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Top Shot Season 4 Episode 5: Flintlocks, Unpatched Balls, and Half-Cocks.

A Strange Upset, and Muzzleloading Rules are Thrown Out the Window


March 13, 2012

Sheesh. I thought these people were supposed to be experts. But I digress...

The episode opened with discussion about Greg's nerves - from members of both teams. He's such a flake sometimes, I wonder how he gets dressed in the morning.

This week the gun (not "weapon") used in the team challenge was the Kentucky flintlock pistol. Immediately, people began whining about "so many steps" required to load the gun. Even my wife, who is not particularly gungy,* sneered at their complaints - and rightfully so. If you enter a competition of this type and then say boo hoo when faced with something a little different, shame on ya. Just shut up and get 'er done.

The Patchless Wonder

Anyhow, they brought in a trainer, as they so often do. The fellow was Russ Combs, who is supposed to be a muzzleloading expert. But the ultimate joke was that this guy had the shooters loading this gun with a loose-fitting round ball and no patch of any kind.

Now folks, I confess that I tend to sneer at folks who do things incorrectly - especially when they do it in a public way in front of a bunch of folks and claim to know what they're doing. But in cases like this I'm truly aghast at the utter stupidity presented on a well-respected channel by people who are supposed to know better!

The History Channel Needs a History Lesson

To explain my amazement, let me observe that using a patch with a round ball is not a new idea. It has been a common practice with muzzleloading guns for centuries. That's right - there are many hundreds of years behind this concept.

One of the first things I learned as a wee lad was that in a muzzleloader, you use a patch when you use a round ball. In one of my very earliest memories, my father loaded his homemade muzzleloading percussion pistols with round balls using patches which he had cut from an old pair of jeans and gnawed on a little to give them some lubrication.

The cloth patch is necessary. It fills the gap between the ball and the gun's bore, providing a seal to keep the force of burning powder trapped behind the bullet, and to cause the bullet to spin with the rifling in order to give it stable (accurate) flight. The patch needs to be there. I'm shocked that these folks were hitting targets accurately with these moronically loose-fitting balls, which comically rolled out of the barrel's end from time to time. Shades of Elmer Fudd having a typically bad day with his blunderbuss.

How is it, then, that the so-called expert on a nationally televised shooting program leaves out the patches? What a crock! And I think the worst part of all this bad comedy was the use of the ramrod - which naturally did absolutely nothing.

I suspect there is some untold story behind this, like someone forgot to buy patches, but it's not likely that we will ever know why this ridiculous sham was presented to the viewing public. But sadly, it was.

The Right Way

Now seems like a good time to offer a link to How to Load a Traditional Muzzleloading Black Powder Rifle and to mention that I even have a little experience with flintlocks.

Anyhow, this explains why the ball rolled out of the barrel for Will during blue team's practice. Blue team's other problem was Greg, who cried a bucketful of crocodile tears about the pistol's trigger, and took forty forevers to fire the gun.

Team Challenge

The challenge was called "swing into action." Each shooter would swing from one elevated platform to another using a rope, load and fire the pistol, then swing back.

As usual, I was pulling for red team, but their first guy (Chee) seemed to go brain dead as soon as he grabbed the rope. He failed - more than once - to make the swing. This was a big setback for red, and blue team took an early lead. When Greg got up and trembled with the gun for minutes at a time, red could have recovered - but they failed.

Yes, Greg did a repeat of his performance at the practice, holding the gun up and shaking - and shaking - and shaking. His teammate Will described him as "Shaking like a dog crappin' a peach pit." That wasn't the first time I'd heard the expression, but it was one of the most enjoyable.

Someone (not Greg) finally figured out that Greg had the gun on half-cock. Then he cocked it and promptly lost the unpatched bullet when it casually rolled out the muzzle of his gun. Really?

Red's Iggy and Tim both missed, allowing blue to win the challenge.


Clearly, most of the blame falls on Chee, as he caused a major delay - and he ponied up to take the heat. But so did Tim and Iggy. Me, I think that because Chee caused the biggest delay and Iggy failed on one of his rope swings (causing another delay), they should have gone. Instead, Tim and Iggy were sent, without a single vote going to Chee. I strongly disagreed with that - but hey, nobody asked me.


The gun was the H&K USP 45 semi-automatic pistol, and Steve Gilcreast was the trainer. Tim wasn't happy with the gun choice, while Iggy was more accurate and comfortable with the gun. But Iggy seemed much less comfortable at shuffling his feet to shoot through the hole. See, they had to shoot through a round porthole in a little wall.

During demonstration of the elimination challenge, I saw lots of slow-mo footage of pistol shooting. The shooter had one or both thumbs actually pressed against the moving slide of the pistol as it recoiled, and I can't begin go tell you how much I disagree with that method of running a pistol. Pistol slides move rapidly, and can easily rip your hand open. For that reason, I prefer to keep my digits from touching it when it's moving.

So anyhow, 20 targets were set up. Each shooter had to walk sideways as a hunk of wall rolled along, and shoot at targets through a round porthole in said wall - breaking as many of the 20 targets as he could before the wall stopped moving.

Tim went first, and only got 8. Iggy followed - with the same results. They both used the same number of rounds, so it was a tie. They went again. This time, Tim hit 18! Wow. Iggy only hit 8; seemed like he was trying too hard and never really settled into a groove. Although he was considered the better pistol shooter, he headed home.

Next week: Cannons! And a stick for throwing arrows. Whut?

- Russ Chastain

Be sure to vote in this week's Top Shot poll!

Other Top Shot Season 4 Episode Reviews

- Season 4, Episode 1: Motorcycle Sidecar Shootout
- Season 4, Episode 2: Browning BAR and Grenade Launchers
- Season 4, Episode 3: Benelli Shotguns Galore; Season 2 Winner Chris Reed
- Season 4, Episode 4: Crossbows, Moving Targets, and Love
- Season 4, Episode 6: From Cannons to Atlatls - and Beyond
- Season 4, Episode 7: Trick Shots and Cocky Teammates
- Season 4, Episode 8: Old British Guns
- Season 4, Episode 9: It's all About Rifles
- Season 4, Episode 10: SWAT Stuff
- Season 4, Episode 11: Machinegunning and Memory
- Season 4, Episode 12: Season Finale

* Gungy: A fan of, an expert on, and/or enamored of guns and shooting.

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