Interview With Doc
Some years ago, Randy Wakeman compiled answers to a number of questions he asked Doc. they were originally published in his web page. In the years since, Doc’s answers have remained substantially the same. However, the times have changed, technology has advanced, so DOC has again answered the questions with an eye to our more modern times. He has also grouped the questions in a more refined order, so that subject matter is better concentrated.
For starters, Mr. White, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to consent to this interview. A little bird suggested to me that you spent a great deal of time constructing radio-controlled aircraft at one time. I’ll confess to a brief dabble into small servomotors remarkable for only the high ratio of spectacular crashes. Doc, how is it that you could migrate from a passion for small aircraft design to a passion for muzzleloading rifle and pistol development?
DOC: The guns came first. My mother says I was making guns out of soap when I was two years old. That’s a bit of fabrication probably but it’s not far from the truth. I was making matchstick guns when I was ten and made my first revolving pistol (it fired matchstick shavings) at 12.
Cannons were easy at the same age, they were also wooden and were also fired with matchstick shavings and a marble. I made my first real gun, a 12 ga muzzleloading shotgun when I was 16. I did bas relief carving on the stock and made the percussion sidelock lock from scratch. The barrel came from an old Marlin single shot. I cut off the chamber and put in a breechplug. It was full choke and shot so tight that I couldn’t hit anything with it, but it gave me a start in muzzleloading and shotgunning. Eventually, it proved to be deadly in my hands. Black Powder was not available commercially in the 50’s in Utah so I made black powder at home, at high school and at BYU in the chem lab.
Airplanes have been a constant interest since WWII when as a 6-7 year old I watched P38’s and B-25’s fly overhead going from their West Coast factory to the European front. I flew real planes in the 70’s then RC for a few years in the 80’s when I realized that you could cut any dido you wanted in RC and walk away from every crash. I crashed 27 RC planes 9 following one real one) only to finally discover that all aircraft crash while guns last hundreds if not thousands of years. So I chose guns. In fact, I had to give up my pilots license because my ears went bad and all sense of balance went with it. I discovered that acute vertigo in a spin can be disastrous.
I know that far from being “just” an inventor, you take great delight in shooting, hunting, and the outdoors. Somehow, your travels have taken you to living in Alaska, and now back to Utah, along with your bride of many years, Carole. All this, and managing a medical career as well! How is it that all this came to pass?
DOC: I left Utah originally in 1956 after 2 years at BYU for an LDS Church mission in Brazil. I returned in ‘59, then graduated in ‘60 from BYU with way to many credits to get any honors, then left Utah again in ‘60 for Washington. DC and George Washington Medical School. I spent 4 years there. I met my eventual wife Carole there for the second time, having first met her briefly at BYU in 1959. We got married in my second year of medical school in 1961. We left DC in 1964 for residency at LDS Hosp in Salt Lake City. I was drafted as a physician into the Viet Nam conflict in ‘66. I spent my war years in Alaska (what a blessing!) ‘66-68, then came to Roosevelt where I have stayed since.
I did a little hunting in Alaska when we lived there. It was hunt or not eat as the military pay was not enough for a growing family. We subsisted on moose, caribou and salmon. All of my hunting since Alaska has been done from the Roosevelt base. I really haven’t been able to hunt near as much as I want due to lack of time. Between 1968 and 2004 I worked 90-100 hrs a week with little time for vacations. I’m semi-retired now, working only 40 hrs a week.) There was also a decided lack of money. I have kept myself broke paying for family, education, sponsoring hunts (for others) and gun companies and such things. It’s been fun to be generous, exciting to be in the forefront of things but frustrating because I make the mistake of trying to teach new and better doctrine. That proves to be expensive.
I have gradually cut back my practice while fostering medical matters in Roosevelt. When I arrived there were 3 of us in town and we did everything, now there are 30 (2011) and I am doing only Gastrointestinal medicine. Our facility is very advanced, technologically speaking, for a small town. I take credit for a lot of that, at least the attitude that keeps us on the cutting edge and that fosters effective Continuous Quality Improvement.. (Nobody else wants to give me the credit but I’ll take it anyway.) Nearly 40% of our patients come from Vernal, a town 30 miles to the East, and from other further flung towns in the Uintah Basin. The Basin is 150 X 90 miles and contains about 60000 people. Vernal has a facility about our size with 25 Docs and even more people. We’ve been able to very effectively compete with the larger communities because of our technological excellence. I have been on the Board of Directors of the hospital thrice , have been chief of staff at least 4 times and will be again in the next two years and am constantly involved in hospital business. Continuous Quality Improvement is my special passion.
My real asset, besides a reasonably good mind, some intellectual curiosity and an Idealist Healer/Rational Inventor personality, is that my mother gave me her family trait of only needing 5-6 hours of sleep a night. That has given me at least 2 hours a day more time than most men get, for a total of 50000 hours or 6200 eight hour work days more in my 75 years of life.
I suppose everyone has a personal project that, once complete, gives a sense of personal satisfaction. It may not be the “best product,” or the largest one. In my case, it was the first book that I wrote and published back in 1983-1985. Appertaining to your many firearm endeavors, is there one design that will always hold a special place in your heart?
DOC: I suppose that I will be remembered best for the Super -91 and the clones it engendered, like the M98 Elite Hunter and the Thunder-Bolt. Oddly, the design was originally a bolt gun, but I took off the bolt when I introduced it in 1991, only to add it back later as the Thunder-Bolt. I also really enjoy working on the custom built copies that I make of fancy carved, inlaid, flintlock longrifles: Pennsylvania rifles, Jaegers, Hawkens, Lemans, Fuzils and similar famous historical arms. I am still making one or two a month. I build them for myself, only occasionally take orders, but can’t keep them either as they sell quite well when I’m finally tired of them.
I was at my best when I developed the semi-production techniques for production of the Hawken and Leman rifles that I designed for Green River Rifle Works (which I owned) in the 1970’s and that almost all custom shops use now. Industrial techniques and quality control are still a major interest. I also enjoy writing, but have had no great success at it. I wrote a column for Muzzle Blasts for 8 years back in the 70’s, and have produced several books. My writing tends to be somewhat sophisticated and highly technical. The commonest comment about my first book, ‘The White Muzzleloading System- a Revolution in Muzzleloading’, was that nobody can read it because, “it’s too damn technical and you need a PHD to understand it” However, the one thing that I take greatest pride and delight in is my God given ability to design a functionally elegant firearm, my eye somehow has the golden mean built right in. The Super-91 and subsequent guns are the product of that ability.
Many of us have our personal sources of inspiration, and have a sense both of history, and of those individuals who brightly lit the trail before us. In firearms, there have always been two names that instantly command great respect and admiration from me: Paul Mauser, and John M. Browning. What are a few of your personal muses, in the form of designs or individuals that have both intrigued and motivated you?
DOC: I have long admired Jean Samuel Pauley, a displaced Swiss who ran a shop on Gunmaker’s Row in London. He patented the first in-line action in 1812, only 4 years after Forsyth invented the percussion system. He also patented the first breech loading cartridge that same year. He was a wild eyed genius but an abject financial failure, a familiar fault in inventors. (I know!) The Reverend Forsyth also has my admiration because of the innovative forward thinking that led to the percussion system. The German Dreyse(sp) caught my attention for adapting the common bolt operated gate closure to a rifle, which led Mauser to the repeating bolt action. I admire Mauser for his industrial genius as well as his inventive ability. The same goes for John Browning, one of the few who have been able to combine inventive and financial genius at the same time. My real mentor and hero is Sir Joseph Whitworth, who invented so many devices, techniques and industries, and was so successful in producing great designs not only in quantity but in high quality that he was acknowledged as a genius in his own day, sort of the Edison of the metals industry. The English didn’t Knight him for nothing, he was one of the great men of his day and his ideas and designs still persist in our day.
I’m not familiar with “Dreyse,” as it is often mentioned in the literature that it was Scottish immigrant, James Paris Lee (1831-1904), as in Lee-Enfield, that is credited with the application of the gate latch to the rifle breech. Is this a bit of history that needs clarification? It is my understanding that when Peter Paul Mauser (with the help of his often neglected brother, Wilhelm Mauser) produced the Mauser Gewehr magazine-rifle in 1897, it was Germany’s answer to the French Lebel M1888.
