A History Of Muzzleloading

Last revision Nov. 2015

The Reverend Alexander Forsyth, looking far less imposing as he squatted in his seaside blind than he  did when preaching from his pulpit, was a frustrated man. Not that he didn’t understand the need for the  Good Lord to wet down the lands roundabout with a good stiff rain. Still, it didn’t seem fair that what  caused other men’s fortunes to prosper could cause such mayhem with his duck hunting. After all, he  had paid a goodly sum for the fine London made flintlock fowling piece now resting uselessly in his  hands, it’s priming wet and gummy. The Black Powder he was using was the best, but the best still  didn’t shed rain. In fact, it attracted it.

The good Reverend gave up his duck hunt in disgust. But he didn’t give up thinking about the  problem of wet priming and spoiled hunts. He was an experimenter, an independent thinker interested  in keeping up with the latest scientific knowledge. He loved to tinker in the small shop in back of his parish  home.

 

He patented the device and the percussion principle in England on 4 July, 1807, the most significant development in the history of shooting other than the invention of gunpowder…

 

He was aware that Samuel Pepys had noted the explosive properties of certain metallic salts in the 1600’s. Others had experimented with mixing the salts, (called fulminates), with gunpowder, but the combination was deadly and blew up guns right and left. It had been successful only when mixed with fine black powder and used for flintlock priming.

histor1Forsythe’s Scent-Bottle percussion lock. Rotating the device deposited a pinch of fulminate under the peg hit by the hammer.

The usefulness of the fulminate-black powder priming mix stimulated his thinking. He knew that he could explode the fulminates. He had tried it with hammer and anvil. He also knew it wouldn’t ignite with the sparks from his flintlock, he’d tried that, too. The solution was to modify the hammer, replacing the flint with a blunt device that fitted the contours of the pan closely.

He was delighted to find that the resulting explosion would ignite the main charge. But he also realized that he had not solved the whole problem. Fulminates were every bit as hygroscopic as gunpowder and would not explode when wet. He had to seek further for a more complete solution.

He found it in the “scent bottle” lock, a rotating device that resembled the common perfume bottle. It deposited a bit of loose mercuric fulminate under an enclosed blunt peg which would explode when the hammer struck the peg a sharp blow. He patented the device and the percussion principle in England on 4 July, 1807, the most significant development in the history of shooting other than the invention of gunpowder.

 

Small Arms

Nobody knows quite when or how, but black powder showed up in Europe sometimes before the 13th century. It was said to have come from China. The inventive Europeans immediately adapted it to the incessant warfare of the times with the invention of the cannon. These cannon were originally large-bored, wheel-less, rock-throwing monsters that used huge quantities of the crudely mixed meal powder then available. It was usually mixed on the spot, just before the shot.

histor2Bronze German “hand cannon” of the 1500’s, meant to be fired with a ‘match’ at very close range. A ’tiller’ was held under the arm for stability in aiming.

By the 15th century, smaller shoulder-fired arms had been developed. Bores were relatively large and most always smooth. Accuracy, as we understand it, was nil, but was good enough to be extremely effective on the battlefield as they were powerful enough to pierce the common mail and plate armor worn by the men-at-arms and knights. That, and the ease with which a neophyte could become a practiced marksman, guaranteed the demise of archery and armor on the battlefield as well as in sporting use.

 

Locks

The first “handgonnes” were fired with a match applied to a touchhole. This “match” was a piece of cotton or hemp rope or cord soaked in saltpeter, which the shooter carried lit at both ends. The oldest known handgun, excavated from a German castle destroyed in the early 1300’s, was fired in this fashion. The clumsiness of this arrangement soon led to a lock with ‘match’ clamped in iron jaws actuated by a trigger. The shooter could actually aim the piece while he pulled the trigger. But any matchlock was dangerous, witness Miles Standish, who blew off his breeches with a lighted match and a pocketful of loose powder.

