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Glossary of Muzzleloading Terms

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Jan 2, 2003
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Glossary of Muzzleloading Terms


Adjustable Powder Measure - (Usually brass) Measures powder in volume from 0 to 120 grains in 10 grain increments, Pistol measurers often measure smaller amounts.

Agate - A sparking stone used instead of flint in some flintlocks.

Arquebuse - An early matchlock type of weapon.

Authentic - Following the pattern of any muzzleloader and/or accouterments exactly as they were made originally.


Back Action Lock - Back action percussion locks were a "late" developed style of lock, they are extremely fast and are often used on competition rifles, as well as shotguns. The lockplate of the back action lock was behind the hammer, usually running down the grip or wrist of the stock.

Ball - Common term for the round projectile fired by many muzzleloading arms.

Ball Board - Also called ball block, loading block and bullet board, a block of wood with holes drilled in it to hold several patched round balls for a quick reload.

Ball-ets - A cross between a bullet and a ball resulting in a patchless round ball.

Ballistics - The theory of the motion of projectiles. The shooter loosely considers "ballistics" to mean data relative to the velocity, energy, trajectory, and penetration of a cartridge, and sometimes to related factors such as chamber pressure and a powder's burning characteristics.

Ball Starter - A short ramrod used to start a projectile into the bore before the rammer can push it the remainder of the way down the barrel. Also called a short starter.

Barrel - The steel tube down which the bullet or ball travels on its path to the target. Either rifled (in rifles) or smooth (in muskets).

Barrel Bands - Used to hold the barrel in place to the forearm on some muskets instead of pins.

Barrel Lug - The part of the barrel that the barrel pins or wedge pin secures the barrel to the stock through.

Battery - The 18th century term for what we call the frizzen. Also sometimes refers to the cock (or hammer) and frizzen together as a unit. Also a division of cannons of a field artillery battalion in the Civil War.

Bayonet - A stabbing devise attached to the muzzle of a military style firearm.

Bayonet lug - A fitting on a firearm to which a bayonet is attached.

Bayonet Socket - A coupling mechanism for matching cylindrical parts, (barrel and socket) used to "fix" the bayonet in place.

Belt Hook - A long clip-type of belt hook used on pistols to hold on the belt, ready for quick use. Usually attached to the opposite side of the lock along the stock.

Big Bore - A rather loose adjective, normally applied in North America to rifles of calibers larger than .50, but applied in some countries only to much larger calibers. Also, large-bore.

Black Powder - The black powder we use to shoot these guns. It is the only safe propellant you may use in a blackpowder arm because it develops lower pressures than the modern smokeless powders. Most commonly available in four grades:
#F - the coarsest granulation. Often used for cannons.
#FF - the next coarsest - often used in black powder cartridge shooting or in large caliber rifles or muskets.
#FFF - a finer granulation used in many rifles and, historically, for priming. It is now thought that #FFF was the powder used for both loading and priming flintlocks in the 17th and 18th centuries, and can still be used so today.
#FFFF - the very finest granulation, like sugar.
Now used only for priming flintlocks. This granulation should not be used for the main powder charge because it develops very high velocities and inconsistent accuracy. Remember - the finer the granulation, the higher the velocity. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for loading your rifle!

Blown Patch - a failed round ball patch where the weave of the material is blown away on the powder side.

Bore - in simple terms the interior diameter of a gun barrel, which will vary according to the gun's design and intended use. The size of the bore is indicated by the term gauge.

Bore Brush - A bronze wire tool that threads onto a cleaning rod (or ramrod) and is used to brush the inside of the barrel.

Breech - The threaded steel plug at the rear end of the barrel, which holds the explosion of firing and thereby forces the bullet forward. Also a term for the rear end of the barrel.

Bridle - Plate on the inside of the lock that holds the tumbler, sear and fly in place.

Buckshot - Large lead or alloy shot used in shotguns and muskets.

Buck and Ball - A smoothbore load consisting on a large (bore size) round ball with 3 or 4 smaller balls (usually buckshot) on top of it. Used throughout the Civil War.

Buffalo Bullet - the name brand of only one of many new types of projectiles that are commercially available now. It is similar in some ways to the minie ball, and there are may brands available. All of them attempt to provide the high velocity of a tightly patched ball with the ease of loading of a minie ball, with sometimes varying success. They are often conical but not always, and usually are grooved and lubricated. Their accuracy can be phenomenal or mediocre depending on your own rifle. They depend on the lead edges of the bullet to fill the rifling grooves and therefore it matters a lot what diameter the bullet is, as well as the exact diameter of your rifle's bore. But never fear, almost everything is highly standardized these days, and a .58 rifle will very probably shoot a .58 projectile very well. They vary a great deal, and it would be wise to experiment to find the one your gun likes best.

Bullet - The projectile fired by the rifle or musket. Also called a ball.

