1.    Never use anything but commercially available black powder in a muzzleloading weapon. Muzzleloading barrels are made of a softer steel than modern breech loading barrels, and smokeless powders will cause a barrel designed for black powder to explode!

2.     Never point the muzzle toward yourself or anyone else even if you think the gun is unloaded.   The muzzle should be pointed up, or down range at all times.  

3.    Make sure that your weapon is in firing condition before you load it.  If there is any doubt,  have it checked by an experienced gunsmith.

4.     Although impractical when hunting,  running a lubricated patch down the bore between shots will improve both accuracy and safety.   It should extinguish any smoldering embers that might ignite the next charge.

5.     When loading or carrying loaded flintlocks, you should keep a leather cover on the frizzen to prevent accidental ignition.  This is necessary because even an unprimed flintlock can discharge from an accidental frizzen strike.   

6.        Be certain of the safe load for your gun. 

a.       It is recommended that you start with a load of 1 grain per caliber, ex.  40 caliber – 40 grains, and work your load up (or down) from there.  If you must exceed a load of 1.5 grains per caliber, do so with great caution; and never exceed 2 grains per caliber in a traditional muzzleloading weapon.  If you think you need to shoot 100 grains or more for hunting deer,  remember that the original longhunters frequently shot loads in the range of 35-40 grains and they hunted for a living.    There is generally a high and a low load that will give you the same group.   There is no reason to unnecessarily punish yourself and stress the barrel and breech plug.

b.      It is recommended that FFFG black powder be used in barrels below 45 caliber.  For barrels  45 caliber and larger, FFG black powder should be used.  

c.       It is recommended that you use a pure lead, round ball, .005” smaller than the bore of your gun.   That should be coupled with a .015”-.020” lubricated ticking patch.  This is a tight load and will require wiping after a couple of shots to ram the load down.   You should wipe between shots for best accuracy.   It is not recommended that conical bullets be used in your traditional muzzleloading weapon unless the barrel was specifically designed to shoot conicals.  

7.    Assume that the gun can discharge at any time, including during loading.  Never lean over the muzzle or point the muzzle at anyone else during loading.   As much as possible, pour in the charge, position the patch and bullet, and handle the ball starter and ramrod from the side of the muzzle keeping your fingers and palm clear of the path of the bullet, ball starter, or ramrod if the charge were to prematurely ignite.   Now, you will have to put one or both hands over the muzzle when you start a tight load with the ball starter.  This cannot be avoided, but minimize the time your hands are in front of the muzzle.   When loading, shooting or working on your weapon at the range,  keep the muzzle pointed down range or in another safe direction at all times.

8.    Make sure that the ball is firmly seated on the charge without crushing the powder.   Failure to do this, called short starting, is the most common cause of catastrophic barrel failure.  If you are lucky,  the barrel will just bulge or split.  If it shatters,  severe injury and even death may result to yourself and bystanders.   You should mark the empty and loaded levels on your ramrod so that you know when you have a charge in the barrel and if the ball is seated on your normal charge.  I have developed the habit over years of shooting muzzleloaders of delivering three sharp taps on the bullet with my ramrod once I think that the bullet is seated on the charge.

9.   You should prime the pan or cap the nipple only as a last step just before firing.   Make sure the the lock is securely at half-cock before priming or capping.    You should make sure that you have a secure half-cock notch before you start shooting.   A faulty half cock-notch or sear can cause an accidental discharge.  

10.   Make sure that you have removed your ramrod from the barrel before bringing the lock to full-cock.   Almost everybody forgets to do this at some time and ends up shooting a ramrod down range.  This can be very dangerous as the path of the ramrod is unpredictable and while unlikely, the obstruction may cause the barrel to fail.

11.    Bring the lock to full cock only when ready to fire and pointing down range or toward your target.    Accidentally, letting a cock or hammer slip while bringing it to full-cock is a common cause of accidental discharges.  

12.    If you have set triggers,  set them only after aiming.   A very light touch is required to release a set trigger and an accidental discharge can happen very easily.

13.  Always be sure of your target before firing.    Make sure that you have an adequate backstop and be aware of any people that might be behind or adjacent to your target or backstop.  Do not fire into water or any hard, flat surface.  Firing into the ground may also invite trouble if the bullet strikes a rock.    

14.   Assume that a gun that has misfired or failed to fire can fire at any time.  Consequently,  keep the weapon pointing down range until the charge is cleared.   Wait at least one minute before re-priming.   Most ranges require that the range officer be notified immediately of a misfire.  The range officer may clear the charge with compressed air or CO2.  Simple CO2 dischargers may be purchased at most gun shops that carry muzzleloading supplies.  CO2 dischargers are much safer than the old method of clearing a misfire or stuck ball using a ball puller and are highly recommended.

15.  Make sure that a gun is unloaded and cleaned before storing it.

16.  Always wear eye and ear protection while shooting.

17.  Never smoke or otherwise expose black powder to flame, spark, or heat during loading, shooting or handling.  This includes friction from excess handling, and static discharges.   You should use some sort of static control in the area where you handle or load black powder.

18. Never drink alcoholic beverages or take any drugs that could impair your judgment or motor skills before or during shooting.   Many leading target shooters will even forego caffeine before or during a shoot.



 1.      With a traditional black powder weapon,  the primary rule is to keep it clean and dry.

 2.      You should clean your firearm thoroughly, as soon as possible after shooting.  Black powder  absorbs moisture and is very corrosive.   Do not leave black powder in your bore or on the metal parts of your gun any longer than absolutely necessary.  I developed the habit as a teenager to not leave the range before I cleaned my gun, and still lubed it again once I got home.

