Black Powder Firearms: In-Line Rifles vs. Sidelocks

With the advent of in-line muzzleloaders, a rift has developed between black powder shooters.. While traditionalists favor sidelock guns and round balls, once-a-year hunters tend toward more modern in-line rifles shooting conicals. This rift is silly. If it loads from the front, it’s a muzzle loader.

Everything else being equal—rate of twist, barrel length, bullet type, powder charge and type of ignition—there’s not much practical difference between sidelocks and in-line rifles. In spite of the popularity in-lines now enjoy, there’s still a place for the time-proven round ball guns.

Picture of a hog taken by an in-line muzzleloader

Author took this Texas hog with in-line muzzleloader

I recently picked a round ball gun from my collection and shot it just for the enjoyment of getting back to basics. This is a custom-built .50-caliber rifle made by Butch Foreman of Andrews Texas. It’s a full stock southern mountain style gun with a 1:60 twist barrel designed for round balls only.

At the range, I started with 80 grains of Elephant Brand black powder behind a BUFFALO BULLETS .490 ROUND BALL Buffalo Bullets .490 round ball, patched with OX-YOKE WONDER PATCHES Ox-Yoke .010 ticking and lubed with 1000 Plus. Ignition was provided by CCI PERCUSSION CAPS CCI percussion musket caps. This is a rendezvous and match gun, so I wanted it to be dead on with a center bull hold. I chronographed a three-shot string that averaged 1670 FPS—just about where it should be with that powder charge. I then set the target at seventy five yards. With a solid bench rest, I lucked into a ½-inch group. More than satisfied, I quit experimenting and walked off, humming a tune.

Thompson\Center is one of the prime reasons black powder shooting is so popular today. Back in the early years, John Baird of the Buckskin Report gave T\C fits because their Hawken was not a totally authentic Saint Louis Hawken. However, the public loved the rifle and it’s been a favorite of black powder shooters for many years.

When T/C introduced its first in-line rifles, they quickly proved as popular as the rest of the T/C line. About this time the Colorado Fish and Game decided in-line muzzle-loaders couldn’t be used to hunt big game in that state. They reasoned in-lines weren’t traditional and had an advantage over sidelock guns. It took considerable lobbying to get the regulation reversed.

The in-line actually dates back to France, where it first saw use during the 16th century. It didn’t prove as popular as sidelock guns. Most “new” muzzleloaders are refinements of guns that have been around for years.

I say again: if it loads from the front, it’s a muzzleloader. Whether you’re shooting an in-line or sidelock, using black powder or a modern replica to propel the latest conical, sabot or a plain, round ball, your muzzleloader will likely shoot a lot better than you can hold.

About Ben Bo

I'm a lifelong hunter and woodsman living in Virginia. I love everything about hunting and enjoy taking people on guided hunts. My expertise ranges from deer, to coyote, and everything in between.

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