The field beneath the tree was wrapped in colourful paper and formed in such a protracted and slender means that inside, there may’ve solely been a ship paddle or a rifle. It was 1991, I used to be 9 years outdated, and one heft of the field informed me it was too heavy to be a paddle. However as an alternative of the .22 I used to be anticipating, I unwrapped a sidelock .50-caliber muzzleloader. “I needed to get you one thing you would deer hunt with,” Dad stated. “And I assumed you would possibly be taught one thing with a gun like this, too.”
Dad was a hunter and had a cupboard filled with weapons, together with .22s and 20-gauges that he was already letting me use within the squirrel woods. However I’d by no means been deer searching and furthermore, had by no means a lot as touched Dad’s muzzleloader, a .50-caliber Thompson-Heart Hawken duplicate. I keep in mind when inline weapons, sabots, and pelletized powder took over muzzleloader seasons, however this was earlier than that. In these days, black-powder hunters used percussion weapons with open sights, free black powder, and patched spherical balls. It was a specialised, 50-yard sport, and Dad notably loved the method of all of it.
“Each deer I’ve ever hit with a black powder fell useless on the spot,” he stated. “A .50-caliber rifle is a whole lot of gun, however we’ll begin with mild fees so it gained’t kick the shit out of you.”
The gun broke on the primary shot. We measured out a 60-grain powder cost, loaded a spherical ball, and I fired it at a board that we’d leaned in opposition to a tree possibly 15 yards away. I missed it clear, shaking like I used to be. Dad pulled the gun’s hammer again to half-cock, to flick away the spent cap. That’s after we observed the issue. In all of the black-powder taking pictures Dad had completed beforehand, and within the 1000’s of rounds of it that I’ve completed since, I’ve by no means seen something prefer it. The nipple, on which the percussion cap is positioned to ignite the powder cost within the breech beneath, broke as if it had been a shattered piece of glass. It was possibly a $3 half that could possibly be changed in 20 seconds, nevertheless it was completely required for the gun to work. And on Christmas morning, we had no alternative.
Regardless of the man-size reward, I used to be crying a toddler’s tears. Dad hustled inside, grabbed his “possibles” bag from the searching closet, and eliminated the nipple from his personal Hawken with a particular wrench. “See, it’s a simple factor to repair,” he stated, assured he’d discovered the answer to save lots of his boy’s Christmas. However the threads on the 2 weapons had been totally different. We needed to clear my new muzzleloader, rendered to the usefulness of a heavy, sinking boat paddle, and put it within the cupboard on Christmas morning after only one shot.
A small field with a dozen alternative nipples—some for my gun, some for Dad’s Hawken—quickly arrived within the mail. I killed my first deer with that muzzleloader the following fall, and I hunted with it for the following decade earlier than lastly retiring it in favor of a scoped inline. It’s at all times been stored clear, and it nonetheless shoots straight. Proper now, it’s within the secure at Dad’s home, sitting subsequent to his outdated Hawken.
Dad hoped I’d be taught from that muzzleloader, and I assume I’ve. Lately I’m not a man who overpacks forward of a hunt. However I do maintain an additional rifle and ammo within the truck. One other duck name in my blind bag. An additional launch assist in my bowhunting pack. Two knives. Two flashlights. A replica of my license. I again up the stuff I will need to have to complete a hunt. Generally, on Christmas morning, your nipple will shatter, and with no alternative useful, you’re up Shit Creek. However at the very least you’ll have a paddle.
Day-after-day this week, we’ll share a brand new essay in our “Christmas Story” collection. You will discover all of them here.