have to be trimmed. The gun is B.B.’s Nelson Lewis double barreled combination gun.

Nelson lewis combination gun ball in muzzle
This patch is oversized and needs to be trimmed with a patch knife.

The patch material is very important. You are concerned with the type of material (I use pillow ticking), what is made of (cotton), the thickness of the material, and in my case, the patches are pre-cut to size to need no trimming. They are also pre-oiled. Each muzzleloading shooter will have one particular type of patch for each rifle he shoots.

The patch is the invention that made the “Kentucky” rifle so accurate. The patch takes the rifling, leaving the ball spherical. When the rifle fires the patch spins with the ball tight in its grip. After leaving the muzzle the patch falls away from the ball, and the ball spins all the way to the target. Guns that use patched balls can be loaded in less than one minute with practice, cutting the time to load (over rifles that use a non-patched lead ball) in half or better. And they are more accurate — able to hit a man-sized target at up to 200 yards, where earlier rifles could not.

Kentucky rifle were also made in much smaller calibers (typically .40 to .50 for deer-sized game), where European rifles were much larger (.60 to .70 and greater caliber). They used less lead, less powder, shot faster and straighter, plus they loaded faster and shot cleaner. They were the state of the art for their time (starting around 1730).

I use patches that are precisely cut and greased (actually oiled), but the more traditional way is to use a piece of fabric that you cut off at the muzzle after the ball is loaded flush. You carry a small sharp knife for this called a patch knife. You can wet the fabric with saliva or you can use grease or oil. Believe it or not, saliva is the preferred lubricant for target shooters. A dry patch can be used, but your gun will get too dirty to load after a few shots. The way I load and manage the rifle, you can shoot 60 times and still load as easily as on the first shot.

Press the ball flush with the muzzle then cut the patch off. Then use a short starter to push the ball into the bore. The short starter pushes the ball in about an inch on the first try, then it rams the ball in about 6 inches on the second try. The reason for doing this becomes apparent when you use the long ramrod.

Nelson Lewis combination gun short starter
The second part of the short starter is a short ramrod to push the ball 6 inches into the bore.

Ramming the ball home

All muzzle loaders come with a ramrod, but don’t use the wooden ones unless you want to break them. They do break, so I use a fiberglass rod that will almost never break. Keep the wood rod for its looks and use the fiberglass rod for loading.

Before you loaded the rifle, you dropped the ramrod down the muzzle and marked where it was flush with the muzzle when it rested on the breech plug. Now, when you load the rifle, ram the ball down until it stops. This is something that you learn to do with each rifle, because they all feel different. That mark on the ramrod tells you the ball is firmly resting on the powder. If it is not — if there is an air gap of any size, the gun will be damaged!

Remember what I said about black powder being a low explosive? When the burning gasses hit the ball, they do so with great force. If the ball is tight against the powder, there is no problem. If there is a gap of two inches, the resulting sudden increase in pressure will swell the barrel where the ball is — ruining it. These swells are called walnuts and whenever you buy a black powder gun you should run your fingers along the entire length of the barrel, feeling for them.

So when you ram a patched ball you do so until the ball is clearly down tight against the powder charge. Always try to ram the ball in one stroke and always with the same force. That improves accuracy. Think of it as seating the pellet the same every time. After you ram the ball home remove the ramrod. I can’t tell you how many shooters forget to do this at least one time, but most veteran black powder shooters have done it.

Cap the rifle

Now you can place a percussion cap on the nipple. The hammer is at half-cock when you do this for safety reasons, although it isn’t entirely safe. Keep that muzzle pointed in a safe direction because your gun can always go off half-cocked.

Now pull the hammer back to full cock, align your sights, set the trigger (on a rifle that has a set trigger) and fire. Jamell shot the rifle offhand at a target at 25 yards and as she lowered the rifle she remarked on how much there was to this. I told he she was not done yet.

