Do-it-yourself History’s First Shotgun
LOADING AND SHOOTING A FLINTLOCK FOWLER
Loading and shooting a flintlock fowler
THE LONG-BARRELED, SMOOTH-BORED—NO rifling grooves in the barrel— flintlock gun played a major role in early American firearms. Extremely versatile, the gun could fire a single round lead ball with decent accuracy, or be loaded with loose lead pellets and used as a shotgun. In this article, we’ll discuss the latter.
The Early Shotgun
When used as a shotgun, it allowed pioneer hunters to cleanly take fast-moving small game, even knocking flying game birds out of the air, earning it the name “fowler.” The long-barreled fowler eventually evolved into today’s short-barreled shotguns. Early fowlers were usually .62 caliber, which is equivalent to a 20-gauge shotgun. Later, other gauges became available. The double-barreled fowler, or shotgun, was developed for a quick second shot before it was necessary to reload.
Loading the Fowler
The load used in a muzzleloading shotgun is very similar to a modern shotgun load, except that the components are loaded directly down the barrel of a muzzleloader instead of into a modern shot shell casing. Most loadings available in modern shot shells can be duplicated by a muzzleloading shotgun. In a muzzleloader, every shot is basically a custom load. This allows the flexibility to tailor each load for a specific purpose.
Various combinations of powder charge, shot size and wad spacing allow loading the gun to match the game. A smoothbore can be loaded “down” for trap shooting or loaded “up” for turkey hunting. Some pioneers preferred a smoothbore fowler over a rifle because of this versatility. Many meals were provided for pioneer families, thanks to the flintlock fowler that hung over the fireplace mantel.
Muzzleloading shotguns are usually loaded with what’s called a square load. This means that the same measure is used for both the black powder and shot. Using the same volume of powder and shot works well for all of the various shotgun loads and greatly simplifies the loading process.
Although fowlers are historic, quaint and romantic, they’re not toys. Always remember to put safety first! They require the same respect and careful handling as all firearms. Black powder is explosive; handle it with care. Never exceed the maximum load recommended for your gun. Before loading, make sure that the barrel is clean and dry, and that the flash hole of the lock is open and clean. Start with the frizzen open and the hammer fully down.
5-Step Loading Procedure
Loading a muzzleloading shotgun isn’t complicated, but the components must be loaded in the proper sequence. The following steps will guide you through the procedure.
STEP 1: Load powder. Be sure to use the proper granulation of black powder. This is usually fg (2fg) for shotguns. Pour a proper charge of black powder from the powder horn or container into a measure. Close the horn or container. Pour the measured powder charge down the barrel. Never load the gun directly from the horn or container.
STEP 2. Load wads. Place a tight-fitting, correct gauge over-powder wad (about 1/8-inch-thick, dense cardboard) into the muzzle and push it about 1 inch down the barrel. This wad forms a tight gas seal in the bore. Then, place a fiber cushion wad (about ½-inch thick) into the muzzle. This wad is often lubricated with oil or grease to help clear fouling from the barrel. Use the ramrod to push both wads down the barrel at once and seat them firmly against the powder charge.
STEP 3: Load shot. Use the same measure that was used for the powder charge to measure out the lead shot. This is the volume for volume or square load that is standard in smoothbore muzzleloading. Pour the loose shot down the bore. STEP 4: Load card. Seat a thin, stiff overshot card (about 1/16-inch-thick cardboard) firmly down on top of the shot. This card will finish the load and keep the loose shot in place as the shotgun is carried while hunting or shooting. It may be necessary to punch a pin hole in this wad to keep trapped air from pushing it back up as it is rammed down.
STEP 5: Prime pan. Lastly, with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, bring the hammer to the half-cocked position, and place a small amount of fine fg (4fg) black powder in the pan of the lock and close the frizzen down on the pan. The shotgun is now ready to cock and shoot.
Experienced shooters will mark the ramrod at the muzzle for a visible check that the load is seated to the correct depth every time. This mark can also be used for a quick check to indicate if a barrel is loaded or empty. Finding the Best Load and Pattern
Each muzzleloading shotgun seems to be an individual. Part of the fun of shooting them is learning the proper load that delivers the best shot pattern. To work up a load, begin with a square load of the proper size and amount of shot you would like to shoot.
An example might be, 1 ounce of #6 shot for rabbit hunting. Shoot a pattern on a large piece of cardboard or paper to see how your gun patterns that load at the distance you expect to shoot. If the shot pattern is satisfactory, you’re done.
If you want to try to improve the pattern, experiment with the various components to develop a better load. If your pattern shows a hole in the center, try leaving out the fiber cushion wad. Sometimes using slightly less powder will tighten the pattern. Each component of the load will affect the pattern. Make only one change at a time until you find the best load for your gun.
Several gun makers are now producing modern replicas of long-barreled flintlock fowlers, which look and shoot just as they did centuries ago. These are efficient and enjoyable shotguns and, with the proper load, will rival the shooting results of even modern shotguns.
Hunting with a historic blackpowder gun adds challenge to the hunt, and there is nothing like the thrill of successfully taking game the way our forefathers did. The roaring “boom” and rolling cloud of thick, white smoke from a fully loaded flintlock fowler is unmistakable.
“Many meals were provided for pioneer families, thanks to the flintlock fowler that hung over the fireplace mantel.”
Quidort enjoys the thrill of taking game the way our forefathers did. The author’s flintlock fowler is virtually the same as those used by pioneers centuries ago.