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Black Powder Firearms. Key Topics. Know Your Muzzleloader Black Powder Black Powder Substitutes Basic Muzzleloader Safety & Skills. Objectives. You should be able to… Show a basic understanding of the history of black powder Know the different black powder firearm actions

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key topics
Key Topics
  • Know Your Muzzleloader
  • Black Powder
  • Black Powder Substitutes
  • Basic Muzzleloader Safety & Skills

You should be able to…

  • Show a basic understanding of the history of black powder
  • Know the different black powder firearm actions
  • Understand how to select powder used in black powder firearms
objectives cont
Objectives (cont.)
  • Know equipment and safe techniques for shooting black powder firearms
  • Know the importance of cleaning a black powder firearm
  • Know how to determine if a black powder firearm is loaded!
k now your muzzleloader
Know Your Muzzleloader

Muzzleloader is the term given to early firearms because they are loaded from the muzzle or open end.

  • Locks took the place of actions on early firearms. Matchlock and wheel lock muzzleloaders are rare and valuable, but may be unsafe to use.
  • Flintlocks and percussion caps are typically used for competitions and hunting. Generally less expensive, lighter, more reliable and easier to load and maintain than matchlocks or wheel locks.


parts of a muzzleloader
Parts of a Muzzleloader



black powder firearms1
Black Powder Firearms
  • Muzzleloaders are usually rifles, but there are also smooth-bored muzzleloaders – shotguns. Shotgun muzzleloaders can have either single barrel or double barrels joined side-by-side.
  • Critical to avoid putting two loads down same barrel when loading double-barrel. Usually have two locks, one for each barrel – allowing shooter to fire each separately before gun is reloaded. Most double-barrels are designed with two triggers.
black powder firearms2
Black Powder Firearms
  • Muzzleloading handguns come as both pistols or revolvers. Pistols mainly singleshot. Revolvers contain multiple-shot chambers. Chain firing muzzleloading revolvers can be dangerous. When chamber round is fired, it produces sparks that could accidentally ignite loads in another cylinder(s). To guard against this, protect each load in cylinder with coating of grease to prevent sparks from entering open end of other cylinders.
history of black powder firearms
History of Black Powder Firearms

The Chinese are believed to be the first to use gunpowder's, now called “black powder.” The first firearms were tubes closed at one end, usually made of brass or cast iron. Early firearms were loaded by pouring black powder, shoving a projectile into the tube from the muzzle end, and then igniting the powder using a lighted wick or match. The powder burned creating pressure that launched metal objects or arrows. These firearms are called “muzzleloaders” due to their loading process. Advances in ignition systems were the major changes that brought about modern firearms:

  • Matchlock ignition was developed in the early 1400s. When the trigger is pulled, a lighted wick is lowered into a priming pan located next to a vent hole drilled into the closed end of the barrel. When the priming powder ignites, it lights the main charge.


wheel lock
Wheel lock
  • Wheel lock ignition replaced the wick of the matchlock in the 1500s. When the trigger is pulled, a coiled spring forces the rough-edged steel wheel to spin against a piece of iron pyrite creating sparks to ignite the powder in the priming pan

Wheel lock


·Flintlock ignition appeared in the late 1600s. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer holding a piece of flint fell against a steel cover (the frizzen) sitting over the priming pan. The hammer knocked the cover out of the way and the collision of flint and steel caused sparks that ignited the powder in the priming pan.


Top View Flash Pan

percussion lock
Percussion Lock

The percussion lock (also called “caplock”) replaced the flintlock in early 1800s. Early percussion locks used priming compounds inside a metallic foil cap placed over the vent hole. When the hammer strikes the cap, the resulting spark ignites the main charge.


percussion lock cont
Percussion Lock (cont.)

The percussion cap also paved the way to the self-contained ammunition we have today – cartridges and shotshells. The percussion cap ignition system was developed in 1805 by the Reverend John Forsyth of England. Gunpowder, the projectile and the primer were put together into a single housing that could be loaded quickly in the mid-1800s. In addition to this system, some of the new in-line muzzleloaders may use a 209 primer, the same as is used in some shotgun shells.

black powder revolver
Black Powder Revolver
  • The next advance, in 1835, was to arrange a series of percussion locks and barrels on a rotating wheel (cylinder) to allow a rapid succession of shots (Patterson revolver). With a single hammer and trigger, multiple shots could be fired without reloading a repeating firearm. The percussion cap revolvers were the forerunners of modern revolvers
black powder
Black Powder

Black powder is the only type of powder that should be used in muzzleloaders. However synthetic substitutes, such as Pyrodex®, also may be used. Don’t use modern-day smokeless powders in black powder firearms – it could cause serious injury.

