by Terry Wieland
Among my many failings, I have minimal interest in any gun I can’t take out and shoot. This horrifies some of my more purist gun-collecting friends, but it adds immeasurably to both the pleasure in owning a gun, and to the education gained thereby.
Last month I acquired a John Fox Twigg duelling pistol at the Rock Island auction, and wasted no time in gathering the wherewithal to shoot it: lead balls, greased patches, flints, black powder. The wherewithal, however, was one thing; learning how to use it quite another.
It’s safe to say that while modern shooting and handloading is largely science, shooting a flintlock is mostly art. You feel your way along, learning as you go while (you hope!) retaining all your fingers and facial features intact.
The first question posed was, what diameter lead balls do I need? The Twigg bore measures .53 inches, but that is just the start. You have to allow for the thickness of the patch in which the ball is wrapped, and the combination needs to be pushed down the bore with just enough snugness to provide a gas seal and initial resistance to the pressure (to ensure full combustion) but not so much that it requires hammering down. This is, after all, a duelling pistol.
In the end, I bought balls of .495, .509, and .515 diameter, and patches of .010 and .015 inch thickness. After I had Lee Shaver look the gun over — admiringly, I should add — and assure me it was perfectly sound to shoot, he advised the thickest ball with the thinnest patch.
Call me overly cautious, but I still have all the aforementioned fingers and facial features, and wish to keep it that way. I started by moving the flint forward and locking it down to ensure the best striking angle on the frizzen; I then put some powder in the pan (Swiss FFFg) and pulled the trigger. A decided ‘poof’ and cloud of smoke. So far, so good.
I then poured 25 grains of powder down the bore, tamped it down with just a patch (no ball), charged the flash pan, cocked the pistol, and fired. Out came a cloud of smoke and the patch sailed ten yards down-range. Everything was working fine.
Now to load with ball. For some reason, I just felt more comfortable going with the smallest ball (.495) and a thick patch, which slid down the unrifled bore with just enough resistance to call it that. Ensuring it was seated firmly on the powder, I charged the pan, cocked the gun, gulped once, and pulled the trigger. This time, there was a decided flash and a goodly cloud of smoke. I’m sure the ball hit something, I just don’t know what. But that was irrelevant. The Twigg was back in action after who knows how many years.
I now felt confident enough to bump the powder charge to 30 grains and progress to a .509 diameter ball with a .010-in. thick patch. There was a little more resistance, a louder “ka-whoomp,” a lot more smoke, and noticeable recoil. This time, though, I hit what I was aiming at: a large white plastic barrel ten yards out from the bench. Dead center, I might add.
The one disquieting thing was that the trigger pull was quite heavy — in the neighborhood of 10 pounds, which is far too heavy for a duelling pistol and completely out of line for a Twigg, since John Twigg was renowned for his triggers. So, this week, it goes back to Lee Shaver for a complete “strip and clean” as the English would have it, and an adjustment or repair to the trigger, whichever is necessary.
My gun collecting friends are shuddering, but I’m having fun, and it appears the Twigg is, too.
Gray’s shooting editor Terry Wieland once refused to even attempt fly fishing on the grounds that he has enough addictions already. Now, it appears, he has another.