Thursday, December 15, 2011

Getting Started Into Traditional Muzzle Loading Rifles

This article is being written in response to a request by volunteer youth leaders of the Florida 4-H program who would like to get a youth shooting program started in their community.  It is also applicable to the individual who is wondering exactly what they need to get started shooting black powder, and how to buy everything at once within a fixed budget.  For the group leaders, in many cases sponsoring organizations such as the National Rifle Association or local chapters (called posts) of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will provide start up funding to start a shooting sports club, but the leader needs to come to them with a laundry list of items to purchase, with a near exact dollar figure.  Another fine organization, with local chapters to assist you is the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association.

A common practice in black powder instruction is to work in groups of two - as in two kids utilizing one gun. In 4-H Shooting Sports, we call it the Coach-Pupil method.  This way allows one shooter to actively prepare, load and shoot the gun, while the other assists, watches over and advises the partner.  After one person has shot, they trade places.  The reason this is so successful is that both are actively engaged, having fun and learning.  This also helps the instructor by providing an extra set of eyes on the procedure for safety's sake.  A third person may be added, but in my honest opinion that person has a high likelihood of getting bored.

A good size group for muzzle loading instruction is 4 to 6 shooters per 1 instructor.  Less can be awkward, more can start to compromise the instructor's ability to adequately supervise.  The list below is for one Coach-Pupil set, and should be multiplied to accommodate the group size.  This list is also "just the ticket" for the single adult shooter or parent/child combo.

The Rifle
I recommend rifles such as these 50 caliber, percussion cap-locks: the Great Plains Rifle and the Lyman Trade Rifle by Lyman Products and the Deer Hunter by Traditions Firearms.  If you want to consider a modern inline gun, the QuicShooter Magnum, 50 caliber by MDM Ltd. is a good choice.  Please note! There are many fine guns out there, but in the $400 or less price range, the ones listed have a proven track record of reliability, safety and customer satisfaction.  I personally shoot a Thompson Center New Englander and a Connecticut Valley Arms Mountain Rifle.  Remington and Knight Rifles have some nice inline guns.  The companies listed above usually have special programs with educational or nonprofit organization pricing if you inquire.

Please also note that there has been no compensation by any of the companies listed in the article to myself or my sponsoring organizations for mentioning them here.

The Accoutrements
One of the things I love about muzzle loading is all the gadgets. All of these supplies need to be put into a durable box made of either water resistant wood (home made) or a plastic box.  I prefer the black or bright orange totes that have the ability to lock.  The shooting veterans out there are going to get bothered because I failed to mention a Possibles Bag, as in a leather or cloth pouch one carries on their shoulder with everything they possibly need.  A Possibles Bag is perfect for the single, experienced shooter going to the gun range or out to the field.  I use one, but this list is for a brand new shooter or instructor with students on the range.

Supply Box
Ball Starter
Powder Flask
Powder Measure
Straight Capping Tool
Nipple Wrench
Patch Worm
Powder cap/funnel
Cleaning Kit w/ Brass or Stainless Steel Range Rod

Over time and with experience, these items can be made by hand and even picked up at garage sales or flea markets.  Are there more things you can use?  Of course!  But this list will get you started in taking your first shots or starting that new youth program.

Extra Items
These items are highly recommended, but not necessarily mandatory for a muzzle loading rifle program.
  • Every rifle needs a hard case to protect it while traveling.
  • A ball will get stuck at some point in the rifle.  The safest way to remove it is with a CO2 Ball Extractor (shown right).
  • Also at some point a rod will get stuck in the gun.  Rod Pullers or some safe way to pull it out, needs to be in every coaches tool kit.
My estimate for everything listed above was $502.00, less shipping and taxes.  Best of luck in your purchasing, grant application, and future enjoyment with muzzle loading rifles.  Keeping the tradition alive is so important in our society today.

Keep yer powder dry!

Mr. Gus

For their contributions to this article, I want to acknowledge and give special thanks to Brenda Heberling of Florida 4-H Shooting Sports, and Kenyon Simpson of the National 4-H Shooting Sports and the NMLRA.

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