About five years ago I built a .54 Caliber Black Powder “Hawken” Frontier Rifle. Took me several months but it came out beautifully and its one of my most prized possessions. I took it out and shot it several times when we lived in Washington. It shoots very nicely and is a completely different experience from using modern firearms.
I have found that I really enjoy the process of preparing to shoot… measuring out the black powder, charging the barrel, starting the patch and ball, tapping it home, capping the nipple, cocking the hammer, squeezing the set trigger, and then touching off the main trigger.. then there is the pop, and the ever so momentary delay as the cap ignites the powder in the barrel…
A half inch (+) diameter lead sphere hurtles down to the target in a cloud of smoke!
I shoot very well, partially from lots of time behind military weapons during my years in the Infantry, but also from years of target shooting and hunting with my dad.
Once we left Washington for New England, I packed the firearms away hoping to get a chance to use them on the other coast. Unfortunately, Massachusetts has some odd gun laws (i.e.. you can own a black powder rifle, but you cant have the parts for one…) and I was not able to just head into the woods and punch holes in some paper when the muse took me. You had to go to a private range where you had to be a member, after listing your long guns with the local PD for $100 a pop. Not my cup of tea and seems very odd for the State that started the Revolution.
I had been wanting to break out the Hawken and go shoot for a couple of weeks and finally had time Saturday to do so. The weather however did not cooperate. Its been very stormy here for the last couple of days and yesterday’s wind was tremendous.
Today I got up early and checked the weather. Nice and calm, so I packed up the rifle and shooting supplies and headed out to Bisbee’s old Rifle Range. Now, this is not a manicured private range where there are benches and shooting rests and a bar (never understood that…), its a place at the end of a primitive road back against Black Knob mountain where locals have been going for a hundred years or so to sight in their deer rifles and play with their pistolas. The ground is littered with enough brass to make the Liberty Bell and the range area is scattered with everything from old propane cans, to water heaters, to an old couch. All of which look considerably like swiss cheese.
I imagine the local shooters have reduced cars, planes, and household items of all types down to the primary atomic components using their firearms over the years. Kind of like a river wears down a mountain. If you sped the process up in your head it would look like the scene from Time Machine where the hero is slipping through time watching the world change around him and the skyscrapers melt back into the earth. Heck, there is probably even a locomotive shot to dust out there!
Anyway, there was no one there this morning and I parked the Xterra and unpacked my gear. I had brought several of the “scary lawn ornaments” left by our homes previous owners as targets and set up the gnome, mr frog and scary bunny at various points down range. I had a good deal of fun sighting in the rifle and the almost zen process to load and shoot.
On toward noon, I was walking back from down range when I found a plate of aluminum unscathed on the ground. I turned it over and found it to be the bottom of an old Apple PC with a Fujitsu hard drive still attached. Oh, the 12 year old boy in me was deliriously happy at that. It was too good a target to pass up. The scientist in me really wanted to know what a lead ball would do to a hard drive.
I set up the drive still attached to the plate about 75 yards down range and went back to load up. I took aim and as the wind slacked, fired. At first I couldn’t see anything (did I mention black powder produces a ton of smoke?) and then suddenly through the clearing mist I could see the shot hit home. I walked down range and removed the drive from the plate.
The ball had punched through the drive and expended all it’s energy by the time it reached the aluminum plate where it made a big dent, but did not penetrate. As I removed the drive, the now horribly deformed lead ball dropped out. It had actually absorbed several of the chips from the circuit board at the back of the drive.