Muzzleloader law breakdown throughout the western states
With point creep becoming an increasing issue across much of the West, many hunters are turning to weapon restriction seasons such as archery or muzzleloader. These short ranged weapons generally carry better odds for drawing and can provide a new and unique experience. For many hunters, encountering the sheer number of muzzleloaders now on the market can be daunting from the get-go. Beyond that, factor in some of the dizzying muzzleloader laws by each state and searching for the perfect do-all gun can become a chore like no other. In the following article, we will break down the specific laws by each western state that we cover on INSIDER as well as make sense of some of the terminology.
You can also quickly narrow down muzzleloader options in each Western state on Filtering 2.0. Once in Filtering 2.0, select a state, then species, and finally scroll down to "Select Season(s)" then select the Muzzleloader option.
Arizona offers muzzleloading options for mule deer, antelope, elk and Coues deer. While Arizona is generally highlighted as a trophy state and carries notoriously low draw odds, archery seasons can generally be drawn with much higher odds than everything else. Those who select muzzleloader hunts will find better odds than in most rifle seasons.
Arizona is one of the most relaxed states when it comes to their laws regarding muzzleloaders where:
- A muzzleloader means a firearm intended to be fired from the shoulder;
- Must be incapable of firing fixed ammunition;
- Must have a single barrel and single chamber;
- Must be loaded from the muzzle end of the barrel only;
- Must be ignited with black powder or synthetic black power; and
- Must only fire a single projectile.
There are no restrictions on optics, projectiles or ignition sources. While this is a great fact for hunters in Arizona, it is important to note that a legal Arizona muzzleloader setup may not be usable in many other states. Consider your long-term goals when purchasing a muzzleloader to avoid the situation where a second firearm may need to be purchased.
California offers muzzleloader seasons for mule deer, Columbian blacktail, tule elk and Roosevelt elk. Draw odds for some of the tags in California are generally lower than most states simply based on the extreme lack of opportunity. Still, drawing a coveted tag in California can oftentimes be made easier with the use of muzzleloaders.
California does carry some specific requirements through the use of muzzleloaders. As it reads in their regulations: “or wheellock, matchlock, flintlock or percussion type, including "in-line" muzzleloading rifles using black powder or equivalent black powder substitute, including pellets, with a single projectile loaded from the muzzle and at least .40 caliber in designation.” Here, it is important to note that all ignition sources and styles are legal, but the firearms must be at least a .40 caliber or larger. Considering 90% of the muzzleloading market is comprised of .50 caliber options this should be of little trouble. The use of scopes or other magnified optics is prohibited in California unless a hunter has applied and been approved for the “Disabled Muzzleloader Scope Permit.” With the permit, accepted applicants can use a 1x magnification scope with crosshairs.
Another area of serious consideration when hunting California is that all fired projectiles must be 100% lead-free. This can narrow down your selection but there are several great slugs and sabots being produced that are California compliant.
Colorado offers muzzleloading opportunities for mule deer, elk, antelope, whitetail deer, moose and black bear. Likely one of the states with the biggest example of point creep, many Colorado hunters are turning to muzzleloader seasons in an effort to draw a coveted tag. When looking, mule deer hunters will find better odds with muzzleloaders due to the fact that the season occurs in September, which is far from the rut, but deer can still be found in the high alpine basins at this time. The muzzleloader season for elk, on the other hand, aligns directly with the rut and will generally carry lower odds than a third or fourth rifle season tag!
Colorado’s muzzleloader regulations are laid out extremely well and are very direct:
- Only legal muzzleloaders are allowed during muzzleloader seasons;
- In-line muzzleloaders are legal;
- Must be a single barrel that fires a single conical projectile or round ball;
- For deer, antelope, and bear, a conical projectile must be at least .40 caliber and a round ball must be at least .50 caliber;
- For elk and moose, conical bullets must be at least .50 caliber and round balls must be at least .54 caliber;
- From .40 to .50 caliber, bullets or round balls must weigh at least 170 grains;
- If greater than .50 caliber, a bullet or round ball must weigh at least 210 grains;
- 209 Shotshell primers and B.O.R Lock MZ System bullets are legal;
- Pelletized powder systems are prohibited during muzzleloader seasons; and
- Cannot be loaded from the breech during muzzleloader seasons.
