Skirmishing on a Budget - Part 2

In the first part of this series, we talked about the basics of getting a musket and a uniform.  In this part, we will explore some of the other essential tools a skirmisher needs to get started and ways to keep the costs of these things low.


To shoot on the firing line during an N-SSA event you will need a cartridge box, cap pouch, and a belt.  There are many variations of these available and you can choose the style that suits your preference (or your team's uniform requirements) without much of a difference in price.  Additionally, a shoulder strap for the cartridge box and a bayonet to rest your ramrod on are very useful and not expensive additions to have.  As with your uniform, secondhand leather goods are a good way to save some money initially.  Both Skirmishers and reenactors will put secondhand items on the market frequently, and “sutler row quality” items that wouldn't suit a reenactor interested in only authenticity will serve a novice skirmisher perfectly for many years.  

There are some other items that can come in useful as well.  The first is a tin cup to put on your belt to hold empty tubes.  It’s not a necessity but it does come in handy and saves you from bending over several times to retrieve spent cartridges.  A haversack provides a useful way to transport all the odds and ends from your campsite to the firing line also.  You can even sew your own haversack together with minimal effort as well.

Cleaning and Shooting Accessories

You’ll need other items to keep your firearms clean and functioning properly.  These include a cleaning rod, a suitable brush, patches, and a nipple wrench.  None of these are too expensive and can all be found in a quick stroll through the Sutler's area at Fort Shenandoah.   You will also want a good soft-lined case to transport your firearms.

Once you establish what your musket like's to shoot, a bullet mold will be a necessity.  It's always a good idea to borrow some though to get started as most muskets require a bit of experimentation to figure out what load they like.  The same is true for sizers.  No need for a fancy lubrisizer at first - just size the bullets and dip them in lube.   A volumetric powder measure becomes the next tool to consider along with at least a 100 cartridge tubes.  Surplus military ammo cans work great for storage and transportation, and both are watertight and cheap.  A spotting scope of some sort is highly recommended as is a decent stapler for hanging targets.  Your spotting scope should be about 20 power, maybe better.

Some of the molding, sizing, and measuring of cartridges can be simplified though by looking for a secondhand musket and purchasing all of the things mentioned above from the original owner for that firearm.  It can also seem somewhat overwhelming for a new shooter but there are often plenty of folks willing to help a new shooter learn the ins and outs of making cartridges.

Other Firearms

Once you start Skirmishing, the odds are that you’ll get interested in firearms other than the musket.  Carbine and revolver are the next most popular followed closely by smoothbore.  Repeater is also another popular event although is often not favored by those looking to skirmish on a budget.


For a novice carbine shooter, there are two main options for choosing a carbine:

The first is to buy a muzzle-loading carbine.  These aren’t terribly popular because of the slow rate of fire, but can be extremely accurate.  It’s frequently possible to pick up a good-shooting carbine for a very reasonable price.  And it’s possible to work up a bullet and powder charge combination that can be shared between your musket and carbine, which is a very convenient and cost effective option.

The second is to look for a Pietta-made Smith carbine reproduction model.  While these have had a spotty reputation for accuracy as the barrels on the early ones were not rifled properly in the past, the basic firearm is sound.  Plus, the locks can be tuned and the barrel can easily be relined to produce a tack-driver out of most of them.  These models have also been around long enough that a new shooter has a reasonable chance of finding a used one at an affordable price.  As you gain some experience in skirmishing, you may choose to acquire a Sharps or Maynard carbine but these are often not budget friendly options.


Revolvers present some significant issues for a novice Skirmisher.  Most reproduction revolvers were made to a price point that did not allow for great precision in their manufacture.  The Uberti and Pietta revolvers commonly available are a lot of gun for the money, but there’s only so much that can be done when you’re retailing a piece for $300.  The most common issues are chambers that do not align properly with the barrel, and chambers that are undersized compared to the barrel.

For the entry-level revolvers, the best that can be done is to have a good trigger job done, put an 11⁰ forcing cone on the barrel to make them handle the misalignments better, and if necessary, ream the chambers out to bore diameter.  It’s advisable to shoot each chamber separately to find out which one shoots the tightest group.  There’s usually one chamber that is properly aligned.  N-SSA rules allow single-loading in individual competition (as opposed to International rules, which require use of all chambers).  A Skirmisher can go far with such a revolver including being competitive in even the expert classifications.


At this point, a new shooter should be set up to get started in the next N-SSA event!  But what happens when you are ready to take that next step and start upgrading your equipment?  The next part of this series will look at the best upgrades to consider first!

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).