Black Powder “Scatter” Gunning
Scatter Gun, The Old Fashioned Way.
The late November chill was in the air as Matt and I settled down in our previously constructed duck blind. At this time of year the reservoir was low, leaving behind a myriad of dried moss and reeds that were very much buoyant during the summer when the water level was higher. Ducks had been flying for the past hour, and we were anxious to get in some shooting. The blinds circular framework of sticks was filled with rusty brown moss made brittle by the suns early winter rays. Weaving the moss carefully around the sticks make a sturdy blind deceiving the wariest of ducks passing overhead. It was the perfect habitat for ducks that had not yet migrated.
The position of the blind was carefully chosen in a spot surrounded by not only the water’s edge, but by many small streams that flowed slowly into what water remained to be called Wide Hollow Reservoir. Wide Hollow Reservoir is located just two miles from my home town of Escalante, nestled deep in Southern Utah, a place where, as a kid, I learned to fish, ice skate and swim. Now, thirty years later, it played host to a sanctuary of mallards, teal and assorted other species of quackers known to my brother-in-law Matt, who was a very experienced duck hunter. As such, he had most preparations for the hunt already made, and all I really had to do was show up with my gun.
I volunteered to pack the decoys across the soggy wetlands to the blind to get myself geared up for hunting, a habit I got into hunting with my father. I had grown used to the fact that before you actually got any hunting in, you had to walk about 4 miles up and down hills to exhaust yourself in order to give the game a fair chance. Of course, that was back before four- wheelers and snowmobiles. My father humored us, as I’m sure Matt was doing at this moment with me. Along with duck calling gear, he also brought Gunner and Moose, his two prize chocolate Labrador retrievers who didn’t mind swimming out into the icy water for a luckless foe.
Another lesson I learned that day was the value of bringing a good hunting dog. In below freezing weather he was invaluable for retrieving ducks. As Gunner and Moose were well trained, there was really no work to be done. Once the blinds were constructed all we did was set back and wait for the ducks to respond to the calls and hopefully see our decoys. Inside the blind, the icy wind quit biting my exposed flesh and I began contemplating various comforts of home I could bring out with us tomorrow morning – a softer seat, perhaps an old rug to throw on the ground, a thermos of hot chocolate and more donuts, even a DVD player crossed my mind. Definitely, I would need a warmer coat and hat!
In addition to hauling the decoys on my back, in my hand I carried a muzzle loading, “12 gauge double” made in England by William Moore back in the 1850′s. It’s antique wood and age browned Damascus twist barrels contrasted sharply against the synthetic stock and highly polished steel of Matt’s modern pump action. I have had an addiction to black powder ever since I discovered it back in the early 1970′s attending High School in Escalante. Even now, black powder muzzle loaders and breach loaders all but fill my gun safe. I have found them not only fun, but practical alternatives to today’s much-to-modern society where computers and state of the art inventions make the arm chair, couch potato lifestyle much too conducive. The ability for me to get away and hunt like my great-great grandfather puts much enjoyment back into hunting. I am always more excited to bring back a small, two-point buck that I took with my Kentucky rifle, than I am with a .270 Winchester. As game gets scarce, and my inability to draw out for hunts increases, I like to take full advantage of what chances I do get by using muzzle loaders. For me, it puts hunting back into the hunt.
Realistically, I didn’t really consider myself handicapped by packing the 12 gauge reminder of days gone by. True, a modern shotgun can be reloaded faster, but after two or three shots, the birds were out of range anyway and we had to wait for more ducks to answer the calls. Inside two minutes, I was ready to go again, stoked with 1 1/4 oz of bismuth shot over 80 grains of FFG black powder, my velocity was right around 1200 FPS (Feet Per Second). The same load of 1 1/4 ounce of steel shot in Matt’s modern pump was exiting the barrel at about 1300 feet per second. I wasn’t disadvantaged too much on the range either, since he was using steel shot which made his practical range about 30 yards – about the same as the cylinder bore barrels of the percussion double using bismuth shot.
Steel shot is not recommended for use in muzzle loaders, so one must turn elsewhere if he wants to hunt duck or other water fowl where the use of “non toxic” shot is required. Two alternatives, that I’m aware of, are available to the black powder hunter if he doesn’t mind paying a premium price – bismuth and Hevi-Shot, the latter made from a tungsten alloy, nickel, and iron with a density of 12 ( lead is about 11.5). Bismuth had a density of about 9, and steel is only slightly over 7. Whether you choose Hevi-Shot or Bismuth Shot, they perform similar to lead but cost between $70 and $85 for a 7-pound bag.
