From time to time we will present a portion of DOC’s writing, sometimes his thoughts on a matter sometimes a hunting story for your enjoyment. Most of the thinking is authentic DOC, most of the stories are true, without too many flights of imagination. Most illustrate a point or teach a lesson. We hope they will be enjoyable as well as instructive. Read on!
BLACKHORN 209 AND DEEP HOLLOW POINT BULLETS
I have been shooting and hunting with black powder in all its forms for the past 67 years. I made my first muzzleloader, a percussion shotgun, when I was 16, in 1952. Since then I ‘ve made hundreds of guns, designed a few that sold in the thousands, with by far the most of them designed for hunting. The gun may be the tool but the game is hunting. Yes, there are lots of lessons in target shooting and plinking but it’s the hunt that separates the great guns from the ordinary.
This is also true of that smelly propellant that we throw down the muzzle. There are ordinary black powders and there are great ones, too. Not all black powders are the same and, most assuredly, not all black powder substitutes are the same and some of the substitutes are far worse than the worst black powder.
Of course, my interest is in the very best stuff, especially for what I believe to be the finest muzzle loading hunting rifles ever designed. Of course, all of them are White rifles. Who would have guessed that. I am especially proud the W-Series rifles and especially so of the White Thunderbolt.
I predicted years ago that someday, someone would invent a smokeless black powder substitute that would do everything that black powder does and maybe even do it better. That hasn’t happened yet, but there is one powder that comes close in the percussion world. I have been using Blackhorn 209 in my Thunderbolt rifles the past decade, ever since BH209 came out. I have found it to be a superb powder for use in that model of rifle, let alone all other White rifles.. It almost perfectly fits into the White Shooting System because it allows fast second shots with slip-fit bullets without ever having to clean the barrel.
I say almost only because the powder ignites at a higher temperature than other substitutes. One would almost think it is really a smokeless powder, simply because it acts like one. It burns progressively, with a relatively longer burn as it pursues the bullet down the barrel. Black powder gives the bullet a big push to start with then peters out quickly. Blackhorn 209, continues that push further down the barrel with resulting higher velocities. It can be loaded by volume, like other Black powder subs and it also burns with very little residue and almost no smoke, which in White rifles with White slip-fit or almost slip-fit saboted bullets is a tremendous advantage. You can shoot and reload without cleaning for far more shots than with any other powder, yet the bullets stay in the group, and the groups are great. Like I said, 209 is almost the perfect powder for the White System.
Let me illustrate. My favorite T-Bolt is a .451 caliber with a shallow groove 1-20 twist. My favorite saboted bullet is the pointed, hollow pointed one that I developed for my Super Sabot, the 45/40-360 Power Star. That means a 45 caliber channelured, lubricated sabot with a .40 caliber semi-pointed bullet that weighs 360 grains. The bullet is hollow pointed pure lead, which is still the best ballistic medium yet. This bullet was developed from a multi-channelured, lubricated slip-fit bullet with a drilled hollow point weighing 435 grains. I shoot both with 70 grains 209 Blackhorn, loaded by volume. It can be ignited with a 209 shotgun primer or my 336 primer, which is really a 32 S&W pistol brass case. I like the 336 because it seals the back end of the barrel completely. No hot gasses or residues get past it.
However, the small 32 S&W case takes a small pistol primer, which is marginal in its ability to consistently fire off the 209 powder. I found that a magnum small pistol primer works better. But while experimenting with the concept I found that igniting the 209 with a bit of 4F black powder under the 209 works even better yet, in fact marvelously so, with enhanced velocities yet great groups. Over the years, I have consistently achieved 1770 FPS with that 70 grain load with 5 grain igniter and the 45/40-350 with only slightly less velocity from the 435 grain slip fit hollow point. Both bullets shoot 2 inch groups at 200 yards. And both bullets are real killers at 200 yards, with far more energy, consistent easy loading and better accuracy than any other combinations I have ever tried in any rifle.
White designed hollow-point PowerStars seen up close. .40 cal. 350 gr. Bullet (Left) next to channelured .45 cal. SuperSabot and bullet combination. .50 cal. 435 gr. PowerStar is pictured next to 50 cal. SuperSabot and bullet combo, (Right).
I have been thinking about hollow points for a long time. After all, in the days of lead bullets, before jacketing was developed, the common way to enhance expansion was to hollow point the bullet.
There were a plethora of designs in that day, some good and some not so good. I’d had a chance to use a few original hollow points back in the nineteen fifties. Old molds were fairly common then and I couldn’t afford hardly anything else. I had come to admire the heavy hollow point bullets designed by Gould, who favored a deep hollow point. Gould was the editor of the 1880’s magazine that later became Field and Stream. He was a widely experienced hunter who wrote a lot about the black powder cartridges and the heavy lead bullets of his day. His hollow-pointed bullets were so effective in my black powder cartridge guns that it looked like it would be easy to design a hollow-point bullet for muzzleloaders using his basic design.
Later, I had the opportunity to use Gould’s classic .45 cal 330 grain hollow point bullet on moose and black bear in an English double 450-31/4 when I was stationed in Alaska in the late 60’s. He had originally designed this hollow point for the 45/70. The hollow point was about 1/10th of an inch wide and 4/10ths of an inch deep, and was cast from a 10% tin-lead mix in an old Lyman mold. It had proven to be startlingly effective, producing large wound channels and sudden knock down yet through and through penetration and generous blood trails. It seemed to kill as suddenly as most modern rifles. It is the finest muzzleloading big game bullet on the planet.
Photocopy of an illustration from an ancient Lyman handbook . Gould bullets cast from an even older original mold are everything the ad claims them to be.
BEAR ON COOPER MOUNTAIN
I well remember the spring black bear that Dave Wily and I spotted on Cooper’s Mountain on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska in 1968. We were glassing the hillsides from Cooper Lake. The bear was high above us, feeding on last years blueberries. Fog was drifting thickly about and the bear would appear and then disappear only to re-appear as the fog lazily drifted past. The winter’s snow was still up to our knees as we climbed, using the fog to hide from the bear.