DOC: Dreyse worked for Pauley sometime between 1808 and 1814. Remember that it was Pauley who first invented the inline with cylindrical hammer and coil spring. In 1838 Dreyse patented a turnbolt rifle with bolt just like the old Roman gate latch, which became the Prussian single shot needlegun of 1848. His primer was located on the back of the bullet, with a long firing pin that perforated the paper cartridge and fired the priming pellet. Its advent was devastating for the French. The bolt design led to the French Chassepot, which eventually led to Paul Mauser bringing out his first turnbolt, taking advantage of the new all metallic cartridge designed by the Frenchman Lefocheux(sp), as the single shot German model 1871. A tubular magazine was later added in the model 1879/81, then the first double stacked magazine, an improvement on Mannlicher’s single file magazine, in 1891, then the famous 95, and finally the fabulous model of 98.
What was the motivation for the design of your “Super 91”? Was there something other muzzleloaders just didn’t do well, or well enough, to suit you?
DOC: I started designing the Super 91 in the late 60’s, when as a joke, I built a bolt action muzzleloader to spoof the traditionalist workers at Green River Rifle Works. I used the ‘03 Springfield as a guide with it’s pull-cock action and with model 70-like stock and lines. We all laughed and went our way.
The action sat rusting for years until Tony Knight was bold enough to come out with the Knight M85. That inspired me to get the prototype out. I spent several years messing with it, finally deleting the bolt and keeping the pull-cock for simplicity, and brought it out in 1990 as the M90. I made the original 60 guns by hand and sold them all. The market test seemed successful so I then introduced the Super-91 in 1991 under the White Systems name. We made 2500 of them that year, far more the next and subsequent years until White Systems failed in 1995 for lack of capital.
The basic design was resurrected as the M98 Elite Hunter under the Muzzleloading Technologies name in 1996-8. MTI also failed for lack of capital. The System was too good to go away and with the organization of White Rifles in 1999, the Super-91 surfaced as the ThunderBolt. All I did was add back the original bolt on the M98 frame.
I had originally visualized the ‘White Muzzleloading System’ integrating bullet and barrel in the same system. It all started with a beat up muzzleloading double rifle by the Englishman Hayton that I acquired during the Viet Nam years. It needed rebarreling. I had known about Whitworth for some time and desperately wanted a Whitworth rifle but couldn’t afford an original. I determined to kill two birds with one stone and rebarreled the Hayton double with Douglas .458 caliber, 1-20 twist modern gun barrels. To my great delight it shot wonderfully well with the bullet from an old Lyman 475 grain mold that the 1950 Lyman catalogue described as originating for use in the 45-110 cartridge.
Here I am with the John Hayton rifle and the big moose, the first big game killed with what eventually became the White System
It’s the same bullet Lyman now sells as, you guessed it, the ‘Whitworth”. The bullet cast at .458, so I sized it down to .451 to match my 458 barrels land to land diameter. This is exactly what others are doing now to shoot groups with all bullets touching in their M98s- want to guess where they got the idea? It seemed natural later on to combine my earlier bolt action concept (sans bolt) and the fast twist barrel into the pull-cock Super 91. I think it seemed natural to do as the intervening 20 years had matured my vision of what a superior muzzleloading product could be: simple to machine since CNC was finally a reality, easy to assemble, so well designed that we could teach anyone in 15 minutes how to built a rifle every 15 minutes, elegantly functional to look at and handle, and easy for even a beginner to load, shoot and hunt with, and superior down range ballistics without punishing recoil to boot.
Can the “White Shooting System” be described in a few words?
DOC: From P6 Ch4 of my book: “The White muzzleloading system is defined by its shallow groove, fast twist rifling, loaded with design integrated , slip fit, lubricated, multi-channelurred lead bullets or lubricated sabots, fired with low-residue black powder substitutes over one-piece nipple-breechplugs.
The White Muzzleloading system works. Each component, whether rifle, bullet, or accessory, will work by itself or with other competing components not especially designed to match. However, if White designed products are used with design-integrated components and accessories, performance will not be just enhanced but will be boosted to levels far beyond ordinary expectations.
The design-integrated performance curve is not linear, but is geometric, rising rapidly to a pinnacle of performance rarely appreciated.”
The key words are, of course, ‘system’ and ‘design-integrated’ with a substantial contribution from ‘functional elegance’.
Well, Doc, I don’t have a PhD, but I have read your book. I interpret the “White Muzzleloading System” as a philosophy for design and development, not as a specific method of shooting, nor as a specific rifle or action. I read it as a flexible platform for continued development, not as an explanation of what has already become reality. How badly wrong am I?
DOC: Since the paradigm is dynamic, you are on the money. The ‘System’ leaves room for all the coming developments, and facilitates them, if anything. The System is meant to be accurate, powerful and fast. It is also meant to be inclusive as nothing good or better can be excluded, simply because the best of muzzleloading will always be accurate, powerful and fast. The ‘System’ is an extension of my thinking on Continuous Quality Improvement. In that concept, perfection never occurs. We are always seeking for improvement, always seeking better ways, but know that perfection will never be attained simply because the best of today always be superseded by a better effort tomorrow.
When it comes to terms not in the common vernacular like “function elegance,” some may find that hard to quantify. Is it fair to say that ‘functional elegance’ is your vision of what a pretty product looks like, with its operation method to be self-evident to the casual observer?
DOC: ’Pretty’ is that woman named Kiddman. ‘Functional elegance’ is Audrey Hepburn playing opposite Cary Grant. Here are several things to think about: functional elegance implies a simplicity of function so self-evident to the examining eye and hands that a formal explanation of function is not necessary and is superfluous. The design should explain itself to even the dullest user. Elegance is in the eye of the beholder, it is said, but is also in his hands. Elegance is ergonomics simplified to the lowest common denominator: ie- the fewest parts that do the finest job, that best fit for the most hands, that pleasures the most eyes, that stimulates accolade from the greatest number, that bring the most dollars out of the most pockets BUT also that costs the least, that creates the greatest efficiency, that lasts the longest and is the most durable, that improves the perceived quality of experience of the user and the pocketbook of BOTH the user and the maker. It costs the user relatively less while the maker makes relatively more profit. It affects the bottom line of both parties positively.
I feel that there is certain poetry to a fine firearm, an amalgam of the way it looks, fits, and works. Would this fall under your concept of function elegance as well?
DOC: If Poetry defines an amalgam of function and elegance, then you are right. For example, I believe that the classic flintlock Jaeger rifle of the Germanic countries in the pre-Revolutionary era typifies ‘functional elegance’. I also believe that the classic Farquarson single shot, including the Ruger #1, does the same. I also think of the German WWII MP-40 8mm light machine gun in the same light. Probably the most functionally elegant arm of all is the Colt 1860 Army. What a wonderful, beautiful piece of toolcraft and utility in the same package.
There has often been a collision between the visions of the inventor and the harsh realities of mass production and viable cost per unit. In such cases, compromises must be made or his vision may not become reality at all. Have you experienced this? How have you been able to satisfy your standards and the bottom line simultaneously?
DOC: ‘Functional elegance’ explains it all. If the design is functionally elegant, it will be the simplest, cheapest to produce, finest looking and most profitable item available. Remember that three demands have to be fulfilled for anything to be a great success. !- It must be comparatively less expensive to make. (cost less then an item of comparable quality made by the competition) 2- It must be absolutely more efficient, ie- more efficient than even the most expensive or even the cheapest piece of junk of the same category. 3- It must increase profitability, ie- even though less expensive to make, it must look good enough that it will sell for more because of perceived value. ‘Functional elegance’ is what renders perceived value bon-a-fide and fattens profits. Yes, I have experienced it. It took me back to the drawing board. I satisfy my standards by redesigning until it satisfies all three requirements, sometimes a long drawn out, arduous and frustrating process.
