Safe Shooting of Civil War Guns
Shooting a Civil War gun can be fun with
instant gratification of the smoke cloud, but requires a safe place with
a good high hill as a backstop. The bullet can go a mile, or more, if it escapes
over the hill. All of the safety issues that apply to all guns
continue to apply, with the biggest being to never to point a gun at another
person. Not even as a jest in fun. But there additional
considerations for guns made as far back as the Civil War.
Powder requires special care as it is more flammable, much more
easily ignited, and becomes an explosive in smaller quantities then more
modern smokeless propellant powders. Black powder also has shipping restrictions and
special storage requirements. There are modern substitutes such as
Pinnnacle, ClearShot, and
All of these are safer to ship and store, but they are still flammable.
The smoke cloud doesn't quite look and smell the same as the original
Do not use any other smokeless powder
in a firearm made for black powder has been the standard advice for many
decades, and for good reason. There are too many injuries from
inexperience trying to do so. While such advice isn't exactly true
as black powder cartridges are loaded with smokeless powders all the
time, there are differences between cartridge and non-cartridge guns
that make a seriously unsafe condition whenever smokeless powder is
loaded in a muzzle loading gun. Refer to loading manuals such as
before reloading any type of cartridge, which has a separate manual for
reloading cartridges with black powder.
Do not smoke around any of these powders for muzzle loading guns.
These powders, and especially black powder, can be ignited by sparks,
including from powder measures.
Most, maybe all, indoor shooting ranges ban the use of black powder as
the ventilating systems can not handle the clouds of gunsmoke.
and ball revolvers is a separate discussion. Loading a
revolver from the front of the cylinder has its own safety issues from
the hand, arm, or face being in front of the loaded cylinder.
Loading a muzzle loading rifle raises the same concerns of keeping the
front end of the gun close enough to work with and far enough away to
avoid being hit if it goes off during the loading process.
Place the percussion caps on last to avoid many, but not all, of the
ways a Civil War gun can go off unexpectedly.
An additional concern is sparks remaining in the barrel. Modern
metallic cartridges are more immune, but loose powder being dumped down
a barrel or chamber is easily ignited by any smoldering burning residues.
Many shooters were taught years ago to blow down the barrel first as a precaution.
Better is to swab with a damp patch on a ramrod. Talk with an
experienced black powder shooter for bringing all the small nuances
The North-South Skirmish Association
has been hosting events for many years. There are large monthly
and annual meetings near Winchester, Virginia, at their place called
Fort Shenandoah, and elsewhere. They have many experienced
members who can be helpful on safe locations to shoot, safe methods and
techniques, and local suppliers.
The surviving original Civil War guns are
expensive as collectors items. They can also be unsafe to shoot from
aging, deterioration, damage, or unwise repairs. Newly made replicas are available to legal
buyers. Dixie Gun Works is
the time honored original supplier that started in the 1950s with a fun
catalog, and there
other suppliers who can be found on the Internet.
For more information about Civil War
guns, consult "Flayderman's Guide To
Antique American Firearms" by Norm Flayderman, and the references cited
Ray Riling is a long standing book dealer specializing in gun
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