How To Manage That All-Important First Shot-and the Second
A smart muzzleloading hunter KNOWS that his rifle is going to shoot first time, right off the bat. He doesn’t take any chances, not when the ‘bull of the woods’ might be in his sights at any moment.
He does this by using a “squib load”, a small charge of Black Powder, usually 20-30 grains, fired out of his rifle without bullet or wad. Once his rifle fires with the squib, he knows that the next shot, the telling one, is going to go off, every time
The technique is simple enough. Simply pop a few caps on the nipple of your rifle at the beginning of a shooting session or hunt, pointing it in a safe direction, then pour down 20-30 grains of powder, preferably Black Powder, (it ignites easier), then slip on a cap and fire the rifle in the air. The flash will burn out any oil left over from the last cleaning session. It will also dry out any moisture that has accumulated when a rifle is left overnight with moisture loving residues from yesterday’s shooting.
A Squib load in hand- about 20-30 grains loose powder
Wet powder residues are a real problem in high humidity environments like the riverine trans-Mississippi country. They are less of a problem where the air is drier, like here in the arid West. In either case, a smart hunter will not take the chance of a miss or hang-fire because of oily or watery barrel contamination.
If there is the least hint of moisture in the air, always fire a squib. If hunting in frankly humid country, like the Missouri woods that I love so much, shoot the rifle out at days end, clean and oil it that night then fire a squib load next morning before reloading and hunting.
You need to do this even with the newer lower residue Black Powder substitutes. Their residues still attract water vapor. They are perhaps less corrosive only because their residues are different than Black Powder. Even then, most substitutes contain chlorates which are decidedly corrosive, even in stainless, in the presence of water vapor.
Once in a while, firing a squib is not feasible, for example, a cold camp in the middle of hunting country with no shooting allowed or even talking for fear of spooking the game. Best practice then is to leave the gun loaded, but cover the nipple orifice and the muzzle with something. I used to use soft foam ear-plugs, but then designed the Bore-B-Dry, a soft rubber combination plug that goes in muzzle or on nipple. They are orange flourescent and easy to see. A load will store for many days if you leave the Bore-B-Dry in place all the time. However, shoot the load out at first opportunity. A fresh load is to be preferred if at all possible.
A loaded bullet can be pulled with the bullet puller incorporated in the ramrod of every White designed rifle, afterwards replacing the powder charge. But changing the charge does not burn out any moisture that may have accumulated in the breech area. Shooting out an old load is preferred if possible. Clean the rifle thoroughly, otherwise.
Another reason to shoot a squib load is to coat the internal surfaces of the barrel with powder residue. Chances are that you will shoot more than one shot during your day’s hunting. Hard experience has shown that, with most hunting rifles, shooting the first shot from a cleaned bore then shooting subsequent shots from a fouled bore might cause the bullet strike to be different enough to cause a miss, or worse, a wounding hit
Firing a squib and coating the bore before hunting guarantees the placement of the first shot and places subsequent shots in the same group. Shooting the first shot out of a clean bore then the rest from a fouled one is a good way to promote a miss. Shooting from a fouled bore promotes consistent results.
Experience has shown that the average White designed rifle used in a hunting situation shoots so well with a fouled bore and reloads so much faster without having to clean between shots that cleaning between shots becomes senseless. Most White designed rifles will shoot into less than 4 inches at 100 yards even in the poorest light and from the worst positions. In the best of conditions, they often shoot into two minutes of angle and sometimes less.
This quality performance can be bettered only by using custom sized bullets sized tight enough that cleaning between shots is mandatory in order to get the next bullet down the bore. A hunter might tolerate this difficult loading for the sake of accuracy on the target range, but never in the hunting field.
The squib load also functions to foul the bore enough that the resultant residue will hold a White SuperSlug or PowerPunch bullet in place. White SuperSabots with Shooting Star or PowerStar saboted bullets fit barely tight, enough so the residue is not needed.
Many hunters and shooters new to the White Muzzleloading System question whether the apparently loose slip-fit bullet will stay in place in its proper position against the powder charge when it loads so easily. They worry that a bullet drifting down the barrel might act as an obstruction.
White’s experience belies their concern. White-designed bullets well rammed down through the residue of previous shots don’t move easily, if at all. A White rifle has to be dropped on its muzzle in order to move the bullet. The solution, of course, is to check bullet position with the ramrod. That’s one of the reasons it’s under the barrel.
Anyone who carries any muzzle-loading rifle up a tree, on a cycle or 4-wheeler, on a horse or upside down in the rain for a time, needs to check bullet position with the ramrod before shooting. If nothing more, it will increase his sense of confidence when the bullet is always found in place. I’ve been checking periodically with a ramrod for better than 40 years and have yet to find a bullet out of place in the many brands of rifles used.
A line up of White slip-fit bullets; from left to right: 330/320, 409/280, 409/320. 409/400, 450/400, 450/460, 450/490, 450/520, 503/430, 503/460, 503/600, 539/750.
In the fall of ‘95, I hunted moose and caribou in the NorthWest Territories of Canada. After shooting a decent caribou, I loaded my White SuperSafari .504 caliber rifle with 120 grains of the then new Arco low residue powder and a 600 gr White .503 SuperSlug. The rifle went upside down with muzzle low in a saddle scabbard for the next 5 days. We finally ran into a good 60 inch bull at 175 yards. I made an offhand shot, had to, the brush was too high for anything else, for an instant kill. Before the shot, I checked with the ramrod and found the big bullet in proper place against the powder despite all the jouncing.
A White designed bullet, no matter what its name, needs to be rammed firmly down against the powder in order to properly belly out and catch the rifling on firing. If not rammed home, it will inevitably be less accurate. But it’s also safer than expected if fired with a gap between it and the powder, simply because the expanding powder gasses will escape around it while it skids down the rifling. It won’t belly out into the rifling properly. This is a great way to miss, but it’s also safer with less chance of creating a barrel obstruction than with the tightly force-fitted ‘pound down the barrel’ bullets available elsewhere from the competition.
Of course, you don’t want to do this sort of thing on purpose. It’s not only more risky but will produce an inaccurate shot every time. It’s a great way to muff a shot.
In summary, the best compromise between hunting accuracy and fast loading is the White designed bullet, whether SuperSlug, BuckBuster or PowerPunch, with windage of one thousandth of an inch. A tighter bullet can be somewhat more accurate, but may require cleaning between shots in order to load. A bullet with 1/1000th inch windage loads fast, just a single swoop of the ramrod, and is only slightly less accurate, in the range of an inch or less at 100 yards. Certainly that’s enough to worry about at the target range, but certainly nothing to be unduly concerned over in the hunting field. Consistent grouping and a fast second shot are far more important.
Good Hunting ‘Doc’ White