I almost felt as if I were hunting from behind a waterfall as my eyes focused on the water drops pouring from the bill of my blaze orange cap. The evening before, the weatherman on the tv had predicted "intermittent" showers for the day, throwing in "heavy at times". So, I had packed in one of the heavy rubberized military ponchos ... just in case one of those "intermittent" showers broke out during the season opener of a mid 1980's Illinois deer season.
If not for that poncho, I would have been soaked. Fortunately, the temperature was around 50-degrees, but an occasional gust of wind insured that at least some of the "heavy at times" moisture found it's way in through the front of the hood. The so-called "shower" had poured down for nearly an hour, and I was beginning to feel the chill from clothing that had become more than a little damp. Fortunately, the rain stopped ... and a few minutes later a very heavy and wide 4x5 buck was slipping down the narrow valley I was watching.
I eased the front of the poncho off to my left side ... and glanced down at the custom percussion .54 Hawken being used for the hunt. The cap was still on the nipple, and as the deer moved to within 50 yards, I pulled the front trigger back all the way ... held it there and thumbed the hammer back ... then let up on the trigger - bringing the rifle to full cock without any audible "clicks". The rifle had a great "double set" trigger, and I knew that even when in the "unset" mode, it would take just 3 1/2 pounds to drop the hammer. The rifle slowly came up as the deer moved to within 35 yards...and as the buck slowly eased by at just 25 or so yards the sights were aligned and locked just to the rear of the front shoulder. The hammer fell ... and the cap popped loudly ... and that was it.
The buck stopped, turned slightly and had its eyes locked right on mine. Slowly, I reached inside the front of my jacket, and easily located the brass Tedd Cash capper hanging from a lanyard around my neck ... eased it out ... let a new cap drop into the dispenser ... and ever so slowly eased the capper to the rifle and placed the cap on the nipple. I brought the hammer back to full cock once again ... and brought the rifle slowly up to my shoulder. I couldn't believe that such a mature buck would stand there, barely 25 yards away and allow me to do all of this. A few seconds later, the sights were back on the deer...and the trigger came back.
Again, the hammer fell and the cap fired ... but not the rifle. This time the buck ran up on the side of the opposite ridge ... but stopped at about 50 yards to watch me go through the same slow recapping process. And remained standing there as I took aim for the third time ... and again ... only the cap fired. That was all that the deer could handle - and the last last I ever saw of that buck was as it topped the ridge 150 yards away ... gone from my life forever ... except for the memory of actually having three chances to put that nice rack on the wall.
WET ... COLD ... and DISGUSTED...I walked on back to camp. Before walking into the small cabin being shared with four other hunting buddies, I threw a fresh cap on the nipple ... took aim at a nearby stump ... and dropped the hammer. "KA...BOOM!" ... Without any hesitation whatsoever!
Unfortunately ... Often such is the luck of the traditional muzzleloading hunter during inclement weather ... even those who hunt with a rifle of percussion ignition. Fortunately...there are several things you can do to drastically reduce the chances of wet weather affecting the ignition of a traditional percussion rifle or shotgun.
While moisture getting into the ignition system ... or into the barrel through the ignition system ... is typically the most common cause for a misfire or serious hangfire with a traditional percussion muzzleloader ... it's not always the only way that wet weather can ruin your day, or ruin your hunt. Rifles or shotguns which are carried "muzzle up" are also susceptible to moisture coming in from that end of the front-loader as well. If the rain, or even damp snow, is heavy enough, moisture can build in front of the projectile ... and even if a bullet is well greased or a patch well lubed ... eventually some of the moisture can begin to seep around the projectile and begin to dampen the powder charge. It doesn't take much to turn black powder, or for that matter carbon-based black powder substitutes, into a gooey ... non-combustible ... mess.
One easy way to keep such moisture from entering the muzzle of a muzzle-loaded rifle or shotgun is to simply put a water-proof seal at the front. Regular plastic wrap from the kitchen works great. It can be held in place using a rubber band that's doubled around a time or two. I prefer using vinyl electricians tape, like that shown above left. By stretching the tape as two or three wraps go around the muzzle and plastic film, that tape tends to stay in place all day - even during a day long deluge. (Just be sure to trim away excess plastic wrap that could make it difficult to see your front sight clearly.)
Likewise, a moisture proof barrier can keep dampness from seeping in through the ignition system ... or just dampening the priming inside a percussion cap enough that it fails to fire. Ever since that 1980's hunt, on which I had to watch one of the nicest whitetail bucks I had ever seen simply trot on over the top of a ridge ... after three attempts to get the rifle to fire - I have relied on good ol' bowstring wax to keep moisture out of the ignition system of any percussion cap muzzleloader I am using on a hunt during bad weather.
Basically, I just rub the cone of the nipple all the way around with the wax, taking extra pre-caution to insure than none of the wax gets inside the nipple. Then, once the percussion cap has been firmly seated onto the waxed nipple cone ... I apply a bit more of the wax around the bottom edge of the copper cap.
This is as "weather proof" as one can make a traditional percussion ignition rifle or shotgun. When this much effort is given to keep moisture out of a muzzleloader ignition system, I have never had a single misfire or hangfire. It takes just a couple of extra minutes to seal off the muzzle with plastic food wrap and to apply that weather resistant coat of bowstring wax to the nipple and around the base of the percussion cap. But, that little amount of extra time and effort is a small investment to insure that a rifle or shotgun you may pack around for the next four or five days before getting a shot will indeed fire instantaneously. - Toby Bridges
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Traditional Muzzleloader Hunting
This blog is made possible by Davide Pedersoli & Co., Dixie Gun Works, Traditions Firearms, Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co., October Country, and Hodgdon/GOEX powders. The topics presented here will be devoted entirely to shooting and hunting with muzzleloading guns of pre- 1860's design.