Do-it-your­self His­tory’s First Shot­gun


Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Dar­ryl Quidort

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.

Safety First

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.

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