Muzzleloaders can be work, but payoff good


Mar 11, 2001
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Muzzleloaders can be work, but payoff good

By ROB STREETER, Albany Times-Union

December 5, 2002

On Tuesday, the regular hunting season ends, ushering in the late muzzleloader season.

You would think that would be a good thing for blackpowder enthusiasts, but given the weather of late, it may be a lot tougher than usual.

Muzzleloaders have come a long way since Daniel Boone roamed the woods. Modern in-line muzzleloaders would be unrecognizable to the likes of Boone.

The new guns are more reliable than their more primitive counterparts, using modern shotgun or rifle primers to ignite the powder charge in the barrel. These guns are better in bad weather than caplocks or flintlocks, but that does not mean that it takes an in-line to enjoy the late season.

There are a number of shooters who have gotten into shooting flintlocks in recent years. Some New York hunters travel to Pennsylvania for that state's late muzzleloader season. Flintlocks are the only legal gun for hunting during Pennsylvania's late season. There are also dedicated hunters who use their flintlocks here as well.

Unfortunately, flintlocks are the least reliable of the ignition systems.

One trick flintlock shooters use is to switch to FFFg blackpowder for priming the pan. The coarser powder works better in damp weather than FFFFg.

Another tip is to seal the pan with wax after priming the gun. Obviously going near the powder in the pan with a lit candle is not the way to go. Use a small screwdriver to dip the hot wax onto the edge of the pan and coat it thoroughly. Flintlock users also use a device called a mule's knee, which is a piece of oiled and waxed leather that covers the action on the gun to protect it from getting wet.

The mule's knee can either be made from scrap leather or purchased from some of the bigger blackpowder accessory suppliers.

Percussion guns also are popular among blackpowder shooters. While more reliable than the flintlock, they too can be a problem in wet weather. For shooting regular percussion guns, the caps that are used make a big difference. Hotter burning caps, like the ones made by CCI, are far more reliable.

At the advice of my local gun shop, I switched to musket caps, which are larger than standard caps. The musket caps have been very reliable, even in some pretty nasty weather.

With percussion guns, the cap can absorb moisture even when it is seated on the nipple. Moisture gets drawn into the cap by capillary action, thus it pays to keep the cap away from any water. There are commercial cap covers that work well to keep the cap dry and will spring out of the way when the hammer is cocked.

Another way to keep the cap dry is to seal it with a little grease to keep the moisture away. In a pinch, putting a plastic bag over the gun's action will also keep it dry.

The percussion caps themselves have to be protected from moisture. They should be carried in a waterproof container and kept dry.

In-line shooters usually do not have problems with misfires in inclement weather, but even the 209 primer ignition systems used in these rifles can be a problem if the primers have gotten damp.

With any blackpowder gun, they basically have to be shot off at the end of the day (into a safe backstop) or unloaded with one of the carbon dioxide dischargers that are available. In either case, the gun needs to be cleaned before the next outing.

Any residual blackpowder that is left in the bore can cause a misfire. The chemistry of blackpowder is such that it has an affinity for water and will actually pull moisture right out of the air. Any powder left in the bore can bring dampness in with it and may cause the gun to fail to go off when you want it to.

There are a lot of products available that can be used to do a quick cleaning of the bore on a muzzleloader and keep it ready for the next trip out. The new solvents work very well for this. Great care must be taken in oiling the bore though, because too much oil can dampen the next powder charge enough to cause a misfire.

If you will not end up spooking a deer in the process, popping off a couple of caps before loading is an age-old way of burning up any oil from the bore before loading a powder charge.

If all of this sounds like a bit much, don't worry. Part of the magic of hunting with a blackpowder firearm is that it is harder to do. The great thing is that a deer bagged with a muzzleloader becomes a trophy.

With a muzzleloader, there is only one chance, which is part of the fun.

Rob Streeter is an outdoors columnist for the Times Union. You can reach him at, or send items to 961 Stoner Trail Road, Fonda, NY 12068.

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