Way back in 1812, when Jean Samuel Pauley was granted a patent on a vastly improved percussion ignition system, it's extremely doubtful that he fathomed thoughts of greatly extending the effective range of the muzzle-loaded rifle. He could not have harbored thoughts of things such as a "plastic sabot" ... or a "jacketed bullet" ... or, for that matter, a "modern black powder substitute".
What Pauley had "invented" was merely an "improved percussion ignition system" - which placed the nipple and the percussion cap in direct alignment with the bore of the muzzleloader ... to insure that the fire from the exploding cap would contact the black powder charge with full force and heat. His design was merely to improve the ignition of a percussion ignition muzzleloader, to make muzzleloaders more "sure fire". Considering that the percussion cap itself had only been patented just two years earlier, in 1810, only a small handful of gunmakers had likely even built new rifles with the new type of ignition. Very likely the vast majority of earliest "percussion muzzleloaders" were rifles, shotguns and pistols which had been previously flintlocks ... fitted with a new percussion hammer, and with a "drum & nipple" threaded into the side of the barrel ... using the flintlock's original "vent hole" which had been drilled out larger and threaded.
It was all about more spontaneous and more sure fire ignition ... not about shooting at longer distances with more powerful loads. Now, take a good look at the Pedersoli .54 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken in the photo across the top of this post. Does anything stand out to the point that it detracts from the great mid 1800's looks and lines of this rifle?
Thanks to replacing the 1/4x28 thread nipple of the rifle with the slick No. 209 primer adapter shown in the two photos shown directly above, this very traditionally styled late 1840's/early 1850's half-stock rifle is now every bit as "sure fire" as any modern No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifle. When we reported on the similar Mag-Spark No. 209 primer adapter produced by Warren Custom Outdoor last month on this blog, and in a feature article on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website last month as well, we didn't even realize that the Davide Pedersoli armsmaking firm of Brescia, Italy also produced the No. 209 primer adapter shown here. So...we ordered a couple from this great sponsor of this website, and immediately installed one on our Pedersoli .54 caliber patched round ball Hawken.
Installation of the Pedersoli adapter took no longer than removing the nipple and threading the adapter in place. In the photos above, you can see a bit of a copper color where the base threads into the bolster of the breech plug. That's just a dab of anti-seize that was applied to the threads ... to insure the adapter base is easily removed for cleaning ... or when I want to enjoy the full traditional muzzleloading experience and re-install the nipple and shoot charges of black powder.
During the last two weeks of the Montana big game season, it's not uncommon to get hammered by some heavy wet snow. My primary purpose for installing one of the Pedersoli No. 209 primer adapters in the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken 1-in-65 twist patched round ball barrel was to insure positive ignition when the weather turns foul ... but I knew another reason was to see just how well this rifle would shoot a patched round ball when stuffed with a modern black powder substitute. I was curious to see if charges of Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven could squeeze out just a bit more velocity ... and do so with accuracy.
According to the Pedersoli website, the .54 barrel of this rifle measures 34 5/8 inches in length ... according to the Dixie Gun Works catalog, the Rocky Mountain Hawken has a 34 11/16 inch barrel. Either way, my pet black powder load for the barrel has been 120-grains of FFg GOEX black powder, which will get a patched 230-gain Hornady swaged .535" diameter ball out of the muzzle at 1,854 f.p.s., generating 1,755 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. The load's maximum effective range for hunting deer-sized game, where it drops below 800 foot-pounds of energy, is right at 75 yards.
To put a little Blackhorn 209 "soot" in the bore, I first shot at a steel plate at 70 yards ... and nailed it pretty close to center. I sat the rifle back in the shade of an old hay barn to cool while I placed my target board at 50 yards. My first shot caught the right side of the "X" ... then my second shot 6 minutes later hit about a half-inch below the first ... and my third shot wallowed out the first hole. Center-to-center, the group went right at .700" ... not bad for 68 year old eyes and open sights! (Note: The shooting was done from one of the rock solid Caldwell "The Rock" rests.)
Several shots across the chronograph revealed that the 100-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 was getting the 230-grain soft lead ball out of the muzzle at around 1,940 f.p.s. That equates to 1,920 f.p.e. at the muzzle ... and would add about 10 yards to the rifle's maximum game taking range - to around 85 yards. That's my first 50-yard group with a patched round ball ... shooting charges of Blackhorn 209 ... shown above right.
Upping he charge of Blackhorn 209 to 110-grains ... point of impact moved up about a half inch ... and the group punched, shown above left, measures right at .500" center-to-center. Several shots across the chronograph revealed that average velocity of the load was right at 1,995 f.p.s. - which in turn took muzzle energy to just over 2,010 foot pounds. Again ... the added velocity added right at another 10 yards of game-taking effective range ... to just shy of 100 yards.
Now, up to this point, using the Pedersoli No. 209 primer adapter for ignition, shooting the steel gong a few times ... punching several groups with Blackhorn 209 charge ... and running a half dozen rounds across the chronograph ... around 15 shots had been taken - and the Pedersoli No. 209 adapter had not been wiped out once ... and not one primer tended to stick in the primer chamber/seat.
Even though it was supposed to make it to 100 degrees later in the day (July 14), I had hit the range at day break ... and 2 1/2 hours later, the temperature was still just 58 degrees. So I decided to go for one more group. But first, I ran a Blackhorn 209 Solvent dampened patch down the bore ... pulled it back out ... turned it over and ran it down and back out again. Then wiped the bore with a dry patch as well. I was going to shoot just one group with 110-grains of FFFg Triple Seven ... and didn't want to compromise the accuracy of that first shot with the residue of a totally different powder in the bore. But before putting my first shot on a clean new target, I took a shot, with the charge of FFFg Triple Seven, at the steel gong ... and again pretty much hit near the center.
My next three shots, wiping the bore between each and allowing the barrel to cool in the shade for 6 or 7 minutes before reloading, punched that 3/4-inch center-to-center 50-yard group shown above left. Several shots across the chronograph averaged 1,971 f.p.s. - producing just over 1,980 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
Before the morning was done ... more than 25 rounds had been fired through the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken ... and not once was the Pedersoli No. 209 primer adapter wiped free of fouling ... and the photo directly above shows the very last primer being pulled from the adapter using just finger nails to grip the flanged edge of the primer.
As we get into September ... and the morning temperatures begin to cool ... giving us more shooting time in the morning ... using the Pedersoli No. 209 adapter we will do some comparative shooting with the four powders shown here. We'll treat every powder as they have been developed to be treated, in respect to loading ... seating pressures ... and wiping the bore (if needed). It will be interesting to see what kind of accuracy we get with the patched round ball with Pyrodex and GOEX black powder, using No. 209 primers for ignition.
