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Muzzleloaders take significantly more knowledge to operate than modern firearms. They also present greater risks. Several rules must be followed to ensure safe operation.

Hunter loading muzzleloader in kneeling position
  • Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Do not lean over, stand in front of, or blow down the muzzle.
  • Use only black powder or a safe substitute in a muzzleloading firearm.
  • Wait until you’re ready to fire before you prime or cap a muzzleloader.
  • Always wear shooting glasses and ear protection when shooting a muzzleloader; a long-sleeved shirt is also advisable.
  • Never smoke while shooting or loading or when near a powder horn or flask.
  • Load a muzzleloader directly from a calibrated powder measure—do not load from a horn, flask, or other container. A loose spark or glowing ember in the barrel can cause the powder to explode.
  • Load only one charge at a time.
  • Unload a muzzleloader before bringing it into your home, camp, or vehicle.
  • Stay with your charged muzzleloader at all times

Video: Modern In-Line Muzzleloading Safety

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Video Transcript
Dennis

This is a muzzleloader.

Haley

It’s a gun kind of like the ones used in the Revolutionary War. You load the bullet and the gunpowder into the muzzle instead of into the chamber.

Rob

And for an experienced hunter, it’s a great way to test your skill and add some excitement into the hunt. But there are some safety issues that you have to be aware of when you’re loading and unloading a muzzleloader. So come on, I’ll show you.

On screen: MODERN INLINE MUZZLELOADER BASICS

Rob

Every muzzleloader is different. But the basic components are all the same. Powder is what creates the explosion. The projectile or bullet is what is rocketed out of the gun by the powder. The primer is what will ignite the powder and cause it to explode.

On screen: PREPARING THE GUN

Rob

Step one, prepping the gun. OK. So the first step in handling any firearm is to make sure that it’s unloaded. Now, for a muzzleloader like this one, that means we first check to make sure there is no primer in the breech. Then, we check that the gun is unloaded using a ramrod and making sure that the barrel is clear.

Rob puts a ramrod into the barrel and points to a mark at the end of the ramrod.

Rob

You see this mark? If it goes down this far, then it means it’s unloaded. There’s no projectile in the gun. And we check that the breech is clear of dirt or powder residue by snapping a primer. After we do that, we open the breech, remove the spent primer, and let it breathe. All right. So once that’s all set, we’re ready to prep the explosion.

On screen: PREPARING THE EXPLOSION

Rob

All right. So if you’re new to this muzzleloading thing, you want to make sure you read through and follow the instructions because every one of these guns is just a little bit different. Now, when you use a muzzleloader, you’re basically mixing all the appropriate parts to create an explosion. And it’s pretty important that you control that explosion. The first ingredient to consider is the powder. The powder is what will explode and project the bullet out of the gun.

Haley shoots at a target.

Rob

Basically, you’ve got two powder choices for most muzzleloaders: old-fashioned black powder or one of the substitutes that come in pill form. OK. So pay attention to this, though. This is important. If there’s one thing to know that could potentially save your life, it’s to never, ever use modern smokeless gunpowder. It’s not made for these guns, and it could potentially be a deadly mistake. But if you are going to use loose powder like this, you need to double and triple check the container to make sure that it’s not modern, smokeless gunpowder. If it’s black powder, make sure you measure the proper amount using a powder measure. If you’re using the safer, premeasured powder pills, only use the recommended total number of grains. Just check to see if they’re legal in your state. And now for the bullet. Use only the caliber and style recommended by the gun manufacturer for your gun. Load the bullet with the pointed end up, then seat it firmly using the starter, then the ramrod. It should stop at the loaded mark on your ramrod. That shows it’s all the way in. And only load one bullet into your barrel. And I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s easy to lose track of what step you’re on, so pay attention. OK. This one’s loaded.

Dennis

All right. This one’s loaded.

Haley

This one’s loaded.

Rob

So, the final step before you fire is that you’re going to put a primer into the breech. Now, let’s stop at this point and consider the three main things that could be potentially dangerous. Is the powder the right kind, and is it measured properly? Does the caliber of the bullet match the caliber of your gun? Is there only one bullet in the gun? Use your ramrod as a safety check. OK, now, you’re ready to insert the primer like this. Check the safety, and keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you’re ready to fire. There are two ways to unload a muzzleloader.

On screen: UNLOADING A MUZZLELOADER

Dennis

The not-so-easy way.

Rob

For this in-line gun, after you remove the primer, you disassemble the gun. Then, ram the powder pills and bullet out the breech end.

Haley

And the fun way.

The three take aim and shoot at their targets. Rob’s firearm does not fire.

Rob

But remember, the powder can sometimes be slow to ignite. If the gun does not fire, keep it pointed in a safe direction for at least 30 seconds. Then, try another primer or disassemble and unload. And before you load again, swab out the barrel. Powder residue can gum it up.

Haley

We think you’ll agree that shooting a muzzleloader can be a blast, whether for target practice or hunting.

Dennis

Just make sure your blast happens safely by following what you learned here today.

Haley

All right. You ready?

Haley shoots. On screen, we see a target with her shot at the bull’s-eye.

Haley

You see that?

Rob

So muzzleloading can be fun. Just make sure you do it safe. And make sure you don’t bring your wife, who’s a better marksman than you. It’s embarrassing.