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An introduction to muzzleloading: Part Three

Today reader Ian McKee, whose blog handle is 45Bravo, tells us even more about muzzleloading. If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me at blogger@pyramydair.com.

Take it away, Ian

An introduction to muzzleloading: Part Three
by Ian McKee

Cherokee rifle.

Part 1
Part 2

This report covers:

  • Powder measure and flask
  • Short starter
  • Percussion cap dispenser
  • Flintlock tools
  • Lubes and solvents
  • Summary

In part two we covered how to deactivate the powder charge and remove the projectile from a loaded muzzleloader.  That involved several pieces of equipment that are absolutely necessary for every muzzleloader shooter to own. 

I know this stuff is old hat for many of us. But I am writing this series so that if a person who has no previous experience with muzzleloaders or firearms in general should happen to stumble across it, they will get some guidance into what the hobby entails, and how to pursue it safely. 

Today we will look at some of the other muzzleloading accouterments that may or may not be absolutely necessary. 

Some people bring more to the range than others. Some go with a gun and ammo, and are happy. Others bring everything needed to completely rebuild their gun right there on the bench. 

Powder and projectiles are a given, some people are traditionalist and will only shoot black powder. But true black powder is classified as an explosive and may not be legal to possess in some jurisdictions. That brings us to black powder substitutes. They are classified as a propellant and are not as heavily regulated as black powder. 

Powder measure and flask

All black powder and its substitutes should be dispensed by volume not by weight. So that leads us to our two most used pieces of equipment, the powder measure and flask. There are simple powder measures that are designed to dispense one volume only, and others that are adjustable and can be used for many calibers and loads. Most adjustable powder measures have a graduated scale with five grain increments ranging from 5 grains up to 100 grains. This will cover most rifles and pistols you will encounter.

Commercial powder measures and flasks are typically made from brass or copper with brass parts. Many muzzleloading websites sell more traditional styled powder flasks made from animal horn, and even wood. Original 18th and 19th century flasks ranged from very plain and utilitarian, to extremely ornate works of art depending on the depth of your pocketbook. 

What they all have in common is that they are made from materials that will not generate a spark from either static electricity, or by striking the measure or flask against a piece of steel.  This is very important, as gunpowder of any type is, shall we say, “sensitive to sparks.”

modern flask
Opposite ends of the spectrum. This is a modern inexpensive flask and measure.

antique flask
And here is a late 17th-century German hand carved powder flask.

Short starter

The next item is not an absolute necessity, but it will make your muzzleloading less frustrating, especially if you are shooting a patched round ball that fits the bore tightly. The short starter is an item that often has a round ball about two inches (50mm) in diameter to give you a large surface area to grab. It also has two short ramrods to start the projectile into the barrel. 

One is a very short ramrod section that is normally about ¼ inch (six mm) long and is used to seat the projectile just inside the muzzle of the barrel. It also has a somewhat longer rod that may be between three inches (76mm) and five inches (127mm) long to run the projectile deeper into the barrel. 

Starting the ball a few inches down the bore then lets you use your full length ramrod to run the ball home. The barrel supports the ramrod when it flexes, reducing the chance of breaking your longer wooden rod. 

short starter
You can see how it got its name. It starts the projectile a short way down the bore. 

Percussion cap dispenser

While shooting from the bench, getting the caps from a tin is like loading a .177 caliber pellet gun from the tin. The percussion caps are about the same size.

percussion caps
Yep, they are about the same size as a .177 pellet. Like you need pellets to shoot an airgun, you need caps to shoot the percussion guns. Oh, and these caps are made by RWS!

If you are hunting, the small caps can be difficult to get out of the tin without spilling them, so a device that holds the caps in a ready to use orientation is ideal. Cappers come in many designs, but a straight line capper, or a “snail” capper are the most common. They can be worn on a lanyard, or carried in your “possibles” bag or a pocket. They can be used on most percussion guns.  