Suddenly, the patched round ball doesn't seem so old fashioned any more! - Toby Bridges
Cabela's Was The Only Retailer We Found Handling The Pedersoli No. 209 Primer Adapter -
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Now, considering how much I shoot and hunt with the modern in-line ignition rifles, it may come as a surprise to many of you that when I'm shooting a very traditionally styled muzzleloading rifle, like the Pedersoli .54 caliber percussion Rocky Mountain Hawken shown above, I actually prefer shooting REAL BLACK POWDER! That mixture of charcoal, potassium nitrate and sulfur, and the acrid smoke it produces when pushing a traditional patched round ball or bore-sized lead conical out the muzzle is very much a big part of the "Traditional Muzzleloading Shooting Experience".
Well, one factor "why" interest in traditional muzzleloader shooting and hunting has dropped off, and which is rarely acknowledged, is that for many shooters it has become increasingly more difficult to find a reliable source for purchasing black powder. The red tape involved to get true black powder, which is classified as an "explosive", shipped and to meet the storage requirements for an "explosive" has caused many gun shops to stop offering the traditional propellant for the older style No. 11 percussion cap or flintlock frontloaders. Instead, those dealers who continue to cater to muzzleloading shooters and hunters now tend to offer the modern "black powder substitutes" - which are classified as a "flammable solid"... pretty much the same as modern smokeless powders for modern center-fire rifle cartridges.
There have been several "replica black powders" or "black powder substitutes" to come and go since the late 1970's and early 1980's, but the modern muzzleloader powders or propellants shown directly above represent what the majority of muzzleloading shooters and hunters are using these days. The first of these powders was Pyrodex, which Hodgdon Powder Company finally brought to market - following the loss of its inventor Dan Pawlak during an explosion at the laboratory where the powder was developed. For more on the Pyrodex story, go to -
Those of us shooting the new powder before it hit the dealers' shelves discovered two things about Pyrodex. 1.) It was harder to ignite than black powder - and was not suitable for use in a flintlock. Even when loaded into a percussion rifle, ignition was best when using the hottest No. 11 caps available. For me then, that was the RWS No. 11 caps from Germany. 2.) Consistent ignition and accuracy were dependent on Pyrodex charges being compacted by exerting a lot of projectile seating pressure with the ramrod.
Both are still true today. However, if you are still loading and shooting Pyrodex charges, you might want to give the CCI No. 11 Magnum caps a try. They are the hottest No. 11 caps available today. Another solution would be to install a new nipple which allows the use of the larger and hotter yet Winged Musket Caps. (Dixie Gun Works offers these nipples ... with 1/4x28 threads ... as their NP1096 ... for $8.25.)
Hodgdon's loose grain Triple Seven does indeed offer a step up in performance over Pyrodex - especially when loading with the FFFg granulation. However, this powder is yet a bit harder to ignite.
I discovered that during the early 2000's, right after Hornady introduced their SST-ML saboted polymer-tipped spire-point bullets for the .50 caliber rifles. I wanted to see how my old Knight MK-85 .50 caliber Grand American would shoot with the modern Triple Seven powder and sleek new bullets. That rifle was still set up just as I had shot is so much through the 1990's - with the original No. 11 percussion cap ignition system.
I quickly discovered, as often as not, the standard CCI No. 11 caps being used back then would not ignited the charges of FFFg Triple Seven. Initially, I switched to one of the 1/4x28 thread musket cap nipples and CCI Winged Musket Caps. Ignition was spontaneous - and accuracy was exceptional. Eventually, I installed a conversion for the MK-85 which allowed the use of No. 209 primers - and that set up is still in the rifle. That rifle was presented to me as the first of Knight's "Master Hunter Awards" by Tony Knight in 1992.
I've found that the ignition of FFFg Triple Seven in a traditionally styled percussion rifle also requires the use of the hotter Winged Musket Caps. When shooting a faster twist bullet rifle, like the Pedersoli 1-in-24 twist .50 caliber Missouri River Hawken, there is a significant increase in velocity between charges of Pyrodex "RS" and FFFg Triple Seven. Here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING we have gotten a modern design 300-grain Power Belt bore-sized bullet out of the rifle's 30 inch barrel at 1,688 f.p.s. (with right at 1,890 f.p.e.) when loading with a 100-grain charge of Pyrodex "RS". The same volume amount of FFFg Triple Seven ups velocity to just over 1,860 f.p.s. - generating just over 2,300 foot-pounds of game-taking energy.
Since Triple Seven is a sugar carbon based powder, there's still a tad of that muzzleloader smoke rolling from the muzzle. Combining that bit of traditional muzzleloading and a dash of a modern engineered aerodynamic bore-sized bullet - this rifle and load will retain more than 1,200 foot-pounds of wallop out at 200 yards. One word of caution though ... with that step up in velocity and game taking energy comes higher barrel pressures. In fact, this charge of FFFg Triple Seven and 300-grain Power Belt Bullet are likely producing a peak pressure of around 23,000+ p.s.i. Shoot such loads ONLY out of traditional percussion ignition rifles built with a so-called "Patent Bolster Breech Plug" ... such as that found on the Pedersoli .50 Missouri River Hawken and the now out of production Thompson/Center Arms .45, .50 and .54 Hawken rifles.
One of the feature articles we have planned for the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Web Magazine in the near future will be a full blown feature on shooting the BPI Power Belt Bullets out of the fast twist Pedersoli Hawken barrel. For ignition, we've installed one of the Mag-Spark No. 209 primer adapters (shown above) which gives super spontaneous ignition of Triple Seven charges. We've even enjoyed sure-fire spontaneous ignition with charges of Blackhorn 209. For more on that shooting, go to -
Hunting big game with a muzzleloading rifle, whether it is very traditional in design or very modern, is an extremely enjoyable way to hunt. Now, thanks to more efficient new powders and projectiles with vastly improved aerodynamics, it's now also possible to combine both old style looks and stepped up modern performance to make those muzzleloader hunts even more productive.
Have you loaded and shot Triple Seven out of a traditionally styled percussion rifle? Please share your experiences in the comment section of this post. - Toby Bridges
For More On The Use Of Primers For Traditional Percussion Rifle Ignition - Go To The Next Post!
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On Thursday, November 20, 1980, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for ACCRA-SHOT by ANDERSON MANUFACTURING COMPANY, INC., KENT 98032. The USPTO has given the ACCRA-SHOT trademark serial number of 73286952. The current federal status of this trademark filing is CONTINUED USE NOT FILED WITHIN GRACE PERIOD, UN-REVIVABLE. The correspondent listed for ACCRA-SHOT is Keith S. Bergman of 201 Columbia Bldg., Spokane WA 99204, . The ACCRA-SHOT trademark is filed in the category of Firearm Products . The description provided to the USPTO for ACCRA-SHOT is Firing Mechanisms for Non-Cartridge Firearms.
