beginning guide to muzzleloaders
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Cleaning The Muzzleloader


After a shooting session it is time to clean the rifle. This is a job that if you put off (particularly if you live in a humid part of the country) could ruin your rifle. Once a rifle is shot the residues in the barrel begin to absorb moisture from the air. This is due to the salts in the nitrates used in making the powder. Pyrodex is even more corrosive than real blackpowder. Not only does it have chlorides but it has chlorates which is a compound that is extremely corrosive to steel. So any person who uses pyrodex must be even more meticulous with their firearm if they want their firearm to last. Be assured when I tell you that if you don't do a good job in cleaning your firearm it will tell on you. When I was first introduced to muzzleloading I asked lots and lots of questions. I remember one day asking "How do you know when the bore is clean enough?" My teacher/husband looked at me and said "If it's not clean enough to eat out of it's not clean enough!"

This review of cleaning is to instruct the shooter how to clean their firearm. What I use is what I have found that works for me. It's not to say that it will be everyone's choice who reads this. You will have to decide if it works for you and if not try another product.

Once you are finished shooting you need to get a bucket of warm water. Keep cleaning patches and paper towels handy. You use several of each. I prefer Bounty paper towels as they don't tear as quickly when you run them down the bore, not to mention they tend to absorb quite well. Remove the nipple or touch hole liner from the firearm and set aside for now. Remove the lock off the rifle (if inline disassemble your rifle) and set lock aside. Remove the wedge pin(s) if your rifle has them and remove the barrel from the stock.

Take a cleaning patch and wet it in the water before trying to run it down the bore. To run a dry patch down a fouled bore is difficult, not to mention it COULD come loose from the jag resulting in the assistance of the patch worm. However the worst thing is that you may not be able to get the ramrod back out as it could get lodged in the barrel. Wetting the patch softens the fouling as you run it down the barrel. Once you have your patch wet, lay it on top of the barrel and install your cleaning jag on the ramrod. Now put the breech end of the barrel (unless you have a barrel that is pinned into the stock. If you do I will touch on this in a minute.) in the bucket. Now run your ramrod down the bore and pump the ramrod up and down. Don't bring the ramrod completely out of the bore. To do so loses the vacuum you are creating. You want to draw the water up into the barrel. Do this several times then take the ramrod out and allow all the water to drain out of the barrel. If you shoot a longrifle that is pinned in the stock you will need a cleaning tube. It is essentially a bushing threaded the same as your nipple or touch hole liner with a tube attached to it. You then put the tube into the water and keep your rifle just to the side of the bucket. Care must be taken when pumping the ramrod up and down the barrel or you can create enough vacuum to make the cleaning tube come apart. The tube is held in place on the bushing with a friction fit. There is a small o-ring that rests against the barrel to help make it watertight and prevent water seaping out. Also care must be taken not to splash the water out of the bucket especially during first wash as this water contains salt in the fouling and wouldn't want to get it on the stock. (Cleaning a rifle with a pinned barrel using a cleaning tube is the same regardless of the type of ignition.)

I will then dump this water out and get another bucket of warm or hot water. I repeat the process after rinsing the patch I used the first time. What I am doing here is getting any last bits of salt out of the barrel. Using hot water makes the barrel dry faster which is what you want. Now take the barrel out of the water and dry the outside off. Lay on a flat surface and use paper towels in small squares about the size of a cleaning patch. Run them down the bore until they come out dry. Once dry I always run one more down just for my own insurance sake. (It's just personal preference and the way I was taught). Now once this is done, you take a cleaning patch saturated in the lube of choice (I use Marvel Mystery Oil) and run it down the bore. I will then take the patch and reverse it (say it's printed flannel and you have the printed side showing or against the bore, you would have the unprinted side next to it now) and run it down again. I then take the patch and go over the barrel on the outside as it has been in hot water as well and lube helps protect it too.

When I finish the barrel I turn to the lock. If shooting a flinter I remove the leather and flint before removing the lock from the rifle. Be careful and don't let the flint hit the barrel as this will scratch the finish. (Some people do not choose to wash their flint and leather after each shooting, this is again personal preference. However one thing to consider, if there is powder residue on the lock why would there not be residue on the leather as well? To leave the leather uncleaned and in the lock, to me, is asking for trouble. The residue on the leather will absorb moisture, and is directly in contact with the upper and lower jaw of the hammer which could rust as a result of not cleaning. So it is of my opinion that flint and leather be cleaned after every shooting session.) I will turn the hot water on and using an old toothbrush I go over the springs and scrub the lock. (If using a percussion rifle I only remove the hammer from the rifle once I put the hammer on half cock so as not to scratch the barrel or hit the lock with the hammer as the fouling is contained to the hammer and nipple.) Once I get the lock clean I dry as best I can with a bath towel and I use wd-40 on the lock or hammer.

Once I get the lock clean (remember folks I'm a traditional shooter so all my muzzleloaders have locks) I turn to the nipple or touch hole liner. PLUG THE SINK BOWL to prevent your losing it down the drain. They are very small and easily lost. Hubby learned this the hard way when he lost one down the drain. So now we always plug the sink. Again run hot water and use a toothbrush and go over the threads. I then take a pipe cleaner and run it into the vent hole. This is a good time to inspect it to see if it has burned enough to warrant replacing. They always burn in an oval shape. The only time they are circular is when brand new. Learn the size of the hole when new as you want to replace it just about the time it becomes double the size. Once this is clean I dry on the towel and I will get it ready to re-install in the rifle. If shooting the flintlock I will then proceed to clean the flint and leather. I take and wet the leather. Then I rub the leather on a bar of soap and rub well to get it nice and soapy. Then rinse well and squeeze out excess moisture and lay it on a shelf to dry. I then take the flint under running water and use a toothbrush and go over the flint. It removes the fouling easily. Dry it off and I inspect it for dullness. (If you haven't noticed there is alot of double checking at different stages of shooting. Nothing wrong with this and it helps keep you familiar with your rifle and to pay attention to detail.)

Once everything is clean, dry, and oiled I re-assemble the rifle. I use the marvel mystery oil and I will run the patch over the stock and all the metal parts. I have found this to be an excellent cleaner removing dirt off the finish of the stock you might not even realize is there. If using a caplock I will take a cleaning patch sized piece of paper towel and fold it diagonally. Then I will take one corner and fold it up towards the opposite corner about 1/4" giving a thicker area. This is what I put directly over the nipple of the rifle and let the hammer all the way down resting on this tail. I then put the rifle in the cabinet. Having this tail on the rifle reminds me to check the rifle in 2-3 days by running a cleaning patch (dry) down the bore to check for any roughness, rust, etc. Once I do this I remove the tail.