Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Black Powder Riflery

Yesterday, Firehand wrote about forming your own cartridge cases. As a guy who shoots some obscure stuff, that was pretty cool. However, I'm going to go a step further down the DIY shooting hole, and discuss black powder riflery.

Why Black Powder?
Black powder has some benefits from a preparedness standpoint: the rifles are very simple and can be maintained with minimal tools, and the actual consumable components are also fairly basic and can be made at home if you're bold and careful. (Percussion caps are the current exception to this statement, but there have been cap-making tools available at times, and the buzz is that one may soon re-appear on the market. Until then, caps are cheap and stable, and can simply be stocked up.)

How it Works
If you watch cooking shows, the current buzzword seems to be "deconstructed"; common dishes served as component or disassembled parts. Shooting a muzzle-loading rifle is basically deconstructed shooting: powder, primer, and projectile are loose and are loaded separately into the gun, then fired like any other. Due to their explosive nature, caps and powder are quite expensive to ship and therefore are a bit limited online, but are readily available at most local sporting goods stores.

Powder must be black powder or a specific substitute. Smokeless powder will not work in these guns, and will result in serious injury or death. Also, do not exceed the maximum charge listed for your rifle! In my rifle, this happens to be 100 grains, as measured by volume instead of weight. 

One benefit of a black powder gun is that if you do not need that maximum charge, you can choose to load a lighter charge easily in the field.

Percussion caps are fairly universal. Some ultra-modern muzzle-loaders use shotgun primers, and a few very old designs use a larger musket cap, but the vast majority of percussion caps used are a standard #11cap. Your instruction manual will confirm which cap or primer you need.

These can take one of a number of forms:

Patched Round Ball is the original load, and remains an effective benchmark to measure the rest of the slugs against. It gets its name because it is a simple round lead ball, sized slightly smaller than the bore (e.g. my .50 caliber muzzle-loader uses a .490 diameter ball). A small piece of cloth or other material is used to seal ("patch") the ball in the bore.

Full-bore Lead Bullets are the evolution of patched balls. They are sized to match the bore of the rifle and require no patch; just a bit of lubricating grease to obtain a full seal. They hit harder, expand better, and are in all ways an improvement on the original.

Jacketed Conical Slugs look like giant modern bullets that could be loaded in a cartridge case. They frequently have large hollow points, and use a plastic skirt to get a nearly perfect seal in the bore, giving better velocity and accuracy. They are the best performance available in a full-bore bullet, but cost more than simple lead.

Saboted Bullets are where the best of modern technology meets the old patched ball. Sabots are sized down from full bore, and use a plastic sleeve to get a good seal. They fly much faster than full-bore slugs, but sacrifice a bit of weight to do so.

Actually loading and firing a black powder rifle is kind of a show-me process. The easiest way to do that is through a video, which will be the meat of next week's article. Until then, take care of yourself and keep your powder dry. 


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