The addition of a trigger operated lock to a simple hand held gun enabled the burning match to be dropped into the priming and left both hands free to hold a steady aim. The ignition time of a properly set up matchlock is extremely fast and was really only equaled by flintlocks with the finest tuning until the development of percussion ignition.
Matchlock muskets are used in competition at 50 metres using the French military 200m ten-ring rifle target. In the UK, the competitions are restricted to the cheek-stocked Japanese style matchlocks and these are shot, kneeling and standing. There are usually five National competitions each year for this discipline.
The International competition equivalents under MLIAC rules are titled the Tanegashima (standing) and the Hizadai (kneeling) – link to MLAIC web site-section on rules.
Under the MLAIC rules, the class for Original firearms is restricted to cheek stocked muskets and the class for Reproduction firearms allows the European style, shoulder stocked Matchlocks.
This has probably come about because of the scarcity of original European-type matchlocks in usable condition. The Indian matchlocks of the Torador type usually have a trigger which lowers the match into the priming as opposed to releasing a spring-loaded serpentine carrying the match. It is more difficult to keep on aim while operating a mechanical link than it is with the snaplock type of matchlock. It is possible to occasionally find snaplock matchlock muskets very similar to those of the Japanese style but from other surrounding countries. As these are cheek-stocked they might well be eligible but in practice it is the Japanese matchlocks that are used in competition.
There is another section on selecting firearms but it is worth making a separate mention here.
Although the Japanese matchlocks are among the most beautifully made and decorated firearms that a shooter will come across, they do vary in strength and great care must be exercised. The breech screws, notoriously, were hand cut and relied on a very long plug and a mixture of tar and fibre in the threads to make them gas tight.
It is vital to get good advice before selecting a matchlock musket for shooting.
The Flintlock which appeared at the end of the 17th century was an improvement on the wheel-lock and the snaphaunce in both its efficiency and simplicity. A shaped flint which was held in a set of jaws was, upon release of the trigger, brought down against a steel which was directly attached to and formed part of the priming pan cover. As it sprang away from the strike it exposed the priming and the shower of sparks which had been produced, effected ignition.
There are no specific competitions for wheel-lock firearms, originals tend to be very expensive and there are few reproductions. The mechanism is complex and difficult to clean which may be another part of the reason that one does not see them used.
Flintlock rifles and muskets are widely available as commercially produced reproductions as well as originals and are used at clubs throughout the UK. There are usually seven competitions each year organised nationally which includes the MLAGB Short-Range championships
The MLAIC competitions are :
Miquelet for military flintlock musket. This is shot standing at 50m and again uses the French military ten-ring 200m rifle target. The muskets should be of standard military type and have no rear sight.
Pennsylvania for flintlock rifles . 50m, standing but shot on the standard PL7 target ( MLAIC 50m pistol target).
Maximillian for flintlock rifles 100m prone. Shot on the PL7 target.
For rifles there is no restriction on calibre and any contempory style of sights can be used as long as they are in the spirit of the original.
In the MLAIC competitions there are separate classes for reproduction and original firearms but all the national UK competitions except the Short Range Championships combine the classes.
Percussion ignition when fully developed was a great improvement on flintlock both in terms of reliability and speed of ignition. Sportsmen quickly saw the advantages and many high quality flintlock arms were converted to the new system. The military, of the various nations, also gradually adopted the system and again many flintlocks were converted.
There exists a great variety of well made reproduction percussion rifles . There are calibres and styles that will fit in with the energy restrictions of most clubs and patched -ball shooting with these rifles forms the back-bone of Muzzle loading rifle shooting in the UK.
High levels of accuracy are achievable and achieved.
There are fewer specific patch -ball competitions nationally but these rifles can be shot in the free rifle 50m standing competitions.
The MLAIC title for this competition is:
Vetterli and again the target is the PL7 (MLAIC 50m pistol target).
This class really takes muzzle loading shooting to highest level of accuracy and the rifles used in top competition are among the finest.