Clean the bore

Now we put the hammer on half-cock and blow through the nipple. Your breath has moisture that softens the powder residue in the bore. Black powder converts about 55 percent of its mass into either dirt in the bore or blue smoke. After blowing through the nipple, I set the rifle in a rest and run a wet patch all the way down the bore. This extinguishes any burning particles, making the rifle safe to load again, plus it wets the residue in the bore even more. Then I run two dry patches down the bore and the rifle is good to go for another shot.

Nelson lewis combination gun cleaning bore
Cleaning the bore after every shot. Though I am in front of the muzzle, I’d standing to the side of the bore for safety.

Not everyone does all this, and if I’m hunting I don’t do it, either. I still blow through the nipple and run a dry patch down the bore. That gives me maybe 10-12 shots before the rifle can no longer be loaded without cleaning.


Jamell loaded and fired the gun 5 more times. When she finished we got the target and her 6-shot group at 25 yards could be covered by the palm of my hand. That’s pretty good for the first time. All the instruction plus the shooting took us 2 hours at the range. There was one more important step. We returned to her studio where she poured boiling water down the bore of the rifle with a funnel. The hammer was cocked, so the water came out the nipple, too. We stood the rifle barrel (it easily comes out of the lock and stock) in a plastic tub to catch the water.

She did that three times and wiped the bore dry with patches each time. Then she ran a patch soaked with Ballistol up and down the bore several times and spritzed some Ballistol into the nipple, too. Then I blew through the nipple to dry it. I wiped the barrel with Ballistol and assembled it to the lock and the stock and we were done.

Jamell told me this one day with the Po Boy rifle put all of her reading about how the mountain men operated into perspective. If they wanted to clean their guns with boiling water they first had to heat the water in a coffeepot resting in the fire. And they probably used bear grease rather than Ballistol. They had to cast each one of those lead balls they shot, so there wasn’t any target practice when they were a thousand miles from the nearest trading post. But I told her they carried their gunpowder in lead cans that were both non-sparking and also could be melted down when empty. They had to find clever ways to live so far from civilization and they did.

50 thoughts on “Teach me to shoot: Part 11”

  1. Very good article, I always used the spit patch, you always had it on hand..

    Loading and shooting black powder guns is very similiar to airguns.

    It’s all about consistency, you load the same way every shot, same amount of powder, the sprue pointed the same way, with the same amount of seating pressure.

    Compare that to pumping a pneumatic gun the same number of pumps, or with the same speed of pumping, damaged or bent skirts, and seating pellets to the same depth.

    Do any of them differently, and your accuracy suffers.

  2. In the Section Characteristics of Black Powder. The third sentence, “It has a burn rate of 11,000 f.p.s. under the right circumstances, which tiy can compare to TNT that burns at 24,000 f.p.s.” do you mean, “It has a burn rate of 11,000 f.p.s. under the right circumstances, which is tiny compared to TNT that burns at 24,000 f.p.s.”?

    In the Section Possibles bag. Last sentence “tabler”? you probably meant table.

    Jim is right some glitch occurred such that the pictures did not connect to the article.

  3. BB,

    This should be quite an eye opener to those who have never dealt with black powder. There are some who have who would be surprised also. I have seen what happens to black powder rifles and pistols that are not properly cared for.

    I even learned a bit here. I never thought of firing a cap to clear the nipple.

  4. B.B.,

    I have an off-topic question (actually two). Tomorrow I’m driving a bit to look at and perhaps purchase a Webley air pistol in .22. It has the straight grip and black bakelite grips. The seller says the bluing is mostly there and it is complete and well-functioning.

    First, what is the difference between a Mark I and a Senior? Second, if I buy it and can’t find Eley Wasps anywhere, what contemporary, “large-running”” .22 pellets might work as a substitute?



  5. BB

    I own and used to shoot replica wheelguns. While black powder is not an explosive, I have never understood why the discharge gases don’t come back through the nipple (or flash hole) injuring the shooter and or people nearby.


