If you’re thinking about beginning to hunt with a muzzleloader, the variety of different muzzleloaders, bullets, scopes, powders, and other accessories probably looks overwhelming at first glance. And beyond the equipment, the varying and often confusing regulations regarding what’s legal to use in each state, make a tough situation even more challenging.
As I discussed in my previous article, Why You Should Start Hunting With A Muzzleloader, there are very real benefits associated with hunting with a muzzleloader. However, just like with many other things, there is a learning curve to get started.
Where do you even begin? What gear is essential for hunting with a muzzleloader? What’s legal to use in this state, but illegal to hunt with in another state?
I have asked those same questions myself.
I started hunting with a muzzleloader in Georgia about 10 years ago to lengthen my deer season and get access to some new hunting spots where centerfire rifles were not permitted. I knew almost nothing about muzzleloaders at the time, so I struggled quite a bit at first.
Fortunately, that initial season ended up being a big success and I learned a lot along the way.
Since then, I’ve owned several other different muzzleloaders and have spent countless hours researching and testing at home, at the range, and out in the woods hunting. I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way, but now I have a thorough understanding of what works and what doesn’t in the muzzleloader world.
So, with all that in mind, I wrote this article to give you some specific recommendations on the gear you’ll need to get started hunting with a muzzleloader.
Muzzleloaders can be divided into several different categories according to their ignition. In particular, flintlock, percussion, and inline muzzleloaders are the most common general types of muzzleloaders in use by hunters today.
Flintlock and percussion cap muzzleloaders are the oldest and most primitive models. These are the muzzleloaders that guys like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, as well as Soldiers in the Civil War used. While those muzzleloaders can be very effective, they can also be pretty challenging to operate — especially for beginners.
My first muzzleloader was a percussion cap muzzleloader. It was a really cool rifle and I eventually became proficient with it. Unfortunately, it had a pretty steep learning curve and I really struggled at first. It took several months of experimenting with different primers, powders, and bullets for me to find a load that ignited reliably and shot accurately.
For this reason, I recommend that most hunters start off with a modern inline muzzleloader.
When I decided to start using a muzzleloader, so did a friend of mine. However, instead of purchasing a percussion cap muzzleloader as I did, my friend bought a Thompson Center Impact inline muzzleloader at a local sporting goods store.
His experience learning to shoot and hunt with a muzzleloader was much different than my experience.
He bought his muzzleloader, along with some powder, primers, and bullets on Friday. We went shooting for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday to sight in the muzzleloader and get a feel for how to operate it. Things went really well at the range and he decided to take it hunting the next weekend when muzzleloader season opened.
He shot a doe with his new muzzleloader about 30 minutes after the season opened. He ended up shooting two more deer and a handful of feral hogs throughout that season with his muzzleloader, so his muzzleloader hunting career got off to a great start.
The Thompson Center Impact is a very basic inline muzzleloader, but it’s easy to use, pretty reliable, and inexpensive. It was also just about perfect for our particular hunting situation pursuing deer and feral hogs in areas where 50-75 yard shots were common. While it took me quite some time before I felt comfortable hunting with my muzzleloader, he was ready to go hunting after only a couple of trips to the range.
I took a page from his book and eventually purchased an inline muzzleloader, the CVA Wolf. It worked great for me and I had great results with it for several very successful hunting seasons. So, the Wolf and the Impact are both great places to start for a hunter who wants a reasonably priced muzzleloader that is still pretty capable and easy to use.
Those CVA models are far from the only options out there, and companies such as Knight and Traditions also make some nice muzzleloaders. All of those companies make several different models that are a little nicer than the Impact and Wolf in certain respects. Additionally, CVA also makes a Northwest version of the Wolf (as well as their Optima and Accura models), which are specifically designed to be legal to use in states, such as Idaho, that have more restrictive regulations regarding the use of muzzleloaders for hunting.
For hunters who want an advanced muzzleloader with as much effective range as possible, the Remington 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader (UML) and the CVA Paramount (pictured above) are both good options that are capable of delivering the goods out to 200-300 yards (maybe a little further) without buying a custom muzzleloader.
The Remington UML and CVA Paramount achieve that high level of performance in different ways. Basically, both can safely fire much larger powder charges than a typical muzzleloader. The Remington UML uses a regular Barnes muzzleloading bullet with a special sabot, in combination with a very large powder charge. The Paramount gains its performance by using a special, extremely aerodynamic PowerBelt ELR bullet.
Don’t worry, we’ll talk more about powder, primers, and bullets here shortly.
Both muzzleloaders are extremely accurate and highly regarded in the muzzleloading community. So, both are outstanding muzzleloaders for hunters in states where they’re legal to hunt with like Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (among others).
There are several options for hunters to choose from when it comes to muzzleloader powder.
First, true black powder is the easiest to ignite, but it’s the dirtiest and least efficient. Black powder is also more hazardous than smokeless powder or other black powder substitutes, so many stores don’t carry it.
