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
Shooting A 150 To 160 Year Old Original English Fowler
Couldn't help but using that pun in the headline or title for this post. But...that's kind of how I felt as I loaded and shot a circa 1860's original Joseph Bourne, Birmingham, England, percussion single barrel shotgun, or "fowler" as they were commonly referred to back in those days, for very likely the first time in more than a hundred or more years. But...I'm getting ahead of myself just a little.
The opportunity to even handle and examine the well built old smoothbore came about when I invited Glenn May and Andrew Mason, both talented gunsmiths and gun makers with Cooper Firearms of Montana (of Stevensville, MT) to do some shooting with me. Both love old guns...or modern copies of old guns...and jumped at the opportunity to take me up on that invitation.
Glenn has been a loyal follower of the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING web site for several years, and had been wanting to do some shooting with the Pedersoli modern copy of a pre-1800's Mortimer flintlock 12-gauge fowler I planned to use for my Montana turkey hunting this spring. In fact, he had become so intrigued at hunting turkeys with a muzzleloading shotgun that he had acquired one of his own .... the mentioned original Bourne single barrel. He had spent some time cleaning up the old gun...and checking to make sure the Damascus twist steel barrel was solid enough to be shot...and wanted me to help him work up a load for the gun.
I've always had a special place in my heart for fine original muzzleloading shotguns, and looked forward to seeing what kind of performance we could get out of the old Bourne single ... so told Glenn to bring it along.
The shotgun seemed to be something of a "loose 10 gauge"...or a "tight 9 gauge". I checked the bore by slipping one of the Ballistic Product Inc. one-piece plastic 10-gauge TPS wads onto my little finger...then easing it about half way into the bore. I could feel the wad making contact with the walls of the bore. But for my first shot with the old percussion single, I decided to try something else first.
The hefty built shotgun weighed in at around 9 1/2 to 10 pounds, with a fairly hefty barrel, especially at the breech end. To play it safe, I went with a "light" load. In fact, I went with basically the same 90-grain charge of Olde Eynsford FFg black powder I shoot out of the pound or so lighter Pederoli-Mortimer 12 gauge flintlock. Directly over the powder charge, I "dropped" in one of the BPI .125" thick heavy 10-gauge Nitro Card Wads. (The card wad did make light contact with the walls of the bore, and it took very little, if any, effort to push the card down on top of the powder charge.) Then, I pulled apart one of the 1/2-inch thick BPI 10-gauge fiber cushion wads, separating it into 5 thinner fiber wafers...and tamped that down on top of the card wad. A .030" thick card over-shot wad was ramrodded over the top of the cushion wad...and two ounces of No. 5 lead shot poured in.
I knew a 10-gauge .030" thick over-shot card wad would fit a bit too loosely to reliably keep the shot from rolling forward and out the muzzle...so instead I simply rolled up a small bit of toilet tissue...shoved it down the bore...and lightly tamped it into a very effective "over-shot" wad. Shooting off of sandbags from the bench, at about 20 yards, I was extremely pleased when the nearly 160-year old shotgun produced the above left pattern ... with the first shot that had likely been fired out of it in a hundred or so years. So were Glenn and Andrew.
The two wanted to try their hand at loading the muzzleloading big bore - so I walked them through the process I had used. Shooting from the sandbags of my old shooting bench, they had no problem duplicating the pattern I had gotten with the first shot out of the Bourne single. Both took turns loading and shooting the shotgun another seven or eight times.
Repeatedly, the two punched patterns on paper that would have absolutely no problem of taking an adult wild turkey tom at 25 yards... maybe a bit farther. Glenn had seen how one of the BPI one-piece plastic 12 gauge TPS wads, with four cup length slits (to form four sleeves), had tightened the patterns of the Pedersoli flintlock 12-gauge I'll be hunting turkeys with this spring...and jumped at the chance to load the old Bourne single with the same powder and shot charges - but using just the sleeved 10-gauge TPS wad ... with a bit of toilet paper tamped over the top to form an over-shot wad.
