Frequently I take game with a variety of muzzleloading guns and 2011 was no different. Often I use guns that were sent to me when first introduced, but have now been discontinued. I continue to work with them because thousands of people may own them or have a chance to purchase these models as used guns. A sad fact is that black-powder hunting guns are a tiny part of the total gun market. Makers may only offer a gun for a few years and then drop it because of slow sales. This is particularly true for muzzleloading shotguns and pistols. The hint is that if you see one that you like, buy it now. You may not be able to the next year.
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February 2011, found me on a snow goose hunt in coastal North Carolina where I used an Austin & Halleck 12-gauge bolt-action shotgun. This gun is no longer made, but was noteworthy for being very light , (I increased its weight by adding beeswax and lead shot in the butt and a solid steel ramrod up front.) too light, for heavy duck and goose loads. It had the advantages of taking an interchangeable choke and working well with the plastic wads that I needed for my usual load of HeviShot no. 4s which will abrade steel barrels if not used in protective cups.
My load here was 100 grains of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder, a 1/4-inch thick cardboard over-powder wad, 20-odd grains of Cream of Wheat, a plastic shot cup with some crumpled-up plastic in its base to take up the excess space and 1 1/4-ounce (by volume) measure of no. 4 HeviShot. This was topped off with a pair of thin over-shot cards to retain the shot. A very similar load was used in the Thompson/Center Arms’ Mountain Magnum 12-gauge shotgun that was used on this year’s North Carolina swan some 10 months later.
This design suffered because of a mainspring that weakened under use and the care that needed to be taken to insure that the slam-fired bolt was properly adjusted to strike the 209 primer. Once I solved these problems by putting two lock washers around the firing pin rod to increase spring speed and replaced a too short firing pin, I had a gun that I could depend on. Despite the rifle version failing on me during a South Dakota bison hunt and the shotgun on a swan hunt, I later used the shotgun to take a turkey, snow geese in both North Carolina and Canada and honkers in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
The gun points, shoots and handles well once its weight and mechanical deficiencies are overcome. After modification, the A & H becomes one of the best single-shot muzzleloading shotguns ever made and its simple bolt design makes it relatively easy to load in the field and clean. My gun was shipped to me in a puny plastic case and the solid steel breech-plug-removal rod knocked a hunk of wood off the fancy maple pistol-grip stock before it ever went to the field.
I produced a YouTube video about the 2011 snow goose hunt and it can be viewed by clicking on the following link: http://youtu.be/KKDHz-yOhKc. This hunt was also featured on an episode of my radio show, “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures.” This, and other shows featuring these guns, may be found by going to my website www.hoveysmith.com and clicking on the live link to the show immediately below the banner.
I purchased this .45-caliber flintlock decades ago from Val Forgett, the founder of Navy Arms Company, and it, in camo dress, had been turkey hunting several times but we never had the luck to see a bird for it until 2011. I had already shot deer and other game with the gun, and it was featured in an article that the late “Butch” Winter published in the Dixie Gun Works’ “Blackpowder Annual.”
I had unusual difficulties in developing a load that this gun would shoot well. Finally that load became 85 grains of FFg GOEX black powder, a .45-caliber felt Wonder Wad, a charge of 15-grains of Cream of Wheat buffer and a lubricated pillow tiking patch holding a .440 round ball. That load shot well enough to win some club matches as well as take a series of squirrels without a miss.
For this year’s turkey hunt I used a piece of flint salvaged from a broken Indian arrow-head that might have been 3000 years old. I knew from experimenting with similar materials before that it could be depended on sparking well enough to fire the gun once, perhaps twice, but would need to be retouched before it would reliably shoot a third shot.
After a number of previously unsuccessful attempts over the years, I did call this bird in close enough for a shot, and Cantank took it down. I, the gun and the unknown Indian brave who fashioned the point so may hundreds of years ago, had again made meat. This turkey was the centerpiece of my Christmas meal. The turkey hunt also resulted in a video at: http://youtu.be/-_9czyje188 as well as the last of three turkey hunting episodes produced during 2011. My cooking of the turkey was also reported in a series of four YouTube videos with the turkey cooking segment being Part 3 which may be seen at: http://youtu.be/WmCm5eVNb4Y.
My challenge for the 2011-12 deer season was to take deer with two muzzleloading revolvers. The guns I employed were Ruger’s Old Army and Cabela’s stainless steel “Buffalo” which is produced in Italy by Pietta. I experimented with a new 240-grain (now also as a 255 grain) flat-nosed bullet by Kaido Ojamaa
in both guns. I used the round ball to shoot a 60-pound doe with the “Buffalo” and Ojamaa’s bullet to take down a 120 pound buck. Because of different barrel twists and chamber capacities different charges of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder were used in these guns.
Load development and hunting with these revolvers took some time and included taking squirrels with the Buffalo. I concluded my hunt with these pistols with taking my buck with the Ruger and on the trip out also killing a squirrel with the same load. What these loads tought me was that these guns can be capable close-range killers of deer-size game when used with adequate charges of Triple Seven powder which develops 10 percent more energy than black powder. With appropriate loads these guns can produce the 500 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy generally considered to be the threshold for reliably killing deer-sized game in hunting situations.
Detailed load information can be found in previous posts and also in the coming 2013 edition of the Gun Digest Annual. My experiences with these and other percussion revolvers were recorded in a series of seven videos taking the viewer through the stages of gun selection, prepping the gun, cleaning, load development, small game and big game hunting. The big game hunting video is Part 7B which may be seen at: http://youtu.be/LWNh24pbpZs.
The 12-gauge Thompson/Center Arms side hammer shotgun has almost all the attributes that one needs for a successful muzzleloading shotgun. The action is robust, it uses musket cap ignition for easier manipulation in the field, it has a synthetic stock and interchangeable chokes. I also increased this gun’s weight by adding beeswax and lead shot to the butt and now most commonly shoot it with a metal ramrod to help hold down recoil. I would like a little more barrel length on this gun, but most turkey hunters would like it very much as it is.
This gun also had a brief production life and was never made in large numbers. Thompson/Center Arms has now discontinued almost all of its side-hammer muzzleloaders, leaving this as the most technically advanced side-hammer muzzleloading shotgun that they ever made on a commercial basis and their best ever for wingshooting waterfowl and game birds. I would not hesitate to use it on anything that flies.
This is an effective shotgun when used with loads similar to those that I described in the first post for the Austin & Halleck. The only change that I made for my 2011 swan hunt was to use red Winchester wads for 1 1/4-ounces of shot. (Now discontinued from Winchester, but available from Harvester Bullets.) This gun made a one-shot kill on this year’s swan which was taken during a field shoot on private land that is described in a previous post. This hunt is also featured on my radio show, “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures” that was broadcasts on Jan. 9, 2012.