I can remember when the ACCRA-SHOT primer adapter hit the market. I was the catalog editor (among other things) for Dixie Gun Works ... and received a few samples to photograph ... try out ...and write up for the catalog. I absolutely loved the idea of being able to use small pistol primers or small rifle primers for igniting a, then, revolutionary new "black powder substitute" - known as Pyrodex ... the new "Replica Black Powder"!
The new powder was definitely a bit harder to ignite than black powder ... that's why Hodgdon Powder Company never recommended it for use in flintlock muzzleloaders. Even with standard No. 11 caps, the shooter who shot a lot would occasionally experience a long hang fire or a total misfire. But, the hotter small pistol and small rifle primers, using the Anderson Mfg. ACCRA-SHOT, pretty much eliminated such ignition failures.
Did I use the adapters on the muzzledloaders I hunted with back then? You Bet I Did! If you look real close at the "nipple area" of that custom half-stock I built in 1983, with a pronghorn buck taken with the rifle that fall (above left) ... you'll see that shiny stainless steel ACCRA-SHOT.
One of the ACCRA-SHOT primer adapters was also installed on the very same rifle when taking the buck at right - more than 20 years after the rifle had been built. Not only did the adapter and primers put more fire in to the powder charge ... the set up was also more sure-fire during a wet weather hunt. The morning this buck was shot, it had rained most of the morning ... before this buck offered a 150 or so yard shot. Ignition was spontaneous.
Most of the time, I used either standard CCI No. 400 Small Rifle Primers ... or No. 450 Small Rifle Magnum Primers. Typically, I could get in 7 or 8 shots before primer fouling inside the adapter built to the point that it became a bit difficult to thread off the cap and get the spent primer out. But when hunting ... one or two shots were all I would normally take during a day of hunting big game. When at the range, I would keep a cleaning patch and small container of cleaning solvent close at hand. Between shots, I would dampen a patch with solvent, then lightly wipe the primer carbon from the primer seat and inside the cap ... which included the firing pin.
While I can't remember seeing the ACCRA-SHOT primer adapters for sale since the early 2000's, a company known as Warren Custom Outdoor is now offering a beefier version of a primer adapter, shown above on that same old half-stock .50 caliber rifle (now with a newer barrel). However, this adapter is built for using No.209 shot-shell primers for ignition ... and has been dubbed the Mag-Spark. The one shown here has actually been on the rifle since 2009 ... and has now been used to ignite somewhere close to 1,000 rounds!
Using a modern primer for ignition with a muzzleloader is really nothing new. Hiram Berdan (of Berdan Sharpshooters fame) patented the rifle primer in 1866, and custom rifle makers who were still building deadly accurate long-range muzzleloading target (and sniper) rifles quickly followed with ignition systems which relied on an enclosed primer for setting off the powder charge. The rifle shown directly above, incorporating a primer ignition system, was built by renown rifle smith Norman Brockway in the late 1860's.
Back in 2009, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING tested and reviewed the Warren Mag-Spark - but we lost that page when switching website hosting services in July 2011. So, I've decided to obtain a couple of the No. 209 primer adapters for our two Pedersoli percussion Hawken rifles, and do some additional test shooting. Watch for that review toward the end of June or the first of July.
If you've used the Mag-Spark, or the earlier ACCRA-SHOT, please use the comment section for this post to share what you liked ... or didn't like ... about using these adapters, or using a primer for muzzleloader ignition. - Toby Bridges
For More On The Mag-Spark ... Go To -
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Pedersoli .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken
Now ... right up front ... this post is NOT an attack against the patched round ball as a muzzleloader hunting projectile. Over the years, I have taken more than a hundred head of big game with the ancient patched round ball. In fact, of the nearly 400 deer I have harvested with a wide range of muzzleloaders over the past 50+ years, around 80 have been taken with patched round ball rifles. During one special "doe reduction hunt" alone, I took 10 adult whitetail does in five days with 10 shots - all with a .50 caliber rifle and patched 181-grain .495" diameter swaged lead balls.
Rather, this post takes a hard look at exactly what those soft lead spheres ARE NOT. They are not "magical". Those spheres of lead do not possess a fairy tail ability to take game more efficiently than other muzzle-loaded hunting projectiles - especially more efficiently than a good conical bullet or a modern saboted bullet. But ... there are muzzleloading shooters among us who try to weave in a bit of "magic" when expounding on the game taking performance of the old patched round ball.
My very first muzzleloader deer was taken back in 1965, shooting a rifle "almost" exactly like the one shown here. The rifle pictured here is the Dixie Gun Works .40 caliber "Squirrel "Rifle" - Serial No. 2. My first muzzleloader was the same rifle model, except the .40 caliber barrel had been replaced with a .45 caliber Douglas barrel of the same 40-inch length. I had bought the rifle from it's previous owner, who was moving up to a .50 caliber half-stock. One of the "accessories" that had come with the rifle was a home-made powder measure made from the hollowed out tine of a whitetail buck antler. Leveled off, that measure gave a 70-grain charge of DuPont FFFg black powder.
At the muzzle, the load was good for right at 2,000 f.p.s. - with around 1,150 f.p.e. - at the muzzle! Well, the first "antlered buck" I ever got in my sights offered a 60 or so yard perfectly broadside shot ... and the rifle and load delivered that "magical sphere of lead" perfectly right behind the facing shoulder ... and that's where the magic ended. Nearly two hours and more than a quarter-mile later, a friend and I found the dead eight-point buck. The ball had hit perfectly ... had flattened nicely and had passed squarely through both lungs ... and was found under the skin of the opposite side.
What I didn't know way back then was that out at 60 to 65 yards, where the deer had been standing when the shot was taken, the light 128-grain ball had slowed to around 1,250 f.p.s. - and had had hit the deer with less than 500 foot-pounds of retained energy. During our tracking, we had nearly lost the trail several times ... and came close to losing that buck. The following week, I took another 8-pointer in a neighboring state with the rifle ... shot at just 35 yards ... and that deer went even farther before going down.
In 1967, I traded off that .45 "Kentucky" rifle - on a Tingle percussion .50 caliber half-stock rifle - and found that with a heftier 90-grain charge of FFFg black powder behind a patched 178-grain cast .490" diameter soft lead ball, the rifle and load did tend to have noticeably greater knockdown power. Before going into the Marine Corp in 1969, I managed to take two whitetails with that rifle ... both shot at between 50 and 60 yards. One had gone down on the spot ... the other ran just 15 or so yards before dropping.
Right off, my thoughts were that when hunting with a patched round ball muzzleloader ... a bigger bore, with a larger diameter and heavier ball, pushed along by more powder was definitely a better choice when hunting game as large as deer.