We climbed to within 70 yards of the bear, but found him only because the foggy curtain conveniently opened at just the opportune moment. I used the left barrel of my Wilkinson and Grey 450-3 1/4 hammer double, hitting the bear in mid-chest. He collapsed like a sack of potatoes and came bouncing at me down the steep tundra covered slope . The bear was quite obviously instantly dead.
The big 330 grain soft lead hollow point, driven by 120 grains of FFg black powder, had blasted through heart and lung and exited the other side, leaving a fist sized hole. Wiley commented that the bear probably hadn’t felt a thing. Hydrostatic shock caused by the rapid expansion plus deep penetration by the still heavy bullet had been responsible for the quick kill.
This Black Bear fell to a single shot from Doc’s 450-3 1/4 double throwing a 330 grain Gould hollow point at 1600 fps. An instant kill at 70 yards. There’s no reason to doubt that we can get similar results in a muzzleloader with similar bullets
Naturally, the intervening years have given me the chance to reflect on the difference in performance between that old Gould hollow point and the newer swedged hollow points currently available for modern pistols and often used in muzzleloaders. I pondered why modern swedged hollow points are all so shallow and wide in contrast to the narrow and deep cast models advocated by Gould and contemporaries.
Our modern manufacturers all claim controlled expansion with their modern open-faced, hollow-pointed pistol bullets. That is, at pistol velocities. However, my own experience with them at muzzleloading velocities has been adverse. Few of them penetrate well at all, simply because most open way too fast at higher muzzleloading velocities and they are too light to penetrate all the way through..
This is especially true with modern hollow pointed pistol bullets fired in sabots. Modern light jacketed pistol bullets just weren’t designed for the 1500-1800 FPS velocities attainable with a muzzleloader. And even then, their ballistic coefficient is low and they don’t carry well at distance, losing substantial energy at ranges past 100 yards.
The answer to this riddle became apparent only after I designed the then new White ShootingStar bullet (now the Power-Star.) in 1990. A deep Gould type hollow point was originally intended, but to my horror, our bullet maker could not swedge the deep hollow point as designed. He had to widen the opening and cut the depth to less than tenth of an inch to get his swedging machinery to work. To my great relief, the PowerStar performed adequately, expanding decently even in smaller deer and antelope, forming large wound channels and still punching through to exit and leave good blood trails. Still, it did not produce the sudden death of the deeply hollow pointed Gould bullet even though the shallow hollow point proved to be deep enough to promote good expansion while retaining enough mass to punch clear through large animals, even at longer 200 yard ranges. Such great bullet performance in a muzzleloader can be attributed to the extra weight, length and ballistic coefficient designed into the Gould bullet and PowerStar
Naturally, using the hollow pointed PowerStar on heavy big game, like moose or elk, or even that occasional bigger deer, requires careful shooting to achieve quick kills. Shots should be limited to chest-heart/lung areas, avoiding the heavy bones of really big animals like bear and moose with the hollow-pointed bullets.
My solid Enhanced Lead Power-Punch slip-fit bullet is perfect for effective shoulder and end to end shots in such heavy animals. Their use is encouraged if such shots are anticipated. Use of the hollow points should be confined to chest shots, involving no heavier bone than the shoulder blade or ribs. A shoulder or ham hit will result in massive tissue destruction and loss of good eating.
Still, they can be extremely effective in huge animals. I was hunting in Northern Canada some years back when my guide announced that he would like to take his moose for the year with my Super-91. We were looking at a smaller, ‘Mulligan’, bull at the moment, weighing maybe 800 lbs, and the rifle was loaded with 120 grains of Pyrodex P and a 50/45-435 grain PowerStar. The shot was about 60 yards. I cautioned him to shoot for the heart and the bull went down like a ton of bricks and never got up. He commented that he could see little difference between it and his 338.
Those examples show that a deep hollow point in a relatively heavy muzzleloading bullet is effective, capable of initial rapid expansion and hydrostatic shock, accompanied by deep penetration with multi-organ tissue destruction. Nothing kills quicker in thin skinned game, shot from any angle. Of course, we knew that would be the case. Mr. Gould and his cronies proved that way back in the 1880’s. We only have to plagiarize to repeat his success.
MAKING THE BULLET
Now, since modern swedging equipment will not produce a hollow point a tenth of an inch wide and 4 tenths of an inch deep, how do we get or from where do we get the bullet? There are two methods: cast them or cast or buy solid lead bullets of the correct conformation and drill out the hollow point. Lyman still makes molds for hollow points, the original 330 grain Gould hollow point bullet that I used so well back in my early days came from an ancient Lyman mold. I am told that there are other mold makers will make one custom for you but I don’t know who they are.
You can also buy a 460 grain or smaller multi-channelured bullet then drill the hollow point using a .100 diameter drill. You will need at least a small lathe to center the drill bit and will need to set the depth at .400 thou (40/100 inches) so every bullet you drill is uniform. That’s what I do, use my huge lathe to drill a tiny bullet. But the results are spectacular, with near instant kills on big animals with an explosive release of energy, massive hydro-static shock to stun the brain and blast the lungs but with enough mass to carry through and exit the other side, leaving a terrific blood trail. Of course, I’ve never had to follow a blood trail, the critter dies too fast to leave much of one.
ED MEHLIGS EXPERIENCE
Here’s what my friend Ed Mehlig has to say about White/Gould bullets:
Doc, as you know for years I’ve shot the 465 gr. conical with my .451 White muzzleloaders with great success. Well, my three grandsons wanted to get into shooting muzzleloaders. Luckily for me (them) I have three .451 M97’s that would be perfect for them. In reading your book “The White Muzzleloading System” you talk about the Gould hollow point bullet. That sparked my interest and in checking with Lyman, I found they still manufactured the 330 gr Gould Mold 457122. In corresponding with you via emails, you mentioned it would be a great bullet for deer hunting. What I did notice in casting the 330 gr. Gould in pure lead, the bullets came out weighing around 346 gr.
