Pedersoli .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken
Now ... right up front ... this post is NOT an attack against the patched round ball as a muzzleloader hunting projectile. Over the years, I have taken more than a hundred head of big game with the ancient patched round ball. In fact, of the nearly 400 deer I have harvested with a wide range of muzzleloaders over the past 50+ years, around 80 have been taken with patched round ball rifles. During one special "doe reduction hunt" alone, I took 10 adult whitetail does in five days with 10 shots - all with a .50 caliber rifle and patched 181-grain .495" diameter swaged lead balls.
Rather, this post takes a hard look at exactly what those soft lead spheres ARE NOT. They are not "magical". Those spheres of lead do not possess a fairy tail ability to take game more efficiently than other muzzle-loaded hunting projectiles - especially more efficiently than a good conical bullet or a modern saboted bullet. But ... there are muzzleloading shooters among us who try to weave in a bit of "magic" when expounding on the game taking performance of the old patched round ball.
My very first muzzleloader deer was taken back in 1965, shooting a rifle "almost" exactly like the one shown here. The rifle pictured here is the Dixie Gun Works .40 caliber "Squirrel "Rifle" - Serial No. 2. My first muzzleloader was the same rifle model, except the .40 caliber barrel had been replaced with a .45 caliber Douglas barrel of the same 40-inch length. I had bought the rifle from it's previous owner, who was moving up to a .50 caliber half-stock. One of the "accessories" that had come with the rifle was a home-made powder measure made from the hollowed out tine of a whitetail buck antler. Leveled off, that measure gave a 70-grain charge of DuPont FFFg black powder.
At the muzzle, the load was good for right at 2,000 f.p.s. - with around 1,150 f.p.e. - at the muzzle! Well, the first "antlered buck" I ever got in my sights offered a 60 or so yard perfectly broadside shot ... and the rifle and load delivered that "magical sphere of lead" perfectly right behind the facing shoulder ... and that's where the magic ended. Nearly two hours and more than a quarter-mile later, a friend and I found the dead eight-point buck. The ball had hit perfectly ... had flattened nicely and had passed squarely through both lungs ... and was found under the skin of the opposite side.
What I didn't know way back then was that out at 60 to 65 yards, where the deer had been standing when the shot was taken, the light 128-grain ball had slowed to around 1,250 f.p.s. - and had had hit the deer with less than 500 foot-pounds of retained energy. During our tracking, we had nearly lost the trail several times ... and came close to losing that buck. The following week, I took another 8-pointer in a neighboring state with the rifle ... shot at just 35 yards ... and that deer went even farther before going down.
In 1967, I traded off that .45 "Kentucky" rifle - on a Tingle percussion .50 caliber half-stock rifle - and found that with a heftier 90-grain charge of FFFg black powder behind a patched 178-grain cast .490" diameter soft lead ball, the rifle and load did tend to have noticeably greater knockdown power. Before going into the Marine Corp in 1969, I managed to take two whitetails with that rifle ... both shot at between 50 and 60 yards. One had gone down on the spot ... the other ran just 15 or so yards before dropping.
Right off, my thoughts were that when hunting with a patched round ball muzzleloader ... a bigger bore, with a larger diameter and heavier ball, pushed along by more powder was definitely a better choice when hunting game as large as deer.
While a lead ball is a perfect, or near perfect, sphere ... it still has a "ballistic coefficient" ... and the larger the ball, the higher its b.c. Take that 128-grain .440" diameter round ball I used to take my first two antlered muzzleloader bucks. That ball has a b.c. of right at .060. Pushed from the muzzle of a .45 rifle at exactly 2,000 f.p.s. ... the muzzle energy generated was 1,137 f.p.e. Due to the low .060 b.c., at 25 yards velocity drops to around 1,700 f.p.s. - and the ball hits with 820 f.p.e. Out at 50 yards, the same ball retains right around 1,450 f.p.s. - and just 597 f.p.e. Then, at the 60 to 65 yard range at which I shot my first antlered buck, that light round piece of lead slows to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,250 f.p.s.
In other words, my first buck taken with the first muzzleloader I ever owned was taken with just shy of 450 foot-pounds of retained energy. The accepted minimum for taking deer sized game with a muzzleloader is 800 f.p.e. Was it "magic" ... or was it simply "luck" which allowed me to find that deer?
The first whitetail I ever "dropped on the spot" with a patched ball load was a big adult doe I took at around 50 yards with the .50 Tingle half-stock rifle. The 90-grain charge of FFFg used to propel the 178-grain cast .490" round ball was getting it out of the muzzle of the 32-inch barrel right at 2,010 f.p.s. - with 1,640 f.p.e. At 50 yards, velocity was down to 1,490 f.p.s. - but the rifle and load was still good for just over 900 f.p.e. In fact, this load retains that "must have" minimum of 800 f.p.e. to about 60 yards. Still, by the time that 178-grain sphere of lead reaches 100 yards, velocity is down to 1,140 f.p.s. and retained energy has dropped to 525 f.p.e.
I hunted with a patched round ball for many years, and still like to crowd in a hunt with an accurate patched ball rifle every now and then. These days, my "patched round ball big game rifle" is the percussion .54 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle produced by Davide Pedersoli & Co. That rifle is shown in the photo at the very top of this post - and in the photo above left.
This over-sized adult doe was taken along the Musselshell River of north-central Montana during the fall of 2015. Through the summer and early fall, I had shot the rifle quite a bit, and found it to shoot with real authority, and accuracy, when stuffed with 120 grains of Olde Eynsford FFg black powder (a Premium grade of black powder offered by GOEX Powder) and a .018" thick patched 230-grain Hornady .535" diameter swaged round ball.