While a lead ball is a perfect, or near perfect, sphere ... it still has a "ballistic coefficient" ... and the larger the ball, the higher its b.c. Take that 128-grain .440" diameter round ball I used to take my first two antlered muzzleloader bucks. That ball has a b.c. of right at .060. Pushed from the muzzle of a .45 rifle at exactly 2,000 f.p.s. ... the muzzle energy generated was 1,137 f.p.e. Due to the low .060 b.c., at 25 yards velocity drops to around 1,700 f.p.s. - and the ball hits with 820 f.p.e. Out at 50 yards, the same ball retains right around 1,450 f.p.s. - and just 597 f.p.e. Then, at the 60 to 65 yard range at which I shot my first antlered buck, that light round piece of lead slows to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,250 f.p.s.
In other words, my first buck taken with the first muzzleloader I ever owned was taken with just shy of 450 foot-pounds of retained energy. The accepted minimum for taking deer sized game with a muzzleloader is 800 f.p.e. Was it "magic" ... or was it simply "luck" which allowed me to find that deer?
The first whitetail I ever "dropped on the spot" with a patched ball load was a big adult doe I took at around 50 yards with the .50 Tingle half-stock rifle. The 90-grain charge of FFFg used to propel the 178-grain cast .490" round ball was getting it out of the muzzle of the 32-inch barrel right at 2,010 f.p.s. - with 1,640 f.p.e. At 50 yards, velocity was down to 1,490 f.p.s. - but the rifle and load was still good for just over 900 f.p.e. In fact, this load retains that "must have" minimum of 800 f.p.e. to about 60 yards. Still, by the time that 178-grain sphere of lead reaches 100 yards, velocity is down to 1,140 f.p.s. and retained energy has dropped to 525 f.p.e.
I hunted with a patched round ball for many years, and still like to crowd in a hunt with an accurate patched ball rifle every now and then. These days, my "patched round ball big game rifle" is the percussion .54 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle produced by Davide Pedersoli & Co. That rifle is shown in the photo at the very top of this post - and in the photo above left.
This over-sized adult doe was taken along the Musselshell River of north-central Montana during the fall of 2015. Through the summer and early fall, I had shot the rifle quite a bit, and found it to shoot with real authority, and accuracy, when stuffed with 120 grains of Olde Eynsford FFg black powder (a Premium grade of black powder offered by GOEX Powder) and a .018" thick patched 230-grain Hornady .535" diameter swaged round ball.
A soft lead ball of this weight and diameter has a b.c. of .075. At the muzzle of the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken's 34-5/8" barrel, the load is good for 1,854 f.p.s. and 1,755 f.p.e. Maximum effective range for the rifle and load, where the ball velocity drops to around 1,260 f.p.s. and retained energy to just over 800 f.p.e., is about 75 yards. My shot was made from 77 yards away...and the 230-grain ball centered both lungs - dropping the huge 150-pound field dressed doe on the spot. For more on this hunt, go to the following link -
Let's face it, there is absolutely nothing "magical" about the performance of a soft lead patched round ball. It is a great hunting projectile when shot from a bore that has been properly rifled to achieve best accuracy from a cloth-patched spherical projectile shot at a reasonably fast velocity. The game taking performance of the patched ball is dependent on the same "minimum retained energy" as any other muzzle-loaded hunting projectile. For deer and similar sized game, that's right at 800 foot-pounds of energy ... for game as large as elk, that's in the very close neighborhood of 1,000 f.p.e.
Any time that a dyed in the buckskins die-hard patched round ball shooter begins promoting shooting big game at 100 to 150 yards with a patched round ball, my advice is to simply walk away. Unless that shooter is shooting a .75 or .80 caliber rifle, loaded with 150 to 200 grains of black powder, the odds are way to much in favor of just wounding game rather than putting it down cleanly.
Do you hunt with a patched round ball muzzle-loaded rifle? If you do, please share some of your experieinces ... good and bad. - Toby Bridges
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I almost felt as if I were hunting from behind a waterfall as my eyes focused on the water drops pouring from the bill of my blaze orange cap. The evening before, the weatherman on the tv had predicted "intermittent" showers for the day, throwing in "heavy at times". So, I had packed in one of the heavy rubberized military ponchos ... just in case one of those "intermittent" showers broke out during the season opener of a mid 1980's Illinois deer season.
If not for that poncho, I would have been soaked. Fortunately, the temperature was around 50-degrees, but an occasional gust of wind insured that at least some of the "heavy at times" moisture found it's way in through the front of the hood. The so-called "shower" had poured down for nearly an hour, and I was beginning to feel the chill from clothing that had become more than a little damp. Fortunately, the rain stopped ... and a few minutes later a very heavy and wide 4x5 buck was slipping down the narrow valley I was watching.
I eased the front of the poncho off to my left side ... and glanced down at the custom percussion .54 Hawken being used for the hunt. The cap was still on the nipple, and as the deer moved to within 50 yards, I pulled the front trigger back all the way ... held it there and thumbed the hammer back ... then let up on the trigger - bringing the rifle to full cock without any audible "clicks". The rifle had a great "double set" trigger, and I knew that even when in the "unset" mode, it would take just 3 1/2 pounds to drop the hammer. The rifle slowly came up as the deer moved to within 35 yards...and as the buck slowly eased by at just 25 or so yards the sights were aligned and locked just to the rear of the front shoulder. The hammer fell ... and the cap popped loudly ... and that was it.
The buck stopped, turned slightly and had its eyes locked right on mine. Slowly, I reached inside the front of my jacket, and easily located the brass Tedd Cash capper hanging from a lanyard around my neck ... eased it out ... let a new cap drop into the dispenser ... and ever so slowly eased the capper to the rifle and placed the cap on the nipple. I brought the hammer back to full cock once again ... and brought the rifle slowly up to my shoulder. I couldn't believe that such a mature buck would stand there, barely 25 yards away and allow me to do all of this. A few seconds later, the sights were back on the deer...and the trigger came back.
Again, the hammer fell and the cap fired ... but not the rifle. This time the buck ran up on the side of the opposite ridge ... but stopped at about 50 yards to watch me go through the same slow recapping process. And remained standing there as I took aim for the third time ... and again ... only the cap fired. That was all that the deer could handle - and the last last I ever saw of that buck was as it topped the ridge 150 yards away ... gone from my life forever ... except for the memory of actually having three chances to put that nice rack on the wall.
WET ... COLD ... and DISGUSTED...I walked on back to camp. Before walking into the small cabin being shared with four other hunting buddies, I threw a fresh cap on the nipple ... took aim at a nearby stump ... and dropped the hammer. "KA...BOOM!" ... Without any hesitation whatsoever!
Unfortunately ... Often such is the luck of the traditional muzzleloading hunter during inclement weather ... even those who hunt with a rifle of percussion ignition. Fortunately...there are several things you can do to drastically reduce the chances of wet weather affecting the ignition of a traditional percussion rifle or shotgun.