The most common cap dispensers. Notice the DIY (Do It Yourself) nipple picks at the bottom.

Flintlock tools

Flintlocks will use the same tools mentioned so far except for the capper. They use a very small powder flask made just to prime the pan of the flintlock. It dispenses a small measured amount of a very fine granulated black powder. 

But they do have their own specific tools that consist of but not limited to a screwdriver. There is a vent pick to clear debris from the touch hole, a pan brush to clear debris from the pan and a small hammer to properly knapp the flint edge for a better spark to ignite the charge in the pan. 

Some flintlock shooters keep a very small wire brush to run through the vent to keep the passage free of fouling. 

flintlock tools
Your most commonly used flintlock tools on one ring.

NOTE: I mention cleaning the debris from the vent and pan because black powder and its substitutes typically only burn about 50% of their components. They leave behind fouling and debris in the bore, flame channel in the vent and in the pan of flintlocks. This fouling accumulates after every shot until the firearm can become difficult or even impossible to load and shoot. We will cover fouling more in the next part of the series.

Stock Up on Shooting Gear

Lubes and solvents

I have not mentioned lubes or solvents as that is a sure way to start an argument, some shooters prefer modern over the counter synthetic lubes and solvents. Others will only use homemade concoctions made from natural animal fats and oils, and were mixed over a fire fueled by gopherwood that was blessed by a Braucher at midnight under a full moon.  

Ok I am being facetious with that last comment, but there are literally hundreds if not thousands of recipes from all over the world for lubes and solvents that have been sworn by over the centuries since the inception of muzzleloading firearms. 


This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of necessities, but does hit on the basic items that you should have if you are going to shoot a muzzleloader. Your choices will be dictated by your tastes, what type of gun you are shooting, your style of shooting. What is available to you in brick and mortar stores or online, or how handy you are with tools. Once you start shooting, your choices will change as you evolve in the hobby.  

In the next part we will cover some of the powders used in muzzleloading, both black powder and its substitutes. 

Shoot safe, and have FUN!


author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

63 thoughts on “An introduction to muzzleloading: Part Three”

  1. I can see all the photos except the modern powder flask and the short starter.

    None of the pics link to anything.

    Ian, great report. Very informative. Thanks.

    The Cherokee looks somewhat similar to a Hawken flintlock. Other than the obvious difference in the lock, are there others?

      • RR-

        No, Pyramyd does not currently sell muzzleloaders. But……..

        Just got notification yesterday that they now sell center fire ammunition, with their ‘Buy three, get four’ policy. So who knows what the future will bring.

        • They have actually been selling a few specific calibers for the past few months. Quietly.

          They also are carrying ballistic gel blocks. And targets.

          Before you run to look at them be aware of the prices.

          Calibrated ballistic gel is not cheap.

          You see a lot of YouTube guys shooting it and many companies use it as a form of sponsorship.

          Pyramyds pricing is competitive with the others and even better than many online sellers on most items.

          I look forward to what the future holds for Pyramyd AIR.


      • Don’t know, RR, but with all the changes lately, just reporting on things between yesterday and today. Maybe they could link to patches and cleaning rods? Who knows?

        In other news, I have to make a Crosman parts list…. I’ll need a steel breach for the 362, extra seals, perhaps some other bits….

        • RG,

          It probably will not hurt to have a few spare parts laying around. As for the steel breech, it can be had most anywhere. I have a left hand one on my 2240 I bought elsewhere.

          TCFKAC then TCFKACBBVO now TCFNACBBVOBBG uses common parts when possible. The breech you speak of is also used on the 2240, 2260, 1377, Disco, Maximus, add nauseum. There are also other folks who make/sell it. Most seals can be had at a local hardware store.

    • RG,
      I think the Cherokee is more of a generic representation of an 1830’s era American muzzleloader.
      Than any actual authentic rifle.

