Thursday, March 31, 2011

State Wildlife Agencies In Colorado, Oregon, Idaho and Montana Need To Brush Up On Muzzleloader Performance

One of the best kept "dirty little secrets" of hunting today is that as many, or more, elk and deer are very likely taken with saboted bullets during the Colorado "Muzzleloader" seasons than taken with those projectiles deemed "legal" by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. And the reason why is extremely simple - those who hunt with a muzzleloader know far more about what it takes to insure a quick, clean and humane harvest of big game with a muzzleloader than those who make and enforce the muzzleloader hunting regulations.

Colorado is just one of a dozen or so states that have continued to try keeping the sport of muzzleloader hunting as primitive as possible, while those who choose to hunt with a muzzleloader have overwhelmingly made the switch to modern in-line ignition rifles and loads. Easily, close to 90-percent of all muzzleloading hunters in this country today use one of the modern design front-end-loaders for big game hunting. The same thing has happened with archery, with about the same percentage of all bowhunters now choosing to hunt with a modern compound bow over older, more traditional archery tackle. And for the same reason - better performance.

In most of these somewhat traditionally oriented states, the hold back from going totally over to the modern side of muzzleloading has been the prohibition of a magnifying riflescope during the "Muzzleloader" or "Primitive" seasons. However, in Colorado, Oregon and Idaho, the muzzleloader regulations that truly go against common sense and good wildlife management are the regulations that define a legal hunting projectile. In these three states (Colorado, Oregon, Idaho), it is legal to hunt deer, elk and other big game during the muzzleloader seasons with either a patched round ball or bore-sized lead conical bullet, but NOT with a more efficient bullet that's loaded and shot with a plastic sabot.

Montana doesn't even have a muzzleloader season, but Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks does schedule a few "Restricted Weapons" hunts in fairly populated areas of that state, where a muzzleloader may be used - along with shotguns with slugs, handguns that are chambered for a straight-walled cartridge, and archery equipment (including a crossbow). However, the modern muzzleloading hunter cannot shoot and hunt with a saboted bullet. However, the shotgun slug hunter can use a wide variety of shotgun slugs - some of which now have 200-yard-plus effective range. And, the handgun hunter can legally use a hot cartridge like the .454 Casull Magnum that gets a jacketed 240 to 260 grain bullet out of the muzzle at 1,800 f.p.s. - yet, it's still illegal for the muzzleloading hunter to use a plastic sabot and load the same exact bullet into a modern muzzle-loaded .50 caliber rifle that generates the same level of performance.

This one just hasn't been tested in court yet, but sooner or later it will head there. And Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks surely cannot defend such an illogical regulation. What's really strange is that, while saboted bullets are illegal to use on big game during Montana's "Restricted Weapons" hunts, and the state does not offer a muzzleloading season, you can walk into most major gun shops and sporting goods stores and find a better selection of "saboted bullets" than the legal-to-use lead round balls and maxi-style bore-sized bullets.

In Colorado, Idaho and Oregon, it has been the influence of very traditional muzzleloading associations and groups which have held back muzzleloader hunting. These are the shooters who have a strong historical tie to the past, and favor only the rifles and loads used 150 to 200 years ago. Knowing that the more modern rifles and loads make muzzleloader hunting more appealing to more hunters, they have fought liberal muzzleloader hunting regulations - and have managed to hang on to restrictions against the use of saboted bullets and riflescopes. Such restrictions help to eliminate competition for being drawn for a muzzleloader hunt or season with a limited number of permits.

The majority of states across the U.S. now permit the muzzleloading hunter to hunt big game during a special muzzleloader season - using as modern or as traditional a rifle and load as they wish. And the number one choice today is a .50 caliber in-line ignition muzzleloader, topped with a variable power riflescope, and loaded with a modern black powder substitute and saboted bullet. These are, without a doubt, the most efficient muzzle-loaded big game rifles of all times. Loaded with a quality saboted bullet, these rifles can typically shoot inside of 1 1/2 to 2 inches at a hundred yards.

