Muzzle-Loading in America

Muzzle Loading Firearms were made obsolete in the 1870's by the development of the self contained cartridge. As Americans enthusiastically adopted the new technology, the old smokepole for the most part was relegated to being nothing more that a decoration over the fireplace or just another piece of junk in the attic.

Of course there were some places, particularly poor rural areas, where these archaic guns continued to be used for hunting but by and large muzzleloaders became a thing of the past.

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For whatever reason, in the 1930's there was an upsurge in interest in the shooting muzzle loading firearms (Hirtle, 144). So much so in fact, that in 1933, the National Muzzleloading Association was formed.

An article in the October 1936 issue of popular Mechanics proclaimed that "The reconditioning of ancient firearms has grown into a flourishing business among gunsmiths." (Burton, 21)

For the next couple of decades while interest in muzzleloading grew, the supply of original arms dwindled and there were only a few gunsmiths that still made them. (Hamilton, 138) With no mass production to meet the demand, the muzzle loading hobby was becoming cost prohibitive.

Starting in the 1950's, newly manufactured replicas of traditional american muzzleloader designs made in Europe started to make their way onto U.S. market.

Special muzzleloading only hunting seasons that were introduced in a number of states and the widespread availability in inexpensive replica muzzleloading firearms served to increase the interest in their use.

Loading A Percussion Muzzleloader Rifle

  1. Be sure that the gun is unloaded by verifying that there is no cap on the nipple and that the ramrod goes down the barrel the full length
  2. Set the hammer at half cock.
  3. Run a dry patch through the barrel to clean oil and grease if this is the first shot of the day.
  4. Using a nipple pick or pin make sure that the flash hole in the nipple is clear of debris
  5. Pour a measured charge of powder down the barrel. Never pour black powder into a muzzle-loading rifle or pistol directly from a powder flask or other bulk container.
  6. To ensure that the blackpowder fully enters the drum and nipple area, slap the side of the barrel just in front of the lock.
  7. Center a well greased patch over the bore and press a round ball sprue up into the muzzle with your short starter.
  8. With a ramrod, push the ball down to seat it on the powder. Ideally there should be a witness mark on your rod to verify the projectile is seated properly.
  9. Pointing the gun toward the target or in a safe direction, place a percussion cap on the nipple
  10. Pull back the hammer to full cock and fire.

Under normal use with reasonable care, a good quality muzzleloader will last for decades. The constant use of maximum loads will strain the threads of the bolster or nipple

Burton, Walter E. "Modern Daniel Boones Learn Marksmanship With Muzzle-Loaders" Popular Science Oct 1936 p. 21 Google Books
Hamilton, Andrew "Daniel Boones on the Rifle Range" Popular Mechanics Aug. 1949 p.138 Google Books
Hirtle, Susie, Hirtle, Jerry "Shooting the Muzzle-Loaders" Ideal Handbook 1951