- Only open or iron sights are legal during muzzleloader seasons. Sights using fiber optics or fluorescent paints are legal. Scopes or sights using artificial light, batteries, and other electronics are prohibited during muzzleloader seasons.
- Sabots are prohibited during muzzleloader season. Cloth patches are not considered sabots. Bullet designs such as the Powerbelt are legal for use.
- Smokeless powder is prohibited during muzzleloader seasons. True black powder or black powder substitutes are legal.
- Electronic or battery-powered devices cannot be attached or incorporated into a muzzleloader during muzzleloader seasons.
Idaho offers muzzleloader hunts for mule deer, elk, antelope and whitetail deer. Unlike many of the western states, Idaho allows hunters to use several weapon types on the same tag during the same year, which can greatly increase opportunity. There are a number of controlled hunts available for each species as well as a pile of over-the-counter (OTC) options that can drastically up your odds of punching a tag.
With some of the most strict muzzleloader laws around, hunters in Idaho will need to pay special attention to the regulations.
To be legal, muzzleloaders must:
- Be capable of being loaded only from the muzzle.
- Equipped only with open or peep sights; hunters with a vision disability may apply to use non-magnified scopes.
- Load only with loose black power, loose pyrodex, or loose black powder substitutes (pelletized powders are prohibited);
- Be equipped with a single or double barrel;
- Loaded with a projectile that is within .010” of the bore diameter (sabots are prohibited);
- Loaded with a patched round ball or conical non-jacketed projectile comprised wholly of lead or lead alloy;
- Equipped only with a flint, percussion cap, or musket cap (209 shotgun primers are prohibited); and
- Equipped with an ignition system in which any portion of the cap is exposed or visible when the weapon is cocked and ready to fire.
Montana does not offer any true muzzleloader only options for any species in the state; however, there are some short ranged weapon restricted areas where muzzleloaders, shotguns or handguns are legal for use.
In the state of Montana muzzleloaders:
- Must not be capable of being loaded from the breech of the barrel;
- May not be loaded with any pre-prepared paper or metallic cartridges;
- Must be charged with black powder, pyrodex or an equivalent;
- Must be ignited by a percussion, flintlock, matchlock or wheelock mechanism;
- Must be a minimum of .45 caliber;
- Must have no more than two barrels; and
- Must only use plain lead projectiles.
- Sabots or other similar power and range enhancing manufactured loads that enclose the projectile from the rifling or bore of the firearms are prohibited. “Skirts” or gas checks on the base of a projectile are acceptable.
Nevada offers muzzleloader seasons for mule deer, elk and antelope. Due to its notorious trophy quality status, many of the top tier tags found in Nevada can take years to draw. Muzzleloader tags will see better odds than most rifle tags, albeit only slightly better. Still, better odds means better odds.
Legal requirements for muzzleloaders in Nevada will:
- Have a single barrel of .45 caliber or larger.
- Use a wheel-lock, flintlock, matchlock or percussion ignition system. In-line muzzleloaders are permitted.
- Be loaded with a lead ball, lead bullet, semi-jacketed bullet or a metal alloy bullet that expands. A saboted bullet may be used.
- Be equipped with only open sights or peep sights. Scopes, battery-powered sights, electronics, or radioactive isotopes such a tritium are prohibited.
- Be capable only of using black powder or black powder substitutes.
New Mexico offers muzzleloading opportunities for mule deer, elk, antelope, whitetail deer and Coues deer. Because New Mexico uses a random lottery draw that is not weighted with bonus or preference points hunters can find some great draw odds. When looking at any particular species pay special attention to the season dates for muzzleloaders. Some of the seasons may have more desirable dates than corresponding rifle tags and carry lower draw odds.
