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Survival Skills

How to start a survival fire with a flintlock rifle

How to start a survival fire with a flintlock rifle

The frontiersmen, longhunters and settlers who relied on a flintlock rifle, shotgun or pistol knew how to start a fire with the firearm. Here’ one way to do it.

by Leon Pantenburg

A died-in-the-wool history nerd and old time equipment fanatic like me is always checking out new old gear, and trying to figure out how the oldtimers got along. It’s probably some sort of character defect.

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is similar to those made about 1800 in Pennsylvania.

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is similar to those made about 1800 in Pennsylvania.

But a Boy Scout asked me one time at a flint and steel firemaking demonstration, what would you do if you had one arm disabled? Could you still start a fire?

Sure, I commented, just as long as I have my flintlock.

The flintlock was the primary ignition system for firearms for almost 200 years, according to The Firearms Guide. 

The very first true flintlock firearm was developed by Frenchman Marin le Bourgeoys, The Firearms Guide claims, who designed it for King Louis VIII. Flintlock muskets, pistols and rifles were the mainstay of every European and American army from 1660 to 1840.

I got into muzzleloading firearms in the early 80s when I did a story on a Vicksburg, Miss. riflemaker. Charles Crowther was a wildlife biologist, whose hobby was making Pennsylvania long rifles. His specialty was crafting the firearms from the mid-1700s through the 1850s.

Charles gave me my current longrifle (check out the story), named Annabelle, and I have used it extensively for hunting and target practice.

Anyway, I was sitting under a beech tree one morning, waiting for a squirrel to come around to the other side of the trunk, when the thought came to me.

Lon Humphrey Sterling knife with flintlock rifle

This modern Lon Humphrey Sterling knife matches my rifle and looks like it could have been forged by an old time knifemaker.

I am proficient starting fires using flint and steel. But what would I do if one hand or arm was disabled? Could I still make a fire to keep from getting hypothermia?

I dug out some charcloth from my kit, UNLOADED my rifle and started experimenting. I found that the flintlock worked really well with charcloth, and was almost infallible.

Now, this technique requires a flintlock to work, naturally, but I like to think of this as a survival mindset exercise.

If you’re always thinking about how to use the available resources for survival tasks, then you’ll be better prepared for emergencies.

In this case, the technique is just another cool way to start the campfire, and the conversations that will go on around it!

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2 Comments

  1. Leon

    08/03/2016 at 21:23

    Few gifts have ever given me so much enjoyment.

  2. Carl Crowther

    08/03/2016 at 19:08

    That beautiful Pennsylvania long rifle serves the purposes of, first, killing a squirrel and, then, starting a fire to cook it with! That is real ingenuity! Thanks, Leon, for writing and sharing this article. Old Charlie would be proud. You are keeping your rifle nice and shiny. I believe It looks just like it did on the day Charlie presented it to you so many years ago.

    -Carl Crowther

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Survival Skills

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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