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The Trials & Tribulations of Black Powder Shooting


GAVNO
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A couple of years ago, a coworker who shares my love of deer hunting turned me on to HIS ways of doing things.

 

He has a disability, so the state allows him to hunt with a crossbow... a nasty weapon, IMHO. However, to extend hunting season, he also got himself a modern, inline black powder rifle.

 

Black powder intrigued me... and I've kept an eye open for a deal on rifle of my own, to supplement the more conventional stuff in the gun cabinet.

 

On Craig's List a couple of weeks back, an ad appeared... SPRINGFIELD RIFLE, 54 CALIBRE, $50.00 ! A couple of photos showed the owner doesn't know doodlysquat about guns; it was a replica Hawken rifle. A quick phone call later, I had it locked down for pickup.

 

It was one of the first days suitable for riding, so out came The Gremlin... and I took off for the Amish country around Portage.

 

The bike was a mistake. I encountered one of the major hazards of Amish areas; getting stuck behind a horse drawn wagon on a 2 lane blacktop. If traffic's heavy, you can get stuck doing 10 MPH FOREVER, unable to pass.

 

When I WAS able to get around the Lady and her hoss, I discovered that Amish horses don't react well to the noise of a Ural engine! I was barely able to get out of the way in time as the nag startled and began weaving all over the road, shying away from the motorcycle in fear.

 

In any case... I reached the seller's house (a non Amish Yuppie), and looked over the gun.

 

He's redecorating, and the rifle that's been hanging over his fireplace wasn't part of his plans. It was filthy, and the percussion cap nipple was broken off. Overall tho, I felt it had some promise... well worth fifty bucks.

 

Tho a Newbie with black powder, I knew enough to put the ramrod down the barrel to make sure it was empty; an inch of the end was showing, so thus satisfied I paid the seller, put the rifle in the hack, and putted for home.

 

Getting there, I made an interesting discovery... the ramrod had, for reasons unknown, been neatly SAWED OFF!!! :biggrin: Comparing it's length to the barrel from the outside, it was clear that for all the years this thing had been a wall decoration, this puppy was LOADED!!!

 

Emergency run to the sporting goods store for a universal replacement ramrod, and a screw jag to pull the load out. The rifle's bore was filled with penetrating oil overnight to (A) loosen the ball, and (B) hopefully contaminate the load of powder under it so the damned thing didn't light off while I pulled the ball! Apparently, the rifle had misfired, and the owner got disgusted and just put it up for sale, as is, at the garage sale where my seller picked it up.

 

The ball came out a LOT easier than I expected... and I discovered that good old Hoppe's #9 gun cleaner isn't the weapon of choice for black powder. When encouraged a mite by a patch pulling worm, Hoppe's turns black powder into a thick mud that's at least water soluble... and the traditional method of cleaning (hot water down the barrel), along with patches and bore brushes, got the gunk out.

 

Off to the E Place... locate the million and one accessories needed to actually fire a muzzle loader (capper, ball starter, nipple wrench, bullet mold, lead melting pot and ladle, etc. etc. etc.). Next... MORE penetrating oil to try to loosen the broken off nipple, so it can be drilled out and hopefully removed with an Easy Out.

 

The nipple shank was a fight; the previous owners weren't real big on taking care of black powder arms, and it apparently wasn't lubricated before it was installed. A new nipple was located locally without any problems.

 

Identify the beastie and head out to the Internet to download an owner's manual... tear the rifle completely apart and clean out years of dust, dirt, spilled powder, and other assorted grunge. Some Brasso made the fittings look a good bit better, and grease and oil applied to the lock mechanism made things work smoothly again.

 

The beast seems in pretty good shape now... but the REAL fun begins. Locate percussion caps and powder.

 

Percussion caps are a problem I didn't expect. The local sporting goods store (Gander Mountain) stocks #10 caps (used in black powder handguns), but NOT the #11 caps that are used in muzzle loading rifles! Going to the Internet, they're available, but in quantities of 1000 caps. I couldn't shoot up that many in 5 years!!! I just want a couple of hundred of 'em!

 

Powder has been an education.

 

It seems that most black powder shooters now don't USE black powder; they use powder SUBSTITUTES, like Pyrodex. The reason is simple.

 

I was surprised to learn that there is only ONE black powder manufacturer in the United States now, and outfit called Goex. They started producing after DuPont quit making it, and sold their powder mill in Connecticut to the Goex folks.