The Scatter Gun I Came Upon By Chance…
Of all the black powder arms available to today’s enthusiasts, the muzzle loading scatter gun was the last for me to pick up. After owning one now for about 5 years, I can’t figure out why I waited so long to take up the challenge. I walked into a pawn shop one day, and before long, my eyes first fell upon the antique Damascus twist barrels of an old English double fowler made by Soper of Reading (so it states on the gun). Being in relatively good shape for its age, it was advertised as a 12 gauge. I bought it up for less than the price of a modern replica and delightfully took it home. Further investigation found the thin barrels to be 16 gauge instead of 12, but I still couldn’t have been more elated.
I had a good gunsmith check it out, and replacing both nipples, then decided to take her out for an afternoon shooting session. Being a little concerned for my new 150 year old friend, I decided on 50 grains of FFG over 3/4 ounce of shot ( a light load listed in the Lyman black powder handbook for a 20 gauge). It shot wonderfully, and with very little recoil. I was able to break a few clay pigeons without much effort as long as I didn’t let them get too far out. Antique shotguns made before 1875, were most generally cylinder bored as the practice of choking didn’t really hit the scene until afterward, however, I was still able to do quite well out to about 25 or so yards, any further, and there wasn’t any guarantee. Handling the load well, I soon decided to try a bit heavier load in the Soper thinking I may one day want to hunt with her. My maximum load, which seemed to perform about as good as I could get, was 60 grains of 2F black powder and 1 ounce of shot. This load not only breaks clays, but kills rabbits, crows and squirrels if I keep shots to 25 yards or less.
As black powder scatter gunning begin to grow on me, I decided to purchase another old original in 12 gauge, if for no other reason than they both look rather well hanging above the fireplace. My wife, who has never understood my shooting/gun frenzy, agrees. The only thing better that a double barrel muzzle loading shotgun is to own two of them. Having an extra one around is handy if a friend or family member want to tag along.
Black Powder Scatter Gun Loading
For those of you contemplating a muzzle-loader shotgun, I will outline the basic procedure for loading and shooting them. The composition of a modern shotgun shell reveals the loading process of a black powder scatter gun.
First, place the hammer(s) on half- cock, then pour the powder (carefully measured) down each barrel. With the muzzel pointed in a safe direction away from face and body, lightly tap the butt of the gun on the ground to settle the powder in the breach. An overshot card is then placed in the muzzle and pushed down on top of the powder charge with the ramrod. The ramrod of a black powder shotgun should be wide enough to keep the card/wad from slipping sideways as it’s seated. Following the over powder card, the cork, or fiber wad is placed on top followed by the shot. Lastly, an over shot card is placed on top to keep the shot in place. Be sure to remove the ramrod before placing a cap on each nipple. Each successive shot(s) are accomplished by repeating this loading procedure.
For those of you who are new to the muzzle loading scatter gun, I will give you some standard loads to get you started that have been approved by several black powder manuals.
Beings most original replica black powder shotguns are either 20, 12 or 10 gauge, I will list a few suggested loads for each. Included are a few loads for the 28 and 32 gauge which were
somewhat popular during the latter part of the 18th century.
GAUGE POWDER CHARGE OUNCES OF SHOT TYPE OF
(in grains) LOAD
32 40 ½ field/target
28 40 ½ target
28 50 3/5 field
20 55 3/4 target
20 60 7/8 field
20 70 1 Heavy
12 60 1 light
12 65 1 1/8 target
12 75 1 1/8 field
12 80 1 1/4 field
12 90 1 1/4 heavy field
12 100 1 1/2 heavy
10 100 1 3/8 light
10 110 1 1/2 field
10 115 1 5/8 heavy
Lead shot can be found in most retail sporting good stores in bags of 5 to 25 lbs. for modern softshell loading purposes. This same shot is used in muzzle loaders. Shot size ranges from 0 and 00 Buck to #9 (largest to smallest). Below is a practical shot guide to allow the shooter to better suite his or her needs.
Buckshot is generally used for deer, or other larger animals such as coyote, bobcat wolves etc. The other sizes with their general application are listed below.
#4 ducks, crows
#5 ducks, crows, rabbits
#6 ducks, crows, rabbits, pheasant
#7 ½ pheasant, grouse, trap
#8 woodcock, quail, dove, trap
#9 dove, skeet
For those of you wanting to take on the challenge of black powder shotgunning, a nice, practical gun can be picked up from places like Dixie Gun Works, Inc. Gunpowder Lane, Union City TN. 38261. Most larger sporting good outlets or stores stock them, or can even order them for you, or you might just luck out like I did and find a nice one in a pawn shop. Any way you look at it, shooting is cheap, fun and full of enjoyment for all ages. My two daughters, ages 12 and 16, enjoy shooting my 12 and 16 gauge front loaders and have even learned to load and shoot them. I consider it very cheap and enjoyable fun for the whole family. If the intent is for serious hunting, I have found that once you understand and adhere to a few reasonable limitations, you can bring home game as with any other modern firearm. The difference I find in taking up a muzzle loading firearm, is that I find myself hunting rather than shooting any shot that comes along. I know that after one shot, (two for the double) the game will be long gone before I could reload.
Gary R. Griffin