A 2011 Look at Muzzleloading Safety


Muzzleloading is handloading. As what you shoot is solely determined by you, by what you decide to assemble inside your barrel, the safety of that load is controlled only by the individual. No one else can determine that your frontloader is completely unloaded before you load it. No one can control the proper loading of a muzzleloader except for the operator. You would think this is all common-sense and self-evident, but we get distracted, forgetful, and so forth. Yet, it takes a little effort from us to constantly remind ourselves and our shooting companions that the only way to think is “safety first” and then have a good hunt, or range sessions.

Yet, it happens every year. Humans destroy muzzleloaders by their own actions. We double load, we shoot out ramrods on top of our hunting loads, we shoot out ramrods with heavy jags attached to them. This stuff happens all the time, for shooters that destroy their muzzleloaders tell me what they have done. Sometimes, we get lucky. I've seen plenty of shotguns come apart at the line, for example, and the most common reason is a negligent reload. All muzzleloading loads are “reloads.”

The most suitable rifle barrel materials commonly used are 416 stainless steel and 4140 Chrome Moly carbon steel. This is also common knowledge, as anyone can see from some of the best custom barrel manufacturers in the business, like my friend Dan Lilja and John Krieger.

Proof-firing, the intentional firing of an overload to illuminate barrel defects, has the force of law in C.I.P. member countries. While “SAAMI” (http://www.saami.org) publishes voluntary standards for some firearms, these standards are indeed voluntary, do not carry the force of law in the United States, so it is up to the management of a muzzleloading company (or any firearms company) to decide whether they want to proof-fire the guns they manufacture or not.

In muzzleloading, in the United States, there have been no enforceable standards, so the consumer is at the mercy of the importer or manufacturer. The only muzzleloader made today of the appropriate 4140 Chrome-Moly or 416 Stainless steel and that undergoes 100% factory proof-testing, made in the U.S., is the Savage Arms Model 10ML-II. It is obviously the safest, best-made, best-tested muzzleloader ever offered to the consumer. It is the safest muzzleloader you can buy and use, if properly used, but like any other firearm it can be destroyed if misused.

The only other brand of muzzleloader (that I know of) that gets 100% proof testing is Pedersoli. Pedersoli publishes, “In compliance with the Italian law for the guns production and sale, all the guns must go through the firing tests at the Banco Nazionale di Prova (National Proof House) in Gardone Valtrompia according to the C.I.P rules. The high pressure firing test is made to all the guns whether they are muzzle loading or breech loading, and it is one of the most sophisticated of qualifications tests, involving not only actual overload firing tests but also over 40 inspections for dimensional changes which would indicate the slightest flaw.

American muzzleloading manufacturers such as Thompson-Center and Knight Rifles skip the proof-testing. T/C does use magnafluxing, and the Green Mountain barrels used by Knight have a good reputation, backed by quality American steel, that typically goes through ultrasound, dye penetrant, and eddy current testing before the solid bar ever leaves the mill. Quality control costs money, and adequate quality control is sadly lacking from most imported muzzleloaders with the exception of Italy's Pedersoli.

Savage Arms and Pedersoli are first-tier in muzzleloaders, with Thompson-Center and Knight ranking as “very good” in the quality control department. The rest are of dubious quality, meaning the Spanish Dikar rifles branded as “CVA” and the Spanish Ardesa product named “Traditions.” I've done my best to caution consumers about this for over the last seven years. See: http://www.chuckhawks.com/dangerous_muzzleloaders.htm for just one example.

Aside from manufacturing defects I've observed in Spanish muzzleloaders, the “double load” is capable of destroying any muzzleloader. It isn't a certainty, but if you want to lose body parts, double loading a muzzleloader is one of your best bets.

This can easily be avoided. Verify that your muzzleloader is COMPLETELY unloaded and in good working condition prior to loading it. If you don't know, you just don't know so have it checked out by a reputable gunsmith or send it back to the factory for service and inspection. Use only recommended loads from reputable sources. Firearm manufacturer's recommendations are very easy to find: they begin and ends with what is printed in the factory owner's manual. If it isn't in printed form from the firearms company, it obviously is NOT an authorized load from that firearms company. Always use a witness mark on your ramrod.

Religious use of a witness mark on your ramrod or range rod mechanically eliminates the possibility of overloading or double-loading your firearm. And please, remove that ramrod from your barrel before pointing your muzzleloader in a safe place and attempting to fire it. We wouldn't shoot a cleaning rod out of a .30-06 rifle or a 12 gauge shotgun. Yet, countless numbers of muzzleloading enthusiasts have told me they have forgotten to remove their ramrods. Some just get "scope-eye," some bulge barrels, some rupture barrels, some just complain that their gun suddenly kicked too much. Too bad! If we decide to pull the trigger on a firearm with a bunch of junk in the barrel that doesn't belong, now whose responsibility is it, really?

Please be safe, then have a good hunt. We owe it to our kids, our hunting buddies, and our friends to constantly reinforce proper muzzleloading handling and operation.

Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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