PART IV: INSIDE THE SHOOTING BAG
So what goes into a shooting bag? The contents need to be very carefully considered and arranged for maximum efficiency. You need to carry enough supplies to shoot at the club or hunt for a couple days, effect an occasional field repair and do one or two superficial cleanings. It was the same with the old timers. They left the bulk of their gunsmithing supplies in camp and brought only enough with them to keep their rifles working for the few days they were out on their own.
It’s fun to imagine the kinds of tools and supplies the mountain men did have access to back in camp. Osborne Russell and Nate Wyeth both talk about percussioning rifles out in the mountains, hundreds of miles from the nearest workbench. Fremont repaired the glass on his barometer somewhere up in the Wind River Range. Apparently the brigades brought specialized tools with them, but that equipment wasn’t carried around every day in shooting bags. As much as I’d love to start speculating about the minimum inventory you’d need on hand to percussion a rifle in the Absoroka Mountains of the 1830s, I think I’d best re-focus for the time being on what goes into a shooting bag. Here is a list of items typically found in original bags, along with a few suggestions:
- Powder measure and pick or capper tied to the shoulder strap with a thong, but tucked into the bag.
- Small, accessible pouch containing a couple dozen or so round balls. It’s nice if that pouch has an opening that can conveniently dispense one ball at a time.
- Tin of greased patches and/or enough patch cloth to meet your shooting and cleaning needs. I carry about three 2-1/2 foot long torn strips of linen, each around 1-1/2 inches wide and a small, rolled up strip of greased patch material. If your patching is more than .01” thick, you should think about carrying a patchknife.
- A tin of caps or small pouch containing three to six replacement flints.
- Small turnscrew with an end massive enough to knap the edge of a gunflint if you have a flintlock. Add a compact, hopefully period style nipple wrench if your rifle is a caplock.
- Cleaning worm and minimal cleaning supplies
- A small container of grease and/or a compact oiler
Even with a small shooting bag, you should still have enough room for optional items like some leather or sinew scraps for repairs, tow for cleaning, maybe a fire starting kit or even a pipe and some tobacco. Personal items were often found in old shooting bags. I can see a frontiersman carrying a small book of Psalms, a journal and a pencil, a razor, eyeglasses or a compass. Not all of those things along with your shooting supplies in one bag! But there should be room enough for the odd personal item. My “big bag”, which is still much smaller than most modern commercial bags, has room for all of my shooting stuff plus a compact, original folding telescope and a copy of Henry V . I can even throw in a couple landjeagers or pieces of jerky if needed.
Notice that I repeatedly use adjectives like small, compact, convenient and accessible. The trick is to be efficient about what you carry. So it was back in the day.