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Throwback: using a black powder replica

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POSTED July 27, 2014 11:14 p.m.

If you’ve never shot black powder guns before you ought to give it a try. It transports you back in time as you pour the powder down the barrel, drop the lead ball or shot in and tamp it down with a ramrod You had to let the smoke cloud blow away before you could see if you hit your target! 

Several years ago, my son Bo and I bought a black powder pistol. It was a replica of an 1851 Navy Colt revolver. With a traditional black powder gun you only get one shot before you have to reload, that’s why Sam Colt’s revolver was such a technological breakthrough. You could fire six times before you had to reload. Amazing!

A significant drawback to the old black powder guns was the actual smoke cloud itself. Not only did the smoke obscure your vision, but in a combat situation it also gave away your position to the enemy. Even if you were hidden in the brush, your enemy could simply shoot at the smoke cloud and often hit you! In his book “Rough Riders” Teddy Roosevelt complained about the dangers of gunsmoke giving away our position to the enemy in the conflict in Cuba in 1898. U.S. troops were using black powder guns had 5 times the casualties as the Spanish troops using smokeless powder.

Another replica we got a real kick out of shooting (pun intended) was a 54 caliber percussion lock muzzle loader & that was a replica of the Hawken buffalo gun.  It is slow, heavy, and cumbersome and not nearly as efficient as its modern counterparts. But despite all its drawbacks, the old musket has a unique aura that reminds you of the pioneers that settled this land. Read the accounts of the Lewis & Clark expedition that President Jefferson sent to explore the new Louisiana Territory. Their description of trying to stop a charging Grizzly bear with black powder guns gives new meaning to the term “fearless”. Those old black powder explorers had real guts.

Why replicas? Because shooting the real thing is cost prohibitive.  In 1847 Colonel Sam Walker got together with Sam Colt to create the44 caliber Colt Walker revolver. It was the most powerful handgun in the world until the 357 Magnum was invented in the 1930s. Only 1100 Colt Walkers were ever made and today only about 170 of them are known to exist. In 2008 a Colt Walker was sold at auction for $940,000. That leaves out most of us regular folks! The good news is that you can get a shootable replica of the Colt Walker for about $400.

When I pick up a muzzle loader & fire, and peer through the smoke cloud to see the results, I connect with our pioneer past. I relate to my Grandpa when he brought home rabbits for dinner in a tent on the prairie. I relate to the millions of soldiers who fought for both North and South in a great civil war. I appreciate the sacrifices made by men from every race and every walk of life who were willing to put their lives on the line for freedom. Why indeed shoot a replica of an old antique? Maybe because we need to be remember the sacrifices that our predecessors made before us and maybe we need to be reminded that freedom isn’t free.

Until next week,

Tight Lines

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