So now came the time to start casting and working up loads for my three grandsons. One of which was 9 yrs old at the time. The other two were 12. I set up the youngest boy’s M97 with a peep sight. We were restricting his shots to 50 yards, for two reasons. One, his ability to shoot accurately at that distance and his load at the time only 50gr of 777-3F. If my memory serves me correctly the Muzzle Velocity was around 1100 FPS. To say the least the recoil was very mild. But we knew it had enough energy to do its job. The other two boy’s load was 65 gr. of 777-3F. I forget what their Muzzle Velocity was.
Well, my youngest grandson shot his first doe that year at a distance between 45-50 yards. At the shot she just dropped where she was standing and never moved. My son told me her lung/heart area was a complete mess. My other two grandsons have harvested several deer with that bullet and load all with the same results with shots ranging from 50-85 yards. Deer either died where they were standing, or ran a very short distance away. Again in examining their insides they were all torn up. We were never able to recover any of the bullets, but from the exit wounds you knew the bullets expanded beautifully and did their job.
Ron Raughlin, a forum moderator of Modern Muzzleloading and Hunting Net, tested this bullet at a range of 25 yards with 80 gr. of Blackhorn 209. Ron had set up a piece of plywood that had piece of rug attached to it in front of 5 gallon water jugs. The first jug was blown in half. Each half was found 15’ to the right and left of the wooden horse. The second was toasted. The third jug had a hole in and out. The bullet bounced off the fourth jug but did not damage it. The average weight of the Gould bullets sent down-range was 346.2 grains. The mushroomed bullet weighed 340.8 grain and mushroomed to 15/16” at the widest point.
COMBINING 209 POWDER AND WHITE/GOULD BULLETS
Now, what if we combine 209 Blackhorn and a White/Gould hollow point bullet? I’ve done it more than a few times. What follows are two stories, the first one tells about the first time I ever tried it in a muzzleloader, the second tells about the last time. The first used a 460 grain slip-fit bullet with hollow point drilled out on a lathe, the drilling dropping the weight to 435 grains. The second is the story of a Kansas hunt for whitetail. I used my 451 caliber 45/40-360 Power-Star saboted bullet once produced by White Systems.
The day was bright and beautiful, the sun shining coldly from azure skies. The air was crisp with fall, trees bare and grass brown, cured for winter’s coming season. The red stone cliffs towered starkly above me, rising to skyscraper heights, piles of fallen skree at their feet like worshipers bent before alters of stone.
I was taking a last stalk into a canyon Bob McKay had recommended, one that he said often held a big mule deer buck. I had spent the previous four days watching big bucks. “Watching,” was a euphemistic word in this case. The chasing and catching had been spectacularly unsuccessful. We were hunting in Johnson Canyon, in the Pahnsaghant of Utah.
It had been obvious from the first that there were many big deer in this high red rimrock country. I spent the first day sitting on a high rock overlooking a migration trail. I saw literally dozens of 24-inch and a few better bucks. I’d even seen one 32-inch 4 point with long beams and generous forks, but unfortunately without enough mass. I let him live for seed. The second and third days had been similar, but every good-sized buck had some strike against him.
The fourth day brought a huge 36 incher out of the dawn. We saw him from 800 yards, going up Blind Canyon. “No way out,” chortled Bob, as we closed off the mouth of the canyon. “He’ll have to come past us to get out.” Famous last words, those.
The buck took a course past the half dozen groups of does in the canyon, smelling out each one for readiness, but not finding any that warranted closer attention. The bucks with the does either ran off or turned their backs and went to grazing at his challenge. Only one big ugly 40 incher returned his challenge briefly, then bent his head and turned his back while the monster sniffed out his harem.
We watched helplessly as this huge animal strolled over to the 300 foot red-rock cliffs that surrounded the canyon some 600 yards from us. He picked a chute and climbed it with all the skill of a bighorn sheep, disappearing over the top with a bound. Blind Canyon was blind no more.
I had only this last afternoon left before having to skedaddle for home. So Bob had suggested the small canyon we were in. It didn’t have a name, but was just another of the many sage filled bottoms surrounded by high rimrock in southern Utah.
There were a myriad of tracks in the bottom. Most led down to the farmer’s fields in the lower canyon. Occasional breaks in the rimrock accessed the bottom lands, with safety in the high rock and plentiful food and water in the fields. Many of the tracks were quite fresh, only days to hours old.
I bent my course to the left as I climbed out of the sage and into scattered junipers. I heard a deer stotting in front of me. I knew it wasn’t Bob. He was off to the right and he didn’t stott.
A small side canyon stretched into some high yellowish rimrock just to my front. We had inadvertently blocked it off. It was only several hundred yards deep and wide with the usual 200-300 foot vertical walls. Any deer there would have to come back past me or Bob to get out. There was no chute to climb this time.
I struck a fresh track. It was alternately walking, then standing, then stotting away, only to repeat itself shortly again. It was obvious that the deer was running in front of me and watching his back trail. Real nervous behavior. And best, a long, big track with fetlocks deep in the dirt.
I tracked along slowly, trying to see through the junipers as I followed the tracks. The canyon was quickly narrowing down. The rimrock to the left was only 50-60 yards away with Bob another 100 yards to my right. He was a like distance from the opposite canyon wall.
I saw a flicker of mule deer hide in the trees at the far canyon bottom. Cottonwoods stretched high there, a sure sign of water. Suddenly the deer burst into view, circling around to the left, looking for a way out past me. It was a buck, heavy bodied and carrying a 30 inch rack with heavy beams. I couldn’t count points, he was moving too fast.
