A Loaded Muzzle Loader
“I didn’t know it was loaded”
“I didn’t know it was loaded” is the stock expression used by those who are rudely awakened by an explosion when they pull the trigger of a any loaded firearm. Muzzle loading firearms seem to be even more prevalent in this due to the lack of observation of the chamber. They seem to be always presumed empty.
An old muzzle loader is more likely to be loaded than would at first be thought. One reason lies in its slowness of loading. This resulted in many muzzle loaders being kept loaded habitually, as the only way of keeping them ready for use. Another reason lies in the difficulty of unloading, which caused many users to put off that tedious operation and finally forget it.
It was usual to leave the cap (or priming charge, depending on the type of ignition) off the lock of a gun thus left loaded, as a partial safeguard. However, old charges have been set off by a chance spark from snapping the big hammer against the empty nipple, or the residues of priming compound left on the nipple after the removal of an unfired percussion cap may be detonated by the hammer. The odds are long against such occurrences but stranger things have happened.
A breech loader can be opened in a moment and checked as to whether it is loaded. That is not possible in a muzzle loader, in which the breech cannot be opened short of disassembling the firearm. To check it, pass the ramrod into the barrel until it reaches bottom, and mark it at the muzzle. Withdraw and lay it alongside the barrel with the mark at the muzzle, and note the position of the lower tip. If it is nearly opposite the breech face (the position of which can be estimated), there can be no load in the barrel. If however this measurement shows something present, it must be presumed to be a loaded charge. People not qualified and equipped to strip the firearm and remove the breech plug should entrust that work to a gunsmith.
A Muzzle Loader Should always be Presumed Loaded
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