Burnt Patch - holes burned through the patch by the hot gasses of the exploding powder charge, due mostly to lack of lube or poor patching material.

Butt - The rearmost end of a shoulder arm, on which is affixed the buttplate, which is placed against the shoulder.

Butt Plate - The metal, plastic, or hard-rubber plate covering the rear of a gunstock, usually checkered or corrugated to prevent slipping. See Recoil Pad or Stock.


Caliber - The diameter of the bore of a rifled arm in hundredths of an inch or in millimeters, usually measured from land to land (raided portion between grooves), which gives the true diameter of the bore prior to the cutting of grooves.

Cap - Also called the percussion cap, this is a small copper cap placed on the nipple of a percussion arm. The percussion technology was a great improvement over the flintlock, as it was far more dependable and weatherproof.

Capper - a devise that holds many percussion caps ready for use.

Carbine - A short-barreled rifle, normally much lighter in weight than a standard rifle.

Cast - The making of round balls and bullets out of lead. The pouring of molten metal. (casting nose caps, inlays, ect.) The lateral displacement of the butt plate from the centerline of the guns bore to aid in aligning the sights with the eye.

Chamber - The area on a revolver where powder and buller/ball in loaded into, a six shot revolver has six chambers. Breechloading rifles have one only chamber.

Charge - Load of powder and/or shot in a shotshell, or the load of powder in a muzzle-loading gun. Also, an old command, still occasionally used, to a hunting dog to lie down; it derives from the time when gun dogs were required to lie down while the guns were charged.

Chilled Shot - Shot containing a greater percentage of antimony than soft lead. All shot except buckshot and steel shot is dropped from a tower. Buckshot of the large sizes is cast, as are single balls.

Choke - the degree of narrowing or constriction of the bore at the muzzle end of the barrel, intended to increase the effective range of the gun. (see Full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder).

Cock - The 18th century term for what we today call the hammer, especially on a flintlock. Also refers to pulling the hammer back in the ready position, preparing to fire the arm.

Comb - The upper and forward edge of a gunstock that fits against your cheek.

Combustible Cartridge - An early speed loader consisting of a pre-measured powder charge and a round ball or bullet wrapped in a nitrated paper tube. The paper and all is rammed down the barrel and is consumed during the shot.

Coning (a muzzle) - Removing some of the rifling at the muzzle by using a special cutter. The cutter creates a cone in the bore that runs back an inch or more at a very slight angle. This "cone" allows a patched ball to enter the bore with very little pressure. Usually just thumb pressure is required.

Conversion Kit - A quick change from standard #11 percussion caps to musket caps or 209 primers. Also the parts needed to change from flintlock to percussion or visa-versa.

Crowning the Muzzle - Crowning is cutting a recess at the muzzle. This is done on modern as well as ML's. On ML's, the purpose is to allow loading without tearing of the patch.

Cylinder - That part of a revolving firearm which holds the ammunition in individual chambers. The cylinder then rotates as the gun is used to present each round in turn to the barrel for firing.

Cylinder Lock - Prevents the top cylinder from rotating out of alignment with the barrel once the firearm is cocked. There is a loading notch cut into the hammer that will allow the cylinder to rotate freely for loading when the hammer is placed in that position.


Doglock - A lock that employs an external latch to hold the hammer from forward movement.

Dram - Unit of weight, which is the equivalent of 27.5 grains. There are 256 drams in one pound avoirdupois (454 g).

Drift - Deviation of any projectile, bullet, or arrow from the plane of its departure, caused by wind. Also, the deviation of the projectile from the plane of departure due to rotation. In all sporting firearms, the drift from the plane of departure due to rotation is so slight as to be of no consequence.

Drop - Distance below the line of sight of a rifle or shotgun from an extension of this line to the comb and to the heel of the stock. See Drop at Comb and Drop at Heel.

Drop at Comb - Vertical distance between the prolonged line of sight and the point of the comb. The drop and thickness of the comb are the most important dimensions in the stock of a shotgun or rifle, They are affected by the drop at heel. If the dimensions are correct, the eye is guided into and held steadily in the line of aim. For hunting purposes, the best standard drop at comb on both rifles and shotguns is 1 1/4 to l 5/8 inches (3.8-4.1 cm). Drop differs for target shooting. Ideal stock dimensions for field or target shooting are attained only by custom fitting.

Drop at Heel - The vertical distance between the prolonged line of sight and the heel of the butt. The amount of drop varies, depending upon the ideas and build of the shooter. Most shotgun hunters require a drop of about 2 1/4 inches (6.4 cm).

Drum - The small external barrel located on the breech plug of a percussion firearm that the nipple is screwed into.

Dry Ball - Loading your rifle without powder.

Dry Patch - Not enough lube on the round ball's patch resulting in failure of the patch due to it burning through. Also to run a few clean, dry patches down and back up the barrel to dry it out after cleaning or swabbing.

