Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Greenhorn's Progress - Chapter Two

first day at the range

by Richard

  • Preparing the gun.
  • Preparation for shooting
  • The Range officer
  • Loading procedure

When I went to the range for the first time to learn about shooting, it was with Karen an experienced shooter. Grey Beaver was absent and Karen, whose gun it was, had kindly undertaken to teach me.

Karen and I put a bench for the shooting equipment on my right hand side of where I would fire from, I am right handed. It would be a while before I was capable of firing ‘off the body’1. Firstly, Karen showed me how to prepare the gun by cleaning the oil out of the barrel. We used several patches made from 4x2 cleaning cloth and these were worked up and down the barrel on the button on the end of the ram rod. Subsequently when the gun has been heavily oiled, I have put a little isopropyl on the cloth as well and even introduced a drop or two through the nipple and then swabbed out with the cleaning cloth. Either way, the intention is to remove the oil which could cause a misfire if it was absorbed into the powder.
Our preparation included loading a ‘block’2 with patches and ball and putting them on the bench together with the powder horn, intermediate measure and capper.

The Range officer is the person in charge of the range. The Range officer’s word is absolute and you obey him, or her, without question. The Range officer declares the range open and closed and may do so at any time. Should you have a problem with your gun, i.e misfire, dry balling etc you notify him and he will direct what action is to be taken. Everyone is responsible for shooting safely but the range officer oversees the safe operation of the range and ensures safe practice is being carried out. Only when the range was declared open by the range officer, Mark - was I able to ‘cap off’ and load the gun.

‘Capping off’ is the procedure where the small cap which fits over the nipple and produces the spark that ignites the powder is fired. Capping off is carried out without powder in the gun and results in a small ‘bang’. The gun is pointed at the ground at a blade of grass and fired. Before capping off, you must advise the Range officer that you are doing so, by calling out: “Capping off.” The purpose of capping off is to clean any remaining oil from the gun barrel and verify that the flash channel is clear of fouling or other obstruction which could prevent ignition. If the blade of grass moves, there is no obstruction.
Under Karen’s direction, I then loaded.

When loading a muzzle loading gun with the charge that will propel the ball, the powder is always introduced into the gun barrel from an intermediate measure, never directly from a powder horn. Failure to follow this procedure may result in a residual spark in the barrel from a previous firing igniting the full powder horn in your hand with fatal consequences.
An intermediate measure is a small unlidded container used to measure out a suitable powder charge for your gun. The shooter will have arrived at a suitable powder charge by bench testing the gun and made an intermediate measure. (Bench testing will be covered at a later date) In my case I was firing a 50 calibre gun and in the absence of having bench tested the gun and knowing a suitable charge, Karen advised starting with 25 grains of powder at 25 yards. The loading procedure was as follows:
  • The gun was half cocked
  • 25 grains of powder was measured into the intermediate measure from the powder horn.
  • The powder was poured down the barrel from the intermediate measure.
  • The block was held against the muzzle and patch and ball pushed into the barrel with a short starter.
  • The ball was pushed further down the barrel with the short starter 3.
  • The ball was pushed firmly home against the powder with a ram rod.
I was now ready to fire the gun, but before that could take place, the cap had to be fitted onto the nipple from the capper 4 .
On Karen’s instruction, I fully cocked the gun, fitted a cap, all the time keeping the barrel pointing in a safe direction. I pointed the barrel at the target and squeezed the trigger. There was a loud bang, plenty of smoke, a strong smell and a hole below the target.

to be continued...

  1. Firing off the body’ All the equipment is carried on the body usually in a possibles bag: intermediate measure, powder flask, patches, ball, short starter, and capper. When ‘firing off the body’ the gun is loaded from what is carried on the body rather than from a bench alongside the shooter on which the equipment has been laid out.
  2. Block: a wooden block with holes through it. Patches are put over the holes and balls pressed into the holes where they fit tightly and stay until required for loading. When loading, the block is fitted against the end of the barrel and the patch and ball pushed into the muzzle with a short starter.
  3. Short starter: in effect a miniature ram rod. one part is about 1 about 1inch long and the other about 5 inches long. Used to ‘start’ the patch and ball in the barrel, before using a long ramrod.
  4. Capper: the capper holds the caps in such a way that it allows the easy fitting of a cap to the nipple of the gun. Caps are very small and some form of capper is necessary.

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Greenhorn's Progress - Chapter One

the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

by Richard

One does not - and certainly should not, casually decide to pick up a gun and get into shooting. I crept into the ABC (Auckland Black Powder Club) through the back door of historical re-enactment after an invitation to contribute in the role traditional craft person: clay pipe maker, pole lathe worker and broom squire. After 15 months of sitting around the camp fire listening to talk of powder, patch and ball, of language and terms I did not understand, I began to think of taking the big step. My reluctance or was it fear? Stemmed from the following concern:
  • Would/could I be a safe shooter? Firstly to others and secondly to myself.
I had last shot as a boy of 16, I was now 58. I had fired Gerry’s Kentucky, Simmo’s carbine and Jack’s Brown Bess. But these were casual indulgences. I understood this was not like dropping a chisel on your foot or cutting your finger with a knife. I had seen what 50 or 60 grains of powder behind a patched lead ball could do. So when I said to Brad and Karen in April 2008: “I am going to get my gun licence;” the decision had been well thought through.
  • I would advise anyone thinking of getting into black powder shooting to join a club.
By this stage I knew most of the club members and after carefully consideration, I asked ‘Grey Beaver’ Aka Gerry to be my mentor and teach me what I needed to know. I found all members keen to help me, to let me try their guns, to give me advice. Brad and Karen helped first of all explaining the basics, allaying my fears about safety. Karen, to whom I will be eternally grateful, gave me her Lyman 50 cal trade gun which she had won the year before at the Mercury bay event. What can you ever do to repay kindness like that?

A few facts and suggestions:
  • You can shoot in New Zealand without a firearms licence if you are ‘under the close supervision of someone who has a firearms licence’
  • You cannot buy or keep a gun without a firearms licence.
  • Try a few guns before you buy one. Take your time in making your choice.
  • Club members, if asked kindly, will generally supervise you while you try their gun.
  • Ask an experienced shooter to be your mentor.
  • Be aware you know little and have much to learn: Listen and absorb information.
  • Get a note book and record what you learn.
The process of getting my New Zealand firearms licence took about two months, The process was thorough: You visit a police station and ask to speak to the firearms officer, you will undergo preliminary questioning , preliminary vetting, deeper vetting will be done over the next few weeks, a test, inspection of your storage facilities for ammunition and firearms, the mountain safety lecture and finally an exam. Not everyone passes. It is a thorough process, it needs to be. By July I had my licence. I was ready to start my muzzle loading experience. I was ready to go and it would be Karen who gave me my first basic introduction to the range.

To be continued...