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Seasoning key to muzzleloader care

John McCoy
To heat a muzzleloader barrel enough to season it, Glenn Jones pours a kettle of boiling water into it. When the barrel gets so hot that Jones can feel the heat through a rolled-up towel and an oven mitt, it's warm enough.
ELKVIEW, W.Va. -- For many sportsmen, shooting a muzzleloader is a love-hate affair. They love to shoot it, but they hate to clean it.Not Glenn Jones.When Jones shoots one of his muzzleloaders, he knows he'll have it perfectly clean and ready to put away within 10 minutes. That's a far cry from the 45 minutes it took him when he first took up black-powder shooting."I've been hunting with muzzleloaders for about 35 years," said Jones, president of the West Virginia Hunter Education Association. "For the first five years, I cleaned my gun the way everyone else did - using hot, soapy water and a lot of elbow grease. It was no fun and it took a lot of time."Then Jones bought a new muzzleloader - one that included instructions for treating the barrel so it became much, much easier to clean."There was a little fact card that came with the gun, and it described how to 'season' the barrel, just like a cook would season a skillet," he said. "I followed the directions and seasoned the barrel of that rifle. Just like that, muzzleloader cleaning became a breeze."He's used the same technique and materials to season dozens of barrels since then. He even recommends the technique to students in his hunter-education classes."A bunch of people in my classes have tried it, and they've come up to me later to tell me that it works. More important, I've had people who stopped shooting their muzzleloaders because of the cleaning hassle come up later and tell me that after they seasoned their barrels they'd gone back to shooting."Cleaning a muzzleloader is important because black powder residue is extremely corrosive. Barrels that aren't cleaned promptly can rust badly within a day or two.Jones said there are two different procedures for seasoning barrels - one for brand-new guns and one for guns that have already been shot. "If a gun has already been shot, the barrel has to be stripped all the way down to the bare metal," he explained. "The best way to strip it is with a good-quality chemical bore cleaner. Once the barrel is clean, the procedure the rest of the way is the same."The materials Jones uses to season a barrel are simple: A teakettle, a bathroom hand towel, an oven mitt, a funnel that will fit into the muzzle end of the gun barrel, a .410-bore shotgun cleaning swab threaded to fit the ramrod, and a tube of any good-quality, all-natural "bore butter.""The bore butter needs to be all natural, no chemicals," Jones cautioned.The seasoning procedure is simple. In fact, Jones said it takes longer to describe than it actually takes to perform."Basically, what you do is to heat the barrel to open the pores in the steel, and then you fill those pores up with lubricant," he said.
First, Jones detaches the barrel from the gunstock and removes its percussion-cap nipple. He fills the teakettle with water and puts it on the stove to heat up.
While the water is heating, he threads the shotgun swab onto the end of the ramrod and coats the swab evenly with bore butter. After that, he folds the towel lengthwise into thirds so it forms a long, thin strip. He wraps the strip around the middle of the barrel, dons the oven mitt and uses his gloved hand to grasp the towel-wrapped barrel.When the water in the kettle begins to boil, Jones puts the funnel into the barrel's muzzle, grabs the kettle with his free hand and, holding the barrel over the kitchen sink, then pours the water into the barrel through the funnel."You want to pour just fast enough that the barrel stays full," he said. "You'll know the barrel is hot enough when you just start to feel the heat through the towel and the oven mitt."Jones then removes the funnel, grabs the ramrod and runs the coated swab down the full length of the barrel and back two or three times."You'll see the grease melting and coming out the nipple hole," Jones said. "Set the barrel aside until it cools, and then repeat the procedure twice more. After the third treatment, you'll never have to do it again."
After the barrel cools for the final time, Jones runs a couple of dry cleaning patches through the barrel to absorb any surplus grease and then reassembles the gun."You're good to go at that point," he said.Jones said the only thing that can ruin the barrel's seasoning is the use of harsh chemical bore cleaners."Those will strip the seasoning away," he said.To avoid having that happen, Jones employs a very specific method for cleaning his well-seasoned rifles after they're fired."I break down the gun until I just have the barrel, and then I take the nipple out," he said. "I put my finger over the nipple hole and pour 1/2 to 3/4 ounce of Thompson's No. 13 Bore Cleaner into the barrel. I put the thumb of my other hand over the muzzle and then invert the barrel six or seven times, letting the cleaner slosh back and forth."When I pour the cleaner out, it comes out black. I repeat the procedure again, and then I start swabbing the bore with patches. The first patch comes out black. The second patch comes out dirty gray. The third comes out light gray, and the fourth comes out clean."I run another patch through to dry out the inside of the barrel, another patch with some bore butter on it to lubricate the bore, and I'm done."Jones said the beauty of the procedure is that he can "hunt and shoot all day" without having to worry about his barrel becoming fouled."I could go out and fire 100 shots, and the last shot would load as easily and fly as accurately as the first one," he said. "Even after all that shooting, the cleanup would take about 10 minutes. It's unbelievable how easy it is."Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or e-mail
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