Ducks Foot - A multi-barreled pistol used on the high seas to control mutinous rebellions aboard ship.

Duplex load - This is a phrase you hear particularly if you are a flint shooter wishing to use Pyrodex. It means you must use 10 gr. of blackpowder to start the charge and the remainder of Pyrodex. In other words using 2 types of powder in same load. Pyrodex requires a higher ignition temperature than does blackpowder, therefore flintlock shooters must use a small amount of black powder for the priming charge to set it off.


Escutcheon - A decorative plate on the stocks of some muzzleloaders where the wedge key pushes through.


Flash - The act of the priming powder igniting in a non-percussion muzzleloader.

Flash in the pan - The result of the priming powder going off, but not the flint lock.

Flashguard - A built-in, raised lip of the priming pan to protect the shooter from burning powder, can also be added as a safety direct the flash upwards. Also called a fence.

Flash Cup - A percussion version of a flashguard, held in place by the threads of the nipple.

Flask - The metal powder flask was known and used before the horn, actually, and was the common means for carrying powder on the person in Europe and among the gentry on both sides of the ocean. Cased pistols often included a powder flask. While the flask wasn't as widely used by the foot soldier and pioneer rifleman who preferred horns or preloaded paper cartridges, the flask did have the great advantage of being a carrying container and powder measure in one, speeding up and simplifying loading. Today flasks are commonly used with blackpowder arms and are very handy for loading percussion revolvers where the speed and convenience really shine.

Flint - the carefully chipped gun flint that is clamped in the cock of the flintlock arm. The size varies with the size of the lock, and there are both machine-made and hand-knapped flints available on the market.

Flintlock - The firing mechanism most commonly seen in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a complex but dependable mechanism whereby flint is scraped onto steel to create fire. Other mechanisms used this principle as well, but differ from the true flintlock in various ways. It was developed in the 16th century and is still used to this day.

Flintlock Pan Charger - A small powder flask (usually brass) that releases enough priming powder to fill the pan's depression to the proper level.

Fly - A devise located on the lock's tumbler, the fly prevents the sear from catching the half cock position when the trigger is pulled. A fly is required in rifles with double set triggers.

Forcing Cone - The forcing cone aligns the projectile into the rifling as the bullet enters the barrel, on cap and ball revolvers the forcing cone is located on the back of the barrel, just ahead of the chamber.

Forearm - The wooden extension of the stock which is under the barrel and held by the shooter's left hand (or right hand, if he or she is a southpaw.) Also called fore-end.

Fouling - The unburnt powder and carbon left in the barrel after the muzzleloader has been discharged.

Fouling Scraper - A tool that threads into the end of a ramrod that is used to scrape the residue that accumulates on the edge of the breech.

Fowler - Or fowling piece. This is the term for a shoulder arm intended for use in game shooting. It would have been lighter and more delicate than a rifle or musket, but with often very long barrels of 50" or more. Fowlers, often exquisitely graceful and beautifully decorated, were carried by persons of means who could afford a purpose-built arm for bird shooting.

Fusil - A term for a light musket often carried by trappers, explorers, and military officers in the 18th century. The fusil is similar in many ways to a fowler.

Frizzen - Also called the battery or the steel (in 18th century terminology) this is the high carbon steel plate that the flint of a flintlock scrapes against, making a shower of hot sparks to ignite the priming powder. It hinges forward for priming, or back for firing. Forward, it exposes the priming pan and touchhole.

Frizzen Face - The area that the flint or other sparking stone strikes to produce sparks.

Frizzen Spring - The spring which provides snap and resistance to the travel of the frizzen in priming or firing. It is nowadays always found on the exterior or the lock at the front, ahead of the frizzen. On older locks, especially very highly finished and decorated ones, the frizzen spring was sometimes internal, and not seen from the outside. This allowed for more engraving and ornamentation on the lock plate.

Frizzen Tail - The part of the frizzen that rest against the frizzen spring when it is fully opened.

Front Site - The sight on the very end of the barrel, near the muzzle. Usually a thin blade of light metal like silver, it is visually lined up with the rear sight and thus aligns the barrel on the target.


Gauge - was measured as the number of bore sized balls can be made from 1 pound of lead.

GPR - (acronym) Great Plains Rifle by Lyman.

Grain - Abbreviated gr. Weight measurement. One ounce equals 437.5 gr. There are 7,000 gr in 1 lb (454 grams). In reference to gunstocks, grain indicates the direction of the fibers on the surface of the stock.

Grip - That part of the stock of a rifle or shotgun which is grasped by the trigger hand when firing the gun. The two most common types of grips are the "pistol grip" and the "straight grip" found on some double-barreled shotguns. Also called the wrist.

Groove - The sunken part of rifling.

