Author Topic: Short Starters: When?  (Read 1134 times)

Offline Smokey Plainsman

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Short Starters: When?
« on: December 02, 2019, 01:20:08 PM »
Friends, I present you another question. I suppose some of you may wish I crawl in a ditch and fade away due to my ceaseless questions, and for that I apologize.

I am wondering when short starters were used? Iíve read they didnít exist during the flintlock age, and that the time they first showed up ranges from the 1850s up until the 1970s, i.e. people think they are a totally modern invention.

I have an Ohio-style percussion rifle but I donít want to cone it. Iíd rather just use a ball starter but I am very hesitant because I want my gear as historically correct as I can.

Thoughts?

Offline Tim Crosby

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2019, 04:00:15 PM »
 Try doing a search on them, in "Accouterments" here is one thread:

 https://americanlongrifles.org/forum/index.php?topic=32559.msg312302#msg312302


  Tim C.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2019, 04:03:42 PM by Tim Crosby »

Offline 45-110

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2019, 04:28:40 PM »
My take on the matter is that "back in the day" a hunter did not walk into a fabric store with a micrometer to acquire the "perfect" cloth thickness for his rifle. So at some point in the life of the rifle he would of had a thickness less than ideal. So Yankee ingenuity would have come into play, a peg inserted on the side of his knife or a whittled short starter to facilitate a reload.
kw

Offline smokinbuck

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2019, 05:29:17 PM »
Very rarely see,or hear of, short starters in old pictures or documents describing equipment.
Mark

Offline WadePatton

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2019, 05:50:23 PM »
I use a ball starter because I start balls with it, not shorts.

Also there was never a long or medium starter, so "starter" works too.  It's used three times, nub to swage the ball into the rifling before cutting the patch, main shaft to start it down into the bore, and then again-to compress the load after it has come to rest in the breech.

Daryl often notes that starters aren't necessary in the 40 and smaller rifles with a snug fit, such that you might likely be able to get a nice, accurate, self-cleaning load with only your packin' stick and proper technique (and a nice radius on the crown).

All this has been gone over a double dozen times here.

Did you ever check the actual rate of twist in your forty?
« Last Edit: December 02, 2019, 05:56:56 PM by WadePatton »
Hold to the Wind

Offline 45-110

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2019, 07:02:40 PM »
never say never, rarely is probably correct.
kw

Offline MuskratMike

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2019, 08:41:14 PM »
Just because there is very little historical data or survivors out there didn't mean they didn't exist. My belief is that the "ball starter" (thank you Wade) was the flat side of their belt knife and that was also their patch knife. If the patch material they were using was just a little tight they may have added a nub onto something to "start" the ball but who really knows. I will ask Sherman to put me in his "way-back" machine to 1780 and ask the first hunter I find. If it works for you and you like using a starter then by all means use it.
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Offline WadePatton

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2019, 10:23:10 PM »
How different would our re-enacting the past be if we had a fragment of the sort of photographic record that we now generate constantly? There may be more pics in my digital device than were likely made in the entire 18th century by all photographers combined.   

Of course filling in the "blanks" is interesting and part of the fun, but absence of evidence cannot fully disprove existence-especially given the simpleness of the tool and also the tendency of shooters to load differently, with different notions and purposes.
Hold to the Wind

Offline rsells

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2019, 11:00:31 PM »
A friend of mine purchased a cap lock rifle that had been passed down to the owner's nephew.  I went with him to pick up the rifle.  When we got there the young man gave Jeff the rifle and said this horn goes along with it.  The horn had a measure attached that had a short shaft on the back end that appeared to be used to start the ball and patch.  That portion of the measure was a bit under 2 inches in length.  The measure was made from a deer antler.  The rifle had been in the family for several generations according to the young man.  I would date the rifle in the mid 1800's, but can not put any kind of best guess on the horn and measure.  I think some sort of short starter was used in the past and have never thought of its use as an issue.
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Offline iloco

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2019, 12:36:40 AM »
Did Lew Whetzel use a short starter when loading on the run...   I think loose loads were a common thing back in the day.  Don't have any proof just a feeling I have.
iloco

Offline Kevin

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #10 on: December 03, 2019, 01:04:47 AM »
Greetings All,

Page 19 of "The Mountain Man's Sketchbook Volume Two" by James A. Hanson & Kathryn J. Wilson includes a sketch of a  straight starter" along with other firearms accessories.  All items on this page are from the collection of the Museum of the Fur Trade.  Maybe touch base with the museum and see if they have any history on this object?

