(AK) Powder, patch, ball -- a booming sport


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Drizzt
July 17, 2003, 10:05 PM
Powder, patch, ball -- a booming sport
BLACK POWDER: Muzzle-loaders do more than aim and pull a trigger.


By RON WILMOT
Anchorage Daily News

(Published: July 17, 2003)

BIRCHWOOD -- Like Daniel Boone or soldiers from the Revolutionary War, Pat Reed began a time-consuming process Saturday that for hundreds of years was the only way to shoot a gun.

With his .50-caliber musket resting against a bench, Reed measured out a quantity of black powder with a brass device and poured it down the barrel of the rifle. Next he placed a strip of cloth over the barrel and laid a lead ball on top of it. He trimmed the excess cloth with a caribou-handled straight razor. To complete the process, he packed the load down the barrel with a long ram rod. Finally, he placed a cap that, once struck by the hammer, would send a jolt of fire into the barrel to ignite the powder.

Reed, 61, of Wasilla, rested the six-sided-barrel on a pad as he sat on a bench to take aim. His yellow shooting glasses were held together with Scotch tape. A boom and puff of white smoke exploded from the barrel of the musket. It sounded as if a cannon had gone off.

In essence, it did. The technology behind black-powder rifles is simple -- a spark ignites powder that propels a lead ball. But enthusiasts of black-powder, or muzzle-loading, rifles are attracted by their link to history. It is not the nostalgia of wearing buckskin pants or coonskin caps that attracts the enthusiasts; it is the process of loading -- powder, patch, ball. It is as if they craft each shot.

"It takes a lot of skill to make the old guns work properly," said enthusiast Keith Bayha of Eagle River. "You have to build each load every time like Daniel Boone did.

"And there's nothing like shooting a 10x," he added. "It's a good feeling. It feels good when you get it right."

Reed is a master of that simple technology. For the past nine years he has traveled to Phoenix to compete in the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's western national meet, one of three national meets held each year. Last February, Reed brought home 16 of Team Alaska's 25 medals. In the 100-yard musket competition, his match score briefly broke a national record. Another shooter then broke Reed's record, and the Alaskan finished second.

The soft-spoken Reed, who has won several titles over the years, doesn't care to brag about his accomplishments, but fellow members of the McKinley Mountain Man Muzzle Loading Rifle Club do.

"He's the best shooter in black powder around here," said Martin Killough of Palmer. "He's steady, and he's got lots of natural ability."

Bayha said what sets Reed apart is not only his shooting ability but his attention to detail. Reed cleans his gun between each shot, stuffing a square of cloth down the barrel with the ram rod and pulling it back up. He carefully measures out the powder and uses several devices to hammer down the ball in the correct position before stuffing the load with the ram rod. To take into account wind -- which can alter a shot up to a foot -- Reed built and placed wind flags at various points along the range.

Little mistakes and minute variations in the loading process mean missed shots. Reed likes to control all variables.

"He's by far the best shot we've got," Bayha said. "He's a perfectionist, he's a serious shooter, he's been doing it for a long time and he's got good equipment."

And like many black-powder enthusiasts today, Reed adds modern touches. Instead of lubricating the patch with spit, as done in the past, Reed uses windshield washer fluid. Bayha said that's part of the tinkering process each shooter goes through during loading.

Reed shoots all types of muskets, including the classic flintlock, where flint strikes steel to create sparks and ignite the powder. But on Saturday, Reed used a sealed ignition, which is safer and more accurate, he said.

Reed first became interested in black-powder rifles from a friend whose uncle owned a ranch in Wyoming. One of the ranch hands shot the rifles. Reed, who grew up in Colorado, was intrigued.

In 1980 he competed in a national competition in Friendship, Ind., sponsored by the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. It was, and still is, considered the national championship of black-powder shooting. Reed said he didn't do so well and hasn't been back since. This fall, however, he plans to go back.

A carpenter by trade, Reed eventually built some of his own muskets. Many of the shooters Saturday at the range in Birchwood build their own guns. It is part of the love that goes into each shot.

"Some people go nuts about baseball and hitting a home run," Bayha said. "We go nuts about hitting dead center."


http://www.adn.com/sports/story/3474458p-3505628c.html

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Abenaki
July 17, 2003, 10:22 PM
That was a good article until I got to........

"Reed shoots all types of muskets, including the classic flintlock, where flint strikes steel to create sparks and ignite the powder. But on Saturday, Reed used a sealed ignition, which is safer and more accurate, he said."

Flintlocks are just as accurate and safe as a percussion.
Been shooting flintlocks for over 25 years.
Now I shoot a trade gun(flintlock and smooth bored) and love it.

Abenaki

4v50 Gary
July 18, 2003, 11:59 AM
Dunno about the more accurate part either. It's in the barrel, patch & ball. Regarding safer, probably so if you know what's it like to have the hammer fall against your finger. :)

Blackpowder round ball guns are much more difficult to shoot than the modern centerfire. Sometimes when I get frustrated, I take out a minie ball gun. Death up to 500 yards. Love to try it on a bear someday.

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