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A HISTORY OF MUZZLELOADING
last revision march 2011
The Reverend Alexander Forsyth, looking far less imposing as he squatted in his seaside blind than he
did when preaching from his pulpit, was a frustrated man. Not that he didn’t understand the need for the
Good Lord to wet down the lands roundabout with a good stiff rain. Still, it didn’t seem fair that what
caused other men’s fortunes to prosper could cause such mayhem with his duck hunting. After all, he
had paid a goodly sum for the fine London made flintlock fowling piece now resting uselessly in his
hands, it’s priming wet and gummy. The Black Powder he was using was the best, but the best still
didn’t shed rain. In fact, it attracted it.
The good Reverend gave up his duck hunt in disgust. But he didn’t give up thinking about the
problem of wet priming and spoiled hunts. He was an experimenter, an independent thinker interested
in keeping up with the latest scientific knowledge. He loved to tinker in the small shop in back of his parish
..............He patented the device and the percussion principle in England on 4 July, 1807, the
most significant development in the history of shooting other than the invention of gunpowder...
He was aware that Samuel Pepys had noted the explosive properties of certain metallic salts in the
1600's. Others had experimented with mixing the salts, (called fulminates), with gunpowder, but the
combination was deadly and blew up guns right and left. It had been successful only when mixed with
fine black powder and used for flintlock priming.
Forsythe’s Scent-Bottle percussion lock. Rotating the
device deposited a pinch of fulminate under the peg hit by the hammer.
The usefulness of the fulminate-black powder priming mix stimulated his thinking. He knew that he
could explode the fulminates. He had tried it with hammer and anvil. He also knew it wouldn’t ignite with
the sparks from his flintlock, he’d tried that, too. The solution was to modify the hammer, replacing the
flint with a blunt device that fitted the contours of the pan closely.
He was delighted to find that the resulting explosion would ignite the main charge. But he also realized
that he had not solved the whole problem. Fulminates were every bit as hygroscopic as gunpowder and
would not explode when wet. He had to seek further for a more complete solution.
He found it in the "scent bottle" lock, a rotating device that resembled the common perfume bottle. It
deposited a bit of loose mercuric fulminate under an enclosed blunt peg which would explode when the hammer struck
the peg a sharp blow. He patented the device and the percussion principle in England on 4 July, 1807,
the most significant development in the history of shooting other than the invention of gunpowder.
Nobody knows quite when or how, but black powder showed up in Europe sometimes before the
13th century. It was said to have come from China. The inventive Europeans immediately adapted it to
the incessant warfare of the times with the invention of the cannon. These cannon were originally
large-bored, wheel-less, rock-throwing monsters that used huge quantities of the crudely mixed meal
powder then available. It was usually mixed on the spot, just before the shot.
Bronze German "hand cannon" of the 1500's, meant to be
fired with a ‘match’ at very close range. A 'tiller' was held under the arm for stability in aiming.
By the 15th century, smaller shoulder-fired arms had been developed. Bores were relatively large
and most always smooth. Accuracy, as we understand it, was nil, but was good enough to be extremely
effective on the battlefield as they were powerful enough to pierce the common mail and plate armor worn by the men-at-arms and
knights. That, and the ease with which a neophyte could become a practiced marksman, guaranteed the demise of archery and armor
on the battlefield as well as in sporting use.
The first "handgonnes" were fired with a match applied to a touchhole. This "match" was a piece of cotton or hemp
rope or cord soaked in saltpeter, which the shooter carried lit at both ends. The oldest known handgun,
excavated from a German castle destroyed in the early 1300's, was fired in this fashion. The clumsiness
of this arrangement soon led to a lock with ‘match’ clamped in iron jaws actuated by a trigger. The
shooter could actually aim the piece while he pulled the trigger. But any matchlock was dangerous,
witness Miles Standish, who blew off his breeches with a lighted match and a pocketful of a loose
...However, by the 15th century, smaller shoulder fired arms had been developed. Bores were...
large and...always smooth. Accuracy, as we understand it, was nil...
The risk, plus the stink and easily visible firelight at night, stimulated the development of the
wheellock by 1525, perhaps influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. The wheellock was relatively large,
difficult and expensive to make but almost always worked.
