98th National Skirmish Notes

The 98th National Skirmish, completed October 4 at Fort Shenandoah near Winchester, VA also coincided with the 35th Anniversary of the opening of that range for N-SSA competitions. Once again, teams from Michigan to Mississippi gathered in the friendly confines of the only range owned by the N-SSA for Individual and Team competitions.

If you were able to come down for the start of the Individual Competition Phase on Wednesday, September 30, and stay to the bitter (cold) end on Sunday, October 4, you would have experienced every conceivable kind of Skirmishing weather. I was lucky enough to be one of the three dozen or so N-SSA members who shot paper on Wednesday, and it was warm and humid, getting warmer as the day wore on. After polishing off my Smoothbore entry with a respectable 74-1x, I moseyed on over to shoot some Musket and Carbine targets as well, finishing with a Pistol target on the side range. Back in camp Wednesday evening, I changed into summer shorts to clean up the hardware and pack-up the old gas powered mule. When I returned Thursday night, a fall chill pervaded the skirmishing encampment. Friday was a near perfect weather day, as my team enjoyed Pistol Team and Mortar competitions in the mild, sunny weather. Saturday's overcast, which covered the Carbine and Artillery Matches, became an inch of rain late Saturday night and into Sunday's Musket Extravaganza.

Like all National Skirmishes, this one had it's ups and downs. By the time you read this, we all will have heard about the mishap during the Henry Matches. What we know so far is that, during reloading, a competitor's magazine experienced premature ignition, injuring the shooter. The exact cause of the event is not yet determined as this column goes to press, but yet another incident with a Henry has to be cause for concern. Fellow columnist Joe Bilby has covered at length the safety requirements for making your own Henry loads, and I must repeat that safely seating primers in their pockets is the most important aspect of rolling your own cartridges. Certainly, the Henry has had more problems in it's short existence than Muskets have in their 49 years!

However, on the fun side, I had the great pleasure to shoot Carbine on Saturday right next to the 7th Regt. Va. Vol. Inf., an organization who proudly sent three generations to the line for Carbine and Musket. The Nicodemus clan were the gratified gray clad progeny, and they did themselves and skirmishing proud at the 98th National Skirmish. In the photo, left to right, are Edward P. Nicodemus, Douglas Edward Nicodemus and Edward P. Nicodemus. The youngest Nicodemus is proudly clutching the Model 1855 Harpers Ferry Artillery Model Rifle that the elder Nicodemus constructed for him. And, these three aren't all that there is to the Nicodemus connection either. Young Ed has a brother and sister who skirmish, Jeff and Tammy, and Douglas has two cousins, Matthew and Brian, who shoot with the 7th Virginia as well! Congratulations to the whole Nicodemus clan for helping make skirmishing the family sport we can all play.

The 98th National was the final testing venue for the new Carbine bullet I have been using, and I was very pleased with the results. The bullet, a 350 grain .517 SPG-lubed flat base, round-nosed flat point, is available from Tom Ball's Ball-Accuracy (717-458-5197). I have used them in my Harpers Ferry Maynard repro for the last four skirmishes, and am now ready to retire my Rapine mould in favor of letting Tom do all the work. The bullets come already sized and lubed with SPG in boxes of 250 for $25.00 each, and all I have to do is plop them on top of the powder and I'm ready to go. My Maynard load is a plastic tube, 27.5 grains of FFF, .7cc of Cream of Wheat and the Ball bullet, and I'm getting 2 1/2 inch off- hand groups. In a Navy Arms Smith, I opt for plastic tubes, 27.5 grains of FFF, .5cc of Cream of Wheat and the Ball bullet. I just started working up this load, but it's giving sub-three-inch groups of the bench and shows promise.

Tom Ball also offers an enticing list of precast bullets for other black powder shooting, including 45/70, .38, .44 and .45 calibers. A stop by his shop at the National also revealed some new revolver bullets in .44, and I hope to get to try them out this winter. I made another stop in Sutlers' Row at the Rebel Trading Post, the establishment of Vernon Scoone. Vernon has closed his Ellicott City shop in favor of smaller digs in a Mall, and this was the first time I'd seen him since the move. Vernon is carrying the new "wingless" Musket Caps, a development driven by the in-line shooter actions that don't handle the winged cap well. Vernon let me try a handful during Individuals, and I noticed no difference on my Maynard repro. The caps, though wingless, are split, and they break up easily on hammer impact and roll right off after ignition. They may be hotter than the winged cap, although I noticed no significant difference in my load performances. However, On my Whitacre barreled 2-band Enfield, which as a slightly under sized nipple (installed so the winged caps would break up significantly), I noticed a lot of "nipple flash" on ignition. It was probably due to the cap not fitting snugly on my nipple (gee, I gotta wonder if that phrase would get by everyone's censor software), and did not effect the loads performance. I do believe that these nipples have more pop because the in-line loads are usually smaller (.45 or .50 as opposed to .58) and deeper (90 to 120 grains as opposed to 30 to 50 grains) and they were designed with a hotter flash for more consistent ignition in cold hunting conditions.

The new caps are packed in 100 count plastic tins as opposed to the old 250 count containers, another accommodation to the hunting trade, who use considerably fewer caps per capita. The Dynamil Nobel catalog number is 1081FL, sporting the "FL" suffix at the end of the old catalog number, 1081, for flanged musket caps. Most sutlers will probably have these in stock this winter, so you might want to test them out on your arms as well. They might even show up in sports stores that sell in-line blackpowder arms, so keep your eyes peeled there, too.

It's renewal season in the N-SSA, they leaves are turning, the velvet is off the antlers and the big boys are ready to rut, so the Skirmishing season is winding down for 1998. I hope you can get your groups smaller and centered in the off season, and are looking forward to the 100th National Skirmish next year as well. Until the next time, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun.

1998 by Tom Kelley

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