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Modern Muzzleloader Cleaning
Black Powder Cleaning Gel? Why not?!

Cleaning muzzleloading rifles has always been a bit of a chore. I've been doing it for a good twenty years now, and I still haven't found a quick way to get the job done - but some ways are better than others. At the time I originally wrote this article, I preferred the old to the new as far as muzzleloading rifles, but I have never been opposed to using new products and methods for cleaning them. (Note: I am no longer biased against newer muzzleloader designs... see my SmokelessPole article for more on this.)

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Soap it up?

I was taught to use hot soapy water for cleaning black powder guns, and that will do the job - but the soap strips any oil "seasoning" from the barrel just like it will do to a cast-iron skillet, and any soap residue left in the barrel may actually contribute to rust in the bore, which of course ain't a good thing.

Getting in Hot Water

Hot water by itself has been used successfully, and I've used it myself, but it's not the best I've found. The water provides poor lubricity for patches, and I spend a lot of time retrieving patches with my patch-puller when they stick at the breech and slip off my cleaning jag. So when it came time to do some muzzleloader cleaning, I was glad that I had a jug of Shooter's Choice Black Powder Cleaning Gel on hand to try out.

Here's what I used... Shooter's Choice on the left,
Gibbs Brand in the middle, and ProTec on the right.
Photo by Russ Chastain, all rights reserved.

Shooter's Choice Gel Performance

I used the Shooter's Choice Gel on a replica of a Colt cap & ball revolver, and on a Thompson/Center Seneca .45-caliber rifle, and I'm glad I did. For one thing, I didn't lose a single patch off of my jag, even when they were a very tight fit. The lubricity provided by the Shooter's Choice Gel was a big help, and although the breech area of this rifle is very rough (I believe the patching gets into the breechplug threads, but I don't have a Hawkeye Bore Scope to prove it), I was able to pull every one of the "sticky" patches right on out. I use old T-shirts for cleaning patches, and I wrapped one around a worn-out bore brush for cleaning the revolver's bore.

Keep the Wife Happy

Another plus was that I didn't have such a mess to deal with! Or at least, it was a different kind of mess. When I did hot-water cleaning, I did so in the kitchen, which invariably interfered with Wife's plans - and interfering with my spouse's plans is something I try to avoid whenever possible, in the interest of domestic tranquility. The cleaning with the gel took place in my shop and in the yard, which are My Domain, unlike "her" kitchen.

These are the guns in question... in case you were
the peep sight on the Seneca is a T/C
model, which required a drill & tap by a gunsmith.
Photo by Russ Chastain, all rights reserved.

The directions on the Shooter's Choice bottle directed me to dip the patch in the Gel, stroke the bore, flush the brush with Shooter's Choice Quick Scrub II, dry patch, and repeat as necessary. In the absence of Quick Scrub II, I used Gibbs Brand Lubricant, which did a fine job and had worked great when I'd used it in conjunction with my Kleen-Bore ChamberMate shotgun chamber cleaning tool in the past. For lubing and rust protection after cleaning, I again used what I had readily at hand, which in this case was ProTec GUNoil. All of these products performed very well.

Cleaning the Revolver

Cleaning the revolver was my first project, and it went very smoothly. I like to use a good plastic-bristled brush to clean nooks and crannies, and in this case it was an old toothbrush. The Shooter's Choice Gel loosened most of the fouling, and there was only a small amount of stubborn residue, which I loosened with a high-tech cleaning instrument, commonly known as a wooden toothpick. The cleaning went very smoothly and I had no problems. When it came time to flush the Gel from the bore and other cleaned surfaces, a shot of Gibbs Brand out in the yard did the trick, and hopefully killed off a few of the weeds sprouting in the mulch driveway.

Cleaning the Rifle

Next, I tackled the rifle. I found the rifle considerably more fouled than the revolver, but following the Shooter's Choice directions for use, I alternated Gel-soaked patches with dry ones, and in short order I had the bore clean. Flushed with Gibbs Brand, let it drain, dry patched it, then patched it with ProTec GUNoil for rust prevention, and was done.


I spent about two hours, all told, cleaning the two guns. That includes the learning curve that's always present when using a new cleaning product, and if I've learned anything about cleaning guns, it's that one should never rush it. Take your time, do it right, and you'll have done yourself (and your gun) a fine job of cleaning and preservation. With products like these at your disposal, you should have no trouble at all.

- Russ Chastain

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