 

The mill BLEW UP, and Goex moved down to the bayou country of Louisiana to rebuild.

 

Goex powder seems to be the Holy Grail among muzzle loader fans, but it's VERY difficult to get.

 

The Interstate Commerce Commission classes black powder as an explosive, and Department of Homeland Security requires purchasers to do stuff like faxing driver's licenses with orders.

 

Black powder can't be shipped by air; UPS Brown is the only method of transport.

 

Most sporting goods stores don't stock it; local laws require storage in a "magazine" out in the boonies, besides all sorts of licensing hoops to jump through.

 

Black powder is expensive, IMHO... anywhere from $15.00 to 25.00 a pound. They'll carry it... but there's an additional $25.00 "Hazardous Materials" surcharge applied. Incidentally, that same surcharge applies to percussion caps.

 

The smallest quantity Goes will sell ya is a CASE (5 pounds). WAY more than I want to have hanging around here!

 

The powder substitutes are essentially black powder that's been chemically altered; instead of charcoal, they substitute citric acid. ICC classifies the substitutes as FLAMMABLE materials, not as explosives.

 

Black powder is corrosive to guns... but the substitutes are MUCH worse!

 

Currently... I'm trying to make contact with the Civil War reenactors in the state, to hopefully buy into their bulk purchases of caps and powder, to spread out the ridiculous HAZMAT charge. They swear by REAL black powder; the reenactments rely on the white clouds of smoke from a volley of shots; the substitutes don't give you that.

 

SO... the latest obscession goes on...

 

 

Gavno

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Cleans best with HOT water and a squirt of dishwashing detergent to tell the truth.... not any solvent .....

 

 

I like to lube front loaders with bear grease. This works into the metal real nice, stays soft in winter and firm in summer.... how do it know? I use the same bear grease worked into patching. Yes I still use patching. I also put a smear over the seated bullets with revolvers so maybe only one or two rounds will go off at the same time rather than pretty much ALL of em ....I'm so old fashioned ....

 

Some of the modern powders will actually not corrode as badly as real black powder. You also usually use less of it. Depends on the application.

 

Go in with a couple buddies and get proper powders by the case and split it up if that's what you like to burn. I usually still use plain old pistol powder for all applications like rifle charges, pistol charges and priming the pan on flintlocks. Ya load a bit differently than when using course rifle powder but it will work just fine, ya don't have to carry three types of powders...

 

The easiest way to get a bullet/ ball out of yer bore is usually to just pull the nipple and shake a bit of pistol powder into the hole then replace the nipple and cap it and just fire the thing. The light charge will send the bullet on it's way. This sometimes happens if you get too much grease into the bore and the charge gets yucked up or gets wet. A smear of bear grease in the end of the barrel along with some tallow candle wax to seal the cap to the nipple will help prevent getting wet charge powder in bad weather.....

 

Be careful with wooden ram rods when loading. If ya break that rod the nasty end will impale your hand like gettin shot with an arrow... I've seen it done and it ain't pretty. You can get real nice carbon fiber ram rods that LOOK like wood but ya can't break em .... just a thunk....

 

Black powder shooting is a HOOT. Try rabbit hunting with a smoothbore .70 flintlock pistol sometime. That's my rabbit-weapon-of-choice lately, using a heavy load of shot and smooshed 12 GA wads. Ya have to follow thru with yer aim cuz ya never know exactly WHEN that freakin thing is gonna actually discharge after ya pull the trigger. Makes life interesting. No wonder them old boys was always so skinny .....

 

;-)

kermitski

of the desert

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I use Pyrodex in my black powder pistol, and I use Crisco as a lubricant, as well for smearing over the seated bullets in the cylinder.

 

Why are you so keen on using black powder rather than one of the substitutes? What with all the hassles of purchasing and storing black powder, as well as it's corrosive properties, The substitutes are superior.

 

It's kind of like insisting on using that fish oil stuff the Russians used for motor oil, because it is what the Russians used! It makes no sense when there are better products on the market.

 

Dave

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http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/recipe.html

 

Why don't you make your own black powder?

 

I did this as a schoolkid for laughs :) Blew up a wall once :) Never again!!!!

 

Dub

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So far, no luck in making contact with local Civil War reenactors, however a possible alternative source of black powder has emerged.

