New Source for Blanks - and a Bewitching Series of Excuses.

by Joseph G. Bilby

Reenactors using blanks in their .44-40 and .45 Colt caliber Henry rifles have often had to do a bit of improvising, including the use of cut down .303 British cases for .44-40 rounds. The old movie “5 in 1” brass blanks, used extensively in the popular western movie and television series from the 1930s through the 1960s are still around, but are costly and often hard to find. The term “5 in 1” is used to indicate that these tapered blanks can be used in five different calibers, including .38-40, .44-40, .44 Special, .45 Colt and .410 shotgun.

These brass blanks are only used in films today when the scene requires them, for example when cartridge cases are being ejected from a lever action rifle. Most blanks in current use for western films are polymer versions of the old “5 in 1.” These cartridges are less expensive and, because they do not require a wad, safer. Polymer blanks have scored noses rather than a wad and are loaded with black powder for a satisfying noise and sufficient smoke. Unlike brass blank cartridges, which may be reloaded (if you can find the empties in the grass after your Henry flings them about the countryside) polymer blanks are discarded after one use.

A full line of blanks and dummy rounds are available from Mark Allen Productions, 3750 S. Valley View #14, Las Vegas, NV 89103 (702-873-1100)


Missed more targets than you hit last skirmish season? Run out of excuses? Cornered into admitting its you, not the musket? Well, you could always claim to be bewitched.

Since witchcraft is not the basis of most popular 21st century excuses for failure in America, we’ll have to prospect around a bit before we can come up with some good ones. As it turns out, the best compact source is a book entitled Ozark Magic and Folklore, by Vance Randolph. Randolph visited the Ozarks in 1899, and moved there in 1920, recording the region’s traditional folklore before it was erased by the coming of modern times. Many of the beliefs he noted were common to 18th and 19th century rural culture in the less accessible areas of the country and no doubt would be familiar to many Civil War soldiers on both sides. Whatever the case, these excuses will make the guys in your N-SSA unit stand up and take notice.

According to Randolph, a rifle could be “witched” if someone stole a bullet from the owner’s hunting pouch and tied it to a streamside willow so that it was “suspended in swift water.” The rifle ball shimmering in the current would cause the gun’s barrel to shake, making an accurate shot impossible.

One Ozark witch, unhappy with the fact that her indolent husband whiled away his time in an informal shooting match when he should have been doing chores, bewitched his rifle by tying a knot in her apron, after which the man, usually an excellent shot, could not hit his target. “The old woman’s done put a spell on my gun,” said he, as he left the range to get back to work.

Such curses could be removed with the proper ritual. One bewitched shooter consulted a local witch doctor for a remedy and was advised to put his inaccurate rifle in a stream and not lend anything to anyone. When a neighbor woman came over to borrow some medicine to cure “a terrible runnin’ off at the bowels,” he refused, lifting the curse and identifying the bewitcher at the same time. After a good cleaning his rifle shot as well as ever. Of course it is possible that the gun just needed a good cleaning to restore its accuracy, but that wouldn’t make for as good a story.

According to Randolph, curses could also be removed and rifles witch proofed by hanging an asafetida bag on a gun, having a witch doctor write a spell on a piece of paper which was then placed under the buttplate (practiced by some old time gun makers including, perhaps, the famed Hawken brothers, as a preventive remedy), and driving a used coffin nail into the buttstock.

So there you have it, a perfect series of excuses. And if you can get someone to believe them - I can get you a dozen more. Oh, by the way, if you get involved in a muzzle loading rifle feud, you can bulletproof yourself by carrying a dried and powdered bat heart in your hunting bag or cartridge box.

Happy shooting - see you at the Spring National, suspending a Minie ball in the creek, no doubt.

© 2001 by Joe Bilby

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