This matchlock has all parts of a modern firearm,
making aimed fire possible. It revolutionized the European battlefield and guaranteed the
demise of the heavily armored knight
The functional excellence of the wheellock resulted in the invention of the traditional shooting sports
as we know them today, as well as initiating the tradition of high art in sporting arms that persists even
now. There remained a need for a small, light, and inexpensive lock for the common shooter. By 1600 a
variety of locks had been developed in many countries, all of which featured a cocking piece with jaws
grasping a chunk of easily available flint. The flint would strike what we now call a "frizzen", causing a
shower of sparks to fall into priming held in a conveniently located pan. The conflagrating powder would
then flash through the touchhole and fire the main charge.
A fine quality modern ‘French’ flintlock. A truly good one will
cost as much as the barrel of a fine rifle and rain sparks in fiery splendor on the priming in the
pan, with near instant ignition. You can call your shots with a good one.
There were Spanish miquillets, Danish pecking locks, English dog-locks, Mediterranean snap-haunces and
others. In around 1625, the classic flintlock, an amalgamation of the best features of all the others, was developed by Marin be
Bougeois, then gunmaker to the French king. This is the flintlock that we are all familiar with now. It quickly caught on and remained
the standard until the invention of the percussion system 200 years later.
the PERCUSSION SYSTEM
The flintlock became the pre-dominant sporting and military arm for over 200 years, persisting until
the middle 1800's, when the percussion system became commercially successful. Remember Pepys,
who noted the percussive qualities of metallic fulminates. No one put this knowledge to good use until
Forsyth used fulminates for percussion rather than mixing it with the main or priming charge of a flintlock.
...By 1625, the classic flintlock, an amalgamation of all the others, was developed by
Marin de Borgeois, then gun maker to the French king...
Within just a few years, many inventors had improved on Forsyth’s percussion lock. Gunmakers of the
early 1800's vied arduously with one another, and new locks and percussion systems abounded. The effort was transformational.
# 11 percussion caps by CCI and a White hardened
1/4 X 28 hexagonal nipple.
However, it remained for a British-American, Joshua Shaw, to invent the nipple and the copper caps
made to fit it. Their enthusiastic use was a reality by 1816. They didn’t change much at all for a century
and a half until 1990, when Doc White (that's me) developed the hardened combination nipple-breechplug used first in the
White Super 91. Even then, the shape of the cap-holding portion of the nipple was the same.
A plethora of designs for use with the new percussion principle appeared in the early 1800's. The
Swiss genius Pauley invented the paper cap, then invented a percussion muzzleloader in 1808 and
breech-loader in 1812. His 1808 patent was the first for a muzzleloading in-line action
in which the cock of the sidelock was replaced by a cylindrical hammer driven by a coil spring.
His in-line invention was capitalized on by Dreyse, who worked for Pauly between 1808-14 and
who used it as the basis for his 1838 turnbolt design which became the Prussian Needlegun of 1848.
Paul Mauser later used the Dreyse needlegun design as a basis for his tumbolt cartridge rifle of 1868,
first patented in the U.S., but adopted by the German military in 1871.
The Dreyse needle gun of 1848. It was so advanced that
any soldier who lost one paid with his life for his carelessness
White later used the Mauser inspired Springfield ‘03 as a basis for the White Super 91 of 1991,
once again a muzzlelader, making the cycle one grand round.
[Pauley]...was the first to design and patent an...inline action in which the cock of the sidelock
was replaced by a cylindrical hammer driven by a coil spring... (1808)
Black powder had improved drastically in the meantime. In the thirteenth century, black powder was a
rough hand-grind of about 50% saltpeter, with 25% each of charcoal and sulfur. The gunner of the day
had to thoroughly mix each batch just before he loaded. Weather affected the performance of the
powder tremendously as it was intensely hygroscopic. It just loved water.
Modern Black Powders from Elephant, imported from Brasil,
and Goex, same as the old Dupont, made since the 1800's in America.
The 'corning' of black powder, which reduces its affinity for water, was developed in the 16th century.
This process compacts the black powder into grains, lubricants and partially weatherproofs each grain
with a coating of graphite. This feature allowed manufacturers to market gunpowder in several grain
sizes, which allowed the shooter to control burning rate, pressure and velocity, and to more easily
Proportions and quality of the ingredients changed as shooters demanded better grades of powder
and improved grinding machinery became available. This resulted in far less corrosion and residue,
cleaner shooting and smaller, yet more powerful charges, developing higher and more uniform pressures
The peak of black powder development was reached in the 1860's , just before the invention of
smokeless powder eclipsed the worldwide use of black powder.