 

It seems that there are a LOT of Wannabe Mountain Men and fur trappers out there; file clerks during the week and pseudo Jim Bridgers and Kit Carsons on the weekend. Every now and then they hold gatherings called "Rendezvous", where they get to dress like bums, live in tents, drink moonshine, hold black powder turkey shoots, throw tomahawks and skinning knives at targets, chase wenches, etc. just for the hell of it.

 

Hell... that sort of sounds like the last Biker event I went to. :beerchug:

 

Anyway...

 

These things are attended by "Suttlers"... traveling merchants who specialize in the trappings and necessities of the alter egos of these folks. Among the things they sell are powder and other supplies for their Smoke Poles.

 

I've been informed that there's a Rendezvous about 50 miles away from here next month. I think it's time for me to take a short trip back into the early 1800s to locate some powder and caps.

 

 

The quest for caps and powder has lead to some interesting experiences.

 

There was a Gun Show in Madison last weekend; I figured that this was the PERFECT place to get what I needed.

 

The place was loaded with the usual extreme right wing conspiracy nuts and anti government types, spiced up with a sprinkling of Tea Party folks to make it more interesting, plus the usual swarms of wannabe Capitalists who try to sell their excess artillery for three times what it's worth.

 

LOTS of muzzle loading arms on display for sale... but NO supplies to make 'em go BANG.

 

If you've ever wanted to be regarded with EXTREME suspicion by a whole LOTTA people, just go to the sellers at a gun show trying to buy black powder and percussion caps... especially in Madison, Wisconsin, a town known far and wide as a stronghold of the dreaded Liberal!

 

I get the impression that everyone thought I was an undercover agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, trying to run a sting operation!!! <_<

 

It's insane... people were selling smoke grenades and other military type pyrotechnics openly (and legally), but they swear up and down that they've never HEARD of black powder or percussion caps!

 

A few of the older guys that were already into black powder were interesting to talk to, and generous with tips and advice for a beginner... but nobody was able (or willing) to give a stranger a line on getting a pound of powder.

 

 

As for Pyrodex and the other black powder substitutes versus real BP... checking out muzzle loader web groups, consensus of opinion seems to be that the substitutes ARE far more corrosive than real black powder, but they DO have an advantage.

 

While hot water cleaning is needed for both, the residue of the substitutes is softer and much more water soluble (thus easier to clean out) than black powder residue is. Also, the residue of the substiitutes builds up in the rifle bore at a MUCH slower rate while shooting than black powder residue does.

 

I don't think it's so much a matter of one propellant being BETTER than the other; it's more a matter of trade-offs.

 

 

Re. the advice on ramrod use... Yep, I've already been wised up to that hazards of a busted ramrod. Nasty, indeed!

 

The current ramrod I'm using is made of aluminum tubing, so breakage is unlikely. The tubing rod is strong, but ugly; it will eventually be turned into a general purpose cleaning rod, while a more aesthetically pleasing and authentic looking wooden ramrod will be fabricated and added to the rifle.

 

For permanent use I've already obtained a couple of straight grain hickory rod blanks (they were cheap, so why not get a spare one?), and they're being treated before they get turned into ramrods.

 

For the last three weeks they've been soaking in a length of PVC pipe (to increase their flexibility and lessen the chances of breakage) in a mixture of 50% kerosene, 25% turpentine, and 25% boiled linseed oil. The soaking treatment will go on for a minimum of a month, and probably longer than that.

 

 

In the meantime... I've gotta take a trip over to Morris Heifitz, the local Dealer in Scrap Metal, to hopefully locate some scrap containing pure lead to use as the basic fodder for bullet making.

 

A cast iron melting pot and dipper have been obtained, and my old gasoline blowtorch is at the ready, as are molds for casting round balls (225 grains) as well as Civil War style Minieballs (430 grains) for deer hunting.

 

 

As for bullet lube... yes, Crisco seems to be the path of least resistance for lubricating the patches for round balls, and that's the way I'll be going.

 

For Minieballs, it gets a bit more complicated. They're NOT patched, and you want a lube that will stay in the lube slots cast into the bullet.

