Thursday, December 29, 2011

Eleven States Still Discriminate Against The Muzzleloading Hunter

Following is an e-mail that went out yesterday (12-28-11) to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Attached to that e-mail was a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, filing a discrimination complaint against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, for the manner in which that state wildlife agency forces the aged hunter with weakened eyesight, and those hunters with a natural sight impairment, to jump through hoops in order to "qualify" to use a riflescope during the muzzleloader season. Eleven states still enforce such discriminating regulations.

The battle to win fair and equal muzzleloader hunting opportunities for ALL muzzleloading hunters is far from being over.

The letter to Secretary Salazar can be read at the link in the following e-mail message.

Toby Bridges

December 28, 2011

Dear Idaho Department of Fish and Game;

It's time to get this ball rolling along again. Muzzleloader hunting has stalled some over the past couple of years, and that's partially due to backward muzzleloader hunting regulations, such as those enforced by IDFG, that tend to hold back interest.

The attached letter to Secretary Ken Salazar addresses one of the biggest problems plaguing the muzzleloader seasons.

Your agency is one of 11 state wildlife agencies that continue to discriminate against muzzleloader hunters who cannot see open sights well enough to use them. Since 2006, the DOI/USFWS forced IDFG and ten other state wildlife agencies to make special provisions for those hunters with aged or impaired sight to undergo medical examination, complete an application, sent with a letter from the physician/optometrist, and apply for a permit exemption from the restriction that prohibits muzzleloading hunters from using a riflescope.

The Department of the Interior's anti-discrimination policy specifically says that the agency cannot provide funding or financial assistance to any organization or agency which requires ANY U.S. CITIZEN to "qualify in a different manner" in order to participate in any opportunity.

The requirement you now have in place for those with older or impaired sight most definitely discriminates against these hunters. IDFG is in violation of that policy...and so is the DOI/USFWS when it continues to provide federal tax dollars to IDFG.

More on this issue published at:

Toby Bridges

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nikon Omega BDC Muzzleloader Scope vs. Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML Scope

Both Scopes Do What they Are Supposed To Do - But Which One Does It Best?

By Toby Bridges

Recently, a good friend who happens to be the vice president with one of the major hunting product distributing companies contacted me to see if I would work up an optimum load for his .50 modern in-line ignition rifle...and get it sighted for an upcoming western mule deer hunt. He knew that I would have the patience to allow the rifle to truly cool fully between loads and shots, and that I would experiment with different loading components to find the absolute best combo for the rifle.

What he sent me was a .50 caliber Traditions VORTEK model, topped with one of the 3-9x40mm Nikon BDC (Bullet Drop Conpensating) multi-reticle Omega muzzleloader scopes. The rifle was identical (an almost exact duplicate) to a VORTEK rifle I often use as a test rifle. The only real difference in these two rigs was that mine is topped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 3-9x40mm TB-ML multi-reticle muzzleloader scopes - which I developed for that company.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that I'm probably a bit too biased to conduct a comparison test between these two competing models. And you just could be right. However, it was an experience I had with one of the Omega muzzleloader scopes back in 2005 which made me convince my good friends at Hi-Lux Optics to allow me to develop the muzzleloader scope they now offer. And my reason for doing so...I was not impressed with the circular long range reticles of the Nikon scope. I found it difficult to get a precise hold on targets at 200...225...250 yards. So, I went with short cross-bar (short crosshair) reticles with the Hi-Lux scope.

And when my friend's rifle and scope showed up via UPS a few days after I agreed to do the load work and sighting, I found myself comparing the identical rifles...and the two multi-reticle muzzleloader hunting scopes. And the more I compared them, sighting out across a grass field next to my garage, the more I knew I would have to do some side-by-side shooting with the two rigs before sending my buddy's VORTEK back to him. (The two rifles and scopes can be seen in the top photo above.)

Working up the load for his rifle was not much of a chore. I simply started with the same load my VORTEK shoots well - 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the saboted Harvester Muzzleloading polymer tipped 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold spire point bullet. I did notice that when loading the Nikon scoped VORTEK, the black Crush Rib Sabot that comes standard with the the Scorpion PT Gold bullet did load a bit too easily for my taste. From experience, I know that loads of Blackhorn 209 give best ignition when the fit of the sabot and bullet are a little on the tight side, maintaining adequate compression of the powder charge. And it became evident that the combo I was loading in the rifle was too loose when 3 of the first 10 shots out of the rifle were very noticeable hangfires.

I switched to the slightly tighter fitting red Crush Rib Sabot offered by Harvester Muzzleloading...and ignition became spontaneous 100-percent of the time. That first morning, shooting with temperatures right around 50 degrees, I managed to punch several 1 1/4-inch hundred yard groups with the rifle and load.

Early the next morning, in order to shoot at the coolest time of the day, I was back out on the range at daybreak...maybe just a bit earlier. But, by the time I got my shooting gear set up on the bench and targets at 100 and 200 yards, it was light enough to shoot - and to compare how the two scopes performed at the longer range.

I shot first on a 100 yard target, to tweak the sighting of each rifle to print right at 1 1/2 inches above point of aim. Then, I jumped over to the portable target board I had set out at 200 yards. And for shooting at that range I had stapled two pieces of standard typing paper onto a new 2x3 foot rectangle of cardboard, and in the center of each piece of paper, I had stuck one of the 5 1/2-inch diameter Birchwood Casey "Shoot-N-C" self adhesive targets.

One thing I noticed immediately when sighting through the Nikon scope was that the circular 200-yard reticle of the Omega scope was more than twice the diameter of the 5 1/2-inch target at 200 yards. Instead of placing any part of the reticle on the target where you want the bullet to hit, it is a matter of trying to determine the exact center of the reticle and getting the point of aim as close to the center as possible. And that is exactly what I didn't like about the BDC reticle when I first shot with an Omega scope in 2005.

