Skill Builder: Using a Muzzleloader
You get only one chance to shoot with this primitive but satisfying gun.
By Robert Ramirez
There are two reasons that compel hunters to pick up the humble muzzleloader: simplicity of operation and the “one-shot challenge” that forces hunters to get close to their quarry.
A muzzleloader, not surprisingly, is a firearm that is loaded from the muzzle. While not all Texas counties have a special season for this firearm, some do, and muzzleloaders can be used during the general hunting season as well.
Pour the measured black powder into the barrel.
Parts. As with any firearm there are three basic parts: the stock, the action and the barrel. The stock is the part that holds the barrel. It is usually made from wood, but synthetic materials are being incorporated with modern versions as well. The barrel has a breech and a muzzle. The breech end on a muzzleloader is identified with a breech hook or a breech plug, with screw holes to attach it to the stock. The muzzle is the end where the projectile comes out, along with the smoke (more on that later). The action in a muzzleloader is referred to as the lock. The lock is a mechanism that holds the hammer before the trigger assembly sets off the firing sequence.
Yes, the commonly heard expression “lock, stock and barrel” comes from a muzzleloader. Typically, this phrase is used as a reference to a complete deal or package.
Place the bullet in the muzzle.
Firing materials. The basic components to fire the muzzleloader include: the appropriate black powder or black powder substitute, patch material for the bullets, patch lube and round lead bullets and caps or pan powder for flintlocks. These components vary with the type of muzzleloader that is to be used, but we will focus on the traditional flintlock and percussion rifle muzzleloaders for simplicity. Make sure you match your caliber with the game you are pursuing. For small game (rabbits, squirrels), .32-.45 caliber will work. For big game (deer, hogs), .50-.58 caliber is recommended.
Black powder and black powder substitute are the only gunpowders that should be used in a muzzleloader; don’t use modern smokeless powder in a muzzleloader. For example: Pyrodex, a black powder substitute, is labeled for muzzleloader use only. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the muzzleloader. Black powder granulations are described as “F” granulations — the “F” stands for “fine.” The granulations range from Fg (cannons), FFg (rifles), FFFg (pistols) and FFFFg (pan ignition on flintlocks). Pyrodex granulations are designated as P for pistols and RS for rifle/shotgun.
Patch material is typically cotton ticking and requires lubrication. The round bullet is smaller than the barrel caliber, and the patch seals the gases caused by the ignition during the firing sequence and engages the rifling of the barrel. This increases the accuracy of the projectile. The lubricant allows for easier loading of the patch and ball. Conical bullets can be used for muzzleloaders and do not require patch materials, but also need to be lubricated for ease of loading.
Get the bullet started into the barrel with a bullet starter.
Tools and gadgets. Muzzleloader hunters need an array of tools and gadgets to keep their gun functioning for a safe and enjoyable hunt. This gear is contained in a “possibles bag” that the hunter carries at all times while using a muzzleloader. The basic items include a powderhorn or flask, powder measure, ball starter, bullet bag, patches, caps or pan powder flask, a variety of ramrod tips for loading, cleaning or clearing a barrel and a carbon dioxide discharger to unload the muzzleloader safely.
Safety. As with any firearm, the No. 1 rule in safe gun handling is to make sure that you point the muzzle in a safe direction at all times. Once you have the firearm in a safe direction and an upright position, check to see if it is loaded by placing the ramrod down the barrel. Each muzzleloader comes with a ramrod that is specific to the barrel length. When inserted, the ramrod will almost disappear in the barrel. Once you confirm that the barrel is not loaded, mark the ramrod to ensure that in the future you can easily identify the status of the muzzleloader.
Loading. With the gun butt placed firmly on the ground and the barrel facing away from you, follow the loading sequence.
Swab the barrel to clear any oil. Properly stored guns will have a light oil film on and in the barrel.
Measure the powder charge from the powder flask.
Charge the barrel with the powder.
Place the lubricated patch on the barrel with the round ball. (Remember, conical bullets need lube but no patch.
Start loading the projectile with a bullet starter.
Seat the projectile firmly against the powder charge with the ramrod.
Prime the gun. Use percussion caps for cap locks and FFFFg black powder for the pan on flintlocks.
Use a ramrod to push the projectile down until it is seated on the powder charge.
Cleanup. Once you fire your gun, it is important to clean your muzzleloader to keep it functioning properly. Black powder and black powder substitutes are very corrosive, so follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning your gun. Most black powder is water soluble and can be cleaned with warm water.
Make sure that you dry and oil the metal parts of your gun before storage. I have found that a three-day follow-up is advisable to swab and wipe the barrel and safely eliminate any possibilities for corrosion.
The next time you feel ready for the one-shot challenge, give the muzzleloader a try. You’ll experience an instant connection to the rich hunting history and heritage these primitive firearms have to offer.