Traditional Muzzleloading


Posted November 23, 2012

By Art Lander Jr


                    Hunting with a Flintlock Longrifle Offers Unique

                                   Challenges and Rewards

    Hunting with a reproduction of an 18th century flintlock longrifle offers unique challenges and rewards.

    The American flintlock longrifle, better known as the Kentucky rifle, helped colonists win their freedom from England. Explorers and early settlers who ventured across the Appalachians in the late 18th century, depended on their longrifles to feed their families and protect their livestock from wolves and mountain lions.

    Today’s hunters must draw on the same skills as hunters of yesteryear when selecting round balls, patching material, and powder,  determining the most effective hunting load, and sighting in their rifles.

    “There’s no golden rule on what charge of powder to use,” said Wayne Estes, who lives in Bourbon County and has been hunting deer with flintlock longrifles for 30 years. “You have to find out what your gun likes.”

    Flintlock longrifles are loaded with black powder (gunpowder), which is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate. Black powder comes in several granulations, which enables it to be loaded in a wide range of muzzleloading firearms, from small caliber “squirrel” rifles to large caliber smoothbores, which shoot both round balls and bird shot.

    As a rule of thumb, rifles of .45 or smaller caliber should be loaded with 3Fg black powder, which is a fine granulation. In larger caliber rifles, use the coarse granulation, 2Fg. The very fine 4Fg granulation is too explosive to be used for anything other than priming powder for flintlocks.

    The round balls shot from flintlock longrifles are cast from pure lead, and encased in a greased patch when loaded into the rifle.

    Estes said he’s found that a good target load can be just as effective as a hunting load. “I’ve taken deer with muzzleloading rifles from .40 to .58 caliber. Any load that has a muzzle velocity of about 1,600 feet per second will get the job done on deer.”

    Experimentation is the only way to find out what combination of patch and ball works best in a rifle. “Some guys like to shoot a larger ball and thinner patch material while others prefer a smaller ball and thicker patch,” said Estes.

    Ease of loading is the advantage of hunting with a ball that’s slightly smaller (1/100 of an inch or more) than the bore of the rifle. An example would be the .440 diameter ball loaded in a .45 caliber rifle.

    In the 18th century, cotton was expensive and hard to come by, so round balls were patched with scraps of buckskin, or linen cloth, which is woven from thread made from fibers of the flax plant. Today, round balls are typically patched with tightly-woven all-cotton fabric. “Patch material is a personal preference,” said Estes. “I’ve used scraps of blue jeans for years, but some guys like pillow ticking.”

    Patches should be lubricated. The greased patch has two functions, ease of loading in the field, and to help clear fouling from the rifle’s bore. While some shooters prefer a grease rendered from animal fat, Estes said he’s used Vaseline (a brand of petroleum jelly) for years as a reliable patch grease. “It works great. It’s cheap and easy and there’s no scent.”

    The patched ball is pushed a couple of inches into the rifle’s muzzle with the aid of a short starter. Then the rifle’s wooden ramrod is used to complete the job of seating the ball snugly against the powder charge in the breech of the barrel.

    Working up the best hunting load for a particular rifle is a process of  trial and error.

    One method is to shoot three-shot groups, with progressively heavier powder charges, to determine what charges of powder yield the tightest groups. It’s likely that several powder charges will pattern accurately.

    For example, with a .45 caliber rifle, the most accurate charges are likely to be between 40 and 70 grains of 3Fg powder. An accurate, low-powered charge, can be both a close range target shooting load, and a hunting load for squirrels or other small game. The most accurate high-powered charge would be the rifle’s long range target load, and hunting load for deer.

    When trying to find the most accurate loads for your rifle, shoot at a reasonable hunting distance, from a bench or other solid rest,. There’s an old adage in traditional muzzleloading -- never sacrifice accuracy for power.

    “My approach is to shoot the full power load and understand trajectory,” said Estes. “When shooting past 50 yards I hold a little high (about two to four inches), just behind the deer’s foreleg.”

    Once the best hunting load has been determined, the next step is to sight in the rifle. 

    The front and rear sights of traditional muzzleloading rifles slide into dovetail slots cut into the barrel. They are typically made from brass, German silver or soft iron, so they can be easily filed and shaped.

    Elevation changes should be made with the front sight. For example, if the rifle is shooting low, lower the height of the front blade.

    Windage changes can be made by adjusting either the front or rear sight, but it’s best to only adjust the front sight. Position the rear sight in the center of the barrel flat.

    If the balls are hitting the target left of center, move the front sigh to the left. If the holes in the target are patterning right of center, move the front sight to the right.

    Estes said through practice hunters will gain confidence by knowing exactly where the ball is going to hit at various distances. “I assure you there’s nothing like making a good shot on a deer with a flintlock longrifle.”

    The appeal of flintlock longrifles is rooted in history and hunting culture, and hunting with one helps keep the traditions of this uniquely American firearm alive.

      Posted October 17, 2013

      By Art Lander Jr.

      OutdoorsKentucky. Com

        Early Muzzleloader Season for Deer

              Opens Saturday, October 19

The early muzzleloader season for deer opens Saturday.

The two-day season (Oct. 19-20) is the first of two firearms seasons for hunters who want to hunt with muzzleloading rifles or handguns.

Traditional firearms, with flint or percussion ignition, as well as modern in-line muzzleloading rifles with optical sights,  are legal. Black powder and synthetic propellants may be used with round balls, conical bullets or saboted bullets.

Deer harvest during the season tends to fluctuate, with a low turnout of hunters and fewer deer taken, if the weather is too warm. That won’t happen this year if the weekend weather forecast proves to be correct. The forecast is for daytime highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s with little chance of rain.

This means hunters can take a deer in the late afternoon and safely hang it overnight, after it has been field dressed and skinned, before having the venison processed the next day.

Last season hunters took 6,506 deer during the early season. The five-year harvest average is 6,747.

“Whether the harvest trend is up or down depends on how many years you go back in the data,” said Tina Brunjes, deer  program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “If the weather (forecast holds) I expect the  harvest will exceed last year's.”

A  lot of hunters will he holding out for a buck during the early season.

Brunjes said she suspects there is more than 50 percent bucks in the harvest overall, just because the Zone 4 counties are bucks only for early muzzleloader, and for various reasons, a lot of hunters don't shoot a doe until after they've killed a buck. In deer Zones 1-3, deer of either sex may be taken.

She said a lot of gun-only hunters don't kill a doe until late in modern gun season or during the late muzzleloader season (this year Dec. 14-22).

“I'm always happy to see good weather and a high harvest during the early muzzleloader season,” said Brunjes. “For hunters, it means the pressure to fill the freezer is eased and from a deer herd management perspective, it provides a buffer in case of bad weather one or more weekends during the modern gun season.”