I’ll confess to being a bit bewildered with the frivolous debate of “In-Line versus Traditional Muzzleloaders,” I personally find more tradition present in your White 98 with heavy conical and percussion cap use than some so-called “traditional” pieces. Knowing that you hardly have limited yourself to one action type or firearm design, just what are your thoughts on all this banter?
DOC: I was in the middle of it all, on the ‘traditional’ side to start with, back in the 70’s. It all started when Thompson-Center brought out its Hawken, which didn’t look at all like a Hawken, and which fired (ugh) Maxiballs. We traditionalists all thought it was awful. Indeed, it was awful and still is, from a purely traditionalists viewpoint, but the guns became very popular and profitable and nowadays when one says ‘Hawken’ that’s the gun thought of and that sidelock makers copy. It had a compromise 1-48 twist originally, to accommodate both round balls and Maxi’s. This eventually brought Del Ramsey to invent sabots for pistol bullets, following Butler Creeks lead in developing a sabot for round balls. That intensified the fire, simply because the concept worked, with modern hunters looking for technological improvement and traditionalists decrying what they perceived as improved performance.
Of course, everyone had forgotten Colonel Forsyth’s little book, written in India in the 1860’s, that explained why BIG round balls were superior to slugs. He was right, at least at relatively close muzzleloading ranges, but he advocated 8 gauge (83 caliber) rifles throwing 2 oz (870 grain) balls. The fact is that such a rifle shoots almost flat to 100 yards, 2 inches of apogee if sighted at 100, and dropping to about 20 inches at 200 with far better than 1000 ft lbs of energy left. It’s TKO factor is of course enormous because of its mere bigness. He shot sambar deer and tiger with it, advocating shots to the head at ranges of less than 100 yards, but used it on elephant too. He said it didn’t kick much, certainly not noticeable when shooting game. That aside, the saboted pistol bullet added to the traditionalists argument that the original spirit of ‘primitive’ muzzleloading was being violated, the argument being that a ‘primitive’ season should remain ‘primitive’ Well, we all know it doesn’t work that way, nee’ bow hunting, so away we go .
When Tony Knight came out with an in -line action sabot shooting muzzleloader (the M85) in 1987 or so, that put the icing on the cake, some states making laws against sabots, in-lines and scopes, oddly enough mostly in the West, while states in the East, where the shots are far closer, didn’t seem to care. Truth was, they had been in the game longer, and the rule making process was more quickly violated precluding the traditionalists making an argument, except in Pennsylvania, where flintlocks reigned until just last year.
Now a true traditionalist doesn’t shoot a machine made gun, it has to be hand done, just like the hand stitching on his clothes. But for the majority, the fact that modern sidelocks, just like in-lines, are made utilizing modern industrial techniques, and are wax cast, sintered, cup cutter carved, CNC’d, machine inletted, sanded and finished could matter less. In fact, modern in-lines and sidelocks are made on the same machines for the bigger part and are all the more closely related by that fact. Anyway, the whole argument is stupid, there’s more than enough room for both sides.
The fact is, amongst the majority of traditionalists I know, and I still go to Rendevous and dress up in traditional hand sown clothes and shoot hand made purely traditional flintlock rifles (even a wheel-lock at times), when hunting season comes, they either take themselves to a private location where more modern hunters can’t or don’t penetrate, or get out an in-line and go hunting in camo. Many cross over the line, using a sidelock with a fast twist, long bullet barrel,. Of course, that’s what Whitworth advocated in the 1850’s. His Sporting rifle was exactly that, a sidelock, and elegant as hell, with a fast twist, long bullet barrel capable of shooting circles around its competition. That’s one reason I admire the guy so much, He started it all.
Of course, no-one at a modern Rendevous shoots an original rifle. We used to. I took Jim Bridger’s last Hawken to Rendevous at Fort Bridger in the 70’s and nobody thought a thing of it. It was .52 caliber and a good shooter too. It’s now in the Montana State Historical Museum in Helena. We had it at Green River Rifle Works for a few years while we made replica’s for them. That kind of activity soon ended as originals increased in value to the point that you hardly dared risk shooting one. So the traditionalists argument is not only full of holes, it’s specious and silly. No modern shooter argues about a 30-30 vs a 300 mag. Or lever vs bolt action, at least in the sense of sidelock vs in-line. There’s a difference, but only in how you use the tool. That should be true of sidelock slow twist round ball rifles and fast twist long bullet in-lines as well. They are also tools and should be used appropriately.
What do you most appreciate about “modern muzzleloaders,” and what do you least appreciate about them from the perspective of design, quality, and performance?
DOC: What I like best is that they look, feel and in some respects act like modern rifles, which makes them user friendly for the newest of muzzleloading shooters. Many are ergonomically sound, some superbly so. A few are functionally elegant. A few are of astounding high quality and are made to high QC standards. Very few are all three like the White W-Series including the Super 91, M98 and ThunderBolt. The good ones have made muzzleloading affordable for even the poorest of Americans. We now pay only hundreds of dollars for quality that 25 years ago would have cost 4 times that. I remember selling reproductions of Bridger’s Hawken for $1500 in 1980.
What I don’t like it is that most do not match the qualities enumerated above. Most are designed as and manufactured as toys. Much is pure junk, capable only of frightening off a new and unknowing shooter. They get tossed into the garbage and the shooter swears off buying another. They scare new shooters away. The hype surrounding their abilities is overblown beyond belief. Worst, the professional gun writers have joined the cabal of crap promulgated by the manufacturers’ PR people and the shooting/hunting rag editors (or should I call them ad $ collectors ?) to promote this nonsense to an unsuspecting and innocent public who have long been accustomed to reasonable performance from even the cheapest of modern guns. The variation in calibers, use of non GBQ steels, lack of proof, poor QC, etc., only add to this sorry mess. But a bright note, it was worse 10 years ago, competition is making them better. May it continue to be so!!
How do you reconcile the John Taylor “Knock-out Value,” based on his extensive observations on African game, with the combinatorial attributes of kinetic energy, the rate at which the kinetic energy is released, the temporary cavity produced, and the permanent wound cavity left behind into an effective muzzleloading round?
DOC: It is obvious that the TKO formula gives the benefit of any doubt to big heavy bullets, just as there is no doubt that kinetic energy formulas give the same benefit to relatively small, higher velocity rounds. It must be that the true value falls somewhere in between. The question then involves the factors that create a killing wound in an animal, including but not limited to the inherent propensity of the animal to survive wounds: ie-relative toughness, the path of the bullet through one or multiple physiologically imperative organ systems, the distance through said tissues that the bullet may travel, the potential expansion of the bullet, the rapidity of energy release, etc. The most important to the sudden ending of life in the target animal is the path deliberately chosen by the hunter that places his bullet in line with either one, or preferably several organ systems without which the animal cannot sustain life for only a few seconds. Preferably, the destruction of any chosen single organ system will near instantly end the life of the animal, the sudden destruction of several at a time ending the life of the animal in such a sudden, unexpected and final way that survival for long enough to attempt escape or destruction of the shooter is impossible. To my mind, a properly placed bullet that will knock down and keep the animal off its feet, penetrate heart and lung causing sudden massive hemorrhage, produce sufficient hydrostatic shock to stun the animals instincts as well as higher brain function would be the epitome. Unfortunately, this is rarely achieved, as the requirement takes ‘too much gun’ if universally applied. The attempt can be applied individually, however, with the hunter deliberately tailoring his load to exceed the expected physiological capabilities of his target animal, accepting the inherent limitations of that load and using it within its design parameters, then placing the bullet in a precise way to maximize the loads ability to destroy multiple organ systems, as outlined above. Jeez, what a cumbersome way to say that you design a bigger load than you expect to need, practice with it enough to know its trajectory and performance, study the quarry’s anatomy, then shoot it carefully on one of several pre-designed paths calculated to knock the quarry down, stun it and maim it badly enough that it can’t get up, get away or attack you before you can finish the job.
The corollary is that I have just explained why I like fast loading slip fit bullets, ramrods that don’t have to be turned around to be used, rifle butt-mounted speed loaders that are simple and straightforward to use, cappers slung around the neck, caps that blow off the nipple with the shot (yes, I said caps not 209 primers), and lots of practice with the view making all the above happen.
