New to Traditional Muzzleloaders? at Cabela's

New to Traditional Muzzleloaders?

Author: Derrek Sigler

A wise man once said, "If you don’t know where to start, go back to the beginning." While that may sound a bit confusing, it makes sense when looking at the range of traditional muzzleloading firearms available.

Today’s consumer has options when getting into traditionally styled "smokepoles." Once you decide what you need, the choice becomes easier. There are many reasons to get into the sport. The connection to our past is undeniable and is a big plus. There also is the idea of "One-shot/One-kill," which appeals to many hunters. But it is not just about hunting. Try a muzzleloader once and you’re hooked. They are fun, plain and simple.

So you’ve decided to get one, but now have to ask yourself, "What do I want, and what am I going to do with it?" Fear not grasshopper, this is a good choice to have to make and one that isn’t too hard, because there is no wrong way to go.

If you’re going to use your new muzzleloader for hunting, you need to check the game laws in your area. Some firearms are not legal under current legislation in some areas. Some states require the use of open sights; some have regulations on bullet type and or caliber restrictions. Know what you need and what you can use before you buy.

Here is a breakdown of the options you have with traditional muzzleloading firearms.

Cabela's Blue Ridge™ Flintlock Rifle
Flintlock Rifles
Flintlock rifles are so-named because of their lock type, which employs flint and steel to produce the ignition spark for the powder charge. They are the oldest form of muzzleloader still commonly used today for hunting, although you may find an extreme traditionalist using even older designs. Though the flintlock’s design dates back to the 1700s they are not as primitive as you might think. In the hands of someone who knows the gun, a properly tuned flintlock can be about as reliable and accurate as any other muzzleloader to an extent. It is conceivable to effectively take game at 100 yards.

 The Pennsylvania long rifle is the most common flintlock, although they come in different styles. Historically, these rifles were the original eastern settler’s rifles. They are usually found in .36, .45 and .50 bores and are perfectly adequate for hunting everything up to and including deer when using a .45 or .50 with a patched round ball. This is one you would definitely want to know your area’s restrictions on bore size.

Cabela's Sporterized Hawken Hunter Rifle
Percussion Rifles
Percussion rifles were developed in the early 1800s. As they became popular, they quickly replaced the flintlock ignition system. They use a percussion cap that provides a faster lock time between when the trigger is pulled and the ignition of the main charge. They are also more weather-resistant than flintlocks, which is an obvious advantage.

The most common type of rifles associated with percussion caps is the Hawken or plains rifle, which is named after the inventors, the Hawken brothers of St. Louis. The style is also known as the plains rifle because of its notoriety with the settlement of the West and the characters from our history who preferred it. Characterized with shorter barrels and stocks than Pennsylvania long rifles, they are also chambered in larger calibers, usually .50 and .54. Still widely used in the hunting field, they are adequate for taking a variety of big game. A friend of mine uses a Hawken-style rifle and routinely takes game. He has mentioned that the simple design never gives him problems, and the gun is "darn accurate."

Traditionally, like the Pennsylvania rifles, they had a 1:60 to a 1:66 twist rate to optimize the shooting of patched round balls, meaning one complete rotation in 60 to 66 inches of barrel. As hunters went to heavier bullets for greater killing energy, the twist rate was sped up to accommodate bigger, heavier bullets. Today most Hawken-style percussion rifles have a twist rate of 1:48, or faster, such as 1:28. They are more effective as a hunting tool to shoot conical bullets and sabots (see terms below) with deadly accuracy, although they don’t shoot round balls as well as guns with the slower twist rate.

Cabela's Black-Powder Shotgun
What, you didn’t know about muzzleloading shotguns? Muzzleloader shotguns are gaining in popularity, especially in the turkey-hunting crowd where one shot is usually all you get and need. Shotgun types range from traditionally styled firearms, to double-barreled beasts and yes, even modern-looking in-line designs that are as easy to use as any muzzleloader. A friend used a double-barreled black-powder beast of a shotgun for this year’s turkey season. And another buddy uses one for turkeys as well as waterfowl. Most models have adjustable chokes and are 100% safe for steel shot. It adds a traditional aspect to the hunt and makes you hunt more like a bowhunter (no 45-yd. turkey blasting). You have to have them close. You want to shoot a different load? You are literally "rolling your own" each time you load and can mix and match to the situation. Both friends said with no hesitation that they would take these types of guns afield again.
Cabela’s Dead Center Sabots
Muzzleloader Glossary
There are many terms that go hand and hand with muzzleloaders and some are a bit obscure. To aid you in making the right muzzleloader selection, the following is a list of terms you may run across in your search. Plus there are several things you may be interested in that will help you make your decisions about what you plan to use your muzzleloader for.

Sabot – Pronounced "Sabow" (derived from the French word for shoe), is a plastic cup or "shoe" that allows a smaller bullet to be loaded into a given caliber. Sabots have many advantages, such as, lighter bullets for increased velocity, longer bullets for the same weight for better sectional density and ballistic coefficient and the ability to use bullets made of materials other than soft, pure lead.