Well...as you can see from the two photos directly above ... Glenn now has himself one turkey getting muzzleloading shotgun...and a load that should put any wild turkey gobbler on the ground...out to 30 yards! And...that's pretty amazing from a shotgun with a cylinder bore barrel.
Before fall, I may borrow this shotgun for a week or so and get in a little more shooting with the gun ... and some photography as well. Since it now belongs to a good friend, rest assured...you will very likely see more of it on this website. For a look at my loading and shooting of the Pedersoli reproduction of a circa 1790 Mortimer flintlock shotgun...just go to the following link. - Toby Bridges
For More On The Pedersoli Flintlock 12 Gauge Mortimer...Click On Above Photo
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Mastering A Flintlock Shotgun
One of the muzzleloaders I truly hope to have the opportunity to work with and to hunt with through 2016 would be the superb Davide Pedersoli & Co. reproduction of the English flintlock Mortimer 12-gauge shotgun shown above. In my opinion, this 36-inch barreled smoothbore is one of the absolute finest modern made copies of a classic late 1700's flintlock ever offered.
I have never shot one of the Mortimer cylinder-bore "scatterguns"... but I have handled them several times at the annual SHOT Show - and the feel of this gun is great. The shotgun has wonderful balance, and the 9-pound smoothbore comes up nicely. When my cheek hits the relatively straight comb of the shotgun butt, the bead tends to be exactly where it needs to be. Getting off a fast shot with this flintlock should be absolutely no problem - and the key to taking game with an open-bore flintlock smoothbore is to shoot fast...and close!
I've only hunted with a couple of flintlock smoothbores, one being the 12-gauge Indian Trade Gun in the photo at left. This particular new-made flinter just happened to be the very first of the Trade Guns produced by my old friend Curly Gostomski, of North Star Enterprises. He had lost the gun in a trade years earlier, and when I was able to relocate it...and trade for it...I gave it back to Curly, at the Friendship, Indiana NMLRA matches, as a present on his birthday.
Loading the big smoothbore pretty much the same as I loaded an original and a reproduction Pedersoli built 12-gauge percussion muzzleloading shotguns I also shot at that time, I managed to take a couple of wild turkey gobblers with the big flintlock - before getting it back to the man who had built it. Those gobblers were taken at well inside of 20 yards.
I was the "caretaker" of North Star Indian Trade Gun No. 1 for a little more than two years prior to giving it back to Curly. Before letting the big flintlock go, I played around with shooting a patched round ball out of the smoothbore...and found that I could "kind of" keep hits at 50 yards within 5 inches of point of aim - anyway "good enuff" to encourage me to try taking a deer with it. Several months after acquiring the Trade Gun, I managed to take the spike buck shown at right - at 30 yards.
While I did miss the gun after presenting it to Curly...I felt good about where it went.
If I do manage to get my hands on one of the very stylish Pedersoli reproductions of a Mortimer flintlock shotgun before the end of March, an immediate goal will be to try taking a spring gobbler with the smoothbore. Then I would begin my quest to develop a patched round ball load for the flinter, and hunt with the gun for several days this next fall to try filling one of my annual "antlerless" whitetail deer tags.
Here in Montana there are a lot more opportunities to hunt waterfowl and small/upland game, like turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, grouse, partridge and pheasants with a shotgun than there are opportunities to go after large game with a muzzleloading rifle. I actually miss hunting "meat for the table" with a flintlock smoothbore.
What are your thoughts? Would you enjoy reading about working up different loads for this flintlock scattergun...hunting small game with the smoothbore Mortimer...busting a big ol' gobbler at under 20 yards...taking a whitetail with one of these flintlocks...or maybe taking a few geese with the style of shotgun that would have been used by naturalist and hunter John James Audubon during the early 1800's? Heck, I haven't even shot a flintlock in more than 20 years. Just the thought of once again mastering the ol' flint-n-steel ignition system is challenge enough for me to go for it! - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
This TRADITIONAL MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Post Is Brought To By...
There have been a number of major movie productions in the past which have done much to promote the popularity of certain kinds of guns. Surely most all of you reading this remember how sales of the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver skyrocketed after the release of Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, back in 1971. That one film likely sold a hundred thousand of the revolvers.
