Here you will find a number of different Articles which address topics related to muzzleloading shotguns. If you are new to muzzleloading shotguns, check out the Article tilted, Getting Started With A Muzzleloader Shotgun.    If you would like to have your experiences with muzzleloading shotguns posted, drop me line.   

Index of Articles

Flintlock Shotguns Part 2 -- Some thoughts on shooting Skeet with a Flintlock

posted Mar 10, 2014, 10:47 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Dec 8, 2014, 10:06 AM ]

   A prior Article discussed some of the changes which you experience when changing from a percussion muzzle loading shotgun to a flintlock shotgun.  The Article takes a little more detailed look at my thoughts on shooting skeet with a flintlock shotgun.  

    First, it is important to understand that this article is being written from the prescriptive of someone who shoots a lot skeet with a modern gun. If you are not already comfortable with shooting skeet, do yourself a favor.  Shoot with a modern gun until you are comfortable on the skeet field.  A flintlock shotgun is not the gun you want to use to learn the game of skeet.  It is faster, easier, and cheaper to learn to shoot skeet with a modern gun and then adapt to the flintlock.

    This Article is also being written from the perspective of a person who is just learning to use a flintlock gun.   Figuring out how to get a flintlock to go off reliably takes some trail and error.  In addition the trial and error, advice from experienced flintlock shooters can be very helpful.  In this regard,  I would like to thank all of the flintlock skeet shooters at the NMLRA Western Nationals for all of their advice and help.  I also need to than all of the skeet shooters at the NMLRA Western Nationals for their patience with a new flintlock shooter.  
The Distractions of a Flintlock Shotgun

    Without getting all "zen" about the subject, in order to shoot at an optimal level, it is necessary to be in the correct mental "zone".  The “zone” is a concept which exists in all sports, including the shooting sports.  Being in the zone (or the “Flow” as it is referred to by some psychologists) is the mental state of being fully immersed in the activity. The participant is so involved in the activity that nothing else seems to matter. Crowd noise, opponent reactions, and other distractions simply don’t matter. The focus of attention is clearly on the task at hand. In addition, the participant ego is completely lost in the activity itself.  You do not consciously “think” about the activity; it just seems to happen. 

     The flintlock introduces a number of distractions which can make it difficult to get into proper frame of mind to shoot effectively. A flintlock makes its own type of music.  There is the scrape of the flint against the frizzen, the clap of the frizzen as it snaps open, and swish of the priming charge as it ignites, and, finally, the boom of the main charge.  In addition to the noise, ignition of the priming charge produces a puff of white smoke inches from your face and almost directly in line with the target.  Until you get used accustomed to shooting a flintlock, these new noises and visual stimulants can be very disconcerting.    

       My strategy was to try to work into the rhythm of the flintlock a little at a time.  Start by shooting the gun at easy birds. Initially, I concentrated on the both the high and low house bird from station 7 on the skeet range. The low house bird on Station 7 is a straight away shot with the bird exiting directly from your right side. The high house bird on Station 7 is an incoming bird, which requires only minimal lead (as long as you keep your gun moving).  Only after breaking a number birds in a row did I feel comfortable enough to move on to the more serious shooting.  Breaking easy birds develops confidence and allows you to focus your attention on your shooting, rather that the sounds, vibrations and blinding flashes being made by the gun. In other words, you are starting to enter the zone with the flintlock gun.

  Flintlocks Take Longer to Go Off
      Once you are comfortable on the skeet field and comfortable with the flintlock gun, you need to consider a flintlock's ignition speed.   Whenever a group of muzzleloaders start talking about flintlocks, it is only a matter of time until you hear:  "My flintlock goes off just as fast any any percussion gun."  When you hear this, smile and try to change the subject.  You are never going to convince this person that flintlocks are just inherently slower than percussion guns.  I usually try something like this "That's great, what was the most number of shots which you have ever gotten out of a single flint?"  Usually, the person will start talking about something which happened years ago, was not witnessed by anyone else,and is certainly not repeatable. It is these types of "facts" which form the basis of the bulk of the "knowledge" that most self proclaimed experts possess about flintlock guns.  The same holds true for the "facts" contained in this Article.    

    Modern testing puts the time it takes a flintlock ignition system to ignite the priming charge at 35 to 60 milliseconds. By comparison, a typical side hammer muzzleloading shotgun will have a lock time of 20 to 25 milliseconds.  Modern guns have lock times in the 2 to 10  millisecond range. Moreover, when dealing with a flintlock, it is not enough to simply measure the time necessary to ignite the priming charge.  You must also add in the time necessary for priming charge to ignite the main charge. 

   The old timers who grew up shooting a flintlock and made the transition to a percussion gun reached the same conclusion without the aid of modern timing equipment.  The leading expert during the flintlock period was Colonel Peter Hawker,  Colonel Hawker used some of the fastest flintlock guns ever made and had more experience with flintlock guns than any modern shooter will ever hope to have.  His personal gun was a double barrel flintlock made for him by Joseph Manton.   Colonel Hawker also concluded that a percussion gun (which he referred to as  a "detonater")  was faster than a flintlock..  Here is what he had to say about the relative speed of the two ignition systems. 

    As a detonater goes so very much quicker than a flint, it becomes necessary, in firing one, to avoid shooting too forward; and I should, therefore, revert to my former hints for young men learning to shoot, and say, observe precisely all that I before under the head of shooting, but if you have a dentonater make only half the allowance; that is, where you would fire six inches before a bird with a flint, fire only three inches with a detonater; and so on.

Instructions to Young Sportsman (Third Edition) Peter Hawker 1824

        A 35 to 60 millisecond delay is too short a period of time to be perceived by humans. However, that does not mean that delay does not impact on your shooting.   For the sake  of discussion, lets assume that an average flintlock takes approximately 50 milliseconds to go off. An American skeet target travels at approximately 48 miles per hour or 70 feet per second.   Consequentially, a skeet target will travel approximately 3.5 feet during the time a flintlock is going off.  As discussed below, since your gun is (or should be) moving when you touch off the shot, it is not necessary to add  3.5 feet to your lead.  However, the delay is something which must be considered when shooting a flintlock.  The flight time of a shot string to the average target on the skeet course is only about 45 milliseconds.  Consequently, a modern gun will have already broken the target before many flintlocks have ignited the main charge.  With that in mind, lets take a closer look at the effect of the flintlock ignition system.

Breaking Birds Crossing Birds with the Flintlock

    When shooting straight way birds -- such as low 7 on the Skeet field, the long lock time of a flintlock is largely irrelevant. There is little need to lead the bird; just point the gun at the bird and pull the trigger.  Once you start having to lead the bird, the longer lock time of a flintlock begin gun begins to make a difference.  The impact which slower ignition time will is heavily dependent on the shooting technique which you are using.  Shooting techniques include: spot shooting, pass through, pull away and sustained lead.   Like the vast majority of skeet shooters, I claim to use the sustained lead technique,  The theory behind the sustained lead technique is that the shooter matches the speed of the barrel to speed of the moving target prior to pulling the trigger.  

    Despite what the name implies, you are never going to exactly match the speed of the bird with the swing of the barrel with a sustained lead.  Instead, there is a finite window of time during which the correct lead will be established.  The advantage sustained lead technique having 
roughly equal 
swing speed and target speed maximizes the sweet spot during which the trigger can be pulled and the correct lead is established. Theoretically, as long as the sweet spot is at least as long as the ignition time, the required lead does not change.  While this is a nice theory, there are a variety of practical problems which I encountered while putting the theory into practice. 

      On the skeet field, the sustained lead technique works well for the crossing birds found at Stations 3, 4 and 5. It is relatively easy to match the swing speed to the bird of the bird on these stations.  Shooting a flintlock is not that much different than shooting a percussion gun on the crossing birds at Stations 3, 4 and 5.  However, I did find that the use of a more "aggressive" move was beneficial when using a the flintlock shotgun.  In this context, the term aggressive means breaking the bird earlier (ideally 10 to 15 feet before the center stake.)  The use of an aggressive move requires a short, but strong swing when the bird comes into view.  For me, this translates into more broken birds with the flintlock on Stations 3, 4 and 5.   (Todd Bender describes the use of an "aggressive" move in his video covering shooting doubles on Station 4.)

