The Muzzleloading Shotgun

In Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” - William Munny contemplates the Schofield Kid’s offer and gets out his long neglected side arm and takes a few shots at a tin can – misses every time.  Frustrated, he returns with a shotgun and the can meets its demise. 

The muzzle loading shotgun is an overlooked essential tool of the westward migration.  For those familiar with the great prairie, a rabbit or bird is more likely a meal than a deer or similar game.  I’ve hunted rabbits and other small game with a muzzle-loading rifle and cap and ball revolver – if I was hungry, I’d select a shotgun for taking such game.

I recently acquired a Navy Arms side-by-side 10 gauge cap-lock muzzle-loading shot gun.  Now, you don’t have to buy a bunch of specialized equipment to load and shot this firearm:  a revolver flask for the powder, a ball bag doubles as a shot snake, and a small pouch for wads and musket caps.  You’ll need a 80 – 100 grain measure with a mouth wide enough to pour shot into.  If you enjoy shooting the shotgun, as I did, then go out and buy the specialized equipment.    

Insert Photo with gear on bench and picture of flask and ball bag with measure with caption
Revolver flask with Pyrodex 2f equivelant.   Notice the mouth of the measure I used for powder and shot is fairly wide.  The ball flask doubles nicely as a shot snake, Eastern Maine’s lube and 10 gauge shotgun wads worked very well.  RWS musket caps provided ignition.

The underside of the barrel is marked - made by Pedersoli, 109 grains black powder, 1½ oz.  A quick perusal of the Possible Shop’s web site yielded a description of something very similar to what I have as made by Pedersoli.  I measured the last few inches of each barrel and found I have the model listed with no choke or cylinder bore.  Cylinder bore means there is no choke or tapering of the barrel in the last few inches to control or tighten the shot pattern.  Chokes range from cylinder bore, wider pattern with an effective range of 25 – 30 yards to a “turkey” choke, tight pattern with an effective range to 45 + yards.

As with any firearm, before use please read all of the manufacture’s included literature to ensure you understand the firearm’s safe handling, operation and loading procedures.  Additionally, this shotgun uses the larger musket caps which produce significantly more flash and debris.  Safety glasses are definitely required and I would strongly recommend a long sleeve shirt.

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Note the size difference between the musket cap and a #11 cap.  The musket cap produces significantly more spark and flash debris than a #11 cap.

Once familiar with the safe handling, operation and loading procedures I went to the range.  The basic loading procedure is fairly straight forward, ensure the barrel and ignition path is clear, place powder, over-powder wad, tamp, pour your shot charge and place an over shot card or wad, tamp and with muzzle pointed in safe direction install cap and make the firearm safe.  Most agree an equal volume of powder and shot is the way to go.  I’m using 90 grains of 2f powder and an equal volume charge of #6 shot.  The debate begins with what type and how thick the over-powder wad should be and what type of wad or card to place over the shot.

A wad is required over the powder and performs functions very similar to the shot cup/wad in a modern shot shell - creates a gas seal and protects the shot from hot gases.  The over-shot wad or card performs the same function as the crimped end of a modern shot shell in that it holds the shot in place.  Opinions vary on what type of wad to place over the powder – 1/8 inch or so thick un-lubricated felt or card wad to a 1/2 inch thick lubricated fiber wad.  One can even use a plastic shot cup.  I chose to use two Eastern Maine lubricated 10 gauge felt wads with a thin layer of Eastern Maine’s premium lube placed together forming a lube sandwich.  A single or double lubricated wad did not provide enough lube in the bore and the powder residue was dry and flakey.  The thin layer of lube between the two felt wads alleviated this condition. 

Insert picture of Eastern Maine’s lube and wads with caption
Note the thin layer of grease between the wads.  The amount and consistency of grease you choose to place between the two wads depends on your environmental conditions.  

The grease layer between the two wads forms something similar to the grease cookie used with a paper patched bullet in a black powder cartridge load.  Additionally, I believe a better gas seal is created.  I placed a single felt wad over the shot.

A cautionary note – if the muzzle is pointed down and bumped the shot charge will move forward and you must re-tamp the load.  This is the case with a card or felt over-shot wad.  If the muzzle is pointed down and tapped on the floor, the charge will move forward.  Same forces involved as a kinetic bullet puller.  When the charge is loose you can hear the shot move when you elevate the muzzle.  You must re-tamp the load.

A 90 grain volume charge of #6 shot weighs about 640 grains and counts out at about 310 pellets.  

Insert photos – scale reading 62.9 and scale reading 640 or the picture with scale and ball bag – your choice -  with caption
Thirty one #6 shot weighed 63 grains.  So the shot charge consists of about 310 pellets.
So how does this load work?  I used a 4 foot square piece of cardboard set at 30 yards with a centered 36 and 24 inch circle as a pattern board.  
Insert picture of pattern board with caption. 
Nice pattern, evenly distributed.  This happens to be the right barrel (rear trigger).  I would expect a #4 pellet charge to yield similar results.
As the picture shows, nearly all of the 310 or so pellets fall into the 36 inch circle.  The pattern is centered and uniform in all four quadrants.  This load is more than adequate for hunting upland game birds and small game to 30 yards.  With bird season right around the corner I’m sure this 10 gauge will prove effective in the field.      

Have Fun, Be Safe, & see you next month.

Warren K. Mayes
Technical Advisor, The Possible Shop