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The United States Blunderbuss Championships

posted Jan 28, 2012, 1:57 PM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Jan 7, 2013, 2:29 PM ]
    This year the first United States Blunderbuss Championships will be held on the primitive range at the NMLRA Winter National Shoot.  The Blunderbuss Championships will consist of 15 shots at three different types of targets. There are relatively few rules regarding the type of gun which can be used.  The gun may have either flint or percussion ignition.  All that it is requires is that the gun be a "historically accurate" blunderbuss.

Five paper targets will be shot at a range of approximately 20 yards.  This phase of the competition will use an NMLRA 100 yard target.  This target is approximately 14x16 inches large, with 7 scoring rings.  The 10 ring on this target is approximately 2 inches in diameter. Scoring will be done on the primitive range and the scoring of the paper target can be reviewed at the main office, if necessary.   The next five shots will be at a gong from a bouncing buggy seat.  Any type of load can be used from the buggy seat -- round ball, buck shot or bird shot.  It is anticipated that the gong will be approximately 8 inches in diameter.  The buggy seat phase of the competition will also be shot at approximately 20 yards. The final five shots will be a clay birds.  The shooter will be able to stand next to the trap machine, giving you a reasonable chance to break the birds with the flared muzzle on the blunderbuss. Currently, the Blunderbuss Championships are a non-reentery event, so you will only get one change to shoot it.  However, the director of the primitive range that the re-entry nature of the event is not "nailed down."  It will depend on how busy they are on the primitive range at this year's shoot.

 The idea of having a competition which required the use of both round ball and shot loads  in a muzzleloading smooth bore gun has always appealed to me.  Smoothbore muzzleloading guns were respected for their versatility.  A hunter with a smoothbore gun could take small game, including birds on the wing, by loading the gun with shot.  Alternatively, loading the gun with a round ball gave the hunter the ability to take big game.

Blunderbuss Bhampionship Match

The following description of the United States Blunderbuss Championships was contained in the December, 2011 issue of Muzzle Blasts, the monthly magazine of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. 

    At the Western National Shoot February 29 - March 5, 2012, you will have the opportunity to become the Blunderbuss Champion of the United States.  All you need is an historically  correct blunderbuss, some period attire and some luck.  The match will be held at the primitive range on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

     The match is five shots at the nmlra 100 yard rifle target at about 20 yards.  Then five shots at aging at about 20 yards while seated on a buggy seat which tends to bounce bite.  You load and get yourself comfortably seated, then prime.   When all ready, you say "Giddyup" and the seat will bounce a bit.  It is up to you to ring the gong to the satisfaction of the judge.   After that bit of excitement it is off to the clay pigeons where five will be thrown for you.  

    On the paper target a perfect score is 50; each ringing of the gong is worth 10 points, and birds are worth 10 points a hit.   Total perfect score is 150; what will yours be?

     Dust off that unused blunderbuss, get that kit put together, have some practice sessions  and you could be the Blunderbuss Champion of the united states of America.     

    While not hunting weapon, the blunderbuss was also highly versatile smoothbore muzzle loading gun.  Introduced in Europe by the Dutch and Germans, the Blunderbuss was most popular in the British Isles between 1750 and 1850.   The blunderbuss had a wide number of uses including a personal defense weapon by travelers who were subject to robbery by highwaymen, by cavalry units who found the flared muzzle a useful when loading from horse back and as a navy weapon where it was perfectly suited to be used in ship-boarding operations.  Gate guards and game keepers on private estates were also armed with the Blunderbuss.

While the blunderbuss is often associated with the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims, evidence suggests that the blunderbuss was relatively scarce in the American colonies. After the Battle of Lexington, British General Thomas Gage occupied Boston, Massachusetts. After negotiating with the town committee, Gage agreed to let the inhabitants of Boston leave town with their families and effects, if they surrendered all arms. While most of the residents of Boston stayed, those who left under the agreement surrendered 1778 firearms, 634 pistols, 273 bayonets, and only 38 blunderbusses.

             I had toyed with the idea of getting a little flint blunderbuss to use on the skeet range for some time.  However, I never could quite justify getting a gun which would probably not be well suited to shooting skeet, which is my clay target game of choice.    After reading about the first United States Blunderbuss Championships, I decided that i would give it a try.  All I needed was a blunderbuss and some period clothes so that I could shoot on the primitive range.  

 The Western National Shoot was only two months away, so I only had two months to acquire the gun and figure out how to get respectable round ball accuracy and shot patterns from the gun.  There were a number of modestly priced, fully assembled blunderbusses available from places like Track of the Wolf and Middlesex Valley Trading Company.  These guns appear to be Indian imports and are probably serviceable weapons.  However, when it comes to flintlocks, I am a firm believer in spending the extra money to get quality American made locks. 

 I settled on a blunderbuss kit form Pecatonica River Rifle Supply.  Their kit was a very nice compromise of a number of factors.  The barrel is 20 inches in length with only a small amount of flare at the muzzle.   Many of the other options had

Joe Manton's Blunderbuss "the Highwayman's Master"

    While Joesph Manton is best known for high grade side by side shotguns, it seems that after being robed, he built himself a blunderbuss for self defense purposes.  The story about Joe Manton and his blunderbuss can be found in Kings of the Rod, Rifle, and Gun, Volume 1 by Willmott-Dixon.  

    When Joe was crossing Hounslow Heath in a chaise late one winter's afternoon, he was stopped by a highwayman. On hearing the summons to "stand and deliver," Manton looked hastily out of the window and recognized a pistol of his own make leveled at his head. "Why damn it, you rascal," cried the indignant gun-maker, "I'm Joe Manton, and that's one of my pistols you've got. How dare you try to rob me!"