A can of modern Pyrodex.
Black powder didn’t change much for a century after that until Dan Powlac developed Pyrodex in the
1970's. Pyrodex is Black Powder with flame retardants, scrubbers, additional oxidizers and a unique
grain form. (And maybe a few other features that Hodgden, it’s current manufacturer, isn’t commenting
on.) The result is a smoothly pouring grayish powder that ignites at temperatures about twice as high as
Black Powder, conflagrates (burns) at about the same temperatures and pressures as Black Powder on
a volumetric basis, but leaves far less residue in the barrel. Best, it can be shipped as a class C
Propellant instead of a class A explosive, which makes it far easier for a shooter to find than Black
The peak of black powder development was reached in the 1860's, just before the invention
of smokeless powder eclipsed [its] worldwide use...
NEWER BLACK POWDER SUBSTITUTES
The current vigorous muzzleloading market has spawned a number of substitutes for Black Powder
other than Pyrodex. The earliest efforts to market Black Powder substitutes occurred as early as the
time of our Civil War, when chlorates were first added to Black Powder. This effort was not successful
simply because of the easy availability of excellent grades of cheap Black Powder at the time.
The 1970's saw the development of substitutes based on ascorbic acid, which is Vitamin C, the
ascorbic acid serving as fuel rather than carbon. The earliest was Golden Powder, which proved to
suck up water like a sponge. Shelf life was awful. It went nowhere commercially. Later developments by
different companies included Arco, Black Canyon and CleanShot., none of which have survived.
Arco was a yellowish sandy appearing granulated powder. It ignited at temperatures just slightly
higher than Black Powder, the residues were somewhat more hygroscopic but left very little fouling in
the barrel. Of all the substitutes, this one was superior in that it best duplicated Black Powder velocities
and performance, yet left very little residue in the barrel, but it never came to market in quantity and is not available.
Black Canyon originally appeared as a black round granule which was quite large, almost BB size.
It was difficult to measure and required a thorough thumping with the ramrod to insure ignition. It was not
commercially successful in that form.
CleanShot subsequently appeared. It was a greyish granulated powder, looking a lot like Black Powder.
It measured easily, seemed to ignite at near Black Powder temperatures, left little residue in the barrel,
but was much more expensive than Black Powder because of its rather costly ascorbic acid fuel.
SUGAR BASED POWDER
The 1990's brought Clearshot into the picture. This powder iwas produced by GOEX, who also
makes the only available American Black Powder. The fuel for Clearshot was a complex sugar, which has
the advantage of being very inexpensive, literally a fraction of the cost of ascorbic acid. It was produced in
several grades, all of which looked like a blackish ball powder. It igniteed at low temperatures, left little
residue in the barrel, and left the barrel exceptionally cool after firing compared to the other
substitutes. It was once widely available.
All of the Black Powder substitutes enjoy the advantage of shipping as Class C propellants rather
than as Class A explosives under current federal law. This makes them more available to the shooter
as storage and transportation requirements are much less onerous. However, most of them contain
chlorates, which makes them far more corrosive than Black Powder and all residues are quite
hygroscopic, even more so than Black Powder. This means that prompt and thorough cleaning after a
shooting session is still required.
777 is a more recent product introduced by Hodgden. It has become decidedly populer even though its
cost is substantially higher than either Black Powder or Pyrodex. 777 is a blackish grained powder,
available in 3fg and 2 fg grades, the grains size and color roughly approximating that of Black Powder.
