Skip to main content

Heat of the Moment: Focus on Muzzleloader Safety

Whether muzzleloading on the range or in the deer woods, don't become a victim of a distracted mind. Focus just as hard on safety as on your target.

Heat of the Moment: Focus on Muzzleloader Safety
Photo Courtesy of Traditions Firearms

It couldn’t happen to you. No way. You’ve owned a muzzleloader for years and have shot quite a few deer with it. Safe shooting long ago became a habit.

All that makes you just the person I want to talk to.

In the same way many tree stand accidents involve people who’d never previously come close to falling, so it is with gun accidents. Whether on the range or in the woods, your first mistake could be your last.

Two accidents that victimized dear friends last year illustrate how abruptly things can go wrong, even for hunters who have spent decades handling and using muzzleloaders with no problem. Coincidentally, while these guys weren’t hunting together, both mishaps occurred during the Kansas muzzleloader season.


One of these life-changing moments took place on the shooting range. The guy had loaned his inline muzzleloader to a friend to use for a few days, and it had been returned just in time for my friend to get everything ready for his own hunt.


To make sure the rifle was still zeroed in, a quick check at the range was in order. My friend dropped in a fresh load, then settled in on the bench and lined up the bull’s-eye.

What happened next was catastrophic. The muzzleloader and scope blew apart. Pieces went everywhere. To make things worse, one of those pieces was the end of my friend’s left index finger, leaving a bloody stump. The missing portion of that digit was never found.

What caused this accident? My friend was told the gun had been unloaded before it was returned, but that wasn’t totally true; the borrower had removed only the primer. That might have constituted legal “unloading” for transport during the season, but it was a far cry from truly unloading the gun. My friend had then packed another bullet and more pellets on top of those already in the barrel, added a fresh 209 Magnum primer and then, in squeezing the trigger, ignited a double load. The pressure had been too much for the gun to handle.

Avoiding this should have been easy. But my friend was so sure the gun was unloaded that he’d ignored the obvious warning sign: that he couldn’t push the ramrod in all the way when seating his fresh load. He hadn’t marked his ramrod to indicate when the proper charge seating depth had been reached, so he had no inkling a load already was in there.


Of course, the problem really began before that final load was pushed down the muzzle. My friend had dismissed the first rule of firearms safety: Assume every gun is loaded. Simple miscommunication had given him a false sense of security on that. He hadn’t checked to see if the gun really was empty — and without a marked ramrod, he had no easy way to know. In retrospect, he’s fortunate all he lost was part of a finger.

My other buddy’s trouble occurred while hunting. He was in a ground blind, and he was shooting a buck. The big deer had already been mortally wounded by my friend’s first shot but was still on his feet and in range. Seeing a chance for a quick follow-up shot, the hunter dropped in more pellets, chased them with a bullet and shoved his ramrod down the barrel to firmly seat all the components. He then hurriedly popped another primer into place, found the deer’s vitals in his scope and touched the trigger.

Notice any steps missing from this list? Here’s one: Remove the ramrod from the barrel before shooting.


We all know to do this. My friend certainly did. Yet in the heat of the moment, he forgot. And thus, at the instant the trigger was pulled, there was a clear illustration of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Like a massively overweight bullet, the ramrod flew forward — and with equal force, the gun flew backwards. The extreme recoil broke my friend’s right shoulder.

Recovering the buck took far less time than recovering from the injury. But my friend considers himself fortunate. It’s easy to imagine how leaving his ramrod in the barrel could have had a far worse outcome.

Let me stress that neither of these mishaps was due to equipment failure. Each resulted from a lapse in focus, nothing more: human error, if you will. And their victims were men I consider highly proficient in muzzleloading. So never assume it can’t happen to you. An accident can happen to any of us — anytime, anywhere. Let’s all challenge ourselves not to become the next example of what can go wrong in the blink of an eye.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Deer Dog: Puppy Pitfalls

Deer Dog: Puppy Pitfalls

On this edition of "Deer Dog," Jeremy Moore explores the pitfalls of puppy training.

Why Plant Warm-Season Food Plots for Deer

Why Plant Warm-Season Food Plots for Deer

Learn how and why planting warm-season food plots can benefit you and your deer herd.

On Target: Tips for Handgun Hunting Accuracy

On Target: Tips for Handgun Hunting Accuracy

Dr. James Kroll provides tips for hunting whitetails with a handgun.

Alternative Season Whitetail Hunt

Alternative Season Whitetail Hunt

Mike Clerkin is hunting the alternative weapon whitetail season in Missouri with his S&W revolver.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Just like humans, whitetail deer need a well-rounded diet throughout the year. During different seasons, the nutritional requirements of bucks, does and fawns will vary slightly, but all three need water, protein, energy (fats and carbohydrates), calcium, phosphorus, sodium and fiber.Whitetail Nutrition Calendar: What Deer Eat and When Land Management

Whitetail Nutrition Calendar: What Deer Eat and When

Matt Haun

Just like humans, whitetail deer need a well-rounded diet throughout the year. During...

Good location is just part of the equation.The Best Summer Trail Camera Strategy Scouting

The Best Summer Trail Camera Strategy

Tony J. Peterson

Good location is just part of the equation.

Whitetail deer probably represent more protein hitting the table than any other game species inHow to Cook Venison - A Wild Game Chef's Guide Venison Recipes

How to Cook Venison - A Wild Game Chef's Guide

Jesse Griffiths

Whitetail deer probably represent more protein hitting the table than any other game species in

The X-6000 series is the latest top-notch wireless trail camera option from Moultrie.Wireless Whitetail Work: Moultrie Mobile Does it All Accessories

Wireless Whitetail Work: Moultrie Mobile Does it All

Haynes Shelton - November 02, 2020

The X-6000 series is the latest top-notch wireless trail camera option from Moultrie.

See More Trending Articles

More Guns

MSRs offer speed and modularity, but how do they best serve whitetail hunters?AR-Style Rifles for Deer Hunting Guns

AR-Style Rifles for Deer Hunting

Haynes Shelton - December 09, 2019

MSRs offer speed and modularity, but how do they best serve whitetail hunters?

What separates the best North American states and provinces to rifle hunt big whitetails from the rest? 3 Key Factors Affecting Rifle Success on Big Deer

3 Key Factors Affecting Rifle Success on Big Deer

Gordon Whittington

What separates the best North American states and provinces to rifle hunt big whitetails from...

Buying a new deer rifle is never an easy task. The good news is that you've got hundreds ofNAW's Deer Rifle Buyer's Guide Guns

NAW's Deer Rifle Buyer's Guide

David Hart - July 13, 2015

Buying a new deer rifle is never an easy task. The good news is that you've got hundreds of

What's a The New Face of Deer Rifles Guns

The New Face of Deer Rifles

Gordon Whittington - January 25, 2017

What's a "deer" rifle? The answer seems self-evident. But the line separating one of these...

See More Guns

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the North American Whitetail App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All North American Whitetail subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now