Choice of rifle today will be that of a modern made reproduction, including custom built rifles, or an original rifle. Many competitions make no distinction between reproduction and original rifles, although in international events they are fired in their own classes.
A typical specification for a long range rifle is:
- .45 cal percussion rifle
- weight 12lbs (in the 19th century weight was restricted to 10lb)
- 34-36″ barrel
- 1:18 twist
- aperture sights
- 530-560 grain bullet
- typical charges 85-95 grains Swiss No.3 (2f) or 90-100 grains Swiss No.4 (1.5f)
For many years Parker-Hale’s ‘Volunteer’ and ‘Whitworth’ were the entry-level rifle into the sport. The Volunteer is a military match rifle most commonly found with Henry rifling, although the initial production had Rigby rifling. The Whitworth version is of the same external appearance as the Volunteer but has the characteristic hexagonal Whitworth rifling. Although no longer manufactured by Parker-Hale, both appear on the second hand market and at times are even offered with upgraded sights. Versions of these rifles were also made by Euroarms, but no longer. For 2016 Davide Pedersoli & Co. have introduced a Whitworth rifle to their catalogue.
Both the Volunteer and Whitworth rifles are generally accepted to be well made arms and are capable of excellent accuracy. To compete against full match rifles, owners generally install a tang mounted aperture rearsight and a tunnel foresight with interchangeable elements. While competitive at mid-range (out to 600 yards) they are generally out performed by match rifles at long range.
The reproduction rifle most often seen in use at long range today is the Davide Pedersoli & Co. ‘Gibbs’ (above). This is a full match rifle named after the well known Bristol gunmaker, George Gibbs. The .45 calibre version has gained a reputation of quality and accuracy, and ‘out-of-the-box’ is equipped for long range shooting.
A reproduction Rigby match rifle, marketed under the ‘Creedmoor’ name, was available from Spain for a number of years. Originally manufactured by Intermarco, later production was by Ardesa. Outward appearance is that of a full match rifle, the rifle is however scaled down in size slightly from the original and consequently lacks in weight. Good mid-range shooting can be had from this rifle, however the larger charges and heavy bullets generally employed at longer ranges can result in felt recoil being uncomfortable.
The Italian manufacturer Artax introduced a full match rifle to their catalogue around 1999. This rifle is seldom seen in the UK. Production may have been aimed at the 100m market, so if considering one check the rate of rifling twist is suitable for long range shooting. It should also be noted that Pedersoli’s ‘Mortimer Whitworth’ does not have Whitworth’s hexagonal rifling. The “Whitworth” tag comes from the name of the competition the rifle is marketed to be used in. The Muzzle Loaders Associations International Committee name all their competitions and the ‘Whitworth’ match is for target rifles fired prone at 100m.
Custom built rifles are seen on the ranges (and occasionally on the 2nd hand market). In the UK the Monk Rigby was made for a period in the 1980s, and Rex Holbrook also made an underhammer rifle suitable for long range shooting. Around 2011 US gunmaker Lee Shaver introduced a custom hand-made reproduction of a long range muzzle loading rifle built by George Ferriss in the US around 1880. This is proving a popular and accurate rifle for those seeking an alternative choice to the contemporary British match rifles.
Original match rifles do appear on the antique arms market and good examples attract a suitably impressive price tag. Careful inspection of the rifle bore should be made if purchasing an original rifle for competitive use, and advice sought from someone with experience of such rifles if in doubt. Should an original be found with a ‘shot-out’ or otherwise unsuitable bore (or for that matter if the owner does not want to risk damaging the original barrel), then procuring a new barrel and utilising the original stock, lock and sights might be an acceptable alternative (this would however be classed as a reproduction under MLAIC rules). Originals are still seen on the ranges however their prevalence nowadays appears to be on the wane. Use of such rifles, with their premium prices, on open ranges and in inclement weather is not an attractive proposition; however it will be a sad day when their price is such that they are consigned to the gun cabinet.
Shooting in the 19th century did not permit artificial support, including slings. Shooters fired prone, unsupported, or from the back position. Modern international rules permit the use of a two point sling for ranges up to 600 yards and shooting is from the prone position. At ranges greater than 600 yards a wrist rest may be used, or the shooter can fire from the back position. Cross sticks or other support of the rifle are not normally permitted in matches in the UK, although in some events in the USA they may be permitted. If in doubt check with the event organiser.
Despite using firearms of antiquated design, muzzle loaders are not generally subject to rules preventing them using modern shooting clothing. Modern shooting jackets, gloves, and glasses can be used in international competitions. In some NRA(GB) muzzle loading events modern shooting jackets for example may not be permitted; again, if in doubt check with the event organiser.
Besides match rifle competition, the military muzzle loading rifle also features in mid and long range competition in the UK.