April 2002

400-Year-Old Technology; We Try A Trio of .54-Caliber Flintlocks

Cabelaís Hawken is a Best Buy, in our view; and Lymanís Great Plains is our huntersí pick. But Donít Buy the 1803 Harperís Ferry, unless you are willing to fix it.

They’re all about fire and brimstone, noise, smoke, and tremendous gobs of fun. We’re talking about flintlocks, of course, the longest-lasting form of firearm ignition the world has ever seen. The heyday of flint firearms spanned 200 years. Percussion firearms lasted maybe 50, and our current self-contained cartridges are now about 150 years old. But the idea of banging a stone onto a piece of steel and producing fire was, and still is, a very good one, when not much can go wrong in the process. With a flint firearm all you need is good black powder, a projectile and some wadding and your gun will keep on going bang until you get tired. With percussion and cartridge firearms, you need fulminates, i.e., something which when struck, detonates to ignite the powder. When you run out of caps, you’re out of luck. Perhaps that crude simplicity is the great draw of flinters.

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