In all, I shot three targets with each rifle and scope. The best 200 yard group shot with the VORTEK topped with the Nikon Omega scope can be seen in the second photo down at the top of this report. The three shots were right at 3-inches center-to-center, and averaged almost 4 inches above the center of the target. This was the first group fired that morning. Subsequent groups were fired using a slightly larger 8-inch "Shoot-N-C" bull. Those two groups went 3 1/4-inches and 3 3/4-inches center-to-center. All shots would have taken a deer.

My best 200-yard group shot with the Hi-Lux TB-ML scoped VORTEK rifle can be seen in the third photo down. These three shots stayed inside of 2-inches. The other two groups went 2.45" and 3.1". All, however were closer to the center of the target. I do believe that a multi-reticle scope that allows the shooter to more precisely hold on the desired point of aim will do a better job of putting long range shots where you want them on that target.

I called my friend that afternoon and told him how the shooting had gone...and informed him that I would be heading out in a couple of days to do more shooting at ranges of 225 and 250 yards. He thought about it a minute, then asked if I had an extra of a TB-ML scope on hand. I offered to pull one off of a test rifle, and replace it later with one from the company.

A few days later, with a TB-ML scope on his rifle, I was able to duplicate the performance I'd shot with my VORTEK and TB-ML scope at 200 yards. Then to see how well the reticles printed the load from this rifle at 225 and 250 yards, I stapled a 9-inch paper plate onto the target board. (I had placed a 1" stick on bull in the center of the plate.) At 225, my two shots printed about 1.5-inches apart, nearly center of the plate. Two more shot at 250 yards printed 3.170-inches apart, averaging just 1.5-inches below point of aim.

As this is being written, my friend is pursuing a muzzleloader record book mule deer with his VORTEK - and TB-ML scope. If given a shot out to 250 yards, I'm confident that the rifle and scope combo, and the load, are fully capable of putting down a big buck.

The scope he's now hunting with has had more than 3,500 rounds fired under it. But, that's nothing compared to the scope that's now mounted on my Knight Rifles .50 caliber Mountaineer. It's the original prototype of the TB-ML, and has now had somewhere in the neighborhood 8,800 rounds fired under it. The morning I last shot my friend's VORTEK before shipping it back to him, to kill time during the 10 minute cool down periods between loads and shots with his rifle, I had taken the old scope and Mountaineer with me for a bit of shooting. Several of the 100-yard groups shot with the rig that day, also shooting the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold and 110-grain charge of Blackhorn 209, stayed well inside of an inch. (That rifle and scope is shown in the bottom photo above.)

Suggested retail for the TB-ML scope, with a matte black finish is $179. Suggested retail for the Nikon Omega, with a black matte finish is $350.

For more on the TB-ML scope, and a great selection of other high quality, precise, clear, bright and tough riflescope models, go to...


Monday, August 22, 2011

How Will Knight's New ALL-BRASS BLOODLINE Bullets Perform On Game?

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to load...shoot...and hunt with a number of novel new muzzle-loaded bullet designs or concepts. Heck, I was even the first kid on my block (maybe in my state) to shoot with modern saboted muzzleloader bullets. And, that idea surely took off. My guess is that better than 80-percent of all muzzleloading hunters today are now hunting with a bullet that's less than bore-sized - and "patched" with a plastic sabot.

Even among saboted bullets we've witnessed a variety of, well, ideas that strayed from the norm when it came to their design and/or construction. Two in particular come to mind. One was known as "The Bullet", and what made this saboted copper-jacketed lead core bullet "different" than anything else on the market was the hole that ran completely through the bullet, from the nose to the base. The thinking behind the design was to reduce drag...and to provide added aerodynamics to a lighter and faster flying bullet - by making it longer. The longest of these I had the opportunity to shoot was a .429" diameter bullet that weighed 240-grains, yet it was 1.050" in length...making it 40-percent longer than a .429" diameter Hornady XTP of the same weight.

The other bullet was known as the DEVEL bullet - a 175-grain copper-tin composite solid. And I do mean solid. I once shot a wild hog with the DEVEL bullet in Texas during a September bullet testing session, hitting the 200-pound hog in the chest as it looked at me straight on at about 100 yards. When dressing out the hog and conducting a postmortem study of the bullet path, I finally found the bullet lodged against the pelvic bone...without a scratch on it. Since the bullet was not deformed in any way...I saved it, and took it to North Carolina for the early coastal muzzleloading deer season. And I shot a doe with it at about 100 yards. The hard composite bullet zipped right through the deer, which ran about 70 yards and went down.

Both of these bullets shot with great accuracy - but lacked in game taking performance. Two does harvested with "The Bullet" went down quickly, but I found that without adequate center density, the hollow tube of a bullet tended to collapse and flatten into a pancake looking disc. On one of the deer, shot at about 35 yards, the bullet did not even make it through the internal organs to hit the opposite rib cage. Then, while the star shaped nose of the DEVEL was "supposed" to hydraulically create a shock wave, I saw little evidence of that in the game harvested with the bullet. I stopped hunting with the DEVEL after losing two bucks, both hit right behind the front shoulder with a 175-grain DEVEL, on the same day. Right here, right now, I want to make it very clear that these are the only two deer I have ever lost to saboted bullets.

Now, this is a lengthy lead in for an article on Knight Rifles' new machined all-brass BLOODLINE saboted bullets. But I felt compelled to share with you that when I now test shoot a novel new approach to a hunting projectile that's supposed to perform differently than a conventional expanding design, it's with some apprehension.