Groove Diameter - The distance across the bore of a rifled barrel from the bottom of one groove to the bottom of the one opposite, this is easily measured by means of a lead slug. In the case of a barrel with an odd number of grooves this is measured by driving a soft lead slug into the barrel and then measuring the slug's diameter over a land-to-groove cross section and then subtracting the bore diameter. The next step is to double this figure and add it to the bore diameter to get the groove diameter.

Gun - Any smooth-bore weapon projecting a charge of pellets; see also Rifle. Also, a participant in a British shooting party, as distinct from a helper or spectator.


Hair Trigger - A trigger requiring extremely light pressure for the release of the hammer.

Half Cock - A "safety" notch cut into the tumbler between the full cock position and all the way down.

Hammer - That part of a firearm, actuated by the mainspring and controlled by the trigger, which strikes either the cartridge rim or primer, or strikes and drives forward the firing pin so that it indents the primer or rim of the cartridge, to discharge the cartridge.

Hammer Nose Recess - The recessed striking area of the percussion muzzleloader's hammer, a protected area for the part that hits the percussion cap.

Hammer Spur - Protruding lever on top of a percussion or flintlock muzzleloader's hammer to aid in cocking the weapon.

Hammer Stall - A leather shield to cover the face of the frizzen. A homemade safety devise.

Hand - In cap and ball revolvers, the hand rotates the cylinder when the hammer is cocked.

Hand Cannon - Large bore iron hand held cannon, also referred to as a "hackbut," ca. 1450.

Handgonne - Handgonne are one of the earliest forms of firearms, often fitted to long poles.

Hang Fire - Delayed ignition of the powder in a cartridge after the hammer has fallen and the primer has been struck.

Hawken - see Plains Rifle

Heel - Upper part of the butt of a shotgun or rifle.

Hooked breech - This is where the breech end of the barrel has a "hook" on it and it literally hooks into the tang. The barrel is usually held in place with a key (wedge pin) in the forearm. This is usually found on half stock plains style rifles.

Hot Shot Nipple - A design change to the percussion nipple in aiding better ignition.

Horn - or powder horn. The most common way that powder (or rum, or salt,) was carried on the body. Beautifully scrimshawed horns of the 18th century are a testament to the horn's place as an object of pride, and are still being made today. The powder horn was not commonly carried by foot soldiers as they carried preloaded cartridges made of paper. The horn was carried well into the twentieth century by residents of mountain regions like the Appalachians, and is hard to beat as a naturally occurring item that lends itself beautifully to the purpose. It is waterproof, attractive, readily obtainable, can be fashioned either crudely or beautifully, and is a natural funnel. See Flask.


Inlays - Wood or metal designs that are set into various sections of firearm's stock.

Inline - a term for the modern, highly accurate and efficient muzzleloading arms that have an enclosed, weather-proof percussion mechanism. They look basically like a bolt-action rifle, and are nearly as dependable. The accuracy is so good with these that most are fitted with scopes. Many purists dislike them intensely simply on aesthetic grounds, but you can't argue with success. Hunting regulations vary from state-to-state as regards these rifles, so don't automatically assume that an inline rifle is legal to use in your state for muzzleloading season.

In The White - Barrel and hardware of a muzzleloader that has not been browned or blued, sometimes polished to a high luster.


Jag - A tool that is threaded onto the end of the ramrod and is used to hold a patch while cleaning the bore.

Jaw - The part of a flintlock that holds the flint in place, usually an upper (moveable) and a lower (stationary or fixed) jaw. Also called vise jaw.

Jaw Screw - The large screw that provides the force to hold the jaws tight against the sparking stone.


Kentucky Rifle - also called Pennsylvania rifle, is the subject of much myth and legend in American culture and history.

Kentucky Windage - A term used by American riflemen to describe the process of "holding off" to the left or right of a target to allow for the effect of the wind on the bullet, but making no adjustment in the sight setting.


Land - The raised portion of rifling.

Leade - The unrifled section of the bore in front of the chamber.

Length of Stock - The distance in a straight line from the center of the trigger to a point midway between the heel and the toe of the buttplate, on the surface of the plate. Required stock length depends upon the build of the shooter, men of short stature or short arms requiring short stocks. The standard length for hunting arms is 14 inches (35.6 cm) for shotguns and 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm) for rifles. Also called length of pull.

Loading Lever - A devise used to load cap and ball revolvers, located at the bottom of the barrel.

Lock - The mechanism which fires the rifle. The combination of hammer, firing pin, sear, mainspring, and trigger which serves to discharge the cartridge when the trigger is pulled. It can be flintlock, percussion, inline (another form of percussion) or even the old methods like miquelet, snaphaunce or matchlock.

Lockplate - The large flat plate seen from the outside of the rifle. The hammer and frizzen (or nipple, in a percussion rifle) all sit atop the lockplate. It is often engraved or case-hardened for ornamentation.

Lock Time - The time elapsed between the release of the hammer by the sear and the impact of the firing pin on the primer. Also called lock speed.

