Getting Worked Up Over Black-powder Deer Rifles

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 1, 2010

selection. Old-fashioned black powder (a mixture of charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur) is available from several manufacturers. Pyrodex, a modern black-powder substitute, is also available for muzzleloading. Either of these propellents will be safe and perform reliably when used properly. The staff of a good gun shop can explain the advantages and disadvantages of each and advise you about which powder granulation is best for your rifle. Again, choose a propellent and stick with it throughout the process of working up a load.

A note of caution about propellents: Designers make muzzle loading firearms for use only with black powder or propellents specifically made as substitutes for black powder. NEVER load a muzzleloader with modern propellents designed for modern firearms. Modern propellents have entirely different burning characteristics than black powder and can turn a muzzleloader into a bomb. If you have questions about suitable propellents, ask people at a gun shop or your gun's manufacturer.

You also have to decide whether you want to shoot round balls, as early pioneers did, or conical bullets. This choice likely will be dictated by your choice of rifle. Guns with barrels whose riflings have slow rates of twist-less than one turn in 48 inches of barrel-are made to shoot round balls. Some round-ball guns have riflings that take more than 72 inches of barrel to make a full turn.

Rifles with barrels that have faster rates of twist are made to shoot conical bullets. Those that make a full turn in less than 48 inches of barrel are considered fast. Some may complete a turn in 30 inches of barrel length or less.

Some rifles straddle the arbitrary division between slow and fast rates of twist. This follows the historical precedent set by the Hawken brothers, who made all their rifles with a 1:48-inch twist. Conical bullets and round balls both were in use at the time, and the Hawkens wanted their rifles to work passably well with either.

Owners of Hawken-type rifles should try both types of bullet to see which performs better. Either bullet can provide plenty of power for white-tailed deer, and either can be fired with excellent accuracy from rifles to which they are well-matched.

Choosing round balls means the shooter also has to select a patch material and lubricant for loading. Stick with the same patch material and lubricant when testing different bullets and powder charges.

With so many variables to consider, be methodical when range

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