I love the smell of napalm in the morning: muzzleloading in Ponca State Park


You know, I said with a grunt,

Some just think it’s a stunt,

    With no scope for a sight

    And a load that is light

And a rifle that loads from the front

I went out to Ponca State Park this morning for their annual Outdoor Expo.  Because I’d been so busy in the past I hadn’t attended before, but this year when the Hawkeye Rifle and Pistol Club asked for volunteers, I couldn’t say no.  And I didn’t want to.

Back in February of 1988, my new partner at the time, John, picked up a flyer off his desk and said, “Did you see how long the muzzleloader deer season is in Iowa?  It’s almost three weeks long.”  He put down the flyer and he picked up an identically sized catalogue.  “And did you see how much muzzleloaders are at Comb’s?  They’re $99!” (Comb’s Authorized Liquidators has since changed ownership four times and to the best of my knowledge is out of business.  But they were fun while they lasted.)

For twenty dollars less I bought the kit, mail order.  One of my best stories to tell a live audience is my “take-it-apart-put-it-together” saga of Me and the Ten Failed Muzzleloader Kits.  If you ever meet me and ask for it, I’ll tell the story but it has a lot of visuals that don’t translate to the written page.  In July of that year I bought an actual front-stuffing rifle from Thompson; it served me well for fifteen years until the stock cracked under horrendous weather conditions.  The manufacturer stood behind their product when they didn’t have to, and that’s another very long story.

That summer John and I learned how to shoot and maintain our new rifles.  Over the next five years at least one of us took a crippled deer each year. 

As time passed I acquired a flint-lock, two Civil War era reproductions, modern in-line front loading weapons, and a bunch of spare parts.  I have taken deer and elk for meat. 

I naturally fit in as a volunteer at the Club’s muzzleloader booth.

We kept the loads light, about 40 grains of a black powder substitute propelling round balls with a greased linen patch.  Nobody complained about the recoil.  Several people shot very well.  Lots of folk didn’t know how to aim without a telescopic sight. 

One volunteer gatekeeper, four loaders, and four coaches kept the crowd moving.  It was a good mix of ages, ethnicities, genders and experiences.   A lot of women fired a gun for the first time. 

 At some point I found myself both loading and coaching.  After a few shots my loading went very fast. 

We took a break while three mountain man re-enactors gave a great flintlock demonstration.  One fellow got a shot off every twenty seconds.  Another man dressed correctly for 1760 used a historically accurate “trade musket” loaded with a handful of powder, leaves from the ground for a first wad, a handful of gravel as a charge, and more leaves for a top wad.  He pointed out that with flint and powder he could still have a weapon with whatever he found lying around.

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