I did my first shooting with the BLOODLINE bullets late last summer and early fall. And I will say that from the very start, I have been extremely impressed with their great looks...and how well they've shot. The bullets I received included 300-grain and 275-grain .458" diameters, and a 250-grain .451" diameter bullet. These came directly from the manufacturer, before the new Knight Rifles announced putting them on the market, as the new BLOODLINE bullets, and did not come with sabots.

I paired the bullets up with the Harvester Muzzleloading black .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot. While this sabot has actually been designed for shooting .451" bullets, the fine raised ribs on the outside of this sabot offer enough "give" to allow loading .458" diameter bullets without requiring over exertion on the ramrod when pushing the combo down the bore. Loading with my old standby charge of 110-grains of Blackhorn 209, my Knight .50 Long Range Hunter model had no problem whatsoever of keeping groups inside of 1 1/4 inches at a hundred yards with the two weights of the .458" bullets. A fairly high percentage of the groups shot actually printed inside of an inch.

When I switched to the .451" 250-grain BLOODLINE, I felt it loaded just a bit too easily with the black Crush Rib Sabot, so I switched to Harvester Muzzleloading's slightly tighter fitting red version of the same sabot. Two of the first three groups shot with that combo, shooting the same amount of Blackhorn 209, printed just under an inch.

(All three weights can be seen in Photo 1 above.)

Since the first several range sessions with the machined brass hollow-fronted BLOODLINE bullets, accuracy has never been an issue. With anywhere between 100- and 120-grains of Blackhorn 209, or FFFg Triple Seven, I've gotten the same degree of accuracy as already shared here. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about how well the two novel bullets detailed at the beginning of this article had also shot...then how miserably they had performed on deer-sized game. Dave Fricke, who played the instrumental role in developing these bullets had sent me photos showing how the concept works...and how the wound channel produced by what would become the Knight Rifles BLOODLINE bullet is far more impressive than the wound channel produced by conventional expanding bullets. Another photo he sent, showing the damage to the rib cage of a red stag, was even more impressive.

Being an all brass precision CNC machined bullet isn't the only thing that makes the BLOODLINE unique. At one time, American shooters considered the all-copper Barnes bullets pretty darn unique, and many were apprehensive. Now, there is something of a Barnes "All Copper Club". The bullets do expand nicely...and retain near 100-percent of their original weight. I've taken several elk with the 300-grain Expander MZ, and a half-dozen deer with the Spit-Fire and TMZ bullets. The performance of these has been excellent.

What makes the all-brass BLOODLINE really different is that this IS NOT an expanding bullet. Upon impact, the hollow cavity at the front literally separates into six different petals, which break away from the solid brass base section of the bullet. These sharp-edged fragments radiate out from the path of the bullet, and according to those who designed this concept, these frontal pieces are devastating to internal organs. The rear 2/3rds or so of the bullet then punches on through for an exit hole. And it was this claim that I set out to test this summer. Unfortunately, fall hunting seasons were still a couple of months off, so I had to come up with something other than actually shooting game.

Using a portable target board, I loosely attached a piece of 2'x3' cardboard to it by just stapling it a couple of times along the very top edge. Then, I set up a standard wooden sawhorse directly in front of the cardboard. I then stapled a water-filled gallon Ziploc baggie to the 2x4 cross board of the sawhorse. (Photo 2 above.) Then directly in front of the baggie, I hung a water soaked 8" wide strip of 1/8" thick wool/hair felt. Before this was soaked in a bucket of water, I used a permanent marker to make a bold black "+" aiming mark, which was centered over the area of the water-filled baggie where the water mass was the greatest. I felt this should cause the hydraulics needed to initiate the opening of the hollow-point nose...and to cause the petals to break away and radiate out much the same as when the bullet hits a deer...elk...or bear.

To determine how sharply those segments of the nose angled out, for Shot No. 1...I placed the sawhorse so the rear of the of the gallon-filled Ziploc was exactly 12-inches in front of the cardboard. And to prevent the water from the exploding bag soaking the cardboard target board, I hung a heavy duty plastic leaf/trash bag in front of the cardboard. For this test, I was loading the 275-grain .458" BLOODLINE, using a prototype of a new Crush Rib Sabot I've been testing for Harvester Muzzleloading. With 110-grains of Blackhorn 209, the bullet gets out of the 27-inch barrel of my Knight .50 Long Range Hunter test rifle at 2,014 f.p.s. (2,475 f.p.e.). Prior to starting this test, I had tweaked the sighting of the Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML scope to print "dead on" at 100 yards. And my first shot was right at the cross of the aiming mark...maybe 1/4" to the right.

At the shot, the bag literally exploded, and water flew in every direction. This bullet is right at .990" in length, and while it does have a large hollow-pointed nose, the ogive starts fairly far back. I will have to do some trajectory tests to establish a closer ballistic coefficient, but a good guess is around .225. If that's the case, then at 100 yards, the bullet hit the water filled plastic bag at around 1,680 f.p.s., with just over 1,720 f.p.e. The bursting of the bag was enough to blow the felt aiming strip more than 10 feet back in the direction of the shooting bench. When the cardboard was pulled from behind the plastic curtain...the hole near the center revealed that a very big portion of the bullet kept on flying pretty much on the path it had taken from 100 yards away. Fairly evenly radiating out from that hole were six smaller holes, where the separated brass petals passed on through to imbed into the plywood of the target board. The pattern produced by these pieces was right at 18 inches across.

(Note: One of the petals recovered from the plywood target board weighed right at 9 grains.)

With a new piece of cardboard in place...and a new water-filled Ziploc and the felt aiming strip hung from the sawhorse...this time the target board was set so the cardboard was exactly 6 inches behind the rear of the baggie. Again, the baggie exploded, and again the felt strip was thrown 10 to 12 feet toward the bench. And when the cardboard was examined...there was again that large hole pretty much in the center...with six smaller holes radiating out in an even circle. However, since the water-filled bag had been half the distance forward of the target board, the diameter of that circle was just 10 1/2 inches. (See Photo No. 3 above.)

