Yup. I’ve been hunting since I was old enough to spell the word, hunted everything that’s walked or crawled in this locale. From a Daisy BB gun to a .50 BMG, I’ve run the gamut of hunting and military ordinance. Nothing in any of this has taken my fancy more than shooting primitive weapons, using good-old-fashioned black powder as fuel!
The day I bought my first Hawken-style rifle (a Lyman Trade Rifle, to be precise) I was smitten with dirtying my hands ramming patch and ball down a 32-inch octagonal barrel and squinting down buckhorn sights at… well, bucks! Later, I discovered conical bullets and saboted bullets, increasing my repertoire and versatility in the types of game I could hunt.
Shooting a “smokepole” isn’t for everyone. Least likely the young whom have to have everything NOW and can’t be bothered with taking the extra care and attention that a muzzleloader demands. Today, it’s all about high-capacity magazines and rate of fire that’s important to nimrods, not the experience of working close and personal with nature and a primitive firearm. Patience isn’t a virtue, any longer. It’s all about production. One needn’t feel any pride or happiness about what they do, just get the fucking job done! I’ve seen many hunters like that. No time to actually enjoy the hunt, just get it done as fast as possible, with the biggest caliber, so you can get home and start bragging about it.
My current rifle is a Hawken-style, Safari Arms .50 cal caplock, with a 1 in 48 inch-twist octagonal barrel. (See pic below, click to enlarge)
This little gem carries authority out where the bush is thick and the bucks are ornery. Granted, like most weapons of this type, it is not a tack-driving behemoth capable of reaching out to close to a mile to strike down a snoozing or unsuspecting deer or moose. A rifle of this design and barrel twist (the number of turns a bullet makes in the barrel rifling over a certain distance) is more consigned to the relatively meek 25-75 yard range. (Though I have taken rabbits at 100 yards and more) The 1 in 48-twist is considered a compromise between patched balls and conicals, the latter requiring a high rate of twist, where round balls like a slower one.
Ninety grains (by volume) of GOEX ffg black powder is a maximum load behind a conical, for this rifle. Tried 100 grains behind a 360 grain bullet and got a shattered cap and the hammer re-cocked itself! Shattered caps aren’t desirable when your eye is only a short distance away! Ninety grains seems the limit in terms of accuracy and safety. Using saboted 240 grain .44 cal bullets, 80 grains is recommended. Either way, whatever gets hit doesn’t go far… usually straight down in a heap!
The caplock action is visible, here, with hammer resting on silver nipple. After charging the barrel, the hammer is pulled back two notches (the first ‘click’ is a safety) and a small primer cap is placed over the nipple. The gun is ready to fire. This gun has two triggers, the rear one being a “set” trigger, which adjusts the front trigger for a lighter pull. This is referred to as a “hair trigger” in the fraternity. One merely “sets” the front trigger which is then used to fire the rifle. One can simply use the front trigger by itself, too. Either way, it’s the front trigger that discharges the weapon.
I’ve negated the entire loading process for brevity, as it is convoluted in terms of modern shooting procedure. No cartridges, just powder and ball (bullet) loaded separately, from the muzzle, (hence the term “muzzleloader”) cap the nipple and let fly. The resulting smoke and noise is gratifying all on it’s own! Cleaning, however, is mandatory, and the sooner the better. Black powder plays hell with metal, rust being a common feature in neglected bores. Believe me, you are in for a world of hurt if you let these babies go in terms of proper and prompt maintenance. Least case scenario, you’ll end up with a fucked-up barrel that’ll never shoot straight. They are heavy enough to use as a club, though, if you are able to run down your game.
This rifle, in the right hands, will take down most anything worth eating on this continent. With some practice, one can load one of these in under a minute. The rewards are in using a weapon that helped open up the frontier, you’re holding a piece of our history in your hands when you shoulder a muzzleloader. Fair warning: if you try it, you’ll be smitten!