…However, by the 15th century, smaller shoulder fired arms had been developed. Bores were… large and…always smooth. Accuracy, as we understand it, was nil…

The risk, plus the stink and easily visible firelight at night, stimulated the development of the wheellock by 1525, perhaps influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. The wheellock was relatively large, difficult and expensive to make but almost always worked.

histor3This matchlock has all parts of a modern firearm, making aimed fire possible. It revolutionized the European battlefield and guaranteed the demise of the heavily armored knight

The functional excellence of the wheellock resulted in the invention of the traditional shooting sports as we know them today, as well as initiating the tradition of high art in sporting arms that persists even now. There remained a need for a small, light, and inexpensive lock for the common shooter. By 1600 a variety of locks had been developed in many countries, all of which featured a cocking piece with jaws grasping a chunk of easily available flint. The flint would strike what we now call a “frizzen”, causing a shower of sparks to fall into priming held in a conveniently located pan. The conflagrating powder would then flash through the touchhole and fire the main charge.

histor4A fine quality modern ‘French’ flintlock. A truly good one will cost as much as the barrel of a fine rifle and rain sparks in fiery splendor on the priming in the pan, with near instant ignition. You can call your shots with a good one.

There were Spanish miquillets, Danish pecking locks, English dog-locks, Mediterranean snap-haunces and others. In around 1625, the classic flintlock, an amalgamation of the best features of all the others, was developed by Marin be Bougeois, then gunmaker to the French king. This is the flintlock that we are all familiar with now. It quickly caught on and remained the standard until the invention of the percussion system 200 years later.

 

The PERCUSSION SYSTEM

The flintlock became the pre-dominant sporting and military arm for over 200 years, persisting until the middle 1800’s, when the percussion system became commercially successful. Remember Pepys, who noted the percussive qualities of metallic fulminates. No one put this knowledge to good use until Forsyth used fulminates for percussion rather than mixing it with the main or priming charge of a flintlock.

…By 1625, the classic flintlock, an amalgamation of all the others, was developed by Marin de Borgeois, then gun maker to the French king…

Within just a few years, many inventors had improved on Forsyth’s percussion lock. Gunmakers of the early 1800’s vied arduously with one another, and new locks and percussion systems abounded. The effort was transformational.

histor5# 11 percussion caps by CCI and a White hardened 1/4 X 28 hexagonal nipple.

However, it remained for a British-American, Joshua Shaw, to invent the nipple and the copper caps made to fit it. Their enthusiastic use was a reality by 1816. They didn’t change much at all for a century and a half until 1990, when Doc White (that’s me) developed the hardened combination nipple-breechplug used first in the White Super 91. Even then, the shape of the cap-holding portion of the nipple was the same.

 

IN-LINES

A plethora of designs for use with the new percussion principle appeared in the early 1800’s. The Swiss genius Pauley invented the paper cap, then invented a percussion muzzleloader in 1808 and breech-loader in 1812. His 1808 patent was the first for a muzzleloading in-line action in which the cock of the sidelock was replaced by a cylindrical hammer driven by a coil spring.

His in-line invention was capitalized on by Dreyse, who worked for Pauly between 1808-14 and who used it as the basis for his 1838 turnbolt design which became the Prussian Needlegun of 1848.

Paul Mauser later used the Dreyse needlegun design as a basis for his tumbolt cartridge rifle of 1868, first patented in the U.S., but adopted by the German military in 1871.

histor6The Dreyse needle gun of 1848. It was so advanced that any soldier who lost one paid with his life for his carelessness

White later used the Mauser inspired Springfield ‘03 as a basis for the White Super 91 of 1991, once again a muzzlelader, making the cycle one grand round.

[Pauley]…was the first to design and patent an…inline action in which the cock of the sidelock was replaced by a cylindrical hammer driven by a coil spring… (1808)

 

BLACK POWDER

Black powder had improved drastically in the meantime. In the thirteenth century, black powder was a rough hand-grind of about 50% saltpeter, with 25% each of charcoal and sulfur. The gunner of the day had to thoroughly mix each batch just before he loaded. Weather affected the performance of the powder tremendously as it was intensely hygroscopic. It just loved water.

histor7Modern Black Powders from Elephant, imported from Brasil, and Goex, same as the old Dupont, made since the 1800’s in America.

The ‘corning’ of black powder, which reduces its affinity for water, was developed in the 16th century. This process compacts the black powder into grains, lubricants and partially weatherproofs each grain with a coating of graphite. This feature allowed manufacturers to market gunpowder in several grain sizes, which allowed the shooter to control burning rate, pressure and velocity, and to more easily customize loads.

Proportions and quality of the ingredients changed as shooters demanded better grades of powder and improved grinding machinery became available. This resulted in far less corrosion and residue, cleaner shooting and smaller, yet more powerful charges, developing higher and more uniform pressures and velocities.