   The sustained lead technique, however, is not appropriate for all target presentations which you find on the Skeet field.  For example, many skeet shooters tend to "spot shoot" the high house bird on Station 1.  This a straight away shot. The required "lead" is given by shooting below the bird, not to the side of the bird.   Like many other shooters, I shoot the high house bird on Station 1 by aligning the gun along
the target path and let the bird come to you.  You pull the trigger just before the target reach to the top of the rib. (Todd Bender does an excellent job of describing this technique on his website.)  Ideally, the gun movement is minimal.  (The picture to the left is of Sommer Tucker, a veteran flintlock skeet shooter, shooting the high house bird on Station 1. )

   Initially, things did not go well on Station 1 with the flintlock.   Spot shooting is heavily reliant on timing.  The delay inherent with a flintlock ignition is sufficient to result in many lost birds without an adjustment in technique.  

  After missing several birds on Station 1, I moved by break point (or kill zone as some call it) to the far side of the center stake of the Skeet field.  Allowing the high house birds get a little further away has a couple of advantages.  First,  the "visual angular velocity" of the high house bird on Station 1 consistently decreases as the birds cross the skeet field. Visual angular velocity is a measure how quickly the target moves through your field of view.  It is also a measure of how quickly your barrel must be moving in order to match the speed of the bird.   At the time the high house bird on Station 1 crosses the center stake, it has a fairly low visual angular velocity.  A lower angular velocity of the bird translates into a smaller required lead; making timing less critical.  The other advantage of breaking the high house bird on the other side of the center stake  is that the pattern has a little more time to spread out giving a larger margin for error. Even if bird is broken a few yards beyond the center stake of the skeet field, you are still only 25 yards from the bird.  After adjusting my break point (which is the same place as my hold point on this station) and a little practice, I started hitting the high house birds with the flintlock. 

  The high house bird on Station 2 and the low house bird on Station 6 also provide some challenges for the flintlock shooter.  The theory behind the s
ustained lead technique is to matching swing of the barrel to the speed of the bird.  However, the geometry of the target presentation for the outgoing birds at stations 2 and 6 makes matching the speed of the barrel to the speed of the bird next to impossible.  The illustration to the right shows the visual angular velocity of the high house bird on Station 2.  The bird has a very high initial angular velocity as it exits the house.  This requires a very rapid initial movement of the gun.   However, as the bird nears the center stake, its angular velocity quickly drops off.  If you maintain your swing speed with a strong follow through you end up well in front of the bird.   Said differently, the delay associated with the flintlock may cause you to shoot in front of the bird in certain situations.   It is very counter intuitive to think that the flintlock may less lead on certain skeet stations.  

      My approach to Station 2 and 6 is based some advice from John Shima at a modern skeet clinic.  Conventional wisdom is that your hold point for the outgoing bird on stations 2 and 6 should be approximately three feet beyond a line running through the station and perpendicular baseline.  (This hold point is also 21 feet from the house and approximately 1/3 of the way between the house and the center stake.)  With my modern gun, John Shima had me move my hold point out another three feet.  The new hold point requires a shorter, more "efficient", swing and a little more perceived lead.  I have found that this new hold point is also very helpful when shooting a flintlock.  Intellectually, I am not sure why it works, but it certainly seems to work for me. 

       So those are my current thoughts on shooting skeet with a flintlock.Now all I need to to is stop thinking about leads and start focusing on the birds. 

Muzzleloaders and Firearms Laws

posted Jan 6, 2014, 9:45 AM by Peter Lucas

The extent to which United States gun laws apply to muzzle loaders is a frequent topic of discussion.  Most shooters have heard that gun laws generally apply only to "firearms" and that most muzzle loaders not considered firearms. Consequently,  there is a common belief that all muzzle loaders are exempt from firearms regulation.   

    It is generally true that many restrictions imposed by the Federal Gun Control Act of 1964, or GCA, do not apply to muzzle loaders.   For example, Federal law does not require that muzzle loaders be sold through a licensed dealer.  As a result, muzzle loaders can be mail ordered across state lines.  Similar, convicted felons, those with substance abuse problems, and pretty much anybody else are legally permitted to purchase a muzzle loader under federal law.  

    However, just looking at this question at a very high level can lead to a number of issues and potential violations of the law.  For example, not all "muzzle loaders" are exempt from the restrictions of the Gun Control Act.  In addition, many States have laws which restrict certain people ability to legally own muzzle loading guns.  

    Federal Gun Laws

    There are two primary federal gun control laws in the United Sates: (1) the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA); and, (2) the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). The Federal Gun Control Act or GCA  broadly regulates the firearms industry and firearms owners. Generally, the GCA prohibits the interstate firearms transfers except among licensed persons.  The National Fire Arms Act or NFA, on the other hand, regulates what are considered "gangster weapons." Example of guns which are regulated by the NFA machine guns and short barreled shotguns. 

    The  Federal Gun Control Act or 1964 or GCA
    The GCA has the widest application to most firearms.  To the extent that you have a gun which is classified as a "firearm" under the GCA, there are a number of restrictions which apply to the ownership, possession or sale of the weapon.  Consequently, the threshold question when considering the application of the Gun Control Act is to determine whether your gun is a "firearm."   The GCA starts with a very broad definition which includes any weapon (including a starter gun), which will, or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. However, the definition of the term “firearm” goes on to exclude any weapon which is an “antique firearm.” See: 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3). Fortunately, the term "antique firearm" includes most muzzle loading guns, regardless of the date of manufacture. As a result, must muzzle loaders are considered "antique firearms" under the GCA and not subject to regulation as "firearms".

    Under the GCA, there are three groups of guns which will qualify as an antique firearms and excluded from regulation as firearms.. See: 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16). The first two groups of “antique firearms” are pretty straight forward. First, guns manufactured in or before 1898 are antique firearms. Second, a replica of of a pre-1898 firearm is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition are also considered antique firearms.

    The third category of antique firearms is where some grey areas begin to arise. The statute states that any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, or a black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition are considered antique firearms; so long as the gun does not incorporate a frame or receiver which was converted into a muzzle loading weapon or which can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition. Under these definitions, there a number of commercial muzzle loaders which are a number of considered firearms and subjection to the restrictions of the Gun Control Act. Examples of muzzle loaders which are considered firearms include: Savage Model 10ML; Mossberg 500 shotgun with muzzle loading barrel; Remington 870 shotgun with muzzle loading barrel; H&R/New England Firearm Huntsman and the Thompson Center Encore and Contender. In addition, muzzle loaders which were built on the receiver of a modern gun are considered firearms. While it is unlikely that these guns could ever be reconverted to shoot modern ammunition, they are still considered firearms under the Gun Control Act.

   The bottom lines is that for the vast majority of muzzle loaders, the GCA does not require that the guns be sold through a licensed dealer and the muzzle loaders can be purchased across state lines.  Similar, convicted felons, those how use controlled substances (including users of medical marijuana) , and pretty much anybody else are legally permitted to purchase a muzzle loader under federal law.  However, this rule is not absolute and you do need to pay attention to whether certain of the more modern muzzle-loaders will qualify as "antique firearms." 

    Muzzle loaders and the National Fire Arms Act. 

   The other major federal gun law in the United States is the National Firearms Act.   As noted above, t
he National Fire Arms Act was passed shortly after the repeal of Prohibition and was intended to regulate what were considered "gangster weapons" such as machine guns and short barreled shotguns.  

    Muzzle loaders are not generally thought of as gangster weapons.  But what about my blunderbuss, which is the mother of all sawed off shotguns?  Other than the fact that the gun is a muzzle loader, my blunderbuss would qualify as a short barreled shotgun and would be highly regulated by the National Fire Act. Fortunately, an exemption is found in the National Fire Arms Act for most muzzle loaders.  

