Loading and Firing a Flintlock
Firing a flintlock rifle is something that every hunter or shooting sport enthusiast should experience. It will give you an appreciation for the advancement of modern firearms. For the several seconds it takes to load and fire you will be personally connected with a piece of American History. Imagine the battles that were fought, the food that was provided to the frontier families by hunters. Imagine the craftsman that built these rifles by hand. In addition to that, if done frequently, it will improve your marksmanship. The delay between the priming charge ignition and ignition of the main charge, necessitates “follow through”, or holding on target until after the trigger is squeezed and shot has been fired.
The first step in loading the rifle is to pour loose black powder down the barrel. This should be genuine black powder, FFg or FFFg, not a substitute. The replica powder usually has a slower ignition time which is not desirable in any muzzleloader, but especially a flintlock. The powder should be poured into a powder measure first then into the barrel. This is for two reasons. First an accurate measure of the powder volume is needed to ensure consistent shot accuracy and eliminate the possibility of over charging. Secondly, if powder is poured into the main barrel from the source, such as a powder horn, there exists the possibility of an explosion that could result in severe injury if the powder that is poured into the barrel should ignite from an ember that remains from the previous shot. A powder measure is simply a cylinder of known volume, closed at one end. The typical volume can vary from 40 to 120 grains, depending on the caliber of the rifle. I use 80 grains of FFFg in my .50 caliber flintlock pictured here.
Next a patched round lead ball must be “rammed” down the barrel and seated firmly on top of the powder charge. The round ball should have a diameter slightly small than the diameter of the bore. For my .50 caliber rifle I use .495 inch diameter round balls. The rifling in the barrel is essentially grooves cut on the inside of the barrel in a spiral pattern. These cause the projectile to spin as it travels down the barrel which stabilizes it and greatly improves accuracy. Typical twist for rifling used to fire round balls is 1 complete twist in 66 inches. The patch is usually cotton fabric. I use pillow ticking which is available and most fabric stores. The patch should be lubricated. A variety of commercial products are available but a 50/50 combination of Crisco and melted beeswax works well. Even saliva can work in a pinch. I usually pre-lube a batch of patches. The patch should almost cover the entire round ball when in the barrel. Some people like to carry a strip of patching fabric about an inch wide. A dab of lube is worked into the end of the patch strip with your fingers then set on top of the muzzle. A ball is then placed on top of the patch and rammed about ¼ inch down the barrel with a ball starter. The rest of the patch strip is then cut off with a patch knife.
The patch ball should be rammed down the barrel with one continuous, firm motion of the ram rod until it is seated on top of the powder charged. The in and out motion of the ramrod you see in movies is not necessary and will only lead to broken rod. Usually the ramrod has a mark to help indicate that the ball is seated against the powder.
Next the hammer is cocked to half cock and finely granulated (FFFFg) priming powder is poured into the pan. About ¾ of the pan should be filled, then the Frizzen is closed on the pan. The Frizzen is the hardened steel surface that the flint strikes and creates sparks which ignites the priming charge in the pan which in turn ignites the main charge in the barrel with a flame that travels through a small hole in the barrel in line with the pan. The hammer is then pulled to full cock, the rifle is aimed and fired.
- Building a Flintlock: The Basics
My recollections of building a Tennesse Flintlock Longrifle.