By Stan Godlewski
The days are getting shorter and the night’s cooler, besides making those scouting treks into the woods to locate that big buck, you probably have pulled “Old Betsy” out of the gun safe and have taken her to range. Just as last year, you ran a clean patch down her barrel and made sure she was clean and unloaded. After placing your target down range and dropping your powder charge and projectile in the barrel, you place a cap on the rifles nipple, took aim at the target, and squeeze the trigger and the hammer fell on the cap. All you got was a “POP” not the familiar “BANG.’ Okay, you kept the muzzle of your rifle pointed down range for three minutes. The dreaded “misfire.” You placed a fresh cap on the nipple. Brought the hammer to full cock, took aim, and squeeze the trigger again and another “POP.” You asked yourself, what is going on here. Again you went through the same ritual with no “BANG.” Now you have a loaded firearm and no way to discharge it. You cleared the charge by pouring water down the bore of the rifle to wet the gunpowder and make the piece safe to pull the projectile from the chamber. After all is said and done, your local gunsmith informs you that the problem was a buildup of varnish in the flash hole. You ask yourself “Varnish” how did that get in there! The simple answer is, you put there.
Most novice black powder shooters coat their muzzle loaders bore with a layer of oil to prevent rust during storage. Bass Pro Shops carries some excellent gun protections oils. Rem Oil is just one of our many fine gun protection products that will not varnish. http://www.basspro.com/Remington-Rem-Oil/product/60622/?cmCat=CROSSSELL_THUMBNAIL
You probably stored the rifle muzzle up in your gun safe. Now that is where the problem starts. Over a period of time, standard gun oil can turn into a gummy like substance. It can even cure to a solid. To prevent this from occurring, old time muzzle loader shooters stored their rifles muzzle down in their storage lockers or gun safes. They place some newspaper or paper towels down at the muzzle to absorb any excess oils.
When you get to the range snap a few caps prior to loading the rifle. You may ask, “what does that have to do with the price of tea in China.” Well nothing, but It ensures that the shooter has a safe firearm to load. The process goes like this. Point the muzzle of the muzzle loading rifle in a safe direction (down range). Point it toward the ground down range. Pick out a tree leaf or a blade of grass. Take the hammer to ½ cock, place a cap on the nipple, take the hammer to full cock. Place the muzzle of the rifle near the objects and pull the trigger. The cap should fire and cause the leaf to move or the blade of grass to dance. Do this two more times for a total of three snapped caps. The first snapped cap lets you know the nipple, flash hole and the rifle bore are clear. The second fired cap burns off any excess oil from the bore and the third makes the bore nice and dry. This process will give you confidence to load your charge and let you know your rifle is safe and will shoot.
Another problem some shooters have is a weak hammer spring “Not enough energy for the hammer to fire the cap.” This problem is usually the result of storing the rifle with the hammer drawn to full cock. Likewise, dry firing the gun without a cap on the nipple can deform the nipple to the point that it may not accept or hold a cap properly.
The following links provides you with excellent muzzle loader cleaning and maintenance products.