     Like the Gun Control Act, the National Firearms Act provides an exemption for Antique Firearms.  However the two gun control laws contain a different definitions of what constitutes an Antique Firearm.    For the purposes of the National Firearms Act, the term Antique Firearms” includes any gun which utilizes a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap or similar type of ignition system.  Since my blunderbuss is a flintlock, it is not considered a short barreled shotgun.  This interpretation of the law is confirmed by the ATF Handbook which indicates that even though this weapon [a short barreled shotgun] may exhibit a barrel shorter than 18 inches and/or an overall length less than 26 inches, it is not subject to NFA regulations governing those dimensions because it employs a primitive ignition system identified as an exempting characteristic.

     In addition to regulating short barreled guns, the National Firearms Act also regulates "destructive devices" which are
basically very large bore weapons.  A destructive device is defined by the NFA as a 
weapon which " have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter (.50 inches or 12.7mm), except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes." There are a number of muzzle loading weapons which could be included in this definition. For example, muzzle loading cannon, punt guns and large bore guns are frequently seen at muzzle loading events. Under the NFA, these muzzle loading weapons are not considered "descructive devices". The frequently asked questions section of the ATF website confirms this result and states the muzzleloading cannons not capable of firing fixed ammunition and manufactured in or before 1898 and replicas thereof are antiques and not subject to the provisions of either the GCA or the NFA.

    What Does State Law say about Muzzle Loaders.

    Just because federal law does not define a muzzle loader as a firearm does not mean the anyone can purchase or possess a muzzle loader. The states are free to adopt more restrictive laws. For example, in my home state of Colorado, felons (regardless of when the crime was committed) are precluded from possessing any firearm. Under Colorado law, the term firearm is broadly defined as "any handgun, automatic, revolver, pistol, rifle, shotgun, or other instrument or device capable or intended to be capable of discharging bullets, cartridges, or other explosive charges." There is no exclusion for muzzle loaders and they are treated as ordinary firearms for possession and carrying purposes in Colorado. As a result, in Colorado felons are not permitted to purchase or possess a muzzle-loader.  This includes the use of muzzle loaders for hunting purposes.     

    The bottom line is that just because your muzzle loading gun is legal in your home state, there may be restrictions in other states.   The NRA maintains an excellent synopsis of state gun laws, including those laws which pertain to muzzle loaders, at   

What is in a name: Fowler, Fowling Piece or Shotgun.

posted Dec 16, 2013, 7:56 AM by Peter Lucas

    An advertisement for an H&R Shotgun recently caught my attention.  The advertisement suggested that that the term "shotgun" originated in America in 1776.  The clear implication was that the shotgun was something of an American invention.  

    According to Wikipedia, th
e first recorded use of the term “shotgun” occurred in Kentucky in 1776.   No reference is given for this factoid and I have been unable locate any supporting original source material indicating the context for the original use of the word "shotgun."   While I have not been able to find the exact source of the term "shotgun", my research indicates that the term most likely originated along the American frontier about the time of the American Revolution.  However, this does not mean that the shotgun was an American invention.  The name “shotgun” was merely a new term for a "fowling piece" which had been in existence for decades.  Indeed, what we now consider to be a shotgun was referred to as a "fowling piece" through out both America and Great Britain well into the 1800s.  

    Today, the terms Fowler, Fowling Piece and Shotgun are all applied to a firearm which intended to shoot at flying birds. This was not always the case. This article attempts to trace the use and meaning of the terms fowling piece, fowler,  and shotgun over time.   
What (or more appropriately who) is a Fowler

    Originally, a fowler was a person, not a gun. A fowler was a person who hunted birds or fowl.  After the invention of the firearm, fowlers certainly used guns to harvest birds, but the art of fowling was not limited to shooting.   The distinction between a fowler and his gun, is borne out by the dictionaries published during the 18th Century.     According to A General Dictionary of the English Language by Thomas Sheridan (1780), the term fowler referred to a sportsman who pursued birds.  See: alsoDictionarium Britannicum:(1736) [a fowler is a bird catcher].    The guns used by the fowlers were called fowling pieces. See: 1728 Cyclopaedia which defined a fowling piece as a portable firearm for the shooting of birds.

  It is easy to forget that the sport of "fowling"
predates the invention of the gun by thousands of years.   There are several references to fowlers in the Bible. See: Psalm. 91:3; 124:7Prov. 6:5Jer. 5:26Hos. 9:8Ezek. 17:20Eccl. 9:12 .  Prior to use of fire arms, fowling took many different forms including the use of  rapacious birds (such as eagles or hawks), nets, snares, bird-lime, dogs and other devices.   

  The illustration to the left from Gentleman’s Recreation (1688) depicts a variety of fowilng techniques.   In the foreground two fowlers are deploying a net over a covey of birds which have been discovered by what appears to be a pointing dog in crouching position.  In the background of the illustration,  a flock of birds are seen being herded into a funnel shaped net by a fowler who is using a horse for concealment.  Presumably, this herding technique was used during the molting season when the birds were incapable of flight.   

   In addition to the use of nets, a common method of fowling was the use of an adhesive substance known as "bird lime" which was used to catch birds much like modern fly paper. The bird lime adhesive was spread on  nets, branches, twigs, or other vegetation.  Once landed on the adhesive, the birds would be become stuck making it easy for the fowler to catch them. A popular form  of bird lime was
made from holly

    Early matchlock guns proved useful for certain types of fowling.  While match lock guns were not well suited for shooting at flying birds, they were highly effective on stationary targets such as roosting birds.  Fowlers developed a variety of techniques for approaching flocks of birds.  Special low profile boats were developed which allowed the gunner to stealthily get within range of flocks of waterfowl.  On land, fowlers concealed themselves behind a "stalking horse" as they approached flocks of birds on the ground.  The illustration to the right shows a fowler using a stalking horse to approach waterfowl.  

    The flintlock was developed in France in approximately 1615.  With the development of the flintlock, it became practical for the Folwer to begin shooting at flying birds.   By 1688 Richard Blome, the author of Gentleman’s Recreation, stated that “it is now the mode to shoot flying.”   The gun used by the fowler was termed a "fowling piece."

      As wing shooting became popular, guns began to adapted to the needs of the fowler. The fowling pieces of the time were often light pieces which were formed to swing through a bird in flight.  By contrast, the guns intended for military uses were generally referred to as muskets.  As a general rule,  muskets were a sturdier weapon, with thick barrels and a means for attaching a bayonet. 


Colorado Muzzleloading State Trap Shoot; October 5, 2013

posted Oct 16, 2013, 3:14 PM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Oct 17, 2013, 1:15 PM ]

By Emily Hare

Watkins, CO – It was a fine autumn day at The Golden Gun Club for the Colorado State Muzzleloading Trap Shoot.  A blue sky and crisp air set the scene for a friendly competition between nine gunmen.  Great game was captured.  Justin Maddux, a novice joined in for the first time.  The former US Marine was skilled in shooting.  After breaking 18 birds out of 25 at the 10 yard line the other deemed him a fine shooter and a welcome addition to the group.  But even with experience, a gunman without a knowledgeable approach is bound to be challenged.   
 The game began at a 10 yard line.  Scoring a perfect 25, Kim Davis garnered place in first.  Dan Hart followed strong in second with 23.  And Dustin Parker, using his new 8 bore Hilliard style underhammer finished a strong third with 22.  As the shooters moved further back from the trap house, the scores began to show the distinction between the proficient and the amateur.  

    At the 16 yard line; Tom Hart broke 24 out of 25 birds with his solid stance and calm poise.  Kim Davis and Dan Hart finished with 23 birds.  During the ensuing shoot out, Kim demonstrated his accurate eye and humble confidence. After Dan missed a bird from the 22 yard line, Kim seized the moment by breaking his bird and capturing second place in the 16 yard competition. 