The trend has been towards lighter, faster saboted projectiles over the last fifteen years with larger charges, and the small bullet game has not yet run its full course. Yet, free recoil formulas reveal (and my shoulder tells me) that a White 460 grain PowerPunch conical propelled by 75 grains of Triple 7 is quite a manageable load in a White 98, and an economical load at that. Why the misconception, and why have the heavy conicals fallen from grace? Also, what are the pros and cons of cast pure lead conicals versus the swaged (compression formed) offerings?
DOC: It’s pretty obvious that the same mindset that led to big cased small bulleted ‘magnum’ rounds is being applied to muzzleloading. The problem is that the velocities are just not there. Even the fastest mimic only the lowly 30-30, and that’s with smokeless powder. The gun and bullet companies are taking full advantage of demand, being perfectly willing to supply the market with shots that cost $2 each, to the great benefit of their bank accounts. This, of course, will come to an end, simply because some enterprising company will eventually attempt to snatch market share away from the Biggies with cheaper and more effective ammo. It will have to be BOTH cheaper and more effective to capture the bigger share. This will result in a price war that will bring the cost of shooting a muzzleloader with factory rounds down to that of shooting an’06. It will take some time but is inevitable.
Someone else will invent a smokeless powder, cheap to produce, that will mimic BP substitutes and be safe enough to volume load and perform in a similar fashion. That will cut costs too. Or someone will invent a touch-hole liner that is good for 1000’s of shots not just the few that the Savage now gets so you won’t have to amortize the cost of new liners every 25 shots, something that Toby Bridges did not do when he showed how inexpensive the Savage is to shoot.
Take a look at history to see how it’s going to go, as we are just reproducing the history of the early cartridge revolution with our modern muzzleloaders. Most forget that it took a generation for the new Winchester 94 and its 30-30 cartridge to replace the very effective and greatly beloved 45-70 with a 300 grain bullet at near 1700 FPS, as it was loaded right up into the 1920’s. That was a black powder load by the way. Do the ballistics look familiar?. They should. Just as the early single shot long bullet cartridges of the buffalo days gave way to the shorter/lighter bullet repeaters of the late 19th century, which eventually gave way to the far more efficient smokeless rifle, so also will the long heavy muzzleloading bullet eventually give way to the shorter but still quite heavy bullet which will eventfully give way to an even smaller but higher velocity bullet powered by ‘Muzzleloading smokeless’, if I can call it that. Just as now, this does not condemn the heavy bullet round to oblivion, it reserves it for the toughest, heaviest and deadliest of game. It will keep its niche with the wise and knowing.
The difference between cast and swadged are that cast can be softer than swadged with any given formula simply because it is not compressed. A cast bullet will hold more lube because the channelures are generally deeper as you can’t swadge in deep channelures, at least not usually. The cast bullet always varies more in weight, roundness, concentricity and diameter than swedged, swedged always being more uniform. However, there’s not a smidgen of evidence that, at least in black powder rifles, whether ML or cartridge, that either is better than the other. The too many vagarities of black powder shooting more than compensate for the difference in the bullets. My advise, shoot the bullet that shoots best in your rifle for the purpose you have in mind. Don’t mind where it came from or how it came to be. There is no romance in missing.
With comments like these, it seems like you are drawing upon your hunting experiences with dangerous game, more so than taking a whitetail at sixty yards?
DOC: Of course I am. The capability of hunting the big dangerous stuff just makes the thin skinned, less lethal critter that much easier. It’s like medical training: doctors don’t train to take care of the mundane and usual, they train for the difficult and deadly. The easy takes care of itself if you can handle the deadly. So also with hunting, the best training in the world for a whitetail hunt is a hunt for grizzly. The best training for Kudu is an elephant.. If you are prepared for the latter, the former is a cinch! The need to shoot accurately with good judgement and cool nerves, knowing the anatomy of the critter in the sights, being able to rapidly reload and shoot in case of a personal or mechanical flub is no less needful for a whitetail than for a buffalo. Either is just as precious as the other. Both personally value their lives just as much as the other. The whitetail might run away to be lost if you are slow and clumsy or the equipment poor, the Cape Buffalo might try to tromp you into red mud, but the need is absolute with each even though the end results might be different. To my mind, a lost whitetail is every bit as bad a circumstance as a mad buffalo, and in fact, the mad buffalo will likely purposefully give you a second chance where the whitetail will not.
What is your primary objection to 209 primers? Their use seems to be driven by availability and the rising popularity of pelletized powder. It is hard to fault the ammunition makers; as they construct them to make their shotshells go bang.
DOC: My objection is not the primer, but the fact that it must fit INTO a hole rather than fit ONTO a nipple. The engineering principle is simple, anything confined within a space is stronger than a similar thing unconfined. In this case, the weaker is preferable, as I want the priming device to disappear automatically so I can re-prime with the least inconvenience and the most speed. #11 caps do this fairly well with substantial hunting loads simply because they are fragile and blow off the nipple with even modest loads. The copper ones are the best because they blow off the easiest. They also conform to nipple shape the easiest and form the best waterproof seals. The common musket caps are made of heavier metal so aren’t quite as good, although truly powerful loads will spread their wings and allow them to fall off the nipple with a little shake. 209 shotgun primers are awful. They have a tendency to stick in the primer pocket and even if they don’t they have to be physically removed, an act that takes several seconds, time enough for a whitetail to make another 100 yards and the buffalo to get a horn into your guts. My time studies of average unpracticed shooters show that 209 primed White rifles using slip fit bullets take almost half as long again from shot to shot as does a #11 or musket cap primed rifle. This is even more true of other brands, but they load slow anyway because of tight fitting bullets and sabots. I will always choose an M98 over a T-bolt for risky hunting for this very reason, the T-bolt costs on the average shooter another 10 seconds of loading time over the M98 with #11 cap, this fact makes my average time 30 instead of 20 seconds shot to shot.
I’m of the opinion that the “corrosiveness” of black powder and synthetic substitutes has been overstated. Not to suggest that black powder arms should not be cleaned after a shooting session, and cleaned well, but the literature seems to have a void as to what actually happens due to the fouling residue beyond its hygroscopic nature. After all, Webster defines it as “to eat away by degrees as if by gnawing; especially : to wear away gradually usually by chemical action” What are your thoughts and experiences as to the real-world metal wearing abilities of black powder, Pyrodex, and Triple Seven propellants?
DOC: The residues left from black powder combustion include sulfates, carbonates and nitrates, all in the presence of water due to the hygroscopicity of the fired residue. The sulfates can form sulfuric acid, the nitrates nitric acid and the carbonates weak carbonic acid. All can eat away at metal if left long enough. Fortunately, the amounts left in the barrel are small and relatively weak, on the average, and are only a problem if not cleaned out promptly
Pyrodex is basically black powder enhanced with chlorates, which is an old time technique used as early as 1800, which adds the problems associated with hydrochloric acid. This acid is the reason Pyrodex residues can etch stainless barrels. Once again, the more water vapor thrown into the residue, the worse the problem, not only because of water induced rust but also from acid etching.
Goex CleanShot is fructose fueled but I’m betting they have added chlorates to spice it up. I don’t know what 777 is fueled by, but it looks like a sugar under the microscope and acts like ascorbic acid, which is a weakly acidic sugar, also containing chlorates, I’ll bet. The interesting thing about all these fuels is that all are far more hygroscopic in the natural state than is charcoal. The burned fuel, or should I say partially burned because only a portion of it actually oxidizes, is equally hygroscopic, making all of them far more capable of sucking water out of the air than the charcoal in black powder.
