In recent decades, interest in black powder shooting has spread worldwide, enabling muzzle-loading competitions to become annual events. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has even formed a special black powder committee and includes muzzleloaders in several of their sponsored events. Additionally, the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA), and other, smaller clubs around the country provide an outlet for muzzle-loading interests. Both historic and modern muzzleloaders are used in matches at these events. 

Modern muzzleloaders have in-line ignition, which provides surefire ignition. Most have removable breech plugs, which makes them easier to clean as you can get to both ends of the barrel. Also with today's new all-day lubes, the fouling stays soft, making clean up easier. Modern muzzleloaders have contemporary triggers with contemporary safeties. Sights are also like the ones on today's cartridge rifles. In addition, these guns come drilled and tapped to take regular scope mounts, however magnified sights and scopes are often not allowed during muzzleloader hunting season. 

Muzzle-loading target shooting encompasses a wide variety of guns, targets and situations. Shooting matches range from highly regimented to highly informal, the two main types are Rendezvous and National Championships. Rendezvous are a gathering of shooters and bystanders usually characterized by clothing and accessories common to the 18th and 19th centuries and where the targets are basically the same as those used during that era. 

Rendezvous are of two typesprimitive and modern. The former, in particular, strives to recreate the historical and aesthetic qualities of muzzleloader shooting, which helps to keep the black powder tradition alive and growing. Shootings tend to be informal matches like gong shooting and split the clay on the axe blade shooting. National Championships are more standardized shootings, emphasizing shooting skill rather than historical accuracy in dress and equipment. They are held annually at Friendship, Indiana. 

Open or Unlimited Class matches allow the use of the modern in-line muzzle-loading rifles, which resemble contemporary centerfire rifles. However, most muzzle-loading matches require that rifles be like the traditional, historic hunting types used in past centuries.

Muzzleloader Rifle Shooting Events 

Muzzle-loading divisions are included in several of the traditional rifle events, which are also discussed in the various "Shooting Sports Rifles" sections of this Website: 

  • Bench-Rest Type Shooting - such as at the Western National Shoot sponsored by the NMLRA. 
  • NRA Silhouette Event - the black powder rifle shooters generally use the same course as the centerfire rifle shooters. But, in deference to the "handicap" of firing the antiquated muzzle-loading guns, muzzleloaders are often allowed to fire their rifles from any position, including use of traditional crossed stick rifle rests. Rather than the traditional game silhouettes, muzzle-loading silhouettes include the shapes of crow, groundhog, buffalo, turkey and bear, at ranges between 50 and 200 yards. 
  • NRA Black Powder Target Rifle Competition - this includes breech-loading as well as muzzle-loading rifles with distances of 100 to 1,000 yards. The targets used are the same as for the NRA High Power Rifle Competition. There are two basic courses of fire. At 100 to 600 yards, matches are fired standing, sitting or kneeling with crossed sticks, and in the "any position"; depending on the target and distance. Competitors have 30 minutes to fire up to four sighting shots and 10 shots for record. At distances of 800, 900 and 1,000 yards, competition is fired in the "any position"; Competitors are allowed 30 minutes to fire 10 shots for record. 

    Other matches which include muzzle-loading events: 

  • NRA Muzzle Loading Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun Competitions - Distances are typically 25, 50 and 100 yards or meters in the standing, sitting o r kneeling or prone positions. Match competition can be as quick as a single stage of 5 shots in 30 minutes or longer over the four target rifle aggregates. Generally, any safe black powder gun is allowed here. See the NRA contact information below for more information. 
  • Offhand Rifle Shooting - Follows the same basic guidelines as traditional rifle offhand shoots, but also has specific rules that apply under NMLRA auspices. 
  • Traditional and Unlimited (or open-class) Offhand Rifle - similar to those used prior to 1840 
  • Rifled Musket Offhand - muskets are longer barreled than rifles and handle ammunition differently than muzzleloader rifles. 
  • Scheutzen Offhand - vintage butt style (and sight) on riflesan European design 
  • Matches specific to muzzleloaders:
  • Gong Shooting
  • Split the clay ball on the axe blade games

    As most shooters currently involved with black powder can attest, the muzzle-loading rifle and single-shot pistol are the most common firearm choices, especially among beginners. However, most muzzle-loading events also include muzzle-loading shotgun games such as trap, skeet and sporting clays.


  • The Traditional Offhand Rifle is one typical of those commonly available prior to 1840 and the Unlimited Offhand, Traditional Offhand and Rifled Musket follow the same basic guidelines, but have specific rules which apply under NMLRA auspices. The Squirrel Rifle cannot weigh more than 10 pounds and must be 40 caliber or smaller, and the X-Stick (Buffalo) Rifle cannot exceed 14 pounds in weight. 

  • As mentioned earlier Open or Unlimited Class matches allow the use of the modern in-line muzzle-loading rifles, but most other contests require that rifles be the traditional hunting types like those in use over 100 years ago. The ball, bullet or shot charge must load from the muzzle and be ignited by an approved ignition system, usually percussion cap or flintlock. 

    Muzzle-loading firearms use either black powder or Pyrodex as the propellant. A few of the modern in-line muzzleloaders use smokeless powder. Black powder has remained virtually unchanged for more than two centuries and is a mixture of 75 parts potassium nitrate, 15 parts charcoal and 10 parts sulfur. Pyrodex is a 20th Century product, which offers black powder qualities without some of the black powder problems. Pyrodex fouls the bore less than black powder. It functions best, however, when the bore has been properly dressed with up to 5 warm-up shots fired. 

    Both have their uses, but Pyrodex is not listed in the same explosive category as black powder for transportation purposes. So shooters who fly to matches across the country may find that some airlines prohibit carrying black powder, especially in amounts required for extended contests, but will allow Pyrodex. 

    Traditional muzzle-loading supplies are not as readily available as traditional supplies, but form a growing market and many sources are listed online. Serious shooters often cast their own projectiles and experiment with powder charges, patch thickness, different percussion caps and priming charges. They do the same things that modern reloaders do in search of accuracy and precision, but without the machines modern handloaders have access to use. In older muzzleloaders, the lead ball, bullet or shot loads from the muzzle and is ignited by an approved ignition system, usually a percussion cap or flintlock.

    Further Information

    National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA)
    P.O. Box 67
    Friendship, IN 47021
    Phone:  (812) 667-5131
    Fax:  (812) 667-5136

    Single Action Shooting Society (SASS)
    23255-A La Palma Avenue
    Yorba Linda, California 92887
    Phone:  (714) 694-1800
    Fax:  (714) 694-1815

    National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)
    11 Mile Hill Road
    Newtown, CT 06470-2359
    Phone:  (203) 426-1320
    Fax:  (203) 426-1087

    NRA Rifle Dept.
    11250 Waples Mill Road
    Fairfax, VA 22030
    (703) 267-1475

    (Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation)