Proper Cleaning Means Better Muzzle Loader Shooting

period turkey hunt 011
All that smoke means a dirty gun. To maintain the gun’s accuracy and to keep it functioning well, it must be thoroughly cleaned every time it is shot.

As the smoke of the last shot drifts down range, the realization hits you that the smoke pole must be thoroughly cleaned. Since cleaning a muzzle loader is not nearly as much fun as shooting one, the task of cleaning is usually not approached with the same enthusiasm as shooting, but cleaning is as important or even more important than proper loading technique when it comes to reliability and accuracy. A good cleaning is also necessary to extend the life of the gun.
I see the difference a thorough cleaning makes in my own shooting and in running dozens of muzzle loader shoots over the years. As I became better at cleaning, accuracy improved, and the number of misfires and hang fires decreased. When I run a shoot, its pretty easy to see who cleans their gun well and who does not. Again, it’s hang fires, misfires, and missed shots for the shooters that show up to the range with dirty guns. To make cleaning more fun and relaxing, and hence to do a better job of cleaning, its strongly advised to pop the top on a bottle of your favorite beverage before cleaning and then sip it while cleaning.
The best time to clean a gun is immediately after shooting. If that’s not possible, a good rule to follow is to never let the sun come up on a dirty gun. I like to hunt from “can’t see to can’t see,” but if I have fired the shot gun or rifle while hunting from a backwoods camp, I knock off a bit early, so I have day light to clean my smoke poles. When I get back to camp, the gun is cleaned, game is processed, and then camp chores are tended to.
The nipple in a cap lock should not be removed for cleaning. The threads in the drum can get worn down and then smoke and flash will leak out with each shot. In extreme cases, the nipple can be blown out and go whizzing (hopefully) past your ear. If this situation occurs, the drum needs replacing. So, leave the nipple in place and clean it with a pipe cleaner, and use the clean out screw at the end of the drum or snail to clean under the nipple.

A muzzle guard is necessary to keep the ramrod from damaging the muzzle and destroying the accuracy of the rifle. The brass ramrod and the gunk that accumulates on it can wear down the muzzle if a muzzle guard is not used.

Pipe cleaners and Cotton Swabs (Q-Tips) are really handy items for cleaning in the nooks and crannies. Cut the pipe cleaners into 4 pieces to get full use of them.
Below are instructions for the two basic methods of cleaning a muzzle loader-hot water and solvent.
The stuff necessary to clean with hot water

Hot Water
Hot water cleaning is probably the most in-depth method for cleaning a muzzle loader. Hot water is cheap and plentiful. The heat from the water helps to dry out any moisture in the gun so it’s a good way to clean a gun that’s been out in the field hunting on a damp day. The draw backs are that it is messy so it should be done outside. It takes time to heat the water almost to the boiling point and to disassemble the gun so it can be cleaned. Some shooters think hot water can cause rust issues in the barrel.
To clean with hot water, you will need a cleaning rod, jag, muzzle guard, cleaning patches, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs, almost point boiling water, and a can to set the gun in, (I used a large baked bean can) I also use an insulated rubber glove to keep my hands cool.
Steps in hot water cleaning
• Heat a pot of water to almost boiling
• Remove barrel from stock and remove clean out screw or touch hole liner
• Place barrel in can and pour hot water into barrel allowing it to drain into can. Add a bit of dish soap
• Soak touch hole liner or cleaner out screw in small container with water
• Wet patch and place patch on jag patch and begin to run up and down barrel with cleaning rod.
• When water is black dump out and add fresh water and using a clean patch continue to flush barrel, if water stays clear it’s time to dry the barrel, if it turns black dump out and add more clean hot water. Repeat until water stays clear.
• Dry barrel inside and out with clean patches
• Run a patch lightly coated with a muzzle loader rust preventer like Bore Butter or Ballistol.
• Wipe touch hole liner or clean out screw off and lube lightly and replace into gun, put barrel back into stock and you are done.

The tools that are used to clean a muzzle loader with solvent.

Solvent Cleaning
Cleaning a muzzle loader with a solvent is slightly less messy than with hot water, and its quicker and more convenient since water does not need to be heated and the gun disassembled. Cleaning with solvents can inhibit rust and very thoroughly clean a barrel. Solvents have to be purchased and brushes are needed as well as jags so its also more costly to clean with solvents. I have seen a wide variety of stuff used for muzzle loader cleaning solvent including many commercially made products, windshield washer fluid, home brewed stuff which usually include Murphy’s Oil Soap denatured alcohol, and something else. I use this blend and the something else in my version is Neatsfoot oil. Ballistol is used by many shooters to clean their guns.
To clean with solvent, you will need cleaning rod, jag, bristle bore brush, tooth pick, solvent, breech brush or undersized bore brush, muzzle guard, pipe cleaners, and cotton swabs.

