Some Experiences

The Rifles

I have hunted, trapped, fished and hiked in the Pennsylvania woods all of my life. My father and uncle were the major influences in my childhood to introduce me to these activities. As an outdoorsman gains experience in the different aspects of the sport, his interests and favorites begin to emerge. I have hunted with a flintlock rifle for over twenty-five years since I first made a CVA Kentucky rifle from a kit. I still have that first flintlock yet do not hunt with it anymore. I have used a couple of different store bought rifles and had fine deer hunting success with them. First was a Thompson 54. cal Renegade, the next a Lyman Great Plains, also in .54 cal. Both fine shooting pieces of hardware. However, once I started studying 18th century American history and became interested in historical trekking, I knew that the right rifle was an essential part of the whole concept. The store bought ventures are not authentic and cannot be used in this activity if one wants to do it right.

A friend of mine, Phil, had purchased a Berks County Shimmel style .50 cal flint longrifle made by gunmaker Dave Motto of West Virginia. Phil is extremely knowledgeable in history, particularly the French & Indian War era and early American history. He had ordered a fine flintlock rifle to be made according to strict specifications to fit the F&I time period. This meant his Shimmel was available. I purchased the rifle from him and with great enthusiasm. The Shimmel is of Pennsylvania German design meaning a plain utility rifle.

The Pilgrims

Phil became responsible also for really exposing me this thing called Historical Trekking. He directed me to web sites and books and to a series of "Longhunter" video tapes produced by Mark Baker. Mark Baker is one of the leading authorities on trekking. But it is not just because of Mr. Baker's research, it is because of his actual experimentation and practice in the woods doing the things that the longhunters did as best as he can determine they were done from journals and manuscripts and personal experience. Well, we knew we had to do this ourselves.

We collected our equipment, planned out some food, filled the powder horns and set out to a patch of woods off the beaten track. It is extremely important for me to emphasis how much of an appreciation one gets for our twenty first century life when one tries to live as a eighteenth century woodsman. After selecting a campsite, we made camp. This consisted of clearing out a place to sleep and build a fire. I had done plenty of camping in my days, but this is not camping Coleman style. We had an oilskin sheet for a lean-to and wool blankets. The fire was my first lesson. There was a dampness in the woods and even though I had practiced the skill of making fire with flint and steel (no matches), I was unsuccessful in getting a fire going and had to resort to the stashed matches. I was humbled. We dined like kings on slab bacon, corn flour cakes and boiled cocoa with raw sugar. The night also was a challenge. As the sun dies, the cold and dampness emerge. Our wood supply appeared to be from a tree that was way too dry and burned quickly. Not much sleep that night. In the morning more bacon and corn flour cakes and hot cocoa. We proceeded to fire a few rounds off before leaving. That is always fun. We both realized that to do this activity right is going to take practice and cannot be compared to modern camping or hunting.

The Missed Opportunity

One reading this may not appreciate what I am trying to convey, but coming from a hunting background success in the sport, like any other sport, is very rewarding. I know hunting may be controversial in some circles but it is what it is for those who support it. I have been very successful hunting deer since my first hunt at twelve years old, harvesting dozens of deer with modern firearms. However, the situation changes drastically when one attempts this with a primitive rifle,like the flintlock. Some might say the deer get an advantage and I would have to agree. On one of my flintlock hunts, dressed in my eighteenth century garb, I was sitting against a large maple while watching the creek bed below me. Hours on deer stands teach you patience and also give you plenty of time to think. This day was no different. Deer appear suddenly as if magic and can disappear as quick. One also dreams of the best spot for a deer to appear as to provide the most convenient and easy shot possible. I glanced down the creek and the movement was detected. I had the advantage of the wind and high ground. Everything was perfect, even down to the left approach of the deer and their broadside step. I slowly raised the flintlock, pulling back the hammer and aligning exactly on target. I slowly squeezed the trigger and a horrifying click - poof occurred. That was click-poof not click-BOOM. The powder in the pan ignited but did not ignite the powder in the rifle. The deer stopped and were on alert. Having the high ground I was able to slowly maneuver the rifle back down and refill the pan to attempt a second shot since the deer were still in range. I raised the rifle again and click-BOOM, success, so I thought. I immediately was dismayed to see the deer bound playfully away. I went down to check the area for any sign of a hit but there was none. It was a clean miss. Thank the Lord. I sat down and replayed the events through my mind. I had shot this rifle hundreds of times before rarely with a misfire or a missed target. I plainly missed. I could not help and think that if I really was in 1770, my family's food was gone or my livelihood's bounty was gone.

Success

Since that first trekking camp, many seasons have passed and I gained experience through practice with the skills of the eighteenth century longhunter. My excursions have mostly been solo as the draws and commitments of others seem to be stronger than their desire to join me. I myself find the time to participate in the thing I do here to be lessened as offspring, spousal and employer responsibilities hedge in around me. But, alas, it is not over. Early hunting season last year, I planned a trek to a new piece of property I had purchased in upsate PA for a vacation destination. I arrived early in the morning and decided to hunt first then later in the day set up camp and enjoy some fine classic longhunter cuisine. I settled in along the edge of a stand of pines and as usual I wanted to place myself on high ground and upwind from the most probable path of the deer. Playing the scene over in my mind, I waited patiently. Then I heard the rustling of the dried fallen leaves in the forest erupt behind me. I could not move since that would divulge my presence and the deer would quickly reverse direction and I would be watching tails. I waited motionlessly with my heart pounding. I thought how could I after years of hunting still get the proverbial buck fever? Then I thought, I love it! My stillness paid off as the deer continued down the hill and provided an opportunity for me to go on the offense. The rifle cracked and I had success. Thank the Lord. After processing the animal and securing it to camp, I built a fire with flint and steel, feasted on some bacon and brewed some mountain coffee that I had packed in the haversack. It doesn't get any better than this.