Howard Delo

Breakup is starting with the softening snowpack and general difficulty in getting around outdoors (at least for me). I’ve turned my attention to indoor projects and endeavors. Last week, I mentioned a blackpowder cartridge rifle I was planning to develop loads for and shoot a bunch this summer.

It turns out that is not the only blackpowder rifle I have plans for. I’ve mentioned this second rifle in previous columns but not in much detail. I thought I’d comment on this rifle here. The rifle is a muzzleloading firearm, unlike the cartridge gun I mentioned last week. Here’s the background on the muzzleloader.

Several years ago, a good friend I had met through the Hunter Education program called me up and invited me to dinner at his house. I accepted and showed up on the appointed day. I was looking forward to spending an evening with Mel and his wife. Mel is an avid hunter, using archery, muzzleloading, and modern equipment.

Mel told me the story of his bear hunt with his muzzleloading rifle. He enjoys hunting with blackpowder but never got into shooting matches or rendezvousing activities. He showed me his muzzleloader and we talked guns and hunting for quite some time. Mel finally asked me to accompany him to his garage.

He explained that a friend of his had moved Outside some years before and couldn’t take the 10 pounds of blackpowder and gun parts out with his belongings, so he gave them to Mel. Mel commented that I was the only person he knew who shot blackpowder on a fairly frequent basis and he asked if I was interested in the powder and parts. I said yes and asked how much he wanted for the stuff. He declined the money and gave all the items to me instead (cleaning out his garage he said!).

I’ve used up the powder. The gun parts consisted of an unfinished barrel and a half-stock in the Hawken pattern. I had those parts for a few years when I finally asked another friend if he would be willing to build a Hawken-style rifle using the barrel and stock. Pat has built several rifles before but for his own use – he doesn’t build guns for other people.

Pat hesitated but finally said yes. He gave me an estimate for the cost of the remaining parts, and I wrote him a check. Now, I began my wait. Pat already had most of the parts necessary to complete the rifle with one exception. He didn’t have the proper tang, which is used to hold the breech of the barrel in the stock. After doing some online searching, I found a tang we both thought would work, so I ordered it.

Pat fitted the tang and worked on completing the rifle. This gun isn’t your run-of-the-mill Hawken rifle. It looks authentic but the barrel is the odd part. It’s 34 inches long and 1 1/8 inches across the flats. This would ordinarily make for a heavy gun except for the bore – it’s a 69-caliber rifle! That big hole down the barrel removed a lot of the extra weight.

When Pat delivered the rifle, he had mounted an unfinished front sight on the barrel. That left material to sight the gun in for vertical adjustments. I filed the sight down quite a bit and shaped it. Then I started shooting the gun.

Initially, the rifle shot low and slightly left at 25 yards off a bench rest. It grouped well. I tapped the front sight over to adjust the windage and began filing the front sight down to raise the group. I’ve filed and adjusted during a couple of range sessions and I’m getting close to where I want the gun to shoot. I was filing on the sight some the other evening. Now I need to shoot it again to check the vertical adjustment. I suspect there will still be some need to lower the sight to raise the group, but I am getting close.

Once the sight is adjusted to 25 yards, I’ll need to check 50- and 100-yard groupings. I’ll also need to play with powder volumes to find a target load and a hunting load. I plan to use the rifle for moose hunting and, if things work out, possibly some black bear baiting hunts.

I’ve got several other muzzleloaders I need to work with, i.e., finding lighter loads or using different projectiles for both target and hunting trips. Come on Spring!

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