Muzzleloading guns for survival

topic posted Mon, December 29, 2008 - 1:21 PM by  Unsubscribed
As an avid muzzleloader I tend to romanticize the firearms I use, but I also look at them as practical weapons for reducing prey to possession. While none of them would be very useful in a firefight, they are game getters. I haven't seen this discussed here before, but it may be worth exploring. In a pinch, I have made do with rhyolite for a flint and I have made my own blackpowder. While it wasn't as good as Goex, it did ignite and gave acceptable accuracy at 50 yards. The only thing left is casting bullets, which isn't all that complicated.

I'd like to hear what the rest of you think about the muzzleloader as a hunting firearm, conserving the modern ammo for defensive situations (particularly the younger guys; most of the guys I shoot with are retired).
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  • You are spot on James. I have long said that BP weapons are the true EOW weapon. When you run out of ammo, primers, and smokeless powder, you can still get by with homemade BP. The real question is flintlock or percussion. I think the percussion caps would be a bit difficult to make but doable. However, flintlock or matchlock would be better EOW alternatives.

    I am a big fan of home made bows. The trouble with them is that a good one takes a few days of drying and fabricating--not something you can assemble today. But then again, manufacturing BP in the middle of a busy day of food-gathering and starving is time-consuming as well.

    My 58 double rifle will kill anything on this or out of a zoo.
    • Unsu...
      By Golly, If you can make your own gun powder, I'd say you have it covered. I know the recipe but have never actually tried it. I figure I'll have time to practice before I run out of the cheap white box remington stuff.

      I have a percussion buster but I have a flint lock on my list of thing's to get. Thousand brought up once using lead from the weight's you balance tires with to cast ball ammo.
      • black powder is the way to go. if i cant get any modern ammo anymore, all hunting will be done with black powder/ bows and just because I got them real cheap I got some of those cva bobcats, not a bad shooting gun, it will kill a deer, my bp guns are 2 t/c hawkens. one in .50 one in .45. a .56 smoothbore hawken which is also a t/c . a replica arms jaeger in .44, a navy arms country boy in .50 a 1858 new army in .44, and a pr of 1851 navys in .44
        • James; tell us how you make BP? Do you buy the chemicals or dig 'em up? Do you mix a wet solution or dry? I've only ever read historical data on the process.
          • Unsu...
            I made my first when I was a little kid, about 10 or 11. That batch only fizzled. It was some years later when I was in college that I gave it another shot, lol. It still only fizzled. But at the same time I got the Foxfire book for christmas. I liked it so much that I bought the other 4. I believe it was in Foxfire 5 that I got the key to making it; I'll check tonite and let you know which one.

            Anyway, the ingredients and proportions are fairly simple, 75% saltpeter (KNO3), 15 % charcoal, 10 % sulfur. Here's the key: grind each component separately as fine as you can- somewhere about as fine as cement (-325 mesh), then combine together in a non sparking bowl using a wooden pestle with urine as a wetting agent. Give the mixture time to absorb the moisture and keep mixing until you have something between biscuit dough and pancake batter in consistency. Sorry I can't tell you any better than that, but you want to be able to roll it out like a dough, but very thin, on a board as if you were cutting out cookies. Don't use your wife's good rolling pin for this! Then let it dry for several days. After you think its dry let it dry 2 more days. Then using the rolling pin and the board it dried on, roll over the mixture with the rolling pin to crush it to the desired fineness. USE ONLY WOODEN EQUIPMENT AT THIS STAGE!!! I can't repeat this enough. This is a mechanical mixture, not a chemical compound and can explode if it gets a spark or enough heat. Go slowly!! it is very hard to replace trigger fingers, not to mention explaining what happened when your at the ER.

            At this point you can size it if you wish. I use a number 50 brass sieve, which yields my priming powder and the coarser I use for shooting. This is on a small scale the way it was done back on the Missouri frontier in the early 1800's. We have gotten used to the idea that BP comes in sizes nowadays, but that wasn't always the case.

            Now, as to ingredients, you can buy flowers of sulfur from your pharmacist. A little (10 lbs) is enough to make 100 lbs of BP. You can also get KNO3 from your pharmacy, but they will look at you funny if you ask for 75 lbs (enough to make 100lbs of BP). It may be available online, I've never checked it out. A more practical way, particularly for survivalists, is to piss on the same patch of dirt for a while, or if your like Brent and me, let your horse do it for you. Then, leach the soil with water to remove the small saltpeter crystals. Take the leachate and and drain it onto straw to evaporate, the saltpeter will crystallize on the straw making for easy removal. This process I also discovered in Foxfire 5, which gives details of the process as it was around the time of the War of Northern Aggression.