The peak of black powder development was reached in the 1860’s , just before the invention of smokeless powder eclipsed the worldwide use of black powder.

 

PYRODEX

Black powder didn’t change much for a century after that until Dan Powlac developed Pyrodex in the 1970’s. Pyrodex is Black Powder with flame retardants, scrubbers, additional oxidizers and a unique grain form. (And maybe a few other features that Hodgden, it’s current manufacturer, isn’t commenting on.) The result is a smoothly pouring grayish powder that ignites at temperatures about twice as high as Black Powder, conflagrates (burns) at about the same temperatures and pressures as Black Powder on a volumetric basis, but leaves far less residue in the barrel. Best, it can be shipped as a class C Propellant instead of a class A explosive, which makes it far easier for a shooter to find than Black Powder.

histor8A can of modern Pyrodex.

The peak of black powder development was reached in the 1860’s, just before the invention of smokeless powder eclipsed [its] worldwide use…

 

NEWER BLACK POWDER SUBSTITUTES

The current vigorous muzzleloading market has spawned a number of substitutes for Black Powder other than Pyrodex. The earliest efforts to market Black Powder substitutes occurred as early as the time of our Civil War, when chlorates were first added to Black Powder. This effort was not successful simply because of the easy availability of excellent grades of cheap Black Powder at the time.

The 1970’s saw the development of substitutes based on ascorbic acid, which is Vitamin C, the ascorbic acid serving as fuel rather than carbon. The earliest was Golden Powder, which proved to suck up water like a sponge. Shelf life was awful. It went nowhere commercially. Later developments by different companies included Arco, Black Canyon and CleanShot., none of which have survived.

Arco was a yellowish sandy appearing granulated powder. It ignited at temperatures just slightly higher than Black Powder, the residues were somewhat more hygroscopic but left very little fouling in the barrel. Of all the substitutes, this one was superior in that it best duplicated Black Powder velocities and performance, yet left very little residue in the barrel, but it never came to market in quantity and is not available.

Black Canyon originally appeared as a black round granule which was quite large, almost BB size. It was difficult to measure and required a thorough thumping with the ramrod to insure ignition. It was not commercially successful in that form.

CleanShot subsequently appeared. It was a greyish granulated powder, looking a lot like Black Powder. It measured easily, seemed to ignite at near Black Powder temperatures, left little residue in the barrel, but was much more expensive than Black Powder because of its rather costly ascorbic acid fuel.

 

SUGAR BASED POWDER

The 1990’s brought Clearshot into the picture. This powder iwas produced by GOEX, who also makes the only available American Black Powder. The fuel for Clearshot was a complex sugar, which has the advantage of being very inexpensive, literally a fraction of the cost of ascorbic acid. It was produced in several grades, all of which looked like a blackish ball powder. It igniteed at low temperatures, left little residue in the barrel, and left the barrel exceptionally cool after firing compared to the other substitutes. It was once widely available.

All of the Black Powder substitutes enjoy the advantage of shipping as Class C propellants rather than as Class A explosives under current federal law. This makes them more available to the shooter as storage and transportation requirements are much less onerous. However, most of them contain chlorates, which makes them far more corrosive than Black Powder and all residues are quite hygroscopic, even more so than Black Powder. This means that prompt and thorough cleaning after a shooting session is still required.

 

777

777 is a more recent product introduced by Hodgden. It has become decidedly populer even though its cost is substantially higher than either Black Powder or Pyrodex. 777 is a blackish grained powder, available in 3fg and 2 fg grades, the grains size and color roughly approximating that of Black Powder. It ignites at temperatures slightly lower than Pyrodex and conflagrates with less barrel residue and smoke. On a volumetric basis, it is about 10% more potent than Pyrodex. The pressure curve is a bit more spikey than Pyrodex but with good volume under the curve so velocities are enhanced over those of the other BP substitutes. On the downside, fired residues left in the breech can become quite hard with time if the gun is left uncleaned, making the breechplug very difficult to remove. Loosening the breech-plug followed by prompt cleaning and the use of a molybdenum sulfide-containing anti-seize breech plug grease helps this problem.