Do an interesting experiment: take a 20 grain charge of all available powders, put them in spoons, all the same size, light them all off with a propane torch. Now put all the spoons, complete with residues, in the freezer, each one not touching the other. Leave all of them to freeze. Pick a nice humid day, take them out and watch them. All will collect water from the air like sponges, but the worst will be the fructose based residue, next the ascorbic acid (not a lot of difference), and best, the black powder. !!!! Pyrodex is only a little worse than black powder. This explains why 777 and CleanShot can be cleaned with just water, because they are so hygroscopic and their residues are soluble in water.. Better yet, take any of the newer powders hunting on a good cold, humid Missouri day, shoot the gun at least once, then watch the water accumulate in the fouled action. Does it collect like that in the chamber where there is a new powder charge? You better believe it. Does that make the rifle that uses black powder based substitutes (Pyrodex) better? Yup! How about the systems that lock out water and water vapor better? Answer is obvious. This is another reason I like Pyrodex and #11 caps on Doc-engineered nipples!! The system is water and vapor proof!
So my answer is obtuse, none are much of a problem if you keep the gun clean, all are somewhat a problem if you leave the gun loaded for a long time in humid conditions. All are a problem if the gun is not vapor proof.. If in doubt, shoot it out, then clean it and reload from fresh the next day.
It would not “exactly” be a stretch to say that Pyrodex “P” is your general muzzleloading propellant of choice for the guns that can handle it, and not completely by chance that “P” is the primary recommended propellant for the guns that bear your name?
DOC: Pyrodex P is the propellant of choice for White rifles using #11 or musket caps but not for those using the 209 primer. I prefer Select in that case. I prefer Pyrodex, in general, because it is LESS hygroscopic than the other substitutes, even though that makes it clean up with somewhat more difficulty. I prefer P in cap fired guns because my ballistic experiments show that it ignites more easily, pours, ignites and burns more uniformly, produces demonstrably more uniform pressure curves with more uniform area ‘under the curve’, produces less variation in velocity and is more accurate (in general) in White rifles than the other substitutes.
I have come to like 777. Here in the West, where humidity is not much of a problem, it works quite well with the White System. It is slightly more powerful than Pyrodex , leaves slightly less residue, is slightly easier to clean up and is about as accurate with only slightly more variation in velocities from shot to shot. In the humid East, all of those ‘slightlies’ become more of a problem. Frankly the difference is often minuscule and of little account, except in the case of long, hard hunts far from support systems, in wet weather, or for critters that might turn on you, or where such critters exist even if not hunted. (like sheep in the Cassiars where grizzlies abound.)
Black powder is even better in some categories, especially velocity variation, but is way too dirty to function with my System unless the barrel is cleaned between shots. That makes it a poor choice for hunting with the White System, but an excellent choice for target. I use Swiss BP for serious target shooting, clean between shots and dump the powder in with a long tube. It’s a cumbersome way to shoot, but is very accurate. Just look at what the White Shooting Team did at the 2007 National Championships: shot the best team score ever, and the best individual high ever as well. It scared the competition so badly that the Championships were discontinued- I suppose when they realized they couldn’t compete.
All of the above is nonsense if you are using a ThunderBolt with 209 ignition. Blackhorn 209 is hands down the best in the ThunderBolt. BT209 is a smokeless powder of course, they say with a few additives but they won’t say what the additives are. It acts a lot like the 8400 that I experimented with way back when. It is not at all like the 5744 that I took to Africa. Be that as it may, it works like a charm in the T-Bolt, producing great velocities with 300 -450 grain saboted bullets. I have not yet tried it with heavy slip fit bullets nor have I tried the powder in the White slam fire models like the M97 or M98. I will get that done sometime in the Spring of 2010.
I’ve incurred the wrath of CVA (BPI) and Traditions (and their owners!) for asking how their Spanish sub-10,000 PSI House of Eibar proofed, soft extruded barrels should be considered safe with the 25,000 + PSI three pellet loads they recommend in their manuals. It seems they have set aside C.I.P. standards, the House of Eibar proof marks, and Hodgdon Powder Company rules all in one fell swoop. Yet, they have failed to answer if their barrels have ever been tested to even 20,000 or 25,000 PSI, and have handled the entire question with the semblance of panic and confusion. It would take a remarkable level of imbecility to pressure a tire, propane tank, piece of hose, or any vessel to over two and a half times its marked pressure rating. What is your feeling about all of this?
DOC: One of the big problems in the muzzleloading industry is that lack of standardization that exists in the modern gun industry. That standardization is the lone factor that has made modern guns so predictable and trustworthy. We have been downright spoiled by that fact. It has also worked to the benefit of the manufacturers, because the customer knows he can trust the products of even obscure makers, making for easy sales. The fact of standardization in muzzleloading would have a similar effect, but it would present some problems to the sloppier manufacturers. They would have to step up to the Quality Control home plate, but I think they would hit a homer if they did. The current situation is chaotic and confused, to say the least, somewhat akin to the teen years of human life, maturity approaches but at a distance. Thus the panic and distress, thus the hate mail rather than a measured and responsible approach.
The question of extruded steel barrels is another question again. Douglas used extruded steel for their round ball barrels for years, extruding just the blanks then drilling, reaming and rifling as usual. The steel was quite brittle, We at GRRW found that screwing in a tight breechplug would sometimes crack the barrel. Green River Rifle works stopped using their barrels because of this. Douglas finally stopped barrel production after several lawsuits. Yes, their barrels were accurate and enjoyed a great reputation. Those that have survived for years are probably going to survive for centuries. Still, unless the technology of extrusion and annealing has changed, and as far as I know it has not, the question will eventually be answered in the same fashion, in the courts, since average pressures using modern saboted bullets rather than round balls have about doubled.
On the subject of barrels, I was surprised when a major muzzleloading manufacturer related their allowable rifling depth tolerances to me: it is .0035″ to .006″. I was further taken aback to learn that these “tolerances” are not just from barrel to barrel, but they are allowable tolerances in the very SAME barrel! Doc, you has mentioned in one of our conversations that realm of windage, not quite coincidentally, is the range that saboted projectiles can seal. Muzzleloading bullet specialists have additionally verified this. It seems that, for lack of a better term, many muzzleloading companies can “get away” with this type of slop as sabots have a bit of memory, and tolerate the rough ride though a barrel like this. Yet, pure lead conicals do not have this ability. It seems that White rifles’ barrel tolerances, and their proficiency at throwing conicals into the same hole where other manufacturers’ rifles fail, is far more than just rate of twist, GBQ steel, and barrel rigidity-but is contingent on your rifling tolerances as well. Is this the case?
DOC: It is obvious to me that the invention of the sabot by Dell Ramsey was a Godsend to our modern muzzleloading companies. Its invention allowed them to continue selling low cost junk at high prices and profitability but still get decent results. It’s been a Godsend to the average hunter as well, because he can minimize his gun purchase expense and get a good enough result to get him into the field, which is where he wants to be anyway. What he doesn’t recognize is the high cost per shot, but then he doesn’t shoot the rifle but 2-3 shots a year anyway so relative expense is low. After all who expects to really kill a deer with one of those things. Just seeing the deer and getting an occasional shot, even if missed, seems to be enough.
I am reminded of the hunter who asked if he could come long on a shooting session, as he needed help with his rifle. It turned out the rifle was not the problem, all he needed was a bit of training. He fired two shots, one to clear the rifle and one at a bucket at 50 yards. When the second bullet hit the bucket, he pronounced himself satisfied and quit shooting. Later, he hunted mule deer for 5 days, missed one shot but said he had a good time. This is typical.
The sabot is nothing more than a substitute for the classic cloth patch used with round ball. Its use allows a lot of variation in barrel dimensions. Lead bullets allow less simply because they are less malleable. Of course, any manufacturer who makes a barrel that will shoot lead bullets well can also make a barrel that shoots sabots superbly, granted the correct twist and bullet conformation.
Your comments about velocities and ballistic coefficients seem to reflect your preference towards the use of pure lead conicals versus saboted projectiles. Is this the case?