black powder cont
Black Powder (cont.)
  • Black powder is made of potassium nitrate (saltpeter), sulfur and charcoal. When ignited, it causes a dense cloud of white smoke. Comes in four sizes or granulations:
black powder cont1
Black Powder (cont.)
  • Fg:Coarse grain typically used in cannons, rifles larger than .75 caliber and 10-gauge shotguns or larger
  • FFg:Medium grain typically used in larger rifles between .50 and .75 caliber, 20-gauge to 12-gauge shotguns and pistols larger than .50 caliber
  • FFFg:Fine grain typically used in smaller rifles and pistols under .50 caliber and smaller shotguns
  • FFFFg:Extra-fine grain typically used as a priming powder in flintlocks
black powder substitutes
Black Powder Substitutes

Pyrodex® and other black powder substitutes that can be used in amounts equal to black powder – loading may vary. Be sure to consult instructions from qualified gunsmith for loading procedures.

  • Pyrodex®:modern substitute for black powder – not an explosive but a propellant. Not lawful in some states. Available in powder form and pre-measured pellets.

Pellets to be used in in-line ignition systems only. Not recommended for use in flintlocks.

triple seven
Triple Seven®
  • Non-corrosive black powder (Triple Seven®):does not leave corrosive build-up in barrel of firearm. Shooter may be able to reload more times without cleaning inside of barrel. Not recommended for use in flintlocks. Available in powder form and pre-measured pellets. Pellets to be used in in-line ignitions systems only
safety tip
Safety Tip

The use of smokeless powder (except in the new Savage designed for it), a mixture of smokeless and black powder, the wrong type or granulation of black powder, Pyrodex®, or overloading may damage your firearm and cause injury and/or death to the shooter or bystander.

equipment for shooting

Caps or Flint


Sharp Knife (optional)

Powder Container

Patch puller

Ball puller

Equipment for Shooting
equipment for shooting cont
Equipment for Shooting (cont.)
  • Powder measure
  • Nipple wrench & pick
  • Cleaning solvent & patches
  • Ball starter
  • CO2 type discharger
  • Possible bag or pouch
projectiles for muzzleloaders
Projectiles for Muzzleloaders

The types of projectiles are:

  • Round ball, made of pure lead and requiring a lubricated patch
  • Minie ball made of pure lead and has been fired
  • Maxi ball made of pure lead and lubricated on its sides
projectiles for muzzleloaders cont
Projectiles for Muzzleloaders (cont.)
  • Sabot, a plastic cup allowing the use of

modern handgun bullet of lesser caliber

  • PowerBelt Bullet, also has a plastic cup but is attached to the bullet allowing for the same caliber bullet to be used in the firearm
  • Shot Pellets, designed to spread, just as with

today’s shotguns

basic muzzleloader safety skills
Basic Muzzleloader Safety & Skills

Pre-Loading Check

  • Place stock on ground between your feet with muzzle pointed in safe direction.
  • Remove ramrod, insert into barrel, mark rod at end of muzzle.
pre loading check cont
Pre-Loading Check (cont.)
  • Place rod along outside of barrel on same side as action to same depth as indicated by your mark.
  • If ramrod tip reaches flash hole in flintlock or within ¼-inch of breech plug (nipple) in caplock, gun is empty. If it does not it is loaded.
  • If loaded, and an antique gun, take to reputable black powder gunsmith to unload it.
loading and firing a muzzleloader
Loading and Firing a Muzzleloader

Loading a muzzleloader firearm presents some special concerns because it requires the muzzle to be pointed upward.

  • Place firearm on half cock (safety), then place stock on the ground between your feet with muzzle pointed in safe direction.
  • Be sure barrel is clean and dry.
  • Cap nipple or prime flintlock, point muzzle at ground and fire to complete drying process. Do at least twice.
loading and firing a muzzleloader cont
Loading and Firing a Muzzleloader (cont.)
  • Do not smoke. Black powder is explosive!
  • Place firearm on half cock and place stock back on ground between your feet with muzzle pointed in safe direction.
  • Measure powder charge then close powder container.
loading and firing a muzzleloader cont1
Loading and Firing a Muzzleloader (cont.)
  • Pour powder down muzzle and tap on side of barrel to settle powder. When using pellets, place darker end in muzzle first.
  • Place lubricated patch on muzzle when shooting round ball.
  • Place ball (spur up) on the patch.
loading and firing a muzzleloader cont2
Loading and Firing a Muzzleloader (cont.)
  • Place short end of ball starter on projectile and drive ball into muzzle with one sharp blow so that top of ball is even or just below muzzle.
  • Cut off patch even with muzzle if making your own lubed patches. Look out for fingers.
loading and firing a muzzleloader cont3
Loading and Firing a Muzzleloader (cont.)
  • Place longer end of ball starter on projectile. With one sharp blow to starter, drive ball five to 6 inches into barrel.
  • Place ramrod on ball using concave end to push ball down to powder charge. Push ramrod in short strokes, gripping few inches above muzzle. Using longer strokes may accidentally snap rod and cause injury. Ball must go down to powder. Do not pound ramrod on ball.
loading and firing a muzzleloader cont4
Loading and Firing a Muzzleloader (cont.)
  • Prime or cap.
  • Shoot in a safe direction.
damascus barrel
Damascus Barrel

