How to Start Hunting with a Muzzleloader

Looking for more hunting opportunities with less competition? Start hunting with a muzzleloader!

by HuntStand


Ready to start hunting with a muzzleloader but don’t know where to begin? When most people think of muzzleloaders, they often think of the old Hawken rifles. These were the guns used by the famous fictional movie character Jeremiah Johnson, played by Robert Redford, or even the Kentucky rifles like those used in the Civil War. They were the original lock, stock, and barrel setups. Today there are three types of muzzleloaders available to hunters, and they are different because of their ignition systems. They are Flintlock, Percussion, and modern in-line rifles.

Modern In-line Muzzleloader

A modern in-line muzzleloader. This Knight can shoot accurately out to 300 yards using 150 grains of Triple Seven pellets, with a 285-grain Barnes sabot.

Flintlocks use a striker and pan that strike a piece of flint to throw sparks onto the powder, causing it to ignite. Percussion, which had a #10, #11, or musket percussion cap atop a nipple that, when struck, would ignite the powder. Finally, widely popular modern in-line rifles utilize primers that are in a closed breech. Where legal, these guns offer several advantages including the ability to deliver impressive long-range accuracy. Which is right for you? Let’s discuss a bit more background info on each.

Primitive Rifles

Flintlock in action

Sparks caused by a flintlock ignite the powder within.

The early Hawken/Kentucky rifle designs had three main parts. The lock, which was a mechanical device allowing the hammer to be cocked with tension, and held, then released by the trigger. The stock, which held the lock and barrel together, and was used to mount or shoulder the gun. And the barrel, which housed the gun powder, the patch, and the projectile. The barrel also aided the direction in which the projectile flew.

Primitive Challenges

Classic barrel

A typical barrel and ramrod from a classic primitive muzzleloader. Octagon barrels and wood ramrods were the standard.

Loading primitive rifles was simple, yet complex. Powder was poured directly into the end of the barrel, then a patch and a ball were rammed into the barrel and seated against the powder using a ramrod. Once the hammer was cocked back and the trigger was pulled, the hammer would fall. This caused a spark from a striker hitting a flint, igniting the powder, sending the projectile downrange. Primitive powder was volatile. Putting too much in the barrel could cause serious issues. Embers might be left in the barrel, and when the gun was reloaded, it would fire before it was ready. Those primitive rifles are still available today, but so are a plethora of safer and more-accurate rifles.
Muzzleloader elk

Modern in-line muzzeloaders offer many advantages in the field, including impressive long-range accuracy and knockdown power.


Modern Inline Rifle Primers

There are many primers on the market today, but modern in-line rifles that accept 209 primers are typically the hottest and most reliable. Some in-line rifles will accept a #11 cap or musket cap, but the 209 primer is by far the better choice. Flint caused issues, especially in the humid air. Water

Learn About HuntStand’s New Whitetail Activity Forecast Tool

would render a flintlock useless. Percussion caps were better, but still didn’t cause enough heat to be fully reliable. In-line ignitions using primers create hot ignitions that aren’t susceptible to issues with moisture.

Solo muzzleloader hunter

Muzzleloading opens up more hunting opportunities; in many cases you'll find special seasons offer little competition.

The Right Powder

There are a lot of different powder options on the market, and you want to be sure you know what your gun wants or needs to use. True black powder was used in the early days of muzzleloading. Many older guns still require the use of black powder. Flintlocks, for example, need the FFFFg fine true black powder to get good ignition from the relatively unstable spark caused by the flint. Percussion guns can get away with black powder, as well as many

Percussion rifle

A classic percussion-style rifle. Percussion caps made for more reliable ignition and faster trigger-to-shot time.

synthetic substitutes such as Pyrodex or Triple Seven. Only in-line guns can use pellets and powder. Pellets are mostly synthetic “blocks” of powder that are shaped to perfectly fit in the barrel of your muzzleloader. They are precise amounts, typically 50 grains per pellet, and they allow you to load faster and more accurately. You’ll spend less time worrying about measuring powder and hoping your gun fires, and more time aiming at your target. Be sure to follow the powder recommendations for whichever gun you choose.

