(Blue Elk , has helped many fellow hunters. He published articles and tested muzzleloaders for many of the major manufacturers. He passed away 2 years ago, I believe of cancer. The following may be a long read, but it is a wealth of information concerning muzzleloaders.)
Written by Rich Dunkirk (Bluelk)
As I posted earlier here is the beginning of the Chapters on Muzzleloading. I hope I don't bore you.
Chapter 1: Getting Started
One of the things that I have noticed about the discussions I have read so far on this board concern the use of Pyrodex pellets vs. loose powder; accuracy problems; good quality rifles vs. bad quality; what is the best gun etc.. I think a lot of you are missing several major points about muzzleloaders and muzzleloader hunting. Let's go through these 1 by 1 and discuss them.
#1. Anytime that you purchase a muzzleloader (ML) and are trying to get it to fire accurately, the only thing that you should be worried about when it comes to a powder is synthetic or real blackpowder (BP); not whether pellets are better than loose. The reason for this is that as little as 5 grains of powder can make a difference in how accurately you deliver the bullet to the target. You should work up a load that can consistently deliver the bullet to a 6" target under whatever potential conditions you might find while hunting. First decide on which bullet you are going to use. Due to state laws you may be restricted to patched roundballs; or you may be able to shoot conicals or saboted pistol bullets. When you select the bullet make sure you are selecting a bullet that the manufacturer consistently makes exactly the same all the time. There are an awful lot of bullets out there that are as inconsistent, from box to box, as anything you can imagine. On a regular basis I see as much as .004 to .005 difference in the outside diameter of the same brand of bullets from the same manufacturer! The best round ball ammo that I have found comes from Hornady. The best conicals I have found are from Precision, Black Belt, and Power Belt. The best sabots I have found are from MMP, who by the way, manufacture sabots under private label for many companies. Most of the pistol bullets that we use in the sabots are of pretty good quality. When you select a sabot bullet consider hom much mushrooming the bullet is going to do. If your kill zone shot is consistently into bone you might not want a bullet that mushrooms a lot. You want that bullet to shatter the bone on impact, not mushroom a huge amount. Remember that when a bullet mushrooms it is loosing velocity and penetration potential.
Now that you have selected the bullet that you want to use, it is time to select your propellant (powder). There are advantages to both synthetics and BP. The synthetics on the market right now today tend to be susceptable to moisture (with the exception of one), but also do not create as much residue (fouling), so are easier to clean. BP burns hotter, produces more muzzle velocity, grain for grain, when compared to synthetics, but does produce more fouling. It is also slightly more corrosive than synthetics. Decide which LOOSE powder you want to use. Run a patch or 2 down the barrel and make sure that you have all the moisture and/or oil out. With either a .45, .50, or .54 I recommend that you load your first 3 bullets with 75 grains of powder, set your target at the 25 yard line, use a 6" bullseye target, and load your weapon. Don't forget; powder first, then bullet!! This may sound silly, but more than once I have seen it done just the opposite. Select a firing position, either standing, sitting, kneeling, or prone. I would suggest that you select the position that you think you will be using when you hunt. This will probably be the standing or sitting position. Bring the rifle up to your shoulder and fit it in securely. Take a deep breath and let it out. Bring your rifle muzzle up so that you align your sights on the bullseye. Take another breath and let it half out. Slowly, while contacting the trigger with only the pad of first joint of your trigger finger, SQUEEZE the trigger. Do the absolute best that you can possibly do to hold the sights dead onto the bullseye. When the gun fires if you know in your "heart of hearts" that you did not buck, jerk, flinch, or wander off of the bullseye then lay your rifle down and observe where the strike of the bullet is in regards to the bullseye. If you feel that you could have bucked, jerked, flinched, or wandered off target then totally disregard where the bullet went; but if you know you did the best job holding your sight picture then consider that 1st shot as exactly where you aimed. Clean your rifle with a wet patch, and then dry it with another patch. Notice, that I did not say a wet solvent patch: just a wet patch! Repeat the same procedure as with the 1st shot until you have shot 3 rounds that you know you could not have done a better job of holding your sight picture. If you have any shots that you feel you could have done better with TOTALLY DISREGARD those shots. You may have to go through 5 or 6 shots before you know for sure that you have done your best on 3 rounds. If you have done this you should have 3 holes in a fairly consistent pattern on the target. If they are not in the bullseye, which is very likely, don't be concerned, AND DON'T CHANGE YOUR SIGHTS! You are not trying to hit the bullseye right now. All that you are trying to determine is whether the rifle shoots straight. Believe me, there are many rifles out there that don't. We will get into Chapter 2 on a later post. Thanks.
Chapter 2: Zeroing your rifle
Ok, now you have 3 holes in the target and all of them are in approximately the same area. Clean your rifle again, and make sure it is dry. Select 3 more bullets, but this time increase your powder charge by 5 grains. You should have 80 grains. Go through the same routine of holding a good sight picture, clean between each shot, and disregard any "flyers", or shots that go astray. You may, or may not, see this group of shots in a different location than the 1st group of 3 good shots that you made. Keep working up in 5 grain increments until you have a 3 shot group as close to the bullseye as possible without moving your sights. If you are shooting real heavy bullets you may want to start out at 90 grains of powder instead of 75.
If you are shooting through a chronograph you will want to record your bullet speeds for each 5 grain increase. If you see your bullet speed drop off then I would go BACK to my previous load. Don't forget that what you are trying to achieve is the fastest most accurate powder/bullet combination.
