As the days get shorter every fall after the National Skirmish, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to pull the ol' musket and carbine off the wall and pop caps. I have always felt that this hiatus offered an excellent time for load development and practice, but those sunsets before 5 p.m. can shorten your practice significantly. This year, I finally was able to concoct an excellent whitetail load for my Enfield Musketoon. Starting with the legal minimum 60 grains of FFG and my Lyman 575213OS 500 grain Minie, I soon discovered that a 65 grain FFG charge was dead on with my skirmish load sight picture. Here in Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources specifies a 60 grain minimum for deer hunting (and a .40 caliber minimum as well), but does not specify grain - so I opted for the lower pressure and recoil of FFG over FFFG.
I have been shooting the Musketoon well recently. Last year, we formed a new N-SSA team, and I shot a lot of carbine loads this summer and fall, both practice and competition. Additionally, I feel I have an advantage going afield with any skirmish arm. Whether musket or carbine, I have snapped that smokepole to my shoulder and pulled the hammer hundreds, if not thousands, of times a year. No other longarm gets as much work as my skirmishing guns, and I feel confident to take any reasonable shot offered during deer season.
Here in the Old Line State, it is legal to use blackpowder arms during both the shotgun and blackpowder season. I am much more accurate with my skirmishing hardware then with a shotgun with slugs, so I prefer to carry the Musketoon. In the swamps and thickets I frequent, a 100-yard shot is not only the outer-limit, it is rare. I favor the carbine over the musket because it is easier to maneuver in the woods. Breech-loading carbines, while quicker on the line, are not legal for "muzzleloading" season for obvious reasons. Lately, we have enjoyed a two-week season for shotgun hunting and an additional two-week season for blackpowder here in the Land of Pleasant Living, and it comes just in time to flush the winter blahs from this ol' skirmishers' bones. I would encourage any skirmisher who is interested in blackpowder deer hunting to consult the local regulations regarding this endeavor. If you are a hunter already, you probably have all the equipment necessary, and it will help you learn more about your favorite weapon.
One by-product of this years work was my load. Since it shoots dead center with my regular sights, I plan to use it as a "stake breaker". The additional force may help shave a few seconds off our score.
Another worthwhile winter endeavor is refining or rebuilding your competitive arms. It may be as small a project as resetting your trigger pull, or as large as building a complete custom musket or carbine. In the coming months, I will be explaining and demonstrating some of the methods for accomplishing these goals, and hopefully by next year you will have a nice collection of how-to-articles to help pass your winter time (and money). I will be passing on tips on polishing your lock, glassing your barrel, relining or replacing barrels, replacing modern stock finishes with authentic finishes and more. Hope you can join us.
Another favorite winter past time is catching up with new and old shooting friends, most of whom all managed to kick my butt at one time or the other in 1993. Over the holidays, I had a nice conversation with Kevin O. of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. Kevins' cannon, a 10-pound Parrott reproduction by B. Mills on a Paulson Bros. carriage, won the Fall Artillery Smoothbore class with a perfect 50-5v score. Kevin is a real aficionado of artillery drill, and his crew uses the authentic 8-man drill. Kevin also uses friction primers, which flies in the face of some of the old wives tails around the Houge Creek campfires. We talked about how these tails get started, and for the life of me I don't know. One thing is for sure, Kevin sure knows how to use those friction primers! If it works, and it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Don't forget to get those guns out and give 'em a good oiling this winter. Until the next time, shoot safe and have fun.
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