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...

More on Critical Thinking, Skeptical Inquiry, and the Scientific Method

I don't have time to read too many blogs regularly, so I listen to several of these organizations' podcasts instead...

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Are We Alone? is a radio show and podcast put on by SETI Institute. The hosts, Molly Bentley and Seth Shostack, are imaginative and relentlessly witty. The program reports on straight science as well as skepticism.

For Good Reason "is the interview program hosted by D.J. Grothe, promoting critical thinking and skepticism about the central beliefs of society. Interviews often focus on the paranormal, pseudoscience and the supernatural."  Until recently Grothe was host of Point of Inquiry.

The Infidel Guy Show is one of the oldest skeptical podcasts on the web. It deals with religion as well as the paranormal and pseudo-science. The production values can be a little rough and more than a few podcast debates have raged out of control of the host.

Minnesota Atheists has a podcast that tends toward the dry side much of the time. They are earnest if pedantic.

Point of Inquiry is the official podcast of the Center for Inquiry that addresses “religion, human values, and the borderlands of science.”

Quackcast is hosted by Mark Crislip, MD, who takes an nearly insane glee in skewering what he refers to as "Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (SCAM)."

I've just started listening to Rationally Speaking, the official podcast of New York City Skeptics. Hosts Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef "explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense."

SGU 5x5 is put on by the same crew that does the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. This format offers concise five minute talks on a single topic.

Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a classic put on by the New England Skeptical Society. Neurologist Steven Novella, MD, is also the author of the Neurologica blog.

Also a member of the SGU Rebecca Watson is the founder of Skepchick where she hosts their podcast.

Skeptics with a K is the podcast of the Merseyside Skeptic's Society in the UK. Anti-Vaxers and homeopaths are popular topics.

Skepticality is one of the official podcasts of Skeptic magazine. Hosts Derrick and Swoopy have a nice vibe and their thoughts on outreach and education strikes a different tone than other skeptical podcasts.  Their links page is a nice reference.

At Skeptoid Brian Dunning takes 10-15 minutes to apply critical analysis to a single New Age, medical quackery, UFO sightings, or paranormal topic. Punchy and pithy. His site features transcripts and references for each episode. Good stuff in a fun format.

So, is critical thinking the same as skepticism? How does skepticism differ from cynicism? Are skeptics ever credulous when it comes to pet beliefs? Are there other podcasts I'm missing?  Please let me know...