Bullet starters come in many shapes and sizes, but all of them are made to get the bullet started down the barrel. Once it's started down the bore, the ramrod can be used to finish the job by ramming the projectile down against the powder charge.
The first bullet starter I ever saw or used is an old homemade one that Dad used for many years. It was of simple design, and was merely a section cut from a hickory sledge hammer handle. On one end, he had cut and whittled until there was a small round projection left, approximately 45 caliber and maybe a half-inch long. The other end was smooth, and in one side he had drilled a hole for the ramrod so he could use the starter as a T-handle for ramming the ball down the bore.
At that time, Dad's muzzleloader was an old 1873 trapdoor Springfield rifle, which he had rebarreled and changed out the hammer on to make it a 45-caliber muzzleloader. The steel ramrod was only about 3/16" diameter at the end you had to push down on to ram the ball down the bore, so the starter/handle was a necessary tool for that rifle.
Fits and Starts
Dad carried "makings" in separate containers. Pre-lubed Maxi-balls (conical bullets he had cast himself) were carried in a small plastic tube (bullion cube container). Pre-measured powder charges were put in old 45-70 shells capped with masking tape. Pull off the tape, dump the powder in, shake a bullet out of the tube and start it, use the flat end of the starter to smack the bullet down flush with the muzzle, use the projection on the other end of the starter to get the slug started down the bore, ram the bullet down the barrel, and it was loaded. Whew!
Starts and Fits
When I got my first muzzleloader - a high-school graduation present - I built myself a bullet starter to use with the sleek 45-caliber sidelock rifle. Like Dad, I used a piece of a hickory handle. But I did one thing differently... instead of a short projection on one end, I drilled the hickory, inserted a short piece of wood dowel, and glued it in place. Then I capped the end of the dowel with an old 38 Special cartridge case.
I made sure the dowel was long enough to reach through my speed-loaders and set the bullet into the muzzle of the rifle a bit. I also drilled a shallow hole in each side of the starter so I could use it as a ramrod handle.
To load the rifle in the field, all I had to do was pop the top off the powder end of a speed-loader, upright it over the muzzle of the gun (dumping the powder charge in), pop the other end off the speed-loader, and use my starter to push the bullet through the loader and into the bore, Then remove loader and use the ramrod with the starter as a handle to ram the bullet down the bore.
One Size Fits Most
Years later, when I built a 50-caliber smokepole, I simply drilled one of the side holes out to fit the 50-cal ramrod, so I could use my same old starter with that rifle, too. When I got another 50 - a Savage 10MLII that will safely burn smokeless powder - this same starter worked for it, too, much better than the plastic starter I got with the gun.
Homemade Beats Store-Bought
It's a simple tool that's very useful and fairly easy to build. Most commercially-available starters are too short to properly use with speed-loaders, but if you build one yourself you can make it to your own specifications and make it work for you.
Many store-bought starters have round handles, so they don't work very well for pounding a tight-fitting bullet - such as a sabot - down flush with the muzzle. The flat end on my starter works great for this purpose, and that hard hickory has started many hundreds of bullets into front-loading rifles.
- Russ Chastain