Have you decided to hunt with a muzzleloader this fall/winter? There are number of advantages involved with going afield with muzzleloader, but there are also some unique challenges associated with doing so. Here are some important things to do prior to hunting season to ensure that you’re ready to go on opening day.

Test Out New Loads

Unfortunately, working up a new muzzleloader load isn’t always very simple. Not only can it sometimes be challenging to find a load that shoots accurately, but hunters also typically run into more ignition problems with muzzleloaders than with centerfire rifles.

However, the very nature of a muzzleloader makes it pretty easy to develop a custom load by trying out new powders, primers, and muzzleloader bullets. So, if you’re having ignition issues or if you’re not happy with the accuracy you’re getting with a certain load, swap out different components and see what happens.

For instance, while pre-measured pellets are really fast and easy to load, I’ve personally had better results all around with loose powder than with pelletized powder. Not only is it usually easier to ignite, but all my most accurate and precise muzzleloader loads have used either loose Triple Seven or Blackhorn 209.

Standard 209 primers usually provide great ignition with a variety of powders. However, if you experience hangfires when using Blackhorn 209, it might be your primers. Run-of-the-mill 209 primers sometimes work, but the manufacturer recommends using either Federal 209A or CCI 209M primers with Blackhorn 209, and I’ve never had an issue when using either of those primers.

Sighting In

It’s always a good idea to verify your zero prior to hunting, especially if you’ve made a change to your old setup. Properly sighting in your muzzleloader is absolutely essential, but it’s also very important to determine where your bullet impacts at other ranges as well with a particular zero.

Muzzleloaders often have a very arching trajectory and, with a 100-yard zero, it’s not unusual to see quite a bit of bullet drop at even 150 yards with certain loads. There are lots of great muzzleloader scopes out there, some of which utilize reticles with holdover points for various ranges.

In my experience, those reticles are roughly correct, but they’re usually far from exact. It’s fine if you want to use them, but make sure you verify your bullet impact at the range with those reticles before actually going hunting. I’ve encountered several instances where my bullet impact was 3-6” higher or lower than expected when using the 150- or 200-yard mark on one of these scopes.

Get The Right Equipment

I like to carry some additional muzzleloader supplies with me while I’m hunting that aren’t really necessary at the range.

First, I always bring a few speed loaders. They can hold a couple of extra bullets and pre-measured powder charges to help speed up the reloading process in cases where a follow up shot is necessary.

Second, I always cover my muzzle with something like a balloon or a piece of tape (don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe to do this). This prevents unwanted items from entering the barrel on a hunt without my knowledge.

Finally, I like to carry a couple of additional primers in a waterproof container and in an easy to access pocket while I’m actually hunting. Especially when hunting in really cold and/or wet conditions, it’s not unusual to have a misfire at the moment of truth. Fortunately, a fresh primer or two will often do the trick and it’s really nice to have a few handy if needed.