Winter Work

by Tom Kelley

Although each year seems to bring skirmishers more and more opportunities to practice their sport, there is a long break from the end of October to early March with few chances to break targets. Only the Snowball Skirmish ends the monotony here in the Potomac Valley. It is during these long weeks of short days and extensive nights that a project or two can be completed with the goal in mind of improving next year's skirmishing enjoyment.

Projects like adjusting sights, repairing scratches, patching leather, casting bullets, making loads or even camp construction at Ft. Shenandoah will all fill the dark days of winter this year. Many other skirmishers have even busier schedules.

Up on Back Creek, my unit is completing our pavilion at our campground this winter. For years, foul weather has meant we split up into small groups in our trailers or cars and waited for better environmental conditions. A pavilion will provide a place for covered dish suppers at the Nationals to be under cover, shade in the hot summer and a venue for camaraderie during skirmishes. We broke ground last year after completing the necessary paper work with the Property Committee and Property Manager. The material to complete the job awaits us, and we are bound and determined to be under roof for the 2002 Skirmish Season. Although we are a small team of ten members, every member made a financial and personal commitment to finish the pavilion, and it will be a welcome addition worth our winter endeavors.

Another winter task will be to make a couple of speed loaders for the other members of the Henry Team on the Chesapeake Artillery. While participating in the Fall National Cartridge Team event, we shared our position with a team that had pieces of 1/2" copper pipe capped on one end. They would load the cylinders up with cartridges before going to the firing line, and tuck the loaders in their belts, then after the command to load was given by the tower, it was a simple task to tip the carriers into the magazine of the Henry. While the time to load during a match is sufficient to safely load a magazine with individual cartridges, the nifty little copper pipes just make one less thing to worry about during a contest. Since all our Henry shooters own .45 Colt Henrys, I can make 3 identical sets for us. Now, they won't make us shoot any better, but at least we can load our misses easier before each relay.

If you want to take on these handy little speed loaders for Henry rifles as your own winter work, you can find 1/2" pipe at any hardware dealer. A two foot chunk will be enough to make the pieces you need. My 45 Colt cartridges are 1.875 inches in length, so I cut one piece 9 1/2" long and another 11 1/4" long, and superglued a 1/2" cap on one end of each pipe. You can also solder the cap on the end if you are so inclined. I can load 6 rounds in the shorter one and 7 rounds in the longer one, which fills my magazine to capacity for Henry Matches.

Another winter project is casting bullets. Casting is warm work, and I always hope to have enough bullets cast by the end of February for the entire upcoming season. It just seems that I cast better lead in the winter when I do cast. I think that the cooler temperatures help the lead and equipment expand and contract easier because of the contrast.

I haven't finished adjusting all my sights, either. I need to move a couple front sights a tad here and a smidgen there, and I hope to complete this chore during the hiatus of winter. I switched over to peep sights last winter, and a few minor adjustments are necessary to get back to my preferred sight picture. This is another job that can be a bit warm to complete in the heat, so I welcome the breath of winter when I have to solder or cast metal.

During the Christmas vacation, I'll pull out all the muskets, rifles, carbines and revolvers and give them a good going over as well. If I notice any scratches or dings I want to repair, now is the time to perform such a task. Everything gets scrubbed down and oiled once more, then I can put them away until warmer weather presents hot firing lines. If there is anything that needs rebluing, winter is also a good time to take it over to a gunsmith and leave it for a couple weeks for that job to be done. I have yet to find a good bluing solution for whole barrels, so I prefer a hot blue from a reliable craftsman for whole barrels, etc.

I'll also get out the leathers and give them a good inspection as well. Nothing breaks down leather like salty sweat, and I have yet to find a way to shoot in June, July and August without perspiring. After a visual inspection for popped stitches or tears, and repairs where needed, a good coat of leather dressing is applied to all the belts, pouches and holsters that complete our skirmishing kit.

As you can see, winter can and should be a time of preparation for the pending skirmishing season. I hope every reader had a wonderful holiday season and will enjoy the 2002 events you attend. Until the next time, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun.

2002 by Tom Kelley

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