Hands-On Instruction the 18th Century Way

Posted: April 4, 2016 in History, In the Light of Liberty, Novels, Umbra

I’ve been far too long away from my entries, but my recent experiences with muzzleloaders merits a mention or two.

Among my myriad projects is the series I am planning and outlining based on the late American Colonial period, from the French and Indian War all the way up to the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to write from experience–granted, I am NOT hoping that the world will collapse in an apocalypse so I can work through all of the situations I have and am putting Vera, Shaw and the rest of the Umbra crew through, but I’ve put plenty of r0unds through the firearms or similar arms that I mention in the novel.

So… working on Light of Liberty impressed upon me to fill a void. If I’m going to have Emory, Lucas and Seth setting the British Regulars in their (primitive) sights, I’m going to have to try this myself.

Luckily for me, I live very close to a few black powder enthusiasts, some willing to part with a little time and expertise with an author eager to listen and absorb.

The black powder beauty I got to fire was a 54 caliber double trigger model, similar to the one in the photograph:

Hawken54Cal

With proper instruction in the safety measures and steps to load and fire, I have to say I’ve got a much deeper appreciation for our Founding Fathers going through the steps to do so. All the accoutrement needed, like a full “possibles bag”, powder horns or flasks, cartridge boxes, the heft of the rifle itself could take a toll on men marching through the woods (not to mention their subsistence gear!). After all that, it was a bear to load up and fire.

Anyone who has fired modern weapons may not understand that loading and firing is a relatively simple set of actions. For flintlock, not so much. Some may say they’re simple, but there are a lot of them, and messing up a step is easy to do! For example, there is a tool for removing the ball just in case you forget to add the powder[1]. Adding too much/too little powder isn’t catastrophic, but wasteful, especially when you consider the value and difficulty in obtaining quantities of black powder.

And… it’s messy and stinky. VERY stinky. Along with any proper firearms instruction, there is a session on cleaning. Black powder firearms seem to get filthy quickly. By my fifth shot, ramming the ball and wadding home took a lot of shoulder-power to get it through the yuck that was filling up the lands and grooves[2]. Lit black powder is also quite corrosive, and a good firearm can be rendered wonky (that’s MY term) by even a short period of neglect. So cleaning is essentially. Those who couldn’t stop and clean their weapons often, such as Continental soldiers, might use smaller balls and slightly thicker wadding to compensate.

As my instructor put it, “One has to wonder how the Indians lost, considering how long it took for the militia and British regulars to reload.”

So again, I reiterate how much more respect I have for those who relied on these weapons, especially those who could load and fire 3-4 times a minute!

(In case you were wondering, I made a few decent shots at 100 yards, including on the line between the 10 and the X. Not bad for someone who never shot a black powder rifle before.)

[1] Shockingly enough, I did NOT do this, although I fully expected to do so after my instructor warned me that this could happen. Because, you know, that’s what happens.

[2] Lands and grooves make up the rifling that gives the rifle their names. If they don’t have rifling, they are smoothbores.

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Comments
  1. GPC says:

    BZ!!! Way to many writers don’t do real research. Thanks for sharing.

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