Almost every Sunday at 1000 am, there is scheduled shooting at the black powder range on Hartman Rd. Check the website calendar of events to see if the range is open. Our annual rendezvous is generally around July 1 and involves 2-3 days of camping and shooting with a pot luck dinner on the Saturday night.
The sport of shooting the old time firearms began during the 1930’s when people who enjoyed shooting at a mark, found it too costly to shoot modern firearms and their cartridges. They pulled out granddads old rifle, dusted it off, and joined with others doing the same thing, in friendly competition and sport. The events quickly formalized, and became social gatherings where a person with a good rifle and steady aim could take home a portion of the beef or hog that was being divided for prizes. During the 1950’s my generation was entertained by Hollywood’s versions of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, and businesses began to flourish selling the first reproduction muzzle loading firearms, and parts old and new to repair and restore the originals. Clubs in towns all over North America, and organizations nationally were formed to promote the sport. Today there are groups which enjoy this nostalgic form of shooting at every level from the guy in the jeans and ball cap shooting the in-line rifle with sabots, to the period re-enactor carrying and wearing nothing that would not have been found in 1750. There is lots of room for everyone, and a special welcome to families to participate at all levels.
Over the years a growing interest has risen in shooting black powder guns that are authentic in design and function. Enter the custom gunsmith. Many books have been published in the last fifty years documenting the firearms of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Now a shooter can have a piece of history in their collection which is both authentic and superbly accurate. There is no need to settle for what America, Italy, or Japan envisions as a firearm from those periods, although we all started there and continue to do so. And with that research, a growing number of folk are attempting as best they can, to dress in the clothing that was worn by the people who actually used the guns. We are the first anachronists, if you like, in this century and the last anyway. And while we’re at it, why not dump the motor home, and camp in a period fashion: a tipi, wall tent, Baker’s tent, or lean-to shelter.
And here again, you will run the gamut from the most luxurious well appointed and outfitted camp, to the Spartan lean-to and bed roll. It is quite an experience just to walk through the “Primitive Camp” at a rendezvous such as the annual Heffley Creek Rendezvous. The sight of hundreds of people in period dress and their camps, the smell of wood smoke from social and cooking fires, and the enticing scent of bread or pies baking in dutch ovens…shining times!!
There are arguably more types of shooting competitions involving black powder guns than in any other kind of shooting sport. There are events for almost every kind of gun: flintlock rifle, percussion rifle, cartridge rifle, smoothbore musket, flint, percussion, and cartridge pistol or revolver, shotgun -again flint, percussion, and cartridge. You can stand on the line and shoot at conventional targets for high score at ranges from 25 to 500 yards. There is a Quigly cartridge match at 800 yards. There the target is not a wooden bucket, but a saw blade eight feet in diameter. At that range, through a tang sight, the target looks like a thumb tack. Almost every club that holds black powder events has a trail which usually proceeds through the bush and features targets such as steel gongs in an unlimited variety of shapes, sizes, and ranges; corks, Q-tips, straws, strings at various angles, charcoal briquettes, eggs, potatoes, crackers, playing cards set on edge, and just about anything the mind can conjure. In most cases the shooter carries a card and receives a punch or nick in it for each hit on the trail. On some trails, you are required to carry your tomahawk and knife, and without laying your rifle down, make a throw with each at a target. Again, you receive points for sticks. No matter how well or poorly you do as far as score is concerned, you will also receive much “encouragement” and good natured criticism along the way. There is always someone who has the highest score, but for most, that is not the measure of how much enjoyment you have had. Often, the shooters supply the prizes, in what is called a blanket shoot. Each person supplies a prize of a black powder related nature and of a value pre-established by the organizers. At the conclusion of the event, the person with the highest score may receive first choice from the blanket.
Sometimes each person’s name is written on a small piece of paper, and all the names go into a hat. The person with the highest score may have the first draw. He receives the prize which was supplied by the person whose name appears on the paper he drew. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is, and this way, everyone has more or less an equal chance at winning the item they like the best. It is in effect, a gift exchange among the shooters. The host club usually acknowledges those who have shot best, certainly with formal recognition, and often with an additional gift.
Muzzle loaders shoot black powder or a modern alternative, such as “Pyrodex” A muzzle loader must NEVER BE LOADED WITH SMOKELESS POWDER! Although black powder burns faster than smokeless powder, black powder generates much lower pressure. In a muzzle loader, the pressure generated by smokeless powder will cause the barrel to burst, and could easily seriously injure or kill the shooter and anyone else near by. As with all the shooting sports, SAFETY is the number one consideration.
With all of the different types of firearms that load from the muzzle, the loading procedure is the same. A charge of powder is poured from the horn or flask into a measure, never straight from the horn or flask into the barrel. If a spark remains smoldering at the breech from the previous shot, which happens very rarely but does occur, you do not want a half pound of powder exploding in your hand. So pour a measure of powder down the barrel. Place a patch of natural fibre such as cotton or linen that had been soaked, not moistened, with lubricant such as saliva, of various forms of grease, on the muzzle of the barrel. Now take a ball from your pouch, place it sprue up on the patch, and seat if flush with the barrel’s muzzle. Now-a-days, we often use a tool we call a short starter to perform this task, although they did not exist in the time period we are emulating. The short starter has a knob and a short rod which we use to seat the ball on the muzzle, then push it a few inches down the bore. This enables us to more easily push the patched ball down the bore with the ramrod, until it stops against the powder charge. A firm pressure is required here but not a hammering or bashing. You do not want to deform the ball if it can be avoided, as accuracy, specially at longer ranges is greatly affected. Withdraw the ramrod and return it to the rifle, smoothbore, shotgun, musket, or pistol. When you have advanced to the shooting position and have the muzzle pointed downrange, prime the piece. With a flintlock or wheellock you will pour a small amount of powder into the pan of the lock and close the pan cover or frizzen. With a percussion firearm you will place a percussion cap on the nipple at the breech. All that remains is to take careful aim at the mark and squeeze the trigger. The philosophy of “aim small, miss small” is simple but valid, and not always as easily done as said. One could write a whole article, indeed a book, on that subject. When the hammer falls, it will ignite the priming which will send a jet of flame into the charge. The charge will “explode”: (it doesn’t really explode) and send the ball on its way to the target, which will react in a most pleasing way by ringing, bursting into dust, or leaving a round hole in the centre of the 10X ring.
If you are looking for a shooting sport which enjoys an exemplary safety record, has room for participants at every level of experience and imagination, and which will add a level of enjoyment which is not to be found any other way, call the Black Powder director of your local shooting club. You will soon be involved -“lock, stock, and barrel”!