The renewed interest in muzzle loading shooting in the middle of the last century made the commercial production of reproduction rifles viable. Some of the earliest of these were the Enfield .577 rifles produced by Parker-Hale. These rifles and the continuing availability of original Enfield rifles in shootable condition led to thriving competition. There are many competitions for this class of rifle. Most in the UK specify the Enfield design but the MLAIC competition just specifies Military rifles of calibre greater than 13.5mm( .5315”).
The international competitions are:
Minie Military rifle prone at 100m on PL7 target
Lamarmora Military rifle standing at 50m on PL7 target
The military interest in accurate long range shooting brought about a lot of experimentation in the mid 19th century. From this experimentation small calibre military rifles with fast twist rifling were designed. From these target rifles developed along the same lines. This made shooting out to 1200yds a viable proposition and there was intense interest in this as a sport.
Original military match rifles are expensive and original target rifles very expensive.
Fortunately there are excellent reproduction rifles available and long range target shooting is a very strong discipline in the UK and abroad. (link to long range rifles )
The free rifles used in the Vetterli type competitions at 50m can be used at 100m but generally they are specialised for off-hand shooting and are not easy to shoot prone.
Whitworth is the MLAIC 100m free rifle prone competition and this is generally shot with the military match or target rifles,
Although there are many original percussion muskets in shootable condition there are no International competitions for this class. There are National competitions (please see the competitive shooting section of the site), however, and these muskets are great fun to shoot.
Choosing A Gun
The best starting point is one of the reproduction percussion rifles . All the different types of muzzle loading rifles and muskets are great fun to shoot and capable of high levels of accuracy. Starting with percussion does reduce some of the complexities and a shooter would have to be quite brave to go straight for something like matchlock without any other experience.
Membership of the MLAGB gives access to many competitions and a lot of good advice but most people come to Muzzle loading through some other branch of Target shooting and so have acquired some of the basics of marksmanship with firearms which do not have quite so many variables to control. Many of the most dedicated Muzzle-loading shooters continue with breech loading or air rifle disciplines as a way of maintaining their basic marksmanship skills.
In terms of percussion rifles, the reproduction Enfield rifles are available new and second hand and are a great way into the sport.
If you only had access to ranges with very restricted muzzle energy limits then a smaller calibre patch ball rifle would be a good introduction.
Take the advice of other members of your club on reproduction rifles but you really should take expert advice when selecting an original rifle or musket when you intend to shoot with it.
In general, if an original piece has not suffered corrosion, exhibits no obvious faults and has not been altered then there is no reason why it should not be as safe as it was when last in use. There are however many pitfalls and damage such as a bulged barrel may be hard to spot. Damage to the threads in the nipple bolster may require repair before a piece can be brought into use. The condition of the bore and any rifling may look quite good with a bright bore light but careful inspection is necessary. The industrial endoscopes now available very cheaply can be used to examine bores down to calibre 0.4” and in barrels up to 36”long. As another example, many military flintlock muskets were converted to percussion and then back-converted for sale in Africa. Always get the best advice you can.
Muzzle Loading Law
The Law: The following legal requirements may seem a little complex, but in reality they are generally straightforward. In our experience the Firearms Licensing sections of local police forces and the HSE are helpful and efficient.
Reproduction rifles, both percussion and flintlock are classed as Firearms.
They are subject to the same restrictions in terms of possession and storage as a modern breech loading firearm.
You need to have a variation on your Firearms Certificate stating the calibre and type of muzzle loading rifle you wish to acquire.
Smooth bore reproduction long arms are classified as shotguns even though you intend to fire a single solid projectile from them and not to fire shot. They can be held on a Shotgun Certificate.
With the exception of people specifically prohibited from doing so under firearms legislation, anyone can acquire an original muzzle loading rifle or musket as a curio.
An original muzzle loading rifle becomes a firearm with your intent to use it. It then needs to be placed on a firearms certificate which had in place the appropriate variation for that type and calibre of rifle. It then also has to be stored as a firearm.
In the same way, a musket held as a curio would need to be put onto a shot gun certificate if you intended to shoot it.
You can get advice from your local firearms officer but the muzzle loading section of your local club will also have up to date experience and information.