Enjoy,
Kevin

Online Elnathan

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2019, 01:48:26 AM »
Short starters date way back, as they were used as a means of starting oversized, unpatched balls. As patched balls took over, I think they died out and then were revived for use with patched balls, possibly as a result of some military textbooks plagiarizing older publications that mentioned their use for unpatched balls.

Earliest mention of a short starter on a patched ball is 1780, in a German text talking about civilian guns. By the 1790s the Austrians and British are issuing mallets with their military pieces; however, the Austrians used a very different method of loading their Jager rifles that involved keeping their iron ramrods on their belts (no provision for a ramrod on the gun itself) and the British mallets were issued only to every second man IIRC, which I suspect means that they were intended to be used to deal with dirty bores, out-of-spec ammo, and other battlefield contingencies rather than a routine method of loading. The use of a mallet for loading first appears in print on this side of the Atlantic in the first years of the 19th century, as far as I know, in a military treatise, from, I think, New England.

In contrast, there are a number of descriptions and accounts from the period 1750 to 1810 that describe loading without a short starter. There is a German text from about 1750 that describes how to hold the ramrod so as not to risk breaking it while starting the ball, to start with. Around 1790, Isaac Weld, who was apparently familiar with fowlers but not rifles, describes for his readers every point in which an American longrifle rifle differed from an English fowling piece, including the use of greased patches and rear sights (he likens rifle sights to surveying equipment),  but never mentions the use of short starters. Neither does Hanger, for that matter, though I'm unsure how significant to take that omission. Audubon, writing about a hunt around 1810, describes the use of a knife handle to start the ball. I am not aware of any documentary or archeological evidence for short starters or mallets prior to at least 1800 here in the US - I have yet to run across any mention of them in the Draper manuscripts or other first-hand accounts of Indian fighting, any probate records, wills, etc., nor have any been recovered from archeological sites, either. Honestly, if they were in widespread use, I'd expect to see at least a couple off-hand references to them in the Draper papers and other narrative sources, if nowhere else, like a time that someone dropped his short starter while trying to load in a hurry and consequently had to make a run for it.

Given the evidence available, I think that we are looking at two different traditions of rifle use here. The old, mid-18th century style didn't use specialized short starters, is the one that was brought over and remained established through the remainder of the 18th century. I'd call this the "Kentucky" tradition, and I suspect that it remained predominate out on the frontier well into the 19th century, as I don't recall any mention of short starters during the Fur Trade either, nor are there any that I am aware of associated with Hawken rifles, etc. The other tradition of using specialized starters, mallets or short rammers, originated in Europe sometime later in the 18th century and came over here in a military context early in the 19th century. I suspect that got adopted by civilian shooters because of its usefulness in loading tight, accurate balls for shooting matches.

Hey, has anyone ever turned up an Appalachian short starter? Can't recall seeing one in John Rice Irwin's book, and he has quite a collection of shooting stuff in the Museum of Appalachia. If not, that might be significant....

Edited to add: I see that there is one supposedly in the Museum of the Fur Trade. Be interesting to know more about the provenance of that one.
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Offline rich pierce

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2019, 03:26:19 AM »
The late percussion barrels Iíve re-worked all have muzzles relieved by 0.010-0.020Ē above bore size 2Ē down. This is not from wear. Iíve freshed enough barrels to know how hard it is to increase land to land and groove to groove diameters by 0.002Ē using sharp, designed cutters.
St. Louis, Missouri

Offline Smokey Plainsman

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2019, 08:04:58 AM »
The late percussion barrels Iíve re-worked all have muzzles relieved by 0.010-0.020Ē above bore size 2Ē down. This is not from wear. Iíve freshed enough barrels to know how hard it is to increase land to land and groove to groove diameters by 0.002Ē using sharp, designed cutters.

Is this, then, what we have come to name ďconingĒ in our present time?

I have pondered coning, but am hesitant due to reports of it hurting accuracy.

Offline rich pierce

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2019, 08:50:20 AM »
Modern coning is different and removes evidence of rifling at the muzzle. Originals show something Iíd call a modest flaring. Iím not sure how it was accomplished but lands and grooves extend to the muzzle. Itís just greater diameter and patched balls can be mostly thumb started.