Now it becomes decision time. This is where you have to be absolutely honest with yourself. If you are counting holes that are in the target that were the absolute best that you could do, then you have to make a decision. That decision is this: if the holes are not in the bullseye then you have to decide how you want to put them there. There are 2 methods: 1 is to increase your powder load by another 5 grains, or move your sights. If you have been totally honest with yourself I would first try another 5 grains of powder, particularly if with your last increase of 5 grains your bullet strikes got closer to the bullseye. If they got further away from the bullseye I would move my sights. Don't forget: MOVE THE REAR SIGHT THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION FROM WHERE YOU WANT THE BULLET TO HIT. IF YOU wanT TO MOVE THE STRIKE OF THE BULLET TO THE RIGHT, MOVE YOUR REAR SIGHT TO THE LEFT. DO JUST THE OPPOSITE IF YOU WANT TO MOVE THE STRIKE OF THE BULLET TO THE LEFT. Now it is time to experiment. Take 3 more bullets and go through the same routine. Clean after every shot; hold your sight picture as tight as possible; and disregard the "flyers".
Now, how much do you move your sights? Look at the instruction booklet that came with your rifle, or scope, and it will tell you how much each mark, or click, moves the strike of the bullet at what distance. If 1 click, or mark, moves the bullet 1" at 100 yards, then you should factor that in for the distance that you are shooting. Make sure you understand the formula before you move the sights and then act accordingly. It is only through this tedious, time consuming, trial and error method that you will consistently place your bullets in a 6" circle at 100 yards. If you can get them closer, then by all means absolutely do so. If I can't get 3 rounds in a 3" circle at 100 yards something is wrong.
Now this is what makes ML fun. Factors that can influence how your powder and bullet perform are not limited to you and your ability. The ambient temperature is a factor (bullets move around more when it is hot), heat of your barrel (don't get it too hot. That is why I said to lay your rifle down and clean it between shots), and obviously wind is a big factor. Don't try to zero in a rifle on a real windy day unless that is the norm for your area. Try to zero in early in the morning, or early evening. The winds tends to not blow as hard at these times.
THE ONLY THING YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH DURING THIS ZEROING IN PROCESS IS TO GET THE GUN TO SHOOT WHERE YOU POINT IT! This is the only way you are going to get confidence in your weapon, and yourself, and know just exactly what factors influence the strike of the bullet. As much as humanly possible you want to eliminate all of the variables except for the human ones. One thing to keep in mind is this: EVERY MUZZLELOADER MADE SHOOTS DIFFERENTLY THAN EVERY OTHER ONE. You can take 2 identical guns, same barrel, same stock, same sights, same bullet, same amount and type of powder, same weather conditions AND THEY WILL SHOOT DIFFERENTLY. No two (2) muzzleloaders are alike. "DO NOT TAKE YOUR BUDDIES SETTINGS AND MAKE THEM YOURS." Sight in YOUR rifle. The one thing that most folks forget is that even though the rifles and conditions might be the same, there is 1 huge difference, and that is the fact that there are 2 different people standing behind 2 different rifles! No two (2) people have the same eyesight factors, nerve factors, or physical build. These are all factors that enter into what powder to use, what bullet to use, and what kind of sight to use. What works for 1 rifle probably will not work for another one. It might be close, but this ain't horseshoes. You don't wear your buddies underwear, at least I don't think you do, so don't use his settings for your rifle!
Chapter 3: Working up your hunting load
-OK, now you should have 6 holes in your target that represent the very best that you could do. If not, keep working on it, and do yourself a favor and don't stop until you have a good tight group of 3 shots. Lay your rifle down and go out to the target. Paste up all of your holes. I personally don't like to use bright colored pasties because they tend to draw my eye. I use natural colored ones, or masking tape. Move your target out to 100 yards. Clean your rifle and dry the barrel with several patches. What we are going to do now is fine tune your setup.
You are going to work up a load for the species that you are going to hunt. A heavy load for elk, a lighter load for whitetail/blacktail, a load for black bear, and a load for grizzly/brown bear.
One thing to remember: there is no substitute for accurate shot placement. You can have the biggest bullet, 200 grains of powder, but with lousy shot placement all you are going to do is wound the animal and make it suffer. So what we are doing right now is making that gun shoot where you point it.
The very best piece of equipment that you can use during the process of sighting in, and working up a load, is a chronograph. A chrony is an electronic device that you set about 1-1/2 to 2 feet in front of the muzzle of your rifle while you are sighting in. It measures the speed of the bullet while the bullet travels through the "traps" of the chrony. It does not technically measure the muzzle velocity because muzzle velocity is measured directly at the muzzle. Because of the gap between the muzzle and the chrony what you are technically measuring is the speed of the bullet.
Let's talk about velocity for a minute. Most centerfire (CF) rifles shoot their bullets in the range of 2800-3500 feet per second (fps), while the fastest that I have ever seen a muzzleloader (ML) bullet travel is about 2400 fps. Normally, though, a ML bullet is traveling in the range of 1500-1800 fps. Because a CF bullet travels so fast it creates an aerodynamic shock wave immediately in front of the bullet. As the bullet just begins to penetrate the skin of the animal the shockwave is the first thing that enters the animal. The shockwave produces tremendous trauma to tissue and that coupled with the mass and velocity of the bullet is what does all the damage. On the other hand, a ML bullet, because it is traveling at a much slower speed does not have the shock wave. As it penetrates the hide it very rapidly accumulates tissue and pushes that forward into the animal. There is an exponential increase in the amount of tissue accumulated the further it travels through the animal. This is called the "wound channel". The accumulation of tissue combined with the "shrapneling" effect of any bone that is hit is what does all the damage. The weight and mass of the ML bullet are a critical part of how large the wound channel is. The largest wound channels I have ever seen have been produced by Black Belt, Power Belt, and Precision bullets. I have seen them regularly produce wound channels in excess of 8" across! Saboted pistol rounds produce a good wound channel, but in my experience it is not as large as that produced by a solid lead conical. Research done by by 2 of the "card carrying" experts on ML bullets and their effects, Al Marion and Alan Shenogle, indicate the tremendous effects of these solid lead bullets. All of this technology is for naught, though, if you do not produce the wound channel in the kill zone. Don't forget: the kill zone on a deer is 6" at 100 yards, and for an elk is 12" at 100 yards. To emphasize what I am saying cut out both a 6" and a 12" circle of cardboard, paint it a bright color, and take it 100 yards away and take a look at it. That is your kill zone!