Black Powder: Surprisingly black powder, unlike modern nitro powders, is classed as an explosive and as such requires an explosive certificate (form COER 3). This is obtainable free of charge from your local police force and requires an application form to be filled in. There is a limit on the amount of black powder that may be stored by an individual, but this is sufficient for the muzzle loading shooter. Recently there has been a requirement to store black powder in plastic containers within a lockable partitioned wooden box – these wooden boxes are easily obtained from black powder suppliers. Alternatively they may be manufactured to design specifications obtainable from the firearms section of your local police force.
Insurance: Although not a legal requirement, it is responsible and sensible to join a shooting association that offers both personal and third party liability insurance
against accidents from shooting sports. Associations such as the MLAGB, CPSA and BASC all offer this type of cover as part of the membership package.
These notes are our perception on Muzzle loading and the UK firearms
law in general. The Muzzle Loaders would always advocate and strongly advise that you seek advice and confirmation of the firearms law from your area firearms officer prior to any purchase or attempted purchase of a muzzle loader, any loading powder and the loading component parts.
Black Powder: Commercially made black powder for firearms is readily available from gun shops and other specialist suppliers. It is sold in a variety of grades to suit all black powder firearms from pistols to cannons.
It is vitally important that only black powder or its modern commercial equivalents are used in Muzzle loading Firearms. The use of even the lightest loads of modern nitro propellants would be exceedingly dangerous and likely to result in the firearm’s destruction and injury to the shooter and bystanders
There is a good guide to the grades of powder and loads required for different applications on Peter Starley’s Black Powder website.
Percussion Caps Percussion caps are readily available from gun shops and specialist suppliers. They come in two sizes, No.11, which is the most common and winged musket caps, commonly referred to as top hat caps. The main producer of these is RWS in Germany. They produce the 4 winged No. 1081 caps and the more powerful No.1218 , 6 winged caps. The No 1081 are generally the best option but with guns with a tendency to hang or misfire, especially when using lined nipples of small aperture, the 1218 caps may be the best option. Modern caps have the important advantage of being non corrosive unlike earlier caps which were extremely corrosive.
Flints Gun flints are available from specialist suppliers and come in various sizes. Flints are knapped from quarried flint stone. There is some belief that the pale yellow French flints may spark better than the black English flint on Steel of poor quality. I do not know of any definite evidence for this so may be some experimentation is would be interesting.
Machined agates are available and have the virtue of consistency, however they may be harder on the frizzen.
Bullet molds are available for most calibres of round ball ( Link to Jeff Tanners site) and for many different styles of Minie bullets. Some of the modern designs may not be allowed in certain competitions so it best to check on this before buying a mold.
The molds required for paper patched bullets need to be carefully specified and the advice of those using similar rifles should be sought. Producing good paper wrapped ( patched ) bullets is fairly straightforward but needs care and is not usually considered an entrance level activity.
Canallured bullets need lubricant in the grooves and this is usually of the beeswax and tallow type but there are many variations and recipes.
Soft lead of the highest purity available is needed for Minie bullets. In practice this may be lead flashing which is really not all that pure but seems to do the job fairly well.
The lead purity seems less critical for patched ball but some still recommend soft lead.
Paper patched bullets are generally produced harder with about 3% tin as are mechanically fitting bullets such as the hexagonal ones for the Whitworth rifle.
Tin is available from specialist suppliers but another solution is to buy Sn63/Pb37 solder bars and then add pure lead as per the maths to arrive at a 3% tin Mixture.
The majority view is that the purity of lead is not important for large calibre musket balls but some people believe it is.
Casting good bullets is a skill by itself and well covered in Allan Whiffin’s series of articles in past copies of Black Powder Magazine (Please see the Downloads section of the site for this article). It also brings with it a whole series of safety considerations in terms of exposure of the lungs to toxic fumes and the epidermis to hot metal. If you are not completely sure as to how to go about things safely then you may be better off buying ready made bullets. Most of the round balls are generally made by swaging and so are less prone to cavities. Minie bullets and paper patched bullets of good quality are also available from UK based suppliers. You will save some money by making bullets yourself but when you figure in the cost of lead, fuel and time it is not as much as you might think. The best reason to make your own bullets is for the satisfaction of it.