    • Decksniper,

      I know you meant to say that black powder is an explosive. It says so on every can.

      Why doesn’t the gas come back? It DOES! You must have seen caps that have been blown apart after discharge. Only the weight of the hammer resting on them keeps the gas from hitting you in the face.

      A couple years ago I overloaded a black powder rifle and the whole nipple hit me in the face. I had black powder embedded in my face for a year.


    • The flash hole is smaller requiring more force before any gasses leak through there. Preferentially the force will escape where there is least resistance in this case the open end of the barrel. When there is too much powder loaded any excessive force will seek to go out where there is less resistance such as the junction between the cylinder and barrel of a cap and ball and if there is still enough energy left back out the nipple.

  6. “Keep the wood rod for its looks and use the fiberglass rod for loading.”

    B.B., that is right on the money; my “Hawken” came with a synthetic ramrod, which is OK for hunting, but I bought a 2” longer fiberglass one for use in matches; then I made a wooden one for when I hang it on the wall (all are properly marked to seat the ball right on top of the powder). This was a really good post for any that are not familiar with black powder shooting; thank you! =)

    • Guatavus Adolphus, King of Sweden 1611- had the bright idea to have his army use iron ramrods instead of wood so they could fire more shots without cleaning their barrels. Made Sweden a big gun in Europe during the 30 Years War. Just a little thing like that.

        • I wonder if the Swedes had access to better iron ore (almost steel) than most in that era that permitted them to do that?
          I had a very famous professor of Roman history tell me once that any kitchen maid who actually lived in Ancient Rome knew much more about Ancient Rome than any of today’s scholars. So much of history was so welll known at the time that nobody wrote it down and the knowledge lost.

  7. Thought I would give a update on the the Iscope adapter that mounts a iPhone to a gun scope.

    I had to get a new phone and long story short. My new phone is just a little bit bigger than my old phone. No way it would fit but the old back plate. And Iscope doesn’t have a back plate for my new phone.

    So yesterday I took a ride down to the Verizon store and looked at some different case protectors for my phone. I found a semi hard one that the phone would clip in and out of pretty easy and with no front cover for the screen.

    So got home last night and took the old back plate off the adapter. Layed mine on it and lined up the phone protector to the camera hole and positioned it how I wanted. Marked the holes and drilled them with a small center drill so the holes had a chamfered angle like the back plates have so the flat head countersunk screws would fit flush to the case when tightened.

    Works great. Phone clips right in and is held tight. But I can get the phone right out easily if needed. And all buttons and charge port and head phone port still can be accessed. So it’s like a custom fit back plate to mount my phone to the Iscope adapter.

    And off starting tomorrow for 4 days for the 4th of July holiday. So I’m ready for some video taking. Already saved up some 2 litre soda bottles but got to get some balloons yet. Going to make some of those reactive targets that blow a flour cloud up in the air when you shoot them. And I think I’m going pick up a big bag of generic cool aid to try and see if it makes a cloud. They got it for a couple bucks at a discount store by us along with a bag of balloons for a couple bucks. Makes for cheap reactive targets for the kids to shoot.

    Hopefully the weather will hold in there and rain at the right times. Need the rain to get all that dry grass and trees and brush wet so we don’t have fireworks fires in the town’s around me. Been hot and dry for a few weeks or so now. But hope the rain stays away to do some family get together stuff also. We’ll see ready for the days off.

    • GF1,

      Just now read the article. Me thinks that “someone likes muzzle loaders”,…. 😉 Good article.

      On the 33.95’s, just did a head, skirt and length check,….. Reg. VS MKII
      H .2495
      S .2635
      L .3535

      H .2500
      S .2620
      L .3540

      From what I can tell, the skirt looks to be the only thing that changed, but not by much. That was only 1 each.

      Oh yea, got the UTG scope eye cup too. It is long, which one review stated was too long. We shall see. The cup is angled, about 3 1/4″ to the short side and 4 5/8″ to the long side. Bellows is a bit stiff. I would give it about 1/4″ compression max. for a comfortable press. One reviewer shortened his, but I have not looked that hard at it yet.

