Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Olde Fashioned Clay Shooting

After several years wandering in the Arabian desert, we are heading home to Central Europe and with the shift in location, my hobbies can shift to something more green and less dusty.  Since I'm an ex-army officer, I sometimes enjoy making a big noise with guns and other toys and have the bad hearing and tinnitus to show for it.

The road less traveled may be more fun and 

you may learn something new.

An interesting quirk in the firearms regulations of most countries, is that blackpowder muzzle loading guns and rifles are considered antiques (no matter how old, or new they are) and are not as strictly controlled as firearms.   

Therefore, almost anyone can go and buy a perkusni zbrane, get some blackpowder, lead balls and patches and go try to make holes in paper targets, without the need to complete reams of paperwork.  The hardware and ammo also costs a fraction as much as modern arms.  This makes it a viable hobby, of the kind where you buy all the costly kit, play with it for a year or three and then move on to the next fad...

When I was about 12 years old, I made my own blackpowder, crackers and rockets - in the good old bad old days, one could simply buy the ingredients at a chemist.  I stopped when, after a couple years of experimenting, the little paper tape rockets became too good for my own good.   A big one went straight up: WHOOSH! ...  it just disappeared in a blinding flash-bang - I did not see it fly at all - and then it came down right next to me:  THUNK!!! ...  and that was the last one.  It sure taught me to appreciate O'l Isaac Newton and what tends to happen immediately after something went up. 

I really can't recommend grinding your own powder, but it certainly is possible if you are fool hardy like I was as a kid - at least I was smart enough to use a small brass pestle, so I still have all my fingers.  In the middle ages, that is what the gunsmiths and alchemists in the castles did - they probably also occasionally caused the unscheduled rapid enlargement of the odd dungeon in the process.  I guess I should have been born a few hundred years earlier.  Today, it is better to buy consistent quality FFG powder at a store though.

Here is the Blackpowder Book: http://www.blackpowderbook.com

The reason behind the seeming lack of control is obvious: "Hey mate, hold my powder horn and ram rod, then gimme your wallet!" just ain't gonna work very well.

There are kit blackpowder guns for those who like to do woodwork that can go boom: https://www.davide-pedersoli.com/tipologia-prodotti.asp/l_en/idt_68/rifles-muzzleloading-kit-rifles.html


BTW, in my experience it is easier to disarm a mugger with a gun, than to disarm a mugger with a knife.  If you want to know how, go do some self defense classes.  Knowing how to effectively defend yourself and apply first aid (to the wannabe mugger) are essential skills that everyone should have, but simply running away is also a pretty good defense, since even a mugger won't shoot someone in the back - it goes against human nature.

When I was young and handsome, I usually carried a huge stainless steel diver's knife with me and actually pulled it twice to ward off an aspiring mugger, who then was very surprised that mine was way bigger than his and ran off (This is known as the Crocodile Dundee Effect).  Now that I am only handsome, a compact muzzle loading pistol would be more appropriate for self defence.

The thing to bear in mind is that if you can disarm someone so easily, then you can be disarmed just as easily.  So when you find yourself in a bad situation, you need to react fast and decisively and that requires training.

A muzzle loader usually gives you only one shot.  
If you want two shots, get another gun. 

The so called Dueling Pistols were not really for dueling - they were for having a second shot at an oncoming bear or tiger.  Tough and aggressive meat eating animals like human beings, bears and tigers are seldom stopped by a single shot and the kinetic energy calculations at the bottom shows why.

Here is a modern looking Czech made Detonics blackpowder double barrel pistol: https://www.kentaurzbrane.cz/czechgun-gladiator-cal--500-hd-d2-professional/ 

It really doesn't look like a muzzle loader at all.  The trigger cycles between the two barrels, for double the fun.

I really don't want to be on the wrong end of this beauty and stare down those two half inch bores - you can stick your thumbs into them. 

