What is a Safe Way to Unload a Muzzleloader? - Daily Shooting | Shooting Tips And Reviews

What is a Safe Way to Unload a Muzzleloader?

One of the more common questions that new hunters have is ‘what is the safe way to unload a muzzleloader?’

When it comes to muzzleloaders, conventional firearm wisdom is somewhat bullet and propellant charge are loaded in through the muzzle, or open front end, of the gun.

I’ve owned one since my 21st birthday, when my grandpa gifted me the one that belonged to his dad. He also gave me a good lecture on unloading a muzzleloader, which I’m going to pass along to you today.

Historical value

These firearms are immensely popular amongst fans of old westerns, war flicks, and historical battles. The one I got from my grandpa is one of these, in fact it was built in the 1800s.

Muzzleloaders are often used in reenactments and theatrical settings, depicting the guns of old. Despite their historical value, muzzleloaders can be incredibly difficult to unload.

If you have never used one before, watch some old flicks of them in action and take notes on the loading and unloading processes that the shooters follow.

Learning the muzzleloader.

Muzzleloaders are more challenging to use than traditional rifles and guns. It is important to only use black powder with these weapons, anything else can be unsafe. These guns are loud, so always wear protection. Muzzleloaders need to be cleaned after every time they are shot. If attempting to clean a loaded weapon, there’s a great chance that you’ll severely injure yourself or cause structural damage.

  • They also are designed for practicality, not comfort. You don’t want to let the black powder set overnight. Load, and unload, all in the same session, each and every time.
  • If the black powder stiffens, it will have a dramatic effect on accuracy.
  • They can kick like mule (at least by rifle standards) and unless you’re using a modern version, don’t have much as far as ‘amenities.’ Be prepared for a very traditional and basic shooting experience, and be ready to spend some time unloading the weapon.

Remove the breech plug.

These days, most muzzleloader enthusiasts are firing modern in-line muzzleloaders. Unloading this type of firearm is significantly more safe and less time consuming than older muzzleloaders. It doesn’t take any special equipment or training, other than what you can learn quickly from an experienced shooter.

  • All you have to do is remove the breach plug.
  • Once you’ve done that, just push the projectile and the powder out the rear of the barrel.
  • After you’ve done this, load the ramrod (or loading rod) into the barrel. This step is critically important because otherwise, the touchhole may become blocked by random objects during storage. Or, even during a resting period between shooting sessions – this can happen very quickly.
  • These tips are specifically for unloading the muzzleloader without firing the bullet out. See below for tips on unloading through firing, and also check out this video:

With a CO2 Discharger.

Perhaps the best way to unload a traditional (read: older) muzzleloader is with this method. Take your ready to use discharger and use one of the following methods:

  • Press the discharger against the touchhole, if you are using a flintlock muzzleloader.
  • If the gun is a percussion lock muzzleloader, place the discharger over the nipple and safely discharge the barrel.

Be very careful with CO2, and always apply it to the right area depending on your weapon. If you aren’t sure which type of muzzleloader you have, do some internet research to find out before cleaning and unloading. Here is a great video on this.:

Discharging the muzzleloader into a backstop.

This is the most entertaining way to unload a muzzleloader. Shoot the gun into a safe backstop that won’t deflect the bullet back at you or at someone (or something) else. If at a range, this is easily done by simply firing the weapon in the appropriate area. Shoot the muzzleloader into a thick, cushioned setup that is prepared to handle bullets.

If you happen to be out in the wilderness, be very careful and mind these steps:

  • Don’t fire into the ground. This is literally the stupidest thing you could ever do. The projectile may bounce right back up at you, or a member of your party, or strike a dog that is unaware of what’s going on.
  • Likewise, don’t fire into the air either. If you’ve ever heard the old saying “what goes up, must come down,” then you know what I’m talking about. It’s doubtful that you have the inward geometrical skillset to calculate exactly where that bullet is going to land.
  • Because muzzleloaders are so popular with target shoots, use the target as a backstop in those situations.

Break Down

There you have it, the three best practices for how to unload a muzzleloader. As with any gun situation, be careful and follow instructions. I always recommend either reading the manual on your gun, or doing some online browsing to find out as much information as you can about your specific weapon. This is especially true for older guns – they aren’t always as consistent as newer streamlined versions, and each individual one may have its own quirks and funky movements.

When it’s time to store the muzzleloader, make sure the ramrod is in the barrel. Always lean the gun up against a solid and clean rest. You’ll want to make sure that no debris or dirt gets into the barrel, because this can prevent the gun from firing the next time around.


This about does it. I always keep my muzzleloader on its perch in my garage, lifted off the ground so no dirt from the floor gets in there. I’m interested in how easily you were able to unload a muzzleloader the first time- feel free to leave a comment below. And if you have any additional storage tips, I’d love to hear those as well. If this article was helpful to you, please share on Facebook and Twitter, as anything we can do to improve hunter safety is better for everyone. Thanks, and happy unloading!

Featured Image by Joe Goldberg

Daily Shooting Team

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