Sorting Out Projectiles

If you think there are a lot of choices to make when choosing which muzzleloader is right for you, wait until you start diving into projectiles. If you’re using an old flintlock or percussion rifle, you’re likely going to be stuck with a traditional ball or basic conical bullet. Almost all flintlock and percussion rifles have a low twist rate in the barrel’s rifling. This limits which projectiles they can use.

Percussion musket w/powder horn

A percussion musket with a powder horn. Hollow horns were often used to carry black powder, and to fill the rifle in the field.

Modern In-Line Advantages

However, if you’re looking at options for modern in-line rifles, those options can seem endless. Modern in-line rifles can accurately shoot a variety of bullets, as well as bullets that use a sabot. A sabot is basically a jacket that attaches to, or surrounds a bullet. This allows smaller-diameter bullets to be fired out of larger bores. When the bullet leaves the barrel, the sabot simply falls away. Utilizing sabots in modern rifles has proven to give the shooter increased range and accuracy.

Check State Laws

Another thing to consider when getting into muzzleloaders are the varying laws from state to state. There are some great resources online. These can guide you through what’s acceptable or not acceptable in your state—or any other states you’d like to hunt. Be sure to pay attention to things like minimum barrel length and acceptable ignition systems. In addition, check minimum and maximum bore diameter, and whether primers are legal. And don’t forget to check if in-line rifles are legal, and if you can use jacketed projectiles (sabots).

The Thing About Scopes

Can you use a scope for muzzleloader hunting in your state, or are iron sites mandatory? Scopes are allowed in some states, and are illegal in others. In some states, scopes are allowed on a muzzleloader if it’s being used during the shotgun season—but cannot be used during the special muzzleloader season. Two things that are common in all 50 states? Well, special muzzleloader seasons exist in all 50—and flintlocks with round balls are legal in all 50. Beyond these, check the laws carefully.

Inline rifle accessories

A few modern rifle necessities. Pictured are Hodgdon's Triple Seven pellets, 209 primers, 245-grain lead sabots, and Barnes 285-grain copper sabots.

Right Recipe for Accuracy

Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, it’s time to hit the range. When it comes to muzzleloaders, every style is different, and every model is different. In addition, every gun is different. Every gun likes something special, and it’s up to you to find the “secret recipe.” It might be 3 Pyrodex pellets (150 grains) and a 245-grain Barnes bullet with a yellow sabot. It could be 100 grains of loose Triple Seven gun powder with a 285-grain full-bore projectile from PowerBelt. Once you figure out the right recipe, be sure to write it down or memorize it. If it hits just right, every time, don’t change it.

Muzzleloader Deer Success

Looking for a new challenge? Muzzleloading is great fun, and can open up hunting opportunities in your home state as well as across state lines.

Gun Limitations

Through experience, we’ve found that using bullets made by the same manufacturer often leads to the best results. Hopefully that helps cut the learning curve. With an older smooth-bore musket, 50 yards is about the max range, if you’re expecting to be somewhat accurate. When you start hunting with a muzzeloader using a modern in-line rifle, you can expect very good results out to 200 yards or more.

Upgrade to Pro Whitetail: Get The Whitetail Activity Forecast & More!

With all of this information, muzzleloader hunting can seem daunting. You might even be asking yourself why you would ever want to take up such a sport. Actually, the information provided has only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to info and options. However, not having a muzzleloader and the knowledge at your fingertips limits you as a hunter.

Late season muzzleloading

Find the right "recipe" for your modern in-line muzzleloader and you can expect impressive performance and accuracy.

Muzzleloading Advantages

As we’ve covered, every state has a special muzzleloader season. In addition, some states have very unique or special opportunities only afforded to muzzleloader hunters. Some states have slug-only zones, where shotguns have reigned supreme for decades. Many areas that are “slug only” also allow muzzleloaders to be used. While some states offer early season muzzleloader hunts, many offer late-season hunts. During many of these hunts, you might not see another person in the woods. And if you’re like me, that’s a very good thing. There’s something nostalgic and magical about stalking through the woods, alone, with a musket. When you start hunting with a muzzleloader, you’ll be just like Jeremiah Johnson, or maybe the legendary Davy Crockett.

Best New Muzzleloaders for 2022

Get stoked for front-stuffer hunting with this lineup of new muzzleloaders.



HuntStand is the #1 hunting and land management app in the country. It combines advanced mapping tools with powerful map layers to allow users to create and share the best hunting maps possible.