      Yes it looks a lot like the Hawken rifles made by many manufacturers.


    • The Cherokee was made by Thompson Center as was their Hawken Model. It’s smaller, lighter, a very nice rifle. They also made the Seneca rifle. It’s the same basic rifle as the Cherokee but a bit more upscale.


      • Mike many years ago I had a Seneca.

        If I remember right it had a brass patch box.

        My first black powder rifle I ever bought new with my own money was a Pedersoli Tryon in .50 caliber.

        I liked the back action lock, and the color case hardened furniture.

        The drift adjustable sights made me a better shooter.

        Set it for 50 yards zero.
        Learn the hold over between 25 yards and 100.

        Long barrel, beautiful rifle.


  2. With the exception of the Cherokee rifle I cannot see a single picture. I’m using Windows 10 with Brave as a browser. Neither does it show up on my Android tablet nor my phone. This has been happening all week. Hopefully it will clear up when I clear my browser history and cache during the weekend.

    Fascinating third part introduction to muzzleloading for somebody who can only dream of actually doing it legally.


  3. Enjoying this. I still have not had time to cast projectiles for my new 54 cal Pedersoli Blueridge flintlock. Too much life in the way. I make my own BP lube it is simple and NO gris gris involved just 50/50 Beeswax and Olive oil that has been blessed by Henny Youngman. Kosher not necessarily needed any undiluted Olive oil will do.

  4. Ah, fond memories of getting sooty… 🙂

    I remember, the more precise the measure of black powder, the better for shooting accuracy.
    My precision scales showed me, measuring powder by weight was not much more precise than measuring by volume. What a relief, because that’s just so much easier to do! 🙂

    Once I had double checked with my scales, how much black powder the dispensing spout on my flask held, I used that as my only measure.

    Because I had several muzzleloaders, which all wanted their individual amount of black powder, I ended up with various lengths spouts that easily screw into the threaded dispensing hole of the flask.
    I also used various size inserts in them to achieve intermediate amounts: a piece of card, rolled around something like a nail to form a tiny tube and popped inside the spout. I would snip slithers of card off, until the scales confirmed, the spout held the exact measure I wanted. 🙂

    PS I liked the idea of a transparent plastic, black powder flask! Apparently some special plastics are non-static and therefore safe to use with black powder. Shame the dispensing mechanism frequently jammed and also leaked. My advice: don’t bother with the pretty plastic flask – get brass, horn, whatever… 🙂

    Oh yeah, it’s inadvisable to ever pour black powder, straight from the flask into the muzzleloader, because the gun may still have some hot residue in it’s barrel from the previous shot.
    After I read about that, I always poured my measures into a little intermediate cup and from there into the barrel.
    Apparently igniting a flask of black powder can turn it into a grenade.
    Some say that’s unlikely. All I know is, I didn’t want to find out and made sure I wouldn’t lose my hands. 🙂

    pictured below are some of my muzzleloading tools…
    (the pictured “intermediate black powder cup” that I used to transfer the powder from flask to barrel is made of some special non-static plastic, ie no risk of sparks)

  5. When I seriously got back into the shooting sports, black powder was the first thing I did. I had a Cabela’s Hawkin in 45 caliber percussion. I later found a 40 caliber flintlock Tennessee mountain rifle, in all places, Tennessee in a pawnshop right across from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I lived in Minnesota at the time and we had a monthly black powder shoot. I took the percussion and the flintlock deer hunting a couple of times but never saw anything I could shoot. I haven’t shot black powder in years because of the cleanup. air rifles are just too easy! You shoot them and put them away 🙂

    • Brent and everyone,

      I wonder what airgun you have come across that in some way resembles a black powder muzzleloader?

      Of course, what airgun looks like a muzzleloader to you?
      Or shoots like one?
      Or handles / feels like one?
      Or whatever else about it that makes you think, muzzleloader?