    At the 20 yard line Kim Davis took first place with 22 birds.   Deak Flintchbough, quick and to the point, placed for the first time in the entire competition at second with 21.  And Rady Dyer came in at third with 20. 

    Rady Dyer maintained a winning streak and took first in doubles with 17 birds; Peter Lucas got lucky and placed second with 14; and Deak Flintchbough placed third with 12.

Saturday’s game was chilly and full of quality competition.  Most of the gentleman left satisfied with their scores.
 Needless to say, The Colorado State Muzzeloading Trap Shoot stayed true to its significance – an enjoyable day at the range, complete with friends, clouds of white smoke, the sweet smell of sulfur, a moment to shine, and a man’s best friend – his gun.
A special recognition goes out to Dustin Parker for shocking us with his new 4 bore shotgun and improved scores.  However I think Kelly – his parrot – may be his good luck charm and responsible for the improvement.  Dusting should consider getting Kelly a parrot sweater.   Also thanks to Dan Hart who brought donuts.  And to Estil: You may not be the greatest shooter but you sure are a super gentleman; thanks for the fashionable warm pants – love, the scorekeeper. 

Reclaimed Shot on the Patterning Board.

posted Sep 10, 2013, 8:56 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Sep 11, 2013, 8:33 AM ]

    The price of lead shot keeps going up and up.  In an effort to keep the cost of shooting down, I have been using less and less lead; both in my muzzle-loader and in my modern gun.  My current muzzleloading load is 7/8 of an ounce of shot on the skeet field and 1 ounce on the trap field.  In both cases, the propellant is an equal volume of black powder.  With my modern gun, I am currently shooting skeet with 3/4 ounce loads in my 12, 20 and 28 gauge barrels.  

    To further reduce the cost, I also started shooting reclaimed shot. A local range had cleaned and graphited reclaimed shot for $28 per 25 pound jug (the shot was delivered in used juice jugs).  That compares favorably to new shot which currently going for $45 per bag.  

    The 3/4 ounce load of reclaimed shot seems to work pretty well on the skeet field.   As a general rule, misses are the result of operator error and not holes in the pattern. However, I decided to pattern both the new and reclaimed shot and get better idea of the actual differences in the patterns.  

    Given the number of patterns which would needed to get statistically meaningful information, initial testing was done with a modern gun.  Right now, I only have the modern 12 gauge results tabulated. As things progress I will post additional patterning results, including the results for the muzzlelaoder.

12 Gauge Loads --- Reclaimed vs. New Shot.     

    The first round of tests was done with a 3/4 ounce 12 gauge load (17 grains of Red Dot and the Clay Buster CB0175-12 wad).  Ten patterns were shot with the reclaimed shot and 10 patterns were shot with the new Number 9s.  Other than the shot, the loads were otherwise identical.  All patterning was done at 20 yards with a Browning Citori Skeet gun with fixed skeet chokes.  Here are the averages for the two ten shot strings:

Number of Pellets
Reclaimed ShotNew Shot
10" Diam7999

Reclaimed ShotNew Shot
Probability of Hit - Full On Probability of Hit -- Edge On Probability of Hit -- Full On Probability of Hit --Edge On
0-10"100%98% 100%`98%
0-20"100%90% 100%91%
0-30"96%67% 95%69%

    As can be seen, the new shot load contains more pellets than the reclaimed shot load.  This is a function of the fact that the reclaimed shot is a mix of 7 1/2, 8 and 9 shot.  The extra pellets do not, however, translate into a greater probability of a hit on the Skeet field.   The probability of a hit is virtually identical for the reclaimed and new shot. 

Loads and Patterns from Competative Shooters

posted Apr 25, 2013, 9:10 AM by Peter Lucas

When I started shooting a muzzleloading shotgun I was very curious about the loads used by the competitive muzzleloading trap and skeet shooters. My assumption was that the more experienced shooters had some secret loads which gave them an edge.  Over the last couple of years, I have information regarding the loads and patterns of the competitors.  Guess what; there is no secret load. 

    The vast majority of the competitors shoot a pretty standard load, with most shooters using close to an equal volume of shot and powder.  To the extent there is a "secret," it is that the majority of competitive shooters shoot a fairly light load. Clay targets are not that hard to break.  If you are going to shoot a 100 plus rounds a day over a four day stretch, it makes good sense to shoot a comfortable load. 

    These patterns are a collection of patterns from both trap and skeet shooters.  Shot charges ranged from 7/8 ounces to 2 ounces.  The guns ranged from 8 gauge to 20 gauge.  The trap patterns are obviously much tighter and most trap shooters tend to use slightly larger shot. 

    This Article is a work in progress.  As you will note, I do not have sample patterns for each of the shooters. With some luck, this Article updated with additional load and patterning information as it is collected.

Kim Davis (Skeet Loads)

    Kim was in the middle of a round of Skeet when he shot the four test patterns at the patterning board.  Kim's skeet gun is a side hammer percussion O/U and this is Kim's standard skeet load.  

Gun Type: O/U Side Hammer Percussion gun used for Skeet.
Gauge: 10
Powder Charge: 70 grains bulk powder    
Shot Charge: 1 ounce of 9 Shot
Over Wad Column: 1 nitro card, 1/2 cushion soaked in vegitable oil, 1 over shot card   (3 wads total -- Kim uses an overshot card above the cushion wads to avoid shot sticking to the top cushion wad when fired)
Over Shot Type: 1 over shot card
Chokes: .05 Constriction
Patterning Distance: 20 yards


Kim Davis (Trap Loads)

    Kim was at the Colorado Muzzle Loading Association's Memorial Day Shoot when he shot these test patterns at the patterning board.  Kim's trap gun is a converted Marlin bolt action shotgun and this is Kim's standard trap load.  As can be seen, this gun produces very tight patterns at 20 yards. 

Gun Type: In Line Converted Marlin Bolt Acton Shotgun.
Gauge: 10
Powder Charge: 80 grains bulk powder    
Shot Charge: 1 ounce of 7 1/2 Shot
Over Wad Column: 1 nitro card, 1/2 cushion wad soaked in vegitable oil, 1 over shot card   (3 wads total -- Kim uses an overshot card above the cushion wads to avoid shot sticking to the top cushion wad when fired)
Over Shot Type: 1 over shot card
Chokes:  full choke
Patterning Distance: 20 yards


Linda Yuebanks.

    Linda had just finished shooting a round of trap from the 10 yard line when she shot the following three patterns for me. Linda shoots a 20 gauge custom, in line gun on the trap range.  Linda's gun has removable choke tubes and she had been using a modified choke on the 10 yard line.  She uses a tighter choke from the 16 and 20 yard lines.
Gun Type: Custom In-Line Trap (Single Barrel)
Gauge: 20
Powder Charge
: 68 grains (2 1/2 drams)
Shot Charge:
1 ounce of number 8 shot
Over Wad Column:
1 nitro card 1/2 cushion wad
Over Shot Type:
Thin Over Shot Card
Patterning Distance
: 20 yards

Jim Snyder

    Jim was shooting a round of skeet with his flint SxS when he shot these patterns.  The first two patterns were shot with a single nitro card.  The second two patterns (which were much denser) were shot with two nitro cards. As you will note, the first two patterns show some thinning in the center core of the pattern.  Usually, a sign that there is some blow by on the over powder combination.

Gun Type: Side by Side Flint
Gauge: 12
Powder Charge: 80 grains    
Shot Charge: 1 ounce; mix of 8 and 9 Shot
Over Wad Column:
Over Shot Type: Thing Over Shot Card
Chokes: .
Patterning Distance: 20 yards

Ron Parker

    Ron shoots an underhammer shotgun based on the Hilliard design.  Ron's gun is a 10 gauge with a jug choke.  Notice that despite the fact that Ron shoots a 10 gauge, he still shoots a very light load.

