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Holding onto a musket and remembering

September 27, 2009 at 02:55 PM

Sam Golmer lived by himself in a big, square, weather-beaten farmhouse with a rusty wrought iron fence around it. The gate was off the hinges. Years ago, somebody leaned the gate against a maple tree. It had grown into it.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, Dad rented his farm. I thought Sam was at least 120 years old. He looked like Father Time, only older.

At the end of the season, when the corn was in the crib, Dad and Sam sat down at his cluttered kitchen table and settled up for the year. On one of those gray December days, my luck froze over. I had to go along.

When the accounting was done, Sam said, “I got something I want this boy to have.” He rummaged around in some far off room and came out with a muzzle-loading musket taller than I was. He said that his brother “packed it” in the Civil War, and he wanted me to hold onto it for him.

I was speechless — a condition uncommon for me, even then. Sam had never before acknowledged my presence. The 1862 Tower he handed me was the first real live muzzleloader that I had ever seen.

That old musket is nothing like a modern in-line muzzleloader. The expanding popularity of muzzleloader hunting can be attributed at least in part to the accuracy, and the affordability, of in-line rifles.

Muzzle-loading purists say that rifles without a side hammer violate the spirit of muzzleloader hunting. Perhaps to some, it does. That’s why some states, such as Pennsylvania, have added a special primitive muzzleloader season for hunters who use flintlocks.

Whether you hunt with an inline or a traditional muzzleloader, you still get only one shot. Experienced hunters who can stay calm and reload fast might get off three shots in a minute. If you miss the first shot, chances are your deer of a lifetime will be down over the hill and across the crik before you shoot the second time, no matter how fast you can recharge. That rate of fire drops even more when a case of buck fever is involved.

Hanging a deer on the game pole has a lot to do with knowing your rifle. One muzzleloader expert cautions that those just beginning to hunt with a muzzle-loader think that, because it is a rifle (and not a shotgun), their muzzleloader is accurate at greater distances than it really is.

He says shots past 125 yards are best left to those experienced shooters who are achieving greater long-range accuracy because they have experimented over several years and with several combinations of powder and projectiles.

Long-range accuracy and my .58 caliber smooth bore Tower don’t belong in the same sentence. Then again, I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been brave enough to shoot it. I’d be too nervous.

Even though Old Sam is long gone, I’m still holding onto his musket. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.

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