Matching up with a Modern Muzzleloader

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

Black Powder Deer Hunt

a nipple, breech and barrel that are absolutely clean and free of oil. Of these variables, the last is probably most often responsible for complaints about muzzleloaders failing to fire.

Burnt blackpowder and its substitute, Pyrodex, are both highly corrosive. If not completely removed from the barrel, breech and nipple, both will quickly convert to caked fouling that can seal off the ignition port in the nipple, leaving no way for the flame from an exploding percussion cap to reach the main charge. If the ignition port is clogged, a muzzleloader won’t fire regardless of its design. That’s why muzzleloaders demand meticulous cleaning.

Most owners of traditional sidehammer muzzleloaders clean their firearms with the hot water method, which involves pumping a pan of scalding hot water through the barrel and breech with a cleaning jag and patch. The nipple is cleaned separately with pipe cleaners and oil-free commercial solvents.

Removing the breech of in-line muzzleloaders is easy, so they are usually cleaned by swabbing the barrel, breech and nipple in commercial solvents. The result of either system is the same. If a muzzleloader is absolutely clean and oil-free, it will fire without fail. The old saying, "Never let the sun set on a dirty muzzleloader," applies to all muzzleloading rifles.


When I first inquired about the accuracy of muzzleloaders, a friend told me, "They’ll shoot as straight as you can hold them." He was right. Once you work out the proper loading combination, the accuracy of any muzzleloader is comparable with modern rifles.

I built my first muzzleloading rifle for deer hunting. After sighting it in and discovering the rifle shot ragged, one-hole groups at 25 yards, my thoughts turned to squirrel hunting. I found that to be great fun, and now I hunt squirrels exclusively with my .54-caliber muzzleloading rifles. I limit all shots to the head and take between 50 and 100 squirrels a year. The same performance is possible with any in-line muzzleloader.


The range of both in-line and sidehammer rifles is limited by the chemical properties of blackpowder and Pyrodex. Both propellants burn less efficiently than smokeless powders.

Accordingly, muzzle velocities from muzzleloading rifles peak at about 2,000 feet per second. This limits the practical range of both in-line and sidehammer muzzleloading rifles to about 125 yards. They are lethal well beyond that range, but bullet trajectory much past 150 yards is measured in feet, not inches, making critical to estimate yardage.

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