A Primitive Tool For Modern Preppers, Part 1, by Rusty M.

I inhale deeply and hold, squeezing the rear trigger. Tic. Then I slowly exhale and gently touch the forward trigger. Tiff-FOOM. A cloud of smoke obscures my vision but I can hear the ball cut through my intended victim. What’’d I get? A buffalo? A “grizzly bear?” A Redcoat? No, just a cardboard box. I see that I am becoming more accurate with this gun.

Firearms and their accompanying accessories have evolved a long way from their origins; a long way. But that doesn’’t mean we should relegate old technology to the archives or the bone yards. At least not all of it. Firing an “old tech” gun can be very beneficial to those of us who are gun enthusiasts. From honing fundamental skills (‘because you only get one shot), to bringing a fun and new challenge to the game of hunting. Owning a muzzle loader and knowing how to make it work is very rewarding and always puts a smile on your face–not to mention instill a sense of patriotism and make you very grateful for repeating firearms. (At least it does for me!)

But what does a relic like my flintlock rifle have to do with prepping? I can see you out there asking that. Alright, I’’ll explain. We, as preppers, are mostly concerned with the newest, latest, and greatest in hunting and self defense weapons and / or gadgets. Many guns and bows are in that grey area between, where you could use it to knock down a bull moose today, then use it for counter-sniping tomorrow (after TEOTWAWKI). But why a “front-stuffer?” It’s all about sustainability. A muzzle loader makes perfect sense for a table-filler, if you plan on hunting to supplement your food storage supplies.

With a little research, you can find instructions to make your own gun powder. Most of these will be black powder, which is exactly what the doctor ordered. Honestly, it’ is just a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and salt peter, but that’ is a whole other article. And I can’t stress enough that if you try making your own powder, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK, and I am NOT responsible for your actions and outcomes.

Blackpowder Ingredients

Now, back to the main topic: Making the powder is time consuming and can take a year or more to produce (because of the old-school method of deriving at least one of the ingredients), but two of the materials are easily found in my neck of the woods. Charcoal is a no-brainer. I can get sulfur from hot springs near my house here in the great redoubt. As far as projectiles go, pure lead balls are my “mountain man match load”. Lead can be recovered from old batteries, medical offices where they have a dedicated X-Ray room, old televisions or computer monitors that have color tubes, and even if you can find the ball that you killed your supper with, presto. Well, not quite presto, poof. But it can be melted down and molded to the correct projectile for the caliber you have. In a pinch, you could even get away with melting wheel weights, though I don’t recommend that, as they have too much antimony in them, resulting in very hard bullets which in turn are extremely difficult to cram down the barrel (also, many new wheel weights are made of zinc, which won’t work at all).

“But you may say “But I have the fastest-shooting bow available! Why would you ever want that old-fangled smoke-pole?”” Well, let’s think that over. Yup, bows are great. I own one also, and love shooting it and hunting with it. But, unless you’re using a little kid’s’ compound bow, or you have a recurve or long bow, once you lose or break the last carbon fiber or aluminum arrow (and you WILL lose and break arrows), that fancy pants stick flicker isn’’t even good for a club. Because of the sheer torque sent down the string, compound bows tend to make wooden arrows into shrapnel as soon as you release, so don’t count on making your own arrows. These facts render your sleek new bow a specialized weapon, just the same as, say, your large bore sniper rifle. So you must stockpile arrows and a variety of arrowheads, because when you run out, you’re really out.

Sure, my muzzle loader is a bit loud. But it’s not nearly the sharp pop of my M-4orgery, not even close to the thunderous roar of my big game rifle. It’s more of a dull boom that is fairly absorbed by surrounding trees and hills.

“Other Options

But you just remembered: I still got Grandaddy’’s ol’ Winchester .30-30!” Good for you. That would be a fine game getter. But let me zap a lil’ of my insight into your mind. First, did you remember to include reloading dies and materials for that, in your preps? You did? Awesome! Now lets take this one step further. Lets say, for kicks and grin, that you didn’’t get loading supplies. (Shoot, you only had a couple boxes for the .30-30 anyways, ‘becuase it wasn’’t a primary weapon) and, as in Mr. Rawles’’ fine book, Patriots, several years have gone by since the collapse (or in some cases, two months, or a whole bunch of war fighting). You and yours have survived thanks to foresight, meticulous prepping, God’’s grace, and a healthy dose of good fortune. Supply sources are scarce. You had to use your last carbon-fiber arrow to silently K.O. one of the evil dudes who had taken hostage your sister’’s niece’’s third cousin.

