Every year, thousands of hunters purchase their first muzzleloading guns. Some of these folks have used blackpowder guns in the past by borrowing them from friends. The vast majority, however, have no actual experience with “front-stuffers.” Assuming you might be one of these thousands, or know someone who is, here are few invaluable tips for finding your first.
Assuming the answer to the title question is “yes,” we should really start by discussing what muzzleloading gun you should purchase. For the sake of this article, we are going to assume we are talking about muzzleloading rifles used mostly for deer hunting, a topic in which I have extensive experience.
I have taken over five-dozen white-tailed and mule deer with muzzleloaders, and have shot and hunted with smokepoles from many different manufacturers. In fact, my first muzzleloader was a .50-caliber Hawken I built from a kit. I have never been so proud in the deer woods as the day I shot my first deer with a gun I had finished and assembled myself.
In my decades of testing black-powder rifles, however, I have fallen in love with only one. Thompson/Center’s Encore .50-caliber is my personal choice to accompany me into the deer woods. There are many different versions of this gun, but the Pro Hunter is my favorite. It shoots great, cleans easily and is as dependable as any centerfire rifle. I have never had a misfire from any of my Encores. While I feel the overall design of the Pro Hunter is second-to-none, the T/C Omega would be my runner up.
Regardless of the gun you choose, I recommend using No. 209 shotshell primers for your ignition choice. Some inline muzzleloaders still use percussion caps, but these can be temperamental in hunting scenarios. I have had percussion caps fail me in bad weather conditions; not so with No. 209 primers, though I do suggest you replace your primers each season.
There are several good propellants from which to choose. For many years I shot loose powder and did pretty well with it. The convenience of powder pellets, however, cannot be beat. Again, after years of testing, I discovered Pyrodex to be the best. I shoot the .50-50 pellets, which means each pellet is equivalent to 50 grains of loose powder and fits into a .50-caliber barrel.
Of course, my experience is a good starting point, but you will still need to practice enough to find out what load matches the bullet you choose to shoot. Although many muzzleloader experts maintain that two pellets are more than enough for deer hunting, I disagree. I shoot three Pyrodex pellets for higher velocity, and a flatter-shooting, harder-hitting shot.
Since we just mentioned bullets, you will need to find out which projectile best meets your specific needs. I shoot Hornady’s unique 250-grain .50-caliber FlexTip (FTX) bullet. This bullet comes in a sabot sleeve designed for rapid loading, termed the SST-ML Lock-N-Load Speed Sabot. A pretty slick system, the sabot actually has a tail that allows you to slide your Pyrodex pellets onto it for a really fast reload. It’s a great way to go, regardless of your gun.
Now that we’ve built your new muzzleloader program, let’s take a quick look at some tips to save you time and aggravation. The first best piece of advice is simple, but of utmost importance: Put the powder in first! Nothing will slow down a trip to the range or a hunt quicker than dropping the bullet before the powder. There is just no easy way to get the bullet out, but the Hornady Lock-N-Load system will help you prevent this unfortunate accident.
Next—and just as crucial—is cleaning your muzzleloader. Be sure to have all the right components and clean your gun early and often. There is no such thing as “too clean” for any gun, but this is even more critical with a muzzleloader. Also be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when it comes to seasoning your barrel.
It may sound complicated, but developing your own program is really a blast, and you’ll find it a great way to extend your season. Further, you may end up using your muzzleloader for predators, and even turkeys, with a smoothbore shotgun barrel. Happy hunting!