By Jason Parks Guest Contributor Smoke sticks, better known as black powder rifles or muzzle loader rifles, are a fun and challenging way to deer hunt. You can also hunt squirrel or dove hunt with a black powder shotgun if you want to diversify a little, or even hunt with black powder pistols. For what is supposed to be a primitive weapon, black powder rifles have come a long way in the last decade. Now you have breach open rifles with shotgun primers, pyrodex pellets and sabot bullets. Granted you can reach out a lot farther with these rifles than you can with a traditional muzzle loader but I am not a big fan of the new in-line muzzle loading rifles. I just like old guns I guess. I have considered upgrading to a flint lock but have never gotten around to it. I assume that most of you know what a muzzle loaderrifle is, but just in case, a muzzle loader is exactly what is sounds like: a rifle you load from the muzzle that is fired by an external hammer and primer cap. This is pretty much what every gun was before the invention of paper and cartridge ammunition and the new guns to shoot them. The more well known muzzle loaders in Americaare the Pennsylvania and Kentucky hunting rifles and the Springfield military rifles which were later converted to breech loader rifles. My muzzle loader is a Thompson Center Renegade .54 caliber rifle. Why .54 caliber? It was on sale. Most in-line black powder rifles are .50 caliber as are most traditional muzzle loaders However there are a lot of other calibers available in the traditional style muzzle loaders such as .36, .45, .58 and even .72 caliber. To shoot a black powder rifle you need some supplies: powder (powder flask is optional), power measure, caps, patches, lubricant, bullets, ball starter and a cleaning kit. Most hunters have what is called a possibles bag that they use to carry a lot of this around in. Loading and shooting a black powder rifle is fairly easy. The best way to learn how is to get someone who does it to show you. There are probably some YouTube videos you can watch. However you learn, I would like to encourage you to give it a try. I would also like to encourage you to go the traditional route to help preserve the spirit of primitive hunting that in my opinion is lost when you use a modern in-line black powder rifle.
Here are some tips that I have learned through the years:
- Make sure your rifle is empty before you load it. You can do that by popping a cap with the rifle pointed down range in a safe direction.
- Fire a cap on an empty barrel to prep your rifle for loading by drying out the nipple. I like to add a little powder in the barrel to help dry out the barrel on damp mornings.
- Another way to make sure your rifle is unloaded is to mark your ram rod to show Empty.
- Mark your ram rod to show loaded as well. I have mine marked to show when the bullets seated all the way for different grain loads i.e 60 grains, 90 grains etc.
- Some (maybe all) traditional black powder rifles (like mine shown) will probably shoot round balls more accurately than sabots compared to in-line muzzle loaders that will shoot sabots better than round balls. Mine does.
- Never, ever stand over the barrel of your rifle when you pour in your powder especially after you have just shot it. Having a stray spark lighting up the powder while you are standing over the barrel will ruin your day.
- Always use a powder measure. Never pour you powder straight into the barrel.
- You need to lubricate the patch so that the patch and ball goes in easier. There are commercial lubricants available. I put the patch in my mouth and get it wet with saliva instead of using messy lubricants. It works. Unsanitary? Probably, but it hasn't killed me yet.
- When you are ramming the bullet down the barrel, be sure not to grip the ram rod too high. You will most likely break the ram rod if you do. A grip about 6-12" above the barrel works best. Also you will eventually accidentally pull the rod too far out and will jab your hand with it so get ready for it.
- Always make sure your bullet is properly seated in the barrel, tight against the powder. When ramming your bullet in you will eventually get to a point where you do not have enough ram rod to grip properly. When you get to this point, take your ram rod, place it in the barrel, raise it about half the length of you barrel and throw it like a spear down the barrel. Do this multiple times. This basically taps the bullet into place with the momentum of the ram rod. When the bullet is seated, the ram rod will bounce.
- If you fire the rifle and the cap pops but the rifle does not fire, KEEP THE MUZZLE POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION! Sometime the rifle will go off a second or three after you have pulled the trigger. I have had it happen to me several times and have seen it happen several more times.
- If the rifle does not go off after about 10-15 seconds, replace the cap with the rifle pointed in a safe direction and try again. Wet weather and condensation is usually the culprit when this happens.
- Keep your rifle's hammer in the half-cocked position while you are in your stand so that if you happen to snag the hammer and it snaps down it will stay in half cock and you will not accidentally discharge the rifle. The half-cocked position of the hammer will keep the hammer from striking the cap and will not fire if the trigger is pulled. Basically, it is the "safety" of the black powder rifle.
- Never, ever carry your black powder rifle loaded with the hammer down on a cap. Snagging the hammer and snapping the cap with fire the gun. See the previous note.
- Hard core black powder shooters clean their rifles after every shot. Muzzle loader rifles are dirty and that will affect your accuracy. I don't do that. I clean mine after about 8-10 shots or every 3-5 years whichever come first.
- Lastly, I do want to encourage you to try hunting with a muzzle loader if you dont already but I also want to encourage you to practice and hunt with someone who has experience with muzzle loaders until you get the hang of it.
Thats all I have on black powder rifles for now. As I finish this up today (October 19, 2012), muzzle loader season opens tomorrow and my truck is loaded and ready to go. I will see you all when I get back hopefully with a buck and if not, a lot of pictures. Do you have any tips or lessons learned that you want to add to my list? You can follow Jason on Twitter @thejasonparksand on Instagram @jason_parks_brothers_farm This post and its contents are the views and opinions of the author only, and do not necessarily represent those of Beretta.
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This post and its contents are the views and opinions of the author only, and do not necessarily represent Beretta.