Gun Type: Underhammer  single barrel.
Gauge: 10
Powder Charge: 60 grains
Shot Charge: 7/8 Ounce
Over Wad Column:
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card
Chokes: Jug
Patterning Distance: 20 yards


David Yuebanks

David shoots the heaviest of the loads patterned so far with 1 1/4 ounce of shot with an equal volume of powder.  Dave was shooting on the trap range when he shot these patterns.  His gun throws a nice tight pattern.

Gun Type: Single Barrel Custom In Line.
Gauge: 10
Powder Charge: 82 grains (3 Drams)
Shot Charge: 1 1/4 ounce of 8 shot
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card and 1/2 Cushion Wad
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card
Chokes: full choke
Patterning Distance: 20 yards

Peter Lucas

These are two patterns which I shot at the Colorado Muzzle Loading Assoication Memorial Day Shoot held near Florance, Colorado.  These patterns were shot with my trap underhammer gun (which is not the gun in the picture).  

Gun Type: Single Barrel Custom Underhammer.
Gauge: 12
Powder Charge: 68 grains (2 1/2 Drams)
Shot Charge: 1  ounce of reclaimed shot
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card
Chokes: modified choke
Patterning Distance: 20 yards

Rod Gates 
    Rod Gates is known for building very fine, large bore SxS muzzleloaders.  Rod uses an eight bore gun with some pretty hefty loads in his gun. 

Sporting Clays Load
Gun Type:   SxS percussion -- 32 inch barrels
Gauge: 8
Powder Charge: 150 grains of Cannon powder
Shot Charge: 2 ounces  
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card and 1 Cushion wad
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card

Skeet Load
Gun Type:   SxS percussion -- 32 inch barrels
Gauge: 8
Powder Charge: 150 grains of Cannon powder
Shot Charge: 1 1/2 ounces  
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card and 1 Cushion wad
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card

Steve Dominic
    Steve shoots a sxs flint gun (made by Richard Dale), even in percussion events. Steve gets excellent ignition times with his flint gun and can give most percussion shooters a run for their money.

Gun Type:   SxS Flint.
Gauge: 10
Powder Charge: 90 grains of powder
Shot Charge: 1 1/8 ounces  
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card  and 1Cushion wad.
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card

Estil Ator 

Gun Type:   SxS percussion original gun
Gauge: 16
Powder Charge:  68 grains ( 2 1/2 Drams) of powder
Shot Charge:  1 ounce  
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card and 1 Cushion Wad
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card

Richard Dale
Gun Type:   SxS percussion custom built by Rod Gates
Gauge: 20
Powder Charge:  70 grains of powder
Shot Charge:  24 grams (approximately .85 ounces)  
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card 
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card

Rady Dyer

    Rady is a consistent top muzzleloading skeet shooter.  He is very relaxed about is loads.  When he is shooting well, he will shoot 3/4 ounce of shot with an equal volume of powder.  When things are not going quite so well, he will jump the load up to one ounce of shot with an equal volume of powder.  He rarely patterns his gun because he does not know what holes might exist in the patterns. 

Gun Type:   SxS percussion (original)
Gauge: 14
Powder Charge:   60 grains of bulk black powder
Shot Charge:  7/8  ounces  
Over Wad Column: 1 Nitro Card 
Over Shot Type: Thin Over Shot Card

Flintlock Shotguns

posted Jan 9, 2013, 2:28 PM by Peter Lucas

   This year I decided to try a flintlock shotgun.  So far, most of my flintlock shooting has been done with an original English fowler or the short barreled blunderbuss which I built for the Blunderbuss Championships at the the NMLRA Winter Nationals.   While the flintlock ignition systems adds some complexities, for the most part, lessons learned by shooting a percussion shotgun translate directly to a flintlock shotgun. This article discusses some of the more interesting issues encountered when making the jump from a percussion gun to a flintlock. 

    Before discussing the idiosyncrasies of the flintlock shotgun, I need to make clear that I would not recommend a flintlock as your first muzzle loading shotgun.  Here are my reasons for this recommendation:
  • It is harder to hit targets with a flintlock. Breaking clay birds is fun.  Missing clay birds is frustrating.  If you are new to muzzle-loading shotguns you should put yourself in the best position to break the maximum number of clay birds early on.  Under the best of conditions, the lock time of a perfectly tuned flintlock will be slower than the lock time a below average percussion shotgun. (See EndNote at bottom of post )  The slower lock time makes it harder to break moving targets.  Even the best shooters will have better scores with their percussion guns as compared to their flintlocks.  
  • Flintlocks are more expensive.  A good used percussion shotgun can generally be found for $300 or less.  An inexpensive percussion shotgun is a great starter gun and will generally be as reliable as the more expensive models.  This not true of flintlocks.  Getting a flintlock to go off quickly and reliably is a tricky situation under optimal conditions.  As a general proposition, a cheap flintlock will give you more problems than a more expensive model.
  • Flintlocks can be temperamental.    A flintlock ignition system relies on a piece of sharp rock hitting a metal plate to create a spark.  The metal plate then has to snap out of the way and expose the loose priming powder.  The spark needs to land in the priming powder and ignite the priming charge.  The heat from the priming charge must travel through a small hole and ignite the main charge. If there is a problem with any of these steps, the gun does not go off. Even the most experienced flintlock shooters have misfires and hang fires from time to time.  Get used to it.
  • Flintlocks are more complicated. Flintlocks have more moving parts and they require you to pay attention to small details regarding the flint, frizzen and touch hole.  If you are new to muzzle-loading, these added details only complicate matters. 
  The Importance of Loading Routines

    While not unique to flintlocks, using a flintlock is much easier to shoot if you develop a consistent loading routine.  Loading a muzzle loading shotgun is a multistage task.  Under normal circumstances, there are at least five steps: (1) measuring and pouring powder in to bore, (2) inserting and ramming home the over powder wads, (3) measuring and adding shot to the bore, (4) inserting and ramming home the over powder cards, and (5) priming the gun and readying it for firing. 

    An important aspect of l
oading a muzzle loading shotgun is developing a fixed loading routine and repeating this loading routine until it becomes second nature.   This is particularly true when you are also dealing with the pressure of competition.  For me, it took several full days of shooting my percussion gun to really become comfortable with the loading process on the range. During the learning process, I forgot to add powder or shot, accidentally double charged the gun, or loaded one barrel twice while leaving the other barrel empty.   My most troublesome mistake was spraying some water/Murphy's Oil Soap mix down the bore prior to putting the over the powder wads in place.  (As an aside, it is very hard to get wet black powder to ignite.) These types of mistakes are just part of the learning process.   Once a set loading routine is established, loading speed will increase and the number of  the mistakes diminish.

    The establishment of a loading routine should not be confined to loading your gun from the bench.  It is equally important to develop a fixed routine for loading the gun while hunting. While my loading routine while hunting differs from my loading routine while shooting on the range, I have a definite and fixed routine which I follow while hunting.   It is not easy to reload a muzzle-loader while attempting to keep an eye on your bird dog and the other hunters in your party.   Having a fixed routine makes the loading process quicker and less prone to error.   My routine while hunting includes giving my dog the "charge" command which sportsmen of the 1800s had used.  When given the command to "charge," the dog is required to lay down while the hunters reload or "charge" their guns.  The charge command is little used today.  However, getting the dog under control and in a safe location is an important part of my loading routine when hunting. 

Changes in the Loading Routine Associated with the Flintlock

    Switching from a percussion muzzle-loader to a flintlock requires some small, but important, changes to the loading routine.  These changes deal primarily with safety issues which are unique to flintlocks.  With a percussion gun, most shooters develop the habit returning the hammers in the half cock immediately or very soon after the gun is fired.   Having the hammers in the half cock position has at least two significant advantages.  First, the air in the bore can be easily forced out through the nipple when the over the powder is rammed home.  This makes ramming the over powder wads home much easier.   Second, any remnants of the nipple which may cover the nipple will be blown out at the over powder wads are pressed into place. Once it is time to shoot, most percussion shooters will place the cap on the nipples with the hammers in the half cock position.  It is not until the caps are firmly seated that the hammers are pulled to their full cock position.  This sequence minimizes the chances of an accidental discharge during the process.