    • GF1,

      Added comment,…. it came with 3 rings to customize fit. So,…. I assuming that it will fit 4 different ocular sizes. Mine fits with no inserts. Also, the lengths given are the (added length) after it would be fitted.

    • GF1,

      Added comment #2,…..

      If I hold the eye cup up to my eye,… and look towards the end of the living room,…. while in the kitchen,… with two, 4 tube fluorescent lights overhead,…. the difference in contrast is HUGE!!!!. The same as shooting outside on a sunny day. Night and Day difference! This should really help on getting a very clear sight picture.

      • Chris USA
        I was waiting to make a comment to make sure you were through posting. 😉

        So now to see if maybe the JSB Mrkll’s shoot different than the regular JSB’s. You’ll have to give a update after you shoot some.

        And yep the light guard for your scope should work nice. It’s the same concept as going to a movie theater. A dark room with a brightly lit up screen. Your eyes will be more perceptive to light in your sight picture.

  8. How volatile is black powder? I read a statement that explosives experts would rather work with a car full of dynamite rather than a hat full of the old black powder. But I guess it depends on how old the powder is. For a different viewpoint, a teacher at a blackpowder seminar was singing the praises of it and said that blackpowder needs a spark to ignite whereas smokeless does not and can ignite just from heat (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit I believe). As a proof, the guy said that a disgruntled ex-boyfriend of his daughter’s retaliated by setting fire to his garage where he kept reloading supplies. The smokeless went off but the blackpowder did not.

    The explanation here makes me think that using a blackpowder rifle is like reloading in the field. Amazing when I think of the care that I put into reloading. Even seating the ball correctly without air gaps corresponds to compressed powder loads in modern-day reloading which are too scary for me to attempt. Also, I could see hunting with the rifle if it fouls after 12 shots, but how do you fight a battle with a gun like that?

    Just returned from a trip to Orlando where I was casting a wary eye at the ponds I can tell you. But otherwise, I had a good time. My hotel had a great pool with accessories like a water park, and I was able to enact fantasies from the Gary Cooper film, Distant Drums, by wading across it. I also got out to the see the new film The Shallows which was very entertaining. At one point, I was inspired to rewrite the plot something like this. The heroine is trapped on a harbor buoy with the shark barreling down on her. She rapidly investigates to see what she can use for defense. Then, hello, she spots a CZ 550 Safari rifle will a full magazine of .458 Winchester Magnums. Fancy finding that here!

    On another note, Punchin Holes, that was a highly delectable description of your HW30S. The only drawback to the gun I can think of is the cumbersome single-loading process. That has its charms, but it undeniably is going to limit your volume of fire. How strange that with the disappearance of the IZH 61 that there is no repeating springer which can combine the volume of a repeater with the simplicity and convenience of a spring mechanism. Do you hear that gunmakers? I think there is a niche to be filled here.

    I also came across a new idea for my study of AK accuracy. This was inspired by what I reported before about the American-made AKs from Century Arms equaling the accuracy of ARs at the same price. That was my idea of blueprinting actions brought to life, but there is an additional step. I was reading that bolt action military rifles are surprisingly accurate for their loose tolerances, and the reason is that the headspace is controlled very tightly. That and not the general tightness of the gun is the critical factor. This principle was used in the construction of a semi-custom rifle called the Tango 51 which guarantees 1/4 inch groups. This is also part of the manufacturing process for Savage rifles which have developed a strong reputation for accuracy. So what if I shot out the barrel of my Saiga. I don’t know if they make match grade barrels for AKs. (The closest they come as with the Century rifle is to remove the chrome plating and coat the bores with a nitride substance.) But I could get a quality AK barrel; I think the Green Mountain company is supposed to make some good ones. Then I could get a gunsmith to install the barrel with some version of the headspacing procedure for Savage rifles. I think it might be as simple as screwing the barrel onto the receiver with some kind of no-go gauge inserted into the chamber. Do you think that is possible or is the Savage procedure more complex? If this works, I could forget about the blueprinting part, and I think that rifle could give some very interesting information about the accuracy potential of AKs.