      While having a little headscratch about this myself, I and maybe others too, would be interested to know what you think, please. 🙂

      • 3Hi-

        I think a multpump air gun most closely approaches shooting a muzzle loader. Certainly not in the looks department, but in the pacing of the shooting experience. The required delay of a follow up shot forces the shooter to more carefully plan every step from start to game in the bag (or shot in the ‘X’).

        • pacoinohio,

          I like your thinking! 🙂
          Yes, all my muzzleloaders are busy guns to use and, I seem to remember shooting them, ooh, about 20 to 30 times per happy hour. 🙂

          Have you a particular multipumper in mind, or even own it?

      • Not one of my airguns looks anything like a muzzleloader. And I don’t even know how to fix that. 🙂

        Anyway, pacoinohio gave me an idea:

        I think that precharged pneumatics are a bit like muzzleloaders, due to their “… pacing of the shooting experience…”, aren’t they?

        My slowest by far, for shooting, is a L.E.P. revolver (Luft~air Energie~energy Patrone~cartridge) that, for example, requires each pellet’s individual air reservoir, in the form of a cartridge, be pressurised and loaded, before shooting. I actually quite enjoy (!) the handling of it and only wish, I could achieve better accuracy… 🙂

        pictured below is the thing with associated accoutrements…

          • Roamin Greco,

            I tried but was unable to post my reply here and emailed it to you directly instead.

            Now, let’s see if the “Post Comment” works for me today…

            update: yes, hurrah! 🙂

          • Roamin Greco and anyone else interested,

            it works a bit like a centre fire cartridge and bullet, except, instead of powder, it takes compressed air and, instead of the bullet, it takes a pellet.
            Upon shooting, a valve releases all the air behind the pellet, driving it out. 🙂

            There are patents, but none printed on my revolver.

            For more interest, may I suggest to start with a 2006 blog, titled “Brocock air cartridges” ( https://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2006/01/brocock-air-cartridges/ )

            I have found a fair bit more information online, some in German, including videos, and I am happy to talk more about my air cartridge gun and gear… 🙂

        • Nice HIHIHI, what. 3 pumps per cartridge?(once you get the hose charged)

          What pressure range is used?

          When I see that much machined brass cartridges with internal valves and reservoir.

          I know the price just went up..


          • 45Bravo and others,

            just to record my quick answer here:

            I have a slim jim manual pump that requires between six to eight strokes per air cartridge. I also have a Brocock stirrup pump and use one stroke per cartridge (typically the second stroke builds too much pressure and the pump’s valve audibly lets go).

            Without gauges, I don’t know what pressure I use, but it sometimes blows a tiny o-ring out of the valve.
            I have read that the air cartridges are designed to take 230 Bar. More pressure is possible but then they don’t last.

            Yes, the cost of cartridges, pumping equipment as well as the gun all add up! 🙂

        • Bill,

          what an interesting suggestion, thanks. 🙂

          The Diana 350 has a long shot cycle, as in, there’s a considerable delay between pulling the trigger and the pellet leaving the muzzle – really?
          Please, what am I misunderstanding?

          • Hihihi
            I believe that you got my meaning exactly. The delay you describe for me is like the delay of the bullet from a muzzle loader after pulling the trigger and ignition of the percussion or, more so, flintlock system. And then there is the (relevant) power of the shot. Those 23 fpe from a springer give a relatively similar sense of power like a big bore muzzle loader.

      • hihihi,

        “I wonder what airgun you have come across that in some way resembles a black powder muzzleloader?”

        I would say my DAQ .458 air rifle, .58 Pistol and .58 Shortrifle; mostly because they have the large bore size, more of a PUSH…recoil when compared to the KICK of a similar caliber center-fire. The Big Bores also have a similar range and rainbow trajectory. The .25 and .308 caliber DAQs are a different animal they have a sharper KICK when pushing 100-270+ FPE (135-365 Nm) at the muzzle.
        The single shot (bolt action bullet load only) separate hammer/striker charging handle make for a more gemütliche shot progression cycle progression along with the objectionable VERY LOW (to many airgunners) shot count to air fills/top ups.

