The heyday of muzzleloading weapons may be in the past but these weapons make fine guns for shooting, hunting, and overall enjoyment of those old days. Muzzleloaders come in many different calibers or the size of the bore in fraction of an inch. Since muzzleloaders rely on mass of the ball to do its job instead of speed it is important to note the caliber when doing something with a front stuffer.
Round ball loads using a greased patch to seat down the barrel are commonly used but so are conicals but round ball loadings are treated here. Conicals are available in a variety of calibers and pack more power at distance than the lead sphere. This can give the muzzleloader more flexibility, but by far the least expensive and perhaps most effective is the patched round ball. This is a guide to the roles of caliber not recommended charges. That needs to be worked up by you.
32 caliber- Rifles in this caliber exhibit low noise and no recoil even with healthy charges of powder. Depending on the barrel length,, it only takes about ten grains of powder for the 32 caliber 45 grain round ball to reach .22 LR velocities with a little more weight to it. These rifles are perfect for small game like squirrel and rabbit but have been used on hog, turkey, and varmints with good shot placement. The only trouble with the 32 is that at longer ranges the wind can make the small ball drift. This is a problem only solved with bigger calibers. The bigger mass of larger balls allows for better wind resistance.
36 caliber- Rifles in this caliber shoot a .35 inch caliber ball weighs 65 grains. It gives a bit more power with any equivalent powder charge and is used for the same basic applications.
40 caliber- Rifles in this caliber are mild to shoot like the previous two and fire a .390 inch 93 grain ball with a slight gain in power over the 36 with given powder charges. It is considered to be a minimum caliber for big game in some US states though and it is more harsh on small game. For some shooters its a small game/ deer rifle all in one and for others its a caliber good for neither. All with reasonable powder charges being stout for larger animals and being light for small stuff.
45 caliber- Rifles in 45 caliber shoot a .440 inch ball and was once a popular choice in the glory days of the muzzleloader. The lead ball of 133 grains does the job on deer sized game at the right distances.
50 caliber- Rifle in 50 caliber are perhaps the most popular today. They shoot a .490 diameter ball of 180 grains and are a good choice for deer sized game and have been known to do the job on larger animals like elk at closer ranges.
54 caliber- Another favorite using a 530 inch 230 grain ball and are effective against deer, elk, and moose with other game like bear being taken by this caliber historically.
58 caliber-An option normally found on custom guns and Civil War pattern rifled muskets. A 270 grain .570 ball can be shot and take most game at increased ranges. But it takes an increasingly high amount of powder to get the ball to higher speed.
62 caliber- An option normally associated with custom rifles and smoothbore fowling guns. They fire a .600-610 diameter ball usually with the authority to take most game requiring more powder to throw the ball past 1500 feet per second.
Stay tuned for the next article: Muzzleloading Pistol Calibers and their Practical Uses