Home Blowing Down the Barrel Living History Traditional Guns Gun Cleaning ML Hunting Ethics ML Safety TRADITIONAL MUZLELOADING HUNTING SEASON

Using and Cleaning the Black Powder Gun

Proper maintenance of a black powder gun requires extra care that our ancestors automatically accepted but that we, with our low maintenance modern guns, aren’t used to. Love it or hate it, cleaning your gun after a shooting session must be done. Burnt black powder sucks water out of the air and puts it right onto the gun’s surface, it’s hygroscopic. Now, I use only flintlocks and this means that I don’t have the additional nasties deposited on a gun’s surface by an ignited percussion cap so I can get away with a little delay in cleaning, but with a ‘cap lock’ delay will result in rust soon appearing on your gun.

The easiest way to clean a gun that I have found is as follows:

1. Get a couple of quarts of really hot water, an old towel, some hot water maybe with a little added detergent, your cleaning rod with a jag on the end, some cleaning patches and an old tooth brush. I make my patches from old t-shirts and have all these, with gun oil and WD-40 in a small box ready to go.

2. Remove the side lock and put it in your utility sink or a basin, pour some hot water over it, maybe a little detergent water, scrub with the tooth brush and then pour hot water over it until it runs clean. Let it air dry, give it a blast of WD-40 and put aside to dry some more while you clean the barrel.

3. If you have a ‘hook breech’, the barrel will lift out after the wedges or pins are removed from the stock. If you don’t have one, the barrel will remain in the stock. Go outside where water can run off, or put the barrel or whole gun into a bucket, muzzle up. Wrap the barrel in the towel, twisting it to tighten it, and CAREFULLY pour some detergent water down the barrel, followed by hot water. It’ll soon fill up. Then, using the jag, pump the water up and down the bore. Be CAREFUL, the hot water will come rushing out of the bore as you raise the jag if you go too fast. Do this whole thing a couple of times more with fresh cleaning patches. When the wash water is no longer dirty, rinse with pure hot water, put a blast of WD-40 down the hot barrel and one more patch.

4. Now, run an oiled patch down the bore and take your side lock and oil it, too. Don’t use too much oil, you just need a thin film. I find a patch saturated with ‘Acralube’ works well, bear grease, ‘mink oil’, ‘eez-ox’, ‘Balistol’ and ‘Shenandoah Valley Lube’ are well spoken, I am sure there are lots of other oils that are satisfactory. Put your cleaning stuff away, and replace your barrel and lock when they are cool. With a flint lock, you’re done. With a cap lock, you may want to run an oiled patch down it after a day or two. If you feel that this isn’t thorough enough, that’s fine, experiment until you are satisfied or get on the internet to see how other people clean their guns more thoroughly.

During a shooting session with black powder, stop every few shots and run a spit patch down the barrel to remove any fouling build up. Otherwise, loading will get progressively more difficult until your ramrod becomes stuck in the bore. If you don’t like spit, I hear bear grease, mink oil and spray bottle ‘Windex with vinegar’, and similar products, work well.

Beginners sometimes find the smell of black powder objectionable. Soon, though, you will associate it with good times and find that the smell, while still a mite strong maybe, is now really quite nice. I actually think it would make a nice men’s cologne. When you reach this point, you will be well on the way to being a true Traditional Muzzleloader.


This is a very sketchy introduction. If you are new to shooting, get a book on muzzleloaders and watch some internet videos of shooting black powder guns. Much better, join a nearby club and learn from someone who is experienced.

Never use smokeless powder. Start by pouring your powder from the main black powder flask into a small charger and then down the barrel, NEVER directly from the main flask. Follow with a patched round ball lubed with spit or maybe some sort of oil. Mark your ramrod so you KNOW when the bullet is seated on the powder, leaving an air space makes your barrel into a bomb. Keeping the muzzle pointed safely down range and the lock at half-cock, prime your flintlock or put a cap on the nipple. Shoulder and fire, squeezing off the shot, not pulling the trigger. Repeat to your heart’s content, periodically interspersing a spit patch to keep the bore smooth.

Be careful. Making a mistake, like pointing your muzzle in an unsafe direction, or putting down a ball with no powder,  is a WARNING that you are not paying enough attention!