This article is a compilation of several previous articles. Copyright Keith H. Burgess.
I am often asked for information regarding guns, loads, making gunpowder etc. First let me say that I take no responsibility for any harm that may come to the reader or anyone else from reading this information. I can’t be there with you to help you, so I can’t be responsible for your actions. I must also say that I personally do not recommend you make your own gunpowder, you are better off purchasing the correct grade for your particular gun. IF you do use your home made gunpowder/black powder in a gun, I recommend you reduce the load to one third of the manufacturers recommended load for 3FG. I only include the manufacturing of black powder here for historical and survival purposes.
Recommended grades for calibres. Long Arms Only:
Up to .45 calibre 3FG Black Powder [NEVER use smokeless gunpowder in a muzzle-loading gun].
.50 calibre and musket calibres 2FG.
Always mix wet, NEVER dry. You can add urine if you wish. NEVER use iron or steel utensils when making gunpowder. Gunpowder is highly volatile & dangerous. Keep away from heat, fire and sparks. NO SMOKING!
75 parts potassium nitrate, 15 parts charcoal, 10 parts sulphur.
Smoothbore or Rifle?
Someone asked me recently which did I recommend, smoothbore or rifle. They also wanted to know about advantages & disadvantages & what calibres I would recommend, & what do I use & if I had a choice what would I purchase. The choice you make depends on several factors; what are you used to using, do you have a personal preference, what sort of country are you using this gun in, what game are you likely to encounter? So baring this in mind, I will do the best I can to answer the question, smoothbore or rifle?
I have used both, rifle & smoothbore. In the Territory I hunted Buffalo & wild boar with a .50 calibre rifle. Here in New England I use a .60 calibre/20 gauge flintlock fusil with a 42 inch barrel & hunt small game such as rabbit & larger game like goat & wild boar.
The smoothbore is more versatile than the rifle, in that it is easier to load, you do not have to wipe the barrel in between shots, you can use bird shot, swan shot (buckshot), or round ball, or any combination of two of these. You do not need to use a patched ball, in fact the smoothbore was not originally shot with patching. It uses wads or wadding which is easier to come by in a wilderness situation. If for some reason you were to run out of lead, then you can use other projectiles wrapped in leather or cloth to protect the bore. Disadvantages of the smoothbore are: not as accurate over long distances. Maximum accurate range is generally accepted as being 50-75 yards. I have never shot game at a distance greater than 30 yards with my fusil, & usually the distance is from point blank to 25 yards. But in target practice I have shot accurately out to at least 50 yards.
The author’s firelock English fusil in .62 cal/20 gauge with a 42 inch barrel.
The rifle is generally accepted as being accurate out to 100 yards, some claim accuracy out to 200 yards. Even with a rifle I have never shot game at these distances, I prefer to get in close. Just as the smoothbore comes in a variety of bore sizes, so does the rifle. A good middle of the road calibre in my opinion is a .45 fullstock. This calibre with good placement will take small game such as rabbits, & larger game such as goats & wild boar. For larger game such as buffalo I recommend a .50 or .54 calibre. I have a lovely little .32 calibre flintlock which will take small game like rabbits, or larger game like goats, but I would not take on large pigs with it at any distance. However, it is very economical using very little lead, & only requires about 14 grains of 3FG gunpowder.
Disadvantages of the rifle are: harder to load, you need to wipe the barrel on most rifles between shots or it is possible to get a ball stuck in the barrel, unless you are prepared to sacrifice some accuracy & reload with just a ball & no patch. You can’t use shot in a rifle without leading up the rifling, & you are limited to what you can use as a projectile should you run out of lead. Rifles have heavier barrels & tend to be heavier to carry than a fusil but probably no heavier than a large musket such as the Brown Bess.
Author’s .32 calibre Mountain Rifle with double triggers & an extended ramrod.
Survival Note: Someone suggested that in a modern day self defence/skirmish situation they would rather have a modern firearm than a flintlock gun. Given the choice I would tend to agree, but there are other considerations. (1) other aspects of the flintlock make it a more viable proposition as a survival firearm, (2) one must also consider all of a woodsrunner’s equipment & take it into account. And (3) no matter how fast a person can shoot, it all comes down to one shot in the end. If your first shot does not count, then there is a good chance that the rest of the magazine won’t do any better than the first if fired rapidly with no clear shot of the target. If I were using a modern gun against a muzzle-loading gun in a skirmish, I would not consider myself any safer just because I had a modern gun.
On Powder & Lead.
What are the heaviest items that we carry on a trek? I would think it was water, lead, & food. Food we can cut back on. I don’t mean that we should all start just carrying flour, bread or corn & hunt for our meat, but we can cut our provisions back to just two items, perhaps bread & hard cheese, or bread & meat. That should be fairly light & last us for a weekend or more.
Water we can’t do anything about, unless you know that you have good water where you are going. I carry water anyway, & either boil any water I find, or I collect rainwater in my kettle.
Lead can be reduced in weight because we can retrieve spent lead from shot game & remould it. By reducing the amount of lead we carry we can carry more gunpowder.
My fusil takes 60 grains of gunpowder. 60 grains = 1 Dram.
1LB of gunpowder = 256 Drams. So that is 256 shots from just one pound of gunpowder. My powder horn holds roughly one pound, & my gunpowder bag roughly two pounds. So if I only took my horn & gunpowder bag, I would still have 768 shots to hunt with. That is a lot of meat when hunting large game, & most of the meat would come from a trap line. So barring any skirmishing, I could take one shot per day for 2 years, or one shot per week for 14 years from just 3 pounds of gunpowder!
More On Wads. Wads and Wadding.
For wadding in the 18th century as you may have read in my earlier post dried grass and tow was often used, but bear in mind that this material can easily catch fire! Therefore I recommend that unless the area is safe from fires spreading; or the weather or ground is wet, that you use wool felt or leather wads.
If making your own powder horn, only seal the base plug with beeswax, NEVER use glue. The base plug is a safety valve in case the gunpowder should take fire. For the same reason only secure this base plug with small pins, tooth picks are fine, or 1/16” brass braising rod. 4 pins should be enough.
Gunpowder Wallet or bag for carrying extra gunpowder.
Unfortunately I neglected to show how to use the vent pick and the vent quill in this video. Not necassarily a required action, but a recommended one. The vent pick is used after loading to make sure the vent is clear of gunpowder. Gunpowder in the vent can slow ignition. Vent quills are used to block the vent when loading so the vent remains clear, the quill is also used to mark a loaded gun. If you see a gun with a quill in the vent, it means it is loaded but not primed. My apologies for not including this in the video.