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Today is October the 19th, and at least in my area, tomorrow is the muzzleloading opener. I would like to take a minute to discuss hunting and the 21st century renaissance man. In this day and age, hunting for your own meat can be much more expensive than buying it at the grocery store. It can also be cheaper, if you discount your time, and if you really love doing something, it's pretty easy to discount your time.
In my opinion, there is nothing more relaxing than spending a day in the woods trying to outsmart the whitetail deer. You would be hard pressed to find a more organic free range food. Hunting truly is the world's oldest profession. Man has hunted since the beginning of time, and will probably hunt until the end of time.
Today I wanted to talk about getting started hunting with a muzzleloader. First things first, muzzleloaders are often called black powder rifles. A muzzleloader is a type of rifle that you load through the front of the barrel (called the muzzle). There are two main categories of muzzleloaders, in-line and flintlock. In-line muzzleloaders are what you will most often find for sale at Wal-Mart, Gander Mountain, or Academy Sports. Flintlocks are akin to what was used during the American Revolutionary war. The modern in-lines are much better guns, they fire better under damp conditions, they are more accurate, and they are much easier to clean and use. I don't have any experience with flintlocks so I will have to discuss them at a later date when I can afford the time and money to experiment with them.
Using a muzzleloader consists of items, a primer (the part that makes the gun fire), powder (the part that makes the bullet fly), and a bullet (the part that actually leaves the muzzle of the gun). Read on to find out more about these items.
When you buy an in-line muzzleloader, you have to decide whether you want percussion caps, or 409 primers. I can't really tell the difference between the two, but I find 409 primers are a little easier to use. The important thing to do is remember which kind you need.
The other thing you will have to decide is whether you want to use powder or pellets. Powder is exactly like it sounds, it is loose particles of loose gun powder. To use this in your muzzleloader, you would just pour an appropriate amount down the barrel, and seat a bullet on top. I'm not a fan of this type of powder, it's messy, and you really need a good powder measure to make sure you have the same amount of grains everytime. Gunpowder is measured in grains. Most people typically you between 90 and 150 grains of gunpowder. I find 100 grains to be about perfect for my muzzleloader.
You can also buy powder in pellets. Pellets are made out of powder that comes in a rounded pellet form (makes sense right). They are typically found in 50 grains pellets. For the novice muzzleloader, this makes the most sense to use. These are what I use. They make the most sense to me. Just grab two pellets and shove them down the barrel of your gun. Simple quick and easy.
The last thing you need is a bullet. I recommend buying a kit that has bullets and sabots together. A sabot is just a piece of plastic that a bullet goes into, this helps to keep the bullet seated properly in the barrel. It also helps with accuracy. It ensures that when the powder ignites, all of the gases are trapped against the bottom of the bullet and will push it evenly through the barrel. Bullets come in .45 or .50 caliber. Again, most modern in-line muzzleloaders you find a big name store today will be in .50 caliber. This is a great bullet that can be accurate out to about 150 yards for almost any big game in North America.
Bullets, Sabot, and Saboted Bullet
10 Commandments of Firearm Safety
Once you have bought you're muzzleloader, you need to head to the local shooting range and shoot. You can get good accuracy with a muzzleloader, but since every component is purchased separately, you may need to experiment to get the best combination of powder, bullets, and even primers. Once you have a good load you like, right down the combination and keep it stored wheere you won't forget it. Nothing worse than missing a shot at a deer, because you couldn't remember what brand of sabots you bought last year.
As usual if you have any questions, feel free to contact me, and I will do my best to find the answer.