    I also believe I may have invented a new shooting sport called re-enactment plinking. The idea is to buy some period gear for your gun, and your shooting satisfaction is based on how well you shoot and how cool you look. Okay, maybe someone has done this before. I’ve seen shooters at events with M1s and WW2 paraphernalia, but that doesn’t prevent me from inventing the concept independently as shown in the following excerpt from Star Trek. The episode is about a meeting between Kirk and an insane starship captain who calls himself Lord Garth and has gathered a community of misfits around him. He has the following conversation with a green woman.

    Green: Now everyone listen to this poem I have written.

    Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…

    Garth (exasperated): You didn’t write that poem! It was written by a human named Shakespeare, 500 years ago.

    Green: Which doesn’t alter the fact that I wrote it yesterday!

    Garth: I could kill you with my bare hands!!

    Anyway, the idea has opened a whole new realm of shopping for me. I have just received a set of British pattern 1908 web gear to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It was an almost unequalled military fiasco which is saying something. How to assemble the stuff is a complete puzzle. It makes me think that if the Russian soldiers were uneducated peasants, the British infantry must have been candidates for Mensa. But after careful study of various images and reading the British army manual, I’m starting to get some ideas. Next, up when I can scrape together the money are genuine jump boots made by Corcoran, the same company that made them in WW2! Apparently, they were highly prized as status symbols. While hard to march in, they gave an extra rigidity to the ankle that should stabilize my offhand shooting. I was worried about the reaction I would get at the range to this outfit, but I think I’m getting over that.


    • Matt61;
      It sounds like a lot of fun so GO FOR IT.

      Edie and Tom gave me a Century International Arms Mauser action Brazilian army surplus rifle chambered for the 7.62X39, round and it is a very accurate, sweet shooting firearm. I take it to the range several times a month and then reload the empties.


  9. Fido3030— The reason that the Swedes used iron ramrods was because wood rods often broke, rendering the musket useless. The Swedish army did not have that problem when they adopted the iron rods. Wood rods can break even when the firearm has a clean bore Like long bows, , wood rods have a definite “life” . Ed

    • Yes, I wonder if you could shoot the rod out or if it would burst the barrel.
      Tough being a soldier then. No medical care worth anything, food usually not fit to eat, diseases, no mail. And conditions weren’t much better (for some, at least) until WWII.

  10. Interesting article. I was an enthusiastic black powder shooter but not an enthusiastic black powder cleaner so I haven’t shot my period black powder guns for a long time 😉 I did try to shoot a .54 cal inline recently but found that the Pyrodex pellets that I tried to use give a roman candle effect about as often as they actually went off.

    My research on the mountain men indicates that they actually did favor rifles over muskets. The West contained a lot of open prairie so firefights with the native population often started at long range. If you could deprive several horses of their riders at 200 yards then that often would finish a fight before it even started.

    Powder usually came in two grades: musket and rifle powder. Musket powder was similar to the FFg of today and used to make the paper cartridges that gave muskets their rapid fire ability (about 3 shots a minute for the Americans and 5 for the British). The relatively coarse powder was easily ignited by the big flint and frizzen on the musket lock. Rifle powder was similar to the FFFg grade of today. You did not need a separate priming horn. The FFFg powder from your horn would work fine. I’ve had no difficulties priming from my horn.

    There’s no evidence of a short starter that has been found with a horn and shooting pouch from that era that I’m aware of. Rifles were furnished with a bullet mould made for the caliber of the rifle. The balls were made small enough that you could ram them home with your wiping stick or ramrod. There was no time to use a short starter and the fouling would preclude easy loading with a patch and ball combination that fit that tight. I’ve been able to shot continuously shooting my .40 cal flintlock with a looser fitting ball and bear-grease patch during shooting matches. Serious target shooters and competitors do use the short starter because it gives better target accuracy but the smaller ball and patch combination gives acceptable accuracy for most people.