For the third shot, the rear of the bag rested right against the plastic leaf/trash bag used to keep water from soaking the cardboard. And at the shot, the impact was even more explosive. Not only did the felt aiming strip fly forward closer to 20 feet, both the portable plywood target board and the sawhorse were blown over - with the target board flying rearward and the sawhorse flipping over forward. When I pulled the cardboard from behind the plastic protection, it was immediately evident that with the baggie directly against the cardboard, much more energy was transferred to what the baggie had been resting against. And that was evident in the damage to the surface of the cardboard. Pretty much in the center was the hole produced by the base section of the all-brass BLOODLINE bullet, and radiating out in a 4-inch diameter circle were the smaller holes produced by the brass petals. (See Photo No. 4 above.) However, the surface of the cardboard was broken...ripped...and cut from all the energy it had absorbed. It reminded me of the massive trauma and bloodshot area that commonly surrounds an impact wound.

The evidence is that the BLOODLINE bullets will perform just as claimed. I've heard from a number of Knight Rifle shooters who are looking forward to the coming seasons, to see just how well the BLOODLINES do when they hit hair...hide...muscle...bone...and vital organs. From what I've seen of the testing I've already conducted, I would definitely have no qualms about taking a shot on just about anything. My predictions are, there's going to be a great blood trail to follow if the game runs any at all...and a lot of mush will be dumped out of chest cavities this fall and winter. - Toby Bridges

Saturday, August 6, 2011

10,000 Rounds With No Loss Of Accuracy!

Here's a look at one Knight .50 caliber "Long Range Hunter" that now has more than 10,000 rounds through it...and which is still capable of putting 50 shots through one ragged 1.5-inch center-to-center hole!


Sunday, July 31, 2011


Since at this time of the year, the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website gets an average of 500 to 600 visitors daily, I'm sure many of you are confused over not being able to pull up the website. You can thank Homestead Technologies for that, that web hosting service has to be the absolute worst in the business.

The good news is, that we are rebuilding with another hosting service, and we think you will like the format much better, which makes it easier to access muzzleloader hunting video clips...and to link to muzzleloading product TV commericals. By the end of next month, we should have the site back to around 30 pages...and to 50 or 60 pages by the first of the year. By this time next year, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING will be back to an equal or greater number of pages, with lots of great load data and ballistics.

More New Material Will Be Added On A Regualr Basis Than At Any Time In The Past...So Visit Often At Our New Web Address...

The manner in which Homestead Technologies robbed us of more than 12,000 hours of time spent researching, testing, photographing, building website pages, promoting, and publishing on the old site over the past 7 years is not going away without being contested.

Following is an e-mail letter sent to Justin Kitch, c.e.o. of Homestead...


I have been a customer of Homestead for 7 years, and would be remiss if I did not share with you how disappointed I am with Homestead Technologies.

Since 2004, I have invested more than 12,000 hours researching, testing, writing and publishing on my Homestead hosted websites hundreds of article and reports. Recently (in June) I was building a new website in conjunction with one of the companies I do some product design, testing and marketing for, and received notice from Homestead that my "accounts" were going to be disabled...due to the fact that they could not bill a $19.15 charge to the credit card covering my accounts.

And that, sir, is a bullshit lie!

That card is always kept paid up, has never once been maxed out, and was being used while travelling during the very same time period that your billing department claimed the card was invalid. We've checked our card account, and there was not an attempt from Homestead to bill the card.

What gives?

Now I cannot even go onto my sites, even though the account has been paid up until late January 2012, to retrieve and save the articles and reports published there.

I have contacted one of the top attorneys in the U.S. to seek reimbursement for the time I have devoted to these websites, specifically, at the rate of $25 per hour. If we cannot resolve this problem, that is exactly the route I will be forced to take.

Toby Bridges
Missoula, MT 59801"

Any of you needing to contact me in regards to muzzleloader performance, please use the following e-mail address:

I'm looking forward to sharing muzzleloader hunting information and load data for the next 7 years...hopefully much longer.

Toby Bridges

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tighten Up Sabot-Bullet Fit For Tighter Groups

Early rifle makers of the 1700s, and to some degree into the early to mid 1800s, often produced their own barrels - generally out of necessity. First, they forged a long and narrow ribbon of steel, and hammer forged that around a mandrel of sorts, keeping the metal as close to white hot as possible, literally welding the wraps with every strike of the hammer. Once the barrel blank was finished, the bore was reamed and polished, then it was ready to be rifled. Except for the hand welding of the steel, most of this arduous work was done on a wooden rifling bench. And while the riflesmith likely started out to produce a certain caliber, that was likely rarely achieved. Say the bore was to be a ".45"...and in the end was more like a ".46" or ".47" caliber. But, that was not a big deal in those days, because once the barrel was done, the maker generally made a bullet mould that would produce the proper diameter ball or bullet for that barrel.

Fortunately, with today's advanced machining and mass production capabilities, it is now far easier to produce bore sizes that are far more precise. Still, that does not mean that all bores of a given caliber share exact internal measurements. Take the popular .50 caliber sabot-shooting in-line rifle bores, some of which have been as tight at .499", and some going to as large as .504"-.505" on the other end of the spectrum. Finding the optimum sabot-bullet fit for a particular bore has proven extremely frustrating for shooters who demand tight downrange groups.

Even the barrels on rifles of the same make and model, produced on the same machinery, can typically have bores that vary .001" to .002" from barrel to barrel, or from one barrel run to the next. And this is often due to the slight wear of the boring, polishing, and groove cutting/forming tools used to produce the bore. Even this slight variation can affect not only the accuracy of the rifle, but with some of today's newer and harder to ignite powders, like Blackhorn 209, it can also affect the consistency of igntion - especially when a sabot-bullet combo is extremely loose fitting in the bore.