I moved further to the left, hoping to crowd him into the middle, where it was more open and Bob could possibly get a shot. We’d only have one apiece with our White muzzleloaders. There wouldn’t be time to reload. He’d be carrying the mail when he finally came past.
I guess my leftward move was too threatening. The buck suddenly burst into plain view, bounding along the left-hand canyon wall. He was right up against the rock cliff, jumping from scree pile to scree pile as he rapidly closed the distance. He would pass me at about 50 yards, head up high and huge body thumping the ground with the effort of escape. I heard Bob yell behind me. He’d heard the stotting and knew the buck was making a dash for freedom.
I only had time enough to throw up my White .451 caliber Super 91 rifle, catching him in the peep as he sailed between scree piles. He was flying twenty feet in the air as the front sight pulled through his body. The rifle blasted, apparently on its own. I saw my home drilled hollow point 435 grain bullet punch him in the ribs. The buck collapsed in the air, big head coming down, huge body flipping sideways, then crashing into the scree. It was like shooting a goose, only a lot more exciting, and I get excited about big geese. He rolled down the scree a ways then piled up, motionless.
I quickly reloaded, taking advantage of the White QuickChargers on the buttstock of the rifle. It takes less than twenty seconds to reload when the adrenaline flows. The 90 grains of P Pyrodex and .a new hollow pointed bullet was quickly rammed home and the rifle capped. I waited a few moments while Bob ran up. It was obvious that a second shot would not be needed.
The buck was enormous, weighing near 300 lbs. on the hoof. His antler spread was a good 30 inches, with heavy beams. He was old, with greying muzzle and fewer points than might be expected. His three- point rack was small compared to his enormous body size. His front hooves were unusually long. Bob said that he had lived his life out in the sandy soils of the lower rimrock country. He certainly needed a manicure.
We found that the 435 grain hollow pointed slip-fit bullet had hit the buck square in the ribs, blowing a good sized hole through both lungs and vitals before exiting the other side. The exit wound was fist-sized, explaining the quick and humane kill. Sudden death is a far better way to go than being pulled down by coyotes in old age.
Just to illustrate, I took that same rifle but using the 70 grain BH209 load on a whitetail hunt in Kansas several years ago. The hunt was pleasant but a dud until the last ten minutes of the last day. A smaller shooter buck finally turned up, fighting will a much larger buck at 180 yards. It was dusk and I couldn’t be sure of the antlers but body size convinced me to shoot.
I had been shooting that 70 gr. load all summer, sighting in 3 “ high at 100, the bullet hitting on the money at 140 and 7-8 “ low at 200 yards. I put the crosshairs just under the bucks spine and shot his heart out. He spun around a time or two then tumbled to the ground and flopped a little. What a terrific combination, A White rifle, 5 gr of 4F blackpowder as an igniter, 70 gr by volume 209 Blackhorn and my .451 PowerStar 360grain hollow point saboted bullet.
It’s SUPERSTAR successor or a deeply hollow pointed slip-fit or saboted bullet are the only loads I recommend nowadays, except in my .504 caliber T-Bolt where I use 100 gr of BH209, again measured by volume, plus the 5 gr igniter and my saboted 50-45/435 or 335 grain hollow point bullet, the same bullets used slip-fit in the .451 T-Bolt but now shot in my 50/45 Super-sabot.
I carry the 4fg black powder igniter in a ‘thumb flask’, a thumb size brass flask just like those used back in the flintlock days to carry priming powder. You can get them from Track of the Wolf and other muzzleloading suppliers and they throw exactly 5 gr of powder. They are also very easy to use and are quick. I carry one in a shirt or jacket pocket. Powder/bullet go in a QuickCharger.
There were 5 other hunters in camp that year, every one using a short light-weight pistol bullet with enormous 150 grain loads of 777 or Pyrodex powder. All of the them got a shot at a trophy buck. Two missed, three hit but two of the hit deer got away, only one down for 5 shots, besides mine. The two that were hit but got away were nice big deer . Too bad. Not ‘nuff gun. Not ‘nuff bullet.
The Flintlock 1974
Cloyd Davis and I were bumping up the long haul into Pigeon Water, in north-eastern Utah, when the deer suddenly appeared. There had been nothing but rocks and sage on the hillside a moment before, but suddenly there they were, running heads up and alert. A big doe led two smaller ones, and a middling buck ate their dust, his nose full of doe scent and his neck swollen with rut. Cloyd and I had been waiting for just such a sight for the previous four days, our appetite whetted by the big buck that Terry Scholes had put down two days before with his 50 caliber ‘Poor Boy’.
I instinctively slammed on the brakes, careening to a stop as the deer turned into the narrow ravine we had been crawling along, crossed in front of us and bounded up the hill to our left. They were headed for a big clump of quaking aspen about 100 yards up the hill, the first cover in sight.
Cloyd was out of the truck before I could get it stopped, his long-barreled fullstock percussion rifle ready. He ran a few steps in front of the truck, fumbled on a cap and pulled trigger just as the buck disappeared into the Quakies. The crack of his 50 was followed by a solid thump as the bullet struck home. The buck went down, rolling nose over teakettle, staggered to his feet and burst into a thumping run, headed back the way he had come.
A fine original example of a ‘French’ flintlock, the ultimate amalgamation of all the flint using locks that preceded it, combining all their best features in a small, efficient form. It was in use as early as 1625 and is the form that everyone recognizes and uses now.
I hadn’t been idle in the meantime. I had managed to stop the old truck without tipping it over, slammed on the emergency brake, grabbed my rifle and tumbled out. I flipped open the frizzen, dumped in a panfull of priming powder, and picked up the deer just as Cloyd’s shot knocked over the buck.
