KEMPTON – Preventing problems before they have to be solved in the field is important for all types of hunting, but it is especially so when using a primitive firearms like a traditional muzzleloader.

In Pennsylvania, which is the only state to have a special season for flintlock ignitions, many hunters like to give their flintlock rifles a "trial run" during the October antlerless-only season. This year, the early season will be held from Saturday, Oct. 16, through Saturday, Oct. 23, and both percussion and flintlock ignitions are legal.

While rain is always a concern during the seven-day October hunt, weather conditions are usually better than those likely to be encountered during portions of the post-Christmas flintlock season. For that reason, the early season is the ideal time to fine tune a flintlock for peace of mind and avoid problems in the late season.

One of the best ways to troubleshoot, solve and – in some instances – avoid problems is by attending the annual Blackpowder Hunting, Shooting and Safety Seminar held at Dixon Muzzleloader Shop, located between Krumsville and Kempton on Route 737, north of Interstate 78 off Exit 40. This year, the free seminars will be held Saturday, Sept. 18, with sessions at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

These seminars target hunters who already own traditional-type muzzleloading rifles and want to learn more about improving their performance. They are also the ideal way for those looking to get into the sport to interact with experienced muzzleloader hunters and talk one-on-one with a qualified instructor.

Unlike the Dixon Gunmakers Fair held the last weekend in July, the focus of the upcoming seminars is hunting and shooting, rather than addressing the concerns of rifle builders. In fact, according to shop founder Chuck Dixon, the majority of those attending the seminars own production rifles, not custom-build rifles.

"Because you don't need a Federal Firearms License to buy or sell traditional muzzleloaders, it's not that difficult to find them for sale everywhere from yard sales to the Internet," Dixon said. "I've even seen them for sale in hardware stores, right next to tackle boxes and fishing poles, and most department stores that sell sporting goods usually carry a few muzzleloaders.

"Buying a muzzleloader is the same as buying a bow, which means it should be done at a sporting goods store that has a gun department with someone who is knowledgeable about muzzleloader and a bow department with someone who knows how to fit you with a bow. I've actually heard of people who have bought muzzleloaders and bows at yard sales, which is really asking for serious problems from the standpoint of safety and performance.

"Sometimes, we've had people come to the seminars with rifles that were actually unsafe to fire, but if we tell them that, some are always going to think we're just trying to sell them a gun. There's also a lot of misinformation being put out by the muzzleloading industry, so by coming to the seminars and talking with other hunters, people feel more comfortable."

While the blackpowder seminars provide instruction on technique and how to solve problems, they also focus on how to avoid problems. For flintlock shooters, the majority of problems can be corrected by taking some preventive steps that require no special tools or talent.

For example, something as simple as having a flint that fits correctly in the jaws of the hammer will help assure reliable ignition and keep the frizzen securely on the pan. With the hammer in the half-cock position, a flint should rest near – not against – the top one-third of the frizzen face, which should be kept smooth and clean.

Some of the misconception that piece of the flint set off the priming powder, but in reality the flint shaves bits of steel off the frizzen face. This why the face must be smooth and clean, as the hot bits of steel fall into the pan, igniting the prime and setting off the charge in the barrel.

Another simple bit of maintenance is to slightly file the sides of the pan so that the base of the frizzen extends over the top of the pan. This will help allow melting snow or rain to drip off the overhang of the frizzen, rather than run into the pan.

For information on the Blackpowder Hunting, Shooting and Safety Seminar, contact Dixon Muzzleloader Shop at 610-756-6271.