We can only guess how this was accomplished. Some think grooves were deepened by filing then lands filed down to maintain about the same height of lands over grooves. But it seems very regular and to extend over an inch. That would take a lot of genius filing in my view.

I have never seen what looks like modern coning on originals. Nor have I seen the common countersink or slightly beveled muzzle treatment on original barrels. They show as flat faced with deep grooves but a bigger diameter than 1-2Ē deeper.
St. Louis, Missouri

Offline Brokennock

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #15 on: December 03, 2019, 09:29:34 AM »
Short starters date way back, as they were used as a means of starting oversized, unpatched balls. As patched balls took over, I think they died out and then were revived for use with patched balls, possibly as a result of some military textbooks plagiarizing older publications that mentioned their use for unpatched balls.

Earliest mention of a short starter on a patched ball is 1780, in a German text talking about civilian guns. By the 1790s the Austrians and British are issuing mallets with their military pieces; however, the Austrians used a very different method of loading their Jager rifles that involved keeping their iron ramrods on their belts (no provision for a ramrod on the gun itself) and the British mallets were issued only to every second man IIRC, which I suspect means that they were intended to be used to deal with dirty bores, out-of-spec ammo, and other battlefield contingencies rather than a routine method of loading. The use of a mallet for loading first appears in print on this side of the Atlantic in the first years of the 19th century, as far as I know, in a military treatise, from, I think, New England.

In contrast, there are a number of descriptions and accounts from the period 1750 to 1810 that describe loading without a short starter. There is a German text from about 1750 that describes how to hold the ramrod so as not to risk breaking it while starting the ball, to start with. Around 1790, Isaac Weld, who was apparently familiar with fowlers but not rifles, describes for his readers every point in which an American longrifle rifle differed from an English fowling piece, including the use of greased patches and rear sights (he likens rifle sights to surveying equipment),  but never mentions the use of short starters. Neither does Hanger, for that matter, though I'm unsure how significant to take that omission. Audubon, writing about a hunt around 1810, describes the use of a knife handle to start the ball. I am not aware of any documentary or archeological evidence for short starters or mallets prior to at least 1800 here in the US - I have yet to run across any mention of them in the Draper manuscripts or other first-hand accounts of Indian fighting, any probate records, wills, etc., nor have any been recovered from archeological sites, either. Honestly, if they were in widespread use, I'd expect to see at least a couple off-hand references to them in the Draper papers and other narrative sources, if nowhere else, like a time that someone dropped his short starter while trying to load in a hurry and consequently had to make a run for it.

Given the evidence available, I think that we are looking at two different traditions of rifle use here. The old, mid-18th century style didn't use specialized short starters, is the one that was brought over and remained established through the remainder of the 18th century. I'd call this the "Kentucky" tradition, and I suspect that it remained predominate out on the frontier well into the 19th century, as I don't recall any mention of short starters during the Fur Trade either, nor are there any that I am aware of associated with Hawken rifles, etc. The other tradition of using specialized starters, mallets or short rammers, originated in Europe sometime later in the 18th century and came over here in a military context early in the 19th century. I suspect that got adopted by civilian shooters because of its usefulness in loading tight, accurate balls for shooting matches.

Hey, has anyone ever turned up an Appalachian short starter? Can't recall seeing one in John Rice Irwin's book, and he has quite a collection of shooting stuff in the Museum of Appalachia. If not, that might be significant....

Edited to add: I see that there is one supposedly in the Museum of the Fur Trade. Be interesting to know more about the provenance of that one.

Excellent post ElNathan. I love when people take the thoughts in my head that I can't seem to put into words at all, so I don't try, and not only express these ideas, but do so very efficiently and effectively.
Also, I never noticed your signature line before, great stuff.

I think a lot of people misinterpret what is being said when some of us come down on the side of no ball starting tool for the 18th century. They seem to take it as we are saying they were never used historically. Not so. It just doesn't seem likely that they were used in the mid to late 18th century, and that once their use began in the 19th century, that use was very limited to certain types of shooting for quite some time. And shooting  to live on America's frontiers does not seem to have been one of those types of shooting.
Most of the arguments for adding a specialized ball starter to an otherwise historically accurate outfit really seem to be rationalizations. And why bother with rationalizing it? As long as one is honest that there doesn't seem to be any evidence supporting their use before the late 1800's, and isn't trying to educate the public or new folks to this historical endeavor many of us are on, what justify it? Just say, "I know there is no evidence of its use for the time period but my gun shoots best with a load that requires the use of a ball starter," and be done with it.

