The Sweet Middle Ground of Muzzleloaders
Extend your home-state hunting opportunities, take advantage of out-of-state, increase draw-odds in premier units, enjoy decreased hunting pressure for a more solitary experience, and have a hell-of-a-lot of fun doing it by picking up a muzzleloader.
Muzzleloaders run the gamut from traditional flint locks, to custom-built inlines topped with the latest long-range riflescope, featuring proprietary ignition systems built to shoot smokeless powder and full-bore diameter, high ballistic coefficient bullets.
The style of muzzleloader you select will be dictated by state regulations governing the hunt, how far you intend to shoot, budget and what you’re looking to get out of the experience.
Muzzleloaders falling into the afore mentioned long-rang custom category can cost thousands. They are muzzleloading marvels and certainly have their place. However, most hunts are well suited for moderately priced, but still very modern, inline muzzleloaders hitting the sweet spot of the price/performance curve – the focus of this article.
With a modest setup, providing you can use optics (which many states allow), accurately shooting to 300 yards and even beyond is very realistic. Essentially, you’ll be holding the equivalent of a single-shot rifle that loads from the front. Make your first shot count though, because most critters won’t stick around for a reload.
All muzzleloaders operate under the same basic principles. Pour a measured powder charge down the barrel, seat an appropriate-sized bullet on top and prime it from the rear. How you perform these steps, the components you use, and with what degree of precision is where the magic happens. There is no reason to settle for lackluster performance. Send yourself afield confident when you squeeze off the shot, a follow-up won’t be necessary.
Powders: Most modern muzzleloaders are designed to use a black powder substitute. They come in two forms; pelletized and loose. Pelletized charges are premeasured, easy to load and generally yield acceptable accuracy. You will be limited to 50 grain increments. Loose powder charges can be measured by volume or weight. To measure by volume, pour the powder from its original container into a powder dispenser, then carefully and as consistently as possible, dispense it into your powder measurer. Measuring by volume isn’t as accurate as measuring by weight. The powder can settle differently between charges and other factors are at play as well. It will get you pretty close.
Measuring powder charges by weight is where the real accuracy magic happens. This is where you essentially begin the process of creating a highly accurate, consistent, custom load for your muzzleloader. You can use a powder scale and add/subtract with a powder scoop by hand, or use a digital powder dispenser like the Frankford Arsenal Intelidropper. The Intelidropper is truly a revolutionary device making measuring exact charges to the grain a breeze. An item well worth the cost in our opinion.
Not all black powder substitutes are created equal. Some run dirtier than others, some are more corrosive, and some even have an unpleasant sulfur smell when fired. We’ve found Blackhorn 209 to be the best black powder substitute. It only comes in loose form, but if you’re looking to get the best results, you’ll want to weigh your charges anyway. Premeasure and store powder charges in plastic tubes designed specifically for the task.
Bullets: The three most common styles shot in modern muzzleloaders are:
- Polymer base: Examples of this style are the Federal B.O.R. Lok, Hornady Bore Driver FTX and Power Belt brand. The polymer base has a recessed cup on its end. When fired, the base expands, seals the bore and engages with the rifling. They are accurate and easy to load.
- Saboted: Saboted muzzleloader bullets feature a polymer case around the exterior of the bullet. When fired, the polymer sabot fully engages the rifling, stabilizing the bullet for accuracy. Since the polymer sabot engages the rifling, the actual bullet will have a smaller diameter than the bore. A 50 Cal saboted muzzleloader bullet will likely feature a .45 cal projectile. Examples of saboted muzzleloader bullets are the Hornady MonoFlex, Barnes TMZ/TEZ, Traditions Smackdown, Thompson Center Shockwave.
- Full Bore Conical: Full bore diameter bullets are bore size specific. Some models like the Fury Star Tip MZ and Thor Hammer require the user to use their test sizing pack to determine which bullet size is optimal for your specific muzzleloader. Benefits of this style a re a custom fit for accuracy no polymer fowling and increased accuracy. You can take this bullet style a step further by using a sizing die to custom suage bullets like the Fury Star Tip 2P (One of our favorites). With custom-sized Fury Star Tip 2P bullets, it is recommended you use a wad between the bullet and the powder. You will see better results if you do this.
Don’t be afraid to try multiple bullets and multiple, but modest powder charges when seeking ultimate accuracy.
Primers: Muzzleloaders continue to evolve and advance. At this time, most moderately-priced inline muzzleloaders use 209 shotshell primers to ignite the powder charge. Primers from Federal and Winchester work great.
The intricacies and nuances of muzzleloaders are many. That is part of the fun when it comes to making one as precise and effective as possible. Do your research and head to the range to your smoke-pole set up for success.
It’s our hope you can learn and laugh along with the expert voices we feature on this blog. We want to be clear that the opinions you see featured here are just that: opinions. The content belongs to the authors and is not necessarily the opinion of Vortex Optics.
To learn more about what you’ve read, please like, follow, and otherwise support our authors.