Black Powder Hunting — Are You Ready to Step Up to a Front Stuffer?

Thompson Center Encore rifle with bullets and powder

It wasn’t that long ago when blackpowder hunting was the only way to go. Even after the advent of the Winchester 1894 .30-30 rifle, many clung to their .45-70 and Sharps rifles as well. Today, we have blackpowder hunting seasons in which only single-shot blackpowder rifles are allowed. This has resulted in practically every hunter owning some type of blackpowder rifle. Along the way, some have become fans of blackpowder’s white smoke. Some chase every advantage and use the inline muzzleloader with the cleanest powder possible. Others use only traditional firearms, and a very few even hunt with flintlocks.

CVA Optics Ready Rifle
This CVA rifle is optics ready. Our ancestors would be proud.
No one is wrong as long as the procedure is safe and they respect the game. I have to admit that the first time I fired blackpowder many years ago, it was quite a thrill. The report just isn’t the same as smokeless, and the results are pretty amazing. I was already a handloader. I began handloading in my teens, so loading the Hawken wasn’t a challenge. In fact, I enjoyed working up light practice loads and full-power loads for serious use.

Thompson Center Encore rifle with bullets and powder
Blackpowder hunting is an advanced art. With the right gear, the process is enjoyable. Note the powder pellets.
When blackpowder hunting season comes, don’t groan; enjoy the challenge. Firing a tight three-shot group at 100 yards is challenging, but once you have the procedure down and have worked up a good load, repeatability isn’t difficult. There are many reasons for owning a muzzleloader. The challenge is one. The primary reason, I believe, is the ability to hunt during the special hunting seasons mandated by state agencies. Also, there is the challenge of working in close. After all, we have only one shot. No matter how accurate the rifle and how confident you have become with blackpowder in general, you always wish to work in close to have every advantage.

Muzzleloading season is never as crowded.

There are many hunters who feel their traditional rifles are the way to go and don’t think the modern inline muzzleloader fits the spirit of the game. I have friends on both sides and will steer clear of this, saying simply, “To each his own.” I use a variety of rifles and appreciate them all, from the scoped .30-06 to the lever-action .32-20. Just remember that back in the day, many traditional shooters did everything they could to develop superior sights and loading procedures, even riflescopes. They longed for advanced rifles, and it’s an even bet that they traded up as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Just the same, I respect traditional and really like the Hawken rifle. I don’t think a person armed with an inline muzzleloader with the same single-shot as anyone else is going to affect my enjoyment of the game. When you are hunting, chances are you’re going to be in an area with about 1/3 to 1/4 as many hunters as when conventional rifles are about. That isn’t a problem for anyone.

Hornady Great Plains bullet
The Hornady Great Plains bullet is consistent and accurate.

Getting It Right

It used to take a long time to load the rifle and get the accuracy right. It’s much easier with modern gear. Pellet-size powder, sabot slugs, and shotshell primers have changed the world. Debate spit or tallow patches all you want, but most of us don’t have the time to master traditional blackpowder loading, and we get along pretty good.

Shotshell primer ignition affords repeatability and excellent ignition, which are the brothers of accuracy. Sabots also give the shooter greater accuracy potential. By marrying the modern jacketed bullet to a sabot, accuracy is enhanced and fouling decreased. Plastic fouling, however, can be a problem. Clean the rifle every two to three shots when using sabots. The same problem can occur with a shotgun and plastic wads, although it is more pronounced with muzzleloading rifling. Clean after every shot for best shooting and accuracy.

I think 99 percent of blackpowder shooters are going to hunt with a muzzleloader because of the mandated season, but a few will for the challenge. The woods are more inviting when less crowded. When you purchase a muzzleloader, you are agreeing to accept the challenge, learn the necessary skills to make a clean kill on a fine game animal, and do the necessary study to ensure that you know what you are about.

Do you shoot smokepoles? What tips, tricks or stories can you share to show the enjoyment of hunting or just a day at the range with a muzzleloader?