Offline Smokey Plainsman

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2019, 10:11:38 AM »
Iím going to try starting the ball with my patch knife and using just the rod to push it down.

That is a historically correct method from at least two written accounts.

Offline Smokey Plainsman

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2019, 11:25:48 AM »
Alright I read several chapters in The Muzzle Loading Cap Lock Rifle by Ned Roberts tonight. Here is a very interesting photo:



Keep in mind this book was published in the 1940s, and as mentioned, the author was really ďthereĒ and the people he learned from were there too.

He mentions this style of ďstraight starterĒ being carried by hunters as it was lightweight. He describes its use by striking it with the open hand hard then using the ramrod to finish loading it down against the charge.

I think this weekend Iím going to stop by Home Depot and look for a wooden knob of some sort and will try and make one with some hickory for the shaft. Iíll need to find a brass ferrule for the end, something Mr. Roberts describes as a necessity for this starter.

He also describes the usage of the bullet board also used with the starter. Extremely interesting, Iím learning more everyday. If Mr. Roberts cannot be counted as an accurate witness, then whom can? I believe this is proof of a starter being used by at least some hunters in the 19th century.

Offline Bob Roller

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #18 on: December 03, 2019, 05:47:09 PM »
Bill Large was an advocate of the tight ball/patch combination and did not "cone" or
make a funnel out of a barrel.With good sights and an experienced shooter,they won
match after match for years.My own experiences with the Bill Large loading idea proved
to me that the tight load is just fine.Original rifles that have the bullet mould used with
them show a ball about 2 calibers undersize and frequently with a relieved muzzle for
an easy reload.Most of these guns would do well only in a shooting match among them
selves and would not stand a chance otherwise.I did no serious hunting with a muzzle
loader,only groundhogs with a flintlock and a Whitworth and nothing else.I am NOT
impressed with some of the 25 and 50 yard groups I see posted here and know from
experiences of years long gone that if the rifle is right,good sights and a tight round ball
load it should make a clover leaf at 100 yards.The last rifle I made for target shooting
was a 58 caliber half stock caplock and in 1962 I mounted a Malcolm telescope on it
and with the tight load combination I got groups of about 2and 1/2 inches at 200 yards
with 80 grains of DuPont 3fg.
I well remember Bill trying to explain to people that phoned him about tight loads and
sights.He's give the benefits of years of experience and get back an argument in return.
Maybe those who argued never should have tried a muzzle loader  to begin with.
Bob Roller

Offline Brokennock

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #19 on: December 03, 2019, 05:57:22 PM »
"believe this is proof of a starter being used by at least some hunters in the 19th century" - smokeyplainsman

I believe you are right..... for the 19th century.

Offline Brokennock

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #20 on: December 03, 2019, 05:59:36 PM »
"Maybe those who argued never should have tried a muzzle loader  to begin with."
Bob Roller

So, just because someone doesn't need "match grade accuracy" means they've never tried a muzzle loader?

Offline Smokey Plainsman

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #21 on: December 03, 2019, 06:40:19 PM »
"believe this is proof of a starter being used by at least some hunters in the 19th century" - smokeyplainsman

I believe you are right..... for the 19th century.

Correct, and for my type of rifle, it appears to be very much period correct.

Offline Bob Roller

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #22 on: December 04, 2019, 12:03:06 AM »
"Maybe those who argued never should have tried a muzzle loader  to begin with."
Bob Roller

So, just because someone doesn't need "match grade accuracy" means they've never tried a muzzle loader?

In the environment I grew up in,match grade accuracy was the whole idea.I speak only
from my own experiences.IF I were going to hunt with a muzzle loader I would probably
use an undersize ball such as a .562 in a 58 caliber barrel that needs no short starter.
If I was going into a match,it will be a .575 ball.

Bob Roller

Offline smylee grouch

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #23 on: December 04, 2019, 12:13:25 AM »
It seems as though most people try to research "short starter" when they might try some other name for the same thing. Like "bulger". There is first hand observations of mountain men leaving rondezvous  and part of their equipment was a ":bulger", a short stick just under bore size often with a knob on the end. This would have been 1840 or before but the question still remains as to when they were first used.

Offline hanshi

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Re: Short Starters: When?
« Reply #24 on: December 04, 2019, 12:21:12 AM »
I've got NO idea about their origin.  But I have been called a "short starter" among other rough sobriquets.
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