    The sequence described above with respect to percussion guns is not allowed for a flintlock at an NMLRA sponsored event.  Under the NMLRA Rules, it is not permissible to return the hammer of a flintlock (or more accurately the cock) to the half cock position prior to loading the gun.  NMLRA Rule 11000 requires that all flintlock firearms must be loaded with the frizzen and hammer in the forward position.  Like most of the NMLRA Rules, Rule 11000 is a matter of safety.  Having the frizzen in the forward or open position has several advantages from a safety perspective.   Any grains of powder which migrate through the touch hole during loading will fall harmless away.  If the frizzen was in the closed position, there would be a small quantity of powder in the pan, increasing the chance of an accidental ignition in the event of a stray spark. In addition, having the frizzen in the open position reduces that chance that the flint could in contact with the frizzen an produce a stray spark.  The same logic applies to having the hammer in the forward position.   Even with the frizzen in the forward position, if the hammer slips out of a half cock position, it is possible for the flint to hit the side of the barrel causing a spark witch could theoretically ignite the main charge.  

   Within the bounds of Rule 11000, there are a couple of possibilities with respect to the exact priming sequence which you could follow.    My routine (which was described to me by Richard Dale -- a long time flintlock shooter) is a follows: 
  • After stepping into the shooting station, pull the hammer to a half-cocked position.  With the hammer at half cock, add the priming powder to the pan. 
  • When the flash pan is primed, cock the hammer to the full cock position. 
  • Finally,  pivot the frizzen down to the firing position. 

    The logic behind this routine is that the gun will not be ready to fire until the frizzen is closed. In the event the hammer were to slip out of your hand during the cocking process, it would be less likely to create a spark which would produce an accidental firing. After you shoot, the hammer and the frizzen are both in the forward position. The hammer and frizzen are now in exactly the position they should be in for loading the gun.  Simply leave the hammer and the frizzen where they are and return to the loading bench.  This may sound like a small change to the loading routine.  However, if you are in the habit of bringing the hammers to the half cock position while at the loading station, it can be very difficult to simply leave the cock and frizzen of a flintlock in the forward position. This is particularly true when you are thinking about the bird you just missed.


    The heart of the flintlock ignition system is the flint.  Unless you have a good sparking rock, you will never have consistent ignition. 
There are many types of flints.  The most common varieties of gun flints are black English flints, amber French flints, and German agates.   The English and French flints are generally "hand knapped", which means that
the flints shaped by flaking pieces stone off the of the original piece of stone.  German agates, on the other hand, are generally milled to shape.  The hand knapped flints are thought to be sharper because the edges are created along natural fractures in the stone. American flints (other than the "Missouri Long Trek Flints"  discussed below) are generally milled rather than knapped.

ryone seems to have their favorite type of flint and different guns seem to like different types of flint.  When starting out with a flintlock, the best thing to do is to start with one type of flint and see how it works in your particular gun.  In my case, I decided to make choice in flint based on the advise of Colonel Peter Hawker and his famous book Instructions to Young Sportsmen.  Colonel Hawker live between 1786 and 1853.  He grew up shooting a flintlock and unquestionably knew more about flints and flintlocks than any person alive today.  Colonel Hawker was from Great Briton, so not surprisingly, he was a fan of black British flints.  Here is what Peter Hawker had to say about flints: 

None are better than the most transparent of the common black flints. Great quantities (considered as good as any) come to London from Lord Cadogan's estate, at Brandon. They should be put in with the .flat side upwards, stand well clear of the hammer, and yet be long enough to throw it. Screw them in with leather; as lead strains the cock, and cloth is dangerous, from being liable to catch fire. If very particular about the neat appearance of your gun, get a punch for stamping the leathers, and change them as often as you put new flints. 

Instructions to Young Sportsmen:In All That Relates to Guns and Shooting... by Peter Hawker, 3rd Edition. (18__)

Brandon, the town mentioned by Colonel Hawker, is a small town in the English county of Suffolk. Flint has been mined in the area since per-historic times and the town became a major center for the production of gun flints  During the flintlock period, the number of flints produced from the area was staggering.  At the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars nine Brandon gun flint makers were commissioned to supply 360,000 flints a month. In 1813 fourteen flint masters were contracted to supply 1,060,000 musket flints a month, giving employment to 160 knappers and miners.  After the Napoleonic Wars had ended gun flints were exported to North and South America, Africa, New Zealand, Spain, Russia, China and Malaya. During the Crimean War Brandon supplied eleven million flints annually to the Turkish Army, and there were then three masters employing thirty-six knappers. Brandon flints were still in use in Abyssinia in 1935, and even in 1950 2,000 gun flints were being made each day, mainly for export to Africa.

    Despite the wide variety of flints which are currently on the market, black British gun flints continue to have an excellent reputation and are still widely considered to be the best quality flints available.   British gun flints are available from a variety of sources, including Track of the Wolf.  I ordered several from Track and found that they all preformed quite nicely.   At the NMLRA Western Nationals, I was able to shoot a 20 bird match with my flintlock blunderbuss  with a single black English flint (without knapping),  I had only two misfires in the match.

In addition to the black British gun flints, I have also had good luck with "
Missouri Long Trek Flints"  from Rich Pierce. Technically, Rich's flint is really Burlington Chert.  As a stone, chert is closely related to flint, but is generally thought to be of lower quality in terms properties for tool making. The raw chert is collected by Rich Pierce who then knaps it by hand. The chert varies from white to gray and sparks great in my guns. 

    Rich has a unique system with respect to ordering. Rich sends you the flints without pre-payment and encourages you to test one of the flints in your gun. If you like the flints you send him his money. If you are not happy with them,  send them back. Rich Pierce can be contacted at: Rich Pierce, 504 West Drive, St. Louis, MO   63130.

Priming Flasks/Priming Powder

Another change associated with shooting a flintlock gun is the necessity of having a priming flask. Today, virtually all shooters use a small flask containing very fine powder which is used to prime the pan just prior to firing the gun.  However, a priming flask, and for that matter separate priming powder, was not always used by flintlock shooters. 

    There is considerable debate regarding whether sportsmen from the flintlock era used separate priming powder and priming flasks.  The answer to that question appears to depend on the exact time period in question.  Flintlocks were in use from approximately 1635 through 1830.  Priming methods evolved over that period of time.  The best description of the evolution of priming methods for the flintlock is based on an article found in The Encyclopedia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 12 (1910).  The modern flintlock was invented in approximately 1635 and represented an improvement over the earlier match lock and snaphance ignition systems. When using either the match lock and snaphance ignition systems,  a fine-grained priming powder (called surpentine powder) was poured into the pan from a separate priming flask. So it makes sense that the early flintlock shooters continued the practice of priming the gun with a separate priming powder. 

    However, as time progressed, shooters discontinued the use of a separate priming powder.   Period books such as An Essay on Shooting, 1789 and Instructions to Young Sportsman (Second Edition) 1816, discuss the proper loading of a flintlock shotgun.  In both cases the shooter is instructed to prime the pan with a small portion of the portion of the main powder charge.  Moreover, a priming flask is rarely found with original flintlock guns, in even the more elaborate cased sets. The gunsmiths who made these cased sets, and the gentlemen who could afford them, would have been at the leading edge of the shooting technology.  To the extent a separate priming flask was in use, it would have been included in the gun cases. 

    By the end of the flintlock era, many flintlocks were of the 'self-priming' variety.  A self priming flintlock is a gun which allows powder to move through the touch hole into the pan when the gun is loaded.  The ramming of the over the powder wads, literally forces part of the main charge into the priming pan.  In order to be self priming the touch hole must be significantly larger than the touch hole seen on today's guns.  In addition, many of the better self priming guns, employed a vent wiper to prevent the fuse effect from slowing ignition. The vent wiper small arm on the frizzen cover which moves powder away from the touch hole as the frizzen snaps forward.  By moving the powder away from the touch hole, the heat from the priming charge could more quickly ignite the main charge.  Obviously, self priming guns present some safety issues and they would not be permitted at NMLRA events.