A soft lead ball of this weight and diameter has a b.c. of .075. At the muzzle of the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken's 34-5/8" barrel, the load is good for 1,854 f.p.s. and 1,755 f.p.e. Maximum effective range for the rifle and load, where the ball velocity drops to around 1,260 f.p.s. and retained energy to just over 800 f.p.e., is about 75 yards. My shot was made from 77 yards away...and the 230-grain ball centered both lungs - dropping the huge 150-pound field dressed doe on the spot. For more on this hunt, go to the following link -
Let's face it, there is absolutely nothing "magical" about the performance of a soft lead patched round ball. It is a great hunting projectile when shot from a bore that has been properly rifled to achieve best accuracy from a cloth-patched spherical projectile shot at a reasonably fast velocity. The game taking performance of the patched ball is dependent on the same "minimum retained energy" as any other muzzle-loaded hunting projectile. For deer and similar sized game, that's right at 800 foot-pounds of energy ... for game as large as elk, that's in the very close neighborhood of 1,000 f.p.e.
Any time that a dyed in the buckskins die-hard patched round ball shooter begins promoting shooting big game at 100 to 150 yards with a patched round ball, my advice is to simply walk away. Unless that shooter is shooting a .75 or .80 caliber rifle, loaded with 150 to 200 grains of black powder, the odds are way to much in favor of just wounding game rather than putting it down cleanly.
Do you hunt with a patched round ball muzzle-loaded rifle? If you do, please share some of your experieinces ... good and bad. - Toby Bridges
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I almost felt as if I were hunting from behind a waterfall as my eyes focused on the water drops pouring from the bill of my blaze orange cap. The evening before, the weatherman on the tv had predicted "intermittent" showers for the day, throwing in "heavy at times". So, I had packed in one of the heavy rubberized military ponchos ... just in case one of those "intermittent" showers broke out during the season opener of a mid 1980's Illinois deer season.
If not for that poncho, I would have been soaked. Fortunately, the temperature was around 50-degrees, but an occasional gust of wind insured that at least some of the "heavy at times" moisture found it's way in through the front of the hood. The so-called "shower" had poured down for nearly an hour, and I was beginning to feel the chill from clothing that had become more than a little damp. Fortunately, the rain stopped ... and a few minutes later a very heavy and wide 4x5 buck was slipping down the narrow valley I was watching.
I eased the front of the poncho off to my left side ... and glanced down at the custom percussion .54 Hawken being used for the hunt. The cap was still on the nipple, and as the deer moved to within 50 yards, I pulled the front trigger back all the way ... held it there and thumbed the hammer back ... then let up on the trigger - bringing the rifle to full cock without any audible "clicks". The rifle had a great "double set" trigger, and I knew that even when in the "unset" mode, it would take just 3 1/2 pounds to drop the hammer. The rifle slowly came up as the deer moved to within 35 yards...and as the buck slowly eased by at just 25 or so yards the sights were aligned and locked just to the rear of the front shoulder. The hammer fell ... and the cap popped loudly ... and that was it.
The buck stopped, turned slightly and had its eyes locked right on mine. Slowly, I reached inside the front of my jacket, and easily located the brass Tedd Cash capper hanging from a lanyard around my neck ... eased it out ... let a new cap drop into the dispenser ... and ever so slowly eased the capper to the rifle and placed the cap on the nipple. I brought the hammer back to full cock once again ... and brought the rifle slowly up to my shoulder. I couldn't believe that such a mature buck would stand there, barely 25 yards away and allow me to do all of this. A few seconds later, the sights were back on the deer...and the trigger came back.
Again, the hammer fell and the cap fired ... but not the rifle. This time the buck ran up on the side of the opposite ridge ... but stopped at about 50 yards to watch me go through the same slow recapping process. And remained standing there as I took aim for the third time ... and again ... only the cap fired. That was all that the deer could handle - and the last last I ever saw of that buck was as it topped the ridge 150 yards away ... gone from my life forever ... except for the memory of actually having three chances to put that nice rack on the wall.
WET ... COLD ... and DISGUSTED...I walked on back to camp. Before walking into the small cabin being shared with four other hunting buddies, I threw a fresh cap on the nipple ... took aim at a nearby stump ... and dropped the hammer. "KA...BOOM!" ... Without any hesitation whatsoever!
Unfortunately ... Often such is the luck of the traditional muzzleloading hunter during inclement weather ... even those who hunt with a rifle of percussion ignition. Fortunately...there are several things you can do to drastically reduce the chances of wet weather affecting the ignition of a traditional percussion rifle or shotgun.
While moisture getting into the ignition system ... or into the barrel through the ignition system ... is typically the most common cause for a misfire or serious hangfire with a traditional percussion muzzleloader ... it's not always the only way that wet weather can ruin your day, or ruin your hunt. Rifles or shotguns which are carried "muzzle up" are also susceptible to moisture coming in from that end of the front-loader as well. If the rain, or even damp snow, is heavy enough, moisture can build in front of the projectile ... and even if a bullet is well greased or a patch well lubed ... eventually some of the moisture can begin to seep around the projectile and begin to dampen the powder charge. It doesn't take much to turn black powder, or for that matter carbon-based black powder substitutes, into a gooey ... non-combustible ... mess.
One easy way to keep such moisture from entering the muzzle of a muzzle-loaded rifle or shotgun is to simply put a water-proof seal at the front. Regular plastic wrap from the kitchen works great. It can be held in place using a rubber band that's doubled around a time or two. I prefer using vinyl electricians tape, like that shown above left. By stretching the tape as two or three wraps go around the muzzle and plastic film, that tape tends to stay in place all day - even during a day long deluge. (Just be sure to trim away excess plastic wrap that could make it difficult to see your front sight clearly.)
Likewise, a moisture proof barrier can keep dampness from seeping in through the ignition system ... or just dampening the priming inside a percussion cap enough that it fails to fire. Ever since that 1980's hunt, on which I had to watch one of the nicest whitetail bucks I had ever seen simply trot on over the top of a ridge ... after three attempts to get the rifle to fire - I have relied on good ol' bowstring wax to keep moisture out of the ignition system of any percussion cap muzzleloader I am using on a hunt during bad weather.