Steps in Solvent cleaning
• Use tooth pick to plug touch hole or place a damp folded up patch over the nipple and lower hammer on patch.
• Pour 2 good glugs of solvent down the barrel, (much less for anything less than.45 cal.) and begin to scrub barrel with bristle brush
• Dump out cleaning solution and add more and scrub again. If it comes out white begin to dry out barrel with clean patches. If the solution is black add more and scrub again.
• Run a couple of wet patches down the barrel to see if its really clean and if they come out clean dry the barrel. If not run a couple more wet patches down the barrel until they come out clean. Then run two or three dry patches down barrel to get it nice and dry.
• Put breech brush on rod and wrap a clean patch over it so the tip is covered. Run down the barrel to the breech and spin it around a few times. When the patch comes out clean, run it back down the barrel and leave it in place. Use a pipe cleaner dipped in solvent to clean out the nipple and drum on a cap lock or the touch hole, pan and frizzen on a flint lock.
• Finally, lightly apply a coat of anti-rust to the barrel both inside and out.

There are as many ways to clean a muzzle loader as there are muzzle loading shooters. If the methods outlined here are different than what you may use, that is to be expected. Take what you can to improve what you do. The way I clean muzzle loaders has helped me to fill an old dresser with shooting trophies and consistently fill my freezer with venison and other wild game.

Squirrel Spaghetti

Mid September, which means the beginning of small game and archery deer hunting is fast approaching. Here in the Cook Shack that means there will be wild food on the table. One of my favorite critters to cook is squirrel. When people hear I like to cook squirrel, they often ask, “How do you cook it?” The answer is many different ways. One of my favorite squirrel recipes is Squirrel Spaghetti. The squirrel blends in very nicely with the spaghetti sauce and is simple to make, but takes a bit of time to cook. I usually use home canned spaghetti sauce, but any favorite spaghetti sauce recipe will work. If you are making the sauce from scratch, begin making it as soon as the squirrel begins simmering.

Squirrel Spaghetti

1 squirrel per person, cleaned and quartered
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon Italian spices
1 clove garlic minced
water to cover.

Place all ingredients in a pot, bring to boil and then simmer until meat is falling off of bone. This usually takes 1 ½ to 2 hours. When meat is done, remove from pot, let cool slightly and then debone meat and add it to the sauce.

1 large onion chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
3 16 ounce cans crushed or chopped tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups hot water

Mix all ingredients together in large pot. Bring to a biol and let simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours. Stirring often. Stop cooking the sauce when it is at the desired thickness. Or if the sauce is not thick enough when the squirrel is done add more tomato paste.

Serve over spaghetti noodles with garlic bread and olives. This recipe is so good you can serve it to your friends who do not eat wild game and they will never know unless you tell them. And don’t forget to duck when you do tell them. Even a pillow can be a surprise.

Fresh Black Cap Berry Sourdough Pancakes

From the Woods to the Plate. Fresh Black Caps and Sour Dough Pancakes. An amazingly good combo

The black caps are finally beginning to ripen. I’ve gone berry picking a few times, and this weekend was the first time I was able to pick a significant number of berries. This morning, I made a batch of black cap berry sourdough pancake. They were incredibly good. Eating the pancakes made all of the pokes, scratches and bug bites more than worth it. It is amazing how the best clumps of berries always seem to be surrounded by vines with thorns that resemble razor wire. In the end the berries were plentiful, the bugs, the thorns survivable, and there were no bears, so it was all good.

Black Cap Sourdough Pancakes.
1 to 2 cups of black cap berries
1 cup of sourdough starter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup milk
Place all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and baking powder in bowl and blend. Add sour dough starter, egg, cooking oil and milk. Mix with a spoon until blended. More milk may be needed to create a medium thick pancake batter. Gently fold in berries. Cook on a hot greased cast iron skillet until lightly brown. Flip and cook until done. Serve with honey or maple syrup

Shooting a Muzzle Loader for The First Time

A successful first trip to the range with a muzzle loader takes a bit of preparation, but the smoke and bang make it more than worth the effort. Warning: Muzzle Loading is addicting.
Maybe you got the itch and had to scratch it. Maybe its been collecting dust in a closet for a long time. Or maybe a friend gave you a gun they had but had never shot. However the muzzle loader was acquired, you now have a gun to shoot but are not sure how to proceed. I’ll try to provide a bit of help in getting started in muzzle loader shooting.
First you need some stuff to load and shoot that gun. The most obvious being ball and powder. I prefer real black powder, but it can be difficult to find so shooting one of the modern versions of black powder is fine since its easier to purchase. What type of projectile you shoot will be determined by the rate of twist of the rifle. Rifles with a slower rate of twist will shoot round balls and rifles with a faster rate of twist will shoot conical bullets. Twist is measured by the distance it takes for the bullet to complete one full rotation. Thus, a rifle with a 1 in 48 twist would cause the projectile to fully rotate once every 48 inches. Rifles with 1 in 48 is kind of the dividing line between round ball rifles and conical rifles with 1 in 48 twist shooting both types of projectile relatively well.