Muzzleloader requirements can be broken into two separate subcategories in New Mexico: standard muzzleloader hunts and restricted muzzleloader-only hunts.
When participating in standard muzzleloader season in New Mexico hunters are allowed to use black powder, Pyrodex, or any black powder substitutes. Smokeless powder is prohibited. Scopes, sabots, and in-line ignition systems are legal.
The restricted muzzleloader hunts are found in Units 9, 33 and 52 and are for deer only.
To be legal for a restricted hunt a muzzleloader must:
- Be loaded only from the muzzle end of the barrel;
- Use only black powder, pyrodex or an equivalent substitute; and
- Use only loose powder. Pelletized powder is prohibited.
- Not use an in-line ignition system;
- Not use sabots or belted projectiles; and
- Be fitted only with open sights. Scopes are prohibited.
- Be capable of only firing one projectile.
- Scopes, sabots, in-line ignitions, pelletized powder, and belted bullets may be used in any other muzzleloader hunt.
Oregon offers muzzleloader hunts for mule deer, Columbian blacktail deer, Columbian whitetail deer, whitetail deer, Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk and antelope. Additionally, muzzleloaders can also be used during any of the 600 series weapons restricted hunts.
Oregon's muzzleloader laws are straightforward and in line with most other western states where:
- Scopes and sights that use artificial light or energy are prohibited except for visually impaired hunters where a permit is required for use. Open and peep sights that are made of alloys, plastic or other materials that do not have any of the above properties are legal. The use of fluorescent paint and fiber optics on these sights is allowed.
- It is illegal to hunt with jacketed bullets, sabots and bullets with plastic or synthetic bases or tips.
- Allowable projectiles include round balls made of lead, lead-alloy or federally approved non-toxic shot material used with cloth, felt, or paper patches. Conicals made of lead or lead alloy may be used, but the length of the bullet may not exceed twice the diameter. Lead-free conical bullets may also be used providing their length does not exceed twice the diameter.
- The use of 209 shotgun primers is prohibited as an ignition source and the ignition itself must be open to the elements.
- Pelletized powders are prohibited. Loose granular black powder or black powder substitutes are legal.
- Muzzleloaders with revolving actions are prohibited.
Utah offers muzzleloading seasons for mule deer, elk, and antelope. Because Utah is a choose-your-weapon state, many hunters will opt into an archery tag for the longer seasons dates or the rifle tag for the obvious range advantages. This can leave less competition during the muzzleloader-only season; however, the season is short and it can be a tough time of the year to hunt for certain species. While most of the higher profile units will still carry steep draw odds for limited entry muzzleloader tags a lot of great hunts can be found with good draw odds and great trophy qualities. Sometimes knocking 10” off of your expected trophy quality can yield draws odds 25% better or more.
To be compliant with Utah’s regulations a muzzleloader:
- Must be capable of only being loaded from the muzzle;
- Can use open sights, peep sights, magnified hunting scopes;
- Must have only a single barrel which measures 18” or greater; and
- Must not be capable of being fired more than once without being reloaded.
- The powder and projectile may not be bonded together as one unit for reloading purposes.
- Must be only loaded with black powder or any black powder synthetic.
- Projectiles must be lead or capable of expanding and at least .40 caliber.
- For deer and antelope projectiles: must be at least 130 grains or 170 grains if using sabots.
- For elk, moose, bison, bighorn sheep or mountain goat projectiles: must be at least 210 grains or 240 grains if using sabots.
Washington offers muzzleloader seasons for deer and elk though other big game animals can be hunted with muzzleloaders during their general seasons. With Washington being a “choose your weapon state” many hunters may find less competition in the muzzleloading season as opposed to the general firearms season, although the challenges will obviously be higher.