DOC: In general, yes, but with the caveat that I get to pick the combination I want or feel I need for the specific game I plan to encounter. I like long, lubricated, lead slip-fit lead bullets because they load fast and are effective ballistic missiles. I can compensate for a bad initial shot quicker using them than I can with a slower loading sabot. I like sabots because I can effectively shoot a smaller, lighter bullet on smaller, less risky game, or on thin-skinned game that needs a faster expanding bullet than is generally available in slip-fit. By the way, I am planning on changing the ‘ harder too load” sabot paradigm in the future, having designed a slip-fit sabot which will hold a bullet in place without the bullet falling out of the sabot. It will be made of far harder plastic than is now used by anyone, will tolerate much higher velocities because of that hardness, will slip-fit just as easily as a PowerPunch bullet, yet will expand into the rifling when fired in the same fashion as the lead Power Punch and be self cleaning at the same time. It is in the patent process at present so can’t say much more. It should be a hell of a sabot/bullet combo with triple pellets or smokeless.
What are the most important things to understand about the performance dynamics of pure lead projectiles on game animals for the muzzleloading enthusiast?
DOC: First, we moderns operate in the same velocity envelope as the Black Powder cartridge hunters of the 1870- 1920 era, which is 1000-2000 FPS. Powder charges and bullet weights are very similar then and now. They found then, at a time when there was nothing else to shoot or hunt with than the black powder loads with lead bullets then extant, that pure lead or nearly pure lead produced excellent results in game animals. Jackets, whether paper or copper or cupro-nickle, came about only when the performance envelope of lead alloys was exceeded by smokeless powder pushing the bullet faster than 2000 FPS.
Nothing has changed in the meantime. A lead bullet is still the best missle in the 1000-2000 FPS Black Powder envelope. It expands better without a jacket than it does with one at those velocities. A jacket is just not needed and is superfluous.
Second, with regard to the flight properties of lead bullets at BP velocities, the nose shape of the bullet is of relatively little consequence. Long range BP cartridge shooters have noted for years that a sharp spitzer pointed bullet is not much better than a blunt one. This is, of course, contrary to the conventional wisdom that pointed always flies better. Well, it does, it’s just not very important within 200 yards of the target at BP velocities, even at the upper end.
On the other hand, the bullet’s Ballistic Coefficient IS important, and is the factor which determines how efficient flight is. At BP velocities, it takes a relatively long, relatively heavy bullet to produce a relatively flat trajectory, although shorter less efficient bullets have a very modest advantage at the closer ranges. The Express Train bullets of yesteryear took advantage of that short range capability, the shorter, lighter and faster bullet being meant for closer range shots. This is very confusing to modern smokeless shooters who have been trained, or maybe brainwashed, to think the other way around.
On the contrary, a big flat nose in a soft lead bullet at BP velocities is claimed by the knowledgeable to be as efficient as a hollow point. Elmer Keith’s classic magnum lead pistol bullet design was supposed to take advantage of that fact. I have also noticed that the bullets with bigger meplats ( the meplat is the flat on the nose of the bullet) expand better than more pointed ones, granted the same softness of lead. However, I also believe and can show that a deep hollow point, in the nature of .100″ wide and at least .400″ deep in a lead bullet, can be explosive in bigger game animals. You will note that modern jacketed hollow point bullets are wide and shallow, rather than narrow and deep, simply because of the constraints of swaging technology. This fact limits their effectiveness, causing them to expand too fast. A longer, heavier lead bullet with a deep hollow point is far more effective simply because it expands explosively yet retains bullet weight enough for deep penetration
I believe that the best of both BP worlds would be a bullet with a BC of about ,300 with a deep hollow point as described, fired at 1500-1700 fps velocities. I only specify that velocity because that’s about as fast as you can get a long bullet with .30 BC to go using BP or BP substitutes. An example is the .450 cal bullet I used on a mule deer hunt in the Paunsaguant of Utah 15 years ago. It weighed 435 grains with a BC of .29. I shot it with 110 gr PyroP and killed a 300 plus Lb. mulie buck, an old fellow with grey muzzle and heavy three point horns. I killed the deer in the air as he bounded from slope to slope past me at 80 yards. The hollow point bullet hit mid-chest, blew all the way through the chest with a big hole on the other side, and killed him instantly. He piled up like a head shot goose.
It’s obvious to me that my choice is a long heavy bullet with hollow point, explosive on the hit, and with plenty of weight left to plow on thru the animal. It’s the best combo for lighter big game. A big heavy wide meplat lead bullet is still best for really big game like bull elk and moose or larger. The problem is manufacturing the bullet. The technology of production is slow and expensive. It’s easier to make a short wide hollow point than a deep narrow one.
By the way, this narrow, deep hollow point concept is the same that Gould, editor of the magazine that eventually became Sports Afield, advocated in the 1880’s when he was writing exclusively about BP cartridges. His 300 grain HP lead bullet for the 45-70 is a classic. Lyman produced molds for it clear into the 1950’s. I still have a 1950’s Lyman catalogue giving him credit for developing it and calling it by his name.
In summary, lead is best, jackets are a nuisance, a big meplat helps in the game and doesn’t hurt much in the air, a deep hollow point in a long, heavy bullet works well for light stuff as well as larger animals.
With all the discussion of the effectiveness of pure lead, is there a velocity range or certain application area where jacketed bullets, such as the John Nosler partition design, takes precedence over lead in saboted configuration as a “better choice”?
DOC: In relative terms, I am sure there is, but ‘relative’ has little value in this situation. I do know that at up to 2000 fps, a lead bullet is best and jackets are superfluous. At velocities higher than 2000 fps, a jacketed bullet should be better. The problem here is that muzzleloaders don’t shoot much faster than 2000 fps, except with smokeless. The other side of the coin is that plastic sabots, as currently manufactured, don’t tolerate velocities much above 1700 fps without shedding plastic in the barrel which has to cleaned out for the next shot to be accurate. Shooting muzzleloaders at 2000 fps or better awaits better bullet technology. A copper jacketed hollow based Minie-like bullet might do the job, or the hard plastic interlocked self cleaning design that I wrote about earlier. Only time will tell.
I have a 458 Mag on an Enfield action that I occasionally use for ML experimentation. I load it from the muzzle over an empty but primed 458 case. Someday with time enough I will stoke it with smokeless and my pure lead 45/40-350 PowerStars at 2200 fps and compare that lead bullet with other brand 40 caliber jacketed bullets in similar weights. It takes years to accumulate data in game animals, so I will have to use ballistic medium.
There seems to be a great deal of misinformation regarding pure lead projectiles spread about in the various topical magazines. One of the notions is that “pure lead over-expands.” Another is that saboted lead projectiles are inferior to jacketed lead bullets past 2000 fps. Having studied some of your private notes detailing your hunts, and knowing that you shoot an average of three times a week, I suspect you have some clear views on the limitations of pure lead when propelled by black powder or substitutes-either in conical or sabot protected form. It seems to me that pure lead was suddenly underrated with the advent of smokeless powder, with little basis in performance on game. In fact, the more I see, within 200 yards or so-pure lead projectiles actually kill quicker and cleaner than their jacketed counterparts. That seems to hold true, even when comparing a 340 grain to 435 grain saboted projectile of .45 caliber, compared to the common .30 caliber smokeless cartridge jacketed bullet loads of 140 to 180 grains in weight. What does your experience and testing say to this?
DOC: A jacket only interferes with the bullet in the normal muzzleloading envelope: ie- 1000-2200 fps range. They are there only to withstand the stress of 1700 fps plus velocities in modern smokeless arms- the jacket sheds less metal then the softer pure lead thereby avoiding the leading problem. In a sabot, the jacket has no function except to allow the maker to use the same machinery to make a muzzleloading bullet that he does for a cartridge bullet. Since the majority of writers are whores, they naturally mirror the manufacturer’s need. How could they get freebee’s and manufacturer sponsored hunts otherwise.
“Over-expansion” only means the pure lead bullet blows a bigger hole in the animal. With enough weight behind it, the bullet can still penetrate all the way through and out. The confusion reigns because those who write that way are looking at lightweight bullets, again a la smokeless, rather than the large caliber heavyweights of the traditional muzzleloader. They have been duped by the modern high velocity crowd. Once again, the best BP envelope, low velocity bullet is a large caliber pure lead one with enough body weight to penetrate all the way through despite substantial nose expansion.
