I want to touch on a little different subject than concealed carry with this article.
I don’t see a lot of traditional muzzle loaders anymore since they started manufacturing the in lines that use #209 shotgun primers and use pre measured pellets so you don’t have to perform any measuring. I have owned a few, I still do. But my favorite way to hunt black powder season is to use the CVA Hawken that I have had since I was a kid and my father taught me with. Using standard patch and .50 round ball.
There are plenty of great sidelocks still out there made by Thompson Center, Lyman, and CVA to name a few. Don’t be scared of CVA sidelocks because or what you read or hear on the internet. They had one recall on one line of inlines back in the 90’s and the internet rumor mill has spun it to affect an entire line. My CVA Hawken Sidelock has been accurate and safe since I acquired it back in the 80’s.
Besides getting yourself a black powder traditional sidelock in a multitude of sizes such as .50, .54, or .58, you will need a few other items to begin having fun shooting one of these great rifles. Below I will take you through the loading, firing, and maintenance process of the traditional sidelock. Please note there are many oils, greases, methods to doing things. Everyone has their own way. These are mine and what works for me.
To begin, your rifle should have been cleaned and oiled…. you can read about that below….. I will begin from that cleaned and oiled rifle.
I have two rods. one setup with a patch holder to swab the barrel and one plastic one to seat the ball. I do not use the wooden one that is on the rifle due to the fact that it can break and shatter into my hand when seating a ball. I have seen this happen and it is not pretty. I recommend at a minimum you obtain a polymer/plastic rod with a handle to seat the bullet.
That being said let’s begin the loading and shooting process:
Step One – Preparing The Rifle To Shoot
I have already pre-marked my ramrod for loaded and unloaded. So I can simply place the rod in the barrel and see where it sits on what mark to determine if the rifle is loaded or not.
Please ensure you point the rifle in a safe direction when performing the below procedures and you have VERIFIED the rifle is unloaded.
The first thing I do before shooting is I put the hammer at half cock then I put a patch on the end of a jag or patch eye and run it into the barrel to clean out all of the oil that is in there. I run it to the bottom spin it around move it up and down as I pull it out.
Next, I cock the rifle fire off two or three percussion caps to clean the oil out of the bolster and nipple.
Then back to half cock and I run one more patch through the barrel.
Please see above and ensure the rifle is unloaded before doing this.
Some people go as far as putting a patch in the barrel when they fire the caps off to look at the burn marks on the patch.
Step Two – The Powder Charge
The CVA Sidelock Manual states that 50gr of FFFG is minimum and 100gr is maximum for my .50 round ball. I like to use 66gr for target practice and 90gr for hunting. Your loads may vary, start at 50 and work your way up until you find what you shoot best. I suggest you google black powder volume vs weight to get a good idea of the measurements.
I measure 66 grains of fffg Hodgon Pyrodex p which I what I have used from the beginning. It is a black powder alternative. There are many fine powders such as Goex and Swiss. I like Pyrodex. I like it’s consistency. Some people swear by real black powder. You need to find what works for you.
Always use a powder measure to put the powder into the barrel. I have a powder flask that I hold my powder in then pour it from there into my measure. Then into the barrel. Some people like to use powder horns, There are many different measures. I have a see through and a metal one. I like to use the metal one.
I check to make sure the rifle is at half cock and I set my load on the measure and pour the powder from the flask into the measure then pour the powder in the barrel from the measure.
Step Three – The Ball and Patch
Once that is done, keeping the barrel upright, I take a lubricated patch and ball and place it into the barrel. People use so many different lubes and patch combinations you really need to research and find what works for you. What works for me is CVA .15 patches and either bore butter or CVA patch lube. I have so much of it from back in the day, it is what I use. I pre lube my patches and put them in old percussion cap cases to hold them so I dont have to get my hands dirty when I am out shooting. For my rifle CVA calls for a a .15 patch and a .490 ball.
With my bullet starter and the palm of my hand I push the ball and patch down the barrel about 6″
After that I use my plastic ramrod with handle to seat the ball firmly on the powder making sure it is pushing down on the powder and compressing it. I have a mark on the rod to ensure I am at that point.
Step Four – The Percussion Cap
Then with the rifle at half cock I place a percussion cap on the nipple and cock the hammer with the rifle facing downrange. CVA calls for #11 caps for my rifle.
Step Five – Firing
Now you are ready to fire. Please note that if you get a cap that does not ignite the powder please keep the rifle pointed downrange and in a safe direction. I usually just put another cap on and fire again. The more you shoot it the dirtier it gets and the more you can get a misfire.
My rifle has two triggers. The back trigger sets the front trigger to be a hair trigger that requires less than 1 pound of pull to fire.
I can use the full pull of the front trigger as well by not setting the back trigger.
I line up my sights, pull the back trigger, breathe… make sure the sights are still lined up then pull the front trigger.
The rifle is still very accurate after 30+ years of use.
Step Six – In Between Shots
I usually wait a few minutes between each firing. I also blow into the barrel to clear the smoke and put out any ignition sources that may be still hot in the barrel. Some people don’t like that, but that’s how I was taught.
Don’t put powder in right away, if there is an ember in the barrel that ignites it you can get hurt. I usually wait two to three minutes after the shot. Then I blow in the barrel, and then I use a standard arsenal patch, I spit on both sides, and I run it into the barrel to the end, twist it around, move it up and down as I pull it out. I swap sides and do it one more time. Then I give a few more minutes and I begin the powder step again.
Final Step – Cleaning
Cleaning is simple. Do not store an unclean firearm or wait too long. Black powder is corrosive.
I remove the wedge that holds the barrel in place then remove the barrel from the stock.
I remove the nipple and bolster screw using the nipple tool and a screwdriver
I clean the nipple with a brass brush and a pipe cleaner
I put the barrel in a bucket of hot soapy water bolster down
I put a patch on a jag and run it up and down the barrel flushing it out
I run a brush down the barrel and clean out all the caked on grit.
I then run a few more patches down the barrel until it is clean. All while it is in the bucket.
Then I pour scalding hot water down the barrel and outside of the barrel and then store it in a corner until it is dry, barrel exit down.
After that I put ballistol on a patch and run it down the barrel then coat the outside of the barrel with ballistol.
I put ii all back together and I am done.
If you do not own one of these, I strongly suggest you consider it. It isn’t fast, it isn’t high tech, but my hunting loads have been measured at approximately: 1,349 fps/736 ft lbs. at 50 yards and 1,051 fps./449 ft lbs. at 100 yards
The suggestion is at least 500 ft lbs @ 100 yards for deer so I can use a round ball safely in the 50-75 yard range for deer and out to 100 yards for hogs.
I can also up this by using conicals and saboted rounds in this rifle to get more energy. But deer and pig hunting from 50-75 yards is great with the round ball. Which is what I prefer.
If you don’t own a traditional sidelock, you really are missing out on a fun, historical aspect of firearms…. and I haven’t even gotten to my flintlock yet.