These are the required tools needed to safely load a muzzle loader. From the left flint lock primer, pick, capper, powder measure, round ball, cleaning loading jag, short starter and at the bottom a powder flask

Getting the powder and ball in the barrel safely and effectively requires some more stuff. The basic support gear for a muzzle loader includes a ball starter, powder measure, primer for flint locks or a capper for cap locks, powder flask or horn, a pick for the nipple or touch hole, and a bag to hold everything. The right sized cleaning jag and a bore brush are also needed. There are lots of other gadgets that make life simpler for the muzzle loading shooting, but these are the essentials.
All ready for a through hot water cleaning to wash any and all unwanted crud out of the barrel.
There is one more really important step that needs to be done before the rifle is ready for that first trip to the range-a through cleaning. A new gun will have grease and oil in it and a used gun may have grease, oil and who-knows-what in the barrel. The best method for a heavy-duty cleaning is with really hot water and a bit of dish soap. Pull the barrel off the stock and remove the clean out screw and nipple or if a flinter the touch hole liner. Heat water to almost boiling. I fill a baked bean can almost to the top with hot water. Put the barrel in the water and add a teaspoon of dish soap. Wet a cleaning patch and begin to run it up and down the barrel. The wet patch and jag on the ram rod will act like a pump and begin to pump the hot soapy water it and out of the barrel. The grease, oil and crud will be flushed out. After the water gets dark, dump it out and flush again with clean water. Next, remove the barrel from the water and swab the barrel with a couple of dry patches and wipe off any water on the outside. Finally, apply a light coat of muzzle loading lube/rust preventer like Wonder Lube or Balistol. Avoid using petroleum base products like the plague.
Now the gun is ready for a trip to the range. Before heading out, triple check to make sure you have everything you need to shoot. Muzzle loading is about details and its really easy to miss a few. I’ve been in the sport for 30 years and still get to the range without important stuff once in a while.
Before loading and shooting, snap a couple of caps to make sure the barrel is free of obstructions. To do this, first drop the ramrod down the barrel to ensure that is its empty, then place a cap on the nipple and hold the muzzle close to a leaf. If the leave moves vigorously when the cap is touched off, the gun is good to go. If the leaf doesn’t move or only moves a little try snapping second cap.
If shooting a flint lock, run a patch soaked in denatured alcohol down the barrel, followed by a dry patch to make sure all is ready.
Now load the gun and shoot. Remember PGIF (Powder Goes In First). 30 to 50 grains of powder will be plenty to make some smoke and boom. Don’t be too concerned about accuracy the first time out. That will come later. Only make minor adjustment to the sight if it is necessary to punch holes in the paper. The first time out, it’s best to adjust the aim point rather than the sights. The first time out the goal is to get to know the gun, avoid misfires, and have fun. If you are new to muzzle loading, you will quickly discover that burning black powder makes a mess. Be sure to swab the barrel every few shots with a damp patch followed by a dry patch to make it easier to load the gun.
After the shooting session is over, it is imperative to clean the thoroughly clean the rifle. Black powder residue is full of salt compounds which attract water and that leads to rust in the barrel. How to clean a muzzle loader is another blog post.
Welcome to the fascinating world of muzzle loading.

Versatile Zucchini Patties Can Help deal with Garden Surplus


Zucchini patties are a quick and versatile dish that can be prepared and served in many different ways. The patties can be served as both a main dish and as side dish to most meals. They can be dressed up or left basic. They can be used so many different ways that the family can eat its way through several oversized zucchinis without being overwhelmed by a constant diet of zucchini. The basic zucchini recipe resembles potato pancakes. I will start with that recipe and then go over several variants.

2 cups grated zucchini
2 eggs beaten
¼ cup very finely chopped chives
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Preheat cast iron skillet to fairly hot and add some olive oil. With a serving spoon, plop mix on to skillet and cook until golden brown. Flip and cook the same on the other side. Serve immediately. Ranch dressing or sour cream makes a good topping.

Variation 1
Add 1 tablespoon of Italian spices to mix. Serve with tomato sauce on top. Substitute cottage cheese for the mozzarella cheese.

Variation 2
Add one or two crushed dried grape leaves, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and a dash of all spice to mix. Serve with Greek Tzatziki sauce fresh diced tomatoes or top with tomato sauce.

Variation 3
Leave out the cheese and add ¼ more flour. Make the patties about twice as big as normal. Top with pizza sauce and your favorite pizza toppings. Bake until cheese is melted on the pizza.

Zucchini patties can be served in a variety of ways. Use your creativity and develop a few more ways to serve this tasty dish.

2019 Forts Folle Avione Rendezvous

The 2019 Great Forts Folle Avione Rendezvous is over. So sad. A great time was had by all. I ran shooting events on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and participated in the Camp Champ competition in on Sunday. Shooters shot the following matches, Hunters, Mike Fink, Novelty, Pistol, and Trade Gun. At night it got so quiet and still, the silence was amazing. My good friends Leny and Dave gave a some amazing musical performances in front of the camp fire at night. Too bad the storms chased us out early on Sunday.

Teaching a new shooter the intricacies of loading, priming, and shooting a flint lock.