accuracy vs cal.
This is my first post here s you are supposed t not have heard of me. I plan to get a Pennsylvania Long Rifle this summer. In following some other forums I heard that I should only consider a 50 or a 54 cal bore. Not because the gun would be lighter but because it would be more accurate. I was particularly cautioned that a 32 cal would never be accurate. I will only be shooting patched balls and using black powder.
Thanks for your thought and info,
Sounds more like you've been talking to folks with something to sell rather than to folks with nothing to sell.
"Accuracy" with patched round balls is going to depend on a whole lot of things from quality of build to distance fired to environmental conditions. A cheap rifle isn't as likely to be as accurate as a custom rifle, no matter what the caliber. For very long range shooting in excess of 300 yards or so, larger calibers have always proven more accurate than smaller ones, but by large I mean over 65 caliber. And on windy days larger calibers will knock the sox off of smaller ones. There's simply no one caliber that's inherently more accurate than another.
Now, get down to match competition at normal round ball ranges out to 100 yards or so, there's one caliber that dominates. The best shooters in the world have found it to be the ideal compromise for wind, flatness of trajectory, weight of rifle, and especially the cumulative effects of recoil for hundreds of shots. It's the 40 caliber. I don't own one, but I do own 32, 36, 45, 50,54, 58 and 75 calibers. That's because I'm a hunter and not a match shooter.
If I was putting together a match rifle, there's lots of other decisions I'd make before caliber. And when it came to choosing a barrel, I'd still be a ways off from caliber. I'd consider barrel profile and especially the maker. And since barrels from the very best makers are scarce and very hard to get, I'd take one in whichever caliber I could find first, hopefully between 40 and 50 caliber, trying to hit that magic spot for windy day shooting versus cumulative recoil. If all I could get was a 36, a 32 or a 45, so be it. I'd just have to work harder on windy days. If all I could get was a 58 or 62, so be it. I'd just have to get used to the accumulation of recoil in long matches.
Puts caliber waaaaaaaay down the scale in accuracy decisions, doesn't it?
One of the things needed to be known is whether you intend to hunt with the rifle or just target shoot or a combination of both and in what part of the country you are in. Very good barrels are supplied by several barrel makers today that meet or exceed the famed Douglas barrels of yore.
A good .32/.36 cal rifle barrel can be very accurate up to about 50yds, especially if hunting squirrels, rabbits or hares. The .40/.45 cal. rifles are accepted for deer size animals in some states but not others. I use a .45 flinter to hunt hares and grouse, doing head shots only. This same .45 took a number of deer in SE Ak and has been use to get caribou and has taken a number of match shoots where the range wasn't over 75 yards.
I prefer the .54 over the .50 just for the larger bullet mass and the retained energy at 100 yards when hunting moose and black bear. However the .50 has proven to be an accurate caliber. I have shot bowling pins at 200 yards offhand with a .54 that I own but with a heavy powder charge of 130gr., not all Pa's will handle this load nor do I reccommed it to anyone. I built my rifle to handle such a load with a slightly thicker barrel and stock than the norm. Shot placement tends to be more important than anything else with the .50.
I have seen and handled original Pa long rifles in calibers to .66. The larger calibers(over .54) seemed to be awkward to handle especially with barrel lengths over 42 inches, some had barrels to 52 inches. These long barreled Pa's were designed to be rested on a fence rail, tree limbe, etc when hunting. At the time these long guns were built it was thought that you had to have a long barrel for accuracy. It turns out that the long sight radius gave the accuracy.
Most of the original Pa's were .44 to .56 cal. with 38 to 44 inch barrels, some were swamped, most were straight sided. If you are wanting a Pa LR that is period correct, but in a standard caliber, I'd recommend either the 50 or 54. Jacob Dickert built beautiful Pa's that were .52/.53 cal and one is on display at the Alamo.
Browbear has some very good points in his post, too. You'll just have to decide what purpose the rifle will play in you shooting/hunting activities and get a caliber appropriate to that use.
Hope this helps!