 

BLACKHORN 209

As you might guess from the title, Blackhorn 209 is meant to be ignited by a 209 shotgun primer. Common percussion caps will not reliably ignite it. It also requires some back pressure to burn reliably, which means that patched and saboted bullets work well with it while slip fit bullets do not unless quite heavy. It is produced by Westrn Powders, in Miles City, MT. It comes in a one lb. plastic can, looks like smokeless in that it ‘s grains are a perforated cylinder, acts like smokeless as it ignites at high temperature, smokes very little and leaves very little residue in the barrel. It might as well be and probably is at least partially a smokeless nitrocellulose product. However, it loads on a volumetric basis, same as black powder, although the weight is different. Velocities with lighter saboted bullets are superior, up into the 2000 fps range, but the rifle must have a closed breech. Slam-fire guns, like so many of the early in-lines, are not any too reliable with it. It is an excellent propellant for the White Thunderbolt, with its locked bolt breech set-up, as long as saboted bullets or heavier slip-fit are used. You can get a plethora of information and loading data on ‘blackhorn209.com’.  I have found it to be a very useful powder and have come to prefer it in my White ThunderBolt rifles.

 

SMOKELESS POWDER

Smokeless powders have been used for years in muzzleloaders and cartridge black powder arms by knowledgeable and experienced shooters to enhance ignition and cleanliness, usually employing tiny amounts of fast burning smokeless in large charges of Black Powder. The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle by Kauffman, published in the 1930’s, contains a wide-ranging discussion of its limited use.

The use of smokeless powder was never advocated for the main charge until Savage brought out a new bolt action muzzleloader at the turn of this century, (2000). The problem here is the potential for confusion in the minds of neophyte muzzleloading shooters, not all modern muzzleloading rifles being manufactured to the same standards as the Savage. Accidental doubled charges of Black Powder are relatively safe if mistakenly fired while doubled loads of smokeless can be intensely destructive. Most important, it remains to be seen whether state game departments will allow the use of smokeless for muzzleloading hunting. Most already prohibit it.

 

STEEL

The production of industrial quality steels also had a lot to do with improvements in shooting. Early shooters were forced to use iron barrels hand-forged out of skelps welded around a mandrel. These barrels were weak and had to be heavy to withstand the pressures of firing. The development of Damascus barrels was an attempt to use the superior manufacturing techniques of  high quality sword making to improve barrel steel quality.

Some geographical areas produced barrels of higher quality than usual. Spanish barrels, made of a naturally occurring steel, were in high demand in Europe before the invention of true steel manufacture in the 1800’s, as were Spanish swords, for the same reason. Truly modern steel production techniques were not with us until Bessemer developed his famous furnace, but good quality steels were always in high demand for gun barrels and critical parts, especially after the percussion system stimulated the development of lighter, harder hitting, and higher velocity arms.

 

BULLETS

Over the centuries, bullets have been made in many marvelous and varied forms. Carefully crafted round stone balls were used in the early bombards of the European wars, but lead was eventually found to make the best bullet. It had the advantage of being easily molded to almost any form and was heavy for it’s size, flying through resisting air without losing as much velocity as lighter materials.

Most early bullets were spheres, loaded singly and naked, or with various combinations of wadding or patching. The discovery of rifling was closely correlated with the development of the patch, a piece of tough cloth, rarely leather, that held the ball tightly enough to cause it to accurately follow the rifling, yet load relatively easily if well greased.

histor9Modern day ‘Minie’ balls. (Left) Lymans heavy skirted #577611, meant for high velocity. (Middle) Lee’s 58 caliber Minie. (Right) A modern English Pritchett.

Most smoothbores threw their balls naked, although patches could be used for better results. Early rifles were almost always fired with a patch, although some few required their balls be driven down the rifling with a mallet. Either procedure was slow, which made a quick second shot almost impossible. Modern shooters have shown that even the fastest can get off only one aimed shot per minute with a rifled gun using a patched ball. Military smoothbores were much faster, with practiced soldiery firing 4 shots per minute.

The advent of the percussion system, combined with incessant European wars, stimulated the development of superior bullets. The most successful were the hollow based bullets developed by Minie of France, Burton of America and Pritchett of England in the early 19th century. All used a bullet approximately 1½ times as long as it was wide, somewhat pointed and with a hollow base. This was the bullet used in our American Civil War. Compared to the ordinary smoothbore musket it was deadly, with troops on both sides occasionally suffering 50-60% casualties in the stand-up tactics inherited from Napoleon.

