View Full Version : Buck & Ball Loads

October 6, 2002, 02:59 PM
First, a thanks to Dave McC for bringing this topic up in another thread. This reminded me of a recent magazine article. So, I'd like to share the information that this article has.

Now, the load we're talking about is "Buck & Ball", an old muzzleloading military smoothbore musket loading. What this was, was a single ball of the musket's caliber topped off by one of two layers of buckshot. These loads were pre-made into combustable paper cartridges which contained the powder and ball all in one. The end was bitten off, the powder poured down the barrel, and the wrapped projectile(s) then inserted and rammed home.

The magazine article I'm talking about appeared in "Muzzleloader" magazine, July/August 2002 issue. The author is Mike Nesbitt and the title of the article is "Buck-and-Ball Loads."

Now, the author of the article did several tests of buck & ball loads (here on, I'll refer to them as "B&B") at 20 yards using 18 by 18 inch square butcher paper. He was using a 20 gauge (roughly .60 caliber) smothbore muzzleloading flintlock "trade gun." In the tests, he used a single .60 caliber ball and #4 (.25 caliber) buckshot. He tried putting the buckshot on the top of the ball in some tests and on the bottom of the ball in other tests. In one test, he put 3 pieces of buckshot UNDER the .60 ball and only one piece of buck made it on the paper with the ball. In another, he put 6 pieces of buckshot under the .60 ball and only 2 pieces made to to the paper with the ball. Now, in tests where he put the buckshot on TOP of the ball, in most of the tests all the buckshot made it to the paper with the ball. The most buckshot that missed was 2 pieces, though t is very possible that they went through the ball's hole. In those tests, he put eight pieces of buckshot on top of the ball, in two layers of four pieces over the ball. The variations of patterning include the buckshot patterned around the ball, over the ball, and to the right of the ball. He states that some pattern spreads were about 8 inches while some were around 12 inches. The most important thing he mentions is that in B&B loads, the buckshot must be placed OVER the large ball, NOT under. For a 20 gauge, he mentions that #4 buck is what's used, while for a 12 gauge, six pieces of 0 buck is what's used, in layers of 3.

All of this is backed up by examples I have seen in other books of surviving relics of Civil War B&B paper cartridges. In every example I have seen, the buckshot is indeed wrapped up OVER the ball.

On the frontier, smoothbore "trade guns" were often more popular than rifles for the simple fact that they could be loaded with a single round ball, birdshot, buckshot, and, of course, B&B. This was considered great versatility for persons who could afford only one firearm or could carry only one firearm. In warfare up to the 1830's, the smoothbore was considered superior due to not only the size of the projectile, but also that rifles fouled quicker than smoothbores due to the black powder in use of the day. The size of the various calibers can be noted in modern day reference: A .60 caliber French fusil trade gun was about 20 gauge, a .69 caliber Charleville or U.S. M1842 musket was about 16 gauge and the .75 caliber British Brown Bess was abut 12 gauge. Just some background information for reference.

It would indeed be interesting to see some modern B&B loads offered up with today's smokeless powder. And some round ball loads, too. Any thoughts?

Big Bang
October 6, 2002, 04:15 PM
Very interesting info Kevan. Thanks for posting it.

It is neat that the 20 ga. is very close to the 60 caliber trade guns that were prefered on the frontier for their economy with valuable powder and shot. I have been experimenting with a concept that I call "modern musket" seeking to duplicate with modern 20 ga. arms what the frontier trade guns accomplished but with any improvement possible with modern technology.

The trade guns often used undersized balls but sometimes patched. We can do much better with hard cast 58 cal. musket balls "patched" by modern plastic shot wad columns. Initial experiments were with these balls and published skeet charges of Unique powder. These give excellent accuracy at shotgun ranges. They are delightful to shoot with less recoil than skeet shot loads. My groups are about half the size of those with commercial foster slugs. It is also a joy to shoot slug loads that give no leading and allow easy bore cleanup.

