Although the majority of today's flintlock hunters will lack the marksmanship of Daniel Boone when they take to the woods for the statewide muzzleloader deer season, Saturday, Dec. 26, through Saturday, Jan. 9, they are much more safety conscious than the average hunter in the 1700s.
So prevalent were self-inflicted and accidental gunshot wounds that even the famous Major Robert Rogers addressed the problem in the rules he issued to his famous ranger company during the French and Indian War. That rule instructed each ranger of the distance he was to maintain between himself and those in line to prevent "one shot killing two men" if their flintlock accidentally discharged.
That there was a need for such a rule emphasizes the lack of formal firearms training given to those not self taught. In addition, many early flintlocks had no spring to hold the hammer at halfcock, meaning the firearm was carried a fullcock and could be set off by the slightest contact.
Today, the locks used on all custom and production flintlock rifles can be set on halfcock when being carried during hunting. Even with this feature, it is advisable to use a leather frizzen cover to prevent sparking if the lock spring fails and the hammer falls.
Most veteran muzzleloader shooters take an approach of "if it can happen, it will happen" when it comes to safety. For those who scoff, Google the words "unsinkable/iceberg" as a reminder.
Other than those bowhunters using traditional archery equipment, flintlock rifles are the most primitive sporting arm with its own deer season. While mass-production technology has brought manufactured flintlocks into the "modern" age, the basic, overall design is that used by gunbuilders in the 1600s.
Certainly, safety is the primary concern for all types of hunting, but what sets muzzleloader hunting apart is the use of blackpowder to load and prime flintlocks. Unlike modern, smokeless gunpowder, blackpowder is an explosive, rather than a propellant.
Because muzzleloader stamps may now be purchased following the conclusion of the firearms deer season, each year novice flintlock hunters seek the advice of those with an understanding of these rifles. For those purchasing their first rifle, it is imperative to do so from a firearms store or department staffed by a knowledgably staff.
In recent years, even those who enjoy competitive shooting with Pennsylvania-style longrifles have found the convenience of today's shorter production rifles more practical. These rifles are handier to use in a treestand or groundblind, and they are more maneuverable when hunting in the woods than longrifles. According to Pennsylvania Federation of Black Powder Shooters president Wayne Flora of Danville , there are added safety concerns when using these shorter rifles.
"One of the basic rules of safety at all federation clubs is that rifles must be carried to and from the shooting line with the barrels in the air," Flora said. "This is especially important with these shorter rifles on a crowded shooting line.
"I understand people aren't going to carry these rifles that way when they're hunting, so that makes it even more important to use a leather frizzen cover to prevent accidental discharge. Also, many of these rifles come with slings, but slinging one of these rifles when they're loaded – even if they're not primed – is not a good idea."
Another safety consideration is that flintlock hunters may dress in primitive period attire or camouflage. Because of overlapping hunting seasons statewide and modern firearms being legal for deer hunting in Wildlife Management Unit 5C, the Pennsylvania Game Commission recommends all deer hunters were some fluorescent orange, even if only a hat.
Taking a deer with a flintlock rifle is an unforgettable experience. Hunting safely will make the season memorable for all the right reasons.
For information about membership and club shoots held by the Pennsylvania Federation of Black Powder Shooters, contact president Wayne Flora at (570) 275-4349, or visit the club booth at the Early Bird Sports Expo, Jan. 28-31, at the Bloomsburg Fairground.