        But there is nothing like shooting a BIG BORE airgun Not even a Black Powder Muzzleloader.

        Now if i could just afford a Girardoni!


        • shootski,

          oh yes. I do not know, but imagine, how your Quackenbush big bores would give a satisfying feedback upon firing.
          I always thought that shooting muzzleloaders, even the small calibres, is a bit of an event. 🙂

          I wonder the market for a Girardoni replica…

      • Ultra High Products Company Inc “Kentucky BB76 Pioneer Air Rifle”

        .177 BB.

        Made for the bicentennial.​

        You will have to hunt for one but there was release one in production at one time.


        • 45Bravo,

          Wow- that’s definitely a muzzleloader to look at !
          Also, it shoots little lead round balls.
          Cool, and thanks! 🙂

          PS Yes indeed, “… Tom has had his hands on one before.” – a search for “bb76” (search box at the top right of this page) returned three results. I shall go put the kettle on and settle for a read… 🙂

  6. Ian,

    Thanks for the memories. It has been a VERY long time since I shot black powder. My Pedersoli 1851 Navy Colt is hanging right above my head on the wall.

    When I was shooting black powder, there was no internet and almost no information available on the subject. As with sport kites, I learned by doing. I am most fortunate that I did not blow my fool head off, or at least a hand.

    That Pedersoli was rather surprising though. It was simple to turn a feral soda can inside out at twenty-five yards with it. That long pistol could shoot. That thing was also a head turner at the range when it went off. It had a roar like nothing else and belched out a big cloud of smoke. Tinsel Town never did get it right.

  7. Ian

    I have enjoyed this series and so look forward to the next parts. One word of caution to experienced as well a newbies to shooting. Gun safety was drilled into me as a child and became second nature (like riding a bicycle). But I didn’t get into reloading and the handling of powder until about age 40. I make myself go through a safe check list every time I begin a reloading session because it ain’t like bicycle riding. Black powder reloading demands even more diligence. So is it a good idea to try it? You betcha!


  8. Another very good one on the subject; this one presses FM’s Re-Enablement button once again and he thinketh it is time to de-mothball the Zoli Zouave and its paraphernalia – still have enough powder and projectiles for at least 1 shoot. Just wish could find a place chock-full of junked appliances to poke big holes into but ain’t gonna happen so will have to find a range where gunsmoking is allowed. 😉

      • No apology needed – strange things happen these days. Like images that do not display though today’s blog pics are now displaying on FM’s laptop screen.

        • FawltyManuel,

          a while ago there was some conversation about links and their effects, but I hadn’t noticed any highlighted text / links. And after the first recent occasion of invisible pictures, everything has displayed fine for me. Lucky me and I wish I knew why. 🙂

          The removal of my comment earlier was different, a little puzzling to me and of no consequence to airgun talk or this blog. So, no worries! 🙂

          For chats that would be more appropriate outside this blog’s comment section, I am available at hiphiphooray at hot mail dotcodot you kay, ok? 🙂

          • Hihihi – read the original reply on FM’s linked email, kubelkobold at that “gee, it is mail” dot and the standard rest of that. Did not see anything objectionable with your reply, but perhaps you are dealing with a very thin-skinned “robominder” on your side. Aforesaid “robominders” FM would like to challenge with Gen. Cambronne’s classic and defiant cry, but this is a family-friendly blog so FM will hold his online-tongue.

        • Fawlty,Manuel,

          That is quite a number of Revolutions occuring that the painting depicted until the painting actually got painted…here in the USA we get all concerned and out of sorts about the potential of Revolution these days…even lame ones like on January the sixth.
          We need a Guillotine or two at the ready!
          Just for the spectacle mind you!


