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Old February 2, 2012, 11:25 AM   #1
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What happens if you don't use a patch when shooting a rifle?

Like a Kentucky Rifle, I see that you are supposed to use X caliber patched ball, but what happens if you do not use a patch?

What does the patch do exactly?
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Old February 2, 2012, 11:55 AM   #2
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The patch serves several purposes.
  • It seals the bore when using an undersized ball
  • A lubricated patch keeps the fouling soft
  • It allows easier loading since you use an undersized ball
  • It grips the rifling (and the ball) and allows it to 'take' the rifling and spin the ball for improved accuracy

Without a patch, the ball has no lube, if bore size it will require to be pounded all the way down to the powder charge and very likely it will get stuck. If undersized, it will just rattle down the bore when fired. Accuracy will be poor and power will be be reduced due to blow by.

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Old February 2, 2012, 12:12 PM   #3
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Just don't do it.
That's the best advice. There is no reason you should overlook the cheapest component of the whole operation, a small square or round piece of cloth. The patch does lots of things.
1) It keeps the ball tightly squeezed in the rifling, holding it against the powder so you don't get a dangerous situation with airspace between the powder and the ball.
2) In squeezing it against the rifling, it imparts the spin of the rifling to the ball and stabilizes the ball in flight. A ball just "rattling down the pipe" doesn't have spin on it and, well, you've seen knuckle balls pitched in baseball, right? Same thing.
3) The patch transfers the lube that hopefully you have used with it, and makes loading easier and also cleaning the bore easier after the shot.
4) It aids the patch in sealing the rifling behind the ball and transferring the "push" of the burning powder to the entire rear surface of the ball, rather than whistling around it through the rifling and airspace between ball and barrel (blow-by).
5) There is a good chance that if the powder isn't compressed with a nice tightly patched ball, it won't ignite (misfire), or only partially burn and not completely eject the ball, another problem in itself.
6) If the ball isn't patched, as mentioned, you won't have a nice tight seal, and if not fired very soon after loading, the powder might absorb moisture from the air and not ignite properly or at all.
7) The ball might just roll out of the barrel and embarrass you in front of the other guys at the range, whom will then blackball you from the club for not using a patch in the first place.
8)Just don't do it.
Colt 1860. It just feels right.
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Old February 2, 2012, 12:15 PM   #4
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Hey Beagle333,

That's what I just posted before you. Why did you 'step' on me?
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Old February 2, 2012, 12:17 PM   #5
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Sorry... I got long-winded while typing and your post went up while I was in my "edit" screen.
Colt 1860. It just feels right.
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Old February 2, 2012, 02:40 PM   #6
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I agree with what has been said so far.
However, even a slightly oversize bare ball that's been pounded down to seat on top of the powder charge can generally be safely fired out of the barrel. So the chances are that it won't get stuck in that respect.

There is a way to fire bare balls safely without using a patch. That would be to sandwich the ball or projectile[s] in between the powder and a tight fitting card or wad.
That would be similar to a how a modern shotshell is loaded.
It can be sandwiched in between an over powder card or base wad, and an over shot card or similar wad such as densely compressed newspaper which serves to hold the projectile securely in place on top of the powder charge.

Another example which would work would be to sandwich the bare ball in between two wads of highly compressed newspaper.

A loose fitting bare ball can often shoot fairly accurately at a close range like 25 yards or so.

Last edited by arcticap; February 2, 2012 at 03:28 PM.
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Old February 2, 2012, 10:21 PM   #7
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The smoothbore muskets used during the Revolutionary War actually did shoot unpatched roundballs. Soldiers tore open a paper cartridge holding powder and a ball and first used a small amount of that powder to prime the pan, then poured the rest of the powder down the bore followed by the ball and then used the paper from the empty cartidge as an over the ball wad to keep it from rolling out.

Yes, they were drilled to prime before loading, it was war afterall. This is one place where re-enactors take liberties from authenticity in the name of safety.

I have experimented with unpatched .457 roundballs loaded into a .45 caliber TC Hawken and it actually worked fairly well. A tap from a mallet gets the oversized ball into the muzzle and from there on, it's not hard at all to push down bore to the powder charge. You do have to wipe the bore with a cleaning patch between shots though because without a patch, the ball does not "clean as you load".
A bullet does not have to have a hollow base for the chamber pressure to upset the bullet and make it fill the rifling grooves as is proven by TC MaxiBalls. Roundballs upset to obturate the bore also.
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