Matching up with a Modern Muzzleloader

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

Black Powder Deer Hunt

In the mid-1980s, Missouri gunsmith Tony Knight designed and marketed his MK-85, in-line blackpowder rifle. Accurate and dependable, this percussion rifle was an immediate success. Other gun manufacturers quickly began marketing their own models, and in-line rifles now dominate the muzzleloader market.

In-line muzzleloaders are a dramatic departure from the traditional sidehammer muzzleloader. Both models load and shoot the same, but the in-line’s system of delivering fire to the powder is thought to be more efficient. In a sidehammer, the fire must round a corner to reach the powder, but the in-line delivers it in a short, straight line from the rear of the breech plug.

When I first considered deer hunting with a muzzleloader, I was curious about the practical differences between in-line and sidehammer designs. Was one a more efficient deer hunting tool than the other? Friends, knowledgeable about the world of blackpowder, helped answer this question.

They told me there is no difference in the ignition reliability, accuracy and range of in-line and sidehammer muzzleloaders. If cleaned and loaded properly, both will fire with every pull of the trigger. Both are as accurate as the skills of the shooter allows, and both can, with proper optics, have an effective range of about 125 yards.

With this information and a desire to carry a little history afield, I purchased a kit to build a replica of a .54-caliber Hawken halfstock rifle. The finished rifle was a joy to shoot and behold.

Swept up in the fun of muzzleloading, I soon bought parts to build another muzzleloading rifle and then another. Now, after 15 years of hunting with muzzleloaders and sending more than a thousand balls on their way toward game (most of them at squirrels), I have extensive experience concerning both in-line and traditional muzzleloading rifles. My friends were right. There is no difference.


In practically every article about hunting with muzzleloading firearms, you will find anecdotes about smokepoles failing to fire at the worst times.

It is true that flintlock ignition is complex and somewhat tricky, but percussion or caplock ignition is a different matter. Claims of frequent misfires from percussion muzzleloaders are either overstatements or reflect a failure to control the factors that affect percussion gun ignition.

Coaxing reliable ignition out of any percussion muzzleloader is simple. All you need are good percussion caps, snug fit of cap to nipple, a hammer that sharply and directly strikes the nipple, dry powder, proper loading sequence and

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