          • We have an ongoing spectacle already, shootski. The word brings to mind Roman spectacles in the arena; maybe that type entertainment should be revived as a method of selecting our leaders…modernizing it a bit by allowing them to exchange musketry volleys with .69 smoothbores at 100 paces, then whoever is left standing gets the job.

            FM’s favorite revolutions were those happening on discs which rotated at 33 1/3, 45 and even 78 RPM – music to FM’s ears!

  9. 45Bravo,

    I tried to read your Guest Blog shortly after it posted early this morning it was a ho hum experience.
    You cannot imagine how much better it was to read later today when the excellent photographs finally showed up!


      • 45Bravo,

        Ian, No Need to be sorry.
        My point was that the absence of photographs causes a BIG HIT to the work you did to put the Blog together; written and the photos.
        Since it is happening sporadically, with no clear reason to many of us readers, it is a negative result that needs to be overcome soonest.
        It is quite frankly unfair to Tom and the Guest Bloggers given the effort involved and to those among the readership who have tried to help solve an apparent IT issue.
        It also is perturbing to readers like Kevin who feel the comments about the issue are sucking the life out of the blog.
        Hope whomever is the cause of this repetitive issue is identified soonest and steps up to at least stabilize it.

        Thank you for your work on this series!


  10. 45Bravo,

    Fascinating stuff! I can see why muzzleloading is so esoteric; you got to be really committed to the art to keep everything in working order. A lot of work, but I suspect a lot of fun too. History recreated in real time.

    Great post. Thanks!


  11. Dear IT,

    Without me clearing my cache or deleting my history the pictures captioned above finally showed up. Hopefully somebody applied the proper tweak so we can see the pictures consistently.


  12. Sometimes I wish I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn NY. No guns, no ammo, no pellet rifles or BB guns allowed.

    What could we do to pass the time? Of course! Make your own gunpowder with items purchased from a drugstore and chemistry hobby shop and make grenades.
    That fun project lasted one day. A friend found a hole in the wall of his home and a bit of metal imbedded in his living room wall on the other side of the room. It was just above where we were sitting outside when it went off.
    A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. He survived that, but he died in Vietnam trying to help a wounded friend. It’s amazing how we get to old age sometimes.

    • Bob M,

      I have had more than my fair share of adrenaline rushes!
      These days i go for my fair share of nutritional rushes more often and i’m not talking about Sliders in Sigonella!


    • Siraniko and Readership,

      So much for the lack of someone stepping up to at least stabilize an ongoing issue!

      On a lighter note…shootski has fallen to the Regulator forces!!! Yup, i now own a ∅ to 6,000PSI (413 BAR) adjustable and Off Board Regulator. I will use it as i work up new “loads” for my Big Bore airguns and perhaps use on my Cascade Fill System which has grown to four 9 Liter Carbon Fiber cylinders. I can dedicate my two Steel 100cu.ft. SCUBA Cylinders to diving.
      I did the math once again on a compressor as well as the life cycle maintenance and replacement numbers. Even though the Dive Shop raised the fill price for 310BAR (4,500PSI) one dollar to US $8.00 and moved two more miles away (8.3) it is still a better deal.
      But back to the most important thing; shootski is studying up on Regulator Best Practices as well as Preventative Maintenance/repairs.

      On the best practices front:
      How many of you think your airgun’s regulator has ever ICED UP?
      What would some possible symptoms of a Freeze Up be?

      More soon as shootski gets smarter on this Regulator stuff.

      No more Popsicles for you!


  13. Finally, these muzzleloader articles motivated FM enough to contort himself thru the attic maze and liberate the Zouave .58 and its paraphernalia; was surprised there was still a fair amount of black powder left for a few more shoots but need to stock up on “minnys.”

    Not too worse for the wear, the rifle picked up a little surface rust in a couple places, but it should clean up pretty well. No more attic hiding for this piece!

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