The Fast Second Shot

Back in the early years of today’s muzzleloading, we used to hear a lot about that accurate first shot. We didn’t hear much about a second shot, let alone a fast one. This attitude was promoted by the relative unavailability of the second shot. Loading the muzzleloaders of the day was so lengthy a procedure that nobody could imagine getting in a second shot.

You have to understand the mind set of that time. This was the fifties, when modern day muzzleloading was just aborning. This was the day of heavy bench guns, fired slowly and carefully at target with round balls and patches.

..The loading techniques of the day were so steeped in traditional bench gun lore that a quick second shot was virtually an impossibility…

“Slowly and carefully”’ means swabbing between every shot, drying after swabbing, pouring the powder down a long tube so it wouldn’t get moist from the swabbing and so it would pack just right every time, starting a round ball, carefully trimmed of its sprue, centering it in a patch of tough cloth, the combination always considerably oversize, popping it into the muzzle with the short end of a short starter, then trimming the patch with a patch knife so the patch would be nice and even, then driving the ball into the barrel with the long end of the short starter, then driving it onto the powder with the ramrod.
Then apply the prime and finally take the shot. Of course, first you check the wind flags, wait for the breeze to settle or stabilize, then wait for the clouds to give just the right shading for good sighting, then finally the shot. No wonder an hour was allowed for five shots in a match. The one thing everyone seemed to have was lots of time.

fast_s14Bill Watts carefully loads a round ball gun, cutting the patch at the muzzle

This same mind set infected the hunters of the day. No one knew of any but round bullets. Every hunter’s pouch came with patch knife in place. Speed loading techniques always included the short starter to bop the ball into the muzzle.

I well remember writing about the tapered muzzles seen on many original rifles. The taper had been carefully cut into both the lands and grooves at the muzzle with the very obvious purpose of making the initial ramming of the ball easy enough not to require the use of a “slow starter,” my derisive term for a short starter, but to require the use of only the ramrod.

… the first shot is the most important–but so is the second shot. Some critters just don’t die easily. [they]…cling to life with a ferocious tenacity.

I had tried tapering the lands and grooves in numerous rifles and found that it worked very well, without any decrease in apparent accuracy.

The cries mounted to the skies. One would have thought that I had desecrated the Shrine of the One True God of Muzzle-loading. Most shooters who had seen such tapering thought that it was just muzzle wear from frequent use of ramrod. But the taper was obviously purposefully cut. No ramrod could wear a muzzle both in land and groove.

Later, in the sixties, round balls remained common, but we had learned about how to make a loading block, in reality a ball and patch magazine made of leather or wood, still the best way to get a round ball and patch into the muzzle quickly, if one uses the ramrod and forgets the slow starter.

Reproduction flasks for throwing pre-measured powder charges became readily available and finally someone re-invented the speed loader, but made in modern plastic.

There was another uproar over the plastic, as it wasn’t entirely traditional, but it

quickly subsided because it worked so well. Everyone had forgotten about the musketeers of Europe’s armies and the bandoleers full of primitive speed-loaders they carried slung across their chests

fast_s15Loading blocks for round balls. [Left] 58 caliber leather, [Middle] 50 caliber wood. [Right] loaded 54 caliber wood. The ticking patch is obvious. The leather is best because of its softness and elasticity

Then came the Seventies and the elongated bullet. And along came the modern muzzleloading hunter, who was not so stuck in tradition that he couldn’t grasp and use a good idea. Since then, all kinds of gadgets have sprung up that speed the loading of a second shot. Cap-holders are the best of them. Nowadays, you would almost think that muzzleloaders were made to miss that first all important shot, just so the second can be used.

Well, the first shot is till the most important. Getting close to the animal, waiting for the best angle and shooting carefully is still vitally important. But so is the second shot. Some critters just don’t die easily. Mother Nature makes some of them cling to life with a ferocious tenacity.

fast_s16Doc White, SuperSafari and Himalayan Tahr. This critter is tough and tenacious.

I once went on a wonderful hunt for Himalayan Tahr. These animals come from the high peaks they are named after, and bounce up and down mountains like the Rocky Mountain goat they resemble. They even look and smell like them, with big shoulders, head carried low and spikes curving out of an ugly head. The hair is long and luxuriant, but unlike the white goat of our Northern mountains, this animal is a brownish mousy color. The one characteristic they share is their remarkable tenacity for life.

The Tahr took three shots, all solid hits. The first was a 140-yard uphill shot, taken with a White SuperSafari in .451 caliber. I was using the White 460 grain SuperSlug over 100 grains P Pyrodex with a tree for support, placing the bullet behind the shoulders but slightly above the heart. The big bullet took out both lungs. The tough critter dashed off, ran 200 yards and stopped. He looked sick but was still on his feet with head up.

I took the second shot 20 seconds later at 60 yards, hitting a little further back but again penetrating both lungs. The Tahr ran off again but made only 100 yards. This time I put in a heart shot from 40 yards.

…the surest way to quick, easy and yet accurate loading is to use the right barrel-bullet combination. The White Muzzle-loading System is such a combination…

A subsequent autopsy showed that any of the three bullets would have eventually taken the animal down. All hit within 4 inches of the others and all penetrated through and out the other side, with considerable hemorrhage. However, the fact is that this tough critter stayed on his feet for another minute and another 50 yards after the last heart shot before going down for good.

fast_s17Loose round balls and patches are a pain on a hunt. Searching for components is worse than slow; it’s clumsy and you have to think through the process.

Obviously, second shots are occasionally a necessity. And the faster you can load, the better. Now, here are the techniques recommended for fast and sure speed-loading:


Barrel-Bullet Combination.