You still have the AR for defense and ol’ Winnie’s still kicking out .30-30 shells. But honestly, your ammo cache looks grim. Personally, I’’d much rather go to war with that old .30-30 than a sling shot or a club. Plenty of fire fights were won by men (and a few women!) on both sides of the law because they had a lever action rifle that was superior to more primitive weapons. Even if you’’re up against a horde of rabid bikers who do still have working assault weapons, it’’d be a much more fair fight with a lever action or bolt action rifle than trying to stick ‘em with a bow, knife, spear, or sharp stick. Or, I guess, at least you’ll be taking a few more companions with you when they do finally take you down. Yeah, I know wholeheartedly that David slew Goliath with a sling and stone. But how do you suppose that fight would have turned out if ol’ “Goliath had an M16A4 with a Trijicon ACOG versus David’’s sling?

Generally speaking, a .22 pistol (and even some pellet pistols) beats a sling shot. Not to mention how highly advanced military type guns would do. Honestly, how would any of us fare against a gun if all we had was a sling shot or club? I’m sure that if the above were the case, a higher power would have intervened and given Goliath a dud round or at least some sort of malfunction, so, that if nothing else, David could have found cover. But good luck getting into “rock range” of an angry dude packing that kind of heat. Even if your faith is solid, that’’s a long shot. And, my Dennis the Menace skills are a little fuzzy here, but I don’t remember my slingshot being semi automatic, let alone select fire, and my folks didn’’t spring for the model equipped with an infrared compatible EO Tech. (Really, for a long time, I literally used a forked branch and a strip of inner tube rubber).

However, if you’’d bought that awesome muzzle loader kit, put it together with the kids on a stormy day, and spent a couple range trips learning about it before TSHTF, then you’’d still have a lot more ammo, because you didn’’t have to use Grandad’’s gun or your defense weapon to put game meat on the table.

If you plan on bugging in or have a “cabin in the boonies” BOL, then a muzzle loading gun may be just the right addition to your preps.

Some History

Let me share some history: The earliest guns (as we view guns by modern standards) relied on a piece of burning hemp rope for ignition. These are known today as matchlocks. I must digress here. These guns were the first with what we call an action, and weren’t fired in the manner as an old cannon, where, after stuffing the powder charge and projectile down the barrel, a fuse was stuck into a hole at the rear, then lit and burned into the powder chamber, igniting the charge, resulting in BANG. Instead, the hemp fuse was slow burning and simply attached to the trigger, which was basically a lever (I’ve seen this referred to as the serpentine in old literature), and when the trigger was pulled, it pushed the burning rope into the flash pan, which held a priming charge, burning the small amount of powder through the touch hole, which in turn ignited the main powder charge, which forces the projectile down range.

The next evolution of firing mechanism is the wheel lock. An over simplified example of this is the modern Zippo lighter…well, a vast over simplification. These were the first guns with firing mechanisms as we know today, what with springs and sears and the likes. After the actual loading, the action had to be wound up (between each shot) and cocked before being primed . The user would wind the lock spring which powered a serrated iron wheel (some specimens were wound through the actual wheel, others had a separate winding tab or slot), cock the hammer (which held a piece of flint and set the sear), and prime the flash pan. When the trigger was tripped, it would spin the wheel (fairly quickly), the hammer would fall against the wheel, thus generating spark (like the lighter), which fell into the priming powder in the flash pan, which burned through the touch hole, resulting in the shot being fired. These were VERY expensive and extremely complex in their time, so it’s probably a safe bet the matchlock was more common, especially in the earliest days of New World exploration (1600s) and wars where early firearms were used.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)


  1. Great reading! It is surely time that this blog gets exposed to this set of valuable tools. I have both percussion and flint. (You can make your own percussion caps ! ) But flints are my first choice. These weapons are not under powered. But u have to practice with them and the stuff to load, shoot and maintain them.
    Watch some UTube black powder shooting. You will see near sustainable weapon system that is right now pretty free of guvmint sniffing round it and red tape procuring it.
    Dixie Gun Works, Gun Broker black powder section, Cabelas, can get u started.
    Shooting the rifles and pistols is fun but operating the double barrel shotgun is celestial.
    May the good Lord stand beside u as you trek down this historic path and:
    “Shoot like a Patriot!”

  2. Good reading. I have enjoyed in earlier years shooting a percussion smoke pole during our muzzle loading season. Now these days I take my very accurate Encore. I however will continue to count on my LWRC’s if and when the shtf.

  3. I love percussion and flintlocks. I just don’t believe loaded ammo will run out, if we shoot up our 10k of 223 I’m sure we will be dead by then. If not we would be scavenging and finding ammo along the way. There will be less people so there will be more ammo and gasoline to be had.

  4. While I do have a couple of muzzle loaders and I have successfully hunted big game with a muzzle loader, I disagree with the author about its prepping usefulness.
    Ammo is very cheap in the USA. If you are on this website then you are likely a prepper already. Ammo can be stockpiled. Most cartridges can be reloaded with home-made black powder if required. It is just as easy to cast rifle bullets as it is to cast muzzle loader bullets or balls (yes I have cast both). Primers cannot be made but are very small and many thousands can be stored for decades.
    As soon as cartridge guns were made everyone that could afford one switched over to them. This was for a reason- -they are WAY better.