"Oh! you're Joe Manton, are you?" said the highwayman coolly. "Well, you charged me ten guineas for this brace of pistols, which I call a damned swindle, though I admit they're a good pair of barkers. Now I mean to be quits with you. Hand me over ten guineas, and I'll let you go because you're Joe Manton, though I know you've got fifty pounds at least about you!'

    Joseph swallowed his wrath and promptly paid the ten guineas. But he never forgave the highwayman for getting a brace of his best pistols for nix, and he made himself a special double gun, with barrels barely two feet long, which he always carried about with him afterwards when traveling, and christened "The Highwayman's Master." With this weapon I have heard that he subsequently shot a highwayman who stopped his chaise and mortally wounded him.

shorter barrels and more exaggerated muzzle flares.  I felt that Pecatonica River barrel would likely give me the best chance of getting both good bird shot patterns and round ball accuracy.  In addition, the Pecatonica River barrel what 75 caliber which meant that standard 11 gauge wads would work for shot loads.  In addition, .735 caliber round balls where available for the stationary target phases of the competition.  Perhaps most importantly, the Pecatonica kit included a Queen Anne lock from L&R.  While there is much debate about who makes the best lock, the L&R locks which I have used were reliable sparkers.  Finally, the gun from Pecatonica River was a kit, but the stock was 98% inletted.  I figured that that the gun could be assembled in plenty of time for the Western Nationals.

     The kit arrived in the mail form
Pecatonica River exactly one week after I ordered it.  The kit was assembled without too many modifications.   I changed the trigger guard by replacing the straight English trigger guard whcih came with the kit for a shotgun style trigger guard which provided a better grip for my shooting hand.  I also used a White Lightnin" Touch Hole Liner from Jim Chambers rather than the touch hole liner which came with the kit.  The "White Lightnin'" Touch Hole Liner provides a completely flat face, reducing the number of cracks and crevasses which hold black powder residue. In addition, the White Lghtnin has a concave inside, bringing the main charge closer to the priming flash. 

The Pecatonica River kit was complete and very straight forward to put together.  I would recommend the Pecatonica River kit to anyone who is interested in building a blunderbuss for themselves.  However, you should be aware that you are going have to do some light metal work with this kit.  There are a couple of holes which need to be drilled and taped. All of the metal parts need to be finished.  If this is your first muzzle-loader build, I would highly recommend getting a copy of Recreating the American Longrifle, by William Buchele, George Shumway, Peter Alexander.  This book was invaluable for figuring out how to deal with those areas where assembly of the blunderbuss differed from the side by side shotguns which I was used too.   

After working on the kit many morning prior to heading to work, I was able to get the gun to the point where I could shoot some patterns.  In assembling and test firing the gun, I have learned a couple of things of note.  First, not all L&R Locks are created equal.  The Queen Anne Lock is based on a early flintlock design.  The L&R Locks which I have used were the Late English pattern.  The Late English incorporates a number of design upgrades not found on the Queen Anne Lock.  So far, the Queen Anne Lock has proved very temperamental.  Second, while the barrel has an external bell, the bore of the Pecatonica River barrel does not flare towards the muzzle.  Hopefully, that will be useful for developing patterns and shooting round balls.  Here are my initial patterns:


The patterns were all shot at 20 yards with 1 ounce of 9 shot. 72 grains of powder was producing doughnut hole patters, so I backed the powder down to 65 grains. As can be seen, the patters are a little thin and there is some more experimentation which needs to be done.  However, with some more work the gun should be ready for the Blunderbuss Championships this year.

The Monday Morning Update.

The Monday morning following the initial testing, I returned to the pattern board.  With a little polishing of the internal parts, the L&R Queen Anne Lock seems to be settling in nicely.  The ignition still has a noticeable, "click-swish-boom" sound to it, but the lock is consistently igniting priming charge and the main charge is consistently going off.    The main reason for early morning trip to the patterning board as to try the blunderbuss with some Eley Style Shot Cartridges. The Shot Cartridges which I had on hand were made for a 12 gauge gun.  The 12 Gauge Shot Cartridges patterned poorly, so I ended up shooting two patterns with a 1 ounce load and 62 grains of black powder.  Here are the 20 yard patterns.


Round Ball Loads

My initial round ball testing was done prior to installing a front sight on the Blunderbuss. The loads were 65 grains of Reenactor Powder, one nitro card and a .735 round ball patched with .15 inch pre-lubricated pillow ticking.  The first target was shot off hand from 25 yards. A picture of the first target is included to the left.   By my standards, the result were quite acceptable.

    The next target was also shot from 25 yards with the same load.
However, the shots were fired from a rest.  This time, the shots showed strong vertical stringing, which I attribute to poor trigger control on my part.  A picture of this second target is included on the right.

    I experimented a little with lighter powder charges and thicker pillow ticking.  These experiments a produced poorer groups. Consequently, I will be sticking with the original load for the time being.

    On the final weekend prior to leaving for the Western Nationals, I installed a front sight on the blunderbuss.  I have not had time to polish and brown the metal parts, but the gun is operational.  I shot two five shot strings with 65 grains of Reenactor Powder, one nitro card and a .735 round ball patched with .15 inch pre-lubricated pillow ticking.  Here are the targets.

    Results from the Western National Shoot.

Things went well at the 2012 First United States Blunderbuss Championships.  I ended up with a score of 125 out of 150.  My paper target score was 35 out of 50.  A picture of me holding my paper target is shown on the right. As you can see all five shots at the paper target were on the left side.  I am not sure why the gun started shooting consistently to the left.   I hit all five gongs form the stage coach seat and four of the five clay birds.  I am looking forward to the blunderbuss event next year at the Western National Shoot.

    Here is some video from the Blunderbuss Competition.

YouTube Video