Flintlock / percussion cap / inline
A flintlock muzzle loader is a traditional design firearm. The flintlock firearm uses a piece of flint to ignite the powder charge. Yes, a piece of rock fires the gun. This piece of flint is held in a vise called the jaws, with a screw to tighten the vise down on the flint. There usually is a piece of leather wrapped around the flint in the jaw to keep it from cracking and to aid in gripping. A long gooseneck hammer or cock holds the flint and jaw. To fire, you pull back the hammer to ‘cock’ the weapon.
When the trigger is pulled, the hammer is released and swings down against the frizzen. The flint, when the weapon is fired, will strike the frizzen, which is basically a striker face to generate sparking.
The flint slides across the frizzen generating sparks and all these spark land in the flash pan.
The pan contains loose black powder, finely ground to aid in ignition. This spark causes the powder in the pan to ignite.
This flash explosion travels in all directions, to include the touch hole. The touch hole is a tiny hole drilled into the barrel of the muzzle loader.
Fire from the pan explosions travels down the touch hole and ignites the main charge in the barrel of the muzzle loader. The main charge ignites and forces the projectile down the barrel and to the target. This method also causes burning powder to be cast in all directions, including the shooters face. This can cause the shooter to flinch as the weapon fires. There is also a slight delay in the firing sequence. It takes a moment for the hammer to fall, the flint to spark, the pan to flash and the main charge to detonate. It is not excessive, but it is noticeable. This has to be factored in when you take the shot.
Now you can see why a lot of things can go wrong. This was the technology used in the late 1700s into the late 1800s. Before you scoff, the British Empire controlled most of the world by the mid 1800s and they used a flint lock standard issue infantry muzzle loader called the ‘Brown Bess’ to achieve this distinction. American colonists used a flintlock rifle nicknamed a ‘Kentucky rifle’ to gain independence from the British Empire. Using a muzzle loader to hunt game is still a viable idea. The technology is just outdated. It is similar to using a carburetor instead of a fuel injector. They both work, just fuel injection is more efficient and provides power faster.
PERCUSSION CAP MUZZLE LOADER
As firearms technologically advanced, a more reliable method to fire a muzzle loading weapon was invented. The use of a small ‘cap’ containing a charge was introduced to replace the flintlock. This cap is called a ‘percussion cap’. The part that the cap rests is called a ‘nipple’. This change to percussion cap removed the frizzen and jaws but still used a hammer to strike the percussion cap to fire the weapon. The nipple becomes the new touchhole, enclosing the ignition spark and directs the spark into the breach of the weapon. The touch-hole is now enclosed to aid in firing and this new system greatly aided muzzle loaders in reliability and safety. This style of weapon was used extensively in the U.S. Civil War and was finally replaced by the cartridge round used today.
Using a percussion cap firearm to hunt takes out a lot of the variables out of muzzle loaded hunting. The cap is more reliable, safer and easier to use than a flint. The enclosure of the touchhole increases reliability also. Nipples can become clogged or loose, but are easily cleaned or tightened. Today, most percussion muzzle loader is fired with a percussion cap or a shotgun primer. Caps do come loose, fall off or fail to fire. Most hunters do not cap until they are ready to fire, similar to disengaging your safety in a modern firearm. With practice, this can be done by feel just like you do with a modern firearms safety.
INLINE MUZZLE LOADER
Inline muzzle loaders are termed modern muzzle loaders. Inline muzzleloaders were not used by the military but have become an exclusive firearm designed for hunting only. Instead of the side mounted ignition system used by the flintlock and percussion cap, the gun companies redesigned the percussion cap ignition system to be directly behind the barrel. This allowed for a more direct spark into the breech of the firearm.
A percussion cap or shotgun primer is used to detonate the charge. The use of a scope is easier with an in line since there is now swinging hammer on the side to strike the scope. Another advantage of the inline system is that it makes cleaning easier. All one has to do is remove the breech plug and it’s a straight barrel to clean. With a flintlock or percussion design, the ignition comes in from the side, and to remove the breech pug is very difficult and time consuming.