Muzzleloader 101
Published: December 1st, 2021
By: Eric Davis

Muzzleloader 101 Outdoor Chenango Columnist Eric Davis

Firearms season has been here for a little over two weeks now. Some hunters have been fortunate to harvest a deer or two while others have struggled to even see a deer while afield. Hunters from either of these groups might be interested in hunting during the muzzleloader season that immediately follows the regular season.

However, they may not have a muzzleloader to use during this short season so hopefully this article can help those people out with deciding what to get.

Muzzleloaders today are a far cry from the weapons used in the past. Pelletized powder and conical bullets have made them easier to use and far more accurate. The most common caliber is a 50-caliber.

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This means that the bullet that it shoots has a diameter of 0.50 inches. The projectiles that are used are heavy, and relatively slow-flying when compared to common deer hunting calibers. This makes a muzzleloader a good option is denser cover, where a branch could deflect a lighter, faster bullet.

If hunting if denser cover, or where shots are expected to be 75 yards or less, a powder charge of 100 grains is more than sufficient with a 250-grain bullet. Some muzzleloaders can take magnum charges of 150 grains of powder, which can allow for accurate shots out to 200 yards while using 300-grain bullets.

Muzzleloaders are named this because you must load the powder and projectile through the muzzle, or the end, of the barrel. Originally, loose powder was used. A charge of powder would be measured and poured into the muzzle, then cloth patch was placed over the muzzle and a round ball of lead was put in the center and the patch and ball were forced down the barrel with a ramrod until the patch was on top of the powder.

Today pelletized powder such as Triple-7 or White Hots, can be purchased in 50/50 form, meaning 50-caliber, 50-grains. This makes loading the muzzleloader fast as you just need to slide the pellets in the barrel without having to carefully measure it and worry about spilling it.

The newer powders have been found to burn better with spark created by 209 primers, that were traditionally used in shotgun shells.

Loose powder is still available for those who want to use it. It comes it two sizes, FFG is used mainly in muzzleloading rifles and shotguns and FFFG is used in muzzleloading pistols. In 2020, Federal Ammunition and Traditions Muzzleloaders introduced the FireStick.

This uses a powder stick that is loaded in the breech while the projectile is the only thing loaded down the muzzle. The powder stick gets a 209 primer after it is loaded into the breech of the muzzleloader.

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The bullets that are used today are conical, or pointed. This makes them fly more accurately. The two main styles that are used are saboted bullets and bullets with gas seals built in. A saboted bullet uses a plastic sleeve, or sabot, to carry the bullet down the barrel.

When fired, the sabot engages the rifling inside of the barrel and spins. This makes the bullet within the sabot start to spin also. Once it leaves the barrel, the sabot opens up and the bullet continues flying. Bullets with gas seals don’t use sleeves, so they are faster to load. The seal on the back of the bullet is what engages the rifling when fired.

The last thing to think about when considering a muzzleloaders the optics. Some muzzleloaders come with fiberoptic rifle sights while many others come with a scope mounted on them. Since the range of most muzzleloaders is not that far, a 2-7 or 3-9 powered scope is more than adequate.

When using a muzzleloader, it is important to clean it after use. The powder is corrosive, especially the residue that is left after it is fired, so the longer it sits without being cleaned, the worse the damage can be to the inside of the barrel. Too much corrosion in the barrel can affect the accuracy of the muzzleloader and render it useless. Use a cleaning solvent designed for muzzleloaders, then make sure everything is completely dried, and put a lightly oiled rag down the barrel to prevent surface rust from developing.

The last thing to do is to purchase your muzzleloading privilege so that you are legal to hunt during the muzzleloader season. The season starts December 13 and ends on December 21. The Holiday Hunt is currently set to run from December 26 to January 1, but there is a proposal to allow counties to opt out of this season currently under review by the NYSDEC.