            Charcoal is also easily made or can be purchased. If you buy, do not buy briquets- they are low grade and held together with a clay binder. Buy the lump "gourmet" charcoal. I've never used the mesquite lumps for BP but they look like they would work. Remember, Great Granpappy used what was available, not what was ideal. To make charcoal I like to use willow. I think the soft deciduous woods are better in BP. Don't use pines or any of its cousins, they are too resiny. Get a 55 gal steel drum with lid, fill it with your chosen wood and place the lid on. Open the bung and place the drum on a fire. Keep the bung open and smoke will begin to come out. Keep it open until the smoke ceases then cap the bung immediately. remove the drum from the fire and let it cool. When you open the drum you will have charcoal the is usable for BP. This is a grander scale of making char cloth for all you flint and steel firemakers out there.

            Finally, I need to address the use of wheel weights for casting projectiles. Don't use them for round balls. The Antimony or Tin in them is hard to get evenly distributed in the casting process and your balls will not have uniform weights, thereby affecting your accuracy, particularly at longer ranges. So, always use pure lead- available from Midway and the like, usually in 1 lb ingots at $2.25 or so a lb. I know some folks cast bullets for modern guns using various linotype mixtures, but not having done that I can't speak to it.

            Damn, this has been an ordeal typing this. I'm like this one secretary I used to know; she wasn't a touch typist, just a huntin pecker.
            Drop me a line if I can be of further assistance. As I understand this outfit we can do this outside of the forum and not take up space in the thread.
            • Unsu...
              Amazing! Copy, Paste, Print, and Save. Thanks!

     that I have all that .....I will continue practicing my long bow shooting....I know when I let go of the will fire!

              Not sure on the reliability of this method?
              • Unsu...
                While James did a great job of explaining it, I don't think he'd be offended if I offer a second recommendation to the foxfire series. It's the closest thing most people can ever get to actually being there, with a real mountain man as he explains the nuts and bolts of viable, real-life living out there. Even the nuances of accent and dialogue are transcribed. What an amazing series.

                I do have number five, in which an old geezer from the apalachians explains how to make blackpowder from scratch, in the wandering broken-grammar and simple, matter-of-fact realism that only an old geezer from the apalachians could do.
                • Unsu...
                  As an old geezer, I can say that I appreciate your comments. I started the thread to get input. An that is what I've gotten. I appreciate each of your responses. May the peace the Lord be always with you.
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.
                    If I were to get a muzzle loading pistol, I'd have to go with a howdah. Tell me there's a more badass BP pistol than a Howdah. I dare you.
                    • Unsu...
                      The 1805 Harper's Ferry flintlock pistol I got for Christmas. .58 caliber, 10 inch barrel, flintlock and it matches my 1803 Harper's Ferry Rifle. But I'll give you this the Howdah is nice. According to my Dixie GW catalog it is available in .50 x .50, 20 Gauge x .50, or 20 gauge x 20 gauge for a mere $675 + shipping. Somehow I've got to get my wife believing that BP guns mate in the cabinet and the Howdah was the offspring. Otherwise I'll have to wait a year to acquire that one.
  • The current issue of The Backwoodsman magazine has an article about how a flintlock is the best bugout weapon to have, because you can make your own powder and find your own flint.
    • Unsu...
      it's true. Once you learn how to make powder, you've got a gun until it breaks, which will hopefully be never.

      I might add a thought, homemade powder is of inconsistent quality, I don't think anyone would argue that some of your homebrew batches might not have the 'kick' you're looking for, but they might be all you can get at the time. So, if you're going to get a BP gun soon, consider the larger calibers to make up in momentum, what you might lack in muzzle velocity.

      The Howdah is a 12-gauge double-barrel, with pistol grip and 8-10 inch barrels. It is exempt from the minimum barrel length rules because it is black-powder and so is not considered a 'firearm' in modern legislation. BATF-exempt. Fill it with buck-and-ball, and go kill a man-eating tiger.

      Buck-and-ball.... the original all-american homeland defense.
      • While your first few batches of powder would likely suck, once you get the process down, and you gain consistency, your loads should improve. Reloading is all about consistency.

        So you mix the chemicals with urine. Are there any other wet medias that you can use besides urine?
        • Unsu...
          the guy in foxfire was pretty staunch about urine being the best mixing medium. not sure why, but he seemed to sound like he'd done enough experimenting to know what's what.
          • Unsu...
            I've read of people using water on the premise that it will dissolve the saltpeter during mixing and thus be absorbed into the charcoal. I like urine since it is mostly water anyway ( and one of our sources of saltpeter) and in a survival situation potable water is going to be at a premium. Also urine is essentially sterile when it leaves the body. So grab some beer and get to mixing, or whatever beverage suits your fancy.