I was thumbing the frizzen closed and cocking the hammer just as the buck jumped up and took off, running near as fast as if he hadn’t been hit at all. It seemed instinctive to slip to one knee, lining up the sights on the running buck, now about 125 yards away. I squeezed the trigger, then squeezed some more, and it seemed like forever that the rifle wouldn’t go off. It suddenly struck me that I hadn’t set the rear trigger of the DST in the excitement, and the buck continued his humped up run as I reached for the rear trigger, my heart in my mouth and my hopes for a clean shot sagging into my boots.
Have you ever noticed how you can feel the whole sum of your knowledge and experience on a subject when catastrophe threatens. This is what I experienced when my mind finally figured out the slackness in that trigger. I remembered, in an instantaneous burst of memory, the days when I used to glory in the beauty of hunting with any muzzleloading rifle, not only my beloved flintlock, comparing it with the lackluster experience of the more modern cartridge. I can suddenly feel again that teenage hankering that I once had to actually possess a working flintlock, a feeling even more intense than the one that led me to build my first percussion rifle and take the long leap into muzzleloading.
Here I am with the biggest thing I’d ever killed at the time. (winter 1976). The rifle is a flintlock Green River RifleWorks copy of a fullstock Indian Trade Rifle in 62 caliber, firing a 340 grain ball over 200 grains ffg Dupont black powder. The bullet took off the top of his heart at 60 yards and he still made 30 counted steps before he went down. Fortunately, the steps were away from me, I was a country mile from the nearest cover. It was 35 below. The cold made me shake really bad.
I remember finally saving enough bucks to buy a honest to gosh flintlock from Miller Bedford, whom most of you won’t remember. It was an original French pistol lock. It had a few replaced parts, but it sparked well and it pleased me immensely. Somehow I built it into a 32 caliber fullstock rifle and later managed to get me and rifle into a patch of cottontail rabbits. It was fall time in my cold northern Utah country, not quite cold enough to freeze the spit patch as I rammed round ball and patch down the barrel, but cold enough to give me the shakes. At least I shook every time that little rifle went off. I remember wondering why anybody should flinch that bad just because of a little fire in the face. At least there were lots of rabbits and it gave me lots of practice.
Of course , it’s fun now to watch a new flintlock shooter go through this peculiar agony, him expecting the flash to singe his eyelashes and spot his pristine brow. It‘s really great to demonstrate how steady I am, now that thousands of shots are under the bridge, and how adept my reflexes are at holding breath, squeezing trigger, lining sights, and steadily waiting for all that commotion that happens before a ball is free of the barrel and on its way to a bulls-eye.
Charley Winn with a DOC built copy of a fine side by side double Penn-Ky rifle originally by Christian Beck, 45 caliber, one side rifled, one side smooth.
Now, this is what flintlock shooting is all about. It is on follow through that all the other principles of flintlocking depend. It boils down to the fact that a flintlock shooter can never quite predict the exact moment when his rifle will go bang. The reason being that the time lag between the fall of the cock and the firing of the gun is quite variable. It is this variable lag time, present even in the quickest of flintlocks, that comes as a consternating surprise, requiring considerable practice and concentration to overcome.
Now, flintlocking at your favorite shoot, playing the target game, is not the same as pursuing game in the field. The flintlocker on the target line is shooting steadily, never allowing his priming to sit in the pan for longer than just the few seconds it takes him to prime, raise his rifle and fire. There is much less chance for moisture to penetrate the priming, a terrible problem if it’s raining or snowing, and a miserable problem even on a moist day in a humid climate.
I lived in Virginia long enough to find out what a problem moist priming could be. We lived right close to tide-water and the air was sometimes so boggy you could clap your hands and it would rain on your shoes. Good barrel iron rusted so fast in that country that a hunter often had to run an oiled patch down his barrel after loading his first shot of the day, because if he didn’t get it shot off by noon all he’d have in the evening was a streak of rust. Priming would turn into black goo in the pan if not changed often, and the pan had to be thoroughly wiped with every change of priming so that moisture in the pan wouldn’t wet the new priming before the pan was closed.
Squirrel hunting was a natural in those tall woods. So many big trees around that it blighted a man’s vision, couldn’t see the horizon, let alone the sun come up some days in the deep woods. And if there was any moisture in those high leaves, it was sure to drip straight into the pan. I soon learned to hump over my lock as I loaded or changed priming. I soon learned what a ‘cow’s knee’ was, too, except we couldn’t usually sacrifice a cow and had to make our protective flintlock covers out of any old piece of rawhide that came along. One of my crazy friends designed a bib with an oilskin cover just special for keeping the rain off, it protected his shirtfront too. I even learned to take special care to wipe off the underside of the frizzen, that part that forms the roof of the pan, and which touches the priming first when the pan is filled too full. I once spent all day hunting in a little drizzle, re-priming repeatedly and yet failing to get a flash, before I discovered that pans have roofs as well as bottoms and filling a pan without wiping its roof is inviting a misfire.
That’s good advice even in dry country, but for a different reason; fine black priming powder compacts easily, and a hard block of priming is harder to start burning than a fluffy, dry charge rattling around loose in the pan.
More sooner than later, I also discovered that all flint guns are not built alike, many being downright inferior. My first few touch-holes are a good example. I had seen a few original rifles before I finally acquired a flinter, all of them early American types but none ascribable to any “school” of rifle building except bad. All the touchholes were plain straight holes drilled directly from the outside to the inside of the barrel, you can guess that my first touch-hole looked exactly the same and produced the same results; a long if not prolonged “phtttttt” between the flash in the pan and the shot. This was not in the least conducive to exceptional accuracy. Later in that decade, I finally ran into a fine English rifle with platinum lined touch-holes, based on the system first engineered by Nock, an Englishman of genius who bored out his touch-holes, tapped an appropriate thread and screwed in a fancy counter-bored liner. Loading this particular piece was a revelation. The external touch-hole was small but a grain of powder could be seen protruding from the touch-hole after throwing the main charge. The trigger pull produced an instantaneous shot, as good as any percussion and darned near as good as a modern rifle. For those who can’t afford platinum, counter-bored touch-holes made of Ampco metal (a beryllium bearing bronze) or stainless steel are commonly available now from muzzleloading supply houses, but for years they had to be made from ampco or stainless nipples before the manufacturers caught on.
