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Avoid Muzzleloader Gremlins

By Tom Fegely

Avoid Muzzleloader Gremlins

It doesn’t take much to spoil a muzzleloader hunt.

On one of my first flintlock outings more than 30 years ago, I wasted a valuable part of an afternoon following the clean miss of a doe I encountered on my way to a backwoods treestand. After firing, then verifying that my rushed shot had missed its mark, I attached a cleaning jag to the wooden ramrod and ran a moistened patch down the .50 caliber barrel prior to reloading. After a few strokes to swab the fouled bore, I pulled the ramrod back out. But the cleaning patch didn’t come with it like it always did on the practice range. When I checked my possibles bag, I couldn’t find anything to help retrieve the errant patch. I was unable to load up to resume my hunt without first returning to my car about a half-mile along the ridgetop.

That was just one of the front-loader foul-ups that had the potential for spoiling a hunt over the years. I call them muzzleloader gremlins.

Pull a Patch

Avoid Muzzleloader Gremlins
Run a patch down the bore and snap a cap or two to assure the flash channel is open.

The experience described above occurred in the rookie period of my blackpowder days. I soon discovered that a $3 device known as a patch-puller, or worm, would have quickly solved my dilemma. It consists of pair of firm, curved wires that can be threaded onto the end of the ramrod and dropped down the bore to snag and retrieve the errant patch. The need for a worm to fish out an errant patch is just one of the lessons to be learned the hard way. I never leave home without it.

Removable Breech Plug

The removable breech plug is another welcome device for accessing the bore. Most traditional flintlocks and caplocks have fixed plugs; inline rifles are sold with removable, threaded plugs that screw into the breech. Should a patch come off or a load fail to fire, the threaded plug can be removed and the problem is solved. With the breech plug out, the barrel can be accessed and cleaned from both ends.

Frozen Breech Plugs

An inline muzzleloader manufacturer once told me that more barrels are returned to the factory for service because of frozen breech plugs than for any other reason. After several shots, the fine, burnt powder slowly creeps into the threads, forced there by the heat and high pressure generated by detonation of each powder charge. Hunters who clean their guns following a day’s hunt or target practice typically remove and clean the breech plug on a regular basis. A plug that isn’t cleaned and lubricated properly will often become frozen in the barrel.

Snap a Cap

Although your powder might be dry, a moisture-related gremlin is often the source of misfires or hangfires. Even though a rifle might have been cleaned prior to storage, protective lubricants often cling to the bottom of the barrel. Before loading your caplock or primer-ignited rifle, run a moist patch through the muzzle. Then, place a clean patch over the jag and run it to the breech. With a ramrod in the barrel, fit a cap or primer on the nipple, point the rifle downward and squeeze the trigger. Change the fouled patch and repeat. This assures that any excess lubricants left in the internal nipple area will burn off and be absorbed by the cotton patch.

The same can be done without using a patch and ramrod. Simply hold the muzzle next to a leaf and snap the cap. The leaf should obviously shiver as the force of the igniting cap strikes it. If it doesn’t, it means the nipple or breech plug is blocked and a more thorough cleaning is required. Taking a few minutes to snap a few caps or primers prior to loading a gun will go a long way to avoiding those misfires and hangfires we’ve all cursed.

Stone Cold

Inline muzzleloader guru Tony Knight chuckles when he looks back on a 20-below-zero-Fahrenheit morning when my wife and I accompanied him on an Iowa hunt. Late in the day, Knight fired at a buck but missed cleanly. Before following up to make certain of his shot, however, he needed to quickly reload. Fishing around his pants pocket for another bullet, he short-started it down the barrel.

“That’s just where it stayed, too,” Knight chuckled a while later. “That warm bullet (which remained in the warm truck during a noontime break) froze tight to the cold barrel. It was like licking a frozen pump handle when I was a kid.”

Since that afternoon, Knight carries his bullets in an outside pocket or in his possibles bag so they maintain about the same temperature as the cold barrel.

Keep Out

Also on frigid days, don’t bring your gun indoors unless it is in dire need of cleaning. Store it overnight in a vehicle, garage, closed porch or anywhere it is protected and about the same temperature as outdoors. Bringing a cold-barreled muzzleloader into a warm environment will result in internal and external condensation, the latter potentially resulting in misfiring the next day.

I’ll Clean It Tomorrow

By their nature, blackpowder and Pyrodex both have potential for causing damage to any metal part of a rifle, from the bore and vent to the nipple and underside of a scope. However, it’s the corrosive residue left behind after firing that has ruined more than one barrel or lock, and not the powder. The water-loving black residues, like tiny sponges, soak up moisture from the air and create pitting and rust in short order — permanent damage that can ruin a barrel or lock.After a long day afield, “I’ll clean it tomorrow” always sounds like a great idea.

After a long day afield, “I’ll clean it tomorrow” always sounds like a great idea.

Subscribe Today!Then, a week or two later, you spot your gun case in the closet and recall that you’d forgotten to take care of the vital clean-up. There is a way to prevent damage while procrastinating. Simply spray the barrel and external parts generously with a water-displacing oil and run a soaked patch down the barrel to make sure everything’s covered. The gun will still be dirty and in need of a serious bath, but it can remain unattended for a few days and not cause damage.

Spray all exposed parts subject to fouling, including the lock, breech and anything else in the immediate ignition area that become blackened upon firing. Unburned, dry powder in a loaded gun will not cause a problem, however.

-- Reprinted from the August 2007 issue of Buckmasters Magazine

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