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Muzzle Loader Moments

By Scott Irving

If you shoot muzzleloaders long enough, you will probably have a misfire at some point. If you hunt in wet conditions, the likelihood of having a misfire will increase greatly.

There is nothing worse then after getting yourself into shape during the off-season, practicing shooting your rifle at the range, taking the time off work, and investing your hard earned dollars in your hunt, to finally get into a shooting Scott Irving Big Bucksituation, pull the trigger and instead of the gun going off all you hear is the sound of the hammer striking steel. You then watch as the animal bounds away leaving you staring and muttering four letter words under your breath.  

So, what can you do to reduce the risk of this scenario playing itself out on your next muzzleloader hunt? Sometimes after taking all the necessary precautions you will still get a misfire. Ole Murphy is never far away when hunting with primitive weapons.  However, I’d like to pass on to you a couple of things that have worked for me in minimizing misfires.

First, let’s look at the mechanics of successfully shooting a black powder rifle. Be sure that before you load your powder and bullet that you’re starting with a clean, dry barrel. By dry, I mean a barrel that is free of water and excessive cleaning oils. If you have moisture in the barrel when you load up, you’re starting with a potential problem right off the bat.

Next, you need to make sure that the ignition chamber and the nipple you are using are clear so that the spark from the cap has a clear path to the powder in your rifle. Fire a cap before loading to make sure you don’t have any obstructions from the nipple to the powder. Black powder is very corrosive and I frequently run a needle through the nipple on my BlackPowderrifle when I am shooting at the range. It’s also the last thing I do after cleaning the rifle so that the next time I take it out to go shoot I am starting with a clear nipple. 

Okay, so we’ve made sure our rifle is clean and dry and we’ve loaded up the gun for hunting in the field. The weather forecast is not favorable and it looks like it will be raining during the hunt. You can either leave your rifle as is and take your chances with the moisture, or you can do a couple things that will help prevent water from getting to your powder and ruining your hunt.

The first thing to do is to get a roll of electrical tape, cut off a small piece, and seal off the end of your barrel. It’s cheap insurance for keeping any moisture from dripping into the end of your gun while you are out hunting. I have used this technique for many years, and have never had a problem with the tape affecting the accuracy of my shot. More importantly, I have not had a problem with moisture creeping down the end of my barrel and getting to my powder. It’s just that simple! 

In the ignition area of the rifle you can either wrap some saran wrap around the nipple area, keep it under your coat flap,  or use what I do which is a Kap-kover. These can be found and ordered from the Internet or you can buy one at your local black powder supply store. They come with a special nipple, o-rings (which act as a gasket/sealer), and, as the name implies, a cover which fits over the nipple of your rifle. This is the most important area of the rifle to keep dry because if any moisture passes through the nipple, it is a very short distance from there to the powder and the subsequent misfire.

 Finally, make sure you’re using a fresh cap. Shooters will often blame the cap for their ignition problems.  However, the caps you buy at your shooter supply outfit today are extremely dependable. They are sealed and water resistant and therefore rarely the cause of a misfire. Nevertheless, I still change caps frequently whenever I am hunting in wet conditions. Caps are cheap and I don’t want to have a misfire because I didn’t take the time to replace my cap on a rainy day.  

This is by no means all that you can do to prevent misfires when shooting your black powder rifle. They’re just a couple of methods that have worked for me. Back in the day, many mountain men would say farewell to one another with the words “keep your powder dry”. Back then, I think they were more concerned with staying alive than solely with hunting. But, we can still take heed from those words even today. If we’re going to have any chance at filling our tags when hunting with black powder rifles, we have got to keep our powder dry.