It ignites at temperatures slightly lower than Pyrodex and conflagrates with less barrel residue and
smoke. On a volumetric basis, it is about 10% more potent than Pyrodex. The pressure curve is a bit
more spikey than Pyrodex but with good volume under the curve so velocities are enhanced over those
of the other BP substitutes. On the downside, fired residues left in the breech can become quite hard
with time if the gun is left uncleaned, making the breechplug very difficult to remove. Loosening the breech-plug
followed by prompt cleaning and the use of a molybdenum sulfide-containing anti-seize breech plug grease helps
As you might guess from the title, Blackhorn 209 is meant to be ignited by a 209 shotgun primer. Common percussion
caps will not reliably ignite it. It also requires some back pressure to burn reliably, which means that patched and saboted bullets
work well with it and slip fit bullets do not. It is produced by Westrn Powders, in Miles City, MT It comes in a one lb. plastic can,
looks like smokeless in that it 's grains are a perforated cylinder, acts like smokeless as it ignites at high temperature, smokes very little
and leaves very little residue in the barrel. It might as well be and probably is a smokeless nitrocellulose product. However, it loads
on a volumetric basis, same as black powder, although the weight is different. Velocities with lighter saboted bullets are superior, up into
the 2000 fps range, but the rifle must have a closed breech. Slam-fire guns, like so many of the early in-lines, are not any too reliable.
It is an excellent propellant for the White Thunderbolt, with its bolt locked breeching set-up, as long as saboted bullets are used. You can
get a plethora of information and loading data on blackhorn209.com
Smokeless powders have been used for years in muzzleloaders and cartridge black powder arms
by knowledgeable and experienced shooters to enhance ignition and cleanliness, usually employing tiny
amounts of fast burning smokeless in large charges of Black Powder. The Pennsylvania-Kentucky
Rifle by Kauffman, published in the 1930's, contains a wide-ranging discussion of its limited use.
The use of smokeless powder was never advocated for the main charge until Savage brought out a
new bolt action muzzleloader at the turn of this century, (2000). The problem here is the potential for
confusion in the minds of neophyte muzzleloading shooters, not all modern muzzleloading rifles being
manufactured to the same standards as the Savage. Accidental doubled charges of Black Powder are
relatively safe if mistakenly fired while doubled loads of smokeless can be intensely destructive. Most
important, it remains to be seen whether state game departments will allow the use of smokeless for
muzzleloading hunting. Many already prohibit it.
The production of industrial quality steels also had a lot to do with improvements in shooting. Early
shooters were forced to use iron barrels hand-forged out of skelps welded around a mandrel. These
barrels were weak and had to be heavy to withstand the pressures of firing. The development of
Damascus barrels was an attempt to use the superior manufacturing techniques of sword making to
improve barrel steel quality.
Some geographical areas produced barrels of higher quality than usual. Spanish barrels, made of
a naturally occurring steel, were in high demand in Europe before the invention of true steel manufacture in
the 1800's. Truly modern steel production techniques were not with us until Bessemer developed his
famous furnace, but good quality steels were always in high demand for gun barrels and critical parts,
especially after the percussion system stimulated the development of lighter, harder hitting, and higher
Over the centuries, bullets have been made in many marvelous and varied forms. Carefully crafted
round stone balls were used in the early bombards of the European wars, but lead was eventually found
to make the best bullet. It had the advantage of being easily molded to almost any form and was heavy
for it’s size, flying through resisting air without losing as much velocity as lighter materials.
Most early bullets were spheres, loaded singly and naked, or with various combinations of wadding
or patching. The discovery of rifling was closely correlated with the development of the patch, a piece of
tough cloth, rarely leather, that held the ball tightly enough to cause it to accurately follow the rifling, yet
load relatively easily if well greased.
Modern day ‘Minie’ balls. (Left) Lymans heavy skirted
#577611, meant for high velocity. (Middle) Lee’s 58 caliber Minie. (Right) A modern English
Most smoothbores threw their balls naked, although patches could be used for better results. Early
rifles were almost always fired with a patch, although some few required their balls be driven down the
rifling with a mallet. Either procedure was slow, which made a second shot almost impossible. Modern
shooters have shown that even the fastest can get off only one aimed shot per minute with a rifled gun
using a patched ball. Military smoothbores were much faster with practiced soldiery firing 4 shots per
The advent of the percussion system, combined with incessant European wars, stimulated the
development of superior bullets. The most successful were the hollow based bullets developed by Minie
of France, Burton of America and Pritchett of England in the early 19th century. All used a bullet
approximately 1½ times as long as it was wide, somewhat pointed and with a hollow base. This was the
bullet used in our American Civil War. Compared to the ordinary smoothbore musket it was deadly, with
troops on both sides occasionally suffering 50-60% casualties in the stand-up tactics inherited from
The advent of true elongated bullets came about because the English military asked Sir Joseph
Whitworth, an acknowledged genius in his own day, to optimize the Minie Ball’s performance, He
brought out his famous rifle and new elongated octagonal bullet in 1853. Whitworth’s bullet was 3½
times as long as it was wide in .451 caliber, weighing the 520 plus grains of the old English Minie ball.