Weighing and batching bullets will enable you to discard those with the largest air cavities. Several excellent shooters maintain that it is impossible to exclude cavities completely but that if you technique is good and consistent then the cavities will be small and more or less in the same place. With round ball, the sprue cut off point can be marked so that the bullet can be loaded with this, the most likely spot for a cavity, uppermost.
Original ramrods are not suitable for general use. Having said that the original Enfield rifle ram rod thread is exactly the same as the standard thread on modern Parker hale attachments which can be very useful ( ? 26 TPI ).
Suppliers such as Peter Dyson can supply thread adapters so that the standard shotgun fittings with male thread can be attached to the modern PH cleaning rods. The modern rods can be stiffened by fitting thick nylon tube of the correct diameter to their length.
New rods of aluminium or stainless steel can be made up and then you have the option of threading them for the Parker Hale , US or Continental fittings as you wish.
Wooden dowel is not recommended for rifle and musket. There have been problems with dowels breaking and causing injury and there is the potential for the surface to pick up abrasive particles which might, in time , damage the bore.
You need a cleaning button for each calibre of firearm you use. This should be of the correct diameter to grip the patch and keep it in close contact with the bore and prevent thepatch being lost in the barrel.
You need to have coiled worm to remove lost patches ( see above).
You need a screw for removing ball in case of loading without powder. Whilst the above worm will do for all calibres it is important that the screw for removing bullets is the correct size for the bore so that the screw enters the bullet centrally and cannot damage the barrel wall.
It is generally considered unsafe to load the barrel straight from a standard power flask.
Many ranges and competitions do not allow flasks on the firing point.
For the sake of accuracy as well as safety, preweighed charges in separate vials are the answer.
Charges can be accurately weighed on balance scales.
Whilst powder density does vary between makes and grades it is safe to use volume measures when using the same powder and grade. A lot of the available volume measures give very good accuracy ( less than 0.5 grain) when check weighed.
MLAGB would always advocate and strongly recommend that you seek professional advice and confirmation of the powder and bullet loads prior to loading any gun and firing it.
Many people coming to Muzzle Loading from other disciplines will already have a good scope. There are some very cheap scopes available which are adequate for spotting the fall of shot at short range. For long range shooting there are advantages in having the best scope you can get . Aids to wind doping such as mirage may not even be visible with cheap optics. If the scope is to be used standing then the tripod needs to be steady enough to cope with wind buffeting and also the concussion from adjacent shooters during shoulder to shoulder competitions.
It is an MLAGB requirement that all those shooting or in the shooting area wear eye protection. The open sights on military rifles were not designed or positioned with consideration for the capabilities of the aging eye. Corrective lenses are useful. It is usually not possible to get the target, the rear sight and the fore sight all in focus. An adjustable iris can enable at least 2 out of these three to emerge out of the blur. Target shooting with muzzle loading rifles is not re-enactment and the use of one of the various specialist frames is perfectly acceptable.
All MLAGB competitions allow the use of shooting jackets which would be acceptable under MLIAC rules.
The procedures for loading are very specific to each type of rifle and musket.
It would not be possible to cover each variation adequately or safely in an overview like this.
The article by Bill Curtis “Managing the Enfield” is unequalled as a guide to shooting the Enfield Military Rifle (His article can be found in the Downloads section).
Military rifles are commonly shot without additional filler, wads or any cleaning between shots.
The target rifle used with paper patched bullets is at the other end of the spectrum in terms of complexity for loading.
Getting advice from people who shoot similar firearms is vital before setting out. It is possible ruin a gun or set up a dangerous situation through incorrect loading even if the powder load and bullet have been correctly selected.
The Range Orders used by the Long Range Rifles Branch of the MLAGB are a very good basic safety guide and cover such things as the carriage of arms and the procedures for coping with misfires.
Remember – Safe shooting is no accident, keep it safe.
The finest muzzle loading firearm can be ruined by inadequate or incorrect cleaning.
Each type of firearm will require a specific sequence and procedure. The MLAGB would advise a new shooter or any one who is unsure to seek advice on their specific fire arm from another member of their club who has a similar arm or just ask on the MLAGB forum – Our forum members are always ready to help and offer advice!
Remember – Safe shooting is no accident, keep it safe.