Sidelocks

Several years ago while wandering around southern Iowa and northern Missouri I stopped by Tony Knight’s gun shop for a chat with the gunmaker. This wasn’t long after Knight had introduced the MK-85 and was on his way to changing how most blackpowder shooters would approach their seasons.

The MK-85 – named for Knight’s daughter and the year it was introduced – was a revolution. An “inline,” Knight explained, using a term I’d scarcely heard. In style, size, weight and heft it more closely resembled my 30-30 carbine than the nine-pound, 56-incn-long .50 caliber sidelock blackpowder monstrosity I’d recently bought. Its muzzle blast was mindful of cannon fire. Beyond about 50 yards accuracy vanished.

Knight deftly disassembled and reassembled his sleek, new rifle before my eyes. He explained the safety. (Safety? On a muzzleloader?) Showed me how you could clean it breech to muzzle. Easy. Mount one with a scope and the MK-85 would drop a deer at 100 yards or more, he claimed.

I bought one, of course, and when I got home practically ran to the shooting range. It was everything Knight promised. Accurate. Dependable. Durable.

Other inlines followed. Muzzleloader deer seasons mushroomed in popularity, which, coincided with erupting whitetail numbers across much of the country. For once technology and opportunity seemed to mesh.

But I was never a true convert. The inlines were – and are – superior to the old sidelock muzzleloaders in every way. Except one. They had no romance; no history; no beauty. Would Daniel Boone have carried this thing into the woods? (Of course, but that’s another story.)

Sidelock shooters became “traditionalists.” They also became a rarity.

I have returned to the fold. I like messing with the old style rifles; loading the patch and round ball; adjusting the triggers and the lock. I usually hunt with a .50 caliber percussion and enjoy it. I’m thinking about a flintlock and would like to try one but I’m a left-handed shooter and southpaw styled flintlocks within my modest price range are rare.

I wouldn’t call my love of sidelocks nostalgia. I just like shooting the old style guns. You have to hunt close. Hunt carefully; employ some woodsmanship.

Muzzleloader season opens in a few days.  I can’t wait.

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