By Marti Davis, Women’s Outdoor News
Here are my 5 top muzzleloading tips for beginners.
One of the only similarities between modern inline muzzleloaders and the blackpowder rifles of colonial times is loading from the muzzle. Some hunters shy away from muzzleloaders because of the gun’s reputation of being messy, unreliable and inaccurate. That’s not the case with today’s inline muzzleloaders—they can be very reliable and accurate, and while they need a little extra care compared to a centerfire, cleaning a muzzleloader isn’t difficult and doesn’t take that long.
Clean and dry
A clean and dry muzzleloader is a must. Just like all new firearms, muzzleloaders come with a coating of heavy grease or oil. You need to thoroughly clean this before heading to the range.
First, remove the breech plug, and let it soak in breech plug cleaner while you clean the barrel.
To clean the barrel I use a tub of hot water mixed with dishwashing soap. I place the muzzle end of the barrel in the tub and pump a rod with a cleaning patch through it, up and down. This creates a vacuum to pull the soapy water up into the barrel to clean it. If I don’t have access to hot water I use Thompson/Center foaming bore cleaner. Also, make sure to clean the threads where the breech plug screws in.
After I clean the barrel, I dry it, running several dry patches through the bore until one comes out dry. Then I run a seasoning patch or a patch with Bore Butter through the bore. This seasons the barrel, similar to seasoning cast iron. It protects the barrel from rust, and improves accuracy.
Once you’ve cleaned and dried the barrel, remove the breech plug from the cleaner and use a brush (an old toothbrush works well) to get the threads clean. Use a small piece of wire to make sure the tiny fire hole is clean and clear of any fouling. (You should be able to see through this tiny hole when it is clean.) Just like the barrel, I make sure the breech plug is dry.
Use plenty of breech plug grease on the threads before reinstalling the plug in the barrel. Be careful not to get any grease on the fire hole. Then reassemble your gun, and you should be ready for the range.
Getting your muzzleloader zeroed in and hitting the mark consistently can take several shots. Different powders and sabots will shoot differently. Find what your muzzleloader likes the best and stick with it. I use Hodgdon Pyrodex pellets and Thompson/Center Shock Wave Super Glide sabots in both of my T/C muzzleloaders. I have the T/C Pro Hunter Encore, which I can switch to a shotgun or centerfire rifle, and the T/C Omega (which the company no longer offers). I have used Shock Wave sabots for several years. The Super Glides use a different plastic sabot, making it easier to load.
Both of my muzzleloaders are .50-caliber, so I use the .50-caliber, 50-grain pellets. My muzzleloaders are rated for 150 grains max on powder, and that’s how much I use. This gives me better ballistics for those long-range shots. I also use 250-grain sabots in both rifles. Both rifles are topped with a Bushnell Elite 3–9×40 scope, zeroed for 200 yards. I ignite this combination with Winchester Triple Se7en 209 primers.
In addition to the consistent use of the same powder and sabot, I also make sure to load the sabot consistently. What I mean by this is aligning the petals on the plastic sabot with the same orientation each time. I imagine the top of the barrel as where the front sight is, or would be; I align one of the splits in the petals at the 12 o’clock position each time I load. I use a short handle to start the sabot, and then use my ramrod to finish seating the bullet.
Make your mark
What do I mean by this? Simple—after you figure out how much powder and which sabot is the one for your rifle, literally make a mark on your ramrod. Here’s how: When you load your muzzleloader, make sure you have the powder and sabot seated all the way against the breech plug. Seat it firmly, but don’t go so far as to crumble the Pyrodex pellets (if that’s what you’re using). When you are sure you have it seated firmly, take a knife and make a score mark all the way around your ramrod. When you’re in a hurry to reload for a follow-up shot, you’ll have an easy way to know you’ve got your muzzleloader loaded properly.
Keep your powder dry
Everyone knows if your powder gets wet it might not ignite. And when you pull the trigger on a big buck, there’s nothing worse than hearing the primer pop, rather than the smoky kaboom you were expecting. I’ve been there and done that, and it stinks!
There’s an easy solution to keeping the load in your rifle dry if you’re hunting in any sort of precipitation. Simply put a piece of electrical tape over the end of your barrel. When it comes time to make that shot, just shoot right through the tape.
I have spoken about follow-through with gun hunting in the past. It’s important, so here it is again. After you make a shot, be sure to follow through by getting reloaded as quickly as possible. You might need to make a follow-up shot on your game. And even if you don’t, you might have an opportunity to fill another tag if you’re prepared.