 

Check the Internet and you'll find literally HUNDREDS of homebrewed formulas for bullet lube, containing everything under the sun from baby oil to transmission fluid to (of all things!) PEANUT BUTTER!!! :rolleyes:

 

For a solid lube that can be poured hot into the bullet lube grooves and allowed to set, I've settled on something that the National Rifle Association came up with years ago; a 50 / 50 mixture of dark bee's wax and Alox 350 industrial lubricant / metal preservative. Both are semisolids at normal temperatures, and should cling to the slugs nicely. To make it a little bit softer (so it doesn't flake out of the grooves so easily) I figure to add just a dash of Vaseline.

 

 

This whole thing is proving to be a lot like owning a Ural; it's an activity that's stripped down to it's most basic and primal form. It's shooting without the frills and gadgets that can be bought off the shelf; it's NOT about what you can afford to buy, it's about what personal skills you can bring to the endeavor.

 

Like a Ural, black powder guns require an investment of time and effort, and both gun and bike TEACH you something you never knew how to do before.

 

 

 

Gavno

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In my book...ifin you is gonna shoot a black powder weapon...use friggin' black powder (make sure it is the correct type). There is nothing like the sight and smell of honest-to-God BP. GOEX. Period. I'm lucky, there is a black powder gun shop 1 hour from my house. I shoot BPC rifles so I don't have to scavenge caps.

 

As for cleaning, nothing works better than boiling water. You just need to flush the salts out. Boiling wawa is simple and infinitely available...usually. Boiling...not luke warm...not hot...boiling. Dries the barrel right out...like a dinner plate put in the rack right out of hot water (or like opening the door on the dish washing machine after the cycle is done for those lucky enough to have one...)

 

Greasing the barrel rifling afterward is the key to no corrosion. Yes, grease...not oil, anti-freeze, yak butter or any of the other crap you will read about. If you don't think grease is a good idea...look down the barrel of any Swiss small arm and tell my if you see even a hint of corrosion or wear. Swiss barrel grease is the bomb. Regular old brown wheel bearing grease is a good substitute.

 

Bullet lube. I'm lucky enough to live 5 minutes from a honey factory. Yellow (not white) bees wax melted with lard or Crisco works extremely well. Use it on my 530 gr. Postell's and also on my paper patch rounds to seal them.

 

Keep it simple and use stuff that is locally available.

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If you live up in Cheeseheadland....

 

I'm thinkin you should be able to get any size percussion caps ya ever heard of at Cabelas . check em out .....

 

 

I've used the Crisco stuff in various mixtures at different times. I still like refined bear grease the best. Smells so bad the skeeters won't come near ya .....

 

 

I still have a small stash of Goex powder. I've burned some Pyrodex in powder and in tab form. I like real black powder better. I think that the Pyrodex stuff has much LESS corrosion property than BP and also is easier to clean up. Bill has it right on the boilin hot water. It sounds goofy but works best. I use the laundry tub in the basement usually and just pump super hot water and some light soap then rinse with true boiling water from a pot. The hotter ya get the metal the better.

 

I have an big old can of mil spec " lubriplate " from many years ago and still use that to grease the bores. It seems to work pretty well.

 

I don't shoot that much these days. I busted some caps out in the desert and enjoyed the freedom of packin a piece several times this last winter period. I'm a bad boy and fired a box of 9MM through an auto loader and haven't even run a brush through it..... so do as I say not as I do ....

I seem to treat my carry pistol like my nasty rig. Both seem to work pretty good though....

 

;-)

kermitski

of the desert

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I'm dying to know brand of "Hawken" rifle do you have? How about a picture?

 

Back in the days of 75 (1975) I bought my first smokepole. It was a Thompson center a nice shooter but didn't really look right. Soon after I joined a club and started going to shoots and rendezvous. I had some of the greatest experiences and enjoyment from shooting and getting involved in the "frontier life", as best that could be interpreted for the 20th century.

During the next ten years I must have had over a couple of dozen muskets, rifles and pistols I worked at a gun shop part time and had an "in" for obtaining nice pieces.

 

Now I only have two left, a Zouave and a hand made Hawken that I bought in 1976 with my reenlistment bonus. It cost me $500.00 at the time. It's a heavy bugger weights in at about 11 pounds. I tell you what it's a tack driver because of it's weight makes it steadier to hold. I call it Lazarus because it had been severely damaged once and a gunsmith friend had lovingly fixed it. The original maker had made some mistakes in detail to what a real Hawken was and modified so that if you put it up against a real one you couldn't tell them apart.