What you now have to do is put together a load that moves your bullet at the fastest speed possible and still be in the bullseye, or wherever you are aiming at i.e., 1" above the bullseye etc. This is why you have been adjusting your powder charge in order to move your bullet as close to the bullseye as possible before moving your sights. Once you have achieved the fastest speed possible with the bullet/powder charge combination you can now move your sights to bring yourself dead on. You should not have to move your sights very much, if at all. Chapter 4 later.
Chapter 4: Why I don’t like Pyrodex Pellets
One of the really great things about muzzleloader (ML) hunting, that I like, is that I can custom tailor a load that exactly fits my situation and rifle. Unlike in centerfire (CF), where some pencilneck is sitting at a desk and making the decision as to what weight of bullet, what configuration of bullet, what kind of powder, what amount of powder, and what type of bullet is best for me in my situation when he knows nothing of my situation. With ML I can choose every ingredient that makes my situation work. All that bullet manufacturers in CF do is reach a compromise. What we do in muzzleloading is tailor each component to our individual situation and firearm. I want to be able to know in my mind that I have put together a combination that is going to give me the results that I want, and if I don't get those results I want it to be as a result of something I did, not something that some obscure individual sitting somewhere at his desk has done. That is why, so far in this converstion, I have said to decide what bullet you want to use, and what powder you want to use, and then adapt both to YOUR situation. Let's talk about powder. I know what I am going to say is maybe not going to sit right with some of you, but let's let the chips fall where they may. My purpose, as moderator, is not only to help solve problems, but in some way help make more folks better hunters. This means respecting and treating the resource (animals) with respect and not make them suffer anymore than absolutely necessary. By swiftly and effectively downing an animal with as accurate a shot as possible we have fulfilled that objective. Being a moderator also means that you explore all possibilities, and listen to input from everybody. A moderator is more like a marriage counselor, than a preacher.
I have never seen a ML or CF rifle where the trajector of the bullet was not greatly affected by 30 or 50 grains of powder. The amount of powder, and type, have tremendous effect on the path of the bullet, so consequently, on the accuracy of your shot. Let's put it right up front. I DO NOT LIKE THE IDEA OF PELLETS. WHETHER THEY ARE 30 GRAIN, OR 50 GRAIN, AS THE ONLY INCREMENTS OF POWDER THAT ARE AVAILABLE TO ME WHEN I TRY TO SIGHT IN A RIFLE OR PISTOL. If you have been having problems with accuracy, or you want to increase the speed of your bullet, and the only choice that you have is to increase, or decrease, by 30 or 50 grains, you are being seriously mislead. You have now subjegated yourself to the same position as a CF hunter. You have become a slave to the ballistics, and lack of accuracy, that 30 or 50 grain increments of powder provide! You are letting somebody at that obscure desk somewhere tell you that you can get the results you want by adjusting your powder load in those increments. IT ONLY WORKS IN A VERY SMALL NUMBER OF CASES. I hate to say this, but they have made a lot of new hunters feel like they can just throw a couple of pellets down the barrel and they are good to go! What is the biggest reason you use pellets? Usually it is because you are lead to believe that they are easy to load and control. You have forsaken assembling the best load that you can that will treat you and they animal in the best way possible. You have gotten frustrated because you aren't really getting the accuracy that you want or need. All of us are guilty of rationalizing poor shots. When we do this we start using "Kentucky windage" far too much, or start moving our sights all over the place and end up with a worse situation than we started out with. I know as sure as God made little green apples, that some of you are going to come back and say I'm all wet; but if you are honestly getting the accuracy that you want under all circumstances by increasing or decreasing your load in 30 or 50 grain increments then you are the very rare exception to the masses. You could be cheating yourself out of one of the real pleasures involved in ML's. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In only shoot .54's. Why? Because by adjusting my bullet weight, type, and powder charge I can hunt anything from a 1,500 lb. grizzly to a 75 pound javelina. Show me 1 centerfire rifle that can do that. Better still, show me 1 person shooting pellets that can adjust his or her load as finitely. Don't let the ease of pellets override the necessity of taking the time to work up the absolutely best load you can by increasing or decreasing your powder charge in 5 grain increments. If the only option you have, when sighting in, is to increase or decrease your powder charge by 30 or 50 grains then, saidly to say, you are a shooter who is hoping like the devil to hit the kill zone when the gun goes off, rather than being a hunter who know exactly where that bullet is going to hit. If you take the time to work up a load with loose powder, and continue to use it when you hunt, then you don't have to guess where the bullet went when you squeezed the trigger.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you sighted in your rifle with the bullet and powder charge you wanted, and you used loose powder to do so. By some fluke it works out that 100 grains, or 150 grains, or 60 grains, or 80 grains, or 180 grains, or 200 grains, or 130 grains of Pyrodex were just exactly what gave you the tightest 3" group at 100 yards at the fastest bullet speed possible. Then, by all means use the pellets if you can remember to get them down the barrel in the right direction, and in the right combination, when you are moving as fast as possible to get off your second shot without taking your eyes off of the animal! If you start out using pellets and wonder why you can't get that 3" group, I think I have told you what might be part of the problem. My personal experience, and that is all I talking about here, is to put the charge that worked best for me into a quick loader, a hollowed out piece of antler, a piece of plastic tubing, or an old 35mm film container and pour that down the barrel.
To illustrate the subject a little more. The only thing I will ever post on this page is what MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE has been, not someone elses. I have all 7 of my rifles sighted in to where I can get a 3" group, or smaller, at 100 yards. When these pellets came out I wanted to see what the effect would be by changing my loads in 30 or 50 grain increments. I took all 7 guns to the range, and shot pellets through all of them. Every shot was a minimum of 4 inches away from there the gun normally shoots. With one of my percussions the bullets were in the 7 ring! Nuff said. Chapter 5 later on.
