Monday, June 7, 2010

Blackpowder is not for those in a hurry, or "Hey, where is my ramrod?"

An email account of a trip to the range back in 2002...

So, I went to the range last evening to do an hour's worth of shooting before closing time. Should have picked something other than the .54 caliber flintlock Lyman Great Plains Rifle, but I wanted to shoot it from the bench one of these days, so why not today?

I loaded 90 grains of FFFg Goex blackpowder and topped it with a .530 ball and a 0.010 patch. The first shot was in the black at fifty. Then I hunkered down to concentrate, settling both the forestock and butt on bags. Four shots went into about two inches, a few inches right of point of aim. I ran out of balls, so I switched to a new box.

The short starter required quite a rap to get things started, so I glanced at the new box of balls...these were .535, but I was still using 0.010 patches. No problem, I just use the ball puller to remove it. No ball puller. Aaack! Okay, Plan B calls for seating the ball on the charge and firing it out. The ball won't seat with hand pressure...or two hand pressure...on the rod, so I resort to the Continental method used to seat unpatched, oversize balls in the Jaeger rifles - I drive the rod down the bore with a hammer improvised from one of the short pieces of lumber they leave at the benches with which to assemble shooting rests.

I prime the piece, hunker down, cock the hammer, set the trigger, press...psst! Flash in the pan. Reprime. Repeat. Psst! No problem, I'll use the vent pick (a fancy title for the unlooped paperclip in my shooting box). No vent pick in the shooting box. Thppt! No problem, Plan B calls for making one from local materials. Whittle one from a piece of the shooting bench. Insert it, twist, poke, prod...break the homemade toothpick off in the vent. Aaack Thppt! Plan C would is to find a better material with which to fabricate a pick. The trash brass buckets are sealed with loops of wire. I cut one loose with my folding Seeber folding tool.

I clean the vent. I prime the pan. I hunker down at the bench, but pick another target, as all the abuse this load has received cannot help accuracy. I cock the hammer, set the trigger, touch off the shot. BLAM! Damn, that hurt! What happened? I was wearing the PAST Shield, but could feel where the heel and toe of the hooked buttplate had stabbed at me. The first five shots kicked like a 12 bore trap load, this one felt like the time I shot a .458 Winchester Magnum.

Okay, be calm. Inspect the gun, check for damage. The breech is fine. The barrel is fine. I pick up the gun to look at it more closely. My hand closes on the underrib where the ramrod is normally placed when not in use. Where is my ramrod? Dislodged by the fierce recoil? No. Leaning against or lying next to the bench? No. The most likely scenario whispers to me through the fog of denial. Did I launch my ramrod downrange with the troublesome load? I can offer no other solution, let alone one that accounts for the facts of the case.

I spent the last fifteen minutes of shooting time, and the first fifteen minutes after shooting time, looking for my unfletched, brass tipped shaft. I was grateful no one else was there. I did not find it after multiple grid searches from 0-50 yards, and saw no trace of it from 50-75 yards, either. Had it been wood I might believe it had disintegrated, but this was one of the indestructible synthetic jobs - the sort that might still be serviceable after such treatment.

Perhaps the mower will find it...

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