Powder, patch, and ball

Civil War muskets aligned in a gunsmith

I was going to talk about the IDPA World Shoot today, but a post from CTD Mike caught my eye and demanded my immediate attention.

Mike’s talking about traditional muzzleloading vs. modern muzzleloaders, which is actually a subject that I have very strong feelings about.

I’m not what anyone would call a serious hunter, but the very first rounds I fired in any sort of competition were from a black powder rifle, specifically a Hawken pattern rifle in .54 caliber.

I used to attend primitive rendezvous in California as a teenager, where I learned the mantra of “powder, patch, ball” to load my rifle – I learned to throw a tomahawk and a knife, and why keeping your powder dry is important.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m a bit of a purist about muzzleloader hunting – sure, you can buy modern muzzleloaders with scopes and optics and pointy bullets that shoot flatter and hit harder, but to me, I don’t see the point.

If I wanted to whack a deer through a scope at 200 yards, I’d use a .243 Winchester.

And the thing is, I can’t convince you on the internet why traditional muzzleloaders are better than modern ones, because it’s something you have to experience; the gentle shove of recoil, the smoke and sulfur, and the satisfaction that comes from knowing you’ve mastered a skill that our ancestors used to survive on the Great Plains.

But in my best effort to do that, here’s how to assemble a “muzzleloader starter kit”, from guns to ammo and other gear.

Start here, with a rifle.

This Lyman .54 Caliber Trade Rifle comes in at a reasonable price tag of $360; sure it doesn’t have double set triggers or adjustable sights, just old fashioned fixed sights and a single trigger.

That means you’re going to have to be able to shoot well to utilize this thing in the field, and can’t rely on technology to help you shoot.

Now, you’re going to need to be able to load the rifle, so there are some tools that you’ll need, such as a bullet starter and a good ramrod.

The essential shooting needs though are powder, patches, and balls.

For black powder, the standard is Goex, and for a .54 caliber muzzleloader you’re going to want to use the FFg granulation of powder.

The rule of thumb that I was taught was to start with a 54 grain powder charge, and work your way up from there.

Back in the day, my general “target shooting” load was 75 grains of FFg, which delivered solid accuracy out to 100 yards with a patched roundball.

Speaking of which, you’re going to need patches.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re sitting there thinking “patches? We don’t need no stinkin’ patches” but the truth is you do.

Just buy a bunch of the pre-lubricated patches and be done with it.

You’ll also need bullets, or more properly roundballs.

My favorite brand for projectiles has always been Hornady, they were always consistent and accurate.

As far as cleaning gear goes, the best way to clean a traditional black powder muzzleloader is with dish soap, warm water, and elbow grease.

There are a lot of fancy “cleaners” on the market, but I challenge you to look at the active ingredients in those, and the active ingredients in dish soap.

The world of traditional muzzleloading isn’t easy, it requires patience, careful attention to your weapon, and the heart of a tinkerer, but if all that sounds like fun, then to me it’s more fun than machine guns.

There is something about connecting to our American heritage in it, a sense of history and purpose that makes the experience more than worth it.

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