Gun Stuff 101 - Muzzleloaders Part 2

Muzzleloaders Part 2 - by Josh

11050763_983488331691089_3528038788973841174_nI wrote last time about the different types of powders, the forms in which they come, and the pros and cons of each type. This week I’d like to talk about the bench time necessary to determine proper projectile and powder combinations when hunting with modern muzzleloading rifles.

Today’s hunter has many bullet options, and most will perform reasonably well in most rifles. To find out what works best in your rifle, as always, is a matter of trial and error. And before you pass judgement on any one bullet/powder combination, you need to determine what your expectations are, and where you will be hunting. If you’re used to shooting ½ inch groups with your varmint rifle and expect your new CVA or Thompson Center to do the same, you will likely be disappointed. These rifles may be capable of that type of precision, but they don’t need to be. And most people don’t have the time it takes at the bench to wring that much out of their gun, and that’s ok.

Most production muzzleloaders are designed to take deer sized game (or larger) from moderate distances. If your muzzleloader is shooting four inch groups at 100 yards, is that good enough? It can do better, but remember, whitetail deer have a kill zone of about 10 inches, so almost any bullet/powder/ rifle combination will be just fine for hunting at closer ranges (50-75 yards). For 100 to 150 yard hunting, you need a little more precision, so it is best to spend some time at the bench finding out what bullet/powder combo will get the job done. If you’re getting 2-3 inch groups you’re just fine for those distances. Two hundred yards and further will be stretching it for typical muzzle loading rifles, but they are capable if you put the time in at the range. There are custom muzzleloaders using smokeless powder that can easily take game from 500 yards and beyond, but that’s not what I want to focus on as it is not what most folks are using.

There used to be a variety of .45 caliber muzzleloaders to choose from just a few years ago, however most manufacturers spend their time producing .50 caliber muzzleloaders which makes your projectile selection process a bit easier. Projectiles for these guns range in weight from about 200 grains to 300 grains. Most will come with a sabot (pronounced suh-bow) which helps seal the gap around the projectile to prevent gases from blowing past it. With bullets that use sabots, the actual diameter of the bullet will be smaller than the rifle’s caliber. The sabot makes up the difference – a .50 caliber gun will use .45 caliber bullets with a .50 caliber sabot. Power Belt brand bullets, for example, do not use a traditional sabot, but the projectiles have a plastic base which serves the same purpose.muzzleloader-bullet-types
Bullets for these rifles will either be lead, copper jacketed lead or solid copper. You can get them with a round nose, hollow point or plastic tip. Some are designed for moderate distances while others are designed with a higher ballistic coefficient (Read here about ballistic coefficient) and will be better for longer distances.

Finding out what works best for your gun takes time at the shooting bench to determine. Just remember to take all things into consideration, but most importantly: Where you will be hunting? How long will your shots be? And remember, respect the game and hunt ethically.