Earlier this year, a shooter from Vermont contacted me about using a wrap of Scotch-type tape around the .452" Hornady XTP jacketed hollow-points that he was loading and shooting with his .50 caliber rifle. He claimed that with the black .50x.45 sabot that came pre-packaged with the bullet, from Hornady, the rifle was just way too tough to load...and when he went to the easier-loading Harvester Muzzleloading black .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot, the combination did not give enough compression of the Blackhorn 209 charges he wanted to shoot. So, he simply put a wrap of clear celephane tape around the bullet, producing a slightly tighter fit when the combo was pushed down onto the powder charge with the ramrod. The added compression produced spontaneous ignition...and better accuracy.

Personally, I wasn't too crazy about the idea of putting adhesive tape onto I decided to do some experimenting with the non-adhesive thin white Teflon plumbing/thread tape. And I had just the rifle for the testing.

Since February 2009, I've been shooting a prototype of a rifle which the new Knight Rifles company has introduced as their bare-primer version of the DISC Extreme - the "Mountaineer". Early on, I found that this particular rifle had a bore running right at .502 from land-to-land. When I first shot in cold weather, with temps in the 20s and 30s, the 300-grain .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold and the standard black .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot loaded just tight enough to give the compression needed for spontaneous ignition with the hefty Blackhorn 209 charges both the rifle and I liked. However, as soon as the weather warmed to the point in late spring/early summer when the average temperature during my range sessions was getting into the 60s...I noticed that the combo was loading way too easy, and my accuracy was beginning to wane. So, I switched to the tighter fitting red .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot, and the Mountaineer prototype soon was punching the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold in tight sub 1-inch groups again.

So, with a fresh roll of the white Teflon tape in my shooting box, I headed for the range on an overcast afternoon (with a few light showers thrown in) with the temperature right about 70 degrees. I shot the rifle a few times with the red Crush Rib Sabot, and 2 of the 3 groups shot were inside of an inch. I gave the rifle plenty of time to cool between loading and shooting again. But when I made the switch to the looser fitting black .50x.45 sabot, I experienced two hang fires out of the first three shots. It was very evident that in the hotter weather, the .451 Scorpion PT Gold and the black Crush Rib Sabot were not all that compatible out of this particular rifle bore.

I had already determined that it took about 1 1/2 inches of the Teflon tape to encircle the 300-grain bullet I pulled out and measured a strip just 1/8th inch over 3 inches in length - enough for two wraps. The idea behind using a non-adhesive type tape was to have the spin of the bullet shed the Teflon shim instantly as the bullet left the muzzle. So I laid the strip of Teflon on the knee area of my blue jeans...and rolled bullet across from right to left. The Knight/Green Mountain barrel of the Mountaineer has a "Right Hand Twist"...meaning the rifling rotates clockwise. When the bullet and sabot leave the bore and separate, the loose end of the Teflon would catch the air and be instantly peeled from the bullet...rotating at extremely high rpm's in the same clockwise spin.

Anyway, that was my theory.

And it must have been a sound theory. The first three shots were spontaneous, and printed right at 1 1/4 inches. Two more groups were right there with them. One of the showers that afternoon had come and gone, and the temperature had dropped to about 60 I went back to shooting the bullet and black sabot WITHOUT the two wraps of Teflon. The first attempt just sort of spit the bullet out. Loading the rifle again in the same manner, WITHOUT the Teflon tape, the rifle fired okay for the second shot, but was about 4 inches higher than where the groups shot WITH the two wraps had printed. But the third shot experienced a lengthy hangfire, and didn't even print on the paper target at 100 yards.

I decided to add another wrap, tightening up the fit just a bit more...cutting a strip that was right at 4 1/2 inches in length. I put a small dot on the bullet just above where the wrap began, and when I reached the other end, found that the Teflon encircled the bullet approximately 3 1/4 times. When first experimenting with rolling the tape around these bullets, to get everything to sit nicely down into the cup of the sabot required that about 1/8-inch of the 1/2-inch wide tape extend below the base of the bullet as it is wrapped around. Then after the loose end is rubbed down, sticking to the wrap below it, the "skirt" can be folded toward the bottom-center of the bullet. This prevents the thin Teflon from riding up when the wrapped bullet is inserted into the sabot cup.

So, how did the bullet shoot with the additional wrap? Two of the three groups shot, using 110-grains of Blckhorn 209, stayed well inside of an inch...the other was right at an inch. The best group of the three measured right at .660" center-to-center.

All of this testing was done with the very light, very thin white Teflon. When a single thickness is compressed between the jaws of my calipers, the material measures just over .001". The heavier duty pink Teflon, compressed in the same manner measures just shy of .004". Next time I head to the range, one morning later this week, I'll give two wraps of the pink non-adhesive tape a try. I'll post an update.

If any of you have experienced ignition or accuracy problems due to a loose fitting sabot-bullet combination, you might want to give this a try. If you do, be sure to come back here and leave a comment on how it worked for you. - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING

NOTE: All NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING primary test rifles are topped with one of the excellent 3-9x40mm multi-reticle Leatherwood/Hi-Lux Optics muzzleloader hunting scopes. If you are in the market for a new scope this season, be sure to go to the link below...and when you click on "ENTER", look for the special pricing offer near the top of the opening page.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

North American Muzzleloader Hunting Is Now On Facebook!

Join in the discussions...and share photos of game you've taken with a muzzleloader - modern or traditional. Just click on the link below...

