by Graham Williams
"Ex centrefire shooters who are giving up completely in the belief that black powder is second best are missing the chance of a lot of fun."
The massacre in 1996 of 16 primary school children and their teacher in a small Scottish town not only devastated its community but provided the anti-gun lobby with the opportunity it needed to further attack shooting sports. The months following Dunblane have seen, for all practical purposes, a total ban on private ownership of centre fire pistols (with rimfire soon to follow) and the closure of many clubs. However, it is not my purpose to dwell on the negative but to be positive about the fact that shooting black powder pistols, including revolvers is still legal and likely to grow in popularity.
As a target shooter for around forty years and a hand loader for the last ten or so, I had tried most types of guns, including black powder in the form of my Parker Hale two band Enfield carbine and, in fact, looked forward to investing any compensation wrung from the Government for my five surrendered pistols into more black powder shooting. I had made the decision to buy at least one revolver and two single shot pistols; one percussion lock and one flint lock.
My first purchase would be a revolver as this seemed to be the simplest to load, having a built in rammer and requiring no patches or other unfamiliar things. Preliminary discussions with more knowledgeable people suggested that I should buy a solid frame model such as Remington or Rogers and Spencer in 44 calibre and, since I hate aiming off, adjustable sights would be a good idea even though they would exclude me from many competitions
Supply of black powder guns and accessories in the UK is confined almost to one importer some 150 miles from my home and, since mail order for guns is now also banned, I decided to look for a local stockist, eventually finding a stainless 44 Remington with target sights right on my doorstep; not the gun for purists but ideal for an aging centre fire convert! Unfortunately, a sixty mile round trip was required to purchase black powder, swaged balls and No. 11 caps, the latter being purchased in two lengths as no-one seemed to know which I needed and the gun's instructions recommended trial and error! Since no powder flask was readily available I made three dippers from turned down .308 Winchester brass with soldered wire handles, giving 20, 25 and 30 grain charges.
I am lucky enough to live within a few minutes drive of one of the best ranges in the country, with a total of one hundred and thirty firing points at 25, 50 and 100 metres and it was there that my new acquisition had its first outing.
I positioned myself at the extreme left hand end of the 25 metre firing points, well away from the gaze of the other shooters who all seemed to know exactly what they were doing, pinned up the largest target I could find and set about loading the Remington, a process I knew all about from watching others and reading (?)
The first thing I noticed was a total absence of things that frustrate left handed shooters like myself, such as safety catches, magazine releases and cylinder loading gates.
I decided to start with a 25 grain charge and found my dipper to be easy to use with my left hand as I was able to hold the gun vertically and rotate the cylinder with the other. However, when one chamber overflowed I realized there was too much shade on the firing point to see powder levels and I really should count as I charged!
Having tipped powder everywhere I recharged all six chambers correctly, placed the first ball on top of one and rotated it under the rammer. At least, that was what I intended to do; in fact, I rotated it too far and found that the cylinder is unidirectional on half cock. Luckily the ball was only resting in place so I tipped it out, together with the powder contents of all six chambers to add to the ever growing heap around my firing point I hadn't fired a shot and yet I'd probably used more powder than any other shooter on the range!!
With black powder and balls finally where they should be I plastered Cookeen into the ends of the chambers (The ubiquitous Crisco does not seem to be available in England) and fumbled with the shorter variety of cap (straight line capper on order) to complete the loading. I felt like taking a coffee break at this stage, but nothing was going to stop me firing after all that effort!
I pulled the hammer to full cock, took six o'clock aim on the target and squeezed the trigger. There was a satisfying "boom" and a cloud of smoke momentarily obscured the target before drifting towards the very people who's attention I was trying to avoid.
On regaining sight of the target I was delighted to see a hole about six inches above the aiming mark. My mind was in turmoil; should I summon all the other shooters and brag about hitting the target or try to produce a group with the other five shots? Common sense prevailed and a group of roughly three inches was shot which, to me at least, was very encouraging.
The rest of the session went very quickly and I soon developed an efficient loading routine and a way of dealing with a ball not fully rammed home. I also discovered that unfired short caps flew off under recoil with a 30 grain charge but that the long ones were O.K.
After packing away my gear I walked along the firing points and only then realized that quite a number of shooters were also wrestling with unfamiliar, new black powder guns and we were soon engaged in earnest discussion on lubricants, ball casting, etc.
In conclusion, I can only say that I am delighted with my new gun and look forward to learning all the new skills required to get the best from it and the single shot pistols I intend to ultimately purchase. Ex centrefire shooters who are giving up completely in the belief that black powder is second best are missing the chance of a lot of fun.
Hopefully, the increased interest in black powder in England will improve availability of guns and essential supplies and that as many people as possible will sample its pleasures before the inevitable attacks from the antis destroy yet another shooting sport.