The rifle-musket is the signature arm of the N-SSA. While I don’t claim to be an expert with it, the N-SSA collectively has the art of getting them to shoot pretty well nailed down. This information reflects a starting point – rifle-muskets are cantankerous beasts, they’re all different. But as Jerry Ray, the man who recruited my father, said, “They’ll all shoot”.
Let’s start with the bullet. There are a lot of variations on the Minie design, and each has its partisans. My advice is to get some lead, borrow molds from teammates, and experiment. One thing that IS pretty well established is to size the bullet no smaller than .001 below bore land diameter. Which means taking a micrometer to the barrel and get the actual bullet size required. By the way, the ideal is to find a bullet mold that casts to the desired diameter. This saves the step of sizing.
As for sizers, there are several available from sutlers. My father had one that worked on hand pressure…meaning that I got to ram bullets through it. And those were being swaged down quite a bit - .580 to .575, if I remember correctly. Hard work. If you have to do this and have access to a drill press, make a rod that fits in the drill chuck. Don’t turn the press on, just put the sizer on the drill bed and use the leverage to help with sizing. If you aren’t faced with substantial swaging in your sizing, hand pressure will do.
Then we come to lube. You’ll get a lot of variations on this, it’s a constant topic of discussion on the N-SSA bulletin board. I personally use the old Len’s Lube mix, which I understand is 50% motor oil and 50% beeswax. Again, you’ll have to experiment. And the N-SSA Bulletin Board and your teammates are still your friends. I personally dip-lube my bullets. I melt some lube in an old metal musket cap tin, use pliers to hold the bullet noses, and dip the bases to fill all the lube grooves. Works perfectly.
As for loads, most of the top shooters are using a load in the 40-50 grain region. 42 seems very popular. And most competitors are using 3Fg powder. I’d advise testing in 2-3 grain increments to get close, then tweak the load.
One last point…once you have the load worked up, write it down! In two places, if possible. That way, you won’t have to repeat the process when you hand that musket you put into semi-retirement a decade ago to your son or daughter.
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).