Author: Derrek Sigler
A wise man once said, "If you don’t know where to start, go back to the beginning." While that may sound a bit confusing, it makes sense when looking at the range of traditional muzzleloading firearms available.
So you’ve decided to get one, but now have to ask yourself, "What do I want, and what am I going to do with it?" Fear not grasshopper, this is a good choice to have to make and one that isn’t too hard, because there is no wrong way to go.
If you’re going to use your new muzzleloader for hunting, you need to check the game laws in your area. Some firearms are not legal under current legislation in some areas. Some states require the use of open sights; some have regulations on bullet type and or caliber restrictions. Know what you need and what you can use before you buy.
Here is a breakdown of the options you have with traditional muzzleloading firearms.
The Pennsylvania long rifle is the most common flintlock, although they come in different styles. Historically, these rifles were the original eastern settler’s rifles. They are usually found in .36, .45 and .50 bores and are perfectly adequate for hunting everything up to and including deer when using a .45 or .50 with a patched round ball. This is one you would definitely want to know your area’s restrictions on bore size.
The most common type of rifles associated with percussion caps is the Hawken or plains rifle, which is named after the inventors, the Hawken brothers of St. Louis. The style is also known as the plains rifle because of its notoriety with the settlement of the West and the characters from our history who preferred it. Characterized with shorter barrels and stocks than Pennsylvania long rifles, they are also chambered in larger calibers, usually .50 and .54. Still widely used in the hunting field, they are adequate for taking a variety of big game. A friend of mine uses a Hawken-style rifle and routinely takes game. He has mentioned that the simple design never gives him problems, and the gun is "darn accurate."
Traditionally, like the Pennsylvania rifles, they had a 1:60 to a 1:66 twist rate to optimize the shooting of patched round balls, meaning one complete rotation in 60 to 66 inches of barrel. As hunters went to heavier bullets for greater killing energy, the twist rate was sped up to accommodate bigger, heavier bullets. Today most Hawken-style percussion rifles have a twist rate of 1:48, or faster, such as 1:28. They are more effective as a hunting tool to shoot conical bullets and sabots (see terms below) with deadly accuracy, although they don’t shoot round balls as well as guns with the slower twist rate.