    Based on the period literature, I did not start out using a separate priming power. If it was good enough for the old timers, it was good enough for me.  However, modern tests have shown that priming powders hold a significant advantage with respect to both ignition times and consistency.  An example of such a study can be found at: Priming Powder Timing  MuzzleBlasts April 2005 by Larry Pletcher.  Based in large part on Larry Pletcher's work, I have now started using a finer priming powder.

    While I still have a lot to learn about flintlock shotguns, they have have proved to be a fun addition to my muzzleloading shotgun collection.  For the experienced muzzleloader, they are worth a try. 

*  Many people will claim that their flintlock is faster than a percussion gun.  Testing using high speed timing devices have shown that the human senses are not an accurate gauge of lock times and ignition speed.  Based on the work of Larry Pletcher at, I firmly believe that even the fastest flintlock guns cannot compete with a percussion gun in terms of ignition times.

More Blunderbuss: the Second United States Blunderbuss Championship

posted Jan 9, 2013, 9:59 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Jan 9, 2013, 1:07 PM ]


     It is time to get ready for the Second United States Blunderbuss Championship which will be held at the NMLRA Western National Shoot, February 26 through March 3, 2013.  The Blunderbuss Championship consist of 15 shots at three different types of targets. Five rounds are fired at paper target at a range of approximately 20 yards. The next five shots are fired at a 8 inch gong from a bouncing buggy steat. The final five shots are at flying clay birds.  A more complete description of the event can be found at an earlier Article tiled The United States Blunderbuss Championships

    Last year, I built blunderbuss using a kit from Pecatonica River Supply for the first blunderbuss championship.  Over the last year, I have been tinkering loads for the gun.  The blunderbuss produces some surprisingly good patterns from the 20 inch barrel with light bird shot charges.  With a little practice, I have started breaking a few birds from stations 3, 4 and 5 on the skeet range with the blunderbuss.   The bird shot load which I have settled on is as follows:

    Gun: 11 Gauge Blunderbuss with 20 inch barrel. Patterns shot at 20 yards.

  •     68 Grains (2 1/2 Drams) Goex Renactor Powder.
  •     2 Nitro Cards
  •     .95 ounces of Reclaimed Shot
  •     1 over shot card

    Here is a sample of the patterns:

 Pellet  Counts
inner 10" 79
10-20" 113
20-30" 50
Total 269
 Pellet Counts
inner 10" 26
10-20" 95
20-30" 130
Total 306
  Pellet Counts
inner 10" 79
10-20" 132
20-30" 53
Total 292
 Pellet Counts
Inner 10"  97
10-20" 139
20-30" 87
Total  355

(nice doughnut hole)
 Pellet Counts
inner 10" 23
10-20" 124
20-30" 114
Total 305
 Pellet Counts
inner 10" 105        
10-20" 142
20-30" 77
Total 340
 Pellet Counts
inner 10" 87
10-20" 176
20-30" 70
Total 349
 Pellet Counts
inner 10"  81
10-20" 132
20-30" 66
Total 291
 Pellet Counts
inner 10" 110
10-20" 139
20-30" 84
Total 361

Statistical Analysis

   For 2013 there are some are some rule changes for the Blunderbuss competition.  The primary rule change relates to the legal projectiles. For 2013, the first five shots at the paper target requires single round balls.  The second shots from the buggy seat requires 3/0 buck shot or larger.  Any sized shot can be used for the final five shots at clay targets.  Also the gun should look like a blunderbuss, this is to prevent sawed off shotguns.

    Last year, bird shot was legal when shooting from the buggy seat.  This year, I would need to work up a buckshot load using 000 buckshot.  Triple 0 buck is approximately .35 inches in diameter and it the largest buckshot which is widely available.  The standard load for a modern 2 3/4 inch 12 gauge shell is 8 pellets.  The 3 inch magnum 12 shells have only 10


    According to the period book: The Royal Mail: Its Curiosities and Romance by James Wilson Hyde  (W. Blackwood and Sons, 1885) the standard charge for blunderbuss' used by the Royal Mail was "ten or twelve shot the size of a pea."  While less than scientific, the 35 caliber, 000 buckshot is approximately pea sized.  I figured that a load of 12 pellets would be a good place to start.  To put the this load into perspective, 000 Buckshot weighs approximately 70 grains per pellet.  Consequently, a load of 12 pellets would approach 2 ounces of lead.  If an equal volume of powder and shot was used, the powder charge would be approximately 135 grains of black powder. This would be a stout load indeed.  It would also be highly effective in close range combat (the purpose for which the gun was intended).   Since this is just a target competition, I decided to back the load down to 2.5 drams (68 grains) of black powder.  The specific load which I tested is as follows:

  •   68 Grains (2 1/2 Drams) Goex Renactor Powder.
  •     2 Nitro Cards
  •     12 Pellets of Hornaday 000 Buckshot
  •     1 over shot card

    Testing was done at 15 yards (there were no holes for the target stands at 20 yards).  Here are the buckshot patterns


    The patterning results were better than I had expected. All 12 pellets were consistently delivered into a 18 inch circle.  So, it looks like I am ready for the Second United State Blunderbuss Championship down in Carefree, Arizona. Get yourself a blunderbuss and come join in the fun!


Pheasant Hunting: Now and Then

posted Oct 23, 2012, 9:26 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Apr 24, 2013, 10:17 AM ]

The third Saturday of October marks an important date each year; opening day of pheasant season in South Dakota! 

    In South Dakota opening day of pheasant season is not just the start of the hunting season, it is one of the biggest events of the year. Businesses throughout eastern and central South Dakota "roll out the orange carpet" for the thousands of pheasant hunters who will take to the field on opening day. In addition to the pheasant hunting, there are banquets, special contests, promotions, and other events taking place on opening weekend.  Over the course of the season an estimated 170,000 hunters will hunt pheasants in South Dakota and harvest approximately 1.5 million roosters. The majority of these hunters are from out of state.   That is a lot of hunters when you consider that South Dakota only has a population of approximately 825,000 people.

  On opening weekend w
e stay in the small town of Pukwana, South Dakota.  During the first week of the season legal shooting hours do not start until noon of each day.  After an afternoon of shooting, we retire to the local volunteer fire department for the annual "Pork Feed." This year the fire department smoked 750 pounds of pork butt for the fund raising event.  Thousands of hunters from from the surrounding area come for the pulled pork, homemade side dishes and beer.  The cost of the event is a donation to the fire department. The donations are on a purely voluntary basis and hunters are asked to donate what they feel is fair.

fter the Pork Feed, many hunters gravitate across the street at the "Puk U Bar and Grill" for a drink and to watch the lawn mower races. Lawn mowers are raced on a small oval track and divided into three classes: (1) Stock, (2) Modified, and (3) Outlaw. The lawn mowers in the Outlaw class show little or no resemblance to actual lawn mowers. The Outlaw class mowers have tube chassis  adjustable axles, and high performance engine parts. These mowers will reach speeds approaching 40 miles per hour on the small oval track.

    The festivities are fun, but the real reason to go to South Dakota, particularly on opening day, is for the hunting.
Opening day provides the best opportunity to experience the "South Dakota Flush." This is not something which happens very often and this in not something which are likely to experience on a game farm.  When hunting wild birds, you will occasionally get into a situation where you have a large number of birds pinned between the "walkers" (who drive the birds) and the "blockers" (whose job it is keep the birds from running out the end of the field).  As the walkers approach the blockers, the field suddenly explodes with birds taking flight.  For a true "South Dakota Flush," the number of birds is not measured in the dozens.  For a true South Dakota flush,  hundreds of birds will come out of the end of the field. If you are lucky enough to be in the right spot, huge number of birds will stream past you for a period of several minutes.  This is an experience which you will never forget.  