For a muzzleloader to be legal in Washington it must:
- Only be loaded from the muzzle
- Must use black powder or a black powder substitute
- Must have a single or double barrel that is either rifled or smooth bore
- Must be .40 caliber or larger for deer and .45 or larger for all other big game. #1 buckshot may be used for deer in muzzleloaders .60 caliber or larger
- Have an ignition source that is either wheellock, flintlock, matchlock, or percussion (primers designed to be used in modern cartridges are legal)
- Have open, peep, or other open sight designs. Fiber optic open sights are legal. Telescopic sights or sights containing glass are prohibited
- Not have any electronic devices attached to the muzzleloader
Additionally, Washington has certain rules governing muzzleloading handguns where they must:
- Have a single or double barrel of at least 8 inches in length
- Have a rifled barrel
- Be capable of being loaded with 45 grains of black powder or a black powder substitute
- Be .45 caliber or larger for all big game
Wyoming only offers a true dedicated muzzleloader season for antelope. However, muzzleloaders are still useable during the any weapons season for those looking for an extra challenge. Anyone looking for a true muzzleloader hunt should save the effort for surrounding states.
Wyoming is extremely vague with their muzzleloading requirements simply stating that:
“Muzzleloading rifle or handgun that is at least .40 caliber and fires a cartridge that uses lead or an expanding point bullet where the charge is at least 50 grains of black powder or its equivalent.”
So, where do I begin?
When first looking at muzzleloader seasons and the firearms themselves, every hunter will be asking themselves, “Where do I even begin?” First, as stated before, I feel it is very important to consider where and what you will be hunting. What's legal in your home state may not be necessarily legal in other states, particularly those with strict laws. Fortunately, today’s muzzleloaders are capable of using multiple ignition sources and can fire a multitude of projectiles accurately. Below we will break down common denominators and establish what states allow or prohibit the use of each.
Legality of popular muzzleloading components by state
|Muzzleloading component||States where legal||States where illegal|
|Pelletized powders||Arizona, California, Montana,
Nevada, New Mexico*, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
New Mexico*, Oregon
(magnified or not)
|Arizona, Montana, New Mexico*,
|California, Colorado, Idaho,
Nevada, New Mexico*, Oregon, Washington
|209 primers||Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana,
Nevada, New Mexico*, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
|Idaho, New Mexico*, Oregon|
|Enclosed ignition||Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana,
Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
|Sabots||Arizona, California**, Nevada,
New Mexico*, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
|Colorado, Idaho, Montana,
New Mexico*, Oregon
Other areas of consideration
When looking at the above list, it is important to keep in mind that many of the listed factors can be controlled on our end. For instance, scopes can be removed from guns, loose powder can be substituted for pellets, sabots can be exchanged for conicals, ignition sources can be changed from 209 primers to #10 or #11 caps, etc. So, the question really begs, “What is the ultimate do all muzzleloader for every state?” While there are many guns and manufacturers on the market the below list will break down the requirements a muzzleloader must possess in order to be compliant across the West.
The ultimate western states muzzleloader
|.50 caliber or
|Solid lead conical or
sabot when legal
|Capable of being swapped
between percussion caps
and 209 primers
|Open style, this cannot
be changed or altered on
|Open sights, or capable
of removing scope when
If any prospective firearms can answer “yes” to all of the above-listed criteria, then all that's left is developing a load before leaving for the hunt! Remember: many parameters of muzzleloading can be altered on any one gun to be compliant with any given state. The primary areas to focus on are caliber, adaptability of ignition sources, whether or not the ignition source is exposed and whether or not you can swap between scopes and open sight options. You can also check out a few great articles by goHUNT's Head of Research, Brandon Evans on extending the range of an open sight muzzleloader:
- Increased accuracy from an open sight muzzleloader
- Extending the range on your open sight muzzleloader
Picking up a muzzleloader can not only greatly expand your western hunting opportunities, but can also be a lot of fun! Modern muzzleloaders are capable of some remarkable accuracies and can be as complex or as simple as the user decides. Consider adding to your arsenal and go from drawing a tag every four to five seasons to hunting with at least one of your weapon choices every year!