Muzzleloading: Then and Now (A Gear Guide)

Powerbelt Bullets
Bullets with sabots are easy to use, but Powerbelt Bullets, with their built-in gas checks, are even easier. The company's new .45-caliber Platinums come in 223-grain (pictured) and 300-grain offerings. ($22/15; powerbeltbullets.com)
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Knight Accessories
The easiest way to get everything you need to clean, shoot and care for your muzzleloader is Knight's Starter Kit. Knight's presoaked cleaning patches and bullet starter are worthwhile additions. (Kit, $53; patches, $8.45; bullet starter, $8; knightrifles.com)
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Triple Seven Pellets
If you're looking for a faster way to charge your muzzleloader than using pellets, don't bother. For a .45-caliber muzzleloader, like the CVA pictured above, Hodgdon's 45/50 pellets are exactly what you need. ($28/100 pack; hodgdon.com)
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Hawken Rifle
When gunmaker Jacob Hawken arrived in St. Louis in 1818, the town was on the border of the wild, unsettled West. The rifles he made""which this reproduction from Cabela's closely resembles""were carried by numerous trappers and explorers who depended on them for both meat and safety. Hawken would immediately recognize the octagonal barrel, stock geometry, brass hardware and percussion-cap-fired ignition of the modern version. As he would the .54-caliber bore, which was highly prized by those about to embark on journeys into untamed lands, where numberless buffalo grazed and the great grizzly bear prowled. ($300; cabelas.com)
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Hawken Kit
This kit contains the components you need to build your own Hawken rifle. The stock comes pre-inletted. All you have to do is work the wood and metal to their final fit and finish. The rifle features a case-hardened lock, adjustable double-set triggers and a 29-inch octagonal barrel. ($280; cabelas.com)
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Powder
If toting around a powder horn doesn't appeal to you, charge your muzzleloader with Pyrodex pellets from Hodgdon. Each .54-caliber pellet contains the equivalent of 60 grains of black powder. ($25 for a box of 100; pyrodex.com)
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Bullet Mold
Casting bright, shiny bullets out of scrap lead is one of the most economical ways to make sure you always have ammo on hand for your large-bore muzzleloader. More important, making your own bullets is a lot of fun. Lee Precision makes molds for myriad calibers and bullet styles. (From $20; leeprecision.com)
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Stock Finishing
Though the inletting on the stock in the kit is quite good, you'll need to do a certain amount of woodworking if you want to end up with a Hawken that's truly eye-catching. Plus, without a proper wood-to-metal fit, your stock could split under recoil. A good set of scrapers, gouges, chisels and other carving tools will help you achieve a professional look. Brownells, the epitome of all that is right in the world, sells a stock maker's starter set that covers all the bases, including (from top) the scraper, carving knife and rawhide mallet pictured here. ($518; brownells.com)
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Casting Equipment
Lee Precision also has a complete line of casting equipment. A ladle is the simplest way to pour lead into a mold. A temperature-controlled melting pot with a bottom-pour spout (not pictured) provides a more sophisticated way to do the job. (Ladle, $3.98; melting pot, from $40; leeprecision.com)
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Files
To shape the stock and properly finish the metalwork on the kit, you'll need a selection of files and the accessories to maintain them. Once again, Brownells makes the process easy. The company's File Starter Set comes with numerous files in an assortment of shapes and sizes, as well as tool handles, chalk and a file card, which is used to keep the files clean. ($350; brownells.com)
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Muzzleloading: Then and Now (A Gear Guide)

In age in which everyone wants things faster, easier and with less thought involved, who would have thought one of the biggest advancements would come in muzzleloading? Most blackpowder aficionados well remember their first muzzleloader; it took hours to clean after a day in the field. In the end, you were tempted to jump into the shower with it, because by the time you swabbed the barrel you were coated with a mean, sulfurous gunk. And there was always the nagging question of whether the gun would actually fire when you pulled the trigger. With time came improvements. Shooters progressed from the sometimes-reliable flintlock to the slightly more reliable percussion-cap sidelock. The next big improvement was the modern in-line. After that, Tony Knight showed us all that the 209 primer ignition system was the way to go. Other improvements included break-actions, which helped take some of the drudgery out of cleaning, and accuracy-enhancing bullets and powders. But given that the modern muzzleloader hunter really wants convenience and ease of use, cleaning the gun has remained a big issue. That is, until Traditions Performance Firearms "accelerated" the cleaning process with its new Accelerator breech plug. "This patent-pending and award-winning breech plug has made the lives of consumers much easier by eliminating tools and time," says sales and marketing coordinator Kevin Renwick. "It was one of those things we kept trying to come up with, and when our engineers showed us the final version, we looked at ourselves and said, 'Why did it take so long?' The Accelerator Breech Plug has a knurled end for easy grip and removal, and it improves upon previous internal breech plug designs, thanks to an O-ring and a full set of threads that prevent blowback. "This feature has been so popular that we are expanding our break-action lineup to include it in all of our most popular models," says Traditions president Tom Hall. For 2009, the Traditions Pursuit LT Accelerator, Pursuit XLT Accelerator and the Vortek will feature the new breech plug. "Each model is designed to hit a different price point and customer, but they all have one common element--they are now the easiest of all the break-actions to clean," says Renwick. Booth #349. (860-388-4656; traditionsfirearms.com)

Muzzleloaders have made impressive strides over the past 20 years, to the point where traditional arguments against using blackpowder firearms-limited shooting range, unreliable ignition, difficulty cleaning-have been rendered moot. But old-fashioned muzzleloading has its rewards, too. John B. Snow reviews new and old blackpowder gear.