Shooting & Reenacting with the .69 Smoothbore

Long term readers know that last year I acquired a beauty of a Model 1842 Musket from ArmiSport by way of The Rebel Trading Post in Ellicott City, MD. The product was so new at that time that I was able to get serial number "D0030"! Skirmishers have had the opportunity to compete with a smoothbore for a couple years now, and I was desirous of some of that action for myself. Because North-South Skirmish Association competitions call for only one 50©yard target, I thought that I could acquire enough precast round balls to practice and compete with, but I was sorely mistaken.

First, I placed an order with Dixie Gun Works for 25 .69 roundballs and some Burnside bullets as well. Sixty days later, I had not received anything from DGW. After 12 or 13 weeks, I did receive the round balls, but they were poorly cast and I could not use them for competition. I did manage to find some well cast .690 pure lead balls this Winter at the Gun Shack in Clarksburg, MD (301-829-0122). When I started, though, I certainly didn't think it would take 8 months to find a reliable source of projectiles for my smoothbore. My recommendation henceforth is to go ahead and buy a roundball mould when you purchase your smoothbore. Finding reliable sources of precast projectiles is just too time consuming.

You can measure your barrel with a micrometer to determine the correct size mould to acquire. Before you do, make sure you have established your entire load protocol first -- what size ball, patch or no patch, what size powder, and what weight powder charge?

Having done some research on the standard load for the 1842 Musket, as well as reading recent articles in The Skirmish Line on the same topic, I decided that once I had projectiles, I was going to size them to my barrel. I do not want to use the first three inches of my barrel as a bullet sizer. The only reason I have to put a live load in my Model 1842 is for competitive purposes, and I want the best load I can get under the rules of competition. These parameters require a sized roundball that matches my barrel. After measuring my barrel at .686, I ordered a custom bullet sizer from Jerry Stone (18091 Vontay Rd,Rockville, VA 23146). Jerry is a sutler who attends most shoots at Ft. Shenandoah, and that's where I hooked up with him to order my sizer. I ordered a .684 sizer, and it arrived in about two weeks. Jerry is good people, and carries alot of great stuff I always seem to lose or leave at home.

According to the 1861 Ordnance Manual, the standard ball load for an 1842 Musket was a .65 round ball on top of 110 grains of Musket powder.

To make loads for my smoothbore, I size the lead balls to .684. I size them with the sprue up, and push 'em right on through. This process leaves a nice little belt around the equator of the ball. Next, I place the sized balls in hot melted beeswax, and leave them there until the balls themselves are too hot to touch. I take the balls out with a spoon, and place them on a sheet of aluminum foil to cool, with the sprue down. While they're cooling, I fill my large shotgun tubes, which I got from the Winchester Sutler(804©xxx©xxxx) with 60 grains of FF Goex. I like the results I am getting with FF, so I am going to stick with it. When the balls are cool, I insert them in the top of the tube with the sprue down, which is how I load them.

The beeswax keeps the fouling soft enough to be able to load 12 or 13 shots, which is all you need to compete. This particular load shoots really low -- like 11 inches - but it is shooting good groups for now and I'll stick with it.

Shooting the 1842 is a lot of fun. The mass of the arm keeps the heavy load from bothering you, and it is surprising how well they really shoot when used properly. My lock needed a little timing to reduce the trigger pull for marksmanship, but the trigger pull was not too excessive for reenacting.

Reenacting with an 1842, or any .69 smoothbore, is just the thing for those grubs who want to burn a lot of powder. With most events limiting the size of a charge to the military standard load for that weapon, the .69 load of 110 grains is king-of-the-hill, nearly twice the standard .58 load.

To make a .69 caliber blank, start with a trapezoid shaped piece of brown kraft paper that is 4.5 inches tall and has a short side of 3 inches and a long side of 5.25 inches. I've been getting my paper from fast food bags -- Roy Rogers and Burger King seem to fold and crease best for me. You need to roll the paper on a cartridge former, which can be a 1/2 in. wood dowel that you add masking tape to until it just fits into your muzzle, or you can use some types of fax paper rolls when they are empty. Start with the long edge of the trapezoid on the former, and roll the paper onto the tube. Your cartridge paper should wrap around the former three times. This is a safe practice, so increase the size of your paper until you get a triple wrap. Using common white glue, glue the seam closed, and close the end of the cartridge opposite the point of the long end with a fold and a generous application of glue. Slip the finished tube off carefully and make some more. Don't forget to check that your tube will slide into your barrel. If you are at an event that rams the paper home, it will help increase your loading speed if the wrapper fits in your barrel quickly. When all your tubes are formed, place them in a loading tray. My tray is a simple piece of 2x4 with 10 3/4 inch hole drilled about 1 inch deep. Measure and pour 100 to 110 grains of F or FF powder into each tube. Pick a tube up, once filled, with the thumb and forefinger of your left hand on the top of the tube. Pinch the tube closed with thumb and forefinger of your right hand, sliding your finger down the empty portion of the tube until you reach the top of the powder level. Fold the closed portion closed, using either a trifold or a bifold, and wrap the tail down on top of the cartridge. If you desire, you can place a dab of glue on the tail and hold it closed for ten seconds. You should have a nice, .69 caliber blank cartridge for reenacting. To use, just tear the tail near the powder with your teeth, pour down the barrel, prime and fire.

Cartridges were issued in packs of 10 with 12 caps. I always like to make up a couple packs to carry with me for living histories, etc. Make your wrapper out of green kraft paper, as .69 caliber cartridges were issued this way. Tie with plain white cotton twine. If a reenacting unit was using .69 arms exclusively, it might want to make up a couple of ammo boxes to place around camp. The .69 ammo came in blue pine boxes with simple butt joint construction using 3/4 inch pine boards. The boxes measured 15.5" x 11.75" x 6.75". Buck-and-ball ammunition for the .69 was issued in red wrappers with a red box measuring 15" x 10.75" x 6.35".

I hope to see alot more smoothbores out there in the camps. The .69 roars in a line of battle, and is a lot of fun to both shoot and reenact with. Until the next time, shoot safe and have fun.

(C) 1997 Tom Kelley

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