Basically, I just rub the cone of the nipple all the way around with the wax, taking extra pre-caution to insure than none of the wax gets inside the nipple. Then, once the percussion cap has been firmly seated onto the waxed nipple cone ... I apply a bit more of the wax around the bottom edge of the copper cap.
This is as "weather proof" as one can make a traditional percussion ignition rifle or shotgun. When this much effort is given to keep moisture out of a muzzleloader ignition system, I have never had a single misfire or hangfire. It takes just a couple of extra minutes to seal off the muzzle with plastic food wrap and to apply that weather resistant coat of bowstring wax to the nipple and around the base of the percussion cap. But, that little amount of extra time and effort is a small investment to insure that a rifle or shotgun you may pack around for the next four or five days before getting a shot will indeed fire instantaneously. - Toby Bridges
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Above: Original Jacob Dickert "Pennsylvania" Rifle
One of the finest books on original traditional American flintlock patched round ball rifles ever compiled was "Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Goldern Age", by Joe Kindig - published in 1960. The book's 561 pages are richly illustrated with photos of hundreds of original rifles from the 1700's and early 1800's - with each of those rifles thoroughly examined and described by the author. For years, that book was one of my prized research publications, until I loaned it to a dear friend. Both the book and the friend disappeared.
Joe Kindig is shown at left, surrounded by his "Kentucky Rifles". One thing that must have intrigued him as much as it has me was the wide range of bore sizes found in these hand-made rifles. Arms historians often proclaim that a "typical" Kentucky rifle bore was .45 caliber. Well, going through Kindig's book, which surely represented a great part of his life's work, if there is one thing one will readily realize it is that ... "There was no such thing as a typical bore size!"
Back when I first began to write about muzzleloading guns, I could not absorb enough information. When I worked at Dixie Gun Works, during the early 1970's, I would thumb through Kindig's book (and an original copy of Ned Roberts' book, "The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle") to learn more - and was amazed at the variety of bore-sizes found in American muzzleloading rifles from about 1750 to 1850. That was due to these rifles being truly "HAND MADE" ... including the barrel - which was typically hand forged ... then hand drilled ... hand polished ... and hand rifled - using a simple wooden boring and rifling "machine" ... that was hand operated. The "bore size" ended up being what it was, following all the work it took to get as perfect a round hole from one end to the other as possible ... boring and polishing until the interior surface was slick and smooth ... then meticulously hand cutting those spiraling grooves which made the American long rifles renown for their accuracy.
Thanks to a fellow by the name of Eli Whitney, by the early 1800's, we began to see some standardization in arms making in this country ... including bore sizes. Did you know that Remington's first commercial foray into arms making was to produce high quality barrels for gun makers ... barrels that were consistent from barrel to barrel? As American shooters took more and more to the precision long-range bullet shooting rifles of the 1840's and 1850's, bore sizes became even more standard - and barrels were being made to closer established tolerances ... and more precise bore sizes.
Still, many backwoods gun makers continued to make barrels the same as this country's first gun makers of the 1700's - one at a time, with a bore that pretty much ended up as it ended up. Using a mandrel to hammer forge around, those barrels started out with something of a "caliber" in mind ... but by the time that barrel was bored, polished and rifled ... that caliber could have been off a bit ... which would explain all those .42 through .47 caliber original guns which are featured in Kindig's book. Fact is, once a customer's rifle was completed, the actual bore size was determined ... THEN a round ball mould was cut to produce the proper size soft lead ball for THAT muzzleloading rifle.
In those days, a man's rifle was just that ... that man's rifle - and could be the ONLY rifle he owned his entire life. Some of those guns were shot a lot over 30 or 40 years of service, and the softer iron used for making those barrels likely tended to wear more easily than later steel barrels. Once the rifling was worn to where it could no longer spin the ball adequately for great accuracy, it was a common practice to have a barrel reamed, polished and re-rifled to a larger caliber. A rifle which started out as a .43 caliber in, say, 1760 ... could still be providing protection from hostile enemies and putting meat on the table as a .46 or .47 caliber by 1820 or 1830. Some speculate, that with the move west during the 1840's and 1850's, quite a few rifle bores were purposely enlarged to a bigger caliber to better take the larger game those early pioneers would encounter.
Why A .40 Or .45 Caliber These Days?
When Turner Kirkland, of Dixie Gun Woks, set out to have an armsmaker in Belgium produce the first modern reproduction muzzleloading rifles back in the early 1950's, he studied the bores of the more than 100 original "Kentucky" styled rifles in his collection ... and determined that the average bore size of those rifles was right at .40 caliber. So...that's the caliber he went with ... and the rifle was named the Dixie "Squirrel Rifle". So why did those rifle makers 200 years ago produce long-barreled rifles is such a small caliber?
Keep in mind, back in the mid to late 1700's ... Kentucky and parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio were "The Wilderness". Anyone settling that country was far from supplies of black powder and lead - which were closely guarded. It was purely a case of economics ... a case of "supply and demand". Powder and lead were necessities ... not to be squandered. That's also why those old Kentucky rifles had such long 40 to 44 inch barrels ... to squeeze out every bit of power that a 40 ... 50 ... 60 grain charge of black powder could muster.
Due to the demands from shooters, who wanted to take deer with the rifle, Dixie changed the caliber of those early reproduction rifles to .45 in the mid 1960's.
