The Ottumwa Courier

March 5, 2014

Every shot precious

By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — Muzzleloaders, like those used by the great-grandparents of our great-grandparents, are slow to load, require practice to handle correctly and are harder to find than modern guns.

“Some shooters wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Howard Haynes of Muscatine, who was in Ottumwa recently for a gun show. “There are guys who love muzzleloaders, and that’s all they shoot.”

Wayne Veach of Centerville said that tends to be the case even with “modern” muzzleloader enthusiasts. Though those firearms, he said at the same gun show, are much different than the historically accurate guns Haynes enjoys.

“They have found a very receptive audience when modern muzzle-loaders became legal for deer [season],” he said.

It’s not that modern muzzleloaders are more powerful; an old .50 caliber rifle can take down any game animal in North America, one visitor said. But, said Haynes, the “new” guns are different. And those are more a specialty for Veach.

“The development of old muzzle-loaders to these modern muzzle-loaders,” said Veach, pointing out his display, “is like the development from the Model T Ford to a 2014 car. That’s just my opinion.”

That may be true, but Haynes loves his historic guns. Besides the nostalgia of using the same type of firearm Davey Crockett used, there’s far more care involved.

Today, a 10-shot .22 rifle will fire as fast as the user can pull the trigger. Some owners will shoot cans, dead branches ... it doesn’t matter, they’ll have another shot. Not so with a gun made to imitate the tool used by early American pioneers.

“This is part of history,” said Haynes, holding a gun about as long as he was tall. “There are people who like the nostalgia of hunting with a muzzle-loader.”

Depending on what part of history is being represented, the process is fairly involved. And shooters like that, especially those interested in historically accurate reproductions.

In modern firearms, the round of ammunition contains everything you need: gunpowder, something to ignite the powder and a projectile forced out by the explosion of the powder. It all comes in a neat metal package called a shell, making up one “round” of ammunition. Even a fairly inexpensive rifle can hold 10 rounds, and fire them as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger.

In many old-fashioned (historic) muzzle-loaders, the shooter is responsible for making their own round of ammunition inside the gun. They lubricate the inside of the barrel, pour a precise amount of powder into the muzzle of the rifle (the part where the bullet comes out) and a projectile, like a ball or bullet.

They’ll then use a rod to push the bullet all the way to the bottom of the gun. Muzzle-loaders warn that actors in movies tend to overdo it; hunters don’t “ram” the bullet into the powder.

There’s the matter of causing the powder to explode, which, again depending on which historical choice one makes, can be caused by the spark from a flint, the explosion from a cap or, in really old-style, rarely used guns, a burning wick.

Aim, pull the trigger and hopefully, hit the game you’re aiming at. Because in order to fire again, you need to start the process over although, if using “real” black powder, you’ll need to wipe the inside of the gun barrel clean every few shots.

“It takes a special kind of person to shoot a muzzle-loader,” said Haynes. “You make sure you get value for your shot.”

It’s not just that it takes as much time to load one shot as it would take an untrained modern shooter to fire 10. As America expanded, those on the frontier couldn’t just make a 15-minute trip to the hardware store for more powder.

While that’s true for mountain men, Haynes said, even on a farm, money was tight.

Black powder shooters know that, he said, and are careful, even thoughtful shooters.

“If the old man sent you out with five shots, you better come home with five rabbits. Every shot was precious.”

—News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark