Black Powder Shooting

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Contents:

Brief History  | Types of Muzzle loading Pistol | Legal Requirements | Shooting | Cleaning

Brief History

Black powder or gunpowder has been around for centuries. Its invention changed the world and revolutionised the ways in which warfare was conducted and defensive structures were built. It is a relatively simple chemical mixture which is highly explosive when brought into contact with an ignition source and, as well as its use in warfare it has been of enormous benefit to mankind by its use in mining, quarrying, tunneling and major civil engineering operations where large volumes of rock have to be excavated.

The use of black powder in firearms was irrevocably changed by the invention of the metallic brass cartridge and nitro-cellulose smokeless powders in the late 19th century. The use of black powder in Britain today is almost completely recreational being primarily for the sport of target shooting in muzzle loading pistols, rifles and shotguns and in battle re-enactments. More powerful and stable explosives have replaced black powder in the mining, quarrying and demolition industries.

When, in 1996, the British Government decided that none of the citizens of Britain could be trusted to own target pistols (with the exception of Northern Ireland where target pistol shooting in clubs carries on as normal with the blessing of Mo Mowlem) many British target shooters have turned to muzzle loading as a perfectly legal means of continuing with the sport of target shooting with pistols.

Types of Muzzle loading Pistol

In our Club, the range is approved for use with muzzle loading pistols and members have bought a variety of pistols to replace their original guns which were confiscated by the Government. Muzzle loading pistols come in a surprising variety of shapes, sizes, types and calibres. There are single shot smooth bore flintlock and percussion cap pistols beautifully crafted as replicas of antique duelling and target pistols such as the Le Page range, percussion revolvers which faithfully follow the design of pistols made in the 19th century such as the Remington 1858 New Model Army and modern black powder revolvers such as the Ruger Old Army.  

   
      Pietta Remington New Model Army            Pietta Reb Nord Carbine, Navy & Confederate

The Muzzle Loading Association of Great Britain is the official body representing and promoting the sporting use of black powder firearms and has a magnificent range complex at Wedgnock where it holds many competitions throughout the year (see the link to the MLAGB Web Site on the Club's Home Page).

Legal Requirements

Black powder is still of course a dangerous explosive and in Britain you must have a permit to acquire and keep it and well as a certificate from the Health and Safety Executive to carry it around - i.e. from the source of purchase and to and from your home to a range. The certification procedure is a little complicated (though free at present) but is a mere formality once you have obtained a Firearms Certificate from the police to acquire muzzle loading firearms. The police in Humberside are happy for black powder to be stored in a lockable wooden box virtually anywhere inside your house though it is of course sensible for the box to be kept both out of sight and the 'reach' of children. Treated with respect it is easy to handle and safe to use.

Download a copy of the Explosives Certificate application form here

Shooting

Muzzle loading is slow, methodical and is ideally suited to the type of person who likes paraphernalia! We always know when the black powder shooters are around as there is a noticeable proliferation of plastic tool boxes in which the 'tools of the trade' are carried. Tool boxes will have nose-pliers, screwdrivers, powder flasks, ram-rods, flints, percussion caps, WD 40 etc. as well as the prized pistol(s).  


Ruger .44

Single shot pistols are charged with a set measure of black powder from a flask or phial, a soft lead bullet or ball is rammed into the barrel wrapped in a thin piece of cloth wadding and seated on top of the powder. A percussion cap is then fitted on the nipple or a small measure of priming powder is trickled onto the flash pan of a flintlock and the pistol is then ready to fire.

With a revolver, each chamber is charged with powder and an optional lubricated wad placed over the charge before the ball is rammed down on top of the charge. Some grease is then applied to the top of the chamber over the ball. After all six chambers are loaded percussion caps are fitted onto the nipples and the gun is ready to be fired. It is advisable for loading to be carried out over a damp cloth as any spilt powder will be immediately neutralised on contact with damp. Also the powder flask and percussion caps should be removed from the firing position or carefully covered to avoid stray sparks.

Firing a muzzle loading pistol is quite daunting for the first time as the noise, flash and smoke can be fairly spectacular! Once you've overcome your trepidation you will be eager to re-load and concentrate on getting your shots as close to the bulls-eye as possible.  

Shooting a Rogers and Spencer 1865 .44 Army Revolver

Cleaning

Muzzle loading firearms must be cleaned after use as the residue from ignition of black powder is corrosive and will soon pit and damage the surface of the metal if not removed. Although you can buy proprietary powder solvents I have only ever used Fairy washing up liquid on my stainless steel Remington .44 and it always come up like new (the sulphur smell is not however fully welcomed in the kitchen and I did have to buy a separate washing up bowl for the gun cleaning exercise as Marje drew the line at throwing it in with the other pots and pans! I have heard of one shooter who simply removes the wooden grips and sticks the gun in the dishwasher!

The MLAGB have published an excellent book about muzzle loading called "The Modern Muzzle Loader" written by Andrew Courtney and I must say it is good value at about 6.00 and well worth obtaining a copy.