There are still a couple of .40 caliber round ball reproductions available. Unless someone is simply looking for a short range target rifle, I have to ask myself ... why? In most states, rifles with a bore that size cannot be used to hunt deer. Loaded with a patched round ball, they just don't generate enough energy for a clean kill. A 60-grain charge of FFFg black powder is a "hefty" load for a .40 caliber patched ball muzzleloader, like the Dixie Gun Works/Pedersoli "Cub" Kentucky rifle that's currently available. Out of the rifle's 28-inch barrel, that charge will get a 93-grain patched .395" diameter ball out of the muzzle at a fairly impressive 1,912 f.p.s. But, due to the light weight of that soft lead ball, it generates JUST 754 foot-pounds of energy ... AT THE MUZZLE. Keep in mind that 800 f.p.e. is considered MINIMUM for taking deer sized game - and that's at the distance of the target, not at the muzzle.
Original 1770's Small Bore Kentuckiy Rifle
In reality, the .45 caliber patched round ball rifles don't fare much better on game the size of deer. One of my old friends built a very nice copy of a rifle similar to that shown directly above, using a 42-inch Green Mountain .45 caliber barrel. The rifle is a tack driver with 80-grains of FFFg GOEX black powder and a tightly patched 133-grain .445" swaged lead ball. At the muzzle of the long and light 13/16" diameter barrel, the load is good for 2,144 f.p.s. - with 1,357 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
When working with traditional rifle ballistics, most round ball shooters never consider factoring in the "ballistic coefficient" of a round ball, but it does still come into play. A .445" diameter sphere of lead has a b.c. of just .063. Even at the high muzzle velocity of my friend's load, velocity drops to only about 1,550 f.p.s. at 50 yards - where that ball hits with a not-so-whopping 709 f.p.e. At 60 yards, velocity is down to around 1,400 f.p.s., with only about 580 f.p.e. remaining. In all reality, my friend's custom .45 rifle and load is a 40-yard deer rifle, where the ball is still flying at about 1,675 f.p.s. - and will hit a deer with around 825 f.p.e.
The .50's and .54's...
The movie "Jeremiah Johnson" did a heck of a job promoting the .50 caliber Hawken rifle as a tremendous game taking powerhouse. In reality, with a patched .490" or .495" round ball, and 90- or 100-grain FFg black powder charge to get a 178- to 181-grain ball out of the muzzle with enough velocity to be effective on game ... patched round ball rifles of .50 caliber add about 15 or so yards of effective range over a .45 rifle.
When I built the above rifle back in 1983, I originally built it for shooting with the interchangeable barrels that Green Mountian Rifle Barrel Co. offered for the T/C Hawken ... and at that time one of my favorite barrels was a 32-inch 1-in-66 twist patched round ball barrel - which I used mostly for shooting in a few local matches. I also used that barrel for some of my hunting - stoking it with 100 grains of FFg GOEX powder behind a patched 181-grain .495" diameter swaged lead ball. At the muzzle, the load was good for 1,958 f.p.s. - and 1,542 f.p.e. That ball has a .070 b.c. - and at 50 yards this load has it still flying at 1,452 f.p.s., with 845 f.p.e. The load will retain right at 800 f.p.e. at 55 yards - which I always respected as my "maximum effective range" with the rifle and load.
Like those who moved "West" in the 1800's, I too felt the need to move up to a larger bore patched round ball rifle once I got settled in Western Montana nearly ten years ago. The rifle shown above is now my "serious" patched round ball big game muzzleloader - the .54 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken from Davide Pedersoli & Co. Like the original this rifle nicely copies, this hefty built percussion half-stock has been made to consume heavy powder charges.
My favored load tends to be 120-grains of GOEX FFg behind a patched Hornady .535" diameter 230-grain swaged lead ball. At the muzzle of the 34 3/4-inch long heavy 1-inch diameter octagon barrel, the load is good for 1,889 f.p.s., with 1,861 f.p.e. At 50 yards, the load maintains 1,446 f.p.s. - and 1,088 f.p.e. Out at 75 yards, that big swagged lead ball is still moving along at 1,266 f.p.s. - and will hit a whitetail or similar sized game with 834 foot-pounds of knockdown power.
If you are serious about hunting with a patched round ball muzzleloader ... and truly want to be able to take game out past 50 yards ... never forget, if you want more range and more knockdown power ... it's going to take more powder and more lead. It's as simple as that! - Toby Bridges
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NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING host Toby Bridges shares a few of his more memorable hunts with traditional muzzleloaders - using guns that are no longer available. The article also takes a look at some great reproduction rifles which have gone by the wayside...and kind of mourns their loss. Here's a link to that article ...
Take in what this article shares, then please come back to this post and use the comment section to share your most memorable muzzleloader hunt with a traditionally styled rifle or shotgun - and why the muzzleloader used was your favorite or one of your favorites.
Click On Photos To Enlarge
Pedersoli .50 Missouri River Hawken - With 1-in-24 Twist Bullet Barrel
Pedersoli .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken - With 1-in-65 Twist Round Ball Barrel
In my honest opinion...the two finest modern copies of the so-called "Hawken Style" rifles ever offered for today's traditional muzzleloading rifleman are the two rifles shown directly above - the Missouri River Hawken and the Rocky Mountain Hawken. Both are produced by Davide Pedersoli & Co., of Brescia, Italy. These are the two traditionally styled rifles I tend to shoot the most these days. BOTH are capable of exceptional accuracy...and...EACH fills a specific niche for me.
The company offers the 30-inch barreled Missouri River Hawken in choice of .45 or .50 caliber. The .45 model features a moderately slow 1-in-47 rate of rifling twist, with .009" deep grooves. It has been designed for shooting a patched round ball. The .50 caliber Missouri River Hawken is an entirely different beast. The rifle in this caliber features a much faster 1-in-24 rate of rifling twist, with shallow .004" deep grooves. The .50 caliber version of this model is definitely a true bore-size conical bullet rifle. On the other hand, the 34 3/4-inch barreled Rocky Mountain Hawken comes in .54 caliber only - with a slow 1-in-65 rate of rifling twist with deep .011" grooves. This is definitely a patched round ball rifle.
