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Blackpowder for Small Game


Hovey Smith with a black powder squirrel (Traditions .32 cal)

Hovey Smith with a black powder squirrel (Traditions .32 cal)


Most the popularity of blackpowder hunting has been dedicated to big game animals. Including whitetail deer, elk, bear, mule deer, and even turkeys. However, for those who love the shooting and hunting with blackpowder, you are missing a great opportunity by not hunting small game and birds with these smoke poles.

Even in today’s specialized world that is dominated by .50 caliber guns, there are still several companies that make smaller calibers and shotgun barrels. Traditions and Pendersoli make both the .32 and a .36 caliber rifle suitable for small game. Just as the 12 gauge is also for blackpowder shotguns.

Admittedly, the allure of hunting small game with blackpowder is one that only a few enjoy, more and more throngs are giving the effort a try. Blackpowder rifles vary in ignition, from the traditional percussion cap side ignition, flintlock and the modern inline versions. The smaller calibers are only found in the flintlock and side percussion cap versions. Which for many adds to the mystique of the hunt.

Squirrel hunting with a .32 or .36 is challenging. But far from impossible, it is similar to hunting with a rimfire in technique. Sitting still in the hardwoods, or moving along ridges slowly looking for movement to make a clean kill. Most of the small game hunters prefer to keep it as traditional as possible Wearing the traditional clothing and shooting only round balls at the squirrels. The good thing about the round ball is that it doesn’t destroy the animal. Rather it cuts a perfect .32 caliber hold right through the animal. Guaranteeing a quick death.

Rabbits, doves, ducks are all better suited for shotguns. Hunting with a blackpowder shotgun is very similar to any other shotgun but a lot slower to reload. Most of the traditional black powder shotguns are double barrel versions with exposed hammers. And loading a blackpowder shotgun is different also, a shot holder must be included to keep all of the shot in the barrel.

Hovey Smith, of Georgia is a foremost expert on hunting variety of game with blackpowder. Smith has killed everything from squirrels to swans using blackpowder guns. Hovey says that the element of shooting is changed when you hunt in this fashion. From a personal perspective, killing a swan (in North Carolina with a permit) with a muzzle loading shotgun is one of the greatest feats I’ve heard of with blackpowder. Smith routinely uses blackpowder for waterfowl in all parts of the country.

One other element that can be employed is for those who only have a .50 caliber rifle for hunting deer. Most of these .50 caliber guns can handle charges up to 150 grains and push large sabot bullets. But there is nothing that says how light of a charge you can shoot. Some expert agree that shooting 40 grains of powder behind a .50 caliber round ball is more than enough to harvest small game without too much damage. Plus the reduced recoil and cost savings will make this more enjoyable.

As our deer season draws to a close, hunters looking for a challenge do not need to look far to find opportunities for chasing game. Gather up the ole smoke pole and get after some of the small game we love to pursue.