Muzzleloader Hunting Basics

By author of Guns and Camo

Tips for Your Smoke Pole Hunts

It’s time to break out the smoke pole and fill a deer tag.

(c) Bill Konway photo

On my most recent trip to the shooting range, I was shocked at some of the other shooters' care and loading procedures used when shooting their in-lines. Having grown up with a father that loves the sport of muzzleloading, I thought it was common knowledge how to properly load and keep a muzzleloader shooting accurately. I mean, how hard can it be? Put in the powder, ram the bullet down the barrel, put a primer in and fire away. But that’s not the case and I’ll explain why.

Step One

The first step I like to do before starting my shooting session is to shoot off a cap (209 primer, No. 11 percussion, musket) on an empty barrel. 

After a thorough cleaning, and long storage in the gun safe, oil and other debris will settle inside the breach plug. This debris that blocks the flash hole can slow ignition. Shooting a cap will clear this debris and also burn up some of the leftover oil inside the barrel.

Step Two

After a cap has been fired, I like to run a dry patch through the barrel. This dry patch will remove any leftover oil. Once my barrel has been prepped, it’s time to start shooting.

Prior to finding an accurate load that shoots great out of your gun, you need to have a consistent loading procedure. Do everything the exact same way to get consistent results.

Most of today’s accurate muzzleloading bullets use a ballistic tip. These tips provide the bullet with an aerodynamic profile that not only increases accuracy and flat shooting, but creates fast expansion when hitting targets. This fast expanding of the bullet puts the majority of the energy and shock into the game you are hunting.

Great care must be used when loading these bullets so the tip isn’t damaged. Numerous manufacturers make special loading jags that screw into the ramrod for easy loading of these particular bullets. The deep cavity in these special jags allows the bullet to be seated on the powder charge without disfiguring the plastic tip. 

Using the standard end of the ramrod to load these bullets will flatten or disfigure the plastic tip, which will result in erratic bullet flight and crummy groups.

Whether you’re shooting loose powder or pellet, a properly seated bullet is vital to accurate shooting. Once the appropriate charge is placed in the barrel, it is time to load the projectile. 

Step Three

Most of today’s modern muzzleloaders use what is called a “false muzzle.” A false muzzle aligns the bullet and sabot to make loading the projectile faster and much straighter. It’s easy to see if your muzzleloader has a false muzzle. If the end of your barrel is slightly wider and doesn’t have rifling for the last inch or so, then you have a false muzzle.

If your gun doesn’t have a false muzzle then you will have to use a bullet starter. There are numerous muzzleloading bullet starters on the market. 

This tool will make loading the bullet faster and straighter than using just the ramrod.

Using a continuous downward motion on the ramrod, push the bullet until you feel it touch the powder charge. Once you feel it hit the powder, stop! Do not continue pushing on the ramrod. Pushing hard or slamming the ramrod on a pellet charge can break and crumble the pellets. These pellets are designed to burn at a consistent pressure. Break these pellets and you’ll get different pressures and velocities from shot to shot, which will result in inaccuracy.

If your gun uses 209 primers and you are using pelletized powder charge, I cannot stress enough the use of specific muzzleloading 209 primers in your gun. Standard 209 shotgun primers are too powerful and much dirtier than a muzzleloading 209. A standard 209 primer has so much power that it can push a fully-loaded projectile without a powder charge out of the barrel.

What is the problem with this? The primer is used for one thing, and one thing only, to ignite the powder charge and not to add propellant to the bullet. That is the powder's job. Having too powerful of a primer will push the charge and bullet up the barrel before complete ignition.

But there is the other side of the coin. The last few seasons I have fallen in love with the Blackhorn 209 powder. With this type of power you need to use a hot shotgun primer that seals tightly into the breach plug. This powder needs a hot flash to ignite reliably.

Final Thoughts

Shoot your gun with both a clean and dirty barrel. By shooting your gun in both scenarios you can see if there is any difference between the two. By knowing where your gun impacts on a dirty barrel you will still be able to make an accurate shot if a follow-up shot on an animal is needed. 

Take these muzzleloading tips to the range and I’ll guarantee you’ll start shooting tighter groups. Good luck this muzzleloading season.

Go here for more Realtree guns and shooting.

Follow us on Facebook.

Editor's note: This post was first published Dec. 2, 2016.