Damascus or “damascus twist” barrels are older shotgun barrels that were typically made before 1900. Iron and steel ribbons were twisted and welded together. Damascus barrels are weaker than modern barrels and are not designed for the high gas pressures created by modern ammunition. Damascus barrels have a distinctive, irregular pattern of short, streaklike marks around the barrel.

damascus barrel cont
Damascus Barrel (cont.)

If you have a damascus barrel gun, don’t shoot it. The barrel may burst slightly ahead of the chamber, crippling the shooter’s hand or forearm. If you have an older firearm and are not sure if it has a damascus barrel, before shooting it go to a qualified gunsmith to identify its make.

modern muzzleloaders
Modern Muzzleloaders

Modern muzzleloaders are reproductions of original muzzleloaders.

  • Muzzleloaders made today are quality reproductions of the originals and are the safest ones to shoot.
  • They are made of modern steel by modern methods, which make them stronger and usually safer than the originals.
  • In selecting a reproduction muzzleloader for hunting or target shooting, it is best to contact a reliable retail store and get with someone knowledgeable about muzzleloaders. You may be able to contact a local club and get reliable information from its members. There are many different models available.
cleaning a muzzleloader
Cleaning a Muzzleloader

After firing a muzzleloader, it should be cleaned thoroughly. Black powder is very corrosive - residue inside the barrel causes pitting, reducing accuracy. Buildup of residue, called fouling, will also make loading difficult.

cleaning a muzzleloader cont
Cleaning a Muzzleloader (cont.)

Follow this procedure to clean muzzleloader:

  • Be sure it is unloaded.
  • Remove barrel if possible.
  • Wash inside of barrel with hot soapy water or commercial cleaning solvent. Wash nipple area with old toothbrush.
cleaning a muzzleloader cont1
Cleaning a Muzzleloader (cont.)
  • Rinse with scalding water.
  • Dry with clean patches until patches come out dry.
  • Run several damp patches of bore butter or good grade black powder gun oil inside barrel.
  • When barrel has cooled, put light coat of good grade gun oil on outside of barrel.
unloading a muzzleloader
Unloading a Muzzleloader

If you load your muzzleloader and do not have the opportunity to fire it while hunting, you will need to unload it safely before entering camp, home or vehicle.

  • Unload muzzleloader by discharging it into suitable backstop. Do not fire into air or ground at your feet in case projectile ricochets.
unloading a muzzleloader cont
Unloading a Muzzleloader (cont.)
  • A CO2-type discharger may be used to remove projectiles from bore without firing.
  • When muzzleloader is unloaded, place ramrod or loading rod in barrel before leaning it against a good rest – this prevents debris from falling down barrel and blocking touch hole.
basic muzzleloader safety
Basic Muzzleloader Safety

Muzzleloaders take significantly more knowledge to operate than modern firearms. They also present greater risks. Several rules must be followed to ensure safe operation.

  • Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Do not lean over, stand in front of or blow down the muzzle..
  • Use only black powder or safe substitute in a muzzleloading firearm.
  • Wait until you’re ready to firebefore you prime or cap a muzzleloader.
basic muzzleloader safety cont
Basic Muzzleloader Safety (cont.)
  • Always wear shooting glasses and ear protection when shooting a muzzleloader; a long sleeve shirt is also advisable.
  • Never smoke while shooting or loading or when near a powder horn or flask.
  • Load a muzzleloader directly from a calibrated powder measure – do not load from a horn, flask or other container. A loose spark or glowing ember in the barrel can cause the powder to explode
basic muzzleloader safety cont1
Basic Muzzleloader Safety (cont.)
  • Load only one charge at a time and load only from a calibrated measure.
  • Unload a muzzleloader before bringing it into your home, camp or vehicle.
  • Stay with your charged muzzleloader at all times.
review questions
Review Questions
  • What is the only type of powder that should be used in muzzleloaders?
  • Explain an unsafe practice when using a muzzleloader.
review questions cont
Review Questions (cont.)
  • What is the last thing you do before firing a muzzleloader?
  • Where should you place the ramrod after a muzzleloader is unloaded but before leaning it against a rest?