Smoke signals — Purists keep muzzleloader tradition alive

‘Primitive weapons’ have grown to a number of centerfired calibers, but these hunters are keeping the tradition of true muzzleloaders alive. And it’s about more than just deer hunting.

First, there were reproduction muzzleloaders. Then came in-lines with synthetic stocks and 9-power scopes, followed by .45-70s, .444 Marlins, and .35 Whelens.

What might the next “primitive weapon” be?

It’s sort of comforting to know that some sportsmen have remained true to the spirit of hunting with primitive weapons.

For them, only real smoke poles will do.

Take Harry Goldman, for example. I was privileged to be in his sunflower field on the opening day of dove season. The birds were flying, and the familiar shotgun pops filled the air.

Suddenly, a deep-throated “boom” caught my attention, and I turned to see a bluish-white plume of smoke in the distance.

Goldman is a purist, and he was knocking doves from the sky with a vintage double-barreled flintlock.

A week later I was back in the field, and this time Goldman pulled out a classic 1857 James Purdey percussion shotgun. Purdey was an English gunsmith whose company is still in business.

The gun’s distinctive mottled barrel was easily identified as Damascus steel, a type of metal that originated in the Middle East. Purdey was said to have added horseshoe nails to the iron mixture to increase its strength. The steel was heated, hammered into strips and then beaten around rods to form the barrels.

The result is amazing.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Goldman said.

As I examined the side-by-side, Goldman explained its specifications.

“It’s an 11-bore and is what they call a pigeon gun,” he said. “Back then, they had live pigeon shoots, where pigeons were released from a trap, and the shooters had to drop them within a (prescribed) circle.

“You’ll notice this shotgun doesn’t have a ramrod. To make it fair, everyone had to load at a common bench, using the same shot and powder from common containers. Since you had to come back to the bench to reload, you didn’t have to have a ramrod on the shotgun.”

As we were talking, several birds zoomed by, and Goldman fired both barrels to dropped two.

At the end of the hunt, we had four doves each, and I was using a 12-gauge Remington 870.

“Other people may kill more birds than I,” Goldman said, “but I defy them to have more fun.”

Jim Gleason, who makes customs knives and traditional smoke poles, is Goldman’s kindred spirit.

“I have always liked history and been interested in guns and knives,” Gleason said. “I grew up hunting all types of game, and was fascinated by guns.”

Gleason was a complete novice at shooting muzzleloaders when Thompson/Center came out with a reliable Hawken-type rifle in the 1970s.

“I read a magazine article about the TC and bought one on a whim,” he said. “When I shot it, I was hooked. All it took was one shot. I was completely blown away by its accuracy.”

“My first deer with a muzzleloader was a big old buck up in Arkansas. Actually it was a spike, but I was just as thrilled with it as any I’ve ever killed. I was using a .50 Tennessee mountain rifle hunting from the ground and shot him at 35 yards.”

That grew into other avenues of hunting.

“I even hunted squirrels, and then started building Ohio squirrel rifles in 32 and 36 caliber,” Gleason said. “There’s nothing more fun than squirrel hunting with a muzzleloader, even if you just get one or two.”

Recently, Gleason switched from percussions to flintlocks.

“I’m a mechanical type of guy, and the flintlocks fascinate me more than the percussions,” he explained. “They are not as crude as a lot of people think.”

“Tuning a lock to get it to fire as fast as possible is a real challenge. The pan has to open at just the right angle; you have to have a good, sharp flint; and the powder in the pan has to be just the right amount and positioned correctly.”

Like Gleason, Danny Jones’ fascination with traditional black-powder weapons began over 40 years ago. He received a reproduction 36-caliber 1862 Colt Police Model pistol as a gift, and soon thereafter bought an Italian-made 58-caliber Civil War reproduction rifle.

Today, Jones deer hunts with a .45 mountain rifle flintlock and squirrel hunts with an Italian-made 12-gauge double barrel percussion shotgun.

He is also making a 62-caliber (or 20-gauge) flintlock fowling piece.

Jones has taken several deer with his flintlock, including bucks on two consecutive days. But perhaps his most memorable hunt was when he shot three hogs in about 30 minutes while in a box stand watching a couple of shooting lanes, one of which had a corn feeder about 75 yards away.

“A few pigs came out at the feeder, and I dropped a shoat that weighed about 50 pounds,” he said. “Then, a little while later, another group came out on a different lane, and I shot one of them.

“Not long afterward, more appeared and I got another one.”

Goldman, Gleason and Jones use traditional muzzleloaders for the same reason: They are all history buffs who enjoy the thrill of the hunt more than the harvest.

“I like the challenge and the tradition of it all,” Jones said. “It’s like bow hunting, where a doe is just as much a trophy as a big buck.”

About Terry L. Jones 106 Articles
A native of Winn Parish, Terry L. Jones has enjoyed hunting and fishing North Louisiana’s woods and water for 50 years. He lives in West Monroe with his wife, Carol.

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