Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gobblers Beware: 4 - Loading a Muzzleloading Shotgun

Muzzleloading Shotgun Loading Supplies
A few basic loading supplies
  Asking how to load a muzzle loading shotgun or smooth-bore is a very open ended question. There is no right way, as that depends largely on your gun and what you plan on using it for. The wide variety of gauges, constructions, lock type, barrel length and choke can all greatly affect a load. The fun of getting range and performance out of a cylinder bore weapon can be both frustrating and rewarding. With so many different shot column combinations and factors if  you have the patience and dedication to put the time in on the range you can tailor your loads to whatever your use may be. The beauty and draw of muzzle loading in general is you can not just load a store bought cartridge and pull the trigger. Every load is custom and finding the one that works for me is half the fun.


 One of the first choices you need to make is what powder you are going to use. First and foremost follow the manufacturers recommendations if they are available to you. I personally use Hodgdon Pyrodex RS ( FFG equivalent ) due to availability on the local level and the fact I can use it in all of the muzzleloading firearms I currently own. Many people like to use true black powder, especially in flintlock weapons. The most common recommended powder grain is FFG or its equivalent. Specialty powders such as Blackhorn 209 are not to be used in shotguns. 

 Shot size is one of the subjects you will get a wide variety of opinions on. Most muzzleloading and smooth-bores do not have barrels designed to use steel shot. Lead shot should be all you are using unless your firearm manufacturer specifically states that the barrel is safe for steel shot.

  The basic lead shot choices being smaller pellets that allows for greater pattern density, the downside to this is the smaller pellets lose energy faster than a more dense pellet. What you gain in density and down range energy of the larger pellets is balanced by the fact your patterns will be less dense and you will have to be more accurate and tailor your loads to produce tighter patterns with larger pellets. My personal general use shot size is #6. Experience and your gun will tell you what shot sizes work best in what situations. Some smooth-bores just wont shoot certain shot sizes effectively. Again the patience to test patterns is key to finding your loads.

Shot Column Components:

* Check the Muzzleloading Guide: Shotgun Section to find links to retailers and information. *

cards and wads
Left to right: Over shot card, nitro card, fiber wad
Some of the most common, basic shot column components are thick over-powder cards, also known as nitro cards. Fiber or felt wads to cushion shot and break up fouling. And thin over shot cards to hold your shot in place and keep it from rolling out the barrel. 

 These components are often substituted, for example some people do not like to use cushion wads of any type and use 4 thin over shot cards between powder and shot. This is just one example I have found talking with people as they develop and test loads. As long as your loads are compact with no gaps you should test what combinations work for you. Fiber or felt wads are often oiled or greased. this helps break up fouling between shots and also act as a gas check.

plastic wads
BPI  unslit plastic turkey wads

  Another common product used is plastic shot wads. Unslit steel shot wads allow you to tailor pattern density and range. These can often be found at retailers or online.

Loading and Safety:

  One of the best accessories you can purchase is a adjustable shot and powder measure. Powder and shot are often referred to in older literature and manuals as measures of drams or ounces. A good brass shotgun measure can take the guess work out of measurement conversions.

muzzleloading shotgun powder and shot measure
Shotgun powder and shot measure
Equal loads of powder and shot are the most commonly recommended loads. For example you would measure one ounce of powder and pour down the barrel. You then seat a nitro card  and a lubed wad on top of that. Then using the same measure you would pour a one ounce equivalent of shot, seat an over shot card that has been pricked with a pin or knife. The prick in the card allows air to escape as you seat the card. Many people may use multiple over shot cards as keeping the load compact is very important to your safety. Gaps in the shot column could allow areas of over-pressure and possibly rupture the barrel. Making sure you re-seat your loaded barrel when firing a double-barrel shotgun is often overlooked but the load could be jarred lose when the other barrel is fired.

 I carry my loads pre-measured in quick charge tubes. In the field or on the range this takes a large amount of guess work out of the process. If you have an older fowler you may wish to carry accessories such as a powder horn and shot snake, these can have metered caps that will throw roughly the same amount of shot and powder every time. As always use a marked ramrod if you have any doubts or you out right forget what you put down the barrel.

Rest of the Gobblers Beware Series

 This is just a basic primer on loading a shotgun. Check out the Muzzleloading Reference Guide: Shotgun Section for links to more information and supplies. Also a check out the video of this shotgun being fired below!


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