 3.      Even if your ramrod is fitted with a sleeve to accept a worm,  you should consider this for hunting use only.    When you get home from a hunting trip, or at the range,  you should clean your gun with a metal cleaning rod fitted with a bore protector.    This will limit the wear to your bore due to cleaning.  I recommend that you keep the metal rod in the bore with a patch soaked in Ballistol while the gun is in storage.  Run the patch up and down the bore once a month and replace the patch when it gets cut or worn.

 4.      Make sure that you clean the powder residue off the face of the breech plug.  Use a breech plug scraper if necessary.  From a safety point of view,  proper cleaning and lubrication of the breech area is the most important thing you can do.   Nothing will render your gun unsafe to shoot faster than rusted breech plug threads.   You must maintain the condition of the breech plug inside and out in order to keep your weapon serviceable.  Invest in a bore light and make sure that the breech plug and bore is bright and shinny after you finish cleaning.

 5.      Don’t forget that you need to clean and lubricate the area behind the lock and around the breech if you suspect that any moisture or powder residue has gotten in there.  The same goes for the area around the muzzle.   If you are going to use your gun in the rain or snow,  you should seal around the lock and barrel with beeswax,  bullet lube, or paste wax such that no moisture can get under or behind the barrel and lock.  

 6.      You should use a non-corrosive cleaner for the bore of your gun such as the commercially available Black Powder Solve.   Water and dishwashing detergent will also work satisfactorily.   I believe that the best bore cleaner is a 50/50 solution of water and Ballistol and highly recommend it.   Once your patches start to run clean,  I recommend that you finish the cleanup and lubrication with 100% Ballistol.   Ballistol is the best gun cleaner and rust preventative that I have found.   It can be used everywhere on your gun.  

 7.      For more durable moisture and rust protection for both the wood and steel parts of your gun,  nothing beats wax.   I finish all my guns with Renaissance Wax, metal  and wood.   I completely coat the outside of the barrel and make sure to get wax up into the threads around the breech plug.    I recommend that you do the same on a regular basis.  You may use regular paste wax if you can’t get Renaissance Wax.  While this is good idea if you only shoot your gun occasionally, it is imperative if you hunt with your gun.     The oil based finish that I use on my guns is traditional, but it does not provide very good moisture protection for the wood.  You need to use a good paste wax.

 8.      Occasionally,  you may need to lubricate the moving parts in your lock.   I like to use a petroleum based lubricant for the moving parts.   I actually use some WWII surplus gun oil, but Breakfree will work.    Do not over lubricate,  it will just damage your wood.   Place a drop of lubricant under the mainspring, frizzen spring and sear spring.  Put a drop of lubricant on the tip of the sear and on the fly in the tumbler as well as on the tumbler axle in the bridle and a drop behind the tumbler at the top.  You should also put a drop of lubricant on the frizzen pivot screw and on the sear bar where it contacts the trigger.   Rotate the tumbler through a couple of cycles and wipe the excess lubricant off the bottom of the lock plate before replacing the lock.  Do not over tighten the lock screws.  Just snug is good enough.

 9.      If you need to remove the barrel for cleaning,  there is a right and wrong way to do it.  Once you remove the barrel pins or wedges,  the tang screw and the rear lock screw (don’t forget this, it goes through the breech plug recoil lug) and loosen the front lock screw; you need to remove the barrel without prying it up from the muzzle.   Prying the barrel up from the muzzle will most likely damage the wood around the tang and may damage the tang.   You need to drop the barrel out of the stock at the breech first.   You do this over a floor mat or carpet.   Hold the barrel loosely at the muzzle and breech and turn it over so that the barrel is hanging down.   While holding the gun at the muzzle and loosely around the breech, tap the heel of the butt on the floor lightly.   It may take a few taps, but the breech of the barrel should fall out of the stock to be caught in your fingers.  Gently let the breech down to the floor and the muzzle should pop out of the stock.   


Important Note for Households with Children:    Children are very inquisitive and ingenious.   Every precaution should be taken to make sure that a child, or any untrained person for that matter,  cannot get their hands on a loaded gun.   It is that position of this builder, unpopular as it may be in certain quarters,  that no gun should be stored loaded and powder and caps should be stored in a secure location separate from the firearm and safe from prying little hands.   An ATF approved powder magazine is strongly recommended for the storage of all powder, caps and ammunition.   For both personal and political reasons, the last thing the muzzle loading shooting community needs is a tragic accident due to negligence.  



Experience has taught that you are a lot more likely to get hurt building a gun than shooting one.    The best thing you can do to prevent injury is:

1. Understand how to use the tool properly.  This means you should read and understand any instructions that come with your tool before trying to use it.  If you are not sure about what you are doing,  get some help.

2. Never cut in the direction of a body part.  Make sure hands and fingers are out of the way.  Always use a properly sharpened tool; and test sharp tools using the back of your finger nail and not your finger tips.   

3. Pay attention to what you are doing at all times.  

4. If you are going to use power tools, make sure that you have read and understand the manufacturers instructions.    Some personal instruction in the use of power tools is highly recommended.    

5. Safety glasses should be worn at all times when working with power tools.  

6. Power tools can generate very high noise levels so hearing protection in the shop is also recommended.    

7. Dust is also a problem with power tools and can pose a health risk with prolonged exposure.  Appropriate shop dust collection or a respirator approved for the application should be employed.

8. Finally, you should never wear wrist watches, rings, other jewelry, or loose clothing when working with power equipment.  Also, long hair and power tools do not mix.    

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This page was last updated on  04/01/05 .

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