(This is part 1 of a 3 part series)
People considering joining the N-SSA often ask, “How much does it cost to get started?” Although it can seem intimidating to a new shooter, getting started doesn't have to be expensive. Skirmishers are a notoriously tight-fisted group and there are ways to equip yourself on a budget that makes the sport affordable for almost everyone.
The first piece of equipment a new skirmisher should consider is a musket. This will allow you to participate in the organization's most popular event and is the foundation of the N-SSA. A new Skirmisher might find the price of a new musket intimidating. The official retail price on a new Pedersoli Springfield or Enfield can run over $1,000, a custom musket can double that. Fear not, for there are much less expensive options available.
If you have already found a team to shoot with, the odds are good that you can borrow a musket. Many experienced Skirmishers have spares that they are willing to loan to a new shooter (just keep the gun clean!). This is often the best way to get you on the line while you shop for a musket of your own.
Once you are ready to find your own though, most skirmishers start out with a used musket. A secondhand musket already set up for skirmish use will save a lot of time, and the odds are good that the seller already has a load worked up for that gun. Sutler's row at Fort Shenandoah during a national skirmish is a great place to shop around for quality used musket as many of the sellers there are familiar with N-SSA standards for firearms. But online auction sites like Gunbroker.com also show quite a few potential Skirmish guns. Regardless of how you find your musket, it helps to have an experienced Skirmisher work with you when shopping.
Desirable features for a new shooter to consider would include:
a. A '2-band rifle' rather than a '3-band rifle-musket'. The 2-band rifles, such as the 1858 Enfield, 1855 Mississippi, and Zouave, offer balance better and load a bit quicker than the full-length arms. This can help a new shooter not used to the weight and balance of a musket to make the transition from modern arms.
b. Barrel condition. Good, sharp rifling is a must. This is especially true near the muzzle. A good crown on the barrel is also a must. However, it's important to remember that barrels can be recrowned relatively easily.
c. Tuned trigger. Muskets already set up for N-SSA competition will be equipped with a 3.5-4 lb trigger pull.
Make certain that whatever you buy is on the Approved Small Arms list (a copy can be found here). Just about every reproduction Civil War arm is on the list but it's worth a second check if you are buying from anyone outside of the N-SSA. Note that the list cross-references the importers and the actual manufacturers.
With a bit of diligence, you should find a decent starter musket for around $400-$450. And if properly cared for it should retain its value for many years.
If you simply MUST have a new musket, shop around, watch for sales both in online auctions and from major vendors like Cabelas. Pedersoli, Springfield, or Enfield models can be found for close to $800 if you’re patient.
The minimum uniform consists of the following: Hat, outermost upper garment, trousers, and black footwear. Let’s tackle these in order.
You’ll need either a forage cap, kepi, Hardee hat, slouch hat, or straw hat, as appropriate for your team’s uniform. If money is tight, buy cheap, buy used and don’t buy brass insignia until you can afford them. Having a cap without brassware is actually more authentic; it's not nearly as common as people think.
Outermost Upper Garment
There’s a trick here…most teams allow you to shoot in shirt-sleeves. Officially, it’s at the discretion of the unit commander, but it would be rare to not permit it. This means that a period-style uniform shirt is the minimum you need. A Federal blouse or Confederate shell jacket can come later, buy the shirt first. And buy it big enough to fit thermal underwear beneath it for cold days.
Another cost reducer is to wear blue or gray work pants, if you can get a pair cheap. Cut off the belt loops, sew on suspender buttons, and you have a low-cost alternative to an expensive pair of trousers. It’s an expedient measure, you’ll need to upgrade if you stay Skirmishing. Even when you upgrade to a proper pair of uniform trousers, those washable work pants will come in handy as a foul-weather uniform, or as undress kit for less formal Skirmishes.
The uniform rules are clear that footwear must be leather, and black (optionally brown for Confederates). This means that an old pair of dress or work shoes will do.
Where to Find Uniform Items
A new Skirmisher can buy new items, but there are also plenty of used items available also. The first stop for a new skirmisher should be the buy/sell section of the N-SSA bulletin board. Civil War reenactor websites and various Facebook pages also have a lot of used items for sale and a surprising amount can be found on eBay. You do have to be cautious with the quality of some items when buying from non-Civil War themed groups but they will do for a new shooter. If you want to purchase new items though, a great resource are the N-SSA Sutlers.
Once you have a musket and a uniform it's time to take the next step towards getting on the firing line! The next part of this series will show you how to expand your uniform and some of the other things you will need to get started.
The N-SSA is a civil war shooting club located in Winchester, VA and is dedicated to preserving our nation's history through competitive shooting. To learn more about the N-SSA and how to join, click here.
Mike McDaniel has been a member of the N-SSA since 1978 and is currently a member of McGregor’s 2nd Battery, CSA. He is a second generation skirmisher and grew up at Fort Shenandoah. While he shoots musket and carbine his greatest passion is the revolver where he has won six national N-SSA championships and over 150 revolver DSCA points. He also has the honor to be Deputy Team Captain for the United States International Muzzle-Loading Team (USIMLT).