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Early Muzzleloading Pistols and Rifles

In the story in this website on Handguns of the Old West, I started that story with the Colt Paterson revolver. This story describes the single shot muzzleloading firearms that preceded the Colt Paterson.

The single shot pistol and rifle firearms for this story are called muzzleloaders because the powder charge and lead ball are inserted into the muzzle end of the firearm. After inserting powder into the barrel from the muzzle, a cloth patch is placed over the muzzle and a round lead ball is pushed into the barrel's muzzle (the cloth patch secures the ball in the barrel.) The ramrod stored under the barrel of the pistol or rifle is then used to push the ball down the barrel to seat the ball on top of the powder.

The powder in the muzzleloaders was first fired by a piece of flint placed in the jaws of the hammer (hence the flintlock name). The spark from the flint when hit by the hammer ignited the powder sending the ball out of the barrel. Later the flint was replaced by a percussion cap containing fulminate of mercury which was placed over a nipple under the hammer which ignited the powder when the hammer hit the cap.

The introduction of the percussion cap in replacing the flint significantly improved both the reliability of powder ignition as well as the speed of ignition. The latter was especially important if trying to hit a moving taget. (See. also, the story on "Rifles, Shotguns, and Knives" in this website.) The percussion cap was also used for several decades to ignite the powder in the cylinders of the percussion (cap and ball) revolvers.

The muzzleloading pistol pictured below is generically referred to as a Kentucky pistol. This pistol is a percussion version made by Traditions with a 9" long barrel.

The muzzleloading Kentucky-style rifle pictured below was made by Lyman and is called their Great Plains model. It also is a percussion version. Its barrel is 33" long and the rifle has a 51" length overall. The original Kentucky rifles were much longer (barrels over 38 inches). Other muzzleloading rifles included the shorter Tennessee or mountain rifle (38 inch barrel) with larger bores and heavier bullets for shooting larger game.

The single-shot muzzleloading rifles were especially useful for hunting, including bringing down large game. Their use in battle was limited by the time-consuming loading process. Shooting (and loading) these guns gives a much greater appreciation for the benefits introduced by the multiple shot percussion revolvers and the later use of metallic cartridges in revolvers and rifles.

Today, there are muzzleloading gun clubs and competitions features these guns. The National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association website provides more information on the sport for the interested reader.