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Muzzle loading Safety

Traditional black powder muzzle loader shooting is fundamentally different from shooting cartridge guns - Every single shot is a handloaded one.

1. Use only black powder, never mix with other powders.

2. Stay alert - Do not let yourself be distracted.

This is tough when you are out shooting with friends and having a good time, but distractions guarantee ‘dry balling’, putting a ball down without powder, and other problems!

3. Develop a routine for loading, ensure that you do it the same each time.

4. Always pour powder into the barrel from a smaller charger, never directly from the powder horn or can.

5.  Don’t smoke or drink alcohol while shooting.

6.  ALWAYS, ALWAYS ASSUME that the gun is LOADED.

7.  Before that first shot at the range, make sure that the path from ignition to muzzle is free of obstructions.

Even a partial obstruction may cause an unsafe condition to arise. Caplock users can ‘shoot’ a cap towards the ground, flintlock users can blow down the barrel after having first used a marked ramrod to ensure that the weapon is unloaded.

8.  Load the powder, then a patched round ball, initially using a ‘short starter’ and then with several pushes on the ramrod until the ball seats.

A short starter helps to put the ball down the barrel a short distance, mark your ramrod  so that when the ball is seated, you have visual confirmation of that fact. NEVER fire any muzzleloader if the ball is not firmly seated on the powder, it is a potential bomb. At the range, use a special long ‘range rod’, not the shorter one carried under the barrel  of the gun.

IF YOU SCREW UP THE LOADING PROCESS, AND YOU WILL SOONER OR LATER, IT IS A WARNING SIGN THAT YOU ALLOWED YOURSELF TO BE DISTRACTED!!! The most common such mistake is to put a ball down without any powder, called a ‘dry ball’. After you ‘dry ball’, use a ball puller to remove the ball, a CO2 charger, or in a caplock, remove the nipple and dribble a little powder in. If the gun has a ‘clean out screw’, use that.

9.  Keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, prime the pan or put a cap on the nipple, aim at the target and gently squeeze off the shot.

WARNING!! This next step is controversial, some people think it looks dangerous and encourages bad habits.

9.  If you are an experienced muzzleloader, immediately after the shot, and before moving from the firing position, blow down the barrel to ensure that the breech is clear of obstructing patching material and to extinguish any residual embers in the ‘gook’ down in the barrel. See ‘blowing down the barrel’ in another part of this website for more information.


You are now ready to return to the loading bench and reload.

Important - If the gun fails to fire, keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction, WAIT, counting at least to 30, slowly. It may be a defective cap or in a flintlock, a worn flint or failure to prime the pan, but it may signal a more serious problem, usually a ‘dry ball’ but rarely a powder charge that has become blocked off by residual patching material in the breech or that has become moistened with water or oil. If it fails to fire again after repriming, WAIT AGAIN, then return to the loading bench to deal with the problem, keeping the barrel pointed safely.  It is potentially a very serious situation, be slow and keep your body away from the muzzle as much as possible until the problem is identified and rectified.