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.

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