The workmanship that goes into crafting these two different Hawken models in no way takes a back seat to any other Hawken ever built - in the past or today! In fact, when it comes to fit and finish...and to the quality of component parts used ... the Pedersoli Hawken rifles shown here will challenge the finest custom-built Hawken rifles with price tags easily two to three times the cost of these two exquisite "production" rifles.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to handle and examine a number of the original rifles built by Sam & Jake Hawken. I grew up just 30 miles from where the St. Louis Hawken rifles were built - and I actually once owned and used an original lighter .44 Hawken "Local Rifle" to take a whitetail doe. Perhaps it was that hunt, 45 years ago, which resulted in my high esteem for rifles of Hawken design.
I've had the .50 bullet shooting Missouri River Hawken shown here for about 9 years, and have likely put close to a thousand rounds through it ... and the rifle has shot very well with a number of bore-sized conical bullets ... and it also shoots very well with saboted bullets. This would be the ideal rifle for the muzzleloading hunter looking for old style looks ... but which is capable of modern performance. Here are links to a couple of articles on loading and shooting this rifle -
Shooting A Traditional Lead Conical Bullet...
Shooting A Modern Saboted Bullet...
If you are looking for a true round ball rifle that can be stoked up for the hardest hitting load possible with a patched round ball ... the .54 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken is definitely the rifle for you. With the longer barrel, this rifle weighs in at just an ounce or two shy of 10 pounds.
This hefty built half-stock can be stoked with 120-grains of GOEX FFg black powder, behind either a patched .530" or .535" ball, and recoil is still very tolerable. I've shot both diameter balls out of this rifle - using lubed .020" thick cotton patching with the .530" ball and .018" thick patching with the .535" ball. And, quite honestly, there's not a world of difference in the way they loaded ... or shot. Here's a link to an article on building a load for the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken...and how the rifle and load performed on that giant whitetail doe shown in the above right photo -
Earlier this fall, I had taken both the .50 Missouri River Hawken and the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken with me to the range - to tweak how they were sighted for the fast approaching big game seasons. That was the first time I had shot both rifles during the same range session...and likewise the first time I had broken them down for cleaning at the same time. Both models are built with heavy 1-inch diameter barrels. With both stock assemblies...and both barrels...laying there on my cleaning table, I couldn't resist the urge to check if the barrels could be swapped back and forth.
Well, Davide Pedersoli's manufacturing for these rifles is so precise...the barrels fit either stock assembly like a glove. The photo directly above shows the .50 caliber Missouri River Hawken barrel in the stock assembly of the .54 Rocky Mountain Hawken. Since the company offers either version in choice of walnut or curly maple, I kind of figured the stocks/barrels would be interchangeable.
So...if (or more like when) you see the longer open sighted .54 barrel with the walnut stock...or the shorter, and Hi-Lux Malcolm scoped, .50 caliber barrel on the maple stock, know that we did not get two new rifles - we're just utilizing the interchageability of the stocks and barrels. Which brings up a question...
We're curious ... "If you had just one choice of barrel and stock ...would it be the .50 caliber bullet shooting barrel with the walnut or curly maple stock...or the .54 patched round ball barrel with either the curly maple or walnut stock?" - Toby Bridges
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The above photo is from the muzzleloading classic book "THE MUZZLE-LOADING CAP LOCK RIFLE" by Ned Roberts. See that short barreled Billinghurst "Buggy Rifle" in the upper left-hand side of the photo? Well, the very first shots I ever took with a muzzleloader were with an original mid 1800's rifle not all that different than the one shown here. The rifle was indeed a Billinghurst rifle, of .31 caliber, and it was topped with an early "telescopic rifle sight" (a.k.a. rifle scope). Whether the scope was made by Billinghurst or Wm. Malcolm, that I don't remember.
It was late spring of 1962. A farmer who was a friend of the family had been complaining about too many groundhogs playing havoc with his hay fields, and invited me to come out and shoot a few with my newly acquired Marlin .22 lever-action Model 39. I rode my bicycle the three miles to his farm, with that nearly new .22 strapped across my back, and when I rode into the farm yard, two men I didn't know were there, and they were preparing to load and shoot one of the Billinghurst rifles, of .31 caliber. I was intrigued by the old rifle, and after they had shot it a few times, the owner asked it I wanted to take a few shots. He instructed me how to load the rifle, and I remember taking five or six shots - hitting a tin can out at about 50 yards with every shot.
The men were there to work on a tractor, and were taking a coffee break. I asked the rifle owner if I could slip down to a nearby valley hay field and try to shoot a groundhog with the rifle. He agreed to let me...but without him there to oversee my reloading of the rifle...I would have just the one shot.
As I eased down the dirt farm road leading to the lower hay field, I spotted three chucks out feeding...and immediately went into "sneak mode". Ten minutes later, I was crawling up to a wooden gate. The barrel of the old Billinghurst .31 caliber underhammer was slipped between two of the boards, with the heavy barrel rested on the lower board. I had no problem finding the closest chuck in the crosshairs. The clover munching varmint was about 45 yards away. I reached down and cocked the hammer, looking to make sure the cap was still on the nipple...then refined my hold on the groundhog. My finger tightened on the trigger...the hefty little rifle barked...and that chuck dropped out of sight. I had just taken my very first muzzleloader game.
That first muzzleloading memory took place about a month before my 13th birthday. I can vividly remember shooting that rifle...loading the rifle several times...and making my very first muzzleloader taken shot on game with that rifle. I also remember the owner of the rifle telling me that it was a .31 caliber Billinghurst rifle. Little did I realize at that moment just how important muzzleloading would become to me, and to my personal pursuit of happiness on down the road.