While moisture getting into the ignition system ... or into the barrel through the ignition system ... is typically the most common cause for a misfire or serious hangfire with a traditional percussion muzzleloader ... it's not always the only way that wet weather can ruin your day, or ruin your hunt. Rifles or shotguns which are carried "muzzle up" are also susceptible to moisture coming in from that end of the front-loader as well. If the rain, or even damp snow, is heavy enough, moisture can build in front of the projectile ... and even if a bullet is well greased or a patch well lubed ... eventually some of the moisture can begin to seep around the projectile and begin to dampen the powder charge. It doesn't take much to turn black powder, or for that matter carbon-based black powder substitutes, into a gooey ... non-combustible ... mess.
One easy way to keep such moisture from entering the muzzle of a muzzle-loaded rifle or shotgun is to simply put a water-proof seal at the front. Regular plastic wrap from the kitchen works great. It can be held in place using a rubber band that's doubled around a time or two. I prefer using vinyl electricians tape, like that shown above left. By stretching the tape as two or three wraps go around the muzzle and plastic film, that tape tends to stay in place all day - even during a day long deluge. (Just be sure to trim away excess plastic wrap that could make it difficult to see your front sight clearly.)
Likewise, a moisture proof barrier can keep dampness from seeping in through the ignition system ... or just dampening the priming inside a percussion cap enough that it fails to fire. Ever since that 1980's hunt, on which I had to watch one of the nicest whitetail bucks I had ever seen simply trot on over the top of a ridge ... after three attempts to get the rifle to fire - I have relied on good ol' bowstring wax to keep moisture out of the ignition system of any percussion cap muzzleloader I am using on a hunt during bad weather.
Basically, I just rub the cone of the nipple all the way around with the wax, taking extra pre-caution to insure than none of the wax gets inside the nipple. Then, once the percussion cap has been firmly seated onto the waxed nipple cone ... I apply a bit more of the wax around the bottom edge of the copper cap.
This is as "weather proof" as one can make a traditional percussion ignition rifle or shotgun. When this much effort is given to keep moisture out of a muzzleloader ignition system, I have never had a single misfire or hangfire. It takes just a couple of extra minutes to seal off the muzzle with plastic food wrap and to apply that weather resistant coat of bowstring wax to the nipple and around the base of the percussion cap. But, that little amount of extra time and effort is a small investment to insure that a rifle or shotgun you may pack around for the next four or five days before getting a shot will indeed fire instantaneously. - Toby Bridges
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Above: Original Jacob Dickert "Pennsylvania" Rifle
One of the finest books on original traditional American flintlock patched round ball rifles ever compiled was "Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Goldern Age", by Joe Kindig - published in 1960. The book's 561 pages are richly illustrated with photos of hundreds of original rifles from the 1700's and early 1800's - with each of those rifles thoroughly examined and described by the author. For years, that book was one of my prized research publications, until I loaned it to a dear friend. Both the book and the friend disappeared.
Joe Kindig is shown at left, surrounded by his "Kentucky Rifles". One thing that must have intrigued him as much as it has me was the wide range of bore sizes found in these hand-made rifles. Arms historians often proclaim that a "typical" Kentucky rifle bore was .45 caliber. Well, going through Kindig's book, which surely represented a great part of his life's work, if there is one thing one will readily realize it is that ... "There was no such thing as a typical bore size!"
Back when I first began to write about muzzleloading guns, I could not absorb enough information. When I worked at Dixie Gun Works, during the early 1970's, I would thumb through Kindig's book (and an original copy of Ned Roberts' book, "The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle") to learn more - and was amazed at the variety of bore-sizes found in American muzzleloading rifles from about 1750 to 1850. That was due to these rifles being truly "HAND MADE" ... including the barrel - which was typically hand forged ... then hand drilled ... hand polished ... and hand rifled - using a simple wooden boring and rifling "machine" ... that was hand operated. The "bore size" ended up being what it was, following all the work it took to get as perfect a round hole from one end to the other as possible ... boring and polishing until the interior surface was slick and smooth ... then meticulously hand cutting those spiraling grooves which made the American long rifles renown for their accuracy.
Thanks to a fellow by the name of Eli Whitney, by the early 1800's, we began to see some standardization in arms making in this country ... including bore sizes. Did you know that Remington's first commercial foray into arms making was to produce high quality barrels for gun makers ... barrels that were consistent from barrel to barrel? As American shooters took more and more to the precision long-range bullet shooting rifles of the 1840's and 1850's, bore sizes became even more standard - and barrels were being made to closer established tolerances ... and more precise bore sizes.
Still, many backwoods gun makers continued to make barrels the same as this country's first gun makers of the 1700's - one at a time, with a bore that pretty much ended up as it ended up. Using a mandrel to hammer forge around, those barrels started out with something of a "caliber" in mind ... but by the time that barrel was bored, polished and rifled ... that caliber could have been off a bit ... which would explain all those .42 through .47 caliber original guns which are featured in Kindig's book. Fact is, once a customer's rifle was completed, the actual bore size was determined ... THEN a round ball mould was cut to produce the proper size soft lead ball for THAT muzzleloading rifle.
In those days, a man's rifle was just that ... that man's rifle - and could be the ONLY rifle he owned his entire life. Some of those guns were shot a lot over 30 or 40 years of service, and the softer iron used for making those barrels likely tended to wear more easily than later steel barrels. Once the rifling was worn to where it could no longer spin the ball adequately for great accuracy, it was a common practice to have a barrel reamed, polished and re-rifled to a larger caliber. A rifle which started out as a .43 caliber in, say, 1760 ... could still be providing protection from hostile enemies and putting meat on the table as a .46 or .47 caliber by 1820 or 1830. Some speculate, that with the move west during the 1840's and 1850's, quite a few rifle bores were purposely enlarged to a bigger caliber to better take the larger game those early pioneers would encounter.
Why A .40 Or .45 Caliber These Days?
When Turner Kirkland, of Dixie Gun Woks, set out to have an armsmaker in Belgium produce the first modern reproduction muzzleloading rifles back in the early 1950's, he studied the bores of the more than 100 original "Kentucky" styled rifles in his collection ... and determined that the average bore size of those rifles was right at .40 caliber. So...that's the caliber he went with ... and the rifle was named the Dixie "Squirrel Rifle". So why did those rifle makers 200 years ago produce long-barreled rifles is such a small caliber?
Keep in mind, back in the mid to late 1700's ... Kentucky and parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio were "The Wilderness". Anyone settling that country was far from supplies of black powder and lead - which were closely guarded. It was purely a case of economics ... a case of "supply and demand". Powder and lead were necessities ... not to be squandered. That's also why those old Kentucky rifles had such long 40 to 44 inch barrels ... to squeeze out every bit of power that a 40 ... 50 ... 60 grain charge of black powder could muster.