 

I've always used BP still have about 4 pounds of the stuff bought before the regs tighten up. Here in the Northwest there aren't as many muzzleloading clubs/mountain men rendezvous and so on as there were 20 years ago. Still Civil War stuff but not into the regimentation and the nit picking of kits and all.

 

I've been thinking of making a rack on the left side of the hack to carry Lazarus (my Hawken) and take to some of the remaining rendezvous this summer. Still have my buckskin leggings and period shirts, although they are a little tight.

 

Cabelas is a good place to get the general stuff for muzzleloading caps, powder. If you want some authentic stuff go to Track of the Wolf and even Dixie gun works for equipment.

 

Once you get the hang of shooting you'll love it more.

 

You were very wise to have checked the bore for a load, many accidents have happened because someone left a load in the barrel.

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Howdy, Coastie!

 

The rifle is an old (circa early 1990s) Traditions, with the 1:48 barrel. Not exactly Top of the Line hardware, but sufficient to start out with.

 

Even tho I haven't even fired this thing yet, I'm already thinking about the NEXT one, and how to obtain it.

 

I like the looks of the Lyman Hawkens, provided I can find one in 54 calibre. At the same time, I've long been toying with the idea of Civil War reenacting... and that naturally leads to a lustful glance at the Pederossi made 1861 Springfield in 58 calibre.

 

 

Gavno

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Thanks, I see that the Traditions Hawken is very much a clone of the Thompson Center Hawken (won't be surprised if they were made from the same dies. Lyman is an excelent choice for a pains style rifle I recommend it for a "ready made". Pedersoli is a good maker I had a few of their rifles/pistols.

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I'm dying to know brand of "Hawken" rifle do you have? How about a picture?

 

Back in the days of 75 (1975) I bought my first smokepole. It was a Thompson center a nice shooter but didn't really look right. Soon after I joined a club and started going to shoots and rendezvous. I had some of the greatest experiences and enjoyment from shooting and getting involved in the "frontier life", as best that could be interpreted for the 20th century.

During the next ten years I must have had over a couple of dozen muskets, rifles and pistols I worked at a gun shop part time and had an "in" for obtaining nice pieces.

 

Now I only have two left, a Zouave and a hand made Hawken that I bought in 1976 with my reenlistment bonus. It cost me $500.00 at the time. It's a heavy bugger weights in at about 11 pounds. I tell you what it's a tack driver because of it's weight makes it steadier to hold. I call it Lazarus because it had been severely damaged once and a gunsmith friend had lovingly fixed it. The original maker had made some mistakes in detail to what a real Hawken was and modified so that if you put it up against a real one you couldn't tell them apart.

 

I've always used BP still have about 4 pounds of the stuff bought before the regs tighten up. Here in the Northwest there aren't as many muzzleloading clubs/mountain men rendezvous and so on as there were 20 years ago. Still Civil War stuff but not into the regimentation and the nit picking of kits and all.

 

I've been thinking of making a rack on the left side of the hack to carry Lazarus (my Hawken) and take to some of the remaining rendezvous this summer. Still have my buckskin leggings and period shirts, although they are a little tight.

 

Cabelas is a good place to get the general stuff for muzzleloading caps, powder. If you want some authentic stuff go to Track of the Wolf and even Dixie gun works for equipment.

 

Once you get the hang of shooting you'll love it more.

 

You were very wise to have checked the bore for a load, many accidents have happened because someone left a load in the barrel.

 

GOOGLE " Track of the Wolf " I have done a lot of business with them. I built two rifles from parts they supplied. They also sell GOEX powder.

Think about building one! It isn't that hard if you have patience! (something I am lacking) They also have a paper catalog which has alot more stuff than their website.

 

Bill

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GOOGLE " Track of the Wolf " I have done a lot of business with them. I built two rifles from parts they supplied. They also sell GOEX powder.

Think about building one! It isn't that hard if you have patience! (something I am lacking) They also have a paper catalog which has alot more stuff than their website.

 

Bill

 

Kit building is fun, however building a true Hawken copy requires skill and patience. Primarily it's the tang section with the long tongue. Bought a boogered up Kit Carson Hawken from a guy who didn't know what he was doing, the stock was hope less after that and will have to get a new one. It's still sitting in the parts box waiting for the stock. Build a flintlock Kentucky/Tennessee rifle or a trade musket, which you can have a lot of fun with making it "period" with tacks and inlays, if you mess it up it will still look period.

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