Then, for us black powder burners, there was the movie Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford. That 1972 film taught millions of Americans that the "Hawken" was the rifle of choice among the 1840's "mountain men". And that certainly did not hurt the sales of Thompson/Center Arms new "Hawken" muzzleloader, which was brought onto the market in 1971.
Pedersoli Flintlock Indian Trade Musket
So...Have you seen the new movie "The Revenant", starring Leonardo DiCaprio playing circa 1820's fur trapper and hunter Hugh Glass? While this film does not spotlight one particular make or model of early 1800's muzzleloader, it does, in true Hollywood fashion, glamorize the rough and tumble lifestyle of that hardy breed who became known as "mountain men" - and the flintlock guns their lives depended upon.
If you have seen this movie, which has already won the Golden Globe "Best Picture" Award ... and which has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards ... what did you like or dislike about the film? What are your thoughts on the flintlock guns depicted ... and do you believe this movie could spur an all new interest in muzzleloading, especially in shooting and hunting with a flintlock?
Please use the comment section of this post to share your thoughts.
For "Our Take" On "The Revenant" Go To -
How many of you got started into muzzleloader shooting and hunting with the rifle shown here - the Thompson/Center Hawken rifle?
Originally built in .45 and .50 caliber, the rifle was introduced in 1970...and remained in production until just a few years ago. I acquired my "first" T/C Hawken back in 1971 - Serial No. 6..2...Something. The rifle had a .45 barrel on it initially, but within a couple of months I had acquired a .50 caliber barrel, also with a low serial number. Since I had gotten the rifle to hunt deer with, I gravitated to the .50 caliber barrel more than the .45. The big 370-grain .50 cailber T/C "Maxi-Ball" delivered a lot more wallop than the 240-grain .45 bullet of the same styling.
Keep in mind, back then I was fresh out of the Marine Corps - and during my stint in the service, I had repeatedly qualified as an "Expert" marksman. Leaving the Corps, I went directly to work as Associate Editor for GUN WORLD magazine, where each month I spent a great deal of time on the range test firing a wide range of firearms. Due to my interest and experience with muzzleloaders as a kid, I became, unofficially, the "Black Powder Editor" for the magazine...and handled all of the publication's coverage of muzzleloading and black powder shooting. (It was during this period when I put together my first book - Black Powder Gun Digest.)
I finally accepted that was as good as accuracy was going to get, and hunted with the .50 T/C Hawken for two seasons, taking several whitetails, a good mule deer buck, an Aoudad and a couple of wild Texas hogs. The big 370-grain "Maxi-Ball", propelled by a 90-grain charge of FFg black powder, plowed through everything except the near 400-pound Aoudad (Barbary) ram. The old (and damaged) 1973 photo above right shows that recovered slug...which still weighed 364 grains when pulled from under the hide of the sheep's opposite shoulder.
The first TRUE bullet rifle I ever had the pleasure and opportunity to shoot had been built by St. Louis gunmaker H.E. Dimick - a competitor of the Hawken brothers. The rifle was very similar to the H.E. Dimick rifle shown here. It belonged to a good friend, who shot it regularly through the 1970s. That .50 caliber rifle had a rifling twist of 1-in-22 or 1-in-24, and would keep a big 1.140" long 500-grain bullet in tight 2-inch groups at 100 yards. Propelled by an 80-grain charge of GOEX FFFg, this rifle delivered the big bullet with enough authority, and accuracy, for taking deer out to 200+ yards. In fact, my friend demonstrated that he could punch a tighter group with the old 1850's rifle and load at that distance than I could with my nearly new T/C .50 caliber Hawken and 370-grain "Maxi-Ball" at 100 yards.
The fact is, the 1-in-48 twist chosen for this muzzleloader, and other T/C muzzleloaders that followed, was not proper for either projectile - yet somewhere around 1,000,000 traditional T/C muzzleloaders were built and sold in this country over a 40-year period. What if Warren Center had gotten the rate of twist right...maybe two different rates of twist - a faster rate of twist for shooting conical bullets, a slower rate of twist for shooting the patched round ball? What if serious muzzleloading hunters looking for an effective game-taking range of greater than 50 to 75 yards had been able to group more aerodynamic 350- to 450-grain conical bullets inside of 2 inches at 100 yards?
