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Black Powder Rifle For Beginners

September 2022 -- Jamie R.

Another cold wet day so more quality time with the keyboard and a cup or two of coffee. This time I want to cover some of my experiences getting started with Black Powder Rifle Shooting. I have only been doing this for a couple years and learned a lot. For this article, the focus will be on .50 caliber rifles.

Select your rifle. There are a bunch of different rifle actions to choose from, including Flintlock, Percussion Cap, or the more modern Inline. The difference here is the method that is used to set off the powder charge. Flinters and Percussion cap rifles are available in a variety of configurations from historically accurate replicas to modern synthetic stocked rifles that can be scoped. Choose the one that suits your taste and budget. Personally I went with the more modern style of Flintlock to be able to shoot with a scope. This style of rifle shoots mainly patched round ball or lighter minie bullets or Lee R.E.A.L bullets due to its slower twist rate -- generally 1/48.

Inline rifles shoot more like a centerfire rifle; they are fired using a 209 shotgun primer for stronger ignition and no delay between pulling the trigger and the round going off. These are mainly available in the modern rifle style and have several benefits. Generally inlines shoot heavier bullets better due to the faster 1/28 twist. Lyman Great Plains, heavy Lee R.E.A.L.s, sabots holding pistol bullets, or my favorite the Lee 360gr minie bullets. The downside is that they generally donít shoot patched round balls as well. This alone is a good reason to have at least one of each type. Cleanup and disassembly after shooting is also easier with inlines.

Powder and Accessories. If you want that rotten egg fart smell use real Black Powder. There are different levels of it based on the size of the grains. The more Fs the finer the powder. Most .50 cals use FFg or FFFg for the barrel charge under the projectile. Flintlocks also use a tiny charge of FFFFg in the flash pan to ignite the barrel charge.

The other rifles use Percussion caps or 209 primers to ignite the charge. These can be hard to find right now.

The other powder options for the barrel charge are the BP Substitutes: Pyrodex RS, Triple 7, Jim Shockey's Gold, and others. These are also available in pre-measured pellets for convenience. These substitutes reduce the fouling and are not as corrosive as real black, and can be used in many modern rifles. This means more shots between swabbing the barrel on the range and easier cleanup after shooting. The added benefit I have found is they produce more velocity than BP allowing me to use less powder per shot.

A BP Powder Measure. Black powder is measured by VOLUME, not weight, so an adjustable powder measure is a must have. The nice part with measuring your charge is the ability to switch from a plinking load to a deer hunting load easily.

A Ball or Bullet Starter and Ram Rod. The ball starter gets the bullet or ball started in the muzzle and the you use the ram rod to seat the bullet TIGHTLY on top of the powder charge. The rifles generally come with a ram rod but these are short and painful on the hand to use. Get a rod with a handle and save the grief.

Jags and Patches. If you buy a rod kit all the bullet seating and cleaning jags should be there. The bullet seating jags have either a flat or rounded base for use with flat head bullets or round balls and they screw right on to your ram rod. The other common jags are a stuck ball remover and a patch worm. These are used to remove a stuck ball or cleaning patch from your barrel. Patches include cleaning patches and patches to lube and put around the round ball when loading the gun. These patches can be bought pre-lubed or cut from thin cotton or pillow ticking and lubed prior to loading and shooting.

Lube Solvent and Grease. You will need a supply of Black Powder Specific cleaning solvent for cleanup after shooting. On the range after several shots I use water on a patch to remove fouling, but do my final cleanup with a BP solvent and plenty of cleaning patches. BP bullet lube is a soft lube used to coat round ball patches or fill the grooves in bullets before shooting. The grease is a must for cleanup and is applied to the breech plug as part of the cleanup. This prevents the breech plug from getting corroded in place after shooting.

Choose Your Projectile. Based on the twist of your rifle these range from round balls to a variety of bullets which I touched on earlier. These can be purchased or easily cast from pure lead. The other method is to buy sabots. These are a plastic cup for a pistol bullet much like a shotgun wad and allow you to shoot .44 magnum projectiles in your 50 caliber muzzle loader for example. I have not played with these yet. You have to try different options to see what shoots best for you. My preference is the minie bullet because there is no patch required and the inline I use most shoots these very well.

This is a brief description of the basics needed to get started shooting black powder rifle. For anyone starting out I STRONGLY SUGGEST you talk to, or go out shooting with, an experienced Black Powder shooter at first. Shooting Black Powder is more dangerous than centerfire if not done correctly; you could create the equivalent of a pipe bomb if things are not done correctly.

My interest in this got started when having conversations with the late Trapper-John Aarnio, and when I decided to get into BP, I was well prepared from a very knowledgeable shooter. Admittedly, my butt cheeks clenched the first time I fired my Flintlock.

Be Safe and have fun.


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