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Old-Time Match with Smoothbores
Picture of Notchy Bob
Loyalist Dave submitted a post on offhand shooting with the smoothbore, which led to an interesting discussion. Coincidentally, the current issue of the Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly (Summer 2017, Vol. 53, #2) came in yesterday’s mail, and the first article was “A Shooting Match at HBC’s Moose Factory,” describing people shooting offhand with smoothbores.

Note that the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) called some of their early posts “factories,” and Moose Factory was near the south end of James Bay. The employees of Moose Factory celebrated St. George’s Day (April 23rd) with a shooting match.

I’m too dadgum sorry to transcribe the whole article, but here are some parts I found interesting:

“The target was placed on the ice in the river and each man had three shots at one hundred and fifty yards or perhaps farther. Some remarkably good shooting was done. It was a test of skill and good eyesight, for rarely nowadays does one see shooting with the smoothbore as was displayed at that period [late 19th century]. The writer has seen a great deal of native shooting, and it can be affirmed that those who have never handled a rifled firearm did equally as good as and sometimes better than those who were accustomed to using the .44 and the .38-55 Winchester.”

“And not only were those old-timers using the smoothbore muzzle-loader, but also black powder, bullets or ball made from the lead of tea chests (with no tin added), and the guns were fired right off the shoulder with no rests, and yet “bull’s-eyes” were not infrequent and “magpies” quite common. It was only the green hands who missed the target altogether.”

The target was described as a set of nine circles with an X or bull’s eye in the center. The innermost circles, 7, 8, and 9, were painted black and the outer rings were white. “Magpies” were shots striking the division line between the black rings and white rings. The size of the target was not specified, but the editor surmised the largest ring was about four feet across.

Even with a four-foot target, 150 yards is a “fur piece,” as my dad would have said. No doubt, some of you fellows would be holding your own at that distance, but I would be shooting like one of the “green hands” mentioned above.

I thought the note about ammunition was interesting, too. Tea used to be shipped from Asia in “tea chests,” which were originally of wood lined with sheet lead. The tea leaves were packed loose. Our thrifty forebears evidently scrounged the lead linings for casting ball.

One other totally irrelevant historical note is that recycled tea chests were also used in Britain to make a musical instrument known as a “tea chest bass.” This was like the “washtub bass” you used to see in jug bands here, with a broomstick for a handle and a stout cord for a string, but with a tea chest as the resonator instead of the washtub. I don’t know when the first of these instruments was made, but they were well known in the mid-20th century. John Lennon’s original 1956 band, the Blackjacks (later the Quarrymen), which eventually included Paul McCartney and George Harrison, had a tea chest bass.

So, we know muzzle-loading smoothbores ruled the day. The .38-55 Winchester cartridge, as referenced in the article, was introduced in 1884, and we assume the matches described were being held about that time. Percussion Northwest guns were available by then, although some flintlocks were certainly still in use. Caspar Whitney had an illustration of "one of the old flintlocks" in his book about muskox and bison hunting in the 1890's. However, from the reading I have done, the preferred long gun in the Canadian wilds, from the 1850's well into the 20th century, was a double-barreled smoothbore. If any of the participants in the Moose Factory match were using doubles, the shooting was even more remarkable, due to the issues with regulation of the barrels.

In any event, I thought it was an interesting article, especially after reading Dave's thread about offhand shooting with the smoothbore.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob

"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us. Should have rode horses. Kept dogs."

from The Antelope Wife
Posts: 320 | Location: Florida | Registered: 24 May 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I wonder how many of the smoothbores from then had rear sights?
Posts: 213 | Location: Big Arm Montana | Registered: 17 September 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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