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Loading a muzzleloader is far more complex than loading a modern rifle. The best way to learn is under the supervision of an experienced muzzleloader shooter. NMLRA field representatives and charter club members are available to help new shooters learn about their muzzleloaders.

Making Sure the Muzzleloader Is Empty

Never attempt to load and fire a muzzleloader for the first time without an experienced muzzleloader shooter present. Before you load, make sure your firearm is unloaded.

When determining if a muzzleloader is empty, never blow down the barrel, and never cap and fire the gun. Instead, follow these steps.

  1. Point the muzzle in a safe direction, and put the safety on if you have one. Alternatively, use one of these options.
    • Flintlock Firearm: Put the hammer in the down position with the frizzen open.
    • Percussion Lock Firearm: Put the hammer in the half-cock position with a hard faucet washer over the nipple.
  2. Run a range rod down the bore until it stops, and mark the spot on the rod where the rod is flush with the muzzle.
  3. Remove the range rod from the bore, and measure along the outside of the barrel to see if the rod tip reaches the area described below for your firearm.
    • Flintlock Firearm: The touch hole, or flash hole, located on the side where the ignition spark reaches the charge
    • Percussion Lock Firearm: The drum area, located on the side of the breech
    • In-line Firearm: The breech plug
      • You should be familiar enough with your firearm to know if there is a cavity in the breech plug that will allow powder between the rod tip and the flash hole.
      • If there is a cavity, check to see if it is filled with powder. Insert a .22-caliber ramrod, made of brass or other non-ferrous metal, into the bore until it stops.
      • Remove the rod, and measure along the outside of the barrel to see if the rod tip reaches the flash hole of the breech plug. If the rod reaches the flash hole, the muzzleloader is empty and has no projectile or powder in the barrel.
  4. If a projectile or powder is inside the barrel, use a CO2 discharger to clear the barrel. Then reinsert the range rod into the barrel to make sure the projectile and all powder have been removed.
  5. After you are certain the firearm is empty, insert the range rod back into the barrel. Make a permanent "unloaded" or "empty" mark on the rod at the spot where the rod exits the muzzle. You now can use this mark to verify whether the barrel is empty whenever the range rod is inserted.
Marking a ramrod with tape
Marking a ramrod with a marker