It’s sectional density and ballistic coefficient were fantastic.
The muzzle of a 451 caliber Whitworth style sporting target rifle, showing the
hexagonal shape of the bore.
At an official trial held the next year, the ordinary Enfield rifled musket with Minie ball shot an eight
foot group at 800 yards, while the Whitworth rifle shot into 23 inches at the same range.
Whitworth’s bullet was hexagonal. Fitted bullets were required in his 1-20 twist barrels and proved
to be difficult to load through the residues of the previous shot. Despite this, ‘small bore’ (.451) rifles
proved to be a hit and long range target shooting grew up around them. Our American Creedmore
matches were an outgrowth of this popularity.
Rigby, Metford, Henry, and others later modified the Whitworth bullet by rounding the cross section.
Their rifles used bullets of similar ballistic properties, often employing paper patches, and were even
more accurate than the original Whitworth. Their terminal energy and penetration on game at long range
was phenomenal when measured by roundball or Minie ball standards.
The first sabots were used in the American Civil War. They were wooden and held a packet of grapeshot
or a cannonball, facilitating the rapid loading of successive shots in battle. It would be another 110 years before
modern plastic sabots were developed. The first of these appeared in the 1970's meant to hold a round ball, using
plastic instead of a patch. They did not work out well, simply because the cloth patch was so efficient, but were soon
adapted for elongated bullets. Dell Ramsey, a plastics manufacturer, was the first. Saboted bullets were quickly and
widely accepted and used by the 2000 turn of the Century. They are available in many sizes fin almost all common calibers
from 45 to 54. In latter years, because of the shooter's ability to use many bullet sizes and weights in a single caliber,
almost all new muzzleloading rifles are produced in only .50 caliber, with sabots in many different brands available
for .357, .40 and .452 caliber bullets of many different weights. Pistol bullet manufactures, like Hornaday and Barnes,
and many others have jumped on the bandwagon and produce a variety of jacketed and solid lead or copper bullets for use
in sabots. Almost any combination is availalbe by mixing/matching components.
PRESENT DAY MUZZLELOADING
Unfortunately, muzzleloading fell into abject disarray after the advent of successful metallic
cartridges in the 1860's. It remained a dead issue until the 1930's, when the National Muzzledloading
Rifle Association was born near Shelbyville, Indiana. A group of local muzzledoading shooters started
punching paper targets with their antique guns and had the courage to call their new organization the
National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. (NMLRA)
NMLRA shoot at Friendship, IN, in the 70's. The ‘Nationals’
still look the same, with old time accutrements ‘de riguer.’
The muzzleloading movement grew slowly in the pre-WWII years. But at war’s end, membership
grew rapidly as advocates from all over the country joined the ranks and participated in their ‘National’
In the decades immediately following WWII, most of the activities of the NMLRA centered around
target shooting. At that time there were no special seasons for muzzleloading hunting, as there are now.
Indeed, there were only antique guns to shoot and only old parts to fix the old guns with.
Soon, small suppliers of parts and accessories appeared to service the new and burgeoning sport
of muzzleloading. Some of these companies have grown until some rather substantial catalogues of
antique and new parts are available. Dixie Gun Works was a leader here. Its 1950's catalogue was only
a small brochure. It’s 2001 catalogue is an inch thick and contains photos and descriptions of thousands
of muzzledoading guns, parts, and accessories as well as homely advice from Turner Kirkland.
Doc White with .69 caliber percussion Hawken by GRRW,
dressed as English adventurer for the occasion. 
The 1970's saw muzzleloading swing from predominantly target shooting towards rendezvousing,
recreating the guns, dress and times of the 1822-1840 western fur trade. The succeeding 20 years saw
the inauguration of large national rendezvous, with hundreds of tepees and primitive camps, and with
thousands of buckskin and calico-dressed participants all carrying authentic looking reproductions of
antique rifles. Where the Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle had been the favored piece in the early post-WWII
years, the larger Hawken of the western fur trade gradually took it’s place.
