Modern Flintlock Hunting Today
By Darrell “Hunting Man” Morse
Flintlock muzzle loading is alive and thriving across America. I started black powder hunting in the late 1970’s and continue to hunt in the mountains of Pennsylvania during their late flintlock hunting season. Flintlock hunting today is not a whole lot different than it was during the mid to late 1800’s. Rifles with slow twist rifling for patch round balls and black powder for propellant are virtually the same as in the past. Flints are the sparking device that sets off the pan charge of 4f powder which ignites the main charge of either 2f or 3f black powder. Flints come from three basic types: black /gray flints from England, yellow flint from France or sawed agate flint from various places including parts of the USA. Flints are simply composites of quartz and silica that when struck against steel give off sparks which are actually bits of the frizzen steel. Shooters need to try all three flint types in-order to see which one gives the best shower of sparks.
The traditional choice of propellant for flintlock shooters is black powder as recent modern black powder substitutes will not reliably ignite with a pan charge of 4f black powder. Most shooters will use 3f granulation for 50 caliber rifles and under, and 2f granulation for 54 calibers and up. Powder charges vary with each rifle and as in most shooting, need to be determined by prudent range time.
Patches, the cloth material that surrounds the ball and engages the rifling comes in various thicknesses and even in sheets of material called pillow ticking. Depending on the tightness of the barrel, patch thickness will vary but .010-.018 works for most barrels.
Round balls which are constructed of soft lead pressed into molds under heavy pressure guarantee each to be extremely consistent. 50 caliber rifles traditionally shoot either 490 or 495 balls and for 54 calibers rifles 590 or 595 balls.
In the old days, rifling was cut by hand one at a time using a hand reamer, nowadays modern machining does the cutting. Rifling twist rates for flint lock rifles is pretty standard. 1- 65”-70” will work for most patched round ball shooting. All the twist rate means is the number of inches of travel the ball makes for one revolution of the ball. Hence, it would take 70” of ball travel down a barrel to turn one time for a 1-70” barrel twist.. Slow rifling twist rates are necessary to stabilize a patched round ball. Some manufactures market rifles with a compromise twist rate of 1 in 48” which will effectively shoot a patched round ball or a modern conical bullet.
Modern rifles today seem to follow a Hawken style or the Pennsylvania long rifle. There are simply too many independent old rifle makers that are styled after today to list here but many craftsmen are engaged in patterning a specific rifle after a popular historical rifle maker. These custom rifles come with a hefty price tag, however, when one looks at the craftsmen’s ship and hours of work involved to create a piece of fine art the money is well spent and earned.
You have probably heard of the old adage of shooting a flintlock rifle goes something like this: whoosh……..bang, well there is a slight delay for the main charge however, these rifles are accurate with continued practice concentrating on what is called the follow though two to three inch groups at 50 yards or better are achievable. Follow through is simply the holding on target for additional seconds as the ignition takes place, it is much quicker than most people envision.
For me there’s nothing like meeting up with old friends loading up the flintlocks and hunting in the past traditional way of flint and black powder. Look up a local flint lock shooting club visit with them and maybe just maybe you’ll get hooked on the smell of sulfur smoke and a little history.