I bought my very first percussion .45 Dixie Gun Works "Kentucky" rifle a couple of months before my 15th birthday, back in 1965. The rifle had originally been a .40 caliber, but the owner had replaced the Belgium-made barrel with a .45 caliber Douglas octagon barrel, and that rifle proved to be a tack driver. Shooting 70-grains of FFFg black powder (DuPont) behind a pillow-ticking patched 128-grain cast soft lead ball, I could consistently hit a tin can at 50 to 70 yards. I took my first muzzleloader buck that fall with the rifle in Missouri...and a week later took my second muzzleloader buck with the rifle in Illinois.
The "like new" rifle, .440" ball mould, lead melting pot, a couple of pounds of DuPont black powder, a yard or so of pillow ticking, a powder flask, a half-dozen other loading accessories, and 500 imported Italian No. 11 percussion caps had cost me $125. While that may sound ridiculously low, you have to keep in mind that back then you could buy a brand new, in the box, Remington Model 700 bolt-action center-fire rifle for $97.50.
Getting started into traditional muzzleloading today can be an extremely expensive venture. One of the upper end, very authentically styled "Hawken" rifles offered by the Davide Pedersoli company can easily set you back $1,000 to $1,500. And to amass all of the loading components and accessories for loading and cleaning such a rifle can easily add another $200. But, this isn't to say that if you shop around, you can't enjoy traditional muzzleloading for a more reasonable $400 to $500 start up cost - especially if you can find a good used rifle in excellent shooting condition.
The slick little half-stock rifle shown in the photo at the top of this post is the .50 caliber Traditions "Hawken Woodsman" - which retails for a much more reasonable $529 for the percussion model (shown), $575 for the flintlock model. These are Traditions' suggested retail prices. The muzzleloading fancier willing to shop around, can find the percussion model for just under $500, and the flint model for a few dollars over $500.
Back when I bought my first .45 muzzleloader, 51 years ago, a 1-pound can of black powder cost all of $4 to $5 (depending on who made it)...and a hundred of those .440" diameter balls for the rifle could be bought for about $4 as well ... and a tin of 100 No. 11 caps cost about $1.50. Back then, I didn't know of anyone who used "pre-cut" patching, all simply used good ol' pillow ticking...which could be bought for less than $1 a yard (that would easily patch 200+ of those round balls).
Even if a shooter bought cast balls (swaged balls were not available then), a .45 caliber rifle shooting 70-grains of black powder, could be loaded and shot for about 10-cents per shot. A .50 caliber, shooting a heavier .490"-.495" ball and a heavier 80- to 90-grain charge of black powder, could be shot for 12- to 14-cents per shot. By casting my own lead balls, I could actually shoot my first muzzleloader for about 6- or 7-cents a shot!
TODAY...LEAD ROUND BALLS FOR .45 OR .50 CALIBER PATCHED BALL RIFLES EACH SELL FOR MORE THAN WHAT THE ENTIRE LOAD COST BACK DURING THE 1960'S!
I've used a Traditions .50 Hawken Woodsman to fill a few doe tags. The rifle I have shoots well with a 90-grain charge of GOEX FFg black powder, and will get a patched 178-grain Hornady swaged .490" diameter soft lead ball out of the muzzle of the 28-inch barrel right at 1,750 f.p.s. At the muzzle, the rifle and load have 1,405 foot-pounds of energy. By the time that sphere of lead gets to 50 yards, velocity has dropped to around 1,330 f.p.s. - and the level of energy has diminished to just 720 foot pounds. I consider 50 yards the absolute maximum effective range for the rifle and load. The doe in the photo at right was shot at 43 or 44 yards ... and went just 20 yards after the ball punched all the way through the rib cage.
So, what does it cost to shoot that load today? At current retail prices ... that 90 grain charge of GOEX FFg runs right at 29- to 30-cents ... a pre-cut and lubed patch is about 9- to 10-cents ... that Hornady .490" ball will set you back around 25-cents ... and a No. 11 percussion cap averages 9- to 10-cents per pop. In other words ... to load the Tradtiions .50 Hawken Woodsman with a patched round ball hunting load totals right at 70- TO 75-CENTS PER SHOT.
If you already have a lead melting pot and a round ball mould for your rifle, along with a cheap supply of good soft scrap lead...and rely on loading with pillow ticking patching, you can actually cut the cost per shot of loading a traditional patched round ball rifle by as much as 30- TO 35-PERCENT per shot (depending on rifle caliber). However, if you have to buy a lead melting furnace ($60 to $100) and a round ball mould ($30 to $100+) - you'll have to to do a lot of shooting to save enough to cover the cost of the equipment.
That "tube sighted" custom small-bore shown above is definitey one of my favorite muzzleloading rifles. A very good friend built the rifle ... and the sight ... and just gave it to me. Through the years he and I gave each other a lot of things. In fact ... the barrel used to build this rifle was an original circa 1830-1840 Remington barrel ... a .31 caliber barrel I had given him 20 years before the rifle was built.. I wanted to use the rifle for fall turkeys in Montana ... but could not find a .300" diameter ball anywhere ... or a mould for that diameter. Then, when checking out buckshot sizes available in the Ballistic Products Inc. catalog ... something caught my eye ... Soft Lead Swaged Buckshot - and the No. 1 pellets are .300" diameter - and weigh 40-grains. They come in an 8-pound container ... which means there are right at 1,400 of those small diameter swaged balls in that container ... which sells for $38,99 ... which works out to less than 3-cents a shot.
Ballistic Products Inc. also offers that swaged buckshot in a lot of other diameters including .490", .440", and .310". To give you an idea of the savings, there are 1,244 of those 45-grain .310 diameter balls in an 8-pound plastic container ... which works out to less than 4-cents a shot. Hornady swaged .310 round balls retail for $12 to $13 per box of 100. My little .31 caliber is a tack driver with the patched No. 1 Buck ... and i've shot some of the .490" Buck out of my .50 Hawken Woodsman rifle ... and that rifle shoots it every bit as well as Hornady or Speer swaged .490" balls.
Yes, there is shipping to be added ... but you'll still save money. There are 314 of the 178-grain .490" balls in one of those containers ... and I seriously doubt there are a lot of you .50 patched round ball shooters who shoot more than that many shots during the course of a year., Check out the diameters of buck shot available ...
Buckshot at Ballistic Products, Inc.
If you have a few tips on how to cut down the cost of shooting a traditional rifle ... please share in the comment section of this blog post. The more all of you chime in on the TRADITIONAL MUZZLELOADER HUNTiNG Blog ... the more we all learn. - Toby Bridges
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