Guide to the Modern Muzzleloader Gun

A guide to the modern muzzleloader gun, including a round ball selection guide, the muzzleloader marketplace, how to load a muzzleloader, shooting a black powder gun and a shooting caution guide.

| November/December 1982


[1] Thompson/Center's .36-caliber Seneca, a quality small-bore gun with a lifetime guarantee.


Whether you expect your firearm to provide food, recreational shooting, or a form of "last ditch" insurance against the possibility of harder times to come, you might consider the modern muzzleloader gun. (See the gun photos and diagrams in the image gallery.)

To many folks, the idea of shooting a black powder gun is—at first—a bit frightening. After all, the primitive explosive used (producing, upon detonation, clouds of smoke the likes of which you'll never see when firing a contemporary cartridge) must actually be handled by the shooter, since it's measured, and then poured directly down she barrel of the gun . . . a barrel which, if the weapon is one of the popular larger-bore muzzleloaders, looks almost big enough to accommodate a bantam's egg! It's understandable, then, that this collection of factors sometimes brings to mind images of accidental overcharges . . . of barrels peeled back banana-skin fashion . . . and of shoulder-breaking kicks.

However, when people first fire the old-timey rifles (or pistols), they're generally surprised by the civility of the weapons. Black powder guns don't kick back excessively. In fact, as a result of the slow-burning nature of the explosive (when compared to modern gunpowder), the firearm tends to shove, rather than slam against, your shoulder when it goes off. (By way of comparison, a relatively large .54-caliber muzzleloader—a rifle with a bore comparable to that of a 28-gauge shotgun—will be a lot easier on the shooter than would, say, the average modern 30.06 rifle.)

Of course, there's a lot more to recommend today's crop of the modern muzzleloader gun than their relative gentleness. For one thing, such guns provide an opportunity to experiment with the various components of the charge—amount of powder, kind of projectile, thickness of patch (if a ball is used), type of lubricant, and so on—and to learn, through such trial and error research, the full range of the gun's capabilities. To duplicate that educational experience with a later style of gun, you'd have to have access to a good bit of reloading equipment and a whole passel of additional know-how.

Furthermore, the black powder firearms are practical. Most modern muzzleloaders will do almost anything that a cartridge-firing rifle will do, and even make up for their one disadvantage (the time required to prepare for a second shot) with pluses of their own. Consider: When used for recreational target shooting, a muzzleloader—as noted above—gives the shooter a large degree of control over his or her load, and that extra involvement can't help increasing the satisfaction that results from firing a tight grouping into a target bull's eye.

Or if providing a supply of good—not pesticide/antibiotic/hormone-saturated—meat for your family is the goal uppermost in your mind, you'll be pleased to know that many states allow shooters with "primitive weapons" to enter the deer woods in search of venison before the crowds of "regular" gunners come in.

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