Shot with a 100-grain charge of Western Powders' Blackhorn 209, just about any of today's .50 caliber primer-ignition in-line rifles can get a modern saboted 250- or 260-grain polymer-tipped spire point out of the muzzle at around 1,950 f.p.s. - and with around 2,150 foot-pounds of energy. At 100 yards, that bullet will still drive home with 1,485 foot-pounds of knockdown power, and all the way out at 200 yards a saboted bullet would retain close to 1,000 foot pounds of punch - which is still plenty for game as large as elk. And it is this kind of performance that has made these rifles so popular with those who have gotten into muzzleloading to hunt - not to relive history.

Even as efficient and hard-hitting as today's modern muzzleloaders may be, they are far from being the first front-loaded rifles capable of great 200-yard accuracy and game taking knockdown power. The long-range bullet rifles of the 1840s and 1850s relied on newly developed 300 to 500 grain lead bore-sized conical bullets to keep hits inside of 3 to 4 inches at 220-yards (40 rods), and to tap that kind of accuracy shooters of that period relied on another shooting development - the telescopic rifle sight (a.k.a. riflescope). And for today's shooter who wants the challenge of mastering a rifle of this type, there are several extremely well built muzzle-loaded bullet rifle reproductions available. One is the .40 caliber Gibbs copy offered by Dixie Gun Works, of Union City, TN. Loaded with an 80 grain charge of FFFg black powder, this rifle gets a 315 grain soft lead conical bullet out of the muzzle at 1,402 f.p.s., with 1,371 f.p.e. Thanks to the length of this small diameter bullet, it retains velocity and energy extremely well downrange. And at 200 yards, it still hits with right at 1,000 foot-pounds of energy. With one of the modern copies of an 1850s style scope on this rifle, an experienced shooter can keep hits inside of 3 inches at that distance.

The modern in-line rifles, saboted bullets and magnifying riflescopes simply make it easier for the average shooter to accomplish this kind of accuracy and game-taking performance - at about a third the price of a traditional bullet rifle and scope.

"What's sad is that some game departments tend to be more concerned about appeasing the minority traditional side of muzzleloading rather than allowing the majority of today's hunters to use the most effective rifle, load and sight for the job at hand - and that's cleanly harvesting a big game animal. The wildlife agencies in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon and Montana have absolutely no clue about how many deer and elk are lost due to the inefficiency of some rifles and loads they permit, while prohibiting the use of a modern saboted bullet that's capable of generating greater game taking energy levels...and retaining that energy much better out at the distances that deer and elk are typically shot," states Toby Bridges, host of the popular NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website.

In all four of these states, the muzzleloading hunter can go after elk with a .50 caliber muzzle-loaded round ball rifle. Loaded with a full 100-grain charge of FFg black powder, a 28-inch barreled Hawken rifle copy gets a patched 178 grain .490" soft lead ball out of the muzzle at 1,870 f.p.s., with 1,420 foot-pounds of energy. At 100-yards, that ball is only good for 455 foot-pounds of retained energy. In fact, the rifle and load falls below the accepted minimum 1,000 foot-pounds of energy needed for taking elk at only about 40 yards. How many elk are punched with such a load at 70 or 80 yards - and lost? One thing is for sure, our game departments don't know.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fifty Shots Through The Same 1.6-Inch Hole At 100 Yards!

By Toby Bridges

It takes more than a great rifle, with a precision barrel, to knock out a 50-shot hundred yard group such as that shown above. It also takes a precision riflescope...extremely consistent ignition...a clean burning powder that can and will produce the same level of pressure with each and every charge...and a bullet that flies [precisely] to the same point of impact every time. It takes all of these things simultaneouly, each and every time the trigger is pulled, to insure this kind of repeatable performance.

Take any one thing out of this equation, and the chances of achieving this level of accuracy grows increasingly more difficult, not to mention more unlikley.