Toby Bridges

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Choosing A 200-Yard Muzzleloader

By Toby Bridges, North American Muzzleloader Hunting

Muzzleloaders have certainly come a long way in a few years. Thanks to the advanced primer ignition systems that form the heart of today’s in-line rifle designs, shooters and hunters have come to accept 2,000 fps muzzle velocities and 200-yard real-world effectiveness as the new norm. And to more easily achieve that level of performance, hunters are now turning to a new variety of energetic propelants and sleek new spire-pointed saboted bullets. Still, as hot as those powders and projectiles might be, it takes a special breed of muzzleloader to harness the power and accuracy of the new loading components.

Back when the first Knight MK-85 rifles hit the market during the mid-1980s, any talk of getting muzzleloader velocities to 2,000 fps, with a bullet that could retain upwards of 1,500 foot-pounds of energy at 200 yards, was purely futuristic. Maybe so, but the continued hand-in-hand evolution of in-line ignition muzzleloaders and the loads being shot out of them has turned what was once the future into the present.

During the past couple decades, we’ve seen a number of muzzleloading companies, or muzzle-loaded rifle models, come and go. But those with well built, accurate and sound designs have continued to ride the wave of new model development. The key to staying in business and prospering has been to deliver exactly what the present day muzzleloading hunter demands, and that has been greater and easier to obtain big game taking accuracy and knockdown power.

Today’s top selling in-line muzzleloaders all feature hot No. 209 primer ignition systems, pretty much making misfires a thing of the past. Generally speaking, 90-plus-percent of the rifles are now .50 caliber, capable of shooting hot 150-grain Pyrodex Pellet or Triple Seven Pellet powder charges (or the loose-grain equivalent of any number of hot new black powder substitutes). In addition, all of these guns can now get a saboted 240- to 260-grain bullet out of the muzzle at 2,000 f.p.s. — or faster.

Most of today’s advanced in-line rifles are fully capable of punching tight, 11/2-inch groups at 100 yards, regardless of whether that rifle retails for $300 or $800.

Truth is, given a little time to find a load the gun likes, it’s now hard to buy a modern .50 caliber muzzle-loaded rifle that cannot deliver acceptable game taking accuracy and punch out to 200 yards. Some just do it a bit better, with a little more ease and style.

One feature that a majority of today’s best selling in-line models currently tend to share is a “break-open” action. In fact, most of the leading manufacturers or importers of in-line rifles now offer several break-action models in their lines — usually including each of those companies’ top-selling model.

Muzzleloading rifles of this design are really nothing new. The old H&R “Huntsman” of the 1970s was simply a muzzle-loaded barrel on the same frame and action found on the company’s line of “Topper” break-open, breech-loaded, single-barrel shotguns. The original “Huntsman” was discontinued in about 1978, then reintroduced again 10 years ago, only to be discontinued again in 2009.

Break-action muzzleloaders owe their current popularity to the success of the Thompson/Center Arms “Encore” 209x.50 Magnum, which first hit the market in the mid to late 1990s.

It is a well-built muzzleloader, originally with a 26-inch barrel, that is noticeably shorter in overall length than other types of front-loaded big game rifles thanks to the tip-down action that brings the rear of the barrel right to the rear of the receiver. Plus, this muzzleloader offers something that no other muzzleloader offered 10 year ago — the flexibility to swap out the .50 caliber primer-ignition muzzleloader barrel for any one of more than a dozen center-fire barrels, or .17 HMR and .22 rimfire barrels, or even a 20-or 12-gauge breech-loaded shotgun barrel.

A couple of seasons back, T/C introduced an upgraded version of the Encore — the Pro Hunter. The .50 caliber muzzleloader barrel for this break-open single shot modular system is a 28-inch flutted barrel and comes with a new “Speed Breech” plug design that requires the breech plug to be turned only 90-degrees, using the T/C breech plug wrench, then it can be pulled from the rear of the barrel. The rifle is also built with a new and extremely tough “Flex Tech” composite stock.

In 2009, the company introduced an advanced version of the Pro Hunter, which has been dubbed the Encore Endeavor. At first glance, it looks to be the same rifle. But the company has done some revamping of the “Speed Breech XT” breech plug installed on this model — adding a knurled band at the rear, which they claim allows the shooter to turn it without the aid of a tool. T/C has also added what they call “Energy Burners” inside the Flex Tech stock. These are coil-type springs that are supposed to absorb a considerable amount of recoil. Plus, according to T/C they dampen the noise level of hefty magnum loads. All three versions of the Encore share the same great selection of accessory barrels available. Retail prices for the Encore 209x.50 Magnum start at about $650, while the fully decked out Pro Hunter and Endeavor models can top out at $1,000.

For the muzzleloading hunter not all that concerned about switching back and forth from .50 caliber front-stuffer to single-shot cartridge rifle or shotgun, there’s the T/C Triumph. This very avant-garde break open .50 caliber, introduced in 2008, comes in several blued/stainless configurations. Like the Encore Endeavor, it features the “Speed Breech XT” breech system that can be removed by hand. This rifle and all other T/C in-line rifles feature the turn-in-28 inches rifling twist that performs so well with modern saboted bullets.

The blued model of the Triumph rifle, with black composite butt and fore-end has a starting retail of around $500. Other models in the line include a new lower-priced .50 break open known as the Impact, with a starting retail price of well under $300. Then there is still the dropping block action Omega, starting at just over $400.

The mainstay of the Connecticut Valley Arms muzzleloader lineup for much of the past six or seven years has been the company’s various Optima break-open rifles — the Optima 209 Magnum, the Optima Pro and the Optima Elite. These have sold very well for CVA for several reasons; they tend to be accurate and reliable rifles, plus they are much more affordable than T/C’s break-open Encore models. The standard 26-inch barreled .50 caliber Optima 209 Magnum starts at around $270.