Lubrication of Bullets - Most lead bullets have to be lubricated with grease or wax on their surface or in their grooves to prevent leading the bore. Outside-lubricated cartridges have the lubricant placed on the surface of the bullet outside the case. Inside-lubricated bullets have the lubricant in grooves of the bullet where it is covered by the neck of the case.


Mainspring - The main spring of the lock. This is where the force necessary for firing the lock comes from, and this is what is compressed when the hammer (or cock) is pulled back. Springs are either coil, "V" or leaf.

Match - A string soaked in nitrate so as to burn slowly and steadily without going out in wind. Also called slow match.

Matchlock - A muzzleloading firearm which is fired by means of a burning match being applied to a flash hole by means of the trigger.

Minieball - Named after its inventor, this is a pointed (conical) projectile most commonly associated with Civil War - era rifles. It has grooves around its flat, hollow base which can be filled with a lubricating grease. This projectile allowed much faster loading in combat as it didn't need to be patched. The explosion of the powder charge "upset" the hollow base and expanded it to fit into the rifling. Also, the pointed shape was efficient and accurate at longer ranges than a round ball. See Buffalo Bullet.

Miquelet Lock - A lock design with distinguishable features as a large "eye" in the jaw screw and an external main spring, seen on many European firearms.

Misfire - This is where the priming goes off but for some reason the main charge fails to go off.

Modern Muzzleloaders - See Inline

Musket - Commonly refers to a shoulder arm, designed to fire a single projectile, in which the barrel's bore is smooth, not rifled, similar to a shotgun barrel. This was the most common form of military arm in the 17th and 18th centuries, although the rifle was well-known and widely used as well. The musket was a weapon of rather short range, usually 100 yards or less, and was often fitted with a bayonet for charges and hand-to-hand combat. It helped shape the form of land warfare in the 18th century, and straight-line ranks of troops advancing slowly together was the result. (You couldn't hit them if you weren't pretty close to them!) Much of the incredible carnage of the Civil War can be attributed to the use of these older, musket-based tactics in an age of rifles, which had effective ranges out to 300 yards or more.

Musket Grain - Musket grain is when the grain runs across the wrist, also called run-out or cross grain.

Muzzle - the very end of a firearm, or basically the hole that the bullet comes out of, on its way to the target. In a muzzleloader, it is where loading takes place, thus the name.

Muzzle Energy - The energy of a bullet or projectile on emerging from the muzzle of the firearm that discharges it. Usually designated in foot-pounds or kilogram-meters.
Muzzle loader ... Any gun which is loaded from the muzzle end, usually by means of a separate powder charge, with the bullet seated afterwards. Muzzle loaders can be, Matchlocks, Wheellocks, Flintlocks, or Percussion fired.

Muzzle Velocity - The speed of a bullet or projectile at the moment of emerging from the muzzle. Usually expressed in feet or meters per second.


Nipple - The small hollow tube onto which is placed a percussion cap. The hammer then falls on this cap, exploding a small chemical charge. The fire travels down the nipple, turns a corner, and finds access to the main charge.

Nipple Wrench - A tool used to remove and/or replace a percussion firearm's nipple.

Nonadjustable Powder Measure - A measuring devise that holds a fixed volume of powder, can be made of brass, horn, antler tips or from many other mediums.

Nose Cap - A metal tip (usually brass) to the front end of a muzzleloader's stock. Also called forend cap.


Octagon - a very common shape for barrels on many muzzleloading arms. The eight-sided profile is a common one, and came into being for many different reasons. One is that in an age before readily available lathes for turning metal, a round tube was quite a feat of craftsmanship, and a smooth round profile was more challenging to file, whereas flat surfaces of an octagon were easier to accomplish. This is just one theory, and could be argued against. For whatever reason, the octagon barrel is a beautiful thing that is here to stay. Many modern custom high-powered rifles are fitted with octagon barrels for beauty's sake.


Pan - Also called the priming pan. It is a shallow depression next to the touchhole which gets a small dribble of fine powder poured onto it. The frizzen is then closed over it. When fired, hot sparks will fall into the pan, ignite the priming powder this fire will go through the touchhole and fire the rifle.

Patch Box - called just "the box" in the 18th century. This is the brass, hinged box found on the stocks of different types of rifles. No, it is not found only on Kentucky rifles, and no, the American gunmaker didn't invent it. It is of German origin and is of two types. The hinged brass box is found on German rifles that predate the American Longrifle, and is most commonly seen today. The sliding wooden box has a dovetailed lid that slides off the box cavity and gets frequently lost through time. Old rifles often have missing or replaced wooden box lids.

Patching - The material - usually cloth - which is placed around a rifle ball to allow a tight fit between the ball and the rifling grooves. It forms a gasket, as it were, which uses the full power of the powder charge without allowing gas to escape past the ball and be wasted. In use long before the days of the American Longrifle, it allowed higher velocity and greater accuracy, although it was slower to load. Muskets often were loaded without patching, which allowed greater speed but much shorter range and lower velocity.