Chapter 5: Selecting your rifle
-If you are thinking about getting into muzzleloading (ML) there are quite a few factors that you need to take into consideration:
1. Do you hunt anything bigger than a whitetail or a black bear?
2. How much does the cleaning aspect bother you?
3. How much recoil can you tolerate?
4. How much time are you willing to devote to learning a new shooting sport?
5. How much money can you afford to invest in this new sport?
6. What is the general weather in your area during hunting season?
If you hunt nothing larger than a whitetail or black bear then IN THEORY you need nothing larger than a .50 caliber. I prefer to use a .54 because I can use lighter loads for smaller animals and heavier loads for bigger animals. Every gun on the market can only be loaded with a certain amount of powder before you get into a real dangerous situation, and before the Law of Diminishing Return sets in. So make that decision.
If the cleaning issue is a major factor and you really don't want to have the hassle more than absolutely necessary, then I would shoot loose Pyrodex, or Goex Clear Shot, and buy a stainless steel barrel. The stainless barrels don't rust the way blued ones do, and will tolerate a bad cleaning job better than blued. Inlines are the easiest to clean because you can remove the breech plug. Percussion are the next easiest to clean, and flintlocks are the hardest to clean.
If you have a sensitive shoulder, or some arthritis in your shoulder, then I would stick with a .50 caliber or even entertain a .45 caliber. Also in this respect, look for a gun that has a little weight to it. Heavier guns do not transmit the recoil to your shoulder as much as lighter weight guns do. They are obviously a little harder to carry around all day, but solve the problem by putting a sling on the gun. Also, as you work up a load the recoil will increase. Look for a gun where the receiver group (breech area) is firmly seated low in the stock. Look for a gun that when fired transmits the recoil as much as possilbe in a straight line to the stock. If the stock drops down immediately behind the receiver group then that rifle will transmit more recoil to your shoulder.
Learning how to properly use your muzzleloader will take a definite time commitment on your part. I believe that it is vitally important to learn as much about your gun as you possibly can BEFORE you ever stuff powder and bullet down the barrel. Go to the library and see if they have any books, stay tuned to this website and read the Muzzleloading 101 Chapters that I am posting, talk to someone who is KNOWLEDGEABLE about the sport, but don't get hung up on the technical aspects because there is more MISINFORMATION floating around about muzzleloading than with any other shooting sport!! Subscribe to, or buy on racks, any magazines that you can that talk about basics. This sport is just like any other; you have to get the basics down first, and then constantly go back to those basics if you have a problem. If there are any muzzleloading organizations in your area go to one of their meetings and see if you can pick up any pointers.
Now for the critical stuff. The general rule that I tell everyone is to buy the absolutely best rifle you can afford. In this business, more than in centerfire, you get exactly what you pay for. Low prices, low quality. Low quality, big problems. The main ingredient with any rifle in regards to quality is the barrel. Some rifles have die cut lands and grooves, some have laser cut, and some have forged. I prefer laser cut and forged. Any rifle with a Green Mountain barrel has laser cuts. Remington forges theirs. Die cut lands and grooves have "chatter" marks in the barrel and can sometimes be very difficult to remove and will have a negative affect on accuracy. I am going to do a Chapter on this problem and it will help you solve that problem if you do end up buying a rifle that has the rifling die cut. When you go to the store to buy your rifle take a couple of cotton balls with you. If you have a bore scope or light also take that with you. A small mirror will work if you don't have the scope or light. When you narrow down your choices, before you buy it, take the ramrod and run the cotton balls down the bore. Make sure there is a tight fit. Look in the bore with the scope, light, or shine light down it with the mirror and look for cotton fibers stuck inside the bore. If you find a gun with no fibers stuck in the bore, buy it! It will save you innumerable problems later on. I would buy a gun with a synthetic stock. It solves a lot of problems the least of which is scratching. Don't forget: you are going to have to buy some accessories; caps, flints, powder, patches, bore swabs, bore brushes, solvent, etc. that pull this whole thing together. Plan on spending somewhere around $60.00 on top of the cost of the gun.
If the weather around your place is really moist then I would lean toward an inline. It is much easier to keep your "powder and nipple area" dry with one of them. With normal amounts of rain, snow, and humidity you can get by just fine with a percussion (side hammer, cap and ball, whatever you want to call it). Flintlocks are the most difficult to deal with in a moisture situation, but if you are willing to deal with the problems, or your state laws dictate that you have to use a flintlock then you have no choice.
On the subject of barrel twist. If you are going to shoot patch round balls then a 1:66 twist is what you should use. If you are going to shoot ONLY conicals, and are going to buy a percussion, then a twist in the area of 1:45 to 1:48 will be fine. Most all of the inlines have a barrel twist in the area of 1:24 to 1:32. You can shoot the PowerBelt and BlackBelt bullets, sabots, and conicals in these and get real good results. Remember that all the twist does is produce more or less spin on the projectile. 1:66 produces less spin that a 1:48, and a lot less than a 1:28. You can produce too much spin on a projectile. As an example, even though you can TECHNICALLY get a patched roundball down the bore of a 1:28 rifle you will have very poor accuracy because you have put too much spin on the ball. Round balls are not what is known as being aerodynamically sound.
Chapter 6: Lapping your barrel
In these Chapters we have gotten to the point where you have gotten your rifle to shoot where you point it. What we will now do is modify the barrel so that hopefully your accuracy increases and your bullet will travel faster down the bore. What we are going to do is "lap" the barrel. This is a major undertaking so get the following items rounded up before you start: 2 new brass bore brushes, a hand full of patches (I cut mine from an old t-shirt and wash them when they get dirty), 2 or 3 bore swabs, a small can of automotive valve lapping compound (fine), bore solvent, a few cotton balls, and some teflon based lube. Make sure it is teflon based. Also, a little liquid refreshment for you helps.