    Unfortunately, this was an extremely dry year in South Dakota and the pheasant populations were dramatically down in the area where we hunt.   Fields which had held hundreds of birds in prior years, had no birds at all.  We hunted hard on opening day and managed to bag only thee roosters.   None of those roosters were taken with a muzzleloader.

   Since the pheasant hunting was not very productive, I decided to do some research on pheasant hunting during the muzzle loading era.  In considering pheasant hunting during the muzzle loading era, it is important to remember that the pheasant is not native to North America.  Numerous early attempts to bring pheasants to North America failed. Ben Franklin's son-in-law, Richard Bach, is reported to have released some pheasants in New Jersey. Similarly, George Washington is said to have released pheasants on his Mount Vernon estate during his first year of presidency.   These early attempts to introduce pheasants failed to produce self sustaining populations of birds. The first self sustaining population of birds is generally believed to have occurred in Washington State during the 1890s.  Consequently, the pheasant hunting in North America during the muzzle loading era appears to have been limited.

    The early attempts to introduce pheasants in North America appear to have involved the "English Blackneck Pheasant."   The variety of pheasants which ultimately proved successful in North America today are the Chinese or "Ring Neck" Pheasant.    The Chinese or Ring-Neck Pheasant and the  English Blackneck Pheasant are each separate and distinct varieties of pheasants.   However, these two varieties of pheasants will interbreed and pheasant populations throughout the world include hybrids of the two variants.  

Pheasant Hunting "Rules" Sussex, England 1833

From the December 1833 Edition of the New Sporting Magazine
    The English Blackneck Pheasant are also believed to have originated in Asia and to have been introduced into England as early as Roman times.  During the muzzle loading era, the Black Neck Pheasant was referred to as the "common pheasant" in England.   The Blackneck Pheasant is very similar to the Ring Neck Pheasant.  However, it appears to frequent woodlands more than its Ring Neck  cousin Pheasant.  According to the book National Sports of Great Britain by Henry Alken (1825), pheasants roosted in the middle branches of large oak trees, particularly in the winter season.  While Ring Neck Pheasants will occasional roost in trees, this is not a common trait of Ring Neck birds.

    Other than slight differences in the habitat where birds are found, pheasant hunting in early 1800s was not too much different from pheasant hunting today.  By tradition, hunters shot only roosters and hunting took place only in the late fall and winter.  The propensity of birds to run, rather take flight, was well known and hunters developed strategies to force the birds to fly with in range.  Even the debate as to whether flushing or pointing dogs were better suited for pheasant hunting was raging in the early 1800s.    I have included a copy of pheasant hunting rules which were hung in the breakfast room of a shooting lodge in Sussex, England during 1833. The fines for breaking the rules were collected by the game keepers which kept half.  The other half of the fines were donated to the poor of the parish.  

    The 1833 rules have equal application to pheasant hunting today; do not shoot hens, do not shoot birds on the ground and keep your shots to a reasonable distance.  The hunters of the muzzle loading era clearly understood what we sometimes forget today.  Pheasant hunting is about much more than simply shooting birds.  Like all other forms of hunting,  it is about good sportsmanship and enjoying the company of others who are engaged in a similar activity. During years like this, when birds are in short supply, we need to keep in mind the real reasons why we enjoy hunting so much.  


Tuning up for Pheasant Season

posted Oct 3, 2012, 9:30 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Oct 4, 2012, 9:19 AM ]

    Each year in late September or early October we take a trip to Vallery's High Plains Game Ranch in western South Dakota as a tune up for the opening of pheasant season.  This pre-season excursion provides an opportunity to give the dogs a little work and make sure the hunting equipment is fully operational.   It is also a good time to take a close look at your hunting shotgun and loading flasks and other tools.
    With respect to the gun itself, check to make sure that the locks and triggers are functioning smoothly and that they are properly lubricated.   If you have not patterned the gun in a while, make a trip to the patterning board prior to hunting.   There are a number of prior articles which address load development, so I will not say too much on the subject here.  My only words of advice is to make sure that you maintain adequate velocities when hunting medium sized birds, such as pheasants.   Too many muzzleloaders sacrifice velocity for pattern density.  My rule of thumb is to keep the volume of powder at least equal to the volume of shot.    Within reasonable limits, equal volumes of shot and powder will produce a velocity of at least 1050 feet per second.  Velocities of 1050 feet per second and higher are more than adequate for pheasant hunting. (See Reference section for velocity testing.)

    An often over looked item are the nipples on the gun.  Repeated hammer falls will cause the top of some nipples to mushroom, making it difficult to get the percussion cap on properly.   If the nipples have started to mushroom, they can be easily cleaned up by chucking them into a drill or lathe and carefully taking off a small amount of metal with a file.  Dustin Parker recently gave me a simple tool which further simplified this process.  It is a small metal rod threaded to accept a nipple.  The the metal rod is chucked into a drill or vise and the nipple is then threaded into tool.   Using this method, you can clean up a handful of old nipples in a couple of minutes.  

   Finally  check the ramrod to make sure that it is still in good shape.  In my case, I generally use an unbreakable ramrod made from a delrin rod while in the field.  If you are using a wood ramrod, give it a couple of flexes to make sure that it has not cracked.  It is a good idea to mark the ramrod to indicate the depth of a properly loaded round.  Things can get pretty hectic while hunting.  It is easy to make a mistake when loading under these conditions.  Having a marked ramrod provides an easy way to make sure that you have properly loaded the gun. 

    Loading a muzzleloading shotgun in the field presents some issues which you do not have to face when shooting on the range.  The loading tools which I use on the the range are completely different from the equipment used in the field   On the range, powder and shot are dispensed from a "Davis Loader"  which is a bench mounted device.  In the field, you will need to carry both shot and powder flasks or pre-measured quantities shot and powder.  On the range, wads can be kept in open containers on the loading bench.  In the field  you will need some method of organizing your over shot and over powder wads which provides easy access.  Finally, on the range I use a dedicated brass range rod as apposed to the gun's wooden ramrod.  

    Prior to heading to the field. make a plan for how you are going to the gun and organize your equipment.  If you are hunting with shooters who are using modern guns, there will be on premium on loading quickly.   Modern shooters find muzzleloading shotguns interesting at first, however, they quickly tire of being constantly slowed down by someone who is taking a long time to reload their gun.  In my case, I use replica Eley Shot Cartridges to speed the loading process.  I also keep on the bare essentials in my loading pouch when hunting: (1) the powder flask, (2) a supply of shot cartridges and (3) a pair of small pliers for stuck caps.  This minimizes the amount of time spent fishing round in the loading pouch.  Keep the other loading paraphernalia in a separate box in the car.   Finally, make yourself a "belly fob" which will facilitate loading in the field.  

  With the gun and loading equipment in order, it was time to start hunting. 
Vallery's High Plains Game Ranch  is located on the extreme western side of South Dakota near the town of Nisland.  While South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the world, most of the pheasants are located in the eastern and central sections of the State. Few native birds are located in the western portion of South Dakota.

    The hunting at the High Plains Game Ranch is about as close as you can get to wild bird hunting on a game farm.  Several hundred, 16 week old birds are released prior to the start of the season and  the bird population is supplemented through out the season.  As a result, there is always a good number of strong flying birds in the fields.  Hunting takes place in a variety of row crops, which have been partially harvested  to provide strips of standing crops which are manageable size to hunt.  

    Our guides this year were Randy Vallery (the owner) and Lt. Colonel Fred Wells (retired).   Both Randy and Fred did a great job of keep our group of twelve hunters both organized and safe.  Randy and Fred also had several hard working labs to help with the retrieving duties when our dogs got tired. 

    A good time was had by all.  There is a slide show of pictures form the 2012 Tune Up in the Gallery Section.  Here is a sampling of pictures from the hunt. 

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