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Black-Powder Bushytails

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

me to begin with, one that came to the same tree after I cleared it out, and one in the nearest hickory.

The pace of my hunting has slowed considerably since I traded a box of .22 shells for a powder horn. Once I choose a spot to hunt, I milk it for all it's worth, sitting for an hour or more and studying every tree trunk and branch through binoculars to see if a bushytail might be peeking from the fork of a tree.

Marksmanship has become even more of an obsession with me, now that I don't have a telescopic sight to compensate for my visual shortcomings. I almost never shoot offhand, preferring instead to use my knees, a sapling or a walking stick to steady my hand.

If you try your hand at muzzleloader squirrel hunting, you'll earn other dividends, too. It sharpens stalking skills that are assets in other kinds of hunting, and it makes a welcome adjunct to early-season deer scouting. A slower, quieter, more observant hunter sees more than a restless one. You may not cover as much ground, but you'll get more out of the ground you do cover. triangle

Black-Powder Safety

Read the instruction manual and all other product information that comes with your rifle. Gun shops also are good sources of advice. Or go to a library and check out a muzzleloader manual. Time spent studying this material will help you get the most from your rifle and avoid dangerous mistakes.

Sooner or later you will experience a misfire or a hangfire. A misfire occurs when you pull the trigger and the firearm fails to discharge. In a "hangfire" the gun discharges, but not immediately after the percussion cap or primer charge goes off.

Most hangfires are momentary, with the gun firing a split second after the trigger is pulled. But sometimes the powder charge may smolder for several seconds before igniting fully and discharging the load.

Any time you pull the trigger and your muzzleloader fails to go off, treat it as if it could go off at any moment. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction until the load is safely discharged. If repeated attempts to fire the gun fail, follow your muzzleloader manual's advice for removing the unspent charge.

The only mechanical safety on most muzzle-loading firearms is placing the external hammer in the half-cock position. However, any mechanical device can fail. The most certain way to keep any muzzleloader safe is to wait until you are ready to fire before installing a cap or priming charge.

Unlike shooters who use pre-loaded cartridges, black-powder shooters handle propellants in quantities sufficient to produce large explosions. Consequently, they must be careful to avoid any action that might ignite a flask, horn or can full of powder. Smoking is out while handling black powder ammunition. So is anything that might produce a spark.

One hazard unknown to many novice shooters is the possibility that a glowing ember may linger in a recently fired rifle and ignite the next charge poured down the barrel. That is why muzzleloader manuals are emphatic in cautioning shooters not to pour powder into barrels directly from large containers.

Instead, you should pour each individual powder charge into a powder measure and close the container from which the charge was dispensed, then pour the charge down the gun barrel. If a handful of powder ignites in the barrel you may lose only your eyebrows and lashes, not a hand or an arm.

Muzzleloader manuals contain more complete safety instructions. Read and follow these recommendations to ensure safe, pleasurable shooting.

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