    Rifles were probably cleaned most often with tow, which consisted of loose and unprocessed linen fibers. A device similar to a spring was fitted over the end of the wiping stick and tow was wrapped around it. When the wiping stick was pulled out of the rifle’s bore, the “worm” would elongate and the diameter would become smaller, which would prevent it slipping off of the end of the wiping stick. I’ve started cleaning my rifle with tow and it seems to do a better job than cloth patches. Fabric material was too valuable for cleaning a rifle. and would be saved to make ball patches. Tow could be washed and used again. Rifles were not cleaned as fastidiously as we do today. It was more important to keep the bores well greased. That’s why rifle barrels had to be “freshed” out to a larger caliber after much use and may older rifles were left as smooth bores or smooth rifles when the barrel walls became to thing for rifling groves.

    Haven’t thought about this for a long time–it’s amazing I remember this stuff. Hope this information is useful. Muzzleloader magazine has a column on the fur trade by Rex Allen Norman that contains a lot of valuable information if you are interested in re-enacting this period. There are also books but I can’t recall titles off-hand. I’d rather be re-enacting with a Girandoni air rife, myself, but that’s not going to be happening any time soon : )

    • Brent,

      Good comment! I’ve read those references, too and know what you saw in them. But the very early mountain men (before the rendezvous) were somewhat different than the ones from the 1840s and after. You might say they were still learning how to do what it was that they did.

      “How floats yer stick?”


  11. Brent–When I was shooting muzzleloaders, I would load a few grains of ffg before the pyrodex. The ignition was perfect. I even used this method with flintlocks. My friends thought that they could not use pyrodex in their flintlocks because of ignition problems. A little ffg, and the problem was solved. It might work in in line guns as well. My in line rifle is a Savage, and I only use smokeless powder in it. Ed

  12. Fido3030— Green soldiers sometimes fall ed to remove their ramrods and fired them with the ball. They were unable to reload, unless they could get another rod. This is why they were subjected to hours of drill. Broken rods were usually jammed in tight. When I began shooting muzzleloaders, I used a jointed aluminum shotgun rod instead of the wood rod. It got stuck while reloading. I unscrewed most of the rod, but the last section was still in the barrel. When I fired the rifle, it came out with the ball. There was a walnut at the point where the ball was. It never affected accuracy, because I was only using 25 grains of powder, I usually use 45-50 grains, and the ball is above the nut. I was shooting a TC Hawken. The thick barrel walls and light charge is probably what saved me from harm. A 17th century musket would have a thinner barrel wall. In addition. it would have been made by forming a sheet of iron around a mandrill. and welding the seam. Such a barrel would be prone to bursting, even without the stuck ramrod. Ed

    • Ed,

      Green soldiers? At first I thought you were referring to plastic Army men.

      And I never knew anyone other than myself who bulged a barrel. I did it with smokeless, when one bullet impacted another during rapid-fire. See it here:



  13. BB–I have always been interested in guns and shooting. When I was 3, I was given a Marx tripod mounted machine gun with a sparking device at the muzzle. I soon discovered how to put bits of crayon into the abrasive coated wheel . They shot out with enough velocity to hit the imaginary German bombers that were flying across the ceiling. After shooting down 50@ bombers, my gun disappeared , I wonder why ! At the age of 8, I found out the ingredients in black powder, and put my Gilbert chemistry set to work to make my first batch. At the age of 10, I made black powder that did explode, instead of just burning. Now I needed working cannon barrels. When I was 13, I took 1/8 id brass tubing ( and rods) from the hobby store. I wrapped 6″ lengths with a mixture of plastic steel epoxy and thread, of fishing line. Without knowing it, I had re invented the leather cannon, and none of my toy soldiers were safe from the bb,s that i fired at them ( the walls of my room also fell victim to my artillery barrages). If I had been born in the 17th century, I would have been called a genius. Alas, the best that I was called was crazy, dangerous crackpot! Ed

    • Ed
      I wasn’t going to bring this up on the blog. But since we are talking powder and smooth bores.