Patch Knife - A small knife used to cut patching material at the muzzle during the loading process.

Patent Breech Plug - An internal improvement in design of the breech plug.

Pattern - The distribution of a charge of shot fired from a shotgun.

Pattern Control - Control of the shot pattern by means of choke.

Pellet - Round shot, of any size, a given number of which make up the shot charge.

Pepperbox - A multi-barrel percussion pistol of 4 to 6 barrels.

Percussion - A firing mechanism commonly seen on 19th century arms. It allowed a more dependable, more weather-proof firing system. See Cap.

Period Correct - The reproducing of anything exactly to any era or time frame.

Pitch - This can be observed by resting a gun upright beside a wall with the butt or butt plate flat on the floor. If the barrel is exactly parallel with the wall, the gun is said to have no pitch. If the breech touches the wall and the barrel inclines away from it, the distance between the muzzle and the wall is the negative pitch. If the barrel inclines toward the wall, so that there is a distance between the breech and the wall, this distance is what is called, simply, the "pitch." A pitch of 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) is desirable on a repeating rifle because it causes the butt to remain in place at the shoulder when the rifle is fired rapidly.

Plains Rifle - The shorter, later version of the Longrifle that went west over the Rockies. As time wore on, riflemen saw less and less need for a very long barrel, or the slim, delicate fullstock underneath it. Pioneers going west seemed to prefer a shorter rifle that could be loaded and fired on horseback, and several gunshops catered to the trade. Trappers moving west often stopped in St. Louis to order a rifle from the Hawken brothers, Sam and Jake (who were, by the way, the sons of the York County, Pennsylvania gunsmith Nicholas Hachen), although there were other rifle makers who made similar arms for these travelers. Nowadays, the Hawken-style rifle is extremely popular and available in many more or less historically accurate recreations not only because it is suggestive of the highly colorful era of the fur trapper, but also because it lends itself well to commercial manufacture unlike the earlier Longrifles.

Plunger - A devise attached to the loading lever of a cap and ball revolver to push bullets into the cylinders.

Powder - The finely divided chemical mixture that supplies the power used in shotgun and metallic ammunition, technically propellant powder. When the powder is ignited by the flash of the priming composition it burns with a rapidly increasing gas which develops a pressure of 6,ooo to 55,ooo lb per square inch (420 to 3900 kg per square cm) in the chamber and bore of the gun. This gas furnishes the propelling force of the bullet or charge of shot. Originally, all propellant powder was black powder formed in grains of varying size, with the size of the grain determining the rate of burning and suitability for various cartridges. Modern powders are smokeless and their base is nitroglycerine or nitrocellulose or a combination of both, the product then being called double-base powder. The rate of burning is controlled by the composition, by the size and shape of the grains, and whether or not coated with some retarding substance called a deterrent. Those so coated are called progressive-burning.

Primed or Priming - For caplocks it means putting caps on the nipple. For flintlocks it is putting the priming powder in the flashpan.

Primer - A shotgun primer (like 209) used in inlines to ignite the main charge.

Prime Pan - See Pan.

Proof - The process of proving a gun safe for use, usually done by firing a special test cartridge which will apply at least 30% more pressure to the gun than its quoted limit.

Possibles Bag (see "shooting bag" below)
Used to carry things not in your Shooting Bag. Fire starter, food, sewing kit, etc.

Pull - The distance between the face of the trigger and the center of the butt of the gunstock. Also, the amount of pressure, in pounds, which must be applied to the trigger to cause the sear to disengage and permit the hammer to fall. Also, the command given to release a skeet or trap target.

Pull Length - it is the distance from the crook of your elbow (the inside bend) to the first digit of your index finger when bent as if it were on an imaginary trigger. For 95% of the adult men in the U.S. it is between 14 and 14-1/2 inches.

Pyrodex - One of several black powder substitutes recently developed, along with others like Golden Powder and Elephant Powder. They are all variations on a theme, attempting to overcome the mess of clean-up involved with shooting black powder. Some substitutes are better than others at various jobs, and it is part of the fun when you experiment to find what works best for you. Always follow the gun manufacturer's instructions regarding black powder or substitutes, and if you decide to use a substitute, follow its manufacturer's instructions to the letter when loading. You absolutely cannot always use the same powder charge in one as the other, nor can you always use the same measuring device without resetting it for the particular substitute. Pyrodex, for instance, is loaded volume for volume instead of black. But the same volume of Pyrodex will weigh less than an equal volume black. If you used the same weight of Pyrodex as you did of black, you would be using a heavier charge of powder! See what I mean? Be extremely careful. The substitutes are safe and useful when used according to their manufacturer's specifications, but you have to be extra mindful of what you are using.


"Q" Patchbox - Leading scroll design on Bedford rifle's patchbox, looks like the letter "Q".


