Muzzleloaders Part 1 - by JoshMy favorite time of year is just around the corner – muzzleloader season. The first two weeks of November are the best weeks for deer hunting in our neck of the woods. If you’ve never, been I highly recommend it. The normally keen and elusive big bucks seem to lose their minds in the rut (mating season) in search of does. So it’s the time of year to see more deer activity than any other time. But seeing them is only part of the fun. Successfully and humanely harvesting a doe or nice buck is the other part. There is plenty of gear available to accomplish this and I’d like to dedicate the next few weeks to talking about what is available to the muzzleloading hunter and how to use it.
Without getting in to too much history and detail, early muzzleloaders used black powder as a propellant. Today actual black powder is much less common. The majority of hunters use black powder substitutes such as Pyrodex, Triple 7, White Hots, Blackhorn 209 and several others. There are even muzzleloaders that can be used with a variety of smokeless powders too, but I’m going to focus primarily on the black powder substitutes.
There are many brands and types of powders available for us today and like everything else, advancements in technology bring us newer and better (sometimes) products. Powders for muzzleloaders are either pre-measured compressed cylindrical pellets, pre-measured rectangular sticks, or loose which has to be measured either by volume or weight. There are pros and cons to each type depending on your expectations.
Shooting with loose powders typically yields better accuracy. They burn faster and more consistently than pellets or sticks because there is more surface area to be burned. The size of the grains of loose powder can affect burn rate as well. Some powders like Blackhorn 209 do not vary in grain size but others like American Pioneer and Triple 7 do. For those that do they use the “F” designation to indicate the grain size (the “F” correlates to the screen size used to separate out grains during manufacturing). So you might see a bottle of Triple 7 that says FF next to one that says FFF. The powders are the same, but the grains of the FF are larger than the FFF. Typically (but not always) the FF powders are used for .50 cal rifles while the smaller FFF is used for smaller bore rifles and handguns. Some manufacturers like Pyrodex simplify it even further by labeling their powders either for pistol, rifle or shotgun. It is important to note that loose powders when measured by volume will be different than when weighed on a scale. For example 100 grains by volume might be 70 or 80 grains by weight, so be careful not to confuse the two. Over charging can destroy a gun and more importantly cause injury to the shooter. To see what overcharging a muzzle loader can look like … Google it … it’s not pretty.
Powders in pellet or stick form do not burn as consistently as loose powders but can still be very accurate for hunting and are certainly more convenient. They typically come in 30 or 50 grain sizes. The majority of hunters will either use 100 or 150 grains so two or three-50 grain pellets. Some will shoot 90 grains so three-30 grain pellets. It’s a matter of trial and error which combination of powder charge and bullet will work best in your gun so like I always say – you’ve got to shoot it to find out. Each manufacturer will vary on the suggested minimums and maximums for their powders so I strongly suggest you do a little research before you shoot.
It is inhumane to use too light a charge as it will not quickly and cleanly kill, and you certainly don’t want to blow your gun up by having too much powder.
In the coming weeks I’ll talk more about powders, maintenance, cleaning and shooting muzzleloaders. Send me an email if you have a specific question you’d like me to address.