Now, here I am, some 54 springs later in life. What's ironic is that this spring I began shooting with the short full-stock rifle shown in the photo directly above...a little .31 caliber percussion rifle - built with a 160 to 170 year old original barrel. But... That's not an early style scope on the rifle. It's a type of sight that predates the earliest telescopic rifle sights by 50 or more years. It is a tube sight, which is probably best described as a fully encased "peep" sight.
I got the nuzzleloader from an older friend, who built it a couple of years ago. It was the lure of shooting with the tube sight which drew me to the "odd ball" .31 caliber muzzleloader. I had only shot with such a sight once before in my life...and had never owned one. However, even after I acquired the rifle, one thing kept me from getting out and shooting it for almost a year - and that was that no one offered a .300" diameter ball for loading and shooting out of a muzzleloader. Or, for that matter, a ball mould for casting a ball of that diameter.
Or...So I Thought! That was until I began playing around with the thought of building some "buckshot" loads for one of the Pedersoli flintlock 12 gauge Mortimer shotguns. And...there it was...in the Ballistic Products Inc. catalog...a listing for .300" diameter (No. 1) Buckshot)! Living a lifetime of shooting larger bore .50 caliber rifles and loads, one often forgets just how small a .300" diameter ball really is...and how little it weighs. The above left photo shows one of the No. 1 Buck spheres...which weighs 40.6 grains.
I had nearly forgotten just how enjoyable it is to shoot a truly accurate small-bore small-game rifle such as this. Shooting just 15 grains of FFFg Olde Eynsford black powder (a premium grade of powder from GOEX), this hand-built rifle and home-made tube sight surprised me with its outstanding accuracy. That half-inch cluster shown in the photo at right is a typical 25-yard target with the rig - and it shot about as well at 50 yards.
My range is located in the valley of a Western Montana hay field, which was just cut and baled this past week. While it may be several thousand miles from where I took my first muzzleloader game 54 years ago, the next valley over is loaded with pesky ground squirrels - and I have a feeling that this coming week I just may have to get in some small varmint shooting ... some very small varmint shooting ... with this .31 caliber small bore muzzleloader.
For more on loading and shooting this small-bore muzzleloader ... and a look at what makes a small caliber muzzleloader ideal for hunting small game, go to this link...
How well do you remember your first shots with a muzzleloader ... or your first muzzleloader ... and the first game you ever took with a muzzleloader? Please share those memories in the following comment section. - Toby Bridges
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Traditions .50 Caliber Hawken Woodsman
I bought my very first percussion .45 Dixie Gun Works "Kentucky" rifle a couple of months before my 15th birthday, back in 1965. The rifle had originally been a .40 caliber, but the owner had replaced the Belgium-made barrel with a .45 caliber Douglas octagon barrel, and that rifle proved to be a tack driver. Shooting 70-grains of FFFg black powder (DuPont) behind a pillow-ticking patched 128-grain cast soft lead ball, I could consistently hit a tin can at 50 to 70 yards. I took my first muzzleloader buck that fall with the rifle in Missouri...and a week later took my second muzzleloader buck with the rifle in Illinois.
The "like new" rifle, .440" ball mould, lead melting pot, a couple of pounds of DuPont black powder, a yard or so of pillow ticking, a powder flask, a half-dozen other loading accessories, and 500 imported Italian No. 11 percussion caps had cost me $125. While that may sound ridiculously low, you have to keep in mind that back then you could buy a brand new, in the box, Remington Model 700 bolt-action center-fire rifle for $97.50.
Getting into traditional muzzleloading today can be an extremely expensive venture. One of the upper end, very authentically styled "Hawken" rifles offered by the Davide Pedersoli company can easily set you back $1,000 to $1,500. And to amass all of the loading components and accessories for loading and cleaning such a rifle can easily add another $200. But, this isn't to say that if you shop around, you can't enjoy traditional muzzleloading for a more reasonable $400 to $500 start up cost - especially if you can find a good used rifle in excellent shooting condition.
The slick little half-stock rifle shown at the top of this post is the .50 caliber Traditions "Hawken Woodsman" - which retails for a much more reasonable $479 for the percussion model (shown), $519 for the flintlock model. These are Traditions' suggested retail prices. The muzzleloading fancier willing to shop around, can find the percussion model for just under $400, and the flint model for a few dollars over $400.
Back when I bought my first .45 muzzleloader, 51 years ago last month (April 2016), a 1-pound can of black powder cost all of $4 to $5 a pound (depending on who made it)...and a hundred of those .440" diameter balls for the rifle could be bought for about $4 as well ... and a tin of 100 No. 11 caps cost about $1.50. Back then, I didn't know of anyone who used "pre-cut" patching, all simply used good ol' pillow ticking...which could be bought for less than $1 a yard (that would easily patch 200+ of those round balls).
Even if a shooter bought cast balls (swaged balls were not available then), a .45 caliber rifle shooting 70-grains of black powder, could be loaded and shot for about 10-cents per shot. A .50 caliber, shooting a heavier .490-.495" ball and a heavier 80-grain charge of black powder, could be shot for 12- to 14-cents per shot. By casting my own lead balls, I could actually shoot my first muzzleloader for about 6- or 7-cents a shot!
TODAY...LEAD ROUND BALLS FOR .45 OR .50 CALIBER PATCHED BALL RIFLES EACH SELL FOR ABOUT WHAT THE ENTIRE LOAD COST BACK THEN!
The Dixie Gun Works' 2016 catalog lists cast pure-lead .440" round balls for $16.75 per hundred, for 16 3/4-cents per shot, and swaged .440" Hornady round balls for $14.25 per hundred, or 14 1/4-cents per shot. A .490"/.495" swaged ball works out to right at 18-cents per shot...and .530"/.535" swaged balls will set you back 21-/22-cents per shot. Even the tiny .310" swaged ball for a .32 caliber rifle will cost you 12 3/4-cents per shot. And if you look to load with pre-cut, pre-lubed patches, that will add right at 9-cents to the "per-shot" cost of loading and shooting a patched round ball.