Ramrod - Or Rammer, in the 18th century. This is the long wooden shaft which allows the ball to be pushed down the barrel and onto the powder charge. Always make sure that you push the ball down onto the powder, until it stops!! To stop part of the way down, or "short starting", is a potentially deadly mistake and can burst a barrel when the gun is fired.

Receiver - The frame of a cap and ball revolver, including the breech, locking, and loading mechanism of the arm.

Recoil - The force with which the gun moves backwards into the shoulder when fired. The "kick" of the firearm when discharged.

Revolver - Any handgun embodying a cylindrical magazine, as opposed to a single-shot or semiautomatic handgun, either of which is usually called a "pistol."

Rib - The raised bar or vane, usually slightly concave on its upper surface and usually matted, which forms the sighting plane extending from breech to muzzle of a gun. It is used on all double-barreled shotguns.

Rifle - refers to a shoulder arm with a barrel having twisting, spiral grooves in the bore projecting a single rotating bullet. Also, as the Rifle, the member of a stalking party who will fire the shot (cf. the Gun).

Rifling - Parallel grooves cut into the bore of a rifle or pistol, spiraling from the breech to the muzzle, causing the bullet to spin in its flight.

Ringing the Barrel - A bulge produced from shooting a muzzleloader without the projectile seated firmly on the powder, a dangerous condition that could result in the total rupture of the barrel and serious injury or death to the shooter.


Sabot - A lightweight carrier in which a sub-caliber projectile is carried, from the French for a clog.

Safety - The device which locks a firearm against the possibility of discharge; sometimes called a safety catch. In common practice, the term applies primarily to the button, pin, or toggle which, when set in the "safe" position, prevents the discharge of the arm by pulling the trigger. A safety which automatically resets itself in the "safe" position when the gun is opened during the reloading process is called an automatic safety. Such a safety is most common on double-barreled shotguns.

Sear - The mechanism which holds the lock at a half or full cock position. The sear is what is actually tripped by the trigger in firing.

Sear Spring - The small spring that acts against the sear, causing the small "click" as the hammer is pulled back.

Serpentine Lock - The serpentine lock is the most basic of firing mechanisms, which freed the gunner to take a proper aim instead of firing by volley. Pinned in the middle, the serpentine lock resembles the letter "S" or a snake, the top of the "S" held a burning match while the bottom served as a trigger.

Serpentine Powder - Unlike modern black powder that is made wet, serpentine powder was made while it was dry and it tended to explode during preparation.

Set Triggers - A mechanism whereby two triggers (or sometimes one) are used to create a very delicate "hair trigger" for precise shooting. Usually, the rear trigger is pulled back thereby compressing a spring which "loads" the front trigger. Then, a very light touch on the front trigger will fire the rifle. They are nowadays always adjustable and usually always "double action". In double action triggers, the forward trigger can still be used to fire the rifle without pulling the rear one first. You would not have a hair trigger in this case unless you wanted one. In single action triggers, the rear trigger would have to pulled every time the rifle was fired. Not often seen today, but they are available from some parts suppliers.

Shooting Bag (Rifle Pouch, etc.)(see "possibles bag" above)
Designed to carry the things necessary to use your firearms.

Shot - round projectiles, usually of lead or steel. Depending on shot size and load, a shell can contain from 45 to 1,170 shot.

Shot Pattern - the concentration of shot measured in a circle at a given range, usually 30 to 40 yards.

Shot Snake - A long slinder pouch that is filled with shot and worn by the shooter, mostly made from leather.

Side-by-Side - a shotgun with two barrels sitting side by side. In Great Britain, the standard game shooting weapon.

Side Plate - A plain or decretive metal plate or washers opposite the lock.

Sight Radius - The distance between the front and rear sights. The longer the distance the greater the accuracy of the firearm.

Sights - The aiming device on a firearm. On most rifles and handguns, the factory-installed sights consist of two elements called "front sight" and "rear sight," which together frequently are called "iron sights" because they are made up of principally metal. The front sight, located on the barrel near the muzzle, is usually post-shaped or bead-shaped and hence sometimes called post or bead. The rear sight is usually located partway down the barrel, near the breech or on the receiver. If it consists of a V- or U-shaped notch in a flat piece of metal, it is called an "open" sight. An open sight with a deep U-shaped notch with protruding wings is called a "buckhorn sight." The rear sight can also consist of an aperture in a disk. It is then called an aperture, or peep, sight. When the aperture sight is attached to the receiver it is called a "receiver sight" and when it is attached to the tang it is called a "tang sight." When the aperture adjustments have micrometer settings, such a sight is sometimes called a "micrometer sight." A hunting shotgun usually has only one sight consisting of a bead near the muzzle, but most trap and skeet guns have a second bead halfway down the barrel. There are also telescopic sights for rifles and handguns.

