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McPhee
October 15, 2010, 11:59 AM
My good friend, Al Kalin, often told stories of his experiences when growing up in a rural area of So. Calif. near Yuma, AZ. The following is one of his stories that I thought the readers of this forum may enjoy.

Shooting doves with a muzzle loader
by Al Kalin

“What’s this,” I asked Tunney as I pulled an old dusty, cobweb-covered gun from the darkest corner of his sporting goods store. The corner at the back of the shop contained broken fishing rods, beat-up golf clubs, a few old brooms and mops, at least a dozen unstrung tennis rackets, and a few broken baseball bats.

The old shotgun wasn’t like any I’d ever seen. “How do you load it?” I asked Tunney, who hadn’t answered my first question. Tunney laid his cigar on the counter top as I handed him the old gun and wiped the dust and spider webs off with a rag. “It doesn’t break open like a modern gun,” he told me. “It’s an old muzzle loading shotgun, that you load from the end of the barrel. I think it’s a 32 gauge. I’d learned, from reading Field and Steam magazine, that the gauge of a shotgun was determined by how many lead balls, the diameter of the barrel, it took to weigh one pound.

“See this rod?” Tunney told me, as he removed the ramrod from the forearm of the weapon to show me. “It’s used to pack the wadding over the powder and the shot. To fire it you have to pour the powder down the barrel, pack it tight with wadding, then pour in the shot and seal it with wadding, and it’s ready to prime.” Walking over behind the counter, he pulled out a small green tin and opened it. 100 small copper caps gleamed like jewels and looked like tiny versions of the sewing thimble my grandmother used.

Tunney pulled back the hammer on the old gun and showed me the nipple, hidden by the design of the hammer. “That’s where you place the cap when you’re ready to fire it,” he said. “When you pull the trigger, the hammer hits the cap, the cap shoots fire down the hollow nipple, into the barrel, and ignites the powder.” Handing the gun back to me he said, “I’ll loan it to you so you can give it a try. I have a can of black gunpowder for it and these caps.”

After more instructions from Tunney and my wallet a few dollars lighter, I peddled home on my bicycle with the old shotgun draped across the handlebars.

Following what Tunney had told me I fired a cap in the unloaded gun to clear the nipple and then poured the measured amount of black gunpowder down the barrel. I used paper from a brown paper bag as wadding. Tunney had instructed me how to tamp the wadding down over the powder with the ramrod and charge the barrel with shot, finally sealing it with more wadding made from the brown paper bag.

I primed the nipple with a cap, pulled back the hammer and took aim at a tin can 20 yards away. I wasn’t expecting what happened next. The gun went click… fffiitt… KAPLOOF as the cap ignited the charge. It didn’t say “CRACK,” like a rifle, or “KABOOM!” like a shotgun, it just went KAPLOOF, like someone was beating the dust from a rug. A cloud of acrid smoke that smelled like rotten eggs enveloped me. I didn’t know if I’d hit the tin can until the smoke drifted away but when the air cleared the can was riddled with holes. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. My right hand had little burn marks and a black smudge where fire had spit out the nipple cover. I smelled like the acrid smoke and I thought it was great.

Within a few months I had done some genuine gun trading and was the proud owner of a 10-gauge double barrel muzzle-loading shotgun, over a hundred years old. This was a serious shotgun, one the largest of its day, and I practiced with it for a month before dove season opened.

Opening morning found me with friends in a milo stubble field. The doves darkened the sky as they came to feed and my friends said they could hear me giggling and laughing from inside the vile clouds of smoke my gun produced.

I only had two birds left to fill my limit when I ran out of brown paper bag material for wadding and had to switch to newspaper. I swung on a pair of doves, attempting a double, and the first bird folded and dropped. I continued to swing through the cloud of smoke and completed the double when the second bird came into view. As he fell to the ground I thought I heard a faint crackling noise behind me and smoke of a different type filled my nose.

The following are my tips if you ever shoot a muzzleloader in a milo field. Don’t use newspaper for wading unless you intend to set the field on fire! Tip number two…As sensible as it sounded at the time, you can’t pee enough to put out burning milo stubble. And finally, tip number three…don’t try stomping out a fire with tennis shoes. The soles will melt and makes it hard to run for your life.