Black Powder – The traditional muzzleloader propellant. It is graded in coarseness and is rated from FFFFg (super fine) to Fg (extremely coarse) FFFFg is used as flash powder in the pans of flintlock rifles and Fg is used as cannon powder. FFg and FFFg are commonly used in rifles and pistols. All traditional black powder is extremely corrosive and must be thoroughly cleaned out of any firearm after use.

Pyrodex® – a black powder substitute that produces similar results to black powder but without as much barrel residue and smoke. It still is corrosive, and like black powder, needs to be cleaned from equipment thoroughly after use.

Pyrodex® Pellets – Same basic component as Pyrodex but pressed into pre-formed pellets. They are available in several caliber and grain denominations.

Hodgdon Triple-7 Powder and Pellets
Clean Shot – Clean Shot, is a non-corrosive, black powder substitute that leaves less residue in the barrel.

Triple-Seven – A clean burning, black powder substitute that produces less smoke and is less corrosive than other offerings. Available in powder form, or in pressed pellets.

Conical Bullet – A term used for elongated lead muzzleloader bullets that are the diameter of the bore. A few examples are; Buffalo Bullets, T/C Maxi-Hunter and the Hornady Great Plains.

Round Ball – Spherical in shape, these bullets are cast from pure lead and are undersized for the given bore as they are designed to be used with a cloth patch.

Patch – Primarily made from pure cotton, patches are placed between the Round Ball and the barrel to provide a tight seal and to engage the rifling. Patches vary in thickness to match different diameter balls and so shooters can fine-tune a given load.

Patch Puller – A wire adapter that fits on the end of the ramrod to retrieve a patch from the bore of a rifle.

Bullet Puller – A screw like adapter that attaches on the end of the ramrod to remove either a ball that was loaded without powder, or to unload a loaded gun that has misfired.

Twist Rate – Twist rate refers to the rifling inside the barrel-specifically how many inches of barrel it takes for the bullet to make a complete rotation. It is expressed in a ratio, such as 1:48 (one turn for 48 inches of barrel). The longer the bullet, the "quicker" the twist needs to be to stabilize it for optimum accuracy. For example round balls work best with 1:66 while longer sabots and maxi bullets work best with quicker rates like 1:28.

Williams Firesights
Fiber Optic Sights – Used for many applications such as archery sights, modern rifles, pistols, shotguns and muzzleloaders. They incorporate colored fiber optic rods, which gather light for a better sight picture in low light.

Muzzleloader Scopes – Several manufacturers produce scope models specifically designed for the rigors a muzzleloader can dish out. In many cases, a better choice for your use.

Ramrod – A rod comprised of steel, brass, wood, fiberglass or plastic that is used for cleaning and loading a muzzleloader. It has a threaded end that allows the use of attachments such as bullet and patch puller and cleaning jag and a coned end that is used to seat the bullet.

Short Starter – A short version or a ramrod. Usually six to nine inches long, the short starter is usually affixed to a round handle and is used to start the bullet down the bore.

Breech Plug – The breech plug screws into the breech end on the barrel. On a traditional rifle (percussion or flint) it is fixed, while on an in-line it is removable and allows easy straight through cleaning.

Nipple – The part that the percussion of musket caps is placed on. In the center of the nipple there is a small flash hole that allows the spark from the cap to transfer to the main charge.

#11 cap – This is the standard percussion cap found on most muzzleloading rifles. It has been in use since the early 1800’s.

Musket Cap – A form of percussion cap that dates back to the civil war era. It is characterized by large flanges and an overall greater size that the standard #11 percussion cap. It has a greater volume of spark as well as a higher burn rate, making it a favorite among hunters.

Powder Measure
209 Shotshell Primer – Mainly used for modern shotshells; but some recent muzzleloaders have incorporated their use for in-line ignition systems. They are hotter and have more spark than either musket caps or standard percussion caps. This translates to a more positive ignition in wetter climates and when using magnum powder charges.

Exposed Nipple – A legal definition referring to the status of the nipple to the elements. Some rifles can be changed from exposed to non-exposed with a plastic insert, thereby allowing it to conform to specific state regulations.

Black Powder Cartridge Rifle – Different from a muzzleloader in that this rifle loads from the breech and fires a cartridge loaded with black powder. Not legal for use in muzzleloader-only seasons.

QLS – Thompson Centers Quick Load System utilizes an oversized, non-rifled muzzle (1 inch in depth) to facilitate in the starting of bullets. Not only does this system make the process easier, but also it increases accuracy, as well as there is little chance of canting the bullet upon loading.

Powder Measure – A volumetric measuring device (usually adjustable) for measuring charges of black powder (or black powder substitute).

Possibles Bag – A traditional bag meant for storing anything that might "possibly" be needed while black-powder hunting: bullets, patches, jags, caps, tools, spare nipples (or flints) powder, measurer, cleaning solvent, bullet lube and nipple pick.

Click here for black powder, firearms, sabots, bullets and accessories.