Monday is the start to a special five-day muzzleloader deer season in Alabama. Black-powder shooters will have their chance for smoking some venison before the regular firearm season.
Muzzleloaders are also referred to as black-powder rifles, muskets, flintlocks or just plain smoke poles. These primitive weapons use a sulfur/charcoal base black powder as the propellant to project the bullet or round ball from the barrel. Front stuffers were used by men such as Daniel Boone, Sam Houston and others for hunting and fighting wars before modern rifle cartridges came about in the late 1800s.
In recent years, many improvements have been incorporated to black-powder rifles. So many changes in fact some types of rifles are referred to as modern muzzleloaders. One type is an in-line and the other a breach or break open style like a single-shot shotgun.
Early muzzleloader hunters started out with the old flintlocks or the percussion cap guns, and they haven’t changed much over the years. Some of these frontier style mountain men still prefer to measure their powder, pour their own lead bullets and spit-patch a load. The way their forefathers did back in the early 1800s.
The modern style black-powder rifles make it much easier for hunters to get into muzzleloader hunting. The guns are simple and the components less complex than the flintlock style.
Several powder manufactures make black powder in pellet form. Pre-sized and weighted pellets ranging from 30 to 150 grains each are measured to the almost exact amount and fit nicely into the muzzle of the gun. Check the muzzleloader manufacturer’s instructions to be sure your gun can use the new powder style pellets.
White Hots brand powder pellets burn hotter and cleaner than some of the other pellet loads on the market. The White Hots still meet the criteria for black powder even though they are white. A regular load of 100 grain of the white pellets is equivalent to 125 grains of the standard pellet charges.
Using different amounts of powder will determine the best charge for the game and distance you plan on shooting. Don’t crush the powder pellets after loading the barrel. The pellets are designed to burn in their preformed shape.
Chris Smith of Ashland uses Pyrodex brand powder in the loose form. He said his load gives a pretty good kick, but it will kill a deer out to 100 yards. He built his muzzleloader from a kit which sold for around $60 bucks several years back. Smith prefers the more primitive ingredients like loose powder and round lead balls. Also, he stills shoots with iron sights on his black-powder rifle.
“Try different brands of powder, and bullet styles to see which is the most accurate in your gun,” Smith said. “Shooting different loads and charges will change performance.”
Smith shoots a .54 caliber rifle with 110 grains of the Pyrodex loose powder. This load packs a pinch from his muzzleloader.
Dry powder is the key
Black-powder guns have an affinity to draw moisture from almost anything, especially cool damp air. One of the major challenges for black-powder hunters is keeping their powder dry on damp or rainy days. These guns are not like the modern rifles or shotguns with the self-contained cartridges where the worry of moisture is no concern.
The new breach and in-line models help prevent moisture from getting to the powder. But, certain precautions should be taken to keep your powder dry. One key is to load your gun the morning of your first hunt. A charged muzzleloader will pick up moisture from the air.
Also, keep the powder or powder pellets in the original containers when storing or transporting. An extra step can be taken by placing the powder in a heavy duty zip-lock type plastic bag or sealable tube until ready to use. Powder manufactures make the containers to withstand moisture under most conditions.
“Put a piece of electrical tape over the end of the barrel to keep out rain,” said Smith. “The tape will not affect your shot.”
Some smoke-pole hunters opt to leave their muzzleloaders charged with powder and bullet in place. However, they remove the primer to prevent any accidental firings. Overtime the powder charge can absorb moisture and the powder will lose effectiveness. It could be more of a pop than a boom when fired.
Black-powder rifles are very accurate. Shooters taking care to keep track of consistency when loading can tack-drive out to 100- plus yards. Traditional muzzleloader hunters continue to use open or iron sights with success. Part of the challenge is keeping the gun primitive.
Some models of the modern muzzleloader rifles have fiber optic sight for a clearer picture of the sights on the target. Other black-powder rifles have mounts to accommodate a scope. Older smoke-pole shooters may take this option if they have experienced failing eyesight.
“After you shoot hold the muzzleloader steady,” Smith said. “There is a slight delay from pulling the trigger and the gun firing.”
What Smith has stated is a big key for accurate shooting with any black-powder rifle. Even modern style muzzleloaders with the powerful 209 type primers, there is a very short delay in the firing sequence. Premature movement of the gun can cause the bullet to be off target.
There is a romance of sorts shooting the same type of firearms the early frontiersmen used. A solid boom, a cloud of white smoke and the smell of sulfur burning in the autumn woods. And when the smoke clears and that buck is down, the romance grows stronger.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.