Muzzleloader 101
I assume that you have standard nomenclature for guns, like sight and trigger, down pat. This will address words unique to, or having a special meaning for, muzzleloaders. I will mostly skip the words already shown on the illustrations.

First section is the illustrations. Next the words are arranged by subject. Locks is clear. Forms refers to the different styles

Halfstock Percussion Long Gun
Full-stock Flintlock Rifle
Inline Rifle
Flintlock Pistol Percussion Revolver


  • Sidelock: The most common form of muzzleloader with the lock on the side of the stock and the ignition channel through the side of the barrel.
  • Box lock: A form with the lock mounted in the center top of the stock and the ignition channel into the top of the barrel. Usually only seen on small pocket pistols as the lock blocks view of the sight(s).
  • Inline: The lock is at the rear and the ignition channel is through the breechplug.
  • Screw barrel: The barrel unscrews from the breech plug for loading. The end of the breech plug has a chamber for powder at the bottom of a hemispherical cup for the ball. Firing forces the ball directly into the rifling. No patch required. Usually only seen in small pocket or target pistonls.
  • Matchlock: The earliest form of ignition. A piece of nitrate soaked cord, called a match, was touched to the pan of powder to ignite the main charge.
  • Wheel lock: This worked rather like a cigarette lighter. Pulling the trigger allowed a spring to rotate a serrated wheel against a piece of pyrite making sparks which ignited the powder in the pan. Note that the wheel only turned a few degrees like a lighter.
  • Migulet, Snaphaunce: Early flintlocks.
  • Flintlock: In the true or French flintlock the flint striking the frizzen opens the pan.
  • Pill lock: Early percussion using a small bead of fulminate in an ignition cup.
  • Percussion (cap) lock: The shock sensitive chemical is in a small cup fitting over a hollow nipple into the ignition channel.


  • Long rifle: Called Pennsylvania (origin and gunsmiths) or Kentucky (users) these flintlocks had long barrels, often above 40 inches and full stocks almost reaching the muzzle.
  • Plains Rifle: A shorter barrel and half stock with a larger bore made this a more suitable firearm for a horseman in the west. Modern usage makes "Hawken" the generic term, although the Hawken brothers actually made more long rifles than plains rifles.
  • Fowling Piece: Name for a shotgun during the flint era.
  • Trade Gun: Flintlock smoothbore usually of around 58 to 62 caliber made in large numbers, mostly in England, for the frontier trade.
  • Musket: A military long gun. The characteristics were a large smoothbore with the barrel retained to the stock with bands for strength in combat and a bayonet lug. Begining in the 1850s with the invention of the Minie Ball the "rifled musket" came into use, but it was quickly replaced with cartridge guns.
  • Fusil: A light musket. In current rendezvous usage, it is a flintlock smoothbore used in a special series of shoots with the same gun used for both ball and shot events. Most participents use a replica trade gun.
  • Open Top: Percussion revolvers, mostly Colt and copies, that did not have a top strap above the cylinder.
  • Pistol Sizes: There were no defined sizes, so each of these form a range defined by general usage.

    Small pistols were called pocket pistols as they would fit in the generous pockets of a man's coat. Sometimes they were called a muff pistols as a lady could carry a readily accessable gun in a muff.

    The next range of sizes were belt pistols. The holster in the modern sense did not appear until about the same time as the 1849 Colt Pocket Model and the 1851 Navy.. Before that belt pistols were tucked into belt and/or sash. Some had a hook on the side to slide into the belt.

    The big guys were called hoster pistols and sometimes horse pistols because at that time holsters were big and fastened to the saddle, often in pairs. This remained common for horsemen, both cavalry and civilian, until after the Civil War. These often were big guns. Early military pistols were often in musket calibers like 69 and 75. Even the early 44 caliber revolvers were a hefty handful.


  • Buckhorn sight Buckhorn sights aree a normal notched blade with side horns (antlers) nearly forming a full circle at one extreme to short projection call semi-buckhorn. Normally considered a hunting sight with a vee notch, the horns help acquire the target faster and the front blade top can be raised using the circle for long range. Others say they obscure the target. Period correct fanatics question the authenticity for flintlock rifles.
  • Creedmore (tang) sight Vernier sights were called Creedmore after the famous long distance match with Ireland at the Creedmore National Rifle Range on Long Island in 1874. The match was 15 shots each at 800, 900 and 1000 yards so the height and adjust-ability were ideal for the course.


  • Moose Milk is a home made cleaning liquid highly thought of in muzzleloading circles. There are almost as many recipes as authors. Most call for water, isopropol alcohol, and either Murphey's Oil Soap or Ballistol or both. Some recipes call for castor oil, witch hazel, Pinesol, peroxide and/or a whole lot more.

    More Coming

    • Minie Ball
    • Paper Cartridge
Appendix Directory
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