By Mark Fike
This is that glorious time of year when many hunters are grabbing smokepoles and getting ready to head to the woods to bag their deer, elk or moose for the freezer. Before heading into the woods to hunt, hopefully we are all sighting in or checking the “zero” on our muzzleloader rifles.
Sighting in a rifle is an endeavor that should be taken seriously. Who wants to go sit in the woods for hours in bad weather and when the moment of truth comes, miss their shot because they did not prepare by sighting in their rifle correctly?
When you invest that much time, it makes no sense to blow it because your rifle was not “on.” Take the extra steps to be sure your rifle sends a bullet to the exact spot you want it to go. Over the years I have made mistakes when sighting in my rifle and I learned the hard way not to make those mistakes again. I have also seen mistakes made that could have been avoided with just a little more foresight and care.
Be sure your rifle is empty BEFORE you load it.
Each year, countless people forget they never fired out their rifle from the year before and they stack another powder charge and bullet on top of the existing one. It should be obvious when you load the second load that the ramrod is not going down nearly far enough. Almost everyone realizes this at that point. However, a few don’t and a disaster follows.
Not tightening scope rings and sights.
This is a no-brainer but not many of us check it. After a rifle sits in a warm house all summer and then it is taken to the cold to sight in, screws can loosen up some. Torque or check them before beginning the sight in process.
Be sure your rifle is clean before you start sighting in.
Run a patch down the barrel to see if there is any corrosion and get it out. Then put a primer/cap in the breech and point in a safe direction and fire it. Some people like to discount the first shot fired and then start sighting in to have a consistently fouled barrel.
Not running a spit patch down the barrel between shots.
Consistency is so important when shooting whether it is the form you take when you hold and fire a bow or gun or it is the barrel itself. So, once you fire the rifle, spit on a patch, run it down the barrel and back out before loading a new round. This keeps the barrel fairly consistent with the amount of powder residue and copper in it.
If you simply keep shooting, you will find the bullets are harder and harder to push down the barrel and eventually you will see accuracy disappear, leaving you frustrated. After you have shot ten or more rounds, I would recommend you pull the breech plug and run a brush down the barrel breech first and then a patch and start over again. If the barrel is really dirty, give it a complete cleaning if you want results you can trust in the woods.
Last, practice safety. Be sure you fire out or remove any powder or bullets at the end of the day unless you KNOW you are going hunting the next day. At the end of the season, remove all bullets and powder. The breech plugs on the rifles we use nowadays are so easy to remove. There is no excuse for safety lapses. NEVER, ever leave a primer in a muzzleloader! That is just basic common sense.