Even with the advantage of a counterbored screw-in liner, the touch-hole still has to go in the right place. That’s in the middle of the pan, on the line between the top of the pan and the bottom of the frizzen. Any lower than that and the chances of the priming having to take time to burn down far enough to finally flash through the touch-hole is increased. What I really want is for the priming’s top surface to lay in such a position as to flash the first bit of its fire across to the empty touch-hole and through it to the main charge without having to slow down because of touch-hole constriction or piled up priming in front of it.
I am reminded of the time in 1974 that I was standing in front of a big pine tree in the Uintah wilderness area during the local muzzleloading deer season. I was pretty well snuggled into that tree, hoping it would hide me pretty well, and a game trail meandered right past my feet. The day was pretty and the air pristine and cool and I was in my glory, as only a man can be when lost in the wilderness. I had not seen another hunter the day through, except the hunter I started out with, and the birds were twittering and the wind breathed through the trees as I watched the blowdown to my front. I had never failed to see deer in this particular area as the feed was especially luxurient, growing especially well where the big trees had been destroyed and sunlight let through to the ground. Second growth grew high in this area, and the mule deer just loved it. So did I.
I was just being quiet, enjoying the day, when the sudden thumping of hurrying feet told my senses that something was coming fast. You know how quickly that can happen. Your ears pick up the sound and before you can think, your instincts have taken over and your body is ready for action. I suddenly found myself on one knee, with rifle up, cocked and DST set, ready for what I hoped would be a big grey buck ghosting through the brush.
The rifle I was carrying wasn’t really worthy of note except that it had a particularly good original English “sea service” pistol lock on it, with DST and fancy touch-hole. It was also possessed of a 58 caliber Bill Large barrel and was full-stocked in the contemporary “flintlock Hawken” style that had cropped up in the prior 25 years. I had been shooting and hunting with the rifle since I built it in Alaska some years before, and, most important, I had a lot of confidence in it. It was loaded with a .562 ball over 140 grains of ffg black powder, old Dupont stuff saved for special occasions like hunting in the high Uintahs.
Ol’skunkum”, the 58 caliber Bill Large barreled fullstock flintlock Hawken copy with original ‘sea service’ pistol lock.
I was tensed and ready for that big buck when a burly chocolate form hurtled into view, only a few yards to my front and coming fast down the trail I was standing in. It was a bear, head down and grunting in his hurry. All I had time to do was pull the trigger, which I instinctively did, sights lined up on the bear’s shoulder at 15-20 feet. The rifle fired quick as a wink, and the bruin went down, thankfully jumping to his feet and galloping off in the opposite direction. When he ran into a tree after only a few steps and staggered off into the, brush. I knew he was hard hit. Sure enough, I found him dead just a few steps into the brush.
My point is not that I was so brave or courageous as to stand in front of a charging bear and accept the odds of hurt or injury in the effort to stop the bear. That was definitely not the case. In the first place, Utah’s black bear aren’t all that aggressive, or all that dangerous, although I’d hate to be bitten by one, even by accident. This poor bruin didn’t even know that I was around, at least I don’t think so. The point is that the gun had proven itself so well, because of its superior design and materials, that I had no instinctive bias against using it in a somewhat tight situation. Besides I’m really a big coward, and 20 minutes after the bear was down and dead I was still shaking.
Of course, it wasn’t just the magic touch-hole that got the ticklish shot off just right. It was a few other things too; like the priming sitting in the pan just right. A hunter can’t be constantly changing his priming, but he has to constantly keep it in mind, and check on it often enough to know just exactly what it’s doing. I’m ‘reminded of a little deer that I stalked in Colorado some years ago. I had been hunting Colorado’s high mountain country. A great hunt, but that’s all it was. We hardly saw a thing and didn’t get a shot, except that ‘liver eatin’ Sweeney managed to connect. He was the only one. (we call him that because he hates liver so bad). I was driving home along Hiway 40 when I spotted a herd of mulies just off the highway just at dusk. They were standing right out in the open, sagebrush up to their knees, and the wind howling about their ears.
Liver eatin’ Sweeney and buck. He over-nighted under a tree, shivering in the cold of the Colorado mountains, to get this buck early the next morning.
I was about halfway between Bluebell and Elk Springs when I saw the deer. If you have ever been out in that desolate part of world, you’d soon find that the wind never stops blowing. It might slow down just a little once in a bit, but it never stops. On this day, it wasn’t even slowing. I made sure I was seeing right, then pulled over at the top of the next rise.
Using the cover of the hill, I got to windward. There really wasn’t much cover in that sere country. When I made it over the low rise, there was only one buck in view, about 600 yards up wind. I didn’t know where the others had gone, but didn’t care either. This was my last day to hunt and the last deer I would probably see as the light was failing fast. Besides I was awful hungry for venison liver. I could near taste it.
The ridiculous thing was that both the small buck and I were flat out in the open with not enough cover to hide a jack rabbit in sight. So I just walked towards him, standing straight up, gun ready. Every time he lifted his head for a look see, I would stop and hold the position I was in, sometimes with a foot in the air. When he would duck his head to feed, I’d hurry ahead a step or two. It soon became a fascinating game, seeing how close I could come without spooking him. I was on hands and knees by then, scrabbling around in the cactus, the wind still howling past. Luckily I thought about checking the priming one last time, and there wasn’t any in the pan. The wind had blown it all out.
Mind you, this was a very nice rifle I was carrying. It sported a professionally made Siler flintlock, a fancy counter-bored touch-hole and an expensive GRRW barrel in 54 caliber. The touch-hole had been carefully installed in the right place and the flint sharpened before the stalk even started. Everything was prime for the shot except the priming. I’d even gone to the trouble of hand fitting the frizzen bottom to the top face of the pan, coating the edges with black then filing away metal where the black touched the frizzen lid bottom. I thought that I had a wind proof pan, but that Colorado zephyr still blew the priming out. Even as I turned my back to the wind in order fill the pan, it occurred to me that the wind still might blow the prime out before a spark could get to it, or even blow the sparks away. I tried it anyway, pulling trigger on the little buck as he was looking at me from 20 yards. The lock flashed and the rifle fired just as it was meant to, the 220 grain bullet propelled by 140 gr ffg black powder about breaking him in half on impact. At least there wasn’t any suffering on his part, and I ate liver that night, with onions, and in the privacy of my own kitchen.
The flintlock hunter needs to check his priming often, at least looking at it, making sure there’s not too little or too much and that the flash-hole isn’t packed. He needs to be in the habit of jigging his rifle or shotgun to the pan side just before a shot in an attempt to settle the priming more to the outside of the pan so it won’t plug up the touch-hole and slow down the flash. This is especially true of the flintlock shotgun.
I’m lucky enough to own and shoot an original English 16 gauge flintlock double fowler, one of London’s best. It was made by Staudenmeyer about 1810 and still shoots like new. It has all the amenities, including water-proof locks and self-priming pans, platinum counter-bored touch-holes, superb flintlocks and the most consistent ignition time of any flint gun I’ve ever owned. I’ve broken 23 of 25 on skeet with it on at least one lucky occasion, and have managed to kill hundreds of assorted birds with it over the years and love to hunt with it. Despite all the fancies, it’ s still a flintlock and suffers the same problems, though perhaps to a lesser degree as do all other flintlocks. The time between trigger pull and shot still varies. Believe me; if you think that’ s a problem with a rifle, wait ‘til you try a flint fowler on quail or crossing pheasant. You’ll soon learn what follow through is really all about, as the art of hitting moving targets with a flint gun is to pull the trigger and keep swinging in front of the bird until the gun goes off and the bird goes down. Naturally, the shorter the lag, the quicker the shot and the easier the hit. And I’ve found that throwing the priming charge to the outside of the pan significantly improves the lag time, and makes my shooting more consistent.
|Greg Roberts is just about to pop that big rooster with a best quality Staudenmeyer double flintlock fowler. It’s as handy and quick as any modern shotgun.|
I’m reminded of two physician friends of mine that became fascinated with antique shotguns and pheasant and wanted to try out both. I was willing to help because they were willing to pay for the pheasants at the local game farm. I was possessed at that particular time of life with a fascination for English dog locks, and had built one. Now these are terribly ugly guns and look so antique that they are just fascinating. A fellow named John Forbes brought one over on the Mayflower. It’s still visible in a New England museum, and is much pictured as an example of the arms used by the early American colonizers. It has a flared butt, a long tapered smoothbore barrel and a huge ungainly looking English dog lock on it. This lock is one of the early varieties of flintlock developed before the more modem ”’French” lock was finally universally adopted as the simplest and most utilitarian. My doctor friends just loved it. It had a painted stock purposefully well chipped and artificially banged up and a black painted barrel just like the original. They thought I was putting them on until I showed them a photo of the real thing.
Doc in an earlier day with copy of the Forbes doglock fowler.
We headed for Johnny’s ringneck ranch, where the pheasants were especially wild. My shorthair pointer did her best that day and the birds were co-operative. The bitch put up enough birds for any hunter and those dead shots hardly missed. I was flabbergasted and they were tickled pink, one of them still has his biggest bird mounted in his office and brags about his shooting every time i see him.
|The shooter in front with the long barreled doglock is about to down that rooster. It’s ugly, but handles like my Berretta shotgun|
They and I were the unwitting victims of several factors that none of us figured on. First off, these two were better than average shots anyway and do very well at their local duck clubs. Second, when i built that fool Forbes fowler, in spite of it being ugly and authentic in form and feature, I built in the pull, drop and toe of my Beretta duck gun, installed a fancy touch-hole and engineered the geometry of the frizzen and cock to match the fanciest English late-style flintlock instead of the clumsier English dog lock. It didn’t occur to me until after they were killing birds right and left that I had engineered them into thinking they were great shots with any shotgun, with any ignition.
I had also lectured them on the peculiarities of flint shotgunning, including warning them to throw the priming to the outside before they mounted the gun. Being great sportsmen, they followed instructions and pulled off the best piece of amateur flintlock shooting i have ever witnessed.
|A moment later, that bird was on the ground.|
One of the tricks that I showed them was how to sharpen the flint, instructing them to keep the flint sharp for every shot. This is an absolute necessity when in the field, important enough when “shooting flying” as the English used to say, but manifestly more important when facing big or potentially dangerous game.
My usual practice when just plinking around, where an occasional misfire because of a dull flint just keeps your trigger finger honest, is to sharpen the flint once in a while, usually after a misfire. When I hunt, I touch up the flint before every shot, unless the press of circumstance is such that I can’t afford the time. I usually use a new flint with a freshly touched up edge after every 7-8 shots and indulge myself with a brand new flint at the beginning of each new day. Of course, I save those flints fired just a few times and use them later when just targeting, etc., where the shooting is likely to be much less important.
I sharpen a flint already in the gun with a screwdriver-looking affair with a brass blade. The brass is not only softer than steel, catching the hard flint edge better and knocking off a chip easier, but it also will not accidentally drop a spark into the pan. Some just tap the brass tool against the flint edge, displacing enough small chips to sharpen the edge. I like to select my chips more accurately, and deliberately press the tool against the upper edge of the flint, carefully splitting off selected chips where they will do the most good. This not only restores the edge, making it sharp and capable of showering big sparks into the pan but it also saves the flint, which you might otherwise throw away, saving bucks for other things. I can usually get 40-50 strikes from a flint granted that it remains in one piece.
