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Pennsylvania’s flintlock-only deer season, begun in 1973, is the final of its type in America. Whereas most of at this time’s hunters tote trendy in-line muzzleloaders, every January, Keystone State traditionalists forgo the smokepole’s greatest technological advances of the previous 200 years—from the percussion cap to the FireStick—and step into the woods with gear befitting a primitive season: flint, metal, powder, patch, and ball. On this approach, they preserve the previous alive.

Certain, you’ll see Sitka jackets and camo-dipped weapons throughout the P.A. flintlock season, but it surely’s the old-school hunters in buckskins and fur hats, carrying conventional lengthy rifles, who make this one-of-a-kind hunt what it’s. A couple of years in the past, photographer Randy Harris and I tagged together with a few these males.

One is Dave Ehrig, aka “Mr. Black Powder,” authority on all issues muzzleloader and writer of Black Powder Whitetails, The Artwork of Constructing a Pennsylvania Longrifle, and Muzzleloading for Deer and Turkey. Ehrig lives in Alburtis, PA, and insists that flintlock rifles are probably the most demanding, historic, and enjoyable type of firearm there may be. The opposite man is Invoice Slusser, a Kentucky-based gunsmith who makes among the nation’s most spectacular and ornate customized flintlock rifles. He usually devotes 1000’s of hours to the creation of a single gun, each constructed by hand to purchaser’s precise measurements and prone to embody no matter one’s funds permits in the best way of gold, silver, and brass inlays.

Though we didn’t tag a deer on our hunt, the chance to spend time with these two males, to take heed to them speak in regards to the historical past of muzzleloader searching, and to see and {photograph} their conventional garb and kit was each fascinating and a bulletproof argument towards anybody who thinks trendy muzzleloaders ought to be allowed in each deer season. As a result of in the event that they had been, what’s beneath might be misplaced endlessly.

Randy Harris

Dave Ehrig (left) and Invoice Slusser (proper). Ehrig’s coat was dyed by his spouse, Tina, utilizing cochineal bugs. When blended with insoluble aluminum and calcium salts, the bugs’ our bodies yield a pink dye often known as carmine, which was extensively used within the Colonial interval. Slusser wears buckskin leggings, a rifleman’s shirt of muslin, and a hat that may determine the wearer as an artisan, in his case, a gunsmith. “I’ve hunted on this stuff for 40 years,” Slusser says. “And I’ll let you know what, these early flintlock hunters had been robust. It’s alright if you happen to’re shifting, however you get chilly fast if you happen to cease.”

Four flintlock rifles leaning against a wall showing end cuts of wood
Randy Harris

4 of the standard flintlock rifles utilized by hunters throughout our journey. Simply don’t name them Kentucky rifles. One factor Ehrig units folks straight on briefly order is that “Kentucky rifle” is a misnomer. He blames the lyrics to “The Battle of New Orleans,” which embody the strains:

However Jackson he was conscious,
And was not scar’d at trifles,
For nicely he knew what intention we took
With our Kentucky rifles.

“That’s bull,” Ehrig says. “Principally, what’s often known as a ‘Kentucky rifle’ is only a Pennsylvania lengthy rifle within the fingers of a man from Kentucky.” The primary makers of American flintlock rifles had been German gunsmiths in southeastern Pennsylvania throughout the early 1700s, he factors out. They took the German Jaeger—which had a rifled barrel of about 31 inches—lengthened it, thinned it out, and produced a sleeker, extra correct gun.

Traditional flintlock hunter dressed in fox-fur hat and beaver-claw necklace
Randy Harris

Ehrig’s claw necklace and fox hat. His spouse made the necklace, utilizing turkey wingbone, glass beads, and silver cups to tie collectively the claws of a bear Ehrig shot in Quebec. The hat is constructed from a grey fox that he shot on his farm, the pelt of which he sewed over an current wool cap.

An ornately decorated flintlock rifle lying on a buffalo hide
Randy Harris

A flintlock rifle made by Slusser with a curly maple inventory and finely engraved lock. It took him a couple of yr to finish all of the engraving, which he does by hand, utilizing a chisel. “I can do about an inch of engraving in an 18-hour day. That’s simply roughing it out, although. It takes quite a bit longer to do the completed work. I in all probability make much less per hour than a child working at MacDonald’s,” he says about his commerce. “But when God sees match to provide you a expertise, I feel you’ve received an obligation to make use of it.”