When you speak of the “black powder muzzleloading envelope,” is that static or dynamic? After all, your barrels are certainly a big jump up in tolerances, strength, and quality from the old cast-iron barrels of one hundred and fifty years ago, Triple 7 is a lot different from traditional black powder, the pellets are not powder at all, and plastic sabot technology was not in common use even twenty-five years ago.
DOC: The envelope is of course dynamic, which is the major complaint of the traditionalist. They want it to be static and never changing. I like traditional guns too, just love flintlocks, but fully realize that the ones I make and use are a far cry different than the one Melchoir Fordney made in the 1780’s. Might I point out that I use machine pre-carved stocks to reduce production time, Dremel tools instead of chisels for inletting, Bridgeport mills for barrel work rather than hand forging and draw filing, relatively inexpensive rolled steel of GBQ quality, stainless touch-holes, investment cast accouterments, screw machine made parts, with all of those parts produced to a standard of quality that was unheard of just 20 years ago let alone 200.
I don’t think we have even scratched the surface yet. The market is going to be every bit as dynamic as archery, which is in such a constant state of flux that its damn difficult to keep up. Wait ‘till someone invents an accurate smoothbore projectile. We use them in cannon, why not muzzle loaders, or modern rifles?. When is a muzzle loading cartridge going to be marketed, so that you can buy a box for your rifle just like buying a box for your 270, and every bit as accurate and efficient and be shippable in interstate commerce just like cartridges are now which means we could fly on an airplane with them too. When will a standard primer be adopted by the industry? A primer that really works, that keeps out the moisture and totally prevents blowback.? It has to happen, simply because the market will demand it. I don’t know when, or by who, but it will happen.
What do you feel is the most overlooked part of the deer family’s anatomy by most hunters?
DOC: The top of the heart, where the huge vessels arise and go to lung and body. These structures are relatively thin walled and exhibit little elastic recoil so they don’t close up after a hit like the heavily muscled heart does. Those big vessels contain fantastic amounts of blood. The average resting animal puts his total blood volume through that area every few minutes. That fact makes a hit in the large vessels absolutely deadly, with few animals surviving more than a few seconds, especially if unalarmed. It’s my constant target.
You do have to know the critters anatomy well and be able to mentally plot the location no matter the position of the animal. You also need to be shooting a bullet that will penetrate to that area despite other body parts being in the way.
A miss in that area is not necessarily a disaster. A hit a little high will still get both lungs and hopefully a bit of the pulmonary artery. A low hit gets the heart, a forward hit gets the shoulders and a bit of lung, a hit to the rear, not too far to the rear, still gets some lung and perhaps a piece of liver.
A good example is the 60 inch moose I shot in ‘95, throwing a 600 gr SuperSlug over 120 grains of Arco 3F powder. I shot offhand at 160-170 yards, standing in chest high willows, the moose standing facing slightly uphill and angled to the right. I aimed for the rear ribs, angled the bullet down thru the right lung, into the mediastinum where the heart is and through both the pulmonary artery and the dorsal aorta. The bull went down like he was poleaxed and never stirred. We took the expanded bullet off the left chest wall just in front of the shoulder blade.
There was a lot of luck in that shot, but not for the moose. The same thing happened with the big tusker I shot on another day at Thunder Hills in Michigan, the 460 grain soft lead bullet blew the big vessels apart at100 yards and the pig went about 3 feet. I had a rest that time, though, squatting on my heels and resting elbows on knees.
The clear trend in muzzleloading at the moment seems to be towards sealed action guns, at least externally sealed action guns that have leave no caustic residue on scopes, and do not scald faces despite 209 primer use. It also seems that many consumers are willing to give up quality in triggers and barrels in order to have blowback-free guns. Is that your impression as well? Do you care to comment on one of your designs that will eclipse what is currently available?
DOC: The perception that ‘sealed action guns’ really seal the action against blowback and weather is of course false, at least in the case of the Omega and Winchester, and maybe even the Knight. The plastic do-thingy in the Knight works a little better but is more expense and a touch clumsy. However, I applaud them for it.
I designed the ThunderBolt some time ago. It matches the requirements for a blowback free action when the bolt is locked tightly against the base of a 209 primer. I have also designed a ‘sealed action’ falling block that drops both block and hammer on the same hinge pin, that locks up well enough to take 40000 PSI (at least I think that maximum-tests will have to prove it later. It works on the inter-link principle just like a 1911 Colt auto. The trigger is simple but adjustable for depth of engagement, the lever is the trigger guard and it originally used naked 209 primers.
In an effort to better the 209 primer as a source of ignition I designed a plastic cartridge-like affair to carry the primer of choice, at least that could be manufactured in any primer configuration that you might imagine and that was reloadable and feed-able from a magazine. Did it look like a 38 S&W cartridge. Yup! Well, why not just use the 38 S&W cartridge? DUH! Brilliant. I machined a breech plug that fit the T-Bolt and the new ‘Alpha’ sealed breech rifle and found that it worked just like Smith and Wesson designed it to. It completely sealed the breech from powder gases, was waterproof when locked in the breech with both designs, and functioned perfectly with all the powders available. I call it the 336 primer, only because .336 is the diameter of the case in inches.. It would really be nice if the industry could settle on some sort of standard that fit all rifles, like the 336. We will eventually be forced to that just because the common hunter will demand it. Give it a decade.
I was appalled to learn of the many people in the industry that are not hunters or shooters, and have surprisingly little knowledge of what they are peddling. It seems they are just moving boxes, and it could just as well be boxes of garden tools as it is muzzleloading rifles. Has that been your experience with some companies as well?
DOC: Since the bottom line is all that matters to most, of course you have the box movers in the industry. How can we avoid it when there is so much money waiting to be spent out there. I prefer the upper end, thank you. We move boxes too, but we know what is in the boxes and can afford to guarantee results because the quality is so high. We get a few guns back but not many.
I’ve always used fouling shots in center-fire rifles over the years, prior to hunting. In fact, I’m always shooting my first shot with a fouled bore, except shotguns. Doc, you seem to be the only one in muzzleloading land that clearly recommends a squib load or fouling shot with his rifles. To me, it seems self-evident. What gives?
DOC: If you want consistent shots, you need consistent barrel conditions. The closest you can come without shooting a full load is fouling the bore with a squib. The best reason to foul the bore with a squib is that loading a full load with a bullet in a wet or oily bore is a good way to guarantee that you get to clean the oily mess out after you get a dry-fire on the buck of a lifetime. The squib burns out the oil from the last cleaning and comes as close as you an get to conditioning the bore for the next all important shot. It would be better to shoot a full load and I do that sometimes, especially if the game is far off, but in large part it’s impractical.
The commonest complaint I get about muzzleloaders in general is the screwed up first shot on a hunt, the gun won’t go off or some such. I think that is one of the reasons 209’s are so popular. The amount of flame from the 209 overcomes the poorly prepared bore conditions and lights off the charge, not so very consistently, but at least it lights it off. The hunter gets a satisfying bang even if he misses.
On “sealed actions,” I like to draw the distinction between a weatherproof action and an internally sealed action. For example, the popular Encore is weatherproof-but the White 98 always has been. In documented cases, the Encore has accumulated enough fouling in the firing pin area, that the firing pin can no longer reach the primer. This, in the case of as few as 50 shots, requiring a takedown and cleaning of the action with “GunScrubber,” or similar product. Perhaps the only the Savage ML-10 comes close to completely internally sealed action at the moment. Are you looking at so-called sealed actions in the same way?
DOC: Sealed means both weatherproof and gas proof, in the same sense that a modern cartridge is ‘sealed’. Weatherproof only means the system will withstand moisture for a substantial amount of time even tho it may leak gas. 209 ignited guns are generally more ‘weatherproof’ because the 209 is heavily varnished and resists water quite well- made that way originally to stand up for years in paper shotshells. The Encore leaks water like a sieve- throw one in the crick sometime and see how much water gets into the action. Once the water leaks past the 209 into the touch-hole and thence into the powder, it becomes much less ‘weatherproof’ Normally that takes a good while, so the Encore is (relatively) weatherproof.