If you have a vice take the barrel out of the rifle. If you don't have a vice leave the barrel in the rifle, but get a buddy, wife, or teenager to help hole the rifle. If you have a vice, open it and pad the jaws with about an inch or so of rags to cushion the barrel so that you don't scratch it. Close the vice tight enough to hold the barrel still. If you don't have a vice put a human on the butt end of the rifle and tell them to hold it tight. Put a bore brush on your ramrod, wrap it with a patch or two, and apply a liberal amount of lapping compound all around the perimeter of the brush. What you are going to do is run that brush/patch combination down the barrel and remove any manufacturing burrs or chatter marks from the edges and tops of the lands, and remove any high spots. If you want to see how bad the situation is before you start, put a couple cotton balls on a worm jag and run it through the bore. Make sure they're tight against the bore. Look down the bore and see how many cotton fibers are stuck in there. Even if you don't see any you still want to lap the barrel for reason that will become obvious.
Push the ramrod down the barrel and pull it out. THAT IS 1 STROKE. If you had any amount of cotton fibers stick in the barrel you are going to do 100 strokes. If you did not have ANY stick to the barrel you are going to do 50 strokes. After every 10 or 15 strokes change the patch and apply more lapping compound. After you have completed the required number of strokes clean the barrel THOROUGHLY with a bore brush because you will have lapping compound in the grooves. Put some solvent on a bore swab and clean the barrel with the same number of strokes as you lapped with. Use lots of solvent. After you have cleaned it run another cotton ball down the bore. Do you see any fibers? If you do, repeat the lapping process for another 50 strokes. Clean it again and run another cotton ball down the barrel. If you see any fibers repeat the lapping process for another 25 strokes. Okay, now you should be able to run a cotton ball down the barrel without having any fibers stick, and when you look down the barrel it should be super shiny. Make sure the barrel is as clean as is humanly possible.
A mistake that some people make is to mount their ramrod in a drill motor and spin the ramrod down the barrel. DON'T DO THIS or you will round off the edges of the lands and you will lose your gas check on the bullets. Just let the bore brush/patch combination rotate normally as you run it down the barrel. Change out the bore brush for a BORE SWAB and saturate the swab with the teflon lube. Saturate the swab. If you had the barrel in a vice take it out, and if you did not have a vice remove the barrel from the stock. Lay the barrel horizontally across a bucket or clean garbage can. Heat up a large pan of water almost to the boiling point. Pour the water over the entire length of the barrel and get it hot from end to end. While the barrel is still hot saturate the inside of the barrel with the teflon based lube. As the barrel cools it will suck the lube into the pores of the steel and seal it in. The more lube you use the better. During the cooling process rotate the barrel several times to make sure the teflon based lube isn't pooling up in just one area. LET THE BARREL COOL COMPLETELY. Take a clean bore swab and clean the excess lube out of the barrel after it has cooled. Grab some sunglasses and look down the barrel!
What you have just done is what every professional target shooter does to his rifles. You have increased the speed of your bullet anywhere from 100 to 200 feet per second, and potentially made the rifle more accurate. How have you made it more accurate? Remember one of the basics of ballistics. The explosion of the powder behind the bullet produces gas which pushes the bullet out of the barrel. The more gas you can retain behind the bullet the faster the bullet travels. The faster the bullet travels, in combination with the twist of the barrel, the more accurate you rifle is. All of those chatter marks, burrs, and high spots cut into the obflugated (expanded) base of the bullet, patch, or sabot and allowed gas to escape around the bullet while it was traveling down the barrel. The major reason for the increased speed is that you have also severly reduced the coefficient of friction.
After the barrel has cooled completely, run a patch down the barrel with a light coat of oil, reassemble the rifle and have some liquid refreshment. I have found that barley pop tastes real good right about now. Once a year repeat the teflon based lubrication process; more often that that if you shoot a lot.
I also like to apply some of the teflon based lube to the exterior.
Chapter 7: CAMO and Scent Control
This is a little deviation from the basic "how to" chapters that have been posted so far, but is a integral part of the muzzleloading experience. Particularly for the new folks who are coming over from centerfire hunting. The hunting techniques used by archers are the very same techniques that ML hunters should use, and this chapter addresses some of these.
What I would like to disucss in this Chapter is something that a lot of people do not pay much attention to, and that is "camoing in", and "scent control." It seems like every hunting show on TV talks about a big concern with which directcion the wind is blowng. What I am going to do is put forth a method of scent control that I have used for years, and I never have to worry about where the wind is coming from. Instead of doing all of what we are going to discuss, if you have a couple of hundred bucks laying around and you want to spend it, go out and by some of that Scent Blocker stuff.
