So you got a muzzle loader for Christmas. Now What

It was thrilling and unexpected, my wife placed a mystery package under the Christmas tree.  She wrote on the package “To ? from Santa” I figured it was for the kids, so imagine my surprise when she handed it to me and it was a muzzle loader.  WOW!! I have an amazing wife

But I’ve never shot a muzzle loader before so now what do I do?  How do I load it without blowing myself up?  Will I be able to hit the inside of a barn from the inside with the gun?  And how to I clean it?  I have heard they are very corrosive. 

So here is a quick guide for anyone who has a muzzle loader but has never shot one.  When I was at a Game Fair this past August, I was amazed at the number of people who had muzzle loaders, but had never shot them.  I know back in the last century when I got my first muzzle loader, I was amazed that it didn’t blow up the first time I shot it.  Then after 5 shots, I was totally addicted to muzzle loading fever. 

Step 1.  Clean that gun.  There will be oil and grease in the barrel and the lock.  This grease will turn to a cruddy gunk when mixed with burning black powder or the substitute powders. The best way to remove the oil is with really hot water and dish soap.  If you can remove the barrel from the stock, do so, and then put the barrel in a bucket of hot water.  A patch on the cleaning jag will act as a pump and drive water up and down the barrel.  Scrub once with soapy water and rinse with hot water.  Then lightly grease the barrel with a muzzle loader paste lube like 1000+.  Also, make sure you clean out the nipple/touch hole/primer hole.

Step 2. Stuff needed. Black powder or a substitute black powder, Bullets, (patches if using round balls), short starter, powder measure, powder flask or pouring cap for powder container, a capper for percussion caps or primers, pick for touch hole or nipple, cleaning patches, cleaning rod, cleaning jag, cleaning solution, a safe place to shoot.


Step 3. Read the manual Enough Said

Step 4. The First Shot. The good news is black powder is relatively forgiving.  The pressures are lower and the ignition temps are lower so it’s easy to make it go “boom” and minor mistakes don’t lead to major calamities.  Start with a relatively light load.  Right now you just want to make smoke and get used to loading and shooting the gun.  A load of 30 to 50 grains of powder is good for deer caliber rifles.  For pistols and rifles 40 caliber and under use 15 grains of powder.  50 or 60 grains is a good load for Shot guns. 

Loading steps

  1. Make sure the channel from the prime to the powder is open.  This can be done by snapping caps or primers or by cleaning out the flash channel with a pick or pipe cleaner.
  2. Measure powder charge into powder measure and pour down barrel.  Tap the barrel a couple of time to settle powder down into the end of the barrel.
  3. Start the bullet in the muzzle, the short starter helps here.
  4. Push the bullet all the way down the barrel so it is seated securely on the powder charge.
  5. It’s a good idea to make a mark on the ramrod that is flush with the muzzle so as the gun gets dirty, it is possible to know if the bullet is seated on the powder charge. If the bullet is not on the powder charge it then becomes a barrel obstruction on a projectile which is a bad thing.
  6. Prime the gun with cap, primer, or powder.
  7. Make ready, aim and fire.  Enjoy your first smell of black power! 
  8. Be careful.  Muzzle loading is seriously addicting.

Step 5 Safety, safety, safety. Some important safety tips:

  • Before handling or loading the gun, use the ramrod to check to make sure the gun is unloaded.
  • When loading, set the gun on the ground so the trigger faces the shooter.  This way the muzzle will naturally point away from the shooters head.  But still be conscious of where the muzzle is pointing and where your hands are in relation to the muzzle.
  • Never blow down a barrel
  • When the barrel gets dirty, swab it out with a damp cleaning patch and then a dry patch.  Don’t force bullets down a dirty barrel if it can be helped.
  • Never prime a muzzle loader until the muzzle is pointed down range and you are ready to shoot.

Step 6. Cleaning.  First before leaving the range, double check to make sure you didn’t leave any small doodads laying around.  Clean your muzzle loader as soon as you get home.  Burning black powder and the subs, creates salts which can lead to corrosion in the barrels so it is important to clean the gun thoroughly.  Any muzzleloader specific cleaning solution will work. After cleaning treat the barrel with a light coating of muzzle loader lube. 

Step 7. Plan your next muzzle loader outing.  Just do it.