Dateline: November 2015. Your author and his 11-year-old daughter stroll through the dusty cases of a gun museum, perhaps this one.
“Dad, why is that ugly gun in here with all the old muzzleloaders?”
“Well, sweetie, that’s technically a muzzleloader too.”
“Come on, Dad. That gun has a plastic thumbhole-pattern stock with a RealTree camouflage pattern. It looks like a modern deer rifle.”
“Well, there’s a reason for that, and actually, it involves politics.”
“Oh no, I didn’t mean to get you started on guns and politics…”
“See, a long time ago, there was a group of dedicated hunters who were very interested in re-creating the experience of hunting as it was done back in the frontier days. So they used replicas of old-fashioned firearms, like Hawken rifles or Kentucky rifles like Daniel Boone used.”
“Did Daniel Boone’s rifle have a fluted, chrome-finish barrel with an integral ported compensator to reduce recoil, like that one?”
“No, sweetie, that came later. Anyway, in most states, hunters were granted a special season in which they could hunt deer only with these old-fashioned black-powder firearms. You had to be a very good hunter, and sneak in very close, because you only got one shot and it took forever to reload. And those old weapons weren’t nearly as accurate as a modern rifle.”
“Oh. So that’s probably why they mounted that Redfield illuminated-reticle variable-power scope over the existing fiber-optic sights.”
“Yes, but that came later, too. See, about 1985, this smart fellow named Tony Knight was fed up with the old-timey technology, and he did a little research. Knight proved that there were a few obscure gunsmiths in the 18th century who made some guns that were laid out like a modern rifle. Instead of having the hammer off to the side like on a musket, the firing mechanism was in a straight line behind the powder charge. It never caught on back then, but Knight modernized it and began selling a new sort of rifle that was a ‘primitive’ muzzleloader as far as the letter of the law was concerned, but looked and shot much more like a twentieth-century deer rifle.”
“Why would these traditionalist black powder hunters want something like that?”
“They didn’t, silly. But a lot of hunters who didn’t really care that much about hunting in ye olde pioneer spirit, like this guy, saw it as a way to extend deer season by a week or two and get an extra deer tag to fill. With these in-line muzzleloaders it was much more like hunting with their regular rifles. So Knight and some other companies sold millions of the things. Why, I remember looking at a page from a national outdoor catalog back in 2005, and noticing that all of the muzzle-loading rifles they were selling were modern in-line or break-action designs, with no old-timey rifles at all!”
“So what happened to the old traditional black-powder rifles?”
“They still make them. If I were going to go black-powder hunting I’d get an old-fashioned one. I like the idea of accepting the limitations of the frontier equipment. It would be a great lesson, I think, in the hardships our ancestors went through in settling this country.”
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