Before we start you are going to have to get some things rounded up: 2 pairs of those real cheap vinyl gloves, (or 1 pair of rubber gloves), Scent elimination laundry soap, Scent elimination spray, enough new large trash bags to hold all of your camo, and some metal or plastic clothes hangers. The first thing you are going to do is wash all of your camo gear in the wash machine, but before you do you have to get all of the perfumes out of the machine that have been put in there by your wife's laundry detergent. Fill up the machine with clear hot water and add about 1/2 cup of the scent elimination laundry soap. Let it run the longest cycle that you can, but don't put any clothes in the machine. You are just flushing it out. After it shuts off and drains, load in some camo. Wash the camo with the scent elimination soap. When the load is finished, put on a pair of the vinyl gloves. Take each piece of camo out and hang it on a metal/plastic hanger. Don't use wood because it absorbs odors. Be very careful to not touch any of the camo with your arms or the clothes you are wearing. Hang that machine load outside to dry. Do this for ALL of your camo to include hats, gloves, scarfs, handkerchiefs, jackets, pants, shirts etc. When they are dry take them off the hangers and put them in a new large plastic trash bag. If you have some pine needles, or anything that is going to be in the area where you are going to hunt, put that in the bag(s) along with your camo. Those Earth Scent wafers also seem to work just fine. Don't put anything in the bag that isn't in the area where you are going to hunt, like apples. The animals won't know what the smell is, and may very likely shy away from it. Twist tie the bag real tight and store it someplace where there aren't too many odors. One thing a lot of people don't realize is that plastic breathes, so be kind of careful of where you put the bags. I hang mine in the tack room. When you leave to go hunting don't wear your camo to your site. Change clothes when you get there. Remember, you now have scent free clothes with maybe a little pine scent. Don't forget that the inside of your vehicle has odors that can transfer to your clothes. Everything that man uses is disgusting to animals such as deer, and particularly elk because they have a better nose. Tobacco, chew, snuff, breath mints, coffee, gasoline, diesel fuel, vehicle exhaust, and MOST OF ALL campfire smoke. If you think that you might have gotten some human odors on your camo lightly spray a little of the scent elimination stuff on you. Particularly around the crotch area and under your arms.
One of the things that I do religiously is to wash all of the socks and underwear that I am going to wear in the scent elimination soap. You might as well stop the odor at the source. I also use scent free deodorant, body soap, and shampoo. I wash up, take off my camo, and put on street clothes every time I come back to camp. I never have a campfire until I've got meat hangin'. By the way, I wash up just before I put my cammies back on so that I get rid of camp smells like bacon, sausage etc.. A lot of the archery hunters I know quit eating meat about a month or so before archery season. It is a fact that meat is the largest contributor to body odor.
Don't forget your gloves and face net.
Now on a subject near and dear to all of us, and that is camo. I hunt deer, elk, javelina, and antelope with the same amount of camo that I use when I am turkey hunting. Mix and match your camo. Try to wear a dark pattern for your trousers and a tree/leaf pattern for your shirt or jacket. I like to use TimberGhost and that new camo out of Montana called PrairieGhost. Take a look at the patterns and colors in nature. It is a hodge-podge of colors and patterns. Try to emulate that same thing. It is not necessary to duplicate every tree and bush that you see, but to blend in. Human skin shines. Nothing in nature shines except the surface of water. If you have shiny furniture on your rifle use something to make it dull. Make darn sure that the sun doesn't flash off of it. There is a product put out by Birchwood Casey called "Brass Black" that is absolutely super. Some of you old military guys will remember it is "M-nu."
If you think that scent control the way I described it is "voodoo," I have a picture of a buddy of mine who practices scent control the same way I do sitting on a stump with a herd of 11 cow elk totally surrounding him. Several of them are within arms length, and they don't even know he was there!!
I know that it sounds like a royal pain in the backside, but the advantages far outweight the disadvantages, particularly when you are setting in camp and looking at the deer or elk hanging in the tree. SCENT CONTROL WORKS. Give it a try and you will never have to worry about wind direction again.
Another thing to not overlook is ultraviolet. Deer and elk can perceive ultraviolet much much better than we can, and you get ultraviolet in your camo from the dyes that the manufacturers use in order to make the colors look more vibrant. You also ge it from your wife's regular laundry detergents. Buy some ultra violet elimination spray. It is in the same place as the scent elimination soap and spray in the sporting good store. I spray it on my clothes before I pack them into the trash bags. Be sure it is dry before you pack your clothes away.
Chapter 8: Sabots
-From reading all of the posts on this site, and from questions that I get at seminars all the time, thre is a lot of confusion about what sabot/bullet combination is best in what rifle, and in what specific situation. Let's try to take some of the mystery out of this. Several steps have to be taken, by you, to determine the answer, but below I will give you the things that you have to do to arrive at the answer.
#1: As you have read in some of my other posts, before you decide which is best for you, the first thing that you must do is determine exactly what the inside diameter of your barrel is. Just because the manufacturer says that your rifle is a .45, .50, .54, or .58 DOES NOT MEAN A THING. Get 4 people together with their rifles, make sure all the rifles are by the same manufacturer, make sure they are all the same advertised caliber, measure the inside diameter, and I will guarantee you that you will have 4 different inside diameters! This is exactly the reason why I insist that you not use the combination that somebody else tells you will work, unless his/her rifle has exactly the same inside bore diameter as your rifle,. If you don't have a small inside caliper go to either a machine shop or gunsmith and have the bore measured. You want two measurements: the diameter between the top of the lands (called bore diameter), and the diameter between the bottom of the grooves (called groove diameter). Both will be expressed as a decimal.
#2: Once you have the the two dimensions you are ready to choose your sabot/bullet combination. The measurement that you are going to work with is the "groove diameter." For the sake of argument let's say your groove diameter is .455; then the sabot/bullet combination, once put together, cannot have a total outside diameter of more than .455! Also, take this into account: when you load your first round the barrel is clean, but when you load the second round the barrel is fouled. If you are using a sabot/bullet combination that measures exactly .455 in diameter and you are loading your second shot, you are going to have to darn near get a hammer and pound it down the bore! I always make sure that my sabot/bullet combination is at least.001 LESS than my actual groove diameter so that the 2nd shot is easier to load. If you notice, I did not say EASY, I said EASIER.
#3: To get the accurate outside diameter of your sabot/bullet combination insert the bullet in the sabot. You will notice that the bullet does not go all the way to the bottom of the sabot. Below the bullet there is about 3/16 of an inch of plastic that has a small cup in the bottom of it. This is called the gas check. When the powder ignites, the heat and pressure of the explosion causes the walls of this "cup" to obfugate (expand) and seal against the inside walls of your bore and against the bottom of the grooves. When you measure your sabot/bullet combination DO NOT measure the solid plastic at the bottom of the sabot. Measure the outside diameter where the bottom of the bullet stops in the sabot with the bullet inserted. This is your maximum width (diameter). If your bullet causes the sabot "ears" to expand then your bullet is too large for the sabot. You either have to get a bullet with a smaller diameter, or a sabot with a larger diameter. Whichever you have to do, the combination cannot exceed the groove diameter of your rifle - MINUS .001 inches!