            Adam, your right about getting more proficient as time goes on. If I was a better typist I would have gone into more detail. However, you and Thousand seem pretty capable of reading between the lines to get the bigger picture. One way to become proficient in the making of BP is to do what in my industry are called trial batches. Try making one pound at a time. The ingredients are easier to obtain in small quantities, you can experiment with your grinding to see what works best, mixing will be more easily accomplished and it is somewhat safer. Be sure to take adequate noted on procedures and variations during each batch, so that when you test each batch and compare performance you will bve able to duplicate the best performing batch.

            As an aside, the entire Foxfire series contains many marvelous survival tips. Back then Grandpa and Grandma just considered it part of living. See how far our society has degenerated and become a bunch of mewling babies wanting to be taken care of, all in less than 60 years.
            • Unsu...
              I guess what i was suggesting by going with bigger caliber and inconsistent powder potency, is that in a low-tech, survival scenario, there are many variables which you cannot control. Without power and air-conditioning, differences in ambient temperature and humidity are going to affect drying times, crystal size and quantity (saltpeter) and homogenity of mixtures. And that says nothing about the donkey whose piss you're using, if he gets into the turnip patch and makes different pee, or dies and you have to re-learn the right proportions for goat piss. I'm just saying. It's much harder to control consistency if you were truly caught in the low-tech mountain man existence that would make homebrew BP a necessity, than in today's world of thermometers and pH scales and regulated climates and fine measuring equipment. I think Adam gets it anyway, as he shoots... what was it 58 cal?.... yea, he knows a big, slow ball is better than a small, marginally faster slow ball. BP calibers didn't start shrinking to the .40's and .36's until well into the caplock era, with factory-produced good-quality BP, right around the brass cartridge era and just before smokeless. In the 'homebrew' and mountain man days, most everyone had a big-bore.

              Pig crap is also loaded with saltpeter, which can be leached with water (or urine) strained through straw, and the leachwater spread in a shallow pan to dry. I hear guano is the best to use. Bat-caves were considered a saltpeter mine in some places.
              • It is true that you will have variations from load to load depending on the source of your ingredients, but when you manufacture a pound at a time (or more) you can sight your rifle to the new powder. It takes a while to shoot a pound of BP.

                I gotta try this sometime. James, what is the possession limit on BP? Isn;t it something like 21 pounds?
      • Where does one procure a howduh, 1000?
        • Unsu...
          I dunno. probably india, a hundred years ago.
          • Unsu...
            • Now THAT is my kind of firearm.
              • Unsu...
                The Howdah was (is) the boxlike contraption that people ride in on the backs of elephants in India, a popular place for the British sports when hunting tigers. That is where the pistol gets its name. They are made by Davide Pedersolli. As an owner of several Pedersolli products, I can tell you they are well built and durable. I tend to buy through Dixie Gun Works and that was their price that I quoted. They also make a nifty holster just for that double gun.

                Incidentally, when we shoot we often have a post shoot. This is a 4x 4 post set vertically at 50 yds with a 1 ft section marked off. Shooters draw numbers for order of firing, then shoot one round at the post per rotation. The shot must hit in the 1 ft area or the shooter is disqualified. You shoot through the rotation, and then start over in the same order. The shooter that breaks the 4x4 wins.Usually a pound of Goex. Each shooter enters for 1 or 2 bucks for the cost of the prize. Ol' Pilgrim used to show up with his Brown Bess in .75 cal so we made him put in double since he usually won, but you should have seen the wood fly when that .75 ball hit.
                • Unsu...
                  I dunno why, but bp long-guns really feel natural to me. Back in the boyscout days I was always elected as the troop marksman for competitions, as I was a dead-shot with the musket. Maybe because I learned first on BP, no smokeless experience prior, I didn't have some of the habits the other shooters had developed from sharp recoil or the benefit of near-instant lock-time.
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.
                    Are reproduction ML's as reliable as the originals? ...Is my question (spec. Hawkins or plains rifles which is what I'd get) Granted I could probably fix a lock on the bench but I'd prefer not to try.
                    • Unsu...
                      reproductions are generally better quality... or I should say, more consistent quality.

                      An original today is going to be harder than a coffin nail, because if it had any weaknesses in it at all, it would have broken sometime in the past two hundred years. So remember to compare apples to apples. With originals, or whichever ones are left, you're looking at the cream of the cream. The flawless, EOTW-durable individuals..... for every one left, a thousand have failed.

                      So taken as a whole, yes. new replica rifles are a million times more reliable than the 'average' of the ones made in the good old days. The bores are truer and more consistent, the metal is more precisely tempered and the quality of stock metal is more uniform. That being said, don't buy something that is consistently and reliably a cheap piece of crap from china. Buy American, or better yet make your own from american kit parts, which is pretty much my only option, as I am lefthanded and the hammer of a flintlock is a huge affair that blocks your vision and practically touches your face if you try holding a righthanded long-gun as a lefthanded shooter. LH BP longuns are too small of a niche to be worth anyone's while but a custom maker, which is out of my price range.