Twelve Steps to Dinner

Animation by BOBfx Digital Imaging
Production by David E. Nelson

Audio Recording

Here are the steps involved in loading and firing a flintlock rifle:

  • Remove the ramrod from beneath the barrel.
  • Pour 70 grains (a teaspoon full) of black rifle powder in the barrel.
  • Place a patch of linen or leather over muzzle. The patch engages the rifling, or grooves, in the barrel, and serves as a gas seal, which increases the velocity of the bullet. It also wipes the barrel clean as it is expelled.
  • Place a ball on the patch.
  • Drive the ball and patch into the barrel with the ramrod, all the way to the powder in the breech, then return the ramrod to its holder under the barrel.
  • Place the lock on half-cock, with the frizzen sprung forward, and pour a fine glazed priming powder into the pan.
  • Close the frizzen to hold the powder in the pan.
  • Pull the cock back to firing position--to "full cock."
  • Squeeze the trigger, releasing the cock.

The flint strikes the frizzen, flipping it open. A shower of sparks ignites the powder in the pan. Flame shoots through the touch-hole, igniting the powder in the breech, which expels the bullet. Including time for "springing the rod" to verify that the barrel is empty, plus cleaning the touch-hole with a pick, the whole process takes 30 to 40 seconds. Clearly, a good hunter had to be able to carry out most of the process by instinct--by the feel of it.