Cleaning and Caring for Your Muzzleloader

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Just like any firearm, the muzzleloader requires cleaning, care, and maintenance to ensure a lifetime of shooting and hunting enjoyment.

However, you need to forget what you know about cleaning your modern, smokeless powder, cartridge guns and do some things that may seem a little unorthodox in the world of firearms care.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you need to do after your trip to the range.

No Petroleum Products Allowed

Antique percusion mountain rifle made around 1840-50's with tiger maple wood and double set triggers.

If I asked 100 readers the best way to clean your centerfire rifle, I’ll get 100 different answers. Very likely, the same kind of opinions would surface with regards to the cleaning and maintenance of the black powder rifle.

So, don’t go off half-cocked with the following tutorial. This is what I was taught many years ago. It has worked for me, and I’ve never had a failure to fire in my personal rifles.

Black Powder and Pyrodex are both corrosive and hygroscopic. Quite simply it means that moisture is attracted to the powder and the residue after firing the rifle. If allowed to sit crusted in your bore or around the nipple you will be rewarded with pitting, rust, and corrosion, even on stainless steel guns.

If solvents and lubricants that are petroleum based are used on black powder rifles you create a problem for you and your rifle.

The president of Ox Yoke has this to say about black powder fouling, “When you lube a muzzleloader with a petroleum product and fire it, you are heating up that petroleum.

Heat and pressure, plus petroleum equal tar, just like the asphalt used in paving roads. Black, sticky tar (fouling) creates all sorts of trouble in the bore of a muzzleloader.”

To help reduce the fouling inherent in black powder shooting, we are going to turn to old-time traditional products with a modern twist. Personally, I like Thompson-Center’s No. 13 Cleaner and their Nature Lube 1000 (Bore Butter) to clean and protect my muzzleloaders.

Modern cleaning products for your muzzleloader

The use of natural cleaning products allows us to season the bore and the metal surfaces of our muzzleloader, much like grandma seasoned her cast iron skillets and dutch ovens.

By seasoning the surface of our bore we create a surface more resistant to corrosion, and easier to clean. We are also able to shoot more between cleanings or swabbing the barrel.

The mountain men of the 1800s did not have any whizz bang cleaners at their disposal. They kept their rifles firing and protected from the weather by swabbing with hot water and seasoning the bore and exterior with fat rendered from the animals they hunted. We have the modern convenience of getting our natural lubricant from a tube.

Let’s Clean Our Muzzleloader

A patched round ball after shooting sabots makes cleaning easier

The first step for me actually starts at the range. I always end my session by firing a couple of patched round balls, lubed with Bore Butter. The tight patch helps scrub away some fouling and I get the added benefit of a bit of seasoning for my bore.

I will then saturate a patch with #13 Bore Cleaner and swab out the barrel. I follow with a dry patch, then a cleaning patch saturated with Bore Butter.

Swab the bore with a natural solvent before you leave the range

Now I have removed moisture-attracting fouling. By thoroughly lubing the bore any remaining fouling stays soft and is easy to remove during final cleaning at home.

Disassemble The Rifle

Following the manufacturer’s instructions for your rifle, remove the barrel from the stock. Be sure to remove the ramrod first.

Remove the breech plug if applicable and the nipple. If you shoot an inline you’ll have the cocking mechanism and spring as well that will likely be removed at this point.

Mix Your Cleaning Solvent

Hot, soapy water seems counter-intuitive

Fill a coffee can or bucket with hot, soapy water. A few drops of dishwashing soap is just fine. The hotter the water, the better. As we swab the barrel we want to heat the metal so we can season the bore.

Drop your breech plug, nipple, and any other parts into the hot water to soak.

Swab and Heat the Barrel

Using your ramrod, attach a patch jag on the end. Use a T-handle extension if you have one to give you a little extra length and to make it easier to hold onto.

I highly recommend a range-rod or working rod for cleaning. They are longer and you don’t risk damaging your ramrod which is a critical tool in the field.

With an inline, place the muzzle in the bucket of water. With a traditional rifle, you’ll place the breech end in the water.

Swabbing the bore with a tight patch

Soak a patch in the water and wrap it around the jag and begin swabbing the bore. As you push the patch all the way through and then pull the rod back up, you will begin to siphon the hot water up into the barrel. Do this several times.

Change patches and repeat the process. You will feel the barrel heating up. If you have been shooting patched round balls or sabots a couple of patches is all it takes to clean the barrel. You will rarely have any bullet residue to scrub out of the bore.

Season Your Barrel

Dry the bore with a couple of dry patches. The hot water helps to dry the bore as it evaporates quickly. Again, hotter is better. You may need some heavy duty rubber gloves if you have access to really hot water.

While the barrel is still warm, run a patch saturated with Bore Butter up and down the barrel a few times. The bore is now cleaned and lubed and ready to store. Use the patch to wipe down all the exterior metal with Bore Butter as well to protect the exterior of your rifle.

Clean and Season the Small Parts

Retrieve your breech plug and nipple, and if necessary, scrub thoroughly with an old toothbrush. Dry thoroughly and wipe down with Bore Butter. Before you thread the nipple into the breech plug, coat the threads with an anti-seize compound. I use Gorilla Grease.

Likewise, coat the threads of the breech plug before you thread it back into the barrel. Tighten the breech plug and nipple just snug. No reason to go overboard.

Putting It All Together

Clean and dry the remaining parts of your cocking and firing mechanism and wipe down with Bore Butter. Reassemble and check function.

Do a final wipe down of all the metal and if you’re shooting a wood-stocked rifle give the wood a light coat of Bore Butter as well.

The whole process may seem a little overwhelming and counter-intuitive, but rest assured, you can clean and prepare your muzzleloader for storage in about 20 minutes. The next time you’re headed to the range you can be certain your rifle will fire each and every time.

Have any questions, concerns, or suggestions? Leave a comment below!

Cleaning and Caring for your muzzleloader


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