Several years back, CVA introduced the Elite verson of this break open, which utilizes a slightly different frame or receiver, allowing the use of interchangeable muzzleloader and center-fire cartridge barrels. With a blued 28-inch fluted .45 or .50 caliber barrel and receiver, and a black synthetic stock, the Elite models have a starting retail of about $350.
In 2009, CVA introduced an all-new break open model — the Apex. The receiver on this rifle is much sleeker and more streamlined than that of either the muzzleloader only Optima 209 Magnum or the interchangeable muzzleloader/cartridge breechloading Optima Elite.

But like the Elite, the new Apex can be bought with either a .45 or .50 caliber muzzleloader barrel (27-inch fluted), or in a wide range of centerfire rifle calibers. Other barrels can be purchased separately. This model is offered in stainless steel only, with choice of black or Realtree camouflage synthetic stock. Retail prices start at about $620.

This company also offers one other break-action muzzleloader — the Accura. Like the Optima 209 Magnum, this one is “muzzleloader only,” offered in choice of .45 or .50 caliber. The receiver of the Accura has nicer lines, and a 27-inch fluted barrel adds to the appearance of the rifle. Like all CVA-Bergara in-line muzzleloader barrels, these feature the popular turn-in-28 inches rate of rifling twist. The Accura comes in blued or stainless, with retail prices starting at about $400 and running up to $600.

Introduced just a few years ago, the Traditions break-action Pursuit model has been that company’s best-selling muzzleloader — and for the all the reasons why break open in-lines have been dominating the market. This rifle offers a longer barrel length in an overall shorter package. When open, the action gives the shooter plenty of room for slipping in a primer; when closed the primed ignition system is very protected from damp weather hunting conditions. And the easy access to the removable breech plug makes cleaning just that much easier and quicker.

The standard 26-inch barreled .50 caliber Pursuit model, with blue-black nickel metal finish and a black synthetic stock has a starting retail price of about $300. The same rifle with matte silver nickel finish retailed for about $400. On the other end of the feature and pricing spectrum is the Pursuit XLT with a Mossy Oak Treestand camouflage thumbhole stock, 28-inch fluted matte silver nickel finish barrel, and Projectile Alignment System at the muzzle — along with 360-degree porting to reduce muzzle jump when shooting magnum powder charges. That rifle retails for around $400.

New from Traditions is the revamped version of these .50 caliber rifles — the Pursuit II models. One feature that sets these apart from earlier Pursuit break-open muzzleloaders is an all new “Accelerator” quick remove breech plug. It takes just three complete rotations and its out, and when shooting with super clean burning new powders like Blackhorn 209, the breech plug can be removed by hand, requiring absolutely no tools. The new standard blued Pursuit II rifle also comes with a 28-inch tapered round barrel, with retail starting at $330. A fully decked out Pursuit II XLT with a new “soft touch” rubberized Mossy Oak Treestand camouflaged thumbhole stock and a 28-inch fluted and ported stainless steel barrel takes the suggested retail price up to $420.

In 2009, the company introduced an all new model - the .50 caliber Vortek. This break-action No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifle differs from the Pursuit II models thanks to a new receiver design and slightly changed stock lines. One feature that aids in keeping the trigger and inside the receiver more easily cleaned and maintained is a trigger assembly that can be easily removed by loosening a single screw. Most other features on the Vortek are pretty much the same as found on the Pursuit II models, including a fluted and ported 28-inch barrel, Projectile Alignment System, and Accelerator breech plug. Retail prices range from $400 to $500.

When Knight Rifles closed its doors in June 2009, the company was offering a wide range of models, including several break open models...the dropping block Revolution...and even one muzzleloader built with a very modified "Rolling Block" action. Many muzzleloading hunters felt these rifle were way over engineered...and for the most part too complicted to maintain and clean. Rifles like the KP1, the Revolution, the Shadow and the KRB7 have been credited with putting Knight Rifles out of business.

One Knight model that has enjoyed a strong following since its introduction in the late 1990s has been the DISC Extreme. This rifle is built for those shooters and hunters who prefer a rifle built with a rigid one-piece barrel and action - for those who feel that best accuracy comes from a bolt-action rifle design, even if it is muzzle-loaded.

And when the company began producing rifles again this spring (2011), under new ownership, it was no surprise that the complicatd designs mentioned above were eliminated, and the mainstay of new Knight Rifles production seems to be the tried and true 26-inch barreled DISC Extreme design - offered in .50 or .52 caliber, with models starting at $529. At the top of the DISC Extreme line is the 27-inch barreled accurized Long Range Hunter model, retailing for $799. This one is also offereed in .50 or .52 caliber.

My Long Range Hunter has been the No. 1 test rifle for North American Muzzleloader Hunting since 2005, and to date (6-4-11), the Green Mountain barrel of this muzzleloader has had 9,277 rounds fired through it...and it still keeps 'em inside of an inch at 100 yards (that is, when I'm up to it.)

Back when Knight Rifles shut down, I was in the middle of test shooting a new rifle model for them, one that is based on the DISC Extreme design, only this new model features a new bolt and breech plug that allows it to be fired WITHOUT having to use the red plastic DISC (a.k.a. Full Plastic Jacket) carrier for the No. 209 shotshell primer used for ignition. The good news is, Knight's new owners have put the rifle in production, dubbing it the "Mountaineer".

This is a serious magnum-powered muzzle-loaded big game rifle, built with the same attention that goes into a fine bolt-action center-fire. Some of the hot loads built around powders like Blackhorn 209, Triple Seven Magnums Pellets, and IMR White Hots Pellets are producing velocities approaching 2,200 fps — and energy levels topping 3,000 foot-pounds of knockdown power. And if a little primer fouling does get back into the bolt of this rifle, it takes all of about ten seconds to strip the bolt down for easy cleaning. Plus this rifle comes with a Timney-style target trigger that comes right off for easy cleaning and maintenance.

