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October/November 1999      Volume 4, Number 5
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A Note On Safety

Click on image for enlarged view.
The breech and drum of this rifle were completely obstructed by a mud-dauber nest. Note also the corroded condition of the breech area, including prior neglect.
The establishment of primitive firearms seasons held prior to the regular deer season has several advantages to the muzzleloader. The primitive firearms hunter is allowed into the hunting area at a time when game is less wary and when the year's supply of desirable animals is at its peak. Moreover, the close range at which game is taken during primitive seasons (whether archery or muzzleloader) provides an additional element of safety compared to the modern firearms season in which a bullet can travel miles to cause an accident.

The advantages of the primitive firearms season and the need to comply with its equipment regulations have resulted in the resurrection of many muzzleloading rifles that have long lain dormant. Some of these rifles, whether through neglect or circumstance, have been rendered unsafe, particularly with the heavy loads normally used in hunting. A case in point is an Italian-made percussion rifle that was recently brought to me for repair. Insects commonly called "mud-daubers" in the South (actually square-headed wasps of the genus Trypoxylon) had invaded the breech and built a nest that completely obstructed the drum and breech (fig. 1). The mud-dauber nest is composed commonly of clay and grit that has a granular consistency (fig. 2). In this case, the nest material extended for about two inches up the barrel.

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The clay of the nest is corrosive to metal; its granular composition (as shown sticking to the scribe point) includes sandy soil particles, which are also abrasive to the bore.

The chemical composition of the nest material is corrosive to metal, and on long exposure, can damage both barrel walls and threads. Figure 3 shows the corroded drum that was removed from this rifle. The nipple threads were almost completely eaten away, and the threaded section that enters the barrel has also been damaged. If this damaged drum were threaded back into the barrel and a nipple replaced into it by some naive individual in the hope of getting a rifle "good enough" for the primitive firearms deer season, it would be a time bomb waiting to injure the user or by-standers. I apprised the owner of the hazards in using this rifle; he thanked me for the caution and relegated it to the status of a "wall-hanger."

Some suggestions for the prevention of insect damage to rifles are:

  1. store your firearms in a closed, dry room or closet (preferably with limited access) in your house rather than in an outside garage or storage shed;
  2. check your firearms periodically to determine if insects such as mud-daubers have decided to make their happy home in your favorite rifle;
  3. if you must store your muzzleloaders where they are potentially accessible to nest-building insects, lubricate the bores well with a high quality anti-rust product such as LPSI ® or TAL-1 ®, and employ the old strategy of plugging the bore with a tompion or canvas bore cover.
Click on image for enlarged view.
This drum has lost most of its threads for both nipple and barrel.

Finally, if you are tempted to buy a muzzleloader from a pawn shop or other store that deals in second-hand goods (I have heard reasons such as "It's just for my son to play around with," or "It's just for early deer seasons.") take along the tools required for removal of the nipple and drum, as well as a bore light to inspect the interior of the barrel for damage. Remember: your telephone might not be the only item of your equipment that can be "bugged."

The author acknowledges the technical advice of Dr. Robert Bellinger, Department of Entomology, Clemson University, in the writing of this manuscript.

Copyright © 1999,

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