If Thompson/Center had actually spent some time to research the fast-twist bullet shooting muzzeloading rifles of the 1840's and 1850's...and had built their Hawken to produce that kind of longer range accuracy...do you think the modern in-line rifles and saboted bullets would have taken over muzzleloading so quickly?
If you cut your muzzleloading teeth with a T/C Hawken, and especially if you continue to shoot and hunt with one of the rifles today, please share a few of your experiences - and what you settled on as the best shooting and best game-taking load. There are a few hundred thousand T/C traditional muzzleloader owners out there still looking for a super accurate big game hunting load. - Toby Bridges
For More On This Topic, Go To -
Here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING we regularly hear from somewhat traditional muzzleloading hunters who want to know about shooting modern plastic saboted bullets out of a traditionally styled rifle. While they may have gravitated toward the historical looks and feel of a side-hammer rifle, they simply want to know how they can make that rifle perform more like a modern in-line rifle.
It seems the majority of those who have had such thoughts own one of the old Thompson/Center Hawken rifles, which the company proclaimed could be shot with accuracy with either a patched round ball...or a squat pure-lead conical bullet that T/C had dubbed the Maxi-Ball. According to the company, this dual projectile versatility was due to the 1 turn in 48 inches rate of twist rifling.
Through the 1970's and 1980's, I've owned...shot...and hunted with a half-dozen different T/C Hawken rifles - one a .45 caliber, the others all .50 caliber. To be honest, not one of those rifles shot "great" with either projectile. Several of the .50 caliber rifles did produce acceptable accuracy with one of the 370-grain Maxi-Ball conicals...but would not shoot a patched round ball with any degree of accuracy. Just the opposite was true of several other of the .50 caliber T/C Hawken rifles.
The fact is, a 1-in-48 inches rifling twist is way too slow to get optimum accuracy with a bullet that is longer than it is in diameter...and that rate of twist is too fast for optimum accuracy with a patched round ball. And that pretty much covers that. Likewise, that rate of twist is not conducive to accuracy with modern saboted bullets.
Now, the percussion Missouri River Hawken shown here, produced by Davide Pedersoli & Co., is a different story. This is a true bullet shooting .50 caliber traditionally styled rifle (shown here with an 1850's style telescopic rifle sight - from Hi-Lux Optics). This rifle is built with a 1 turn in 24 inches rate of rifling twist. This is not a patched round ball rifle. That's not to say that you couldn't get decent accuracy with it at 25 yards, shooting light 30 or 40 grain charges of black powder. But, that rate of rifling twist is way too fast for shooting 80 to 90 grain hunting charges with a patched ball. Best accuracy with a patched ball .50 caliber rifle requires a rifling twist of 1-in-60 to 72 inches.
When it comes to "traditional projectiles", what this rifle shoots best is a heavy elongated conical pure lead bullet. My favorite is a cast 480-grain bullet that comes from the mold fitting the bore just loose enough that I can paper patch the big slug - and with a 80- or 90-grain charge of GOEX FFg black powder, I have shot some 100 and 200 yard groups that many in-line rifle and saboted bullet shooters would be proud to claim. (Keep in mind, most of the modern in-line muzzleloaders come with a 1-in-28 twist...and some have been built with a 1-in-24 twist...the same twist as found in this rifle.)
For more on loading and shooting the fast-twist bullet shooting Missouri River Hawken with a traditional 1840-1850's bullet design, go to the following link -
When I first started shooting this rifle back in late summer 2007, I really did not have a great supply of proper bore-sized conical bullets - but did play around with it enough that I was confident I would get it to shoot with exceptional accuracy. That fall, I decided to experiment and see how well the 1-in-24 twist bore would shoot with the saboted bullet shown above - the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold from Harvester Muzzleloading.
