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Loading Rods/Range Rods

posted Nov 2, 2010, 10:24 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Nov 19, 2010, 9:57 AM ]
Range rods are commonly used at all muzzle loading events, both by shotgun shooters and rifle shooters.  A range rod is simply a heavy loading rod with a wooden, metal or plastic handle. Several manufactures produce "range rods" and many shooters fashion their own range rods from 3/8 brass rods.    The CVA "Lifetime Range Rod" which is made from a brass rod with an aluminum handle is pictured on the left. 

    The use of range rods offers several advantages over using the ramrod supplied with the gun.  The handle on the range rod makes it much more comfortable to repeatedly load the gun.  The handle also makes it easier to apply additional force to the ramming operation allowing you to force out any air which is trapped between the lawyers of wading.  Range rods are typically made from brass or other metal. Consequently, they are not prone to breakage like wooden ram rods. 

    I had simply assumed that Range Rods were a modern innovation and the sportsmen of the muzzleloading era had exclusively used their gun's ramrods for loading.   However, I was recently doing some research regarding muzzleloading ramrods in the period literature and I was quite surprised to find that this was not the case.  Indeed, by the end of the muzzleloading era, many sportsmen had quite using ramrods altogether.   Instead, many of the English sportsman were using "loading rods" which appear to be substantially similar to the "range rod" of today.  The following is a sampling of the period literature describing the use of "Loading Rods". 

    Loading rods are now in such general use, that since the first edition of this work was published, one half of English sportsmen use them in preference to ramrods, consequently many modernized guns have no fittings for a ramrod, and certainly the barrels look very much neater without them; it is a matter of taste and opinion as to which of the two is preferable; the loading rod has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. It is easier and quicker loading with the latter, but it has to be carried, dangling from a leather socket attached to the shooting jacket; a position which, though not inconvenient at a pigeon-shooting match, is not at all times desirable in the field.

The Gun; And How to Use It. Author: By John B. Johnson. (Second Edition, 1860).

It was no slight improvement when a stout loading-rod, worn sword-like at the left side, superseded the ramrod. Then you could afford to throw temper and impatience into driving home the charge. Eley's caps and his wired cartridges for long shots at geese and duck became household words, and Curtis and Harvey turned out powders of the finest quality.

Shooting By Alexander Innes Shand J.M. Dent, 1902

For muzzle-loading guns a ramrod is almost always appended, though sometimes where, as in covert shooting, a second gun is carried, the person in charge also has a loading rod, and then the guns are made without the usual appendage.

The shot-gun and sporting rifle, and the dogs, ponies, ferrets, &c. used ...
 By John Henry Walsh (1859).

It is certainly interesting to learn that the sportsmen of the 1860s had not only adopted the use of loading or range rods while shooting from a fixed location, but also carried range rods with them while hunting.