Monday, August 01, 2016

My Time With A Muzzleloader

During the mid '70s, U.S. sportsmen discovered a resurgence in muzzleloading rifles and shotguns.  Many states opened early "muzzleloader" seasons to give sportsmen a chance at early season deer hunting.  About that same time, the re-enacator folks saw an increase in their ranks.  Some folks really enjoyed studying the era of the trappers from the late 1700's, early 1800s that opened the American West.

When I got out of the Army in 1979, I re-established contact with my hometown buddies.  Louisiana had just opened an early muzzleloading season, so I decided to take advantage of it.  However, I knew nothing about front-stuffing a rifle or using charcoal as a propellant.  A good friend of mine took me down to the local sporting good store, the old Security Sporting Goods on 3rd street in Alexandria, and hooked me up with a rifle.  The one I chose was a Thompson Center Renegade, in .54 caliber.

What I liked about it at the time, (and still do) was its dark furniture. It's not a flashy rifle, but it is extremely workmanlike.  While it has the double set triggers, the nice walnut stock and the traditional appearance that we associate with that era, it also had a coil spring lock, and was rugged as hell.  My rifle was not intended to be a showpiece, it is a working gun.

After I got used to the loading/firing routine, I settled down at my leisure and started learning to shoot the darned thing.  After just a little while, I settled on a load consisting of 60 grains of Goex FFg powder, a .530 round ball, ad pillow tick patching.  I used common Crisco for my lube.  After I adjusted the sights for the point of aim, I found that when I did my part, the rifle would put the ball in the black at 100 yards.

Only accurate rifles are interesting, and I was interested.  My eyes were still good enough to use iron sights, and the iron sights on the Renegade were very good.  One day in mid October, I came home from work and got out the rifle to play with it.  A crow landed in the pasture about 125 yards out and looked at me as I loaded the rifle.  I held on the base of his chin and touched the set trigger.  That .530 round ball had hit him in the chest, plowed right on through, and made one hell of a mess.

I carried that rifle on the early muzzleloader hunt, hut didn't get a chance to shoot it.  Several weeks later I was hunting with a buddy and a yearling doe presented herself, so I took the shot.  The ball entered her ribcage, blew through both lung, and dropped her right there.  And, that was my standard experience with that rifle.

Don't let anyone tell you that a round ball won't take deer.  Folks used to ask me why I carried the front-stuffer and uneducated folks would scoff at my choice of arm.  Simply, the ball weighs 230 grains, almost half again as much as a modern sporting bullet of 150 grains.  And, while the average hunter hopes his bullet expands to a half-inch, my round ball starts out over that same half inch.  Round balls (and cast bullets generally) kill differently than modern expanding bullets.  When a modern expanding bullet hits a game animal it starts dumping energy.  The good ones expand and dump lots of energy, the ones that fail don't.  It's an age-old story.

But, when a round ball hits an animal, it brings all the energy it's got with it.  It normally just shoots through unless it hits bone.

I carried that rifle for the better part of two decades and never lost a deer to it.  I was hunting in the piney woods and swamps of central Louisiana and it never failed me.

On one of the last hunts I made  with that rifle, about 1998, I was hunting with Junior Doughty on his family land.  He put me on a stand behind the old home place, looking down a small logging road.  About nine o'clock, a herd of does came down the hill.  One of Junior's dogs had followed me to the stand, and he barked at the deer and scatted them.

I figured that if I sat tight, they'd try to re-herd, and that's pretty much what happened.  I  noticed a young doe looking at me over a yaupon bush about 50 yards away,  so I put the front sight at the base of her neck and touched it off.  She fell backwards, kicked once and expired.

When I autopsied her later, I found that the round ball hit her where I was aiming.  It traveled down the length of her spine, shattering bone as it went, then turned before it got to her hind quarter and left her just ahead of her left hip.  That ball traversed about two feet of bone and deer.  It would be pressing hard to say that it didn't have enough penetration.

Shortly after that hunt, I joined a lease where the shots were considerably longer, so I put the Renegade away and started using more modern firearms.  It's not a knock on the Renegade, it's just the nature of southern hunting these days.  If I were to hunt a piney forest these days, I'd likely take a rifle that shot cast bullets, or I'd take the Renegade.  It would work just fine, out to about 150 yards.  They worked just fine 150 years ago, and they'll work just fine today.


Murphy's Law said...

Now I got to get me one of left-hand, of course.

North Texan said...

Tremendously fun to shoot, and very different. I've yet to load one up for someone and them not grin ear to ear when they touched it off.