Due to the demands from shooters, who wanted to take deer with the rifle, Dixie changed the caliber of those early reproduction rifles to .45 in the mid 1960's.
There are still a couple of .40 caliber round ball reproductions available. Unless someone is simply looking for a short range target rifle, I have to ask myself ... why? In most states, rifles with a bore that size cannot be used to hunt deer. Loaded with a patched round ball, they just don't generate enough energy for a clean kill. A 60-grain charge of FFFg black powder is a "hefty" load for a .40 caliber patched ball muzzleloader, like the Dixie Gun Works/Pedersoli "Cub" Kentucky rifle that's currently available. Out of the rifle's 28-inch barrel, that charge will get a 93-grain patched .395" diameter ball out of the muzzle at a fairly impressive 1,912 f.p.s. But, due to the light weight of that soft lead ball, it generates JUST 754 foot-pounds of energy ... AT THE MUZZLE. Keep in mind that 800 f.p.e. is considered MINIMUM for taking deer sized game - and that's at the distance of the target, not at the muzzle.
Original 1770's Small Bore Kentuckiy Rifle
In reality, the .45 caliber patched round ball rifles don't fare much better on game the size of deer. One of my old friends built a very nice copy of a rifle similar to that shown directly above, using a 42-inch Green Mountain .45 caliber barrel. The rifle is a tack driver with 80-grains of FFFg GOEX black powder and a tightly patched 133-grain .445" swaged lead ball. At the muzzle of the long and light 13/16" diameter barrel, the load is good for 2,144 f.p.s. - with 1,357 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
When working with traditional rifle ballistics, most round ball shooters never consider factoring in the "ballistic coefficient" of a round ball, but it does still come into play. A .445" diameter sphere of lead has a b.c. of just .063. Even at the high muzzle velocity of my friend's load, velocity drops to only about 1,550 f.p.s. at 50 yards - where that ball hits with a not-so-whopping 709 f.p.e. At 60 yards, velocity is down to around 1,400 f.p.s., with only about 580 f.p.e. remaining. In all reality, my friend's custom .45 rifle and load is a 40-yard deer rifle, where the ball is still flying at about 1,675 f.p.s. - and will hit a deer with around 825 f.p.e.
The .50's and .54's...
The movie "Jeremiah Johnson" did a heck of a job promoting the .50 caliber Hawken rifle as a tremendous game taking powerhouse. In reality, with a patched .490" or .495" round ball, and 90- or 100-grain FFg black powder charge to get a 178- to 181-grain ball out of the muzzle with enough velocity to be effective on game ... patched round ball rifles of .50 caliber add about 15 or so yards of effective range over a .45 rifle.
When I built the above rifle back in 1983, I originally built it for shooting with the interchangeable barrels that Green Mountian Rifle Barrel Co. offered for the T/C Hawken ... and at that time one of my favorite barrels was a 32-inch 1-in-66 twist patched round ball barrel - which I used mostly for shooting in a few local matches. I also used that barrel for some of my hunting - stoking it with 100 grains of FFg GOEX powder behind a patched 181-grain .495" diameter swaged lead ball. At the muzzle, the load was good for 1,958 f.p.s. - and 1,542 f.p.e. That ball has a .070 b.c. - and at 50 yards this load has it still flying at 1,452 f.p.s., with 845 f.p.e. The load will retain right at 800 f.p.e. at 55 yards - which I always respected as my "maximum effective range" with the rifle and load.
Like those who moved "West" in the 1800's, I too felt the need to move up to a larger bore patched round ball rifle once I got settled in Western Montana nearly ten years ago. The rifle shown above is now my "serious" patched round ball big game muzzleloader - the .54 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken from Davide Pedersoli & Co. Like the original this rifle nicely copies, this hefty built percussion half-stock has been made to consume heavy powder charges.
My favored load tends to be 120-grains of GOEX FFg behind a patched Hornady .535" diameter 230-grain swaged lead ball. At the muzzle of the 34 3/4-inch long heavy 1-inch diameter octagon barrel, the load is good for 1,889 f.p.s., with 1,861 f.p.e. At 50 yards, the load maintains 1,446 f.p.s. - and 1,088 f.p.e. Out at 75 yards, that big swagged lead ball is still moving along at 1,266 f.p.s. - and will hit a whitetail or similar sized game with 834 foot-pounds of knockdown power.
If you are serious about hunting with a patched round ball muzzleloader ... and truly want to be able to take game out past 50 yards ... never forget, if you want more range and more knockdown power ... it's going to take more powder and more lead. It's as simple as that! - Toby Bridges
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NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING host Toby Bridges shares a few of his more memorable hunts with traditional muzzleloaders - using guns that are no longer available. The article also takes a look at some great reproduction rifles which have gone by the wayside...and kind of mourns their loss. Here's a link to that article ...
Take in what this article shares, then please come back to this post and use the comment section to share your most memorable muzzleloader hunt with a traditionally styled rifle or shotgun - and why the muzzleloader used was your favorite or one of your favorites.
Click On Photos To Enlarge
Pedersoli .50 Missouri River Hawken - With 1-in-24 Twist Bullet Barrel
Pedersoli .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken - With 1-in-65 Twist Round Ball Barrel
In my honest opinion...the two finest modern copies of the so-called "Hawken Style" rifles ever offered for today's traditional muzzleloading rifleman are the two rifles shown directly above - the Missouri River Hawken and the Rocky Mountain Hawken. Both are produced by Davide Pedersoli & Co., of Brescia, Italy. These are the two traditionally styled rifles I tend to shoot the most these days. BOTH are capable of exceptional accuracy...and...EACH fills a specific niche for me.
The company offers the 30-inch barreled Missouri River Hawken in choice of .45 or .50 caliber. The .45 model features a moderately slow 1-in-47 rate of rifling twist, with .009" deep grooves. It has been designed for shooting a patched round ball. The .50 caliber Missouri River Hawken is an entirely different beast. The rifle in this caliber features a much faster 1-in-24 rate of rifling twist, with shallow .004" deep grooves. The .50 caliber version of this model is definitely a true bore-size conical bullet rifle. On the other hand, the 34 3/4-inch barreled Rocky Mountain Hawken comes in .54 caliber only - with a slow 1-in-65 rate of rifling twist with deep .011" grooves. This is definitely a patched round ball rifle.
The workmanship that goes into crafting these two different Hawken models in no way takes a back seat to any other Hawken ever built - in the past or today! In fact, when it comes to fit and finish...and to the quality of component parts used ... the Pedersoli Hawken rifles shown here will challenge the finest custom-built Hawken rifles with price tags easily two to three times the cost of these two exquisite "production" rifles.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to handle and examine a number of the original rifles built by Sam & Jake Hawken. I grew up just 30 miles from where the St. Louis Hawken rifles were built - and I actually once owned and used an original lighter .44 Hawken "Local Rifle" to take a whitetail doe. Perhaps it was that hunt, 45 years ago, which resulted in my high esteem for rifles of Hawken design.
