January 29, 2024
Rich DeFalco Jr. grew up like many of us—a youngster who hunted deer and small game with his father. And while archery was his first hunting love, he quickly became enamored with the timeless tradition of shooting a muzzleloader. Being especially fond of hunting small game, he would soon combine these two favored pastimes and embark upon a unique pursuit.
"With big-game hunting, you load the gun and sit for hours. But with small game, you get to shoot. You're constantly doing something, walking around, shooting and reloading. I still hunt all three different deer seasons and I use all types of modern firearms, but I always come back to muzzleloading. I don't get the same satisfaction from modern firearms that I do with a flintlock. It's just so cool to me to run around the same ground with the same firearm that people did back in the 1700s. In some of the places where our country's independence was won as well."
It’s just after sunrise on a frosty, windless late-December morning at DeFalco’s favorite squirrel haunt. Outfitted in late-season snow camouflage, he methodically tramps through the woods, periodically stopping to look and listen for signs of squirrel activity. Shooting black powder commands patience. Unlike using a modern, repeating shotgun or scoped and cartridge-crammed rifle, traditional muzzleloading reduces effective killing ranges, decreases accuracy and significantly slows reload times—but that’s also part of the appeal.
"The flintlock represents self-reliance. A traditional prepper's weapon. With a percussion gun, you're going to need caps, and you're not going to be making them on your own. With a flinlock, as long as you have a piece of quartz, all you need is a little black powder and something to shove down the barrel and you have yourself a gun."
DeFalco continues, "There's just something about flintlocks. It's what everybody thinks of as traditional muzzleloading. For me, it's the whole era - the 18th century and America's infancy during the colonial period. I'm holding something that was used before our country was even established."
"It forces you to get closer and pick and choose your shots when your open sighted with one shot. If you have a scoped .22 rifle, you wouldn't think twice about taking every shot you could. It also keeps you more in tune to use your sends and you become a better hunter."
The climax of hunting with a flintlock crests when the quartz strikes the frizzen. Sparks ignite the iconic “flash in the pan” as the black powder burns fast, hot and bright through a tiny hole in the barrel to forcefully fire the lead ball that speeds out en route to its target.
The blazing heat of the flash warms your face as it flares up in your field of view. Your heart skips a beat at the crack of the powder charge igniting and rapid gas expansion that violently ejects the ball from the muzzle encompassed by sparks. The pungent, alchemic aroma of spent powder lingers in the air as the shot echoes through the timber. This all—at least for a fleeting moment—sends you back in time and serves as a reminder of all the hunters that have come before.