I sharpen a new flint in the gun in the same manner, or hold the loose flint against the heel of my left hand with the third fourth and fifth fingers while I use the brass tipped tool in the right hand to chip away at the edge. This is the same technique used to make arrowheads, and demonstrates why the Indian warrior didn’t depend on imported flints for his flintlock.
If the muzzleloading hunter will bother to install a super quality lock in his rifle, (the lock should cost about the same as the barrel), then be willing to keep his flint knapped and sharp for the first shot of a series, than he can hunt with the same confidence as does the modern hunter.
It reminds me of a time when I was hunting close to home in Roosevelt. I was in the Cedarview area, only 5-6 miles from my home. I had only one afternoon to hunt and stayed close. A friend had a big hayfield there and the deer just loved the taste of his timothy. There were a lot of cedars around his fields in which the deer bedded during the day, after eating their fill of hay.
I had to make rounds at the hospital that morning and didn’t get hunting until after the sun was well up. By then the deer were in the cedars. My technique was to sneak through the trees, searching every nook and cranny with eye, ear and hunters’ sixth sense, hoping for a fleeting glance at a buck, hopefully with enough time for a quick shot.
After drifting through the trees for a good two hours, I finally got my wish. A nice timothy-fat four point jumped out in front of me and swivelled away through the trees. I was ready for the shot, but not the direction he took at the last instant and missed. Normally, that’s no big deal, as a miss with a muzzle gun is not too frightening. I suppose this is so because the subsonic bullet makes a “swish” as it goes by instead of the sharp ear-rending “crack” of the modern hyper-sonic bullet. I knew the deer wouldn’t go far, and determined to track him down.
|Doc with a 7 point missouri whitetail that fell to his 54 caliber flintlock.|
I reloaded, giving him time to settle down, but discovered that my flint was broken. Worse, a careful search of shooting pouch and pocket failed to find another flint. Home wasn’t so very far away but I hated the thought of driving all the way home just for a flint. Luckily enough, my friend had told me about some old Indian fire mounds in which he had found a few arrowheads and a corn grinder in years past. They were not too far away. Less than an hours search found them, and a short dig brought forth a treasure of flint shards. I returned to the hunt with pockets bulging, tracked down that four point, and missed again, then a third time, whereupon I gave up in disgust and went home.
I wasn’t near as disgusted at missing that four point three times m a row as I was at failing to set the rear trigger and muffing the shot on the buck that Cloyd Davis had bowled over. Thinking back on it, I realize that the amount of time involved in my futile trigger pulling wasn’t long, but at the time it seemed like forever. Trouble was that I was used to the tender touch that it usually takes to fire the front trigger once the rear trigger is set, so wasn’t pulling very hard. Actually if I had pulled hard and long enough, the rifle would eventually have fired, as the DST was of the “double lever” variety, that will fire set or unset. The “unset” trigger pull is long and creepy, however, and isn’t to be recommended unless you just have to.
The truth is that I don’t like DST’s on hunting rifles. They’re just too delicate and require too much thought to manage correctly every time. I saw an expert shot muff a good chance on a buffalo once when he touched the delicate front trigger a moment too soon. He shot that buffalo right in the t-bone steak and it ran a few country miles before another few shots brought it down. Even I was on the receiving end of a DST slip up once, when I was walking up a wounded buck. I was carrying my rifle in the cross-chest position, back trigger set, waiting for the buck to bolt. I knew he was in some junipers just to my front and I was more than a little excited. My trigger finger was so itchy that when the buck finally jumped, i twitched just enough to fire the rifle in the air, driving the butt of the gun into a very delicate part of my anatomy. I’ve pretty well stuck with single triggers for hunting ever since, but do enjoy a DST at a target match.
I surely didn’t enjoy that DST when I failed to set the rear trigger, but the rifle wouldn’t have been right without one. This particular rifle was a copy of an original J and S Hawken, fullstock, brass-mounted rifle once owned by Bill Fuller of Coopers Landing, Alaska, and now encased in the Winchester museum in Cody, Wyoming. I believe that the real thing was originally flintlock and I made my copy of it that way. The rifle was equipped with an L and R flintlock, the before-mentioned DST and a swamped GRRW 62 caliber barrel 42 inches long. My load was a 615 ball weighing about 340 grains over 200 gr. Ffg black powder. The patching was sperm oil soaked canvas. The rifle weighed just a trifle over ten pounds.
|Terry Scholes showing off his big mule deer while the rest of us look on, Pigeon Water, NE Utah, 1974. Everyone shot round ball then, with no lack of success.|
That weight was a decided asset now as I quickly set the rear trigger of the DST, cussing under my breath as the buck got further and further away. I was still down on my left knee, swinging the rifle from right to left, trying to steady its wobble as I swung into the running buck from behind. I knew that I would only have one chance, as the buck was now 150 yards away and would clear a little hill and disappear from sight in another 25 yards of running. Suddenly the front sight was past the buck with about a body’s worth of space between sight and buck. I didn’t feel my finger pull the trigger but the rifle roared, the lock time so quick there was no perceptible lag between trigger pull, hammer fall and shot. The buck disappeared in a huge cloud of white smoke, through which Cloyd appeared at a dead run. He was whooping like a wild indian, losing his hat as he leaped up the slope, clearing sagebrush and rocks in excited bounds. I could see the buck now, struggling with a broken back, Cloyd circling to avoid ending up downhill of the pain-crazed animal. His 50 caliber percussion thumped, and the buck struggled no more.
And so it goes when hunting with a flintlock. The system isn’t a particularly easy one to manage or master, but it is intensely rewarding when it works well, that is, when you make it work well. It doesn’t mean that you will take more game than with a percussion or a cartridge weapon, nor does it mean that your hunting needs be fraught with failure or frustration. It does mean that your hunting experience can be intensified and made much more enjoyable by utilizing this antique and fascinating system.
(that whitetail below is a 155 class deer, the rifle a 54 caliber English style flinter)