Black powder (velocities) have never been shown to vary greatly with barrel pressure upon firing, yet Pyrodex apparently does. Ian McMurchy was able to get higher Pyrodex propelled velocities, using equivalent 100 grain charges, actually using heavier bullets due to this. Have you looked at the pressure curves between those two propellants, as well the Pyrodex pellets, and discovered anything of note?
DOC: The pressure curve of BP is quite spiked while that of Pyrodex is wider and more rounded. Pellets are even wider and more rounded yet, with absolute pressures being the same. This means that the area under the curve and thus the moment of force on the bullet is prolonged with Pyrodex and pellets thus the acceleration phase of internal bullet flight is longer thus somewhat higher velocities are obtainable with similar weights/volumes equivalent.
Do you believe that more attention needs to be paid in primer strength matching the propellant and load for consistency, rather than the current “one 209 fits all” embodiments?
DOC: I don’t think we muzzleloaders have even touched the subject, yet modern shooters have been trying to match primers with target loads for years. I have 308 brass made with small rifle primer pockets for target use. It produces very consistent velocities.
Doc, I know you love to hunt, perhaps even more than exercising your noodle in the creation of firearms. Do you have a “most memorable” or “most exciting” hunt you’d like to share with us?
DOC: 1995, caribou and moose in the NW Territories out of Whitehorse. I was thrown from a horse, hurt my hip bad, saw or hallucinated a grizzly in camp while everyone else was gone. I was full of Percocet and muscle relaxants so might have been my imagination. I climbed with two canes, eventually making a 240 yard shot on a bull caribou, then made a 170 yard shot on a 60 ” bull moose offhand, both one shot kills . I killed a mulligan moose for the guide with a single shot. It was the most challenging hunt I was ever on, because of the injury. I was still limping 6 weeks later. You can find the story in my collection of articles, called, “Sitting in the Mud”.
Not many people (no one?) have ever had the distinction of taking some twenty-two head of caribou in one afternoon, much less with a muzzleloader. As it turns out, this was far from exactly “your original plan.” How did this all come about?
DOC: I was in the Shaefferville country, in a camp with 10 Michigan deer hunters. I went out one morning, alone, with a M98 (#0001) .504 loaded with 100 gr PyroP and a 435 gr White saboted bullet. About 2 miles from camp, I heard some shooting, went over a hill and found a French speaking Canadien and Indian wife killing caribou for their dogs. They had a about a half dozen down with one staggering. The shooter was out of bullets for his 22 Mag. He asked me to shoot the wounded bull. I did. He was so thrilled with the sudden kill that he asked me to kill another one, then another. I ended up shooting all the bullets I had with me. These were small meat animals. Not a big bull in the bunch. I believe the 22 number was the total # of critters down for the day. He had killed 6 or 8. I killed the rest.
One other time in Alaska I took some senior scouts caribou hunting. They could not hit the broadside of a barn with their modern rifles. I ended up shooting most of the animals. There were a dozen scouts and three leaders. I don’t exactly remember but I think I killed at least 6-7 of the kid’s bulls for them. I was using an original Swiss 41 cal military-target muzzleloading rifle, shooting 70 gr black powder and a deeply double waisted 235 gr bullet from an original issue military mold- it came with the rifle. It was the most effective ML rifle I ever used until I invented my own System. It loaded very easily (slip-fit) and shot very, very well. It was the Swiss issue rifle at the same time as we used the Minie ball.
The Savage 10-ML “Smokeless Muzzleloader,” developed by North Carolina’s Henry Ball, has received renewed interest. The low cost per shot, mild recoil, and lack of corrosive fouling holds great appeal for many. It is subject to the same performance limitation of the polypropylene sabot as any other inline. What are your thoughts of the future of “smokeless muzzleloading”? After all, smokeless powder has been the most popular “black powder substitute” devised, and today’s shotshells are still sold today labeled in “drams equivalent” of black powder.
DOC: The onslaught of smokeless muzzleloading is inevitable and only awaits the development of sabots that will stand up to the pressures and heat, a powder that is relatively bulky and safe to use in volume loaded format and the widespread acceptance of smokeless muzzleloading by state game departments. The issue is not target shooting, but hunting, which is where the numbers are, which is something I’ve been trying to tell the NMLRA for years. Once state game departments come to not care about the propellant, smokeless muzzleloading will blossom. Surely it must be evident that my T-Bolt was designed with smokeless in mind, at least eventually.
Just to give the concept a good try, I took a 45 caliber T-Bolt to Africa in 2004. I killed 9 head of game, all the larger plains type, with 11 shots, the guide insisting on repeat shots in a Kudu already dead on his feet. Once he discovered how effective the rifle was , there was no more fuss. All the other 8 animals were taken with a single shot. The load was a saboted 45/40-350 Power star bullet over 35 grains of 5477, at 1550 fps. The longest shot was 180 yards on a black wildebeest. It knocked him flat.
Extreme long distance muzzleloading, the confident harvesting of game at 250 yards or more, has been discussed far more than put into practice. Do you expect this to become more achievable by the average hunter? There are currently center-fire rounds, such as the 7mm Shooting Times Westerner, that offer flat shooting out to 425 yards or so, much farther than Elmer Keith’s beloved .35 Whelen. Will muzzleloading follow in concert?
DOC: Muzzleloading will follow in the same fashion as currently cartridge shooting follows. The writers write about it( or should I say lie about it), the customers buy into it, the companies are happy to produce it, and everyone continues to shoot their deer at the normal 60-120 yards that we have been shooting deer since the days of Simon Kenton. Long range shooting is far more difficult than anyone imagines. Game does not hold still like targets do. Game likes cover. Game wiggles and runs and flees. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that the debate is fun and developing the technology even funner, but the limitations of human vision (even with scopes), the deterioration of hunting skills and prowess, (simply because of lack of opportunity- consider that the greenest greenhorn on Ashley’s first trip to the Rockies killed more game that year than you will in a lifetime) and game behavior will continue to dictate that most game will be collected at current average ranges. Only a few will maintain skill enough to take advantage of the new technology.
It seems that even those with a passion for hunting are limited either by time or financial embarrassment from hunting overseas, perhaps inclusive of Canada or South America until they are “senior citizens.” Many of the folks I’ve hunted with, while out of the country, have been more than “pleasingly plump,” and have acquired a few of the medical conditions associated with a long life as well. Doc, are there any special areas that most of us overlook given that scenario? What can we do to better prepare for, and better enjoy our time in the hunting woods?
DOC: It’s best to come from a long line of long lived folks who donate their good genes to you. Next, be active and exercise at least moderately and eat modestly, stay lean and tough ( I don’t) Next, don’t smoke, don’t drink but get all the healthy legal sex your wife will allow. Just be sure that you give more than you get. Keep the quality high. Stay vitally interested in all you do. Never get bored. Be intellectually curious. Cultivate a spiritual life. In addition to a good diet take anti-oxidant vitamins. They are expensive but worth it.
Despite your extended work schedule, and diverse interests, your wife has referred to you as a “hopeless romantic,” and it is apparent to me that she is both proud of you, and supportive of everything you do. Is there any special trick to balancing the personal with the professional, or did you just get really lucky?
DOC: Let’s call it God’s good blessings and give Him the credit.. But be generous, full of integrity, honest as the day is long and keep your conscience free of guilt. Be anxiously engaged in doing good always. Always think of the other guy first. Keep your contracts- do what you say you will. Never deliberately harm another person except at the risk of your own or a loved ones life. Resist evil at every opportunity. Go out of your way to serve others. Always fill your clients basket full to overflowing, and if you can’t fill it, at least leave him with the impression that you tried damn hard! When your client dies, or the deal fails, or the bullet misses, or the animal runs off to be lost, despite your best efforts, thank him for what he taught you, weep over him briefly and get on to the next episode in your life.. When you deliberately end an animals life, always thank him for his sacrifice- his sacrifice is always greater than yours. Remember to quickly kick over the pedestal that folks put you on, before they kick it over for you. Be the first to laugh at your own foolishness and last to laugh at someone else’s misfortune. You’ll never be rich, but you will enjoy life as few do, your posterity will bless your name and if there is an eternal reward, you will qualify. DOC.