During the early years, a muzzleloader rifle was truly a primitive weapon.   Killing a deer was far from being a sure thing even at close range.  The lack of accuracy and open sights meant you had to get within 50 yards of an animal before shooting.  Hunting with a muzzleloader in those early days was similar in many ways to hunting with a bow today.  In the early 80’s when I first started muzzleloader hunting, things hadn’t changed a lot.  The quality of rifle barrels was better and the ignition system was improved.  You had a choice between a percussion or flint lock rifle but black powder was still widely used.  The old expression “keep your powder dry” was still as meaningful as ever; especially, if you choose to hunt with a flint lock.  Keeping the fine powder in the flash pan dry was nearly impossible on raining days.  The course powder used as a propellant was a little more forgiving but still needed to be dry. You measured the powder out for each shot, poured it down the barrel and pushed a chunk of lead down the barrel tight against the powder, in that order.  If you got the sequence mixed up, you had problems.

Shooting a muzzleloader rifle that was loaded with a black powder charge was quite different from firing a modern shotgun.  Loading them was messy and cleaning them was even worse.  The barrel would foul after a few shots and you never knew for sure if the rifle was going to fire.  There were so many things that could prevent the black powder charge from going off.  With a flint lock, creating a spark and igniting the powder in the flash pan is a risky process at best.  A common mistake with a percussion rifle was to not force the powder down into the ignition area or allow a small amount of oil to remain in the barrel and nipple area.  The black powder quickly soaked up the oil, preventing ignition.  Initially, percussion caps were small and did not always ignite the black powder.  It was common while hunting to have the cap fire but the gun not go off.  To make things even more frustrating, occasionally the cap itself would not fire.  Getting the rifle ready in time for a shot attempt was not very likely. You were faced with sitting there and watching the deer trot off.  When things were going your way and you successfully made a shot, smoke would engulf you and linger until the deer was out of sight. You better have made the first shot count.  I am not sure if the odds were in favor of the hunter or the deer, maybe that is why they called the muzzleloader hunt a primitive weapon season.

Muzzleloader technology evolved during the late 80’s and early 90’s, eliminating some of the previous problems.  In-line rifles were developed, improving the reliability of the ignition system and making them much easier to clean.  Black powder substitutes were introduced reducing the amount of smoke, allowing you to see the target sooner after a shot.  They even came out with adapter kits allowing use of 209 primers in place of the smaller percussion caps.  With a scope, muzzleloaders were effective out to 100 yards.  The muzzleloader had definitely undergone a face lift. It has evolved from the primitive weapon of the past but much was yet to come.

It wasn’t until the late 90’s and later when muzzleloaders acquired the accuracy and range comparable to modern rifles. The muzzleloader took on a more modern look with an effective range of over 200 yards using specially designed sabot slugs and powder pellets.  At that range, scopes were needed and designed especially for muzzleloaders.  No longer was loading the rifle a messy job.  You simply dropped two or three pellets down the barrel, pushed in a sabot and inserted a 209 primer and it was ready to shoot.  Some of the powder pellets not only reduces smoke but reduces fouling as well and even allows cleaning with plain water.  The new modern muzzleloader has under gone a total makeover.  It no longer resembles the primitive weapon of the past but remains a single shot rifle, loaded through the muzzle, allowing it to still be classified as a muzzleloader.

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