#4: Go over to the website: www.mmpsabots.com and pay real close attention to the sabot/bullet combinations that they have posted there. They show you all of the sabot/bullet combinations, AND WHICH COLOR SABOT AND BULLET DIAMETER TO USE. Color of the sabot is very important. Don't try to mix and match or you will have loading problems other than those that are inherant with a sabot.
#5: In my humble opinion you can save yourself a lot of hassles if you don't shoot sabots, but switch over to the CVA PowerBelt or BlackBelt bullets. I field tested these several years ago, fell in love with theM, and haven't shot a sabot since. The biggest reason I converted over was because the belted bullets are so much easier to load on that second shot. Now with the introduction of Goex Clear Shot they are even easier to load.
#6: In my opinion the best sabots on the market are made by those at MMP. The last time I checked they were $7.25 for a bag of 50. A really nice guy by the name of Del Ramsey is the owner, and he is more than glad to help you with any sizing problems that you might have as long as you buy some sabots. Tell him that I said to call. He's a great guy.
#7: If you have any questions post them on the board and I will help get an answer. I hope that this has taken some of the mystery out of sabots.
Chapter 9: Moisture Control
After we go through the process of getting together all of the accessories, i.e., short starter, patches, bullets, powder, solvents, oil, etc., sighting in our rifles so that they shoot where we point them, lapping the barrels, and in general getting comfortable with our rifle, the next thing that we encounter and have to solve is moisture control. This one element has ruined more shots, hunting trips, and trips to the range than any other thing. Moisture control really begins before you ever leave the house, and continues throughout the entire time you are in camp, your vehicle, at the range, or while actually hunting. All of us know, and hopefully practice, leaving our rifles oiled or greased down while in storage at home. Wise practice, just don't overdo it. A light coat of oil, or grease, is all that is needed. For you folks in high humidity areas it is good to check your rifles every 30 days or so, and redo if necessary. Just don't get carried away. One of the things that helps with moisture control at home is a gun cabinet or safe. In my gun cabinet I have 2 containers of SILICATE granules that soak up humidity. Mine are the type that when they change color I put them in the oven and dry them out, and then reuse them. I recommend them highly.
The first step to moisture control when you are going shooting is to remember that moisture is not just water or humidity. It also is oil and grease. Look at it as anything that will prevent your powder from burning once it receives ignition (spark).
Keep you powder containers tightly closed, and stored in a dry, dark space.
During the process of setting up your camp, or if you are not setting up camp, just before you load your rifle for the first time, THOROUGHLY dry the barrel with several patches. Don't rely on just 1 patch. The old saying comes in to play here and that is: "better safe than sorry". If you are in an area where you won't spook the game it is a good practice to pop a few caps and make sure that your ignition channel is open.
Check and make sure that your powder measure is dry. If not dry it. In the driest place possible load your measure and pour the powder down the barrel. Load your bullet. If there is any, and I mean any, sign that it might rain or snow you MUST take preventive measures to keep that powder dry. I ALWAYS put a "Muzzle Mitt" or condom over the end of my muzzle if I even think it might rain or snow. Also, don't forget that if there is moisture on the tree/brush branches it could drop down your barrel, or get into your lock or nipple area. You can buy "Muzzle Mitts" from Norm's Hunting Help, P. O. Box 206, Flint, TX 75762, (903) 839-3558.
Now for a flintlock: If there is moisture I normally don't load my pan with FFFF until I know there is game in the immediate area. Make sure you pan is dry before you do. Also check the touch-hole and make sure it is open with no obstructions. Don't forget that if you prime your pan and walk around with your pan loaded before you shoot you should roll your rifle a little so that the powder is laying up against the touch-hole. You can seal the "seam" where the frizzen closes against the pan a couple of ways. You can close the frizzen, light a candle, and let wax drip on the seam and seal it. Don't forget to let some drip on the seam next to the lock face. You can do the same thing with grease and finger nail polish if you want to. The best thing that you can do is tie on a "cow's knee". You have read threads posted by steve00 and myself about these. THEY WORK. I take a rectangular piece of lightweight canvas, make any modifications necessary to ensure that it fits tightly over the lock, and stock. Sew at string, or a piece of boot lacing, to each of the four corners. Make sure they are long enough to tie off under the stock. Soak the entire thing in linseed oil until it is thoroughly saturated. Hang it on the clothesline, or fence or a post until it is THOROUGHLY dry. Throw it in your possibles bag. When you get out, if it is raining, or you think it is going to rain/snow tie it on. Make sure that it is tight.
Now for a percussion (side hammer, cap and ball) or inline: Make sure that you are using the hottest nipple that you can buy. The best that I have found are the "Hot Shot" nipples. They have a sort of red anodized finish on them. Again, if you are in an area where you won't spook game pop a cap and make sure the firing channel is open. Put your cap on. I use only "Dynamit Nobel" caps. In my humble opinion they are the best on the market. Again moisture in the area. You can put the wax, grease, or finger nail polish around the edges of the cap where they contact the nipple. You can also use a "cow's knee" in this situation if you want. For inline users make sure your bolt is closed, but now touching the cap. When I hunt with my inline(s) and it is raining/snowing I carry it with the ejection port facing down towards the ground.
I would also like to recommend a product that you guys have seen me post before and that is the Gunbrella. They work. Hit their website at www.gunbrella.com and you will see what I am talking about. You guys with scopes take a close look at that scope cover. IT WORKS. This past elk season my partner and I hunted in 7 straight days of snow, freezing rain, and rain and never had a misfire. 2 more elk in the freezer!!