Late in the fall of 2007, when I had the enviable task of being one of the very first U.S. shooters outside of Western Powders to do some test shooting with a powder that didn't even have a real name yet, I was quickly impressed with that powder's positive traits. It shot shot allowed reloading without wiping the bore...and the fouling did not have to be cleaned from the bore with any real degree of expediency. And one of my early tests was to shoot 25 consecutive shots, without wiping the bore, onto the same target. The result was a very impressive 1 3/4-inch hundred yard group.

Before the 2007-08 hunting seasons wound down, I managed to take 7 deer with the powder and several Knight DISC Extreme rifles - from about 40 yards out to nearly 200 yards. That powder was named Blackhorn 209 in the winter of 2008.

More recently, I received a new batch of Blackhorn 209 from Western Powders' facility in Miles City, MT, and curiosity simply got the better of me. I couldn't help but wonder if the same rifle, scope and load used would duplicate the great accuracy I enjoyed when shooting that 25-shot group in early winter 2007. So, with my favorite in-line rifle in tow, a Knight .50 caliber "Long Range Hunter" version of the DISC Extreme, topped with one of the Leatherwood/Hi-Lux Optics HPML muzzleloader scopes, I headed for my range early one cool Montana summer morning (for July anyway) to find out. The only real difference was that I had just installed a new silver finish HPML scope on the rifle, and had switched to a hotter No.209 primer for ignition - the CCI 209M.

And this morning, I decided to run a 50-shot test, again loading and shooting without wiping the bore between shots. I was shooting with 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind the 300-grain polymer-tipped "Scorpion PT Gold" from Harvester Muzzleloading.

After a half-dozen or so shots to get the new scope zeroed 4 inches high at 100 yards, I let the rifle sit for 5 minutes to cool down - then the test began. My first shot on the target, fired at 6:00 a.m. on the nose, was pretty much center of the 3-inch bullseye. (I used a lower self-adhesive 1-inch diameter Birchwood Casey "Targ-Dot" for point of aim, putting hits into the 3" bull.) My goal was to keep all 50 shots inside of that big red bullseye.

The rifle was kept in the shade and allowed to cool 4 to 5 minutes between shots. Fortunately, the temperature was just 50-degrees when I started the test group, with about 25-percent humidity. The wind was dead calm at the start. At shot No. 25, I almost stopped my test. All of those shots were inside of 1 inch! In fact, a set of calipers showed that the group measured .983" center-to-center (as close as I could determine what was "center-to-center"). Somewhere about Shot. No. 33 or 34, an 8 to 10 m.p.h. slight crosswind had picked up, and caused two or three hits to drift just a bit to the left. I hung out several wind flags and when they were fluttering to the left, I compensated slightly with my hold and had my hits once again going through pretty much the center of the slightly enlarging hole near the center of the red bullseye.

I concluded the test right at 9:30 a.m. It had taken 3 1/2 hours to put 50 shots onto that target, and to allow the rifle to cool just a bit between shots. That's an average of 4.2 minutes between shots. And the temperature at the end of the test was 58-degrees, with 20-percent humidity. Again, from what I could determine as the centers of the two holes at the widest points of the group (hole), all 50 shots stayed inside of 1.6 inches - center-to-center.

The combination used to punch this group isn't something I threw together last week or last month. This combination of Knight Rifle design, precision rifled Green Mountain rifle barrel, Leatherwood/Hi-Lux scope, and the specific load and primer used are the result of a never ending quest to shoot and hunt with only the best. Hopefully, I'll never end that quest. For me, that's what keeps muzzleloading interesting. That's the challenge of muzzleloading for this shooter.


If You Are Looking For This Kind Of Repeatable Performance With Your Modern In-Line Ignition Rifle - This Is The Muzzleloader Hunting Blog You Have Been Looking For - And Blackhorn 209 Is The Modern Modern Muzzleloader Propellant You Need to Be Shooting. This Blog Will Build Quickly...And Will Share What It Takes To Achieve Top Accuracy And Performance From Your Muzzleloader!