My first shooting sessions, shooting 90-grains of GOEX FFFg black powder encouraged me to mount the long Hi-Lux Optics 1850's style 6x William Malcolm scope on the rifle. Before installing the period correct "telescopic rifle sight", I had hunted with the open sights of the Missouri River Hawken, taking a big doe at about 60-yards with a well placed 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. I became a man on a mission...to get the 30-inch heavy barreled fast-twist Hawken to shoot a saboted bullet with the accuracy of a modern in-line rifle at 100 yards...and I almost accomplished that. Several of the groups shot, with the traditional Hi-Lux scope on the rifle, loading black powder charges, were 2 to 2 1/2-inches center-to-center at that distance - and some of the best accuracy I had ever gotten with a traditional muzzleloader.
That winter (in February 2008), I made the move to Montana - and really did not get in any range time until mid spring. One of the first rifles I started shooting was the long Malcolm scoped .50 caliber Missouri River Hawken - shooting charges of FFFg and FFg Triple Seven. To achieve consistent spontaneous ignition, I had to install a musket nipple and switch to the larger and hotter CCI winged musket caps. With FFFg Triple Seven, 90 grains was the hottest charge I shot, while I went up to 110-grains of FFg Triple Seven.
So, if you've been looking for a very, very traditional looking muzzleloading big game hunting rig that's capable of producing modern in-line rifle accuracy...shooting modern loading components...be sure to check from time to time the October published article/report listings at the 2015-ARTICLES-REPORTS link at the top of this page. - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
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If there is one thing that the Civil War WAS NOT, it was "Civil"!
In all reality, it was the bloodiest conflict ever fought on American soil - and between Americans. Several million men from the North and South lined up on battlefields, mostly in the South, and fired great hunks of lead at one another, until one side became so decimated that the other could over run the opposing force. And while the fighting during the early 1860's saw the introduction of breech-loading military cartridge arms, the vast majority of the relatively close quarters combat was done with large-bore percussion muzzle-loaded guns.
The mainstay arm of troops on both sides was a long-barreled rifled musket. Northern infantry was most commonly armed with either the U.S. Model 1861 or Model 1863 Springfield musket. These were .58 caliber rifled long guns, with a 40" barrel. And the total production at the Springfield Armory and by several dozen private contractors was around 1.5 million. Southern troops were very often armed with Confederate copies of these guns, and with U.S. arms recovered from the battlefield. However, the primary rifle-musket of the Confederate foot soldier was the .577 caliber Enfield musket produced in England, and brought to the South by daring blockade runners. The standard Enfield Model 1853 Rifle was built with a 39" barrel. Likewise, a number of shorter variations and carbines were also used by troops on both sides.
U.S. Model 1863 Springfield
Model 1853 Enfield Rifle
The "standard" powder charge for either of these widely used large-bore rifle-muskets, and shorter variations, was around 60 grains of FFg black powder. Even when fired from such a lengthy bore, these light powder charges could only get the huge hollow-based Minie bullets, commonly weighing 450 to 500 grains, out of the muzzle at around 800 to 900 f.p.s. Such loads generate only around 750 to 850 foot-pounds of energy - at the muzzle. Down range at 100 yards, or about where the line of enemy soldiers would be firing back, these big soft lead hollow-based conical bullets would retain only about 500 to 600 foot-pounds of knockdown power.
Remington Model 1863 Rifle Musket
Reproduction Remington Model 1863 Rifle Musket
Considering such mediocre immediate knockdown power, should today's muzzleloading hunter even consider packing a modern reproduction of these Civil War .58 caliber rifle muskets into the deer woods?
Over the years, I have used several original and reproduction Civil War rifle-muskets and carbines to take game. In fact, my very first whitetail was put down with a borrowed original .58 caliber Remington Zouave rifled musket. For more on that hunt, Click Here.
This winter, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING will revisit this topic in a feature article/report, sharing what it takes to squeeze a bit more immediate knockdown power out of these large bore muzzleloaders. This post is being made to ask some of you who do hunt with a .58 caliber rifle musket or carbine to share your loads that have been effective, and share an experience or two. - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
Davide Pedersoli & Co.