The advent of true elongated bullets came about because the English military asked Sir Joseph Whitworth, an acknowledged genius in his own day, to optimize the Minie Ball’s performance, He brought out his famous rifle and new elongated octagonal bullet in 1853. Whitworth’s bullet was 3½ times as long as it was wide in .451 caliber, weighing the 520 plus grains of the old English Minie ball. It’s sectional density and ballistic coefficient were fantastic.

histor10The muzzle of a 451 caliber Whitworth style sporting target rifle, showing the hexagonal shape of the bore.

At an official trial held the next year, the ordinary Enfield rifled musket with Minie ball shot an eight foot group at 800 yards, while the Whitworth rifle shot into 23 inches at the same range.

Whitworth’s bullet was hexagonal. Fitted bullets were required in his 1-20 twist barrels and proved to be difficult to load through the residues of the previous shot. Despite this, ‘small bore’ (.451) rifles proved to be a hit and long range target shooting grew up around them. Our American Creedmore matches were an outgrowth of this popularity.

Rigby, Metford, Henry, and others later modified the Whitworth bullet by rounding the cross section. Their rifles used bullets of similar ballistic properties, often employing paper patches, and were even more accurate than the original Whitworth. Their terminal energy and penetration on game at long range was phenomenal when measured by roundball or Minie ball standards.

 

SABOTED BULLETS

The first sabots were used in the American Civil War. The sabots were wooden and held a packet of grapeshot or a cannonball, facilitating the rapid loading of successive shots in battle. It would be another 110 years before modern plastic sabots were developed. The first of these appeared in the 1970’s and was meant to hold a round ball, using plastic instead of a cloth patch. They did not work out well, simply because the cloth patch was so efficient, but were soon adapted for elongated bullets. Dell Ramsey, a plastics manufacturer, was the first. Saboted bullets were quickly and widely accepted and used by the 2000 turn of the Century. They are available in many sizes in almost all common calibers from 45 to 54. In latter years, because of the shooter’s ability to use many bullet sizes and weights in a single caliber, almost all new muzzleloading rifles are produced in only .50 caliber, with sabots in many different brands available for .357, .40 and .451 caliber bullets of many different weights. Pistol bullet manufactures, like Hornaday and Barnes, and many others have jumped on the bandwagon and produce a variety of jacketed and solid lead or copper bullets for use in sabots. Almost any combination is available by mixing/matching components.

 

PRESENT DAY MUZZLELOADING

Unfortunately, muzzleloading fell into abject disarray after the advent of successful metallic cartridges in the 1860’s. It remained a dead issue until the 1930’s, when the National Muzzledloading Rifle Association was born near Shelbyville, Indiana. A group of local muzzledoading shooters started punching paper targets with their antique guns and had the courage to call their new organization the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. (NMLRA)

histor11NMLRA shoot at Friendship, IN, in the 70’s. The ‘Nationals’ still look the same, with old time accutrements ‘de riguer.’

The muzzleloading movement grew slowly in the pre-WWII years. But at war’s end, membership grew rapidly as advocates from all over the country joined the ranks and participated in their ‘National’ association’s activities.

In the decades immediately following WWII, most of the activities of the NMLRA centered around target shooting. At that time there were no special seasons for muzzleloading hunting, as there are now.

Indeed, there were only antique guns to shoot and only old parts to fix the old guns with.

Soon, small suppliers of parts and accessories appeared to service the new and burgeoning sport of muzzleloading. Some of these companies have grown until some rather substantial catalogues of antique and new parts are available. Dixie Gun Works was a leader here. Its 1950’s catalogue was only a small brochure. It’s 2001 catalogue is an inch thick and contains photos and descriptions of thousands of muzzledoading guns, parts, and accessories as well as homely advice from Turner Kirkland.

histor12Doc White with .69 caliber percussion Hawken by GRRW, dressed as English adventurer for the occasion. [1974]

The 1970’s saw muzzleloading swing from predominantly target shooting towards rendezvousing, recreating the guns, dress and times of the 1822-1840 western fur trade. The succeeding 20 years saw the inauguration of large national rendezvous, with hundreds of tepees and primitive camps, and with thousands of buckskin and calico-dressed participants all carrying authentic looking reproductions of antique rifles. Where the Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle had been the favored piece in the early post-WWII years, the larger Hawken of the western fur trade gradually took it’s place.