I've had the .50 bullet shooting Missouri River Hawken shown here for about 9 years, and have likely put close to a thousand rounds through it ... and the rifle has shot very well with a number of bore-sized conical bullets ... and it also shoots very well with saboted bullets. This would be the ideal rifle for the muzzleloading hunter looking for old style looks ... but which is capable of modern performance. Here are links to a couple of articles on loading and shooting this rifle -
Shooting A Traditional Lead Conical Bullet...
Shooting A Modern Saboted Bullet...
If you are looking for a true round ball rifle that can be stoked up for the hardest hitting load possible with a patched round ball ... the .54 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken is definitely the rifle for you. With the longer barrel, this rifle weighs in at just an ounce or two shy of 10 pounds.
This hefty built half-stock can be stoked with 120-grains of GOEX FFg black powder, behind either a patched .530" or .535" ball, and recoil is still very tolerable. I've shot both diameter balls out of this rifle - using lubed .020" thick cotton patching with the .530" ball and .018" thick patching with the .535" ball. And, quite honestly, there's not a world of difference in the way they loaded ... or shot. Here's a link to an article on building a load for the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken...and how the rifle and load performed on that giant whitetail doe shown in the above right photo -
Earlier this fall, I had taken both the .50 Missouri River Hawken and the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken with me to the range - to tweak how they were sighted for the fast approaching big game seasons. That was the first time I had shot both rifles during the same range session...and likewise the first time I had broken them down for cleaning at the same time. Both models are built with heavy 1-inch diameter barrels. With both stock assemblies...and both barrels...laying there on my cleaning table, I couldn't resist the urge to check if the barrels could be swapped back and forth.
Well, Davide Pedersoli's manufacturing for these rifles is so precise...the barrels fit either stock assembly like a glove. The photo directly above shows the .50 caliber Missouri River Hawken barrel in the stock assembly of the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken. Since the company offers either version in choice of walnut or curly maple, I kind of figured the stocks/barrels would be interchangeable.
So...if (or more like when) you see the longer open sighted .54 barrel with the walnut stock...or the shorter, and Hi-Lux Malcolm scoped, .50 caliber barrel on the maple stock, know that we did not get two new rifles - we're just utilizing the interchageability of the stocks and barrels. Which brings up a question...
We're curious ... "If you had just one choice of barrel and stock ...would it be the .50 caliber bullet shooting barrel with the walnut or curly maple stock...or the .54 patched round ball barrel with either the curly maple or walnut stock?" - Toby Bridges
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The above photo is from the muzzleloading classic book "THE MUZZLE-LOADING CAP LOCK RIFLE" by Ned Roberts. See that short barreled Billinghurst "Buggy Rifle" in the upper left-hand side of the photo? Well, the very first shots I ever took with a muzzleloader were with an original mid 1800's rifle not all that different than the one shown here. The rifle was indeed a Billinghurst rifle, of .31 caliber, and it was topped with an early "telescopic rifle sight" (a.k.a. rifle scope). Whether the scope was made by Billinghurst or Wm. Malcolm, that I don't remember.
It was late spring of 1962. A farmer who was a friend of the family had been complaining about too many groundhogs playing havoc with his hay fields, and invited me to come out and shoot a few with my newly acquired Marlin .22 lever-action Model 39. I rode my bicycle the three miles to his farm, with that nearly new .22 strapped across my back, and when I rode into the farm yard, two men I didn't know were there, and they were preparing to load and shoot one of the Billinghurst rifles, of .31 caliber. I was intrigued by the old rifle, and after they had shot it a few times, the owner asked it I wanted to take a few shots. He instructed me how to load the rifle, and I remember taking five or six shots - hitting a tin can out at about 50 yards with every shot.
The men were there to work on a tractor, and were taking a coffee break. I asked the rifle owner if I could slip down to a nearby valley hay field and try to shoot a groundhog with the rifle. He agreed to let me...but without him there to oversee my reloading of the rifle...I would have just the one shot.
As I eased down the dirt farm road leading to the lower hay field, I spotted three chucks out feeding...and immediately went into "sneak mode". Ten minutes later, I was crawling up to a wooden gate. The barrel of the old Billinghurst .31 caliber underhammer was slipped between two of the boards, with the heavy barrel rested on the lower board. I had no problem finding the closest chuck in the crosshairs. The clover munching varmint was about 45 yards away. I reached down and cocked the hammer, looking to make sure the cap was still on the nipple...then refined my hold on the groundhog. My finger tightened on the trigger...the hefty little rifle barked...and that chuck dropped out of sight. I had just taken my very first muzzleloader game.
That first muzzleloading memory took place about a month before my 13th birthday. I can vividly remember shooting that rifle...loading the rifle several times...and making my very first muzzleloader taken shot on game with that rifle. I also remember the owner of the rifle telling me that it was a .31 caliber Billinghurst rifle. Little did I realize at that moment just how important muzzleloading would become to me, and to my personal pursuit of happiness on down the road.
Now, here I am, some 54 springs later in life. What's ironic is that this spring I began shooting with the short full-stock rifle shown in the photo directly above...a little .31 caliber percussion rifle - built with a 160 to 170 year old original barrel. But... That's not an early style scope on the rifle. It's a type of sight that predates the earliest telescopic rifle sights by 50 or more years. It is a tube sight, which is probably best described as a fully encased "peep" sight.
I got the nuzzleloader from an older friend, who built it a couple of years ago. It was the lure of shooting with the tube sight which drew me to the "odd ball" .31 caliber muzzleloader. I had only shot with such a sight once before in my life...and had never owned one. However, even after I acquired the rifle, one thing kept me from getting out and shooting it for almost a year - and that was that no one offered a .300" diameter ball for loading and shooting out of a muzzleloader. Or, for that matter, a ball mould for casting a ball of that diameter.
Or...So I Thought! That was until I began playing around with the thought of building some "buckshot" loads for one of the Pedersoli flintlock 12 gauge Mortimer shotguns. And...there it was...in the Ballistic Products Inc. catalog...a listing for .300" diameter (No. 1) Buckshot)! Living a lifetime of shooting larger bore .50 caliber rifles and loads, one often forgets just how small a .300" diameter ball really is...and how little it weighs. The above left photo shows one of the No. 1 Buck spheres...which weighs 40.6 grains.
I had nearly forgotten just how enjoyable it is to shoot a truly accurate small-bore small-game rifle such as this. Shooting just 15 grains of FFFg Olde Eynsford black powder (a premium grade of powder from GOEX), this hand-built rifle and home-made tube sight surprised me with its outstanding accuracy. That half-inch cluster shown in the photo at right is a typical 25-yard target with the rig - and it shot about as well at 50 yards.