Another thing to remember is that when you get in your vehicle to go to another area, or to go back to camp, and there is a temperature difference between the inside of your vehicle and the outside, the steel in your rifle is susceptible to "sweating". When I am moving I don't turn on my heater. If you are going to be in camp for a few days and haven't been successful the first day, leave your rifle in your vehicle. If you take it into your tent or cabin IT WILL SWEAT and your powder will get wet. One of the myths that I have heard for years is that you have to unload, or "fire out" your charge everyday. I have loaded my rifle(s) when I get to camp and have left them loaded for as much as 10 days and not had a misfire. Just remember to remove your FFFF from the pan, or take off your nipple. Here is where your cow's knee or gunbrella comes into play. After you remove your FFFF or cap tie on your cow's knee or close up your gunbrella and the nipple, pan area will stay dry.
Think about something for a minute. Do you think that all of the pioneers, trekkers, longhunters, and mountain men only hunted, or defended themselves, when the sun was shining and there was no humidity? The techniques that I have shown here were all developed by them. The only thing that is new in this discussion is the gunbrella. By the way, instead of condoms the pioneers used a piece of waxed paper, or a piece of intestine stuck to the muzzle.
Chapter 10: Accuracy
Have you ever noticed ever once in awhile that when you go out to shoot your rifle that for some strange reason it just isn't as accurate as it was the last time you shot it? Believe it or not, it might not be you! One of the things that I found out years ago was that when you sight in a rifle take a look at the Lot Number on the bottom of the container. If you have several cans, or bottles, of powder (Black or Pyrodex) you probably will notice different Lot Numbers. I have found that different Lot Numbers shoot differently. You might have used a different Lot Number and that is why you are not quite as accurate once in awhile. What I do is to make sure that I am using the same Lot Number for hunting that I used to sight the rifle in with. Now if you only have 1 can or bottle you don't have anything to worry about unless you ran out of powder while sighting in and when to the store and bought some more. Just a little tip to pay attention to.
One of the things that I have noticed here on the forum is how many of you guys use rifles that have brass furniture. By furniture I mean the metal parts. These are real prevalent on "Hawken" style guns, and those that are marketed as "Kentucky long rifles". Don't forget that when you hunt with them you are taking a chance that the sun will reflect off of them and you run the risk of spooking game. You might want to dull them somehow before you go hunting to make sure that doesn't happen. An old timer told me once that "the only thing in nature that reflects light is the surface of water" and that animals are very sensitive to reflected light. There are several things on the market that you can use, and after the season is over you can wash them off. One of the things that I have been using for the last couple of years on my rifles is one of these camo fabric covers. They really work, and all you have to do is take them off after you get back.
Chapter 11: Powder
I would like to expound a little on some of the factors that I covered in Chapter 10, as it relates to powder.
Through the years I have done a lot of testing with different powders and have formed an opinion in my own mind about how different powders react, and what is the effect on working up a hunting load. What I mean by a "hunting load" is this: any bullet traveling more than about 5 feet per second will punch a hole in paper at 100 yards, but will it penetrate the hide, flesh, and bone of the animal that I am hunting? The answer, obviously, is "no", so we have to work up a load that will do the damage that is necessary, so that we can humanely dispatch the animal.
As most of you who are regular visitors to this forum have figured out I work up hunting loads with a chronograph. The reason I do this is because I think it is the only way to determine just how effective any particular powder and bullet combination is. Granted, a chrony only measures the bullet speed a short distance from the muzzle of the gun, but it is a whole lot better than just guessing at how fast a bullet is traveling. I do not have the instrumentation to determine the speed of the bullet at 100 yards, nor am I a good enough mathemetician to figure it out, nor am I a good enough shot to get a bullet through the triangle framework of a chrony at 100 yards. I can shoot through the triangle at 50 yards, but again I am not smart enough to interpret the numbers that I get to a situation at 100 yards. Maybe some of you have been able to do this, or have a chart someplace that tells what happens to a particular bullet between 50 and 100 yards. If you do I would really like to see how to do it.
Now here is what I have found. When shooting 2f powder, for some reason, your bullet speed reaches a plateau of speed, that no matter how much more powder you safely put down the barrel, you do not get any more appreciable increase in the speed of the bullet. When shooting 3f powder I have found that you do not hit this plateau, and you can continue to increase the speed of the bullet with higher amounts of powder. The same thing holds true for Pyrodex and Pyrodex RS. From the tests that I have done Pyrodex RS produces the same increases in bullet speed as 3f blackpowder does. I have seen this same phenomenon with .45, .50, .54, and .58 caliber rifles. I have tested it in flinters, side hammers, and inlines. They all exhibit the same thing. As some of you know, Lyman puts out a pretty good book that explains a lot of this. At the sake of getting real technical, it relates to something called "lead pressure units". Do I understand it? NO. Do I believe it? YES. What it boils down to is the different "burn rates" between 3f and 2f.
What does all of this mean. What it means is that if you work up a load with 3f powder or Pyrodex RS, and for some reason you switch over to 2f or regular Pyrodex, you are going to have to sight in your rifle again. It also means that your bullet is probably not going to be traveling as fast, and this could have an effect on how effective your shots are going to be.
LISTEN CLOSE TO WHAT I AM GOING TO SAY: Just because you can get faster bullet speed with 3f or Pyrodex RS, it does not mean that you can pour a lot more powder down your barrel than what the manufacturer says is a safe amount. What it means is that you will get faster bullet speed with 3f than you will with 2f. IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU CAN LOAD MORE 3F OR PYRODEX RS DOWN THE BARREL THAN WHAT THE MANUFACTURER RECOMMENDS.
So, if you guys that are thinking about buying one of these "new magnum" .45's because of their greater bullet speed, you might think about changing from 2f to 3f, or Pyrodex to Pyrodex RS. That is, if you are using 2f or Pyrodex right now.
Please understand, that these are the results that I have found. It does not mean that this is gospel. You may get different results.