      You should see how well a 3/8″ inside diameter pipe about 8″ long does with a steel cap on one end with a hole in it big enough for a firecracker wick to stick out of it. Yep put a firecracker in with the wick sticking out and then about 5 or so steel bb’s. It’s more effective than you can imagine and actually can be aimed very easily. And don’t ask how old I was when me and buddies where doing that when we was kids.

      You know what else works well. Makes a nice rocket. Take a plastic 16oz. soda bottle and cut some of the top off. About 1/3rd of it down from the top. Poke a hole in the bottom of it and place a firecracker in the hole. Get a pot and put about 2″ of water in it. Then set the bottle in with the wick sticking up. Light it and get out of the way. It will shoot the bottle easily 100′ in the air or more.

      And my disclaimer. Can be very dangerous. Don’t try this without understanding fully what your doing or what might happen. And of course your local laws.

      But yep I always have liked things that shoot or go boom. But it sure is more pleasant and easier to shoot air guns. 🙂

      • GF1,

        Here is a little story about my Uncle Don. He would jam a steel pipe in the ground in his back yard that overlooked the St. Lawrence Seaway and drop a lit cherry bomb down, followed by a spark plug. It made a cool mortar that shot spark plugs out into the water.

        He stopped right after the spark plug came back down on the roof of his boathouse and put a nice hole through his boat!


        • BB
          You know that’s what people don’t realize. They pretty well come down just as hard as they go up.

          Myth Busters did some kind of test where they shot a pistol I believe it was. They shot it straight up on a old abandoned air field I think it was. Long story short the bullet penetrated the ground when it came back down deep enough that it could of been a fatal shot if it hit someone.

          How’s the saying go. What goes up must come down. And aperantly hard enough to do damage or hurt someone.

  14. GF1— Before I learned how to make an effective breech plug, I mounted brass tubing on home made model canon carriages. I would put a firecracker in the breech end, using tape to make the cracker fit tightly. Then I would load a ball bearing, or a marble ,or bb,s from the muzzle. The canon fired like a recoilless gun, of rocket launcher. It was dramatic, but not accurate. Enough of my toy soldier army survived to become cannon fodder for my improved models. Ed

    • Ed
      But we was have’n fun. We use to take those small model rockets that were about 7″ tall that used the small (A) sized engine and shoot them like missiles at plastic model cars placed out in the field. And bottle rockets. That’s another story I think I’ll just let go by.

    • Ed
      It was nothing more spectacular than the model rockets.

      We would use the same conduit that we launched the model rockets as missiles with which was about 3′ long then tape 3 or 4 bottle rockets together and twist the fuses together and stick them in the conduit tube. Hold it at our side while someone lit the fuse. We would aim at things and try to hit them. By accident sometimes we would. 🙂

      And yes I have been popped by firecrackers and bottle rockets as a kid. Again don’t try this stuff at home people. Can get dangerous content quicker than you can imagine.

  15. BB and others,

    When I went to build my scale model cannon, I found that true black powder is very difficult to come by in my home state (Washington), and so did my work using some substitute powders (basically smokeless powder with some salts added to make smoke). The salesperson at the local sporting goods store stated that they stopped buying black powder because the HazMat fees for shipping got ridiculous, and he also suspected their legal team had a say in the matter.

    • Bet T,

      From a reenactor’s viewpoint the replica powders are fine. But most of them fail to compete with black powder when used for shooting period firearms. They don’t burn as fast and don’t give the accuracy.


  16. Another thought, BB – I’ve read about British riflemen (during the Napoleonic wars) who during the heat of battle would use…(ahem) their liquid waste stream…in place of boiling water to clear the residue from their Baker rifles.

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