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A muzzleloader is any firearm into which the projectile and usually the propellant charge is loaded from the muzzle of the gun (i.e. from the forward, open end of the gun's barrel). This is distinct from the more popular modern (higher tech and harder to make) designs of breech-loading firearms. The term "muzzleloader" may also apply to the marksman who specializes in the shooting of ML Firearms. The term of art is not meant to connote anything about whether the weapon's barrel had received the further machining step of rifling the barrel, so there are two broad classifications: rifled muzzleloaders and smooth bore muzzleloaders. The firing methods, paraphernalia and mechanism further divide both categories as do caliber (From canons to tiny caliber palm guns).

Modern muzzleloading firearms range from reproductions of sidelock, flintlock and percussion long guns, to in-line rifles that use modern inventions such as a closed breech, sealed primer and fast rifling to allow for considerable accuracy at long ranges. Mortars are muzzle loaded and are a type of short-range artillery.

Muzzleloading can apply to anything from cannons to pistols but in modern parlance the term most commonly applies to black powder small arms similar in the main to the weapons used. It usually, but not always, involves the use of a loose propellant (i.e. gun powder) and projectile, as well as a separate method of ignition or priming.



In general, the sequence of loading is to put in:

  • Gunpowder, by pouring in loose powder, inserting a pre-measured bag or paper packet of gunpowder (called a cartridge) or by inserting (the less desirable) solid propellant pellets. The gunpowder used is typically blackpowder or blackpowder substitutes like Pyrodex.
  • Wadding, made from felt, cloth or card. In shotguns, this is placed in when the ball becomes difficult to press into the barrel (in small arms). In rifles firing round ball, a lubricated patch of fabric is wrapped around the base of the ball which grips the rifling and imparts spin to the ball. In Minie rifles, no patch is used as the projectile has a base which expands to grip the rifling.

On most naval cannons, the wadding at the end of the barrel not only served the purpose of creating a better seal around the shot, but to also act as a plug, to stop the shot rolling out due to the swaying of the ship.

Since the projectiles and wads are generally tight-fitting, a ramrod is used to push the wadding and projectile down to ensure they are firmly seated on the propellant charge. During Napoleon's time a round ball and pre-measured powder charge were wrapped in a paper casing. After a shot the user would tear the end of the paper tube off and fill the flash pan. Next he would pour the remaining powder into the barrel followed by the ball encased in the paper wrapping. The butt of the gun was then hit on the ground and the ball would slide to the breach. A trained marksman could fire up to 3 rounds per minute.

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