When muzzleloader hunting, if in doubt, clean it out!
The loudest noise you ever may hear when you are deer hunting is the metallic “thwack!” of a hammer falling when you squeeze the trigger on your quarry, and nothing good happens. A misfire.
Perhaps even as you read this, during Ohio’s Jan. 7-10 muzzleloader deer season, the sounds of lost opportunities may be uttered in more than one woodlot. Because of their higher maintenance and feeding requirement, muzzleloading arms can be more problematic than breech-loading arms.
But even a dead-reliable, bolt-action, slug-gun can misfire. Just as my buddy’s daughter, 26, and a veteran hunter found out the second day of the recent bonus gun season. Her gun, borrowed from her dad, misfired not once, but three times when she swung on two deer and then, improbably, one of three coyotes that I had moved from cover in a long creek bottom.
The daughter had been visiting and had borrowed her dad’s 12-gauge, which he had used the day before in fog, drizzle, and snow. Dad said he had cleaned the gun and “blown out the bolt” the evening before. After our hunt, we tested the gun in the field, and it fired perfectly, which did not help daughter’s disposition over the missed opportunity.
The primer on one of the misfire shells was slightly dented, but it obviously did not go off. Could it be that the firing pin still had some ice impeding its full discharge? The second day was lots colder than the first, freezing cold and windy. Had the ammo itself gotten wet the day before and somehow had frozen up? Was something frozen stuck elsewhere in the firing or safety mechanism? We could only speculate, but the answer was to assume all of the above.
The remedy then, is to be sure to start fresh. If in doubt, clean it out – before you leave home. Make sure the firearm is thoroughly dry. Cycle it with a dummy round at home, to be sure. Use fresh ammunition, not what you carried in a wet pocket the day prior. With muzzleloaders, clear them at day’s end if in doubt, then load with fresh dry powder [or pellets] and a new primer.
In muzzleloading season I still use an “old” sidelock Hawken .54 that uses the small No. 11 percussion caps, unlike the large, hot 209 shotgun primers used in modern in-lines. Many years ago in wet weather, I experienced several misfires during wet-weather episodes, though those all came when trying to clear the rifle at hunt’s end. Luckily, by no finding a deer to shoot at, I had saved myself that much frustration.
My wet weather problems were over when I added a spring-loaded, brass “weather cap” that covers the nipple and cap. I have not had a misfire since. We hunted three days in pouring rain two years ago and the old .54 discharged just fine at hunt’s end, even after my having stood through several frog-drowning downpours, muzzle-down and lock tucked under my arm. After each downpour, I will note, I exchanged the cap for a fresh dry one, discarding the potentially water-soaked cap.
That said, I have had several hunting buddies whose muzzleloaders failed even in dry weather. Invariably the reason was that they had gunked up the flashhole and chamber area with too much grease or lubricant after the last hunt, and they had failed, before loading and leaving home, to clean it out thoroughly, then fire a primer or two on some dry leaves or such to be sure and see that the flashhole was clear. A few leaves or a bit of sawdust, or even dust on the garage floor, will “puff” away when holding the muzzle close and firing a primer. Needless to say, do not try this with anything but an uncharged gun.
So, if you want to save your ears from hearing the loudest sound in the woods, a misfire, pay attention to the details in maintaining your arm. The old-timers did not say, “keep yer powder dry,” for nothing.