Keep in mind that flintlock and percussion cap muzzleloaders are restricted almost exclusively to using true black powder. Hunters who try to use a black powder substitute in either type of muzzleloader might have ignition issues (I certainly did).
While inline muzzleloaders can also use true black powder, they are generally much better suited for use with some of the different black powder substitutes out there like Blackhorn 209, Hodgdon’s 777, or Pyrodex.
Pyrodex and 777 are available as a loose powder or pre-formed pellets. In my experience, loose powder is generally easier to ignite, produces faster muzzle velocities, and is a little more conducive to better accuracy. On the other hand, pellets are much easier and faster to load.
Many hunters use those pellets with a lot of success, so there’s not necessarily anything wrong with them.
Blackhorn 209 is by far the most efficient and cleanest burning and powder of the bunch, but it’s also the most difficult to ignite and is the most expensive.
For what it’s worth, I’ve successfully taken game with just about all of those different propellant types, so they do all work pretty well. The pre-formed pellets are really easy to use, so they’re a really good place to begin for new hunters. Those who want a little more flexibility when it comes to developing a specific load should go with loose powder.
All that said, I’d recommend going with Blackhorn 209 if you’re using a muzzleloader and primer that will reliably ignite it.
Speaking of powder ignition, there are several different types of muzzleloader primers in common use these days. #10, #11, and musket caps (No. 1081 in the photo below) are designed for use on percussion cap rifles and pistols. As you can see in the photo below, the biggest obvious difference between them is their physical size and shape. Specific muzzleloaders are designed to use a specific type of cap.
Some inline muzzleloaders can use #11 or musket caps, but the 209 primer is by far the most popular. It produces the hottest flame of the bunch and is ideal for igniting black powder substitutes. So, I recommend using some sort of 209 primer where doing so is legal.
Winchester Triple Seven 209 primers are excellent choices for hunters using loose and pelletized Pyrodex and Triple Seven. However, some hunters have trouble getting Blackhorn 209 to reliably ignite with those primers.
I’ve had really good results using CCI Magnum or Federal 209A primers with Blackhorn 209 though. Those primers are physically the same size as the Winchester 209 primers, so switching back and forth between them is pretty simple.
While hunters back in the 1800s were restricted to using plain old lead round balls or very basic conical bullets, hunters today have access to a much wider variety of muzzleloader bullets.
Flintlock and percussion cap muzzleloaders generally have slower rifling twists that limit them to using the older style bullets. However, modern inlines can accurately shoot a really good selection of full bore bullets, as well as bullets that use a sabot.
A sabot (the red sleeves in the photo below) is a device that allows a smaller caliber projectile to be fired from a larger caliber barrel. For example, a muzzleloader with a .50 caliber barrel can fire .45 caliber bullets with a sabot. The sabot helps form a good seal on the bore during firing but falls away after the bullet exits the barrel.
In general, a saboted bullet will have a slightly flatter trajectory than a full bore bullet of identical mass fired with an identical powder charge.
I’ve used several different types of full bore and saboted bullets with a lot of success over the years and both work just fine for a lot of hunting situations. So, choosing between them comes down to a mix of what’s legal where you’re hunting and personal preference.
As you’re first getting started, I’d recommend trying out bullets manufactured by the same company that produced your muzzleloader: Thompson Center bullets in a Thompson Center muzzleloader, PowerBelt bullets in a CVA, etc. That said, I’ve done a lot of hunting with and have gotten especially good results out of my muzzleloaders using 250gr PowerBelt AeroLite and 250gr Barnes T-EZ bullets.
PowerBelt Bullets are full bore projectiles and the various Barnes muzzleloader bullets use a sabot. However, both have been very accurate out of every muzzleloader I’ve shot them out of and both have delivered excellent terminal performance on all sorts of game.
Aside from the muzzleloader itself, bullets, powder, and primers, you’ll need a couple of other things to get started.
First, you’ll need a good cleaning kit. Muzzleloaders get extremely dirty when you shoot them, so you really need to clean them thoroughly afterward. You can use a regular rifle cleaning kit for this task, but a dedicated muzzleloader cleaning will have all the other items that are really nice to have when cleaning a muzzleloader like a breach brush, breech plug lube, some picks, and brushes, etc.
Next, I recommend getting a volumetric powder measure if you plan on shooting loose powder. I use one with a funnel built into it that’s great for pouring powder down the barrel without spilling any.
Also, get a bullet starter with a couple of different loading tips. Some bullets require quite a bit of force to push down the barrel. Proper alignment and consistent seating of your bullets are essential for good accuracy. Fortunately, a good bullet starter with the right tip will assist you in properly aligning and seating that bullet against the powder charge without damaging the tip.
Finally, get a couple of speed loaders. These items can hold a couple of extra bullets and pre-measured powder charges to help you reload in case you need a second shot out in the field.
Hopefully, this article has given you a good idea about where to start if you want to hunt with a muzzleloader and that things don’t seem quite so confusing now. Luckily, this stuff is not nearly as complicated as it sounds at first.