    1. I look at it this way. There is a place for bowhunting when stealth and a concern for being discovered by others are important. The use of muzzleloading black powder firearms, however, is something that my great grandchildren will have to concern themselves with. Frankly, if those who come after me use the ammunition wisely, that last estimate may be conservative. This is especially so when reloading is factored in.

      Who knows how many people have been killed by flintlocks? Who knows how many animals have been killed by flintlocks? Yet, unless all other options are exhausted, I believe that it would be a cardinal mistake to expend financial resources now on a technology that might be useful to people several generations after a total Mad Max meltdown has occurred.

      Take that same few hundred dollars that might be spent on that Kentucky Long Rifle and add a couple thousand center fire cartridges to the arsenal, instead of investing in a novelty. If you are concerned about “sustainability” in your lifetime to the extent that you are planning on using flintlocks, then you clearly have not stored enough ammunition.

      “A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition” –Rudyard Kipling

  5. While not optimum for today, the muzzle loading weapons of the Civil War, with paper cartridges, minnie ball, and caps, were a very effective long range weapon. One source lists the Springfield at 3 aimed shots per minute effective out to about 300 yards. I have heard of 5 or so a minute if less aiming and a shorter distance. Have and use “smoke poles” and the major problems are not reloading or accuracy, it is the smoke of firing gives away your position and the powder fouls the bore and the rifle must be kept clean and empty as much as possible in order to limit corrosion. The black powder will absorb moisture and cause all sorts of problems, but when dried out it will fire. I have had much better luck with a horn powder holder than a fancy brass one that I left powder in and corroded into a total mess.

  6. I just so happen to have been making a fulltime living building muzzleloaders since ’96. Check out PBS’s ” A Craftsman’s Legacy” season 1 episode 8. That’s me. Also have a gun in Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot”. I have built nearly 400 of them now, all by hand. I have shot competition at the national level since ’80 with ML’s. Tied a national record in ’86. Never shot a pheasant or a deer with anything other than black powder.
    All that being said. I’ll be depending on my cartridge guns when the Schumer hits the fan.

  7. Saw a youtube video, something like “protection for felons”. Guy went to jail , did his time , but can never own a gun legally. A black powder pistol was part of his home defense plan.

    Might actually distract your would be assailants with huge clouds of smoke.

    Is he really shooting a black powder pistol at us ? 🙂

  8. The modern cartridge guns may be better, but the self-satisfaction of hitting your target with a muzzleloader is a joy unto itself. So is the knowledge and skill of hitting what you are aiming at with a primitive bow and fletched wooden arrows. And if you like competition with either platform, join an historical recreation group. The members will teach you just about any survival skill you want to learn and master, from weaponry, both use and manufacture, to fire-starting to cooking over that fire to learning how to forage for something to cook, now that you know how. Check for local chapters of the NMLRA and the SCA, the former for Muzzleloading, from The Colonial era to the Civil War, the latter for Medieval history. I’ve participated in both, and have learned much and made great friends through both.

  9. ” ” ” You can not legally own a black powder muzzleloader if you are a felon.” ” ”

    Most felons just buy a real gun off the street.

    Found it comical this guy was packing a black powder pistol.

    Seems my attempt at humor has escaped fellow dear readers.

  10. i’m not “bragging ” with this comment. That’s not the point…the point is enjoying learning to use and putting to work a firearm from the past. It’s just a lot of fun! I am a traditional archer. I use longbows, recurve bows and osage self bows to hunt deer and wild turkey. I have killed 110 whitetails, 2 bull elk and 1 bull moose as well as several turkeys with traditional bows over 30 plus years. I have no interest in hunting with a modern cartridge rifle. It is just not fair chase. It’s shooting , not hunting. However, a few years ago I was given a Thompson/Center Renegade 50 cal mz. I put a tang peep sight on it and I enjoy the heck out of it. If by 2 weeks from season close if I haven’t taken 3 or 4 whitetails, then that old mz comes out…it’s a blast to carry and shoot, particularly from a set of shooting sticks made from rivercane. I know this is a prepper/survival site, but still…

  11. Jima,

    I haven’t had any experience hunting…yet…but agree with you about the muzzleloader – mine is also a T/C Renegade 50 cal, a caplock and my husband has a T/C Renegade .50 in flintlock – and we both shoot primitive-style bows – I use both recurve and longbow, he sticks to his longbow. He is a fletcher, so I have no worries about staying supplied with arrows. He is also a reloader, so keeping supplied with round ball is covered, too. When I was going to Rendezvous, my friends in the group used to give me boxes of roundball as birthday and Christmas gifts. They came in handy since I hadn’t met my husband yet. I used to give them home-canned jams and chutneys.

    History is a great teacher of survival skills. Maybe that is why I am embracing the prepping mindset so easily.

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