Mad About Mortars: Radically Revolutionizing your Golf Game
By Will Dabbs, MD
Photos by Sarah Dabbs
When I was an Army officer, golf was an integral part of the lifestyle. Whenever we were in garrison we all got together early every Thursday for a round before the rest of the world got out of bed. I bought a set of clubs at a place called Speedee Pawn. They had been through a fire. I told myself that when my game improved to the point where I could justify a decent set of clubs I would drop the money for them. Eventually, I just left my scorched versions on the curb with the rest of the garbage and moved on to other hobbies.
Golf always seemed a bit tedious to me. I was never very good at it and chasing that little ball around never really captured my imagination. It turns out that all along I was just doing it wrong.
Www.blackpowder-cannons.com offers a variety of do-it-yourself black powder mortar kits that are just more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Their largest throws those big plastic coffee cans. The mid-sized versions will launch a Coke can filled with sand into outer space. The smallest offering will radically alter your golf game.
The mortar barrels come finish machined and painted. Basic firing instructions are included with the tube. Detailed plans are included showing how to build an appropriately-sized mortar bed. Of the two basic designs one is built from a simple solid piece of wood stock. The building project is within the capabilities of all but the most inept carpenters. The starting point is a standard piece of 4x4 fencepost. Carefully drill an appropriate hole tangent to the top of the block taking care to keep the hole square all the way through. Cut the roof off of the hole to allow the trunnion pivot to seat. Using the included template, grind out a divot in the bed to accommodate the base of the mortar tube such that it sits at a 45-degree angle. Set a pair of sheet steel strips to hold the trunnion in place and secure them with deep wood screws. Stain the wood to make it look cool and you are ready to hit the range.
If you want to exercise your carpentry skills a bit it is easy to find pictures of original mortar beds online. We went back and built a second bed from period Civil War drawings just make the rig a little more awesome. My cool little period mortar bed actually began life as an oak table top somebody was throwing away. To paraphrase the old saying, one man’s trash becomes another man’s artillery carriage.
The Feds have no interest in this project as it loads from the front and uses a fuse. Any local ordnance ordinances (I always wanted an excuse to type that) are your responsibility but, to be honest, if there are rules in your little burg that restrict fun of this magnitude you should likely just move someplace else.
The resulting gun is quite lethal, however. Approach this project as you would a firearm and not a toy. “Shot a Golf Ball through His Head with a Homemade Mortar” inscribed on your tombstone is just going to make visitors to your gravesite in years to come laugh at you. Nobody wants that.
The golf ball mortar uses a maximum charge of 125 grains of FFG black powder. Pyrodex and similar black powder substitutes do not work well at all, even under wadding. There is a small powder compartment milled into the base of the tube and it is helpful to improvise a funnel or small length of PVC pipe to help keep the charges in the compartment. Waterproof cannon fuse is available from most serious sporting goods stores or online. A fifty foot roll will last you a lifetime or more.
The manual of arms is simple. Charge the cold gun with powder and a length of fuse and drop the ball down the bore. Swab the bore between shots with a wet mop to make absolutely certain that there are no embers remaining in the tube. We use a bore cleaning attachment designed for a 10-gauge shotgun. The flash hole gets the same treatment with a moist pipe cleaner. Failing to extinguish embers will utterly ruin any proper day at the range while simultaneously removing your eyebrows.
Orient the gun in a safe direction and touch it off after making absolutely certain that everyone is clear both around the gun and downrange. The sound is a satisfying throaty crack. Be forewarned that the gun spews sparks copiously in all directions. Note that if you are wearing jeans with holes in the knees that your wife tried unsuccessfully to throw away months ago and you get a small piece of burning fuse through the knee hole and then run around screaming like a little girl, the aforementioned spouse will not feel sorry for you in the least. Take one guess as to how I know that. The take-home point is that decent clothes and eye protection are a must.
How far will your revolutionary new driver throw a golf ball? I don’t really know. I very seldom find the balls. They may yet still be orbiting the earth. Just realize that if you set this up on an active golf course you will have more friends than you can stand. Every human being at the course will be drawn to you like a politician to other people’s money.
These mortars were built back in the day with a fixed elevation. The serious golfer could produce a table of charges to throw the ball set distances or even build the bed such that the barrel pivots. What could be cooler than a little gunner’s quadrant and plumb bob dangling off the side of your golfball mortar to determine range to target? Of course the fact that your golfball is liberally scorched by the time it reaches the green is simply the price that must be paid for art.
The Nature of the Addiction
This golf ball mortar really is cool. Despite a roomful of expensive black guns there is just something primal about using black powder to throw a golf ball onto the adjacent continent. Add to this that the investment is literally trivial compared to any proper modern firearm and there is a real place in a serious gun collection for such a trinket.
Make no mistake, black powder mortars are just as lethal as your tricked out AR if not treated with the appropriate respect. However, where else might you find so much fun for so little money on a firing range? Used golf balls cost me 25 cents apiece from our local course. The tube is a great value and the quality behind the manufacture is evident the moment you take it out of the box. The mortar bed is a fun workshop project that, in its simplest forms, can require nothing more than the most basic of tools and woodworking skills. If you can operate a saw, drill a hole, and know which end of a screwdriver to hold you can build one of these for yourself.
The end result will add a little flavor to any working gun collection and absolutely revolutionize your golf game. It will also make you a lot of new friends if touched off from the tee box. Toting the rig through eighteen holes would make for some decent exercise though the good folks at the Master’s would likely not look favorably on your new driver from a purist’s point of view. However, the resulting black powder golf ball mortar will undoubtedly set you apart from your fellow golfers at the local golf course. It will also induce the giggles in even the most committed firearms enthusiast. I’m living proof.
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