 

HUNTING

Hunting with muzzleloaders became popular during this time. State game departments, beginning with Pennsylvania, extended special muzzleloading seasons to those willing to put up with rainbow-like trajectories and slow second shots. By 1992, all but two states gave the muzzleloading hunter some sort of special season for big or small game.

By the last quarter of the century, most game departments were feeling the pinch of habitat loss and growing hunter populations. Muzzle-loading seasons had become effective tools with which game managers could manage the game, hunters and habitat under their control. Muzzleloading hunting became progressively popular during this time, with thousands of new hunters tired of crowded hunting conditions and modern precision taking to the field every year. The older target shooting and rendezvous groups were forced into the market’s back seat as hunting came to dominate the market place. Not that there were any fewer opportunities for target and rendezvous activities. There were more than ever before. It is just that so many more participants were purely hunters, interested only in pursuing game to the exclusion of authentic clothes, primitive camping or target techniques.

The 1970’s saw the muzzleloading game swing it’s direction from target shooting towards rendezvousing, re-creating the guns, dress and times of the 1822-1840 western fur trade.

 

MARKET FORCES

The conversion of the muzzleloading market to a hunting oriented, performance based market gave a substantial opportunity to a number of enterprising entrepreneurs, who started importing or manufacturing brand new barrels and rifles. Navy arms, CVA and Thompson-Center led in this movement, beginning in the early 1960’s.

Navy arms originally specialized in authentic-appearing reproductions of military rifles and revolvers. CVA imported reproductions of American sporting rifles. Thompson-Center manufactured a line of good quality, machine-made, inexpensive rifles named for but not looking like the St. Louis Hawken rifles of the western fur trade.

histor13“Hawken” by Thompsen-Center. It doesn’t look at all like the real thing but sold well into an enthusiastic market

Custom and semi-custom shops produced high quality, authentic reproductions of antique rifles. Green river Rifle Works of Roosevelt, Utah, was one of the leaders.

histor14Fancy fullstock Hwken with patchbox, spurred trigger guard and tack decoration. Most Hawkens were much plainer than this one.

 

BARRELS

Not very oddly, the earliest U.S. made muzzleloading production barrels, like those by Douglas and Green River, featured bores and rifling adapted to round balls, with twists in the 1-48 to 1-66 range.

Rifling was adapted for short elongated bullets by Thompson-Center in the 70’s, following the lead of the Minie ball shooting rifles and musket reproductions imported by their competitors.

…Muzzleloading hunting became progressively popular [in the last quarter of the 21st century] with thousands of new hunters… taking to the field…

By 1992, Hornaday’s Great Plains, T/C’s Maxi-Ball and Maxi-Hunter, Buffalo Bullet’s many varieties, CVA’s Hunter, White’s BuckBuster bullets and many other brands were all readily available for muzzle- loaders with the slower 1-48 twists originally designed for round ball shooting.

The late 1980’s saw a new adaption of the old time sabot in modern plastic. Del Ramsey had brought his Muzzleloading Magnum sabots to market by 1990, designing them to shoot modern jacketed or lead pistol bullets in larger bore muzzleloaders. They have been very successful in the marketplace.

 

THE WHITE MUZZLELOADING SYSTEM

After waiting for 30 years for some smart manufacturer to get the idea, but never seeing it happen, I formalized the White Muzzleloading System in 1990, improving on the superb, late 1860’s muzzle-loading long bullet technology originated by Whitworth. My SuperSlugs, as the original high ballistic coefficient slip-fit bullets were known, became available for use in fast 1-20 to 1-28 twist muzzleloading barrels at that time. White’s patented SHOOTINGSTAR saboted bullets appeared in 1994.

histor15White designed slip-fitbullets, from (L) the .330 caliber 280 gr. (330/280) to the .540 caliber 750 gr. (540/750).

Despite the financial failure of the original White company in 1995, the product was too good to stay off the market. WhiteRifles LLC of Linden, Utah, is currently marketing a limited number of White products. The White M97 Whitetail Hunter, M98 Elite Hunter, PowerPunch and PowerStar bullets are improved analogs of the old White Whitetail, Super-91, SuperSlug and ShootingStar bullets, respectively.

 

RIFLE DESIGNS

Reinventing the truly long bullet is not the only development of modern times. Many innovative new rifles were produced in the 1970’s by the early modern manufacturers. Few of them met the strict standard of the traditionally minded, as their designs were adapted to the demands of Geiger cup-cutter carvers, automated sanding machines and CNC milling machines, with a generous portion of investment wax castings thrown in.

