KEMPTON - For those who think it is too early to begin planning and eliminating problems associated with muzzleloader hunting – in both the October antlerless season and the December flintlock season – it is time to rethink their thinking.

Every year, for the last 29 years, the largest celebration of the Golden Age of Muzzle Loading on the East Coast is held at the Dixon Muzzleloader Shop, located north of the Krumsville/Kutztown exit of Interstate 78 on Kunkel's Mill Road. Billed as the Gunmakers Fair, this year's event is Friday-Sunday, July 29-31, and seminars on just about all aspects of the sport – from living history to building a rifle from scratch – will be covered at the free event.

One of the most common problems for flintlock shooters and hunters of all skill levels is making sure they have a properly tuned lock. These locks – no matter if they are hand-built for custom rifles are machined for mass-produced commercial rifles – can be as dependable today as they were in Colonial times, but require maintenance.

For that reason, one of the most popular and well-attended seminars every year at the Gunmakers Fair is the one dealing with lock tuning by Keith Casteel. A master builder in his own right, his specialty is locks, and he has written several books on the subject.

In order to perform properly, the cock, or hammer, of a lock must be aligned correctly by being straight on with the frizzen. This assures that the flint will strike directly on the frizzen, making contact along the full width of the flint.

When properly aligned, the flint should strike the frizzen from the middle to the top third to produce a shower of hot sparks. If needed, the flint should be knapped so its arc matches the curvature of the frizzen, which must be kept smooth and clean to assure the flint shaves the red-hot bits of steel needed to produce sparks to ignite the priming powder in the pan.

Casteel demonstrates this and other useful tips, including how to properly install a flint in the jaws of the cock. If a flint is sharp, it should spark no matter if the bevel is up or down, and a properly tuned lock will fire even when upside down.

Usually, something as simple as aligning the flint and cock will solve most lock problems, but there are times when the lock must be removed to work on the spring. Today, master gunbuilders often have rollers on the frizzen, as was done in Colonial times, but these are mostly cosmetic as today's stronger spring steel eliminates the need.

It is important, however, to make sure the frizzen spring and the main spring – which release the cock when the rifle is fired are in balance and properly tuned. Frizzen springs must be strong enough to resist opening too easily, but strong enough to provide resistance when struck by the cock.

In time, even casehardened frizzens must be replaced because of use. If too much of the face has been cut away over the years by flints, it is almost impossible to get a consistent shower of sparks.

Again this year, Chuck and Greg Dixon have expanded the schedule of seminars, demonstrations and living-history displays at the Gunmakers Fair. Activities are scheduled daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the shop grounds, and there are special seminars for women and juniors.

There is no admission charge to attend this international celebration of muzzle loading, which has attracted visitors from all 50 states and eight foreign countries, including Great Britain, Lebanon and Australia. Crowds in excess of 2,000 have attended on Saturdays and Sundays.

For information, including a schedule of seminars, about the 29th annual Gunmakers Fair, contact Dixon's Muzaleloader Shop at 610-756-6271 or access the website at www.dixonmuzzleloading.com