The fascination of watching muzzleloaders

By: 
Doreen Heintz
Sports Editor

Because I have not shot a gun very often, I wasn’t sure what to expect on Saturday when the muzzleloaders were out shooting. To my surprise, it was a most enjoyable afternoon and I learned a lot about muzzleoaders. So just what is a muzzleloader? The actual gun is a firearm that uses a projectile (usually a lead ball). Usually the propellant charge is loaded from the muzzle (open end of the gun’s barrel) of the gun. A muzzleloader is also a person who shots the gun.
What made the guns and their owners so interesting was one of the muzzleloaders had actually built his own pistol, while another muzzleloader built her flintlock rifle from a kit.
Robert Tucker of Bozeman attended this year’s muzzleloader event at East Fork for the first time.
“A friend of mine is from this area,” said Tucker, “so I decided to come up here to check it out.”
Tucker said he has been interested in muzzleloaders for about 15 years, and the pistol he was using for shooting on Saturday was the fifth gun he had built himself.
“I like to build them and then shoot them,” Tucker added.
Tucker explained to this gun novice that his pistol was 62 caliber or 20 gauge.
“The English use gauge to describe the size of a gun, while we use caliber,” said Tucker. “The 62 caliber means the barrel of a gun is .62 of an inch.”
Tucker was attempting to hit a balloon several yards away without using a sight on the gun. He also had to compensate for a stiff wind blowing on Saturday. Tucker had missed the balloon several times, but when he took another shot so I could get a photo of him shooting, Tucker hit the balloon. I would like to think I brought him some luck.
Jeri Croteau and her husband, Leo, had built a flintlock rifle from a kit. A flintlock rifle has to be cocked in order to shoot. Jeri was having a little trouble getting her rifle to fire on Saturday, but she was not discouraged.
Jeri and Leo are from Bozeman. Jeri was interested in coming to the Snowy Mountain Muzzleloader Rendezvous because her great-great-grandfather settled in the Snowies.
Jeri showed me how she loaded the gunpowder into what is called a bitter pan. Before loading the projectile, Jeri put some gunpowder down the barrel of a gun and then added a lead ball (the projectile) with a patch around it. The ball had to be pushed all the way down the barrel with a short starter and then a longer ramrod. The gun is now ready to fire.
Jeri and Dan Paul of Helena were shooting at gongs along a trail walk at the Rendevous. Paul was using a .50 caliber rifle. Paul enjoys coming to the Rendezvous at East Fork.
“The nice thing about coming here is that if someone has a problem with his gun, everyone jumps to help figure out what the problem is,” said Paul. “They like everyone to be able to compete.”
Paul attended his first Rendezvous at East Fork four years ago.
As I found out, there is always something new to learn about the Snowy Mountain Muzzleloader Rendezvous, so if you missed this one, come next year. It is a great learning experience.

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