Range Bag Loadouts: Muzzleloaders

Shooting muzzleloaders requires a bit more specialized gear that other types of shooting, but its just as rewarding. Here's what you'll need.

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or More Range Bag Load Outs, Go Here If true accuracy is the objective at the range, what’s the most important thing you can have with you? Time. That’s right. Plenty of time to do the job properly. Sure, a comprehensive collection of gear helps tremendously; however, if you’re in a hurry. If you’re constantly looking at your watch while you’re adjusting windage and elevation knobs, then you might as well being doing something else.

M.D. Johnson's gear for hitting the range with a muzzleloader.
M.D. Johnson's gear for hitting the range with a muzzleloader.photo by M.D. Johnson

You have to have the time to do it right. I set aside an entire morning or afternoon, get the following equipment together, and plan on spending time behind the recoil pad until the rifle’s doing what I want it to do. That said, the range bag I pack when I’m working with my muzzleloaders consists of the following:

Hoppe's Large Range Bag

The author prefers Hoppe’s Large Range Bag, which has plenty of pockets and room.
The author prefers Hoppe’s Large Range Bag, which has plenty of pockets and room.mfg photo

With 3,600 cubic inches of interior space, this one has all the room I need and then some. Measures 24" by 15" by 10", with shoulder strap, carrying strap, inside handgun strap, and pockets. Lots of pockets. Tough 600D exterior wipes clean easily, if I decide to wipe it clean

Ear and Eye Protection

Radians RSG-3 Interchangeable Shooting Glasses and Champion Electronic Ear Muffs.
Radians RSG-3 Interchangeable Shooting Glasses and Champion Electronic Ear Muffs.mfg photos

Eye and ear protection are a no-brainer, and at most, if not all formal ranges, mandatory. Champion's electronic ear muffs curb the noise, but let me carry on a conversation with my shooting partner.

For eye pro I choose glasses made by Radians. The company makes a wide range of safety gear for industrial and retail sale and has an equally wide selection of shooting glasses, from models with interchangeable colored lenses to full goggles, allowing you to choose what fits your preferences best.

Recoil Pad

The PAST Recoil Shield takes the sting out of those heavy loads.
The PAST Recoil Shield takes the sting out of those heavy loads.mfg photo

The heavy shirt and jacket combination of old has been replaced with a PAST Recoil Shield. It's light, ambidextrous, and eats up the punishment of even three-pellet (150-grain) charges time after time.

Gun Rest

Caldwell Deadshot shooting bags.
The author prefers Caldwell Deadshot shooting bags as a rest.mfg photo

As for my rest, I'm partial to bags; they're steady, and WAY less cumbersome than a full-frame steel rest or sled-style platform. I go with Caldwell Deadshot shooting bags. They're made of durable, water-resistant 600 Denier polyester making them good for bad weather or wet conditions and they're easy to transport. They can be used on pretty much any surface and are filled with ground corn cob granules.

Cleaning Supplies

CVA Deluxe Muzzleloader Cleaning Set.
The CVA Deluxe Muzzleloader Cleaning Set is great to have on hand for dirty muzzleloaders.mfg photo

I'm huge on cleaning my firearms; yes, even at the range. I'm running a patch, e.g. a T/C Seasoning Patch, down the bore between every shot, and then I'm cleaning the gun entirely once the session is over. The CVA Deluxe Muzzleloader Cleaning Set allows me all that. Although not as convenient, at least to me, as a one-piece range rod with a swivel head/handle – NOTE: If I do pack a one-piece rod, I pack two; one with a nylon brush, and another with a slotted tip for patches – the three-piece rod in the CVA kit is good, sturdy, and does the job it's meant to do.

The CVA set includes cleaning jags; Zeiss lens wipes; nylon bristle brushes; steel and brass toothbrushes; three-piece range rod; straight pins; Cabela’s multi-tool; cleaning rag; Q-tips; bore cleaning gel; anti-seize; Barrel Blaster cleaning spray; bore swabs and brushes; patches.

I’ve added and removed some items from the original CVA kit, e.g. the Cabela’s multi-tool and Zeiss lens wipes; however, the basic OEM kit is most excellent as it stands.

Tools

An assortment of tools you'll find useful when shooting muzzleloaders at the range.
An assortment of tools you'll find useful when shooting muzzleloaders at the range.mfg photo

Let’s face it. Modern muzzleloading rifles are to the point where you really don’t need a complete arsenal of tools in order to (1) sight one in, or (2) right any wrongs that might occur during the sighting-in process, e.g. a stuck breech plug. Scopes are almost a given, making the need for a set of brass drifts designed to move a dove-tailed front sight a moot point; however, if I am working with an older percussion gun, my list will include the aforementioned drifts, along with a light nylon/brass hammer (www.brownells.com), wedge pin puller, nipple wrench, and an assortment of picks. Remember nipple wrenches? Yeah, probably not; damn kids.

The Wheeler Space-Saver screwdriver set is a must-have item. Weighs right at one pound, and includes everything you'll need – slotted, Phillips, hex, and torx – plus an uber-comfortable interchangeable handle.

Tools you need: traditional screwdrivers, Phillips and straight; pliers; steel straight punches (1/8 – 5/32 – 3/16)

Bullets 'n Powder 'n Caps

PowerBelt AeroLite bullets.
PowerBelt AeroLite bullets.mfg photo

After years of trial and error with countless bullets, I've finally settled on the PowerBelt AeroLites in either the 250- or 300-grain configuration. I killed dozens of whitetails in Iowa with these bullets, as well as a 300-pound black bear in Washington recently; on-target performance was exceptional on all counts, and accuracy is right where I want to be.

In Iowa, ignition was supplied by the Federal #209 primers; in Washington, where an exposed nipple is mandatory, I’m using the RWS 4-Flange musket caps. Same story with the powders. In Washington, the RWS caps torch two 50-grain Pyrodex pellets; in the Midwest, it’s Federal #209 and IMR White Hot pellets, the White Hots designed to be used with the hotter #209 heat source.