For details on how I load these see the thread on Lady Defender and Round Ball Slug Loads.

Currently I am trying charges of Herco increased about 20% over skeet loads of Unique. These are very experimental, perhaps risky, but they shoot very well with a nice increase in power. Still very pleasant to shoot compared to comercial foster slug loads.

Eventually I will get some velocity data with my chronograph to report but probably not this fall as I am using my limited free time to hunt and hike in the Catskill forest.


October 6, 2002, 06:59 PM
Big Bang, your information is also fascinating and thought-provoking. I hadn't thought about the "plastic patch" idea, but it makes a lot of sense. Patched balls from a muzzleloader are much more accurate than non-patched balls. And I have seen plastic sabot-like "patches" specifically for round balls on the muzzleloader market.

I am going to check your thread about round balls. I'm a 12 gauge man myself, but the .75 balls for a Brown Bess might bear some looking into. Plus, muzzleloading supply stores carry lead balls in varying increments of sies throughout the caliber spectrums. Example: For a 20 gauge, you can get .570, .575, .595, .600, and so on, to use with plastic patch or not. A place called "Track of the Wolf" carries all sizes of cast lead balls from .283 to .760 ( as well as swaged buckshot from Hornady from .240 to .350, by the way.) On the 20 gauge note, one wonders how a plastic patched .58 Minie of the original U.S. military style would do. Or maybe a saboted .69 Minie out of a 12 gauge.

Dave McC
October 7, 2002, 05:13 AM
Great thread, guys! Thanks,and a little bit more.

First,Midway has .690" round balls listed in their catalog for insertion in a 12 gauge plastic wad.I believe loading data is available from Ballistic Products.

Second, many of the old Pa long rifles are found to be smoothbores.They were not originally, but as the frontier moved west, a pot gun was needed. So, reboring an old rifle with worn rifling and not rerifling made a nice smaller gauge shotgun.

Merle Miller, the Civil War historian, was a friend of my father's. He showed us a Southern shotgun,modified for use as a cavalry arm due to the chronic shortage of weapons the Southern forces had.A muzzleloader, it had the bbls cut to maybe 16" and was equipped with a saddle ring like the carbines of the time. According to Mr Miller, many Southern Cavalrymen brought their shotguns to the war and shortened them for ease of use on horseback. Some of these were the new pinfires, but most were MLs.

October 7, 2002, 11:17 PM
When I get a bigger place and can get me a reloading press, I'm going to try me those round balls!

Dave McC
October 8, 2002, 04:59 AM
A coupla things about those RBs, Kevan.

A round ball under bore size was oft used in days of old as a deer/hog round. Powerful, but as accurate as a Musket, circa 1750.These were still being used when I was young, and were often called "Pumpkin Balls".They were superceded by the Forster style slugs introduced in the 30s.

I've no qualms about using a round like this in a modern, open choked shotgun,but many old guns have very thin bbl walls, tight chokes, and don't have that much margin. Again, stick to published data.

Note also that one of these RBs will weigh an oz or more.


October 9, 2002, 02:07 AM
I want to add a little to what Dave McC said. The Foster type slug is not widely understood. People tend to think that the grooves are meant to spin the slug like a rifle bullet. That is not true. They are designed to offer less friction and resistance when squeezing through a choked barrel. If a bore sized slug didn't have some relief, it would probably bulge the end of the barrel. The hollow base also helps the slug to squeeze down and helps keep the slug flying point first.

This brings us to the bore sized round ball. Even if it is made of pure lead, it will still offer a lot of resistance when trying to squeeze through a choke that is more then a few thousands of an inch smaller then the ball. I have seen more then a few older shotguns with bulged and split muzzles from shooting punkin' balls though them.

A word to the wise......or maybe not.

October 12, 2002, 10:37 PM
I would prefer to buy a pre-made load rather than try and make it myself in hindsight. To many variables on doing it myself.