An ornately engraved buttplate of a flintlock rifle
Randy Harris

The buttplate of the identical rifle. It reveals a hunter being watched over by Saint Hubert (symbolized by the cross), an eighth century French nobleman who beloved to hunt pink stag. At some point whereas searching, he noticed an impressive stag with a cross between its antlers. In line with legend, God instructed Hubert to forsake searching and all his earthly items to develop into a priest. Hubert is named the patron saint of hunters.   

Ornately decorated butt stock of a flintlock rifle lying on a buffalo hide
Randy Harris

The rifle’s buttstock and patchbox space. Don’t be misled by the flowery work. This flintlock is a shooter that teams beneath one inch at 100 yards with spherical balls. Utilizing 325-grain semi-wadcutter bullets that he casts himself, Slusser dropped a whitetail at 230 yards with this rifle.

The picket dovetail patch field slides open and is adorned with a brass and silver skirt round it. The cross and protect symbolize religion. “It was my approach of paying homage to the One who gave me the talent to do that,” says Slusser. Each gun he makes refers in a method or one other to a Bible ebook or verse. “I’m making one about Revelations proper now,” he says. When requested how lengthy it should take to complete, he shrugs as if it’s probably not as much as him.

Traditional flintlock hunter uses he teeth to remove the cap of a powder horn
Randy Harris

It solely appears to be like like Slusser is pensively smoking his pipe right here. In actual fact, he’s eradicating the cap from a small powder horn as he prepares to prime the pan of his rifle. Priming powder is of a a lot finer grade that the gunpowder used to energy the ball. “It’s just like the kindling you utilize to begin an even bigger hearth,” he says.

A highly decorated powder horn lying on a buffalo hide
Randy Harris

Certainly one of Ehrig’s priming horns. It was made in 1993 by his late pal, Skip Hamaker, an enormous man often known as “The Buckskin Buddha.” The protection pin used to connect it to clothes offers an thought of its measurement. If you happen to’re questioning if the protection pin is traditionally inaccurate, it’s. It was invented in 1849.

A highly decorated powder horn carried by a traditional flintlock hunter
Randy Harris

One other priming powder horn made by Skip Hamaker in 1987. These waterproof containers had been usually constructed from cow horn.

A flintlock hunter's round-ball mold and four balls ready to fire, on a buffalo hide
Randy Harris

A roundball mildew {that a} longhunter would possibly carry into the sector, together with balls prepared to fireplace. In Colonial occasions, capturing contest members usually fired at an “X” marked on a stump. The winner took possession of the stump, which was a invaluable prize, because it may need 100 or extra lead balls in it. The lead was melted down and recast as new ammunition.

A small leather-sheathed hatchet and leather bag carried by flintlock hunter
Randy Harris

Left: Ehrig’s “pipe” tomahawk, typically known as a “belt ax,” is designed in order that it can be used as a throwing weapon. There’s a bowl constructed into the pinnacle of the tomahawk, into which the deal with could be fitted as a pipestem. A pipe was a needed merchandise to have on the frontier for buying and selling with native People. Left: Ehrig’s elk-leather capturing bag for the accouterments essential to load and shoot a flintlock.

Handmade belt knife with stag handle lying on a buffalo hide
Randy Harris

A longhunter’s small belt knife with a deer-antler deal with made by Slusser. “Males on the time basically carried easy butcher knives,” he says. Slusser downplays his knife-building expertise, however Ehrig says his knives are so sharp that he’s nearly afraid to make use of them.

Man loading a flintlock muzzleloader in four steps: measuring charge, loading ball, cutting patch, and seating ball
Randy Harris

Slusser demonstrates the loading course of. Clockwise from prime left: Measuring the principle cost; loading the patch and ball, utilizing the deal with of a knife in lieu of a brief starter; chopping off the surplus patch; and working the ball and patch down the barrel.

Each step of this course of and each element used impacts accuracy, says Ehrig, “proper all the way down to the thickness of the patch you stuff down the barrel. The grade of the powder makes a distinction. The scale of the spherical ball because it pertains to the diameter of the barrel makes a distinction. It’s probably the most difficult firearm there may be.”

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