What’s the best way to handle a muzzleloader? Where do we even start?
There is certainly an aesthetic appeal to muzzleloader rifles, from their classic look to the meticulous process of loading, shooting and maintaining them. However, muzzleloaders can also be quite dangerous if you are not educated in proper gun handling practices. If you are considering adding a muzzleloader to your dove or deer hunting arsenal, there are a few rules and strategies you will want to adhere to as closely as possible.
First of all, muzzleloader hunters should always wear eye goggles and some sort of ear protection, no exceptions. Muzzleloaders are loud, and if not loaded or handled correctly, can backfire in catastrophic fashion. Keeping yourself as protected as possible through normal shooting safeguards will help to minimize the damage if any kind of accident takes place.
However, safety goggles and earplugs are not a license for you to handle a muzzleloader like it is anything less than a lethal weapon. Since muzzleloaders are packed with gun powder through the barrel – and since they use extremely volatile black powder – even the slightest mistake can lead to an explosive result. Black powder is the prime reason for most of the necessary muzzleloader caution: it is innately flammable and can ignite as a result of sparks, cigarette smoke, or even extreme heat. For that reason, there are very specific guidelines for the storage and handling of black powder. For instance, powder should always be stored in a cool – but dry – place. Most muzzleloader enthusiasts also advise against storing black powder in steel, iron, or plastic containers, as those materials are often particularly likely to spark. Wooden boxes – or wood-lined containers – are a better bet for safe black powder storage.
Muzzleloader rifles also need to be cleaned and maintained on their own. Residual black powder left in a gun barrel, whether it is a small amount or a full shot’s worth, will turn that gun into a ticking time bomb. Not only can the powder ignite and cause your gun to go off at an unpredictable moment, black powder is also corrosive and can damage the interior of your gun. Barrel damage can in turn lead to improper functionality and possible backfire injuries when you go to shoot your muzzleloader later.
Needless to say, cleaning your weapon is important. When you are ready to quit after a day of shooting, make sure to discharge your muzzleloader entirely. Trying to clean a loaded and primed muzzleloader can be as catastrophic as not cleaning your weapon at all. Beyond the fundamental discharge, many gun manufacturers have different guidelines for how to clean or lubricate their muzzleloader weapons. If you have a manual for your rifle, follow the guidelines provided therein. Some gun companies even have lubricants and cleaning materials on the market for their rifles, so if nothing else, you should look around on Google for tips on how to clean your specific model. Most gun cleaning processes are similar, using a ramrod to swab, clean, and dry the barrel, but if you can find customized directions for your particular muzzleloader, you will be able to clean it with processes that you know will facilitate the longer health of your weapon as well as your own safety.