GOEX black powder typically retails for around $20 per pound. If you load and shoot 70 grains, for 100-shots per pound, that works out to 20-cents a shot. If you load and shoot heavier charges, the cost per shot will cost you even more. An 80-grain charge (87.5 shots per pound) will cost almost 23-cents per shot. A 90-grain charge (77.7 shots per pound) works out to almost 26-cents per shot. And a 100-grain charge (70 shots per pound) will run a shooter 28.5 cents per shot.
The cost of No. 11 percussion caps have really escalated over the past ten years. I use almost exclusiely the CCI No. 11 Magnum caps, which retail for $6.95 per 100...adding another 7-cents per shot to the cost of shooting a traditional percussion rifle. So, as you can see, for a typical load for a .50 caliber patched round ball...loading 80-grains of black powder...a swaged .490" lead ball...using a lubed pre-cut patch...and a CCI No. 11 Magnum cap means that each and every shot will cost you 57-cents.
If you already have a lead melting pot and a round ball mould for your rifle, along with a cheap supply of good soft scrap lead...and rely on loading with pillow ticking patching, you can actually cut the cost per shot of loading a traditional patched round ball rifle by as much as 20-cents per shot (depending on rifle caliber). However, if you have to buy a lead melting furnace ($60 to $100) and a round ball mould ($30 to $100+) - you'll have to to do a lot of shooting to save enough to cover the cost of the equipment.
Before mid-June, we'll bring you a "First Look" at the Traditions .50 caliber "Hawken Woodsman"...and how well it shoots with pre-cut patches and Hornady .490" and .495" swaged round ball loads, shooting GOEX black powder. Then, before the end of June we'll also publish a piece on how to save $$$ by loading patched swaged .490" diameter buckshot using pillow ticking patching trimmed at the muzzle...and how those loads compare performance wise with the pre-cut patched commercially swaged balls. Watch for that article/report - which will be titled "The Cost Of Convenience". - Toby Bridges
Shooting A 150 To 160 Year Old Original English Fowler
Couldn't help but using that pun in the headline or title for this post. But...that's kind of how I felt as I loaded and shot a circa 1860's original Joseph Bourne, Birmingham, England, percussion single barrel shotgun, or "fowler" as they were commonly referred to back in those days, for very likely the first time in more than a hundred or more years. But...I'm getting ahead of myself just a little.
The opportunity to even handle and examine the well built old smoothbore came about when I invited Glenn May and Andrew Mason, both talented gunsmiths and gun makers with Cooper Firearms of Montana (of Stevensville, MT) to do some shooting with me. Both love old guns...or modern copies of old guns...and jumped at the opportunity to take me up on that invitation.
Glenn has been a loyal follower of the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING web site for several years, and had been wanting to do some shooting with the Pedersoli modern copy of a pre-1800's Mortimer flintlock 12-gauge fowler I planned to use for my Montana turkey hunting this spring. In fact, he had become so intrigued at hunting turkeys with a muzzleloading shotgun that he had acquired one of his own .... the mentioned original Bourne single barrel. He had spent some time cleaning up the old gun...and checking to make sure the Damascus twist steel barrel was solid enough to be shot...and wanted me to help him work up a load for the gun.
I've always had a special place in my heart for fine original muzzleloading shotguns, and looked forward to seeing what kind of performance we could get out of the old Bourne single ... so told Glenn to bring it along.
The shotgun seemed to be something of a "loose 10 gauge"...or a "tight 9 gauge". I checked the bore by slipping one of the Ballistic Product Inc. one-piece plastic 10-gauge TPS wads onto my little finger...then easing it about half way into the bore. I could feel the wad making contact with the walls of the bore. But for my first shot with the old percussion single, I decided to try something else first.
The hefty built shotgun weighed in at around 9 1/2 to 10 pounds, with a fairly hefty barrel, especially at the breech end. To play it safe, I went with a "light" load. In fact, I went with basically the same 90-grain charge of Olde Eynsford FFg black powder I shoot out of the pound or so lighter Pederoli-Mortimer 12 gauge flintlock. Directly over the powder charge, I "dropped" in one of the BPI .125" thick heavy 10-gauge Nitro Card Wads. (The card wad did make light contact with the walls of the bore, and it took very little, if any, effort to push the card down on top of the powder charge.) Then, I pulled apart one of the 1/2-inch thick BPI 10-gauge fiber cushion wads, separating it into 5 thinner fiber wafers...and tamped that down on top of the card wad. A .030" thick card over-shot wad was ramrodded over the top of the cushion wad...and two ounces of No. 5 lead shot poured in.
I knew a 10-gauge .030" thick over-shot card wad would fit a bit too loosely to reliably keep the shot from rolling forward and out the muzzle...so instead I simply rolled up a small bit of toilet tissue...shoved it down the bore...and lightly tamped it into a very effective "over-shot" wad. Shooting off of sandbags from the bench, at about 20 yards, I was extremely pleased when the nearly 160-year old shotgun produced the above left pattern ... with the first shot that had likely been fired out of it in a hundred or so years. So were Glenn and Andrew.
The two wanted to try their hand at loading the muzzleloading big bore - so I walked them through the process I had used. Shooting from the sandbags of my old shooting bench, they had no problem duplicating the pattern I had gotten with the first shot out of the Bourne single. Both took turns loading and shooting the shotgun another seven or eight times.
Repeatedly, the two punched patterns on paper that would have absolutely no problem of taking an adult wild turkey tom at 25 yards... maybe a bit farther. Glenn had seen how one of the BPI one-piece plastic 12 gauge TPS wads, with four cup length slits (to form four sleeves), had tightened the patterns of the Pedersoli flintlock 12-gauge I'll be hunting turkeys with this spring...and jumped at the chance to load the old Bourne single with the same powder and shot charges - but using just the sleeved 10-gauge TPS wad ... with a bit of toilet paper tamped over the top to form an over-shot wad.
