What is a muzzleloader?A muzzleloader is any firearm into which the propellant charge and the projectile are loaded from the muzzle. The term may also apply to the user of such firearms. The term does not infer whether the barrel is rifled, so there are two broad classifications: rifled muzzleloaders and smoothbore muzzleloaders. Modern muzzleloading firearms range from reproductions of sidelock, flintlock and percussion long guns, to single shot pistols and 5 or 6 shot revolvers. The Henry Kranks advertisement in GunMart magazine is a good place to research prices. Check the club shop for bargains.
RevolversBlackpowder revolvers were only in general use for a short time in the mid-1800s, the era of the Crimean War and American Civil War. However, most of the pistols you'll see used are reproductions. Italian makers dominate this market, providing good copies of the originals. Whilst .44" is the most popular calibre many are available in .36" too and some in .45".
LongarmsThe term longarms covers the use of smoothbore muskets and rifled muskets shooting a single projectile, as well as shotguns. For many the typical muzzleloading rifle is the Hawken rifle of the early American frontier, in either .38” or .45” calibre. The most common British muzzleloader is probably the Enfield Rifled Musket in its many variants, in .577” or .451” calibre.
Click the tabs below to find out about the types of muzzleloading shooting we do.
Why shoot muzzleloading revolversThe private ownership of target shooting handguns in the UK was banned some years ago, save for the following exceptions:
- Long barrel revolvers (LBR); cartridge firing with extremely long barrels and a permanently fixed arm brace extending from the grip.
- Section 7 handguns; these are historic firearms which are only to be used at Section 7 ranges, where they must also be stored.
- Muzzleloading blackpowder revolvers; these can be held on FAC, and used on any range with a suitable safety certificate.
- Muzzleloading blackpowder single shot pistols; either percussion or flintlock, these are also allowed on FAC.
Although single shot muzzleloading pistols are catered for in many national and international competitions and can be extremely accurate, the slow pace of reloading limits the variety in courses of fire. So, if you want to shoot handguns, for fun or in competitions, a muzzleloading revolver is the logical choice. Consequently, they are the most commonly used type of handgun in competitions and practice today.
Loading routineThe revolver is loaded by setting it to half cock (so the cylinder is free to rotate) then following this sequence for each chamber:-
- Add the powder charge, from a flask or phial. Powder flasks dispense a pre-set charge. Phials contain charges pre-weighed by the shooter. Some clubs forbid flask loading, regarding it as an explosion risk.
- Next comes, for some, a measured dose of semolina as a filler. This takes up space in the chamber and brings the loaded ball close to the mouth of the cylinder. The idea is to minimise the jump between cylinder and barrel throat.
- A felt wad is placed over the filler and pressed home.
- Finally the lead ball is placed in the chamber mouth. These come in various diameters and for a .44" revolver both .451" and .454" balls are common. Then the cylinder is rotated so that the ball and chamber are lined up with the ramming lever. A fair pressure is required and a thin sliver of lead is shaved off the ball as it is rammed home.
- Once all six chambers have been loaded many shooters apply a small amount of grease to the mouth of each chamber to lubricate the ball on firing.
- To complete the loading routine a percussion cap is placed on each nipple and thumbed firmly in place.
Equipment needed to shoot a muzzleloading longarmThere are some basic items of kit that you must have:
- Ramrod with cleaning jag in appropriate calibre,
- Cleaning patches,
- Projectiles (and cloth patches if using round balls),
- Lubricant for bullets and/or for patches,
- Powder measure designed for blackpowder,
- Bullet starter,
- Percussion caps,
- Nipple wrench.
Loading routineBefore you begin - make sure the rifle is not primed, that is with no cap on the nipple!
- Make sure the bore is clean of fouling and oil. Run a dry patch down the bore to wipe it clean of oil. Then pop a couple of caps to burn off any remaining oil from the nipple and flash hole.
- Put the hammer at half cock then stand the rifle upright, with the muzzle up, keeping the muzzle pointed away from you and others at all times. Prop it in a safe place where it's stable and won't fall over.
- Set your powder measure for the desired powder charge and pour powder into the measure. Pour the powder from the measure (never directly from a horn or flask) into the muzzle of the rifle. To settle the powder, tap the rifle butt against the ground or rap the heel of your hand against the barrel.
- To load a patched round ball, place a lubricated cloth patch onto the end of the barrel, centred over the muzzle. Centre the round ball on the patch, and if your ball has a sprue mark, it should be centred facing up. To load a conical bullet, first make sure you have lubricated it, but be sure the base of the bullet is clean and dry. Place the bullet on the muzzle and start it by hand, as much as the bullet will allow.
- Start the bullet using your bullet starter. If possible, use a flat portion to push the projectile down flush with the bore, and then push it slightly into the bore using the short portion of your starter. Next, if you have a longer section on your starter, push the bullet into the bore.
- Using your ramrod, ram the projectile down the bore until it contacts the powder charge. Seat it firmly but don't pound on it. Seat each bullet with as close to the same pressure as you can manage. You may want to mark your ramrod and use the mark to ensure that each load is seated to the same depth. Do not fire unless the projectile is seated against the charge!
- If you have any doubt about your bullet's tight fit in the bore, turn over the loaded but unprimed rifle and tap the muzzle - hard - a few times on a block of wood. Then insert the ramrod and check with your reference mark to see if the bullet has moved. If it has not, you have a good tight load.
- To ready the rifle for firing, take up a shooting position and place a cap on the nipple. When you are about to fire, fully cock the hammer (keeping your fingers away from the trigger) until it clicks into the full-cock position. Your rifle should not be cocked until it is pointed downrange at a target with a safe backstop..
Cannon? Yes, really!We have small but growing band of participants in the Cannon Competitions which are held occasionally through the year. Given the number of observers who stroll down to the range to watch it appears to be successful as a spectator sport too. Essentially these cannon are a variation on the more familiar blackpowder muzzleloaders. Most cannon seen on our ranges are scale replicas of bygone weapons from land or sea service.
Although there are a few commercially manufactured types most are handmade one-offs or limited production examples.
One of the benefits of a newly emerging aspect of our sport is that there are few hard and fast rules to abide by. Safety is governed by muzzleloading range rules, but competition procedures are simple and cater for a variety of personal ‘interpretation’ as to what type of cannon might be successful.
Typical competition rules so far have specified the following:
Given that most of the cannon are not built to a standard pattern one of the primary range safety considerations is that the cannon must not exceed the current WNSC Range Safety Certificate Limits. To verify the performance it is necessary to gather certain data:
- Distance: 25m
- Position: Cannon placed on the bench or floor, but recoil must be managed so that the cannon stays inside the firing area.
- Carriage: Any type, but typically land service or naval carriage.
- Course of Fire: 10 shots, best 6 to count.
- Target: UIT 25/50 Metre, as for muzzleloading rifle and pistol.
- Scoring: Adjustment factors applied for use of: Rifled bore and sighting systems
- Projectile dimensions,
- Projectile weight, and
- Muzzle velocity.
WNSC supports the National Cannon Association of Great Britain.
TargetsFor 25m competitions we generally use the ‘UIT 25/50 Metre’ target with an outer ring 500 mm across and a 200 mm diameter black aiming mark.