Blackpowder Trade Gun Frolic by northwest ‘buckskinners’
by Mike Nesbitt
One area in today’s muzzleloading activities that seems to be growing is in the competition with trade guns, where shooters compete just to see who can have the most fun. This is on the traditional side of shooting those front-loaders, where the historically minded participants are often referred to as “buckskinners.” The trade guns, of course, were those guns the fur companies traded for furs, back in the days when a big corner of the world’s economy was based on the beaver.
A very good reason for the popularity of the trade gun and the “trade gun doin’s” of today is the variety of shoots, targets and events. Recently the WSMA (Washington State Muzzleloader Association, www.wamuzzleloaders.org) put on their annual Trade Gun Championships. That was really a trade gun frolic with just as much fun as you might guess. There were three whole days of shootin’good blackpowder shootin’!
Most of you might know that to qualify for use in these “trade gun” events the gun must be a flintlock smoothbore with no rear sight and a simple, single trigger. In other words, no set triggers, no rifle-style sights, and no rifling in the bore. And if someone arrived with a gun that didn’t qualify, such as a percussion muzzleloading rifle, they’d be invited to join the shooting but their scores would not be considered for the awards.
Of course, having a smoothbore flintlock that qualified was only half of what was needed. You also needed ammunition and plenty of it. In the basic aggregate alone there were at least 25 shots to be taken with a patched round ball and that does not include a tiebreaker. Additionally, there were another 15 shots in the aggregate to be fired at moving targets, either flying clays or “running clays,” like rabbits on the ground. That made the aggregate a full 40 shots with a possible score of 400 points, more than usual for a muzzleloading event, and they had some novelty after-aggregate re-entry matches that followed.
For me the gun of choice was my 20-gauge Northwest gun, “Ol’ Tacky,” by North Star West. I fired that gun 48 times on Saturday alone and all of those shots were fired in competition. The shooting was handled in the same way as for one of our rendezvous with no particular schedule for the events as long as they all finish in time for the awards. In other words, you can start with any of the shooting you want to, either on the paper targets, the trailwalk, or the flying/rolling clays. All of the ranges were open.
My partners, Bob DeLisle and Don Kerr, both got started on Friday afternoon. DeLisle shot his paper targets and scored 95-3X out of the possible 100 points. That’s some doin’s with any kind of gun. Kerr did nearly as well with his 20 gauge TVM 36-inch barreled Fowler and his combined paper score was a 90. Those are good beginnings and as it turned out their two paper scores were not beaten.
Then they both took their guns to the clay target area and Kerr took the lead in that area by hitting 11 out of the 15 moving targets. That’s more than enough to make you want to follow his example but for DeLisle such wasn’t the case. DeLisle finished by hitting 7 of the 15 fliers or rollers, just less than half of them. Even so, that’s good shooting with flintlock smoothbores and each hit added 10 more points to the shooters’ aggregate scores.
Kerr kept going that afternoon by shooting at the 15 targets on the trailwalk too. With those 15 shots, he made 12 of them good with hits that the gongs announced loud and clear. That gave him an additional 120 points for his very good aggregate score.
The next morning came right on cue and DeLisle brought me up to date about the preceding day’s doin’s while we enjoyed some breakfast. Just after we finished eating, he said, “Get your gun, I’ll shoot the ‘trail’ with you.” So, this brings me to a point in this story where I can stop just telling you about other folks and their shootin’ by sayin’ some about my shootin’ too.
My paper targets came first. Using a load of 60 grains of powder under a patched .595-inch ball, the large “X” target was my first choice and my five shots scored a 46-X. Then the “jug” target got my complete attention. Those five shots gave me a score of 43 points. The scores on those two paper targets gave me a combined score of 89-X and that was good enough to give me the proper mood to give the trailwalk a real good try.
So, DeLisle joined me and Kerr “signed on” to be our scorekeeper. We got started by making some good hits and shooting at those metal gongs and silhouettes is simply a lot of fun. It isn’t my intention to tell you all the details about every target but I am going to tell you in full detail about one of them. That’s the “raccoon,” one of my favorite steel targets, one that I simply never miss. The “raccoon” was target #13 out of the 15 on the trail and while working up to that target I had already missed with two shots. Then with my favorite “raccoon load” rammed down the long barrel (the same as was loaded for every other target), I aimed a bit more carefully than before and squeezed the trigger. Let me swear, a worn flint did me in! My gun had a hang-fire that was long enough for me to swing off of the target before the gun went off and, of course, my shot at the “raccoon” was a clean miss. You should have seen Kerr’s big laughing grin! He knew with that miss that I couldn’t beat him on the “trail.”
With the paper targets and the trailwalk under my belt, I headed to the flying clays area for more shooting. You can bet that I had my birdshot with me. My load in the 20 gauge with birdshot is still the same 60 grains of blackpowder, then a thin over-powder wad plus a lubricated felt wad, followed by the charge of birdshot, and finally followed by another thin card as the over-shot wad. The shot charge I favor is measured with a powder measure for 75 grains and that is equivalent to just over an ounce of shot, about an ounce and 1/16th. That would make a fine load for upland game too and I’ll try to get more experience in that area. My experience in this match on the flying or rolling clays wasn’t very bad. I can brag about making 8 hits out of the 15 clay critters and that completed the aggregate for me.
The “after-aggregate” re-entry matches were simply there for fun and a lot of fun they were. These involved some shooting that we might not be used to doing with a trade gun. One of them was the Slice of Pie target. When you bought that target for $1, you also received 12 pieces of #4 buckshot. This was the “buckshot luck shoot,” to see what score you can get with one shot while using the buckshot with the target posted at 25 yards. Hits were not the most common and I won that match with only a score of 6.
Another re-entry match was the single bullseye buffalo target that the shooter was to put five balls through when fired from any position, except prone or benchrest. In other words, this match was for sitting, kneeling, or cross-sticks and that is unusual for smoothbore matches. But after all, if we were out to make meat with those trade guns, we’d take shots from any of those positions if it gave us the advantage of making meat.
The re-entry match that was the most fun was the Canoe Gun Shoot. This is where the shooter sat on a “canoe seat” with a loaded gun. Then, when the timekeeper yelled “Go!” the shooter put as many shots as possible on a “standing bear” target within just 60 seconds. All shots and the reloading had to be done while sitting down.
I thought I had the canoe gun shoot in the bag with my score of 24 for three shots while using Little Big Brother, my short-barreled Northwest gun. Then Kerr came along and used his TVM 20 gauge to get 24X. Kerr also won the top honors as the all-around trade gun champion. He had 325 points out of the possible 400 and that is very good. I placed 2nd with 294-X and DeLisle trailed me by just a little with 290-3X. Several other good shooters placed very highly in individual events, such as on the trailwalk or on the flying targets, and those events were awarded with medals for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. It was all so much fun, we’ll do it again.
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