The surest way to quick, easy and yet accurate loading is to use the right barrel-bullet combination, like the White Muzzleloading System provides. White’s bullets, whether SuperSlug, BuckBuster or Super-Saboted PowerStar, slide down the bore with relatively little resistance, yet stay in the place over the powder without moving. The rifling is engraved into the bullet or sabot with the inertia of the shot, not when you beat it down the barrel.


Taper The Muzzle

If you prefer a round ball, use the tapered muzzle system fostered by the real hunters of yesteryear. This method tapers both the lands and the grooves at the muzzle so that the round ball and patch can be started and rammed with the ramrod alone. Avoid the use of a “slow starter”.


Speedloading Devices

Use one of the speed-loading devices that hold powder and bullet if using conicals and a pre-measured powder container and loading block if using patched ball. The White QuickCharger is the best of the former as it holds the bullet without a lid to complicate getting the bullet out. Better yet, the base of the bullet fits into the muzzle with bullet still in the plastic, and is rammed home directly out of the charger. After ramming the bullet into the muzzle, slide the ramrod up and out, flip the charger away, then finish ramming the bullet home. Once again, arrange the fit of your components so that a “slow starter” is not a necessity.


Pre-measured Powder Charges

With patched ball, use a container for pre-measured powder charges, then ram your pre-lubricated bullet and ball out of the loading black directly into the muzzle. Use a short starter only if you absolutely must. In the end, it’ll slow you down.

fast_s18Three commonly available cappers. Sling one around your neck and carry another in your saddlebags just in case. Quickness of reload will make a real difference in you hunting success.


Powder Charge

Select a powder charge that will foster a quick second shot. Huge charges of Black powder and Pyrodex gum up the bore more quickly than do moderate charges. Select a powder charge that will not clog up the bore so badly that you can’t get the next bullet down the barrel. Moderate charges are usually more accurate, anyway.


Cappers & Flint-primers

If shooting a percussion rifle, sling an in-line or tear-drop capper around your neck. I like to stick the capper in the left hand packet of my shirt. Take care, though, I once lost one riding a tough western horse through heavy brush and was lucky to have another in my pac. Moral, take two.

If shooting a flintlock, sling a priming horn or quick flint-primer around your neck and drop it in the same pocket. Keep your flint trimming tool and an extra flint in the same pocket, too.

fast_s19Elastic shellholders made for shotshells fit muzzleloading quick-loading devices just fine. Carrying them on the buttstock is convenient, easily remembered and quick

Buttstock Loops

Granted that you are carrying Quick-Chargers or something akin to them, it’s useful and quick to carry them in an elastic 20 gauge shot-shell belt or pouch. The fastest device is one made to fit on the buttstock of the rifle, with elastic loops for 20 gauge shot-shells that fit QuickChargers. They’re awfully handy in that position. You can also carry a few more in a pocket or pouch, just to be sure. QuickChargers also fit the shot-shell loops in hunting clothes.


Ramrod management

Intelligent management of the ramrod will also save a lot of time in the reloading process. Traditionally, ramrods have been tapered, with the bigger ramming end at the muzzle when the ramrod is stored under the barrel. Naturally, you have to pull the ramrod out, reverse it to use it, then again reverse it to get it back into the thimbles under the barrel.

Stop this wasteful motion by using a non-tapered rod with the ramming end in the stock when properly stored under the barrel.

…most important, practice, practice, practice. Practice the movements that produce instinctively quick reloads until they are indeed instinctive…

White produces exactly this sort of rod, with an appropriately sized cleaning jag that doubles for a grasping knob and with bullet pulling screw underneath. Just pull it out of the thimbles, (don’t reverse it), pushthe bullet down, then put it back in place under the barrel. Never turn it around. Simple, and it saves about 5 seconds.

fast_s20White designed ramrods serve three functions other than just ramming the bullet home. The jag serves as a grasping knob, it also holds patches for quick field cleaning and the screw hidden beneath the jag will pull stuck patches and bullets

Avoid cleaning between shots

Black powder is gummy stuff. It is intensely hygroscopic and sucks water like a sponge. It’s residues can also be gritty and hard, especially in dry climates like the American West. Anything you can do to reduce the interference caused by this variable grittiness will aid in getting the bullet down the barrel faster. Anything, that is, except taking the time to clean the barrel with ramrod and patch.

One of the easier ways through this dilemma is to use Pyrodex, which leaves less residue than common Black Powder. It’s still a problem, but is at least less of a problem, Even easier yet, use one of the new low residue, less-corrosive powders, (like Cleanshot or Clearshot), that should be on the shelf at your local sporting goods store soon. I’ve shot all of these and have even hunted with them. The amount of residue left in the bore is very small. The residues are sort of powdery slick and ease the bullet or sabot down the bore much more easily then with either Black powder or Pyrodex.


Practice Practice Practice

Finally, and most important, practice, practice, practice. Locate your loading equipment in the pockets or places that you find fastest and then always keep them there. Practice the movements that produce instinctively quick reloads until they are indeed instinctive. You don’t want to have to think about where your equipment is once the pressure is on. There won’t be much time for thinking when Old Ephraim pops his teeth at you.

fast_s21Here’s a good example of why you want to be able to reload without having to even think about where your equipment is. We spotted this red bear from 800 yards just at dusk and finished the stalk almost in the dark. There was barely enough light left for the shot, which produced a giant blast of fire and instant night blindness. Neither I nor my half-indian son-in- law Roger could see the bear, all we could hear was the animal gnashing his teeth. Roger said, “He’s mad”. Despite the dark, the fright and the night blindness, I was still able to reload the .504 M98 Elite Hunter in about 20 seconds, without spilling or dropping anything, principally because my hands and brain instinctively knew from long practice where the powder, bullets and caps were located. Once our vision was recovered, we found the bear dead behind the log he had been standing on when I shot. The photo was taken the next morning.