My range is located in the valley of a Western Montana hay field, which was just cut and baled this past week. While it may be several thousand miles from where I took my first muzzleloader game 54 years ago, the next valley over is loaded with pesky ground squirrels - and I have a feeling that this coming week I just may have to get in some small varmint shooting ... some very small varmint shooting ... with this .31 caliber small bore muzzleloader.
For more on loading and shooting this small-bore muzzleloader ... and a look at what makes a small caliber muzzleloader ideal for hunting small game, go to this link...
How well do you remember your first shots with a muzzleloader ... or your first muzzleloader ... and the first game you ever took with a muzzleloader? Please share those memories in the following comment section. - Toby Bridges
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Traditions .50 Caliber Hawken Woodsman
I bought my very first percussion .45 Dixie Gun Works "Kentucky" rifle a couple of months before my 15th birthday, back in 1965. The rifle had originally been a .40 caliber, but the owner had replaced the Belgium-made barrel with a .45 caliber Douglas octagon barrel, and that rifle proved to be a tack driver. Shooting 70-grains of FFFg black powder (DuPont) behind a pillow-ticking patched 128-grain cast soft lead ball, I could consistently hit a tin can at 50 to 70 yards. I took my first muzzleloader buck that fall with the rifle in Missouri...and a week later took my second muzzleloader buck with the rifle in Illinois.
The "like new" rifle, .440" ball mould, lead melting pot, a couple of pounds of DuPont black powder, a yard or so of pillow ticking, a powder flask, a half-dozen other loading accessories, and 500 imported Italian No. 11 percussion caps had cost me $125. While that may sound ridiculously low, you have to keep in mind that back then you could buy a brand new, in the box, Remington Model 700 bolt-action center-fire rifle for $97.50.
Getting into traditional muzzleloading today can be an extremely expensive venture. One of the upper end, very authentically styled "Hawken" rifles offered by the Davide Pedersoli company can easily set you back $1,000 to $1,500. And to amass all of the loading components and accessories for loading and cleaning such a rifle can easily add another $200. But, this isn't to say that if you shop around, you can't enjoy traditional muzzleloading for a more reasonable $400 to $500 start up cost - especially if you can find a good used rifle in excellent shooting condition.
The slick little half-stock rifle shown at the top of this post is the .50 caliber Traditions "Hawken Woodsman" - which retails for a much more reasonable $479 for the percussion model (shown), $519 for the flintlock model. These are Traditions' suggested retail prices. The muzzleloading fancier willing to shop around, can find the percussion model for just under $400, and the flint model for a few dollars over $400.
Back when I bought my first .45 muzzleloader, 51 years ago last month (April 2016), a 1-pound can of black powder cost all of $4 to $5 a pound (depending on who made it)...and a hundred of those .440" diameter balls for the rifle could be bought for about $4 as well ... and a tin of 100 No. 11 caps cost about $1.50. Back then, I didn't know of anyone who used "pre-cut" patching, all simply used good ol' pillow ticking...which could be bought for less than $1 a yard (that would easily patch 200+ of those round balls).
Even if a shooter bought cast balls (swaged balls were not available then), a .45 caliber rifle shooting 70-grains of black powder, could be loaded and shot for about 10-cents per shot. A .50 caliber, shooting a heavier .490-.495" ball and a heavier 80-grain charge of black powder, could be shot for 12- to 14-cents per shot. By casting my own lead balls, I could actually shoot my first muzzleloader for about 6- or 7-cents a shot!
TODAY...LEAD ROUND BALLS FOR .45 OR .50 CALIBER PATCHED BALL RIFLES EACH SELL FOR ABOUT WHAT THE ENTIRE LOAD COST BACK THEN!
The Dixie Gun Works' 2016 catalog lists cast pure-lead .440" round balls for $16.75 per hundred, for 16 3/4-cents per shot, and swaged .440" Hornady round balls for $14.25 per hundred, or 14 1/4-cents per shot. A .490"/.495" swaged ball works out to right at 18-cents per shot...and .530"/.535" swaged balls will set you back 21-/22-cents per shot. Even the tiny .310" swaged ball for a .32 caliber rifle will cost you 12 3/4-cents per shot. And if you look to load with pre-cut, pre-lubed patches, that will add right at 9-cents to the "per-shot" cost of loading and shooting a patched round ball.
GOEX black powder typically retails for around $20 per pound. If you load and shoot 70 grains, for 100-shots per pound, that works out to 20-cents a shot. If you load and shoot heavier charges, the cost per shot will cost you even more. An 80-grain charge (87.5 shots per pound) will cost almost 23-cents per shot. A 90-grain charge (77.7 shots per pound) works out to almost 26-cents per shot. And a 100-grain charge (70 shots per pound) will run a shooter 28.5 cents per shot.
The cost of No. 11 percussion caps have really escalated over the past ten years. I use almost exclusiely the CCI No. 11 Magnum caps, which retail for $6.95 per 100...adding another 7-cents per shot to the cost of shooting a traditional percussion rifle. So, as you can see, for a typical load for a .50 caliber patched round ball...loading 80-grains of black powder...a swaged .490" lead ball...using a lubed pre-cut patch...and a CCI No. 11 Magnum cap means that each and every shot will cost you 57-cents.
If you already have a lead melting pot and a round ball mould for your rifle, along with a cheap supply of good soft scrap lead...and rely on loading with pillow ticking patching, you can actually cut the cost per shot of loading a traditional patched round ball rifle by as much as 20-cents per shot (depending on rifle caliber). However, if you have to buy a lead melting furnace ($60 to $100) and a round ball mould ($30 to $100+) - you'll have to to do a lot of shooting to save enough to cover the cost of the equipment.
Before mid-June, we'll bring you a "First Look" at the Traditions .50 caliber "Hawken Woodsman"...and how well it shoots with pre-cut patches and Hornady .490" and .495" swaged round ball loads, shooting GOEX black powder. Then, before the end of June we'll also publish a piece on how to save $$$ by loading patched swaged .490" diameter buckshot using pillow ticking patching trimmed at the muzzle...and how those loads compare performance wise with the pre-cut patched commercially swaged balls. Watch for that article/report - which will be titled "The Cost Of Convenience". - Toby Bridges
Featured Muzzleloader Above - Pedersoli Flintlock 12-Gauge Mortimer Single Barrel Shotgun
Traditional Muzzleloader Hunting
This blog is made possible by Davide Pedersoli & Co., Dixie Gun Works, Traditions Firearms, Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co., October Country, and Hodgdon/GOEX powders. The topics presented here will be devoted entirely to shooting and hunting with muzzleloading guns of pre- 1860's design.