Modern muzzleloading firearms range from reproductions of sidelock, flintlock and percussion long guns, to in-line rifles that use modern inventions such as a closed breech, sealed primer and fast rifling to allow for considerable accuracy at long ranges. Mortars are a type of short-range artillery that are muzzle-loaded.
Muzzleloading can apply to anything from cannons to pistols but in modern parlance the term most commonly applies to black powder small arms. It usually, but not always, involves the use of a loose propellant (i.e. gun powder) and projectile, as well as a separate method of ignition or priming.
In general, the sequence of loading is to put in:
On most notably naval cannons, the wadding at the end of the barrel not only served the purpose of creating a better seal around the shot, but to also act as a plug, to stop the shot rolling out due to the swaying of the ship.
Since the projectiles and wads are generally tight-fitting, a ramrod is used to push the wadding and projectile down to ensure they are firmly seated on the propellant charge. During Napoleon's time a round ball and pre-measured powder charge were wrapped in a paper casing. After a shot the user would tear the end of the paper tube off and fill the flash pan. Next he would pour the remaining powder into the barrel followed by the ball encased in the paper wrapping. The butt of the gun was then hit on the ground and the ball would slide to the breach. A trained marksman could fire up to 3 rounds per minute.
When aiming for ultimate accuracy, muzzle-loaders are usually cleaned ("swabbed") before reloading, so that there is no residue left in the barrel to reduce accuracy, though in competitions run by the international governing body, the MLAIC, this is prohibited. However, in small arms muzzleloading rifles, swabbing is only done after every 5-10 shots. If cleaned after every shot, the barrel will not break in for hundreds of shots. Large caliber muzzle-loaders such as cannons are always swabbed between shots to prevent accidents caused by live sparks igniting the fresh charge of powder as it is being loaded.
Muzzleloading is the term used to describe the sport, or pastime of firing muzzleloading guns. Muzzleloading guns, both antique and reproduction, are used for target shooting, hunting, historical re-enactment and historical research. The sport originated in the United States in the 1930s, just as the last original users and makers of muzzleloading arms were dying out. The sport received a tremendous boost in the 1960s and 1970s, and a flourishing industry manufacturing working reproductions of historic firearms now exists in the United States and Europe, particularly in northern Italy near Gardone.
The Muzzle Loading Associations International Committee (MLAIC) governs international competition with muzzle-loading arms. The MLAIC holds a World Championship in even-numbered years.