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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Survival Hunting - The Gun that Shoots Forever

We've all heard the old saying that the government doesn't have to outlaw guns; they only have to outlaw bullets. Well, what if I told you I have a deer rifle that will never run out of ammo? Would you believe me? Would you believe that my grand-children will probably be able to keep shooting this gun? You probably think I must have a warehouse full of ammo, but that's not the case at all. What I have is a .45 caliber flintlock rifle, the ultimate long-term survival weapon. Sure a flintlock is a little slow to load, and it only fires one shot at a time, but I can make my own primers, cast my own bullets, and even make my own gunpowder for it. Photo below: .62 caliber smoothbore, shooting bag, and powder horn.

For those of you not familiar with how a flintlock works, I'll provide a very brief description. The flintlock is a muzzle loader, meaning that you load the powder and bullet down through the front of the barrel. You pour a measured charge of powder (I use 60 grains) down the barrel, and then you place a small greased patch of cloth over the barrel. Next you place a round, lead rifle ball on top of the patch and use your thumb to push the ball just below the crown of the muzzle. You cut of the excess patching, and then use a long stick called a ramrod or wiping stick to push the powder, patch, and ball to the bottom of the barrel and pack it all down tight. Remove the ramrod. The "lock" or hammer assembly is on the side of the gun just above the trigger. The outside of the lock has four main parts: (1) the hammer, which has a clamp holding a small piece of flint-rock, (2) the powder pan, which is a small pan that holds priming powder, (3) the pan cover, which is a small, hinged lid that closes over the top of the powder pan, and (4) the pan spring, which keeps a little tension of the pan cover to keep it closed. There is a small hole, called the vent hole that runs from the powder pan through the side of the barrel. To "prime" the rifle you pull the hammer back to half cock, open the pan cover and sprinkle a small amount of gunpowder in the powder pan, and then close the lid. You then thumb back the hammer to full cock and you are ready to fire. When you pull the trigger, the hammer falls and the flint rock strikes the upturned portion to the pan cover, called the frizzen. The pan cover is knocked open and a shower of sparks from the flint falls into the powder pan. The sparks ignite the powder in the powder pan. The fire from the powder pan flashes through the vent hole and sets off the main charge of powder inside the gun barrel which propels the rifle ball out of the gun. Now this all sounds complicated and time consuming, but a good rifleman can load and fire a flintlock in 20 seconds. And, these rifles are deadly accurate. Photo below: Close-up of lock mechanism.

But how is it that you can shoot a flintlock forever without having to buy ammo? Well, let's look at what's required to fire the rifle. First you need a primer. In this case that's going to be a piece of flint rock that has been shaped, or knapped, into a rifle flint. Even a person with only moderate skills can pick up a flint rock, knock a flake off of it, and shape it into a rifle flint. This is why the old mountain men carried flintlocks even after the more modern caplock was available. When you're a thousand miles from the store and run out of caps, your gun is nothing but a club. If you have a flintlock you can always just make a new rifle flint. Lead rifle balls are easy to cast. I use a combination of old wheel weights and plumbers lead to make mine. The lead can be melted on a kitchen stove or over a campfire. The little single-ball mold that I use will fit in the palm of my hand. The old-timers always tried to recover their rifle balls from any animal that they shot so that the balls could be melted and recast. I've even read of individuals who tried to only shoot an animal if it was standing in front of a tree so that if the ball passed all the way through the animal, the hunter could dig the spent ball out of the tree. That's carrying recycling to the limit in my book. Personally, I think that the fifty pounds of lead that I have will last me long enough. On the question of gunpowder I am going to yield to other sources. There are hundreds of sources telling how to make black powder. Some use saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal; some use saltpeter and sugar. Do some research. One good source is book number 5 of the Foxfire series. Whatever formula you use, exercise common sense. Black powder is an EXPLOSIVE. Take all possible safety precautions and never make a large batch all at one time. Photo below: Rawhide shot bottle, round ball and shot, lead ladle, and bullet mold.

There are several makers of quality reproduction flintlocks. Pedresoli and Lehman both make good guns. In addition there are dozens of makers of custom flintlocks. A good, off the rack, flintlock rifle will cost you about $700 to $800. A custom built rifle will run from $1200 to $2000 or more. That's a pretty steep hit for an old country boy, but it's not a bad deal when you stop to consider that you now own a gun that you can shoot forever.

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