Roughly thirty years ago, give or take a few years, I remember hunting with my father in Pennsylvania, when I was too young to hold a PA hunting license. I would follow him around in layer after layer of second-hand winter clothes, with an orange vest thrown on top for safety, as he hunted Pennsylvania State Game Lands for whitetail deer and/or turkey.
One trip stands out as uniquely humorous: we had spent a very cold, snowy morning hunting somewhere near the Allegheny mountains, several hours from our home, and Dad had seen and shot at several deer in that time. Now, my father isn’t a target shooter, but usually when he is hunting, he doesn’t miss. He has an entire house full of photographs and mounts, and we’ve eaten everything over the years, to prove that he is a capable hunter and competent with a firearm.
This day, he missed. Several times.
Now Dad has a temper, everybody in my family does really, and when I was a wee lad, I knew better than to ‘mouth off’ when he was in a mood. Missing several deer while hunting in a near-blizzard was really getting on his nerves, so I was being quiet and just holding still when he told me to, but I noticed something after his last missed shot. At the time, Pennsylvania was very strict in it’s primitive weapons season, requiring a flintlock, cloth patches and round ball ammunition. Looking at Pennsylvania’s Muzzleloader regulations now, this is no longer the case. (Page 21)
In those years, my family did everything we possibly could ourselves. We grew a large garden with carrots, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, several types of beans, peas, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, corn, pumpkin, onions, garlic, cayenne peppers, everything we could get to grow. We picked our own blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, apples, cherries, and strawberries, we canned it all, and we hunted and fished to fill our freezers.
People who rant against hunting have never had to rely on it for dinner.
This self-sufficiency included fletching our own arrows and casting our own round ball (for Pennsylvania) and mini-ball ammunition for our muzzleloaders. We had several molds and frequently melted down 0ld fishing sinkers or tire weights for lead. (If you’ve never spent an afternoon along a country highway looking for tire weights that have fallen off, count yourself lucky.)
I watched as my father reloaded his flintlock, the butt stock seated on the top of his boot to keep it out of the snow, the brass-and-wood ramrod tap-tap-tapping the round ball and linen patch down into the FFF blackpowder. I was worried, you see, since Dad was already in a foul mood, that I would be asked to do something and not notice, or that I would do something I shouldn’t. Then, as Dad made himself ready to move to a new spot, he put the butt-stock of the rifle under his armpit, I heard a soft ‘thupt’ sound. Looking down, I saw an odd hole in the snow.
Reaching my hand down into the snow, I scooped up some snow, and a round piece of lead.
“Dad, I think the shot just fell out,” I said, quietly. He turned and looked at me with a puzzled look on his face. I handed him the round ball, which he looked at for a moment before wiping it dry on his handkerchief, then placing it in the barrel of the .45 caliber muzzleloader. Tilting the rifle back, we both heard it roll down the barrel, and neither of us heard it hit anything that would sound like a piece of lead when it hit bottom. My father tilted the barrel back down, and out rolled the round ball into the snow.
Just to be certain, he primed the pan, cocked the hammer back, and shot the muzzle loader at a dead tree stump thirty feet away or so, a great big pine stump with snow all over it. There would be no way to miss it or miss the impact from the shot. FIZZZ-FWOMP! The muzzleloader fired, but the sound wasn’t even right, now that we were listening carefully. Sure enough, nothing but smoke and the burning patch came out of that long rifle.
Nothing happened for a moment, and then my father started to laugh. We picked up the pace and headed back to the truck, all of the ammunition he had with him was from the same bullet mold, and all of the patches were pre-cut with a piece of pipe we had sharpened into a small punch that could be hammered through layers of cloth easily, none of which would work.
My father had been firing blanks at the deer of Pennsylvania all morning without knowing it.
(And he still laughs when I tell this story, too…)