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Great book for the beginner!!

The Complete Blackpowder Handbook

Buying A Muzzleloader

So you think you want to try muzzleloading, but just aren’t sure were to begin? Well sit back and let me give you my 2 cents worth, and remember you get want you pay for. Muzzleloaders were really the only option for shooters up to the civil war, and weren’t replaced until the repeating Henry Rifle and brass cartridges were available. The last 20 years or so as seen resurgence in muzzleloading interest for both the hunter and historical re-enactor. This article will explain some of the things a person should consider when preparing to purchase a muzzleloader.

Asking what muzzleloader to buy is like asking what car to buy. Without a more information this question is impossible to answer. The first question you must ask yourself before buying a muzzleloader is: What do I plan on doing with it, historical re-enactment, hunting, recreational shooting, or just hang it above the fireplace? If you plan on shooting in a club, and/or hunting check the by-laws of the club, and hunting regulations to see what restrictions may be in place. Often hunting regulations will specify caliber requirements, and sometime even the type of muzzleloader that can be used. Typically the closer the gun is to a traditional muzzleloader the more places you will be allowed to shoot it. Some states have restrictions on the ignition system (yeah, I’m talking about muzzleloaders and not cars), and the size and type of projectile that can be shot. I’ll cover these items in detail later. If buying the gun locally, you probably won’t have many problems because dealers are sensitive to the local needs of their shooters. Don’t rule out mail order though, one nice thing about muzzleloaders is they can normally be shipped without any special permits or fees (i.e. you do NOT need a FFL to have a muzzleloader shipped to you), but be sure to check your state and local laws.

Now that you know why you want a ML, what to you plan on shooting in it? You may say, well it’s a muzzleloader, so it shoots balls right? Yeah your right, but muzzleloaders can also shoot many other types of projectiles. ML projectiles come in two main flavors there are the historically correct patch and ball, and the more modern conicals. Conicals can be divided into two subcategories, bullets and saboted bullets. Bullets are nothing more than a cast lead slug; the slugs come with large grooves packed with lube (the lube helps keep black powder foulings soft). Slugs also match the barrel diameter. Sabots are plastic sleeves, which fit the barrel, and hold a smaller caliber bullet. So now you should be asking yourself, well what’s best? My answer is: Depends! Conicals tend to have a flatter trajectory, and carry a lot of energy downrange. Sabots shoot even flatter, and have a wide selection of projectiles available, because often the sabot is loaded with a pistol bullet. It is not uncommon for a .50 caliber muzzleloader to shoot a .45 caliber 250-grain saboted pistol bullet. A patch and ball has the worst ballistics, but incredible accuracy can be achieved, and has a nostalgic appeal that can’t be found with the conicals.

The reason for choosing your preferred bullet is so you can select a gun that will shoot it well. The riflings cut in a gun’s barrel are there to make the projectile spin during flight, thus stabilizing the bullet and increasing accuracy. The rate of twist is important when shooting muzzleloaders. A fast twist rate of 1:32 (1 complete twist every 32 inches), or faster works best for the conicals/sabots. While a slow twist rates of 1:60 or slower are ideal for round balls. Many factory muzzleloaders come with a 1:48 twist rate, which is meant as a compromise between the ideal rates for the two types of projectiles. A 1:48 twist normally will not give the shooter the best accuracy possible from a muzzleloader, but will easily achieve accuracy needed for hunting, and allow the shooter to shoot either type of projectile. Time at the shooting range is a must to determine the best powder charge/projectile combination. Typically just switching the projectile and not adjusting the load will give you less than favorable results.

Now you know what to look for in a barrel its time to choose an ignition system. The ignition system is the method the gun uses to ignite the load of powder in the barrel. Currently there are 3 types of systems available. They are: flintlock, caplock, and in-line. An in-line system will normally look like a modern center fire rifle and the cap/primer used to ignite the power is in line with the powder in the barrel. A caplock system has a nipple for holding a cap on the side of the barrel. An external hammer strikes the cap, and the flame must travel down the nipple and into the barrel. A flintlock places a piece of flint on the hammer, which strikes a frizzen (striker). There is a pan under the frizzen, which holds a small charge of powder. When the flint strikes the frizzen and generates sparks, which land in the pan. This powder is ignited, which in turns ignites the main charge via a small flash hole in the side of the barrel. Flintlocks are the hardest muzzleloaders to shot, for the novice, but with practice and experience they can be as reliable as the other ignition systems. Many hunters prefer the in-line method of ignition because of its reliability. The cap sits directly behind, and very close to the charge. This results in more of the initial flame entering the barrel and igniting the powder. An added plus to in-lines in many of them offer some weather protection to the cap. Cap-locks are the most common type of ignition system found on the traditional style guns. More attention must be given to a cap-lock when hunting to ensure the cap is in place and does not get wet; otherwise a caplock is as reliable as an in-line. In-lines and caplocks often come with adapters to let the shooter choose between no. 11 (small copper caps), musket caps (larger copper caps) or 209 shotgun primers. The advantage to the primers and musket caps is they produce more energy (flame) for igniting your powder. When functioning properly a traditional gun with number 11 caps will shoot as reliably as an in-line with 209 shotgun primers. The primers are just a little more forgiving if any moisture should get into your load.

The final decision to make is the gun style. I’ve already touched on this with the ignition system. Really choosing between an in-line and traditional gun is a matter of personal preference. Many in-line shooters will claim that an in-line shoots better than a traditional gun, and that in-lines are easier to shoot. The truth is, given the same barrel length and rifling, a traditional gun and in-line will shoot the same. As far as ease of shooting, both require pretty much the same loading and firing techniques. If you will be hunting with a muzzleloader in an area that allows scopes, and you feel you need a scope, in-lines typically come with scope mounts.

Well that’s the basics for deciding what to look for in a muzzleloader. The price range can be from around $100 to several thousands, so most folks can find a gun that meets their needs and fits in their budgets. Good luck and keep your powder dry!