This Brescia, Italy based armsmaker easily offers the largest selection of high quality reproduction muzzleloaders available today, including a wide range of Civil War era rifle muskets - like the Pedersoli copy of the Confederate .58 caliber Richmond rifle musket shown here. If this style of front-loaded long gun catches your interest, check out the Pedersoli selection at the following link...
Davide Pedersoli & Co.
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I can remember seeing magazine advertisements for the Hopkins & Allen underhammer muzzleloading rifles as early as 1963 or 1964. I really didn't know a lot about muzzleloaders then ... but what 13 or 14 year old boy did in those days? Heck, most adult shooters and hunters didn't know much about muzzleloaders then either, especially about loading, shooting and hunting with them.
What I remember most about the H&A rifles was their extremely low price. One ad that I recall offered one of the rifles in .45 caliber...a half-pound of black powder...25 lead balls...and a tin of No. 11 caps for the grand total of $49.95.
When I did begin shopping for a muzzleloading rifle, to hunt deer with in my home state of Illinois, in the spring of 1965, I seriously considered buying one of the H&A underhammer models. However the glint of brass on one of the early Dixie Gun Works .45 caliber "Squirrel" rifles had caught my eye. The gun had originally been bought with a .40 caliber barrel, but the owner had installed a Douglas .45 barrel on the muzzleloader, and it shot extremely well. I bought that rifle for $75, and took my first two bucks with the frontloader that fall.
Over the years, I have owned at least a half-dozen of the H&A bottom slappers, most of which I bought for little or nothing, or took on trade for something I had for sale. One of my early underhammers was the little .36 caliber rifle shown above with a pair of cottontails ready for the dinner table. I couldn't even begin to tell you the load shot, but I do remember casting my own .350" diameter lead balls. My guess is that the powder charge was no more than 15-grains of FFFg black powder. I always shot the mildest charge I could when hunting small game, to avoid too much destruction of edible meat. This little rifle, made during the 1970's, probably cost all of about $80 when brand new, and was a tack driver at the under 25 yard shots taken at rabbits and squirrels.
The very first of these rifles I owned and shot was a big .58 caliber model, which shot well with a 90-grain charge of FFg black powder and a patched .570" diameter ball. I acquired that rifle within a few months of getting out of the Marine Corps in early 1972. I took several deer with the rifle, and was impressed with how well the .58 caliber bore put down whitetails.
Several "other" companies ran with this design up until about ten years ago. If you follow the gun auctions on the internet, you can still find these rifles for sale at anywhere between $200 and $350.
If you've owned and hunted with a Hopkins & Allen underhammer rifle, share a few comments about your experiences. - Toby Bridges
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Should A Traditional 1850's Rifle & Sight Such As This Be Allowed During A Traditional Muzzleloader Season?
Muzzleloading has certainly changed a great deal since I bought my first .45 caliber percussion Kentucky round ball rifle at the ripe old age of 15. When the performance and capability of that rifle and what I mostly shoot and hunt with today are compared...there is no comparison...other than both load through the muzzle. We now have muzzleloader big game seasons in EVERY state but one - and that's the state where I now live... Montana. In most of those states, the muzzleloading hunter can participate in those seasons shooting just about as modern or as traditional a muzzle-loaded rifle and load as the individual hunter wants.
There is now a fear among many that the traditional side of muzzleloading is in danger of being totally lost. Do you share that fear...and do you feel there should be separate "Traditional Only Muzzleloader" big game seasons established to try and save that side of our sport?
Living in a state that has absolutely no "Muzzleloading Season" for deer or elk, I would truly welcome a "Traditional Only" season here in Montana ... to get the ball rolling toward a season that would allow both traditional and modern muzzleloaders. And even if that were to happen, there are areas within the state, near larger cities and around parks, where game populations need to be thinned. Some of these areas are open to "Archery Only" ... and in many of those spots, they are not getting the job done.
Traditional muzzleloading could be the answer ... going as far as limiting hunters to patched round ball rifles and non telescopic sights. I know I would hunt such a season...if that is all Montana offered. What are your thoughts on this? - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
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Featured Muzzleloader Above - Pedersoli Percussion Magnum 10-Gauge Double
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.