Most black powder muzzleloaders come with instructions that emphatically warn you to not use anything other than black powder, and any seasoned shooter will tell you that swapping powders can be a recipe for disaster. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources recently put up a photo of a completely shattered muzzleloader on its Law District 7 Facebook page. According to officials, this was one accident was not caused by a malfunction, but rather a lapse in judgement. The incident occurred in Martin County, where an unidentified man poured smokeless powder into a black powder-only muzzleloader. What resulted was the firearm exploding like a grenade and ripping off the man’s fingers.
OutdoorHub spoke with Corporal Eric Doane, who responded to the incident. Doane said that the malfunction occurred in the man’s backyard after several family members brought it over for practice. Indiana’s muzzleloader season runs from December 6 to December 21.
“The man who fired the gun loaded the muzzleloader with smokeless powder which had been taken from 20 gauge shotgun shells,” Doane said over the phone. “He had run out of black powder and had actually cut open the shells and ended up pouring 75 grains of powder into that muzzleloader. Once again, smokeless powder is several times more powerful than black powder, so it would be like putting a 300-grain charge of blackpowder into a muzzleloader.”
The gun had essentially become a pipebomb and exploded as soon as the shooter pulled the trigger.
“His offhand was right there with the breech and the barrel come together and when it blew, it took the tips of his fingers off,” Doane continued. “He ended up losing parts of two fingers on his left hand, but was able save to save a third, which they sewed back on.”
Indiana officials warn that shooters should always follow the instructions on their firearms, but Doane commented that many people have misconceptions about black powder firearms.
“A lot of people just don’t understand it,” he said. “Even though it’s called a black powder gun and the instructions say to only use black powder, people open up a box of powder and they see that it’s a black color, so they think it’s okay.”
Thankfully for the shooter, he was otherwise uninjured. Officials described him as an experienced shooter and hunter, so it just goes to show that these kinds of mistakes do not happen only to those unfamiliar with firearms. Doane added that one of the man’s sons claimed to have previously shot the muzzleloader—successfully—with smokeless powder.
“There’s a good chance that if he shot it before, it may have weakened the seam where the breech and barrel came together,” Doane concluded.
Smokeless powder can be three to four times more powerful than black powder. This allowed for smaller cartridges, which in turn meant that soldiers were able to carry more ammunition for the same weight. Other advantages, such as the ability to burn when wet and the lack of smoke produced by a shot, meant that smokeless powder eventually came to replace black powder in modern firearms.
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