This 0.50" calibre gun is about as powerful as a modern 9 mm pistol, so it packs a good punch and you can load it with bird shot.  With a scatter shot, you are far less likely to miss completely when you are under pressure.  With a close up mugger, the blackpowder flames will cauterize his wounds...

If you want to use a muzzle loader for self protection and don't want to reload it once a week, then you need to seal the barrel with a little bit of beeswax and also seal the percussion cap with wax or nail polish, to keep humidity out of the powder.  If the charge is sealed in the barrel, then it should provide a reliable shot when called upon, just like a metal cartridge.  This is also a good idea when hunting in a wet forest.  Obviously you don't need to do this when you are only punching expensive little holes in paper targets.

Blackpowder burns relatively slowly - therefore a blackpowder gun needs to have a long barrel to reach maximum acceleration of the ball.  Old handguns had 9 inch (or longer) barrels.  Even Rambo cannot stuff one of those in his vest pocket.  The shortest barrel that packs a meaningful punch is about 6 inches, which is still quite big.  The gun size, heft, deep throated subsonic boom, smoke, fire and brimstone (OK, maybe not brimstone...) all contributes to a very fun day at the gun range.  Oh, a simple tip: Don't wear a white shirt when you go blackpowder blasting...

For indoor smoke free target shooting, you can get special propellant caps with a larger nipple and plastic bullets (no powder required).  Then you can have fun in your basement or garage - until the neighbours complain about the noise.

For self defense, I recommend loading your smoke blaster with bird shot.  Over short range, it is equally devastating as a ball, the chances of completely missing the mugger is reduced, while the danger to innocent bystanders and your neighbours in the next house, is very much reduced.

When you go hunting, you only get one shot, since after that shot, everything that can, runs & flies away.  So hunting with a military style rifle, a bandolier full of cartridges and seven loaded magazines like Rambo, is just for show.  Since you are probably not O'l Sylvester, all that extra ammo will just wear you down and is quite useless.

Where there is smoke,

There is a fire blackpowder gun.

In practice, a dedicated hunter seldom manages to bag a deer, maybe once or twice in a decade, but they will never admit to it.  This is the same as an angler who has lots of stories about the ones that got away and seldom brings a fish home.  Same as angling, hunting is mostly done sitting down on a little wire and canvas stool and waiting, hoping for a deer with a stuffy nose that cannot smell you, to come your way and they seldom do.

So, most actual 'hunting' is done in your garage, cleaning the gun, tweaking the sights, molding bullets and reloading cartridges with great precision, only to go and blast them away on a shooting range at paper or clay targets.  Any Bambis, pheasants or ducks are usually quite safe. (The paper targets and skeets are frequently quite safe as well...)

Since I am not your average army muscle, but rather more of a Gadget Geek, a laser boresight calibration tool is indispensable to me and it saves a whole lot of reloading and calibration shooting to get on target: https://sightmark.com/products/337/sightmark-triple-duty-universal-green-laser-boresight/

Similarly, my guns do not have metal sights, but are fitted with red dot reflex prism sights, which is the kind of thing my great grampaw would have given his last haypenny for: https://www.opticsplanet.com/truglo-red-dot-micro-tru-tec-3-moa-dot-picatinny-pistol-blk.html

With a red dot sight, you keep both eyes open and put the dot on the target.  That is all.  The bullet will then magically convert the red dot into a black hole.  The effect is similar to a scope, but the dot is very much easier to see than cross hairs, since the projection appears in the same focal plane as the target, which seems to be more important the older you get.  I am pretty useless with an old fashioned metal sight and with a red dot, I can actually occasionally hit something.  (I'm a Signaler, and Sparkies don't get to practise shooting much in the army!).

These skeleton prism sights are so small that they can be fitted on a pistol also and then you can ask the mugger where exactly does he want the shot to go... if he wasn't sensible enough to run away already.

For moving targets, a clay thrower is a ton of fun: https://www.basspro.com/shop/en/champion-traps-highfly-string-release-trap 

A problem with shooting clays with blackpowder, is that you cannot always see whether you hit the clay, due to the smoke.  (Actually, you just need to step to the side, to get out of a lingering puff of smoke. It feels like the whole world disappears in the murk, but it is really just in front of your head).  Whether you hit the clay or not though, it is the same amount of fun! 

The best tip I can give a new trap shooter, is to aim under the clay.  Your first instinct is to aim high - don't do that.  If you are lucky, you may then actually hit one or two.

I would love to build a super efficient clay tosser, but they are so cheap, it is really not worth the effort. Even a second hand thrower tends to cost more than a new one.


Kinetic Energy in Ball Ammunition

Here are some example numbers for the fellow Gunsmoke Geeks out there.

If something is worth doing at all, then it is worth overdoing.  

Therefore my favourite is a 1/2 inch bore.  I don't care much for peashooters!


  • 7000 grain = 1 lb
  • 2.2 lb = 1 kg
  • 15.4 grain = 1 g
  • 1 fps = 0.305 m/s
  • Cricket ball = 163 g
  • A 0.50" calibre long gun can shoot a 250 grain (16.2 g) ball at 1000 fps (305 m/s)
  • An ultra fast Cosmic Ray particle = 8 Joule
  • Speed of sound = 343 m/s = 1125 fps

Weight of a Round Lead Ball:

  • Density of lead = 11,340 kg/m3 = 11.34 g/cm3 = 0.01134 g/mm3
  • Melting point = 600 K
  • 0.50” calibre ball diameter = 0.49” = 12.446 mm (with a 5 mil cotton patch)
  • Radius = 6.223 mm
  • Vol = 4/3 π r^3
  • Vol = 4/3 x π  x 6.223^3 = 1009 mm3
  • Weight = 1009 x 0.01134 = 11.5 g
  • Weight = 11.5 x 15.4 = 177 grain

A slug or conical bullet can be much heavier than a round ball, up to about 320 grain like the slug pictured above, but 250 grain is typical for 0.50 calibre.

A Cricket Ball batted for a six at 100 km/h:
  • 100 km/h = 27.8 m/s
  • E = 1/2 x mass x velocity^2
  • Ecb = 1/2 x  0.163 x 27.8^2 = 63 Joule
  • 8 Cosmic Rays
A Pistol fired 250 grain bullet traveling at 500 fps:
  • E500 = 1/2 x 0.0162 x 153^2 = 190 Joule
  • 3 Cricket Balls
  • 24 Cosmic Rays

A Long Gun fired 250 grain bullet traveling at 1000 fps:

  • E1000 = 1/2 x 0.0162 x 305^2 = 754 Joule
  • 12 Cricket Balls
  • 94 Cosmic Rays

Muzzle velocity is clearly much more important than the ball mass and a longer barrel therefore makes a big difference.

Modern smokeless ammo could propel a bullet supersonic at more than double the speed of a blackpowder gun and could pack more than 4 times the energy, but instead what happens, is that modern guns and ammo are smaller, lighter and easier to handle - and - consequently not nearly as much fun as a huge, booming and smoking, pirate pistol!

Muzzle Velocity

The totally Gadget Geek way to measure muzzle velocity is with a Doppler Radar: https://www.midwayusa.com/product/1016447132

That may blow your hobby budget though.

You can also measure the average muzzle velocity with a microphone and an oscilloscope, or a laptop computer with a sound recorder, shooting at a steel plate.

Measure Bullet Velocity at the Speed of Sound

For that to work well, you got to get up early and be the first one at the range.  Note that if the microphone is placed off to the side in an equilateral triangle, rather than next to the gun, then the speed of sound doesn't matter.

Here are a couple of other adventurous geeks with the same ideas:  



It could make a neat Raspberry Pi / Arduino project to calculate and display the Boom-Clang Speed instantly.  Maybe now I finally have a better use for Nixie tubes than a clock...

Have fun!


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