Small Bore - Specifically, of a .32 to .45 caliber muzzleloader. Sometimes applied to rifles chambered for centerfire cartridges up to .25 caliber and shotguns under 20 gauge.

Smoothbore - A firearm without rifling.

Snaphaunce - An early muzzleloader similar to the flintlock in many ways except that the pan cover and the striking plate (frizzen) are two separate parts.

Snapping Matchlock - A matchlock with a spring loaded arm that placed the burning wick into the priming powder.

Speed Loader - A tube filled with a pre-measured powder charge and a lubed bullet, held ready for a quick follow-up shot.

Spread - The overall area of a shotgun pattern. Also, the inside distance between right and left antlers or horns at their widest separation or at the tips.

Stirrup - The link between the lock's main spring and the tumbler.

Stock - The "handle" of the shotgun or muzzleloader, the part held to the shoulder, comprising the butt, comb, grip and forearm.

Swab - To mop the bore with a wet cleaning patch or bore mop between shots or when cleaning the barrel.

Swamped Barrel - Term describing the tapered and flared profile commonly seen on barrels up until the 19th century. The breech end of the barrel would be heavy and strong for safety; then the barrel would gradually taper down to an area about eight or ten inches behind the muzzle, at which point it would flare back out to a diameter slightly less than the breech. Frequently, the barrel would be an inch wide at the breech, taper down to around 3/4" at the narrowest part, and back out to around 7/8" at the muzzle. While it sounds strange, these barrels are incredibly graceful and beautiful, giving a feeling of balance to the arm that must be felt to be appreciated. A lot of unnecessary weight is gotten rid of, as well, and the lines of the architecture of the entire rifle flow so much more beautifully than in a straight-barreled arm. Today, swamped barrels are only found on custom made rifles and are available only from custom barrel makers.

Swell - A bulge left in the forearm of a muzzleloader's stock to allow a more comfortable hold on the stock.


Tang Sight - See Sights.

T/C - (acronym) Thompson/Center Arms.

Tennons - These are the metal pieces on the bottom of the barrel that you either have wedge pins running through or pins holding it in the stock.

Thimbles - The brass (usually) tubes that hold the ramrod to the rib of the barrel.

Toe - The lower part of the butt of a shotgun or rifle.

Touchhole - The small hole in the barrel, right through to the bore, whereby the fire of the lock is allowed entrance to the main charge. It is plainly visible in a flintlock, but is covered by the nipple assembly in a percussion arm.

Trigger - finger-pulled lever-single, double and release-that drives the firing point forward and fires the gun.

Trigger Guard - A guard surrounding the trigger or triggers of a firearm. On some underhammer designs, the trigger guard serves as the main spring to the hammer.

Trigger Pull - The pressure required to bring about the release of the sear notch on the hammer, permitting the hammer to fall.

Tumbler - The part of the lock that the hammer is screwed onto. Inside the lock, it is also the place where the mainspring "hooks on", transferring the force of the mainspring to the hammer.

Twist - The angle or inclination of the rifling grooves off the axis of the bore. Twist is designated by measuring the number of turns or fractions of turns to the inch of barrel length. A "14-inch twist" means that the grooves make one complete turn inside the bore every 14 inches (35.6 cm).


Underhammer - A type of lock in which the hammer pivots in a vertical arc, striking the nipple on the underside of the barrel. Since the nipple's flash channel goes straight into the powder at the breech end of the barrel, ignition time is very fast. For this reason, and because it gets the hammer out of the way, underhammer locks are commonly used on muzzleloading benchrest rifles which are used for target shooting, and where accuracy is the goal.


Vent - Hole in the side of a barrel's breech of a non-percussion muzzleloader for the flash of priming powder to ignite the main charge through. (see touchhole)

Vent Liner - An removable touchhole or vent.

Vent Pick - A probe of many styles used to remove spent percussion priming mixture from the nipple's tube. Can also be used on flintlocks to clear the touchhole.


Wedge Key - A flat barrel retaining pin that holds the barrel to the fore stock. Also used in some cap and ball revolvers to hold the barrel to the frame.

Wheel Lock - An early type of muzzle loader lock system which came before the flintlock. A spring driven wheel was released by the trigger. This spinning wheel struck a shower of sparks which led to ignition of the priming charge and hence the main charge.

Worm - an 18th century term for the small steel jag that screwed onto the rammer. This was used to hold flax or cloth patching for cleaning. Can also refer to the screw used to pull a ball accidentally loaded without powder in the gun first.


X Ring - Center circle of most targets, next to the #10 ring.


Yellow Brass - A type of brass used in sand casting and stamping for muzzleloader hardware, easier to work with than bronze or iron.


Zero - The adjustment of the sights on a rifle to cause the bullet to strike a calculated impact point at a given range. A rifle with the sights zeroed for 100 yards will, under normal conditions, place the bullet in the center of the target at that range.

Zouave - a muzzleloader used during the Civil War.
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