Hunting with muzzleloaders became popular during this time. State game departments, beginning
with Pennsylvania, extended special muzzleloading seasons to those willing to put up with rainbow-like
trajectories and slow second shots. By 1992, all but two states gave the muzzleloading hunter some
sort of special season for big or small game.
By the last quarter of the century, most game departments were feeling the pinch of habitat loss
and growing hunter populations. Muzzle-loading seasons had become effective tools with which game
managers could manage the game, hunters and habitat under their control. Muzzleloading hunting
became progressively popular during this time, with thousands of new hunters tired of crowded hunting
conditions and modern precision taking to the field every year. The older target shooting and rendezvous
groups were forced into the market’s back seat as hunting came to dominate the market place. Not that
there were any fewer opportunities for target and rendezvous activities. There were more than ever
before. It is just that so many more participants were purely hunters, interested only in pursuing game to
the exclusion of authentic clothes, primitive camping or target techniques.
The 1970's saw the muzzleloading game swing it’s direction from target shooting towards
rendezvousing, re-creating the guns, dress and times of the 1822-1840 western fur trade.
The conversion of the muzzleloading market to a hunting oriented, performance based market gave a
substantial opportunity to a number of enterprising entrepreneurs, who started importing or manufacturing
brand new barrels and rifles. Navy arms, CVA and Thompson-Center led in this movement, beginning in
the early 1960's.
Navy arms originally specialized in authentic-appearing reproductions of military rifles and revolvers.
CVA imported reproductions of American sporting rifles. Thompson-Center manufactured a line of good
quality, machine-made, inexpensive rifles named for but not looking like the St. Louis Hawken rifles of the
western fur trade.
"Hawken" by Thompsen-Center.
It doesn’t look at all like the real thing but sold well into an enthusiastic market
Custom and semi-custom shops produced high quality, authentic repro-ductions of antique rifles.
Green river Rifle Works of Roosevelt, Utah, was one of the leaders.
Fancy fullstock Hwken with patchbox,
spurred trigger guard and tack decoration. Most Hawkens were much plainer than this one.
Not very oddly, the earliest U.S. made muzzleloading production barrels, like those by Douglas and
Green River, featured bores and rifling adapted to round balls, with twists in the 1-48 to 1-66 range.
Rifling was adapted for short elongated bullets by Thompson-Center in the 70's, following the lead
of the Minie ball shooting rifles and musket reproductions imported by their competitors.
...Muzzleloading hunting became progressively popular [in the last quarter of the 21st century]
with thousands of new hunters... taking to the field...
By 1992, Hornaday’s Great Plains, T/C’s Maxi-Ball and Maxi-Hunter, Buffalo Bullet’s many varieties,
CVA’s Hunter, White’s BuckBuster bullets and many other brands were all readily available for muzzle-
loaders with the slower 1-48 twists originally designed for round ball shooting.
The late 1980's saw a new adaption of the old time sabot in modern plastic. Del Ramsey had
brought his Muzzleloading Magnum sabots to market by 1990, designing them to shoot modern jacketed
or lead pistol bullets in larger bore muzzleloaders. They have been very successful in the marketplace.
THE WHITE MUZZLELOADING SYSTEM
After waiting for 30 years for some smart manufacturer to get the idea, but never seeing it happen, I
formalized the White Muzzleloading System in 1990, improving on the superb, late 1860's muzzle-
loading long bullet technology originated by Whitworth. My SuperSlugs, as the original high ballistic
coefficient slip-fit bullets were known, became available for use in fast 1-20 to 1-28 twist muzzleloading
barrels at that time. White’s patented SHOOTINGSTAR saboted bullets appeared in 1994.
White designed slip-fitbullets, from (L) the
.330 caliber 280 gr. (330/280) to the .540 caliber 750 gr. (540/750).
Despite the financial failure of the original White company in 1995, the product was too good to
stay off the market. WhiteRifles LLC of Linden, Utah, is currently marketing White products. The White
M97 Whitetail Hunter, M98 Elite Hunter, PowerPunch and PowerStar bullets are improved analogs of
the old White Whitetail, Super-91, SuperSlug and ShootingStar bullets, respectively.