After waiting for 30 years for some smart manufacturer to get the idea, I formalized the White Muzzleloading System in 1990, improving on the superb, late 1860’s muzzleloading long bullet technology originated by Whitworth..

The 1970’s were dominated by reproduction sidelocks, but there were hints of change in the wind. Alex Hamilton, of 10-Ring Precision in San Antonio, Texas, introduced his pullcock in-line action in 1969. His in-line, like all others to follow, was an offshoot of the original by Jean Samuel Pauley in 1808, but featured all the salient features that others would improve on later, including a safety on the pull-cock shaft, coil spring, modern Timney style trigger, and wide cutout for access to the nipple. This action was often seen on the NMLRA slug gun, pistol and offhand ranges at Friendship, Indiana, between 1969 and 1984. It was seldom seen on the tradition dominated primitive ranges because of it’s very modern stock.

histor161969 pull-cock in-line action by Alex Hamilton of Ten-Ring

Ten years later, in 1979, Dan Kurkowski, of Troy, Michigan, introduced the ‘Wolverine’, marketing it through Michigan Arms. It sported sevweral innovative concepts, including a hammer with an annular cutout for the trigger sear, (first time this was used on a muzzleloader although common in modern arms), and a firing chamber to accelerate combustion much like that on modern naval cannon.

..Alex Hamilton, of 10-Ring Precision in San Antonio, Texas, introduced his pullcock, inline action in 1969…

He also developed an alternate action which featured the use of a self ejecting 209 shotgun primer. Once again, like the 10-Ring, the stock was modern with most of the features found on modern bolt action rifles.

Tony Knight, of Modern Muzzle-loading, designed the Knight MK-85 in 1985. This rifle shared the annular ringed hammer of the Wolverine and the pullock of the 10-Ring action. Tony added an innovative scroll-type secondary safety, as well as using a trigger safety. Knight’s success was mimicked by other manufacturers and importers, including Cabella’s, CVA, Traditions, and T/C.

histor171979 ‘Wolverine’ in-line action by Dan Kurkowski of Michigan Arms, the first to use an annular sear and firing chamber

Until 1996, only White produced a muzzleloading in-line that does not use at least some of the many features of prior in-lines. White’s Super 91 is a piece for piece analog of the Mauser bolt rifles of 1878 – ‘98, except for the rotating bolt and magazine, and the addition of a Springfield ‘03 type pull-cock.  (White’s turn-bolt ThunderBolt rifle appeared in ‘2002). Remington joined White in ’96, marketing a Mauser analog muzzleloader with their M700ML.

histor181985 action by Tony Knight. His was the first to use a double safety system

Interestingly enough, Paul Mauser got his idea for a turnbolt gun from Dreyse, who got his idea for a firing pin and bolt from Pauly, who started it all with the first inline in 1808 in the first place.

histor191991 in-line by Doc White, originally conceptualized in 1968 but not brought to market until 1991 as the White Systems Super-91.

 

FULL CIRCLE

So we’ve come full circle, copying and mimicking the inventions of the past, only improving on them with modern, precise CNC machinery, better steels in investment cast, forged, machined, extruded and scintered forms, improved and more precise rifling, more uniform powders and caps, durable coil rather than fragile leaf springs, fitted bullets and plastic sabots, all making good use of modern manufacturing techniques.

You know, muzzleloading isn’t all that much different from what it used to be. But it is relatively less expensive than in the old days and many can enjoy it rather than just a wealthy few. It’s safer because of better steels. Performance has improved because of better bullets, barrels and sabots. Black Powder substitutes are readily available. The advantages of improving technology, speed of manufacture and consequent lowered costs are decidedly apparent. In the heyday of the muzzleloader, firearms were not only expensive but were also difficult to find. Only the wealthy or the very determined could afford one.

Now, almost anyone can. Being part of the completion of the cycle is rewarding. There aren’t many superlatives that describe how much we can enjoy it

Good Hunting

‘Doc’ White

histor20Doc White with Brown Bear, an Alaskan coastal grizzly, in 1994. The rifle is the very first Super-91 ever made in .504 caliber. Load was 140 grains of Ffg Black Powder and 600 grain SuperSlug. It punched all the way through end to end.

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