Hunting with a Muzzleloading Shotgun

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

muzzleloading gear and made final preparations for an attempt to take the second bird with my front-stuffing scattergun. A week earlier, after my last patterning session, I completed the most important step toward guaranteeing that the gun would belch flame when I pulled the trigger; I meticulously cleaned the shotgun and left the barrels and nipples dry and free of oil.

Contrary to the advice of many gun writers, I did not fire a couple of percussion caps over the nipples before loading to ensure that the nipples were free of oil or obstructions. Hunting with muzzleloading rifles had taught me that shooting a percussion cap leaves a greasy, black residue in the breech, and sometimes a piece of exploded cap can lodge in a nipple and clog it. Thorough cleaning is the key to a reliable muzzleloader ignition system.

For quick reloading, I place overcards, felt wads and pre-measured shot and powder charges in separate plastic film canisters. I labeled these and sealed them in plastic sandwich bags along with spare percussion caps. With these steps complete, I was ready to hunt.

For five days, early in the morning before work, I hunted the same mature gobbler. Each morning he appeared with four to eight hens, and each morning he ignored my calls. On the fifth day, I set out two hen decoys. I called in the gobbler's hens. The tom followed, and in a cloud of white smoke, the tom fell to my muzzleloader.

After I've bagged a gobbler, when I peel the backing off my tag, my hands always shake with excitement. On this morning, my hands shook a little more than usual.

Safety While Hunting with a Muzzleloading Shotgun

  • All new muzzleloading firearms come with manuals that include loading instructions and safety precautions. If you buy a used muzzleloader with no manual, write or e-mail the company for a copy and follow instructions to the letter.
  • Loading and safety instructions are easy to follow, but the excitement of the hunt can sometimes lead to mistakes, especially with a double-barrel muzzleloader. If you fire one barrel, it is absolutely essential to remove the percussion cap (or the priming powder from a flintlock) from the one barrel still charged before reloading. Failing to do so invites tragedy.
  • With doves or ducks flying in, it's also easy to forget which barrel you are loading, making it possible to load a double powder charge in one barrel. You can avoid this dangerous situation by placing the ramrod, after each step of the loading process, in the one barrel you are not loading.
  • Although I have never experienced it, I have read that when hunting with a double-barrel muzzleloading shotgun, the recoil from firing the first barrel can advance the charge in the unused barrel. You can check for this potentially explosive situation by unpriming the unused barrel and checking the position of the charge with the ramrod. All components of the charge should be snug tight in the breech.

A Closer Look at In-Line and Traditional Muzzleloading Shotguns

All in-line, muzzleloading shotguns, (at least, the ones I have seen advertised), have single barrels. One shot is all you get before having to reload. Almost all, however, have screw-in chokes. A 12-gauge, blackpowder shotgun with a screw-in, "full" choke will throw patterns well capable of killing a turkey out to 35 yards. When loading, however, pushing the wad past the choke is tough business. A short-starter with a tip that fits the diameter of the barrel will help get the job done. Or, you can remove the choke when loading the gun, and then screw it back in.

Most muzzleloading, double-barrel shotguns of traditional design are cylinder bore, which limits their range. However, the guns offer two shots instead of one, making a double on flying game possible. In hand, they feel like what they are-firearms built for wingshooting.

Muzzleloading shotguns are also not limited to upland game. At least one model is available with chrome-lined barrels, making it suitable for steel shot. Bismuth shot is also available for duck hunters who want to try their luck with muzzleloading shotguns. The only drawback is cost. Bismuth shot costs about $11 per pound.

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