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About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. Call it what you want, “Traditionalist”, “Purist”, “Old Schooler”, or whatever. With all the modern firearms available and in use, I take great pleasure in taking my 54 caliber, charcoal burnin’, marble chunkin’, smoke belchin’, flint sparkin’, Thunder stick to the range and watching the young pups put down their Buck Rogers ray guns to come over and see whose got the shoulder fired artillery piece.
    Even if you miss, that huge ball will suck the breath from their lungs as it goes chugging by. Irresistable force.

    1. Have always been fascinated by flintlock front loaders ever since an older man introduced me to his 8 gauge flintlock shotgun. Right beside that flint lock, front loader, he had an equally impressive .75 cal. breech loader made around the same time; 1780, or there abouts, if I remember correctly. I was about 6 at the time, so it’s been over 60 years. So all of you ‘purist’ that will only hunt with front loaders, ponder on that. As for ammo, he had sabot rounds made for the breech loader from the same period. While I love a good debate, especially about firearms, some people get a bit silly when they call breech loaders, sabots, telescopic sights and such as ‘johnny-come-latelys.’ They have been around well over 200 years.

  2. I have to admit that touching of a good “smoke pole” is a lot of fun. I prefer my hawken to the latest models though…anyone else?

  3. interesting article and comments but here is mine.
    Hunting with the modern black powder rifles sabots and scopes is NOT as challenging as shooting the ROUND BALL version ,,,to me that is the traditional way… drop the scopes and revert to round ball. I even enjoy casting my own ammo.
    Have fun it is suppose to be enjoyable.

    1. Hate to burst your bubble, but sabots and scopes for black powder rifles are not new concepts. Sabots came into existence nearly 200 years ago.Telescopic sights have been around nearly as long. Both were used on black powder rifles. Sabots were used during the so-called ‘French & Indian Wars. Scopes began showing up on heavy barreled sniper rifles in the early 1800 s. Remember the French Officer. Capt. Mi’ne (?). He invented the expanding skirt round for the early rifled muskets. This provided longer range, more accurate shots than did the round ball.

  4. If you want a challenge, step up to a flintlock rifle. No rushing to get your shot off. I have built several flinters and have taken deer with them. Get close and make your shot count.

  5. “most of us don’t have the time to master traditional blackpowder loading”

    Then “most of you” should be doing something else!
    The “blackpowder season” was originally designed to be a “traditional” season … not what it has become.

    Our ancestors would NOT be proud

    1. LameBear, ‘traditional’, means different things to different people. Along side the ‘traditional’ muzzle loader, as far back as the 1500’s, people were developing breech loaders, as well as multiple shot capable weapons. Before the match lock was barely out of it’s infancy, people we looking for better ignition systems. Too, loading from the muzzle was slow and clumsy. People were looking for a faster way to load/reload, breech loaders. So, while I prefer muzzle loading flint locks, I have no complaint with those that wish to up-date to percussion , disc, or what ever, even breech loaders. Too, remember, it wasn’t too long after breech loaders were perfected that someone developed the paper cartridge.

    2. I agree with you LameBear, there is a reason most states don’t allow crossbows with a scope on them in archery season. Black Powder with a scope is fine, but hunt with it in regular rifle season. Our ancestors would NOT be proud. Nothing traditional about most of the modern day black powder rifles. And yes , anyone would upgrade when their livelihood depended upon it. That’s not the case here.

    3. I agree, LameBear; I have shot ‘traditional muzzleloaders longer than I’ve shot modern firearms. These new modern muzzleloaders are NOT traditional, nor are they primitive. I’ll take a good flintlock any day and I will continue to track and hunt; not ambush shoot.

  6. Love the challange of bp. The better the gear the bettter the result. Work up loads like a handloader. Repeat, repeat repeat. The more you know about your smokepole, the better marksman is the result.

  7. While front loaders are fun, breech loaders were available 200 yrs. ago. The Furgeson Rifle come to mind. Some states do prohibit breech loaders during black powder season, though. Some only allow b.p. hunting with smooth-bore. I have hunted with b.p. and thoroughly enjoyed it. Stalking is great fun, getting within a few yards of your target. Even lived in a state that allowed b.p. hunting with a b.p. revolver as long as it was .44 cal. with a 6 in. barrel.

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