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While all black-powder firearms can trace their roots to 9th-century Chinese alchemists, modern muzzleloading's popularity and evolution has experienced most of its growth in the past 30 years.
What separates muzzleloaders from all other types of guns is that they do not use a pre-loaded cartridge and the firing components are typically loaded through the muzzle. Prior to the 1850s, the standard muzzleloader used was the flintlock rifle. It was the primary weapon during the Revolutionary War and proved to be a vital tool for Lewis and Clark on their great western expedition. The flintlock action consists of a piece of flint that strikes a steel surface to create sparks that ignite the charge.
Just in time for the Civil War, the caplock was invented as an improvement on the popular, but inefficient flintlock. Instead of the hammer dropping and the flint striking steel, the caplock uses a percussion cap to ignite the charge when the hammer drops, causing an explosion in the barrel that ignites the propellant.
For years, these were the only options for hunters to choose from during the muzzleloading seasons. Then in the mid-1980s, the modern in-line muzzleloader was introduced. This new breed of in-lines was quicker to load, lighter to carry and much easier to clean. Since their introduction, several improvements have been made to modern muzzleloaders, including break actions, easy-to-remove breech plugs, as well as improved propellants and projectiles.
Modern muzzleloaders have come a long way since the days of the flintlock. For example, all modern CVA rifles, from the highly affordable Wolf to the Accura V2, have a quick-release breech plug which helps protect from rain, dust and sand. Modern muzzleloaders also use premium materials once only found on the most expensive custom rifles. It's not uncommon to see them sporting stainless steel barrels, weather-resistant coatings, camouflage stocks, adjustable triggers, ambidextrous stocks, cocking jags and more. CVA has also implemented a rebounding hammer that is blocked in the neutral position for added safety when uncocking the hammer.
The rifles aren't the only things that have been revolutionized. In 1976, Pyrodex, a black-powder substitute, was introduced by Hodgdon Powder Company. Pyrodex was safer, cleaner burning and produced 30% more shots per pound than common black powder. It also made it easier to clean the gun. Then in 2001, Hodgdon introduced Triple Se7en, which proved to be consistent and accurate, but is most recognized for its easy cleanup and a lack of the common sulfuric, "rotten-egg" odor associated with earlier powders.
Muzzleloading bullets have also evolved from the old-fashioned round ball. For more efficiency, hunters started using plastic sabots on their bullets to form a better gas seal. However, this led to melted plastic in the barrel, which made muzzleloaders difficult to reload. The bullet now known as the PowerBelt was originally designed by a small group of black-powder enthusiasts who set out to create the perfect muzzleloading projectile. This new design was patented and first sold as the Black Belt Bullet. Years later, one of the original partners and now the president of PowerBelt Bullets, perfected the design.
With the advancements in modern muzzleloading, it isn't a surprise that so many people are choosing to extend their hunting seasons. Today's varieties can be used on any size game in the world, from whitetail deer to elk, bear, antelope and more. There are even modern muzzleloading pistols suited for taking predators and wild hogs.
Should you choose to take your shooting to a competitive level, the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association has several sanctioned events each year, including their National Championship Shoot in Friendship, Indiana. Their website has a complete listing of shoots.
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