Even for those who consider Red Green the Patron Saint of Handymen, it is not all that difficult to fine-tune a flintlock so that it gives dependable, consistent performance during Pennsylvania's post-Christmas flintlock season, which this year opens Saturday, Dec. 26, and concludes Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010.
Green, the fictional Canadian character who owned Possum Lodge, located somewhere in the Ontario wilderness on the highly popular PBS comedy series, solved just about any and all problems with the "handyman's secret weapon," duct tape. Unfortunately, many wives found his solution to solving problems around the house a lot less humorous than their husbands.
Usually, these are the same husbands who have someone else actually touch and throw out the Craftsman catalogs when they arrive in the mail for fear they may injure themselves. It is for those that these tips on "Flintlock Tuning 101" are intended.
Chances are anyone who owns a custom-built flintlock rifle has a basic knowledge of dos and don'ts to get the optimum performance in the deer woods. Very often, some gunmakers do extra work when constructing a lock to make sure the rifle will perform in the challenging weather conditions that sooner or later are encountered during the flintlock season.
For the majority of flintlock hunters, however, their rifle of choice is one of the mass-produced that are available commercially. In all cases, a flintlock rifle should be purchased only from a gun shop or a sporting goods store that has a firearms department with knowledgeable personnel.
In a lot of ways, buying a flintlock rifle is much like buying a home audio system, where no matter what brand of equipment is purchased, the speakers are the most important component. When buying an off-the-rack flintlock rifle, the most important consideration is the quality and construction of the lock.
That said, it is important to understand the price of locks used in the building of most custom rifles are more expensive than the total cost of some production rifles. For that reason, it is important to understand that a lot of trouble shooting can be done by the casual flintlock shooter to improve performance without investing in special tools or having any special talent.
Since his youth, Jim Fulmer of the Hamburg area has shot various types of flintlock firearms as a hunter, competitive shooter and an American Revolutionary War re-enactor. An active member of the Pennsylvania Federation of Black Powder Shooters, he said that, based on his personal observations, many people are intimidated by the flash and smoke associated with a flintlock.
"A flintlock rifle should be purchased only from a gun shop or sporting goods store that has a firearms department with sales people who understand these rifles," Fulmer said. "They should know what to explain to a customer, even if the person buying the rifle doesn't know what to ask, which most of the time is the case.
"Probably the biggest misconception people have is that flint chips set off the priming powder, but what actually happens is that a flint shaves slivers of steel off the frizzen face, and these red-hot bits fall into the pan. For that reason, a flint must be kept sharp and the frizzen must be kept smooth and clean.
"Under no circumstances should the frizzen face be made rough, as this will damage the flint and make it more difficult, or even impossible, to shave bits of steel off the face. I've actually heard and read the exact opposite advice being given by people who don't understand the workings of flintlocks, which explains why people become frustrated when their rifle fails to perform."
Optimum flintlock performance begins with something as basic as having a flint that fits correctly in the jaws of the hammer to assure reliable ignition and keep the frizzen securely closed on the pan when the hammer in the half-cock position. A flint should rest near, but not against, the top one-third of the frizzen face, which assures plenty of spark when the rifle is fired.
For fast ignition, less is best when priming the pan, which gives the best performance when wide and shallow. Too much priming powder acts as a fuse, which accounts for the term "flinchlock" when the delay in ignition results in that unwanted "hissssss-boom" sound of a hang fire.
Never hesitate to customize the pan by using a Dremel tool to widen it, because a wide, shallow charge of priming powder is better than a narrow, deep charge. When the charge is ignited, the flash from the priming powder should result in an indiscernible "ka-boom" of the priming charge and load going off seemingly together.
Finally, the biggest enemy to a flintlock is moisture from condensation and water from rain or melting snow. A simple bit of maintenance is to slightly file the sides of the pan so that the base of the frizzen extends over the top of the pan, which allows melting snow and rain to drip off the overhang of the frizzen, rather than run into the pan.
Because deer usually move more slowly during inclement weather, there is no need to prime the pan until game is seen. For that reason, plug the touchhole with a feather to keep moisture from fouling the main charge in the barrel.
Under no circumstances, however, use a wooden toothpick or a pipe cleaner to plug the touchhole. Items such as these will actually act as a wick and draw moisture into the barrel.
When priming, 4F powder ignites the fastest and should be used only to prime, but this fine granulation does absorb moisture faster than the larger, courser 3F and 2F powder used to charge the rifle. Mixing products designed to eliminate moisture from priming powder is not foolproof and usually results in slowing ignition time.
A far better solution is to prime with the same 3F powder that can be used to charge the barrel. This eliminates the need to carry a priming horn, which was seldom done by Colonial riflemen, and provides dependable ignition in hunting situations.
Keeping a flintlock rifle in tune is really not that difficult, and knowing one's extra efforts resulted in filling a deer tag is as good as it gets. And, best of all, there is no need to carry any duct tape.