Well...as you can see from the two photos directly above ... Glenn now has himself one turkey getting muzzleloading shotgun...and a load that should put any wild turkey gobbler on the ground...out to 30 yards! And...that's pretty amazing from a shotgun with a cylinder bore barrel.
Before fall, I may borrow this shotgun for a week or so and get in a little more shooting with the gun ... and some photography as well. Since it now belongs to a good friend, rest assured...you will very likely see more of it on this website. For a look at my loading and shooting of the Pedersoli reproduction of a circa 1790 Mortimer flintlock shotgun...just go to the following link. - Toby Bridges
For More On The Pedersoli Flintlock 12 Gauge Mortimer...Click On Above Photo
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Mastering A Flintlock Shotgun
One of the muzzleloaders I truly hope to have the opportunity to work with and to hunt with through 2016 would be the superb Davide Pedersoli & Co. reproduction of the English flintlock Mortimer 12-gauge shotgun shown above. In my opinion, this 36-inch barreled smoothbore is one of the absolute finest modern made copies of a classic late 1700's flintlock ever offered.
I have never shot one of the Mortimer cylinder-bore "scatterguns"... but I have handled them several times at the annual SHOT Show - and the feel of this gun is great. The shotgun has wonderful balance, and the 9-pound smoothbore comes up nicely. When my cheek hits the relatively straight comb of the shotgun butt, the bead tends to be exactly where it needs to be. Getting off a fast shot with this flintlock should be absolutely no problem - and the key to taking game with an open-bore flintlock smoothbore is to shoot fast...and close!
I've only hunted with a couple of flintlock smoothbores, one being the 12-gauge Indian Trade Gun in the photo at left. This particular new-made flinter just happened to be the very first of the Trade Guns produced by my old friend Curly Gostomski, of North Star Enterprises. He had lost the gun in a trade years earlier, and when I was able to relocate it...and trade for it...I gave it back to Curly, at the Friendship, Indiana NMLRA matches, as a present on his birthday.
Loading the big smoothbore pretty much the same as I loaded an original and a reproduction Pedersoli built 12-gauge percussion muzzleloading shotguns I also shot at that time, I managed to take a couple of wild turkey gobblers with the big flintlock - before getting it back to the man who had built it. Those gobblers were taken at well inside of 20 yards.
I was the "caretaker" of North Star Indian Trade Gun No. 1 for a little more than two years prior to giving it back to Curly. Before letting the big flintlock go, I played around with shooting a patched round ball out of the smoothbore...and found that I could "kind of" keep hits at 50 yards within 5 inches of point of aim - anyway "good enuff" to encourage me to try taking a deer with it. Several months after acquiring the Trade Gun, I managed to take the spike buck shown at right - at 30 yards.
While I did miss the gun after presenting it to Curly...I felt good about where it went.
If I do manage to get my hands on one of the very stylish Pedersoli reproductions of a Mortimer flintlock shotgun before the end of March, an immediate goal will be to try taking a spring gobbler with the smoothbore. Then I would begin my quest to develop a patched round ball load for the flinter, and hunt with the gun for several days this next fall to try filling one of my annual "antlerless" whitetail deer tags.
Here in Montana there are a lot more opportunities to hunt waterfowl and small/upland game, like turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, grouse, partridge and pheasants with a shotgun than there are opportunities to go after large game with a muzzleloading rifle. I actually miss hunting "meat for the table" with a flintlock smoothbore.
What are your thoughts? Would you enjoy reading about working up different loads for this flintlock scattergun...hunting small game with the smoothbore Mortimer...busting a big ol' gobbler at under 20 yards...taking a whitetail with one of these flintlocks...or maybe taking a few geese with the style of shotgun that would have been used by naturalist and hunter John James Audubon during the early 1800's? Heck, I haven't even shot a flintlock in more than 20 years. Just the thought of once again mastering the ol' flint-n-steel ignition system is challenge enough for me to go for it! - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
This TRADITIONAL MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Post Is Brought To By...
There have been a number of major movie productions in the past which have done much to promote the popularity of certain kinds of guns. Surely most all of you reading this remember how sales of the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver skyrocketed after the release of Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, back in 1971. That one film likely sold a hundred thousand of the revolvers.
Then, for us black powder burners, there was the movie Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford. That 1972 film taught millions of Americans that the "Hawken" was the rifle of choice among the 1840's "mountain men". And that certainly did not hurt the sales of Thompson/Center Arms new "Hawken" muzzleloader, which was brought onto the market in 1971.
Pedersoli Flintlock Indian Trade Musket
So...Have you seen the new movie "The Revenant", starring Leonardo DiCaprio playing circa 1820's fur trapper and hunter Hugh Glass? While this film does not spotlight one particular make or model of early 1800's muzzleloader, it does, in true Hollywood fashion, glamorize the rough and tumble lifestyle of that hardy breed who became known as "mountain men" - and the flintlock guns their lives depended upon.
If you have seen this movie, which has already won the Golden Globe "Best Picture" Award ... and which has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards ... what did you like or dislike about the film? What are your thoughts on the flintlock guns depicted ... and do you believe this movie could spur an all new interest in muzzleloading, especially in shooting and hunting with a flintlock?
Please use the comment section of this post to share your thoughts.
For "Our Take" On "The Revenant" Go To -
Featured Muzzleloader Above - Pedersoli Flintlock 12-Gauge Mortimer Single Barrel Shotgun
Traditional Muzzleloader Hunting
This blog is made possible by Davide Pedersoli & Co., Dixie Gun Works, Traditions Firearms, Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co., October Country, and Hodgdon/GOEX powders. The topics presented here will be devoted entirely to shooting and hunting with muzzleloading guns of pre- 1860's design.