Reinventing the truly long bullet is not the only development of modern times. Many innovative new
rifles were produced in the 1970's by the early modern manufacturers. Few of them met the strict
standard of the traditionally minded, as their designs were adapted to the demands of Geiger cup-
cutter carvers, automated sanding machines and CNC milling machines, with a generous portion of
investment wax castings thrown in.
After waiting for 30 years for some smart manufacturer to get the idea, I formalized the White
Muzzleloading System in 1990, improving on the superb, late 1860's muzzleloading long
bullet technology originated by Whitworth..
The 1970's were dominated by reproduction sidelocks, but there were hints of change in the wind.
Alex Hamilton, of 10-Ring Precision in San Antonio, Texas, introduced his pullcock in-line action in
1969. His in-line, like all others to follow, was an offshoot of the original by Jean Samuel Pauley in 1808,
but featured all the salient features that others would improve on later, including a safety on the pull-cock
shaft, coil spring, modern Timney style trigger, and wide cutout for access to the nipple. This action was
often seen on the NMLRA slug gun, pistol and offhand ranges at Friendship, Indiana, between 1969
and 1984. It was seldom seen on the tradition dominated primitive ranges because of it’s very modern
1969 pull-cock in-line action by Alex Hamilton of Ten-Ring
Ten years later, in 1979, Dan Kurkowski of Troy, Michigan, introduced the "Wolverine", marketing it
through Michigan arms. It sported several innovative concepts, including a hammer with annular cutout
for the trigger sear (first time this was used on a muzzleloader although common in modern arms), and
a firing chamber to accelerate combustion much like that in current large naval guns.
..Alex Hamilton, of 10-Ring Precision in San Antonio, Texas, introduced his pullcock, inline
action in 1969...
He also developed an alternate action which featured the use of a self ejecting shotgun primer.
Once again, like the 10-Ring, the stock was modern with most of the features found on modern bolt
Tony Knight, of Modern Muzzle-loading, designed the Knight MK-85 in 1985. This rifle shared the
annular ringed hammer of the Wolverine and the pullock of the 10-Ring action. Tony added an innovative
scroll-type secondary safety, as well as using a trigger safety. Knight’s success was mimicked by other
manufacturers and importers, including Cabella’s, CVA, Traditions, and T/C.
1979 ‘Wolverine’ in-line action by Dan Kurkowski of
Michigan Arms, the first to use an annular sear and firing chamber
Until 1996, only White produced a muzzleloading in-line that does not use at least some of the
many features of prior in-lines. White’s Super 91 is a piece for piece analog of the Mauser bolt rifles of
1878 - ‘98, except for the rotating bolt and magazine, and the addition of a Springfield ‘03 type pull-cock.
(White’s turn-bolt ThunderBolt rifle appeared in ‘2002)
1985 action by Tony Knight. His was the first to use a
double safety system
Remington joined White in ‘96, marketing a Mauser analog muzzleloader with their M700ML.
Interestingly enough, Paul Mauser got his idea for a turnbolt gun from Dreyse, who got his idea for a
firing pin and bolt from Pauly, who started it all with the first inline in 1808 in the first place.
1991 in-line by Doc White, originally conceptualized
in 1968 but not brought to market until 1991 as the White Systems Super-91.
So we’ve come full circle, copying and mimicking the inventions of the past, only improving on them with
modern, precise CNC machinery, better steels in investment cast, forged, machined, extruded and
scintered forms, improved and more precise rifling, more uniform powders and caps, durable coil rather
than fragile leaf springs, fitted bullets and plastic sabots, all making good use of modern manufacturing
You know, muzzleloading isn’t all that much different from what it used to be. But it is relatively less
expensive than in the old days and many can enjoy it rather than just a wealthy few. It’s safer because of
better steels. Performance has improved because of better bullets, barrels and sabots. Black Powder
substitutes are readily available. The advantages of improving technology, speed of manufacture and
consequent lowered costs are decidedly apparent. In the heyday of the muzzleloader, firearms were not
only expensive but were also difficult to find. Only the wealthy or the very determined could afford one.
Now, almost anyone can. Being part of the completion of the cycle is rewarding. There aren’t many
superlatives that describe how much we can enjoy it
Doc White with Brown Bear, an Alaskan coastal grizzly,
in 1994. The rifle is the very first Super-91 ever made in .504 caliber. Load was 140 grains of
Ffg Black Powder and 600 grain SuperSlug. It punched all the way through end to end.