Advancements in the Care &
Cleaning of Muzzleloading Arms

by William Clunie


  Rob’s Renegade

My shooting partner, Rob, loaded his .54 caliber Renegade rifle and handed it overto me. Pulling the trigger on the muzzleloader set off the blackpowder charge andsurrounded me in a thick cloud of blue and gray smoke. The acrid smell of the burnedblackpowder seemed to transport me back to another era. A time when mountain menwore buckskins and depended on their rifles to bring home food for survival.Rob’s Renegade, made by Thompson/Center Arms, was a joy to shoot, but the clean-up operation required after each shooting session was messy, smelly, and time-consuming. Usually an outdoor affair, hot and soapy water had to be plunged in and out of the barrel to remove any fouling in the bore. Foamy gray water sprayed up out of the barrel like a fountain. Blackpowder contains sulfur, so this dirty foam left an odor of rotten eggs on your clothes, the floor, and whatever else it came in contact with. Rob used the most technically advanced lubricants available (petroleum based) to swab the bore and coat the outer metal surfaces of his rifle. These modern lubricants eliminated rust, but the next time the muzzleloader was fired, the black, sticky fouling clogged up the bore. The fouling was so bad that it was necessary to swab out the bore every four to five shots to retain accuracy and facilitate smooth loading. A patch, moistened with a cleaning solvent, was pushed down the barrel, and followed by a dry one. Then a priming cap was fired to clean the fire chamber, the rifle was reloaded, and our shooting continued.

The clean-up chore was more than I was willing to take on, so any thoughts of purchasing a muzzleloader of my own were put on the back burner. Then an extended December muzzleloading deer season opened up in Maine. Visions of precision-crafted blued steel and hand-rubbed walnut appeared to me in dreams, both day and night.

Hawken Replica

The overwhelming desire to hunt late-season whitetails lead to the purchase of my own muzzleloader; T/C’s Hawken caplock in .54 caliber. The messy clean up and time-consuming shooting process that comes with owning a muzzleloader would just have to be tolerated - or would it? Reading the T/C instruction manual that came with the Hawken opened my eyes to a "new" (new to me) way of cleaning and lubricating muzzleloading arms. The booklet came with an insert titled, "How to Season the Bore of Your Muzzleloader Right From the Start."

T/C compares this "seasoning process" to that of curing cast-iron cookware. It states that use of their non-petroleum lubricants and cleaning agents, "season the bore with repeated use, much like a cast iron skillet can be seasoned."

The Cleaning

The new muzzleloader owner is instructed to thoroughly clean the bore of the rifle in the traditional manner by placing the breech-end of the barrel in a pot of hot, soapy water, and running a wet patch on a cleaning rod in and out of the barrel. The pumping action pulls the hot solution up into the bore and actually heats up the metal of the barrel. The hotter-the better, as this heat enables the barrel to dry quickly before it can rust. Once dried, the bore is swabbed with a patch that has been lubed with T/C’s Natural Lube 1000 Plus Bore Butter (non-petroleum base). The exterior metal surfaces are also covered with a light coating of this same natural lube. The fire channel is then swiped with a pipe cleaner, and the muzzleloader is ready for storage until the next shooting session.In the instruction manual, T/C emphasizes that using modern petroleum-based products will cause more fouling and corrosion, inhibit accuracy, and make the loading process more difficult. After reading the manual several times, there was still one burning question in my mind, "Following the initial traditional cleaning, if only non-petroleum products were used, would the hot, soapy water treatment be eliminated?"One phone call to T/C’s technical support line (1-603-332-2333) cleared things up, and settled my nit-picking mind. The technician at extension #740 explained it this way, "If you shoot your muzzleloader and might not shoot it again for a week, you should do the hot soapy water treatment, then swab it with bore butter after it is dry. The main thing is to make sure the water is very hot, so it can dry out completely."T/C’s technician said that one of the biggest benefits of using the natural cleaning products is the elimination of the need to swab the bore between shots. This sure would make shooting at the range less cumbersome. There would be no reason to take cleaning supplies. The helpful technical expert also said that T/C’s cleaning products were made by Ox-Yoke Originals, Inc., and further technical and testing information could be obtained there. A call to Ox-Yoke’s office in Milo, Maine (1-800-231-8313) put me in contact with their vice president, Scott Lee.Ox-Yoke’s vice president briefly detailed the technical research done by their company comparing petroleum to non-petroleum lubricants and cleaning products. Lee said, "When you lube a muzzleloader with a petroleum product and fire it, you are heating up that petroleum. Heat and pressure, plus petroleum equals tar, just like the asphalt used in paving roads. Black, sticky tar (fouling) creates all sorts of trouble in the bore of a muzzleloader."The knowledgeable vice president also sent me an article that outlined the research, and a photo of the T/C New Englander muzzleloading rifle used in the research. Looking at the article and photo, and listening to Lee’s explanation almost had me convinced that the natural products were superior to the modern, high-tech products.

The photo in the article showed the New Englander after firing 1000 consecutive rounds without cleaning between shots. Both bore and patches used in this shooting test were lubed with Ox-Yoke Wonder Lube 1000 Plus (T/C calls it Natural Lube 1000 +). The article states that accuracy remained consistent through out the 1000-round test, and loading was uninhibited. As a matter of fact, the last four of the 1000 shots fired formed an impressive one and a half-inch group at 50 yards.

The Range

A trip to the range to test these "new" natural, non-petroleum cleaning and lubing products was in order. Filling my possibles bag for a morning of shooting, my thoughts turned to how this search for a better cleaning process had come full-circle. Hunting for a modern, high-tech product that might eliminate the messy clean-up process brought me right back to a non-petroleum product similar to one used by the original muzzleloaders. Rendered bear fat, in lard form, was a lube often used by mountain men many years ago. This non-petroleum substance worked well for them, and still works today if a supply of bear fat can be obtained. This shooting session would give me an opportunity to try out the natural cleaning and lubricating supplies made by Ox-Yoke Originals, Inc. The Hawken was prepared as T/C instructed in their manual, then cleaned and lubricated with the non-petroleum products. Bullets used in this test were T/C’s 360 grain Maxi-Hunter’s, pre-lubed with Natural Lube 1000 Plus Bore Butter.Ten rounds were fired with 90 grains of Pyrodex at 50 yards to sight-in the new rifle. After a few sight adjustments, I could keep them all in a pie plate at 50 yards. The usual build up of fouling associated with a modern (advanced) petroleum product was absent and loading the 360 grain bullets remained smooth, but pie-plate accuracy at this range was less than expected.The next 20 rounds were loaded with 110 grains of "good old" FFG blackpowder. I thought the blackpowder would burn "dirty" and cause more fouling than the modern (advanced) Pyrodex. Wrong. No fouling, or difficulty in seating the big lead bullets on top of a charge. Accuracy actually improved with the blackpowder.I used various combinations of: patched balls, conical bullets, light or heavy charges of powder, as well as light or heavy projectiles. As long as I used the non-petroleum lube, bore-clogging fouling was not a problem. Instead of halting to clean between shots, loading and shooting became a rhythmic pleasure.

After noting one tight little clover-leaf group, the smell of burning black powder changed from an awful rotten-egg stink, to the savory aroma of sizzling venison, fried over an open fire by mountain men in buckskins, from a time long ago.

William Clunie
P.O. Box 124
Dixfield, ME  04224
                                   PH: (207) 562-7564