The debate over patching versus wadding of smoothbores, which was raging on the internet forums a year or so ago, seems to have simmered down.
I had read that Indians of the northwest (documents specifically mentioned Tahltan and Tlingit) used wadding of shredded bark in their muzzleloaders. The research I have done to date also indicates the standard "half ounce trade ball" sold to the natives across Canada and the northern U.S. was actually closer to .550", at 28 to the pound (a true half-ounce ball would be 32 to the pound, at .526" diameter).
I took my Caywood 24 guage (.58 caliber) Northwest gun to the range a few days ago to try it out, with both .550" and closer-fitting .570" balls. A bore size of 24 guage is generally considered about average for original Northwest guns. Most of us would consider a .550" ball to be grossly undersized, but I really could not tell much difference between this and a .570" ball in actual shooting.
Ball size was the only variable I tried. I was just experimenting, and used 60 grains (volume) of FFg, a round ball, and a thumb-sized wad of pounded inner bark of the local red cedar (Juniperus virginiana silicicola) rammed on top of the ball. I was shooting offhand on a standard pistol target between 20 and 25 yards.
There was some "human error," as this was my first time shooting this particular gun, my old eyes had some trouble seeing the rather thin front sight that Danny puts on his smoothbores, there was no rear sight, and I'm not a great shot anyway. However, while neither load would win a match, you could count on it to put out the lights of a deer consistently at the distance I was shooting. That's within "bowhunter" range, and the Indians were consummate hunters.
"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
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