There are custom muzzleloader hunting rifles, built on center-fire bolt actions, that can produce the performance of the new Mountaineer, however they are generally priced at $1,500 to $3,000. Knight’s latest version of the well proven Extreme bolt-action comes with a nicely fluted 27-inch Green Mountain barrel, and with a generously contoured laminated stock. Starting retail is $739. (Note: Knight Rifles also still offers two models built around the original Knight plunger hammer design - the Bighorn and the Littlehorn. Currently, all Knight Rifles are offered in stainless steel only.)

Bolt-action models are the top sellers among modern center-fire cartridge rifles, since they are noted for top accuracy and reliability. It will be interesting to see if Knight Rifle’s new Mountaineer bolt-action high performance muzzleloading rifle leads the market back in that direction.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sometimes...I Wish I Didn't Know Now What I Didn't Know Then...

When I look back at this old photo, taken during a hunt in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Tennessee, two things amaze me. First, how slim and trim I was after a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps. (That's me standing.) The other thing that amazes me is how little I really knew about muzzleloading in those days (circa 1975).

Oh, I had hunted with a muzzleloader since 1964, and had taken at least a dozen whitetails, a few pronghorns, several dozen wild hogs, a couple of wild turkeys, several black bears, an American bison, a few mule deer, and a ton or so (literally) of small game, upland birds and waterfowl with guns of muzzle-loaded design. Heck, by the time this photo was taken, I had already put together my first book - Black Powder Gun Digest. I owned and shot close to two-dozen different muzzleloading rifles, shotguns and front-loaded handguns - and in addition to that book, I had also authored close to 50 magazine articles on mastering those guns.

Yep, as my best friend Earl Barr, also in the above photo, and I headed out on this muzzleloading hunt, I pretty much felt that I knew just about all there was to know about loading, shooting and hunting with a muzzleloader. And, while I never did brag out loud about my muzzleloading expertise - I can remember feeling I had learned just about all there was to know about the sport.

Man, was I ever wrong! Muzzleloading was a much simpler shooting sport in those days. The vast majority of guns were built for shooting the patched round ball...and if a rifle had a quality barrel, working up a hunting load pretty much meant slowly upping the powder charge until you reached a point where the rifle no longer shot with accuracy - then you took the charge the other way until it was grouping again. Most considered 100 yards as the maximum effective range of those few hunters ever bothered scoping a muzzleloader.

That rifle I'm holding in the photo was the Thompson/Center Arms "Hawken" model, one of the first somewhat modern muzzle-loaded big game rifles. And for the 10 years following this hunt, I hunted with these half-stock rifles, or custom versions of them, more than with any other rifle model. And that was due to the T/C rifle's ability to shoot a heavier, harder-hitting conical bullet with reasonable accuracy. With a scope on one of these rifles, I found I could often group five shots inside of 4 inches at a hundred yards - and was tickled to do so.

In late 1985, I became acquainted with Tony Knight, and in February 1986 I began shooting and hunting with a Knight MK-85 in-line rifle - and my real muzzleloading education began. Muzzleloading as we know it today has evolved from that day forward...and since the mid 1980s, the only thing in this sport that has remained constant has been change.

As my old friend Earl and I pondered our afternoon hunt on the porch of that rustic old cabin, if someone would have walked up to me and predicted that 35 years down the road I would be shooting a scoped bolt-action Knight in-line rifle that utilized hot No. 209 primer ignition...and loaded with a modern black powder substitute and a plastic saboted polymer-tipped spire-point bullet, the rifle and load would be fully capable of consistently printing sub 1-inch 100 yard groups, I would have laughed. Then I would have gotten away from them as quickly as I could.

The load I shoot today (120 grains of Blackhorn 209) is fully capable of getting a saboted 300-grain bullet (Harvester Muzzleloading "Scorpion PT Gold") out of the muzzle of the two .50 caliber rifles (Knight "Long Range Hunter" & "Mountaineer") I shoot and hunt with most at 2,063 f.p.s., with right at 2,840 foot-pounds of energy. And thanks to the 3-9x scope (Leatherwood/Hi-Lux HPML model) on each, the rifles will indeed, with amazing regularity, group inside of an inch at 100 yards. And out at 200 yards, as often as not, I have found that I can keep groups at around 2 1/2 inches, and at that distance the bullet still hits with 1,500 f.p.e.

When I got into this game back in 1964, at age 15, my first rifle, a percussion .45 caliber Kentucky reproduction, and the load I first shot and hunted with was good for about 1,900 f.p.s. - but the light 128-grain ball was generating just 1,025 foot-pounds of energy - at the muzzle. And that load was actually dropping below the 800 f.p.e. considered to be minimum for deer at just 30 to 35 yards. Muzzleloader energies is something I did not really begin to comprehend until the early 1970s. The first whitetail I ever shot with the rifle, at 60 to 70 yards, went more than 200 yards before going down. The second buck I shot with the rifle, at about 45 yards, went more than a half-mile...and was nearly lost.

The .50 T/C "Hawken" in the above photo, stoked with 100-grains of FFFg black powder, would get a 370-grain soft lead "Maxi-Ball" bullet out of the 28-inch barrel at around 1,500 f.p.s., with 1,850 f.p.e. The bullet has a low b.c., and by the time it gets to 100 yards, it has slowed to just over 1,050 f.p.s., and hits with just over 900 f.p.e. At 150 yards, velocity drops to 920 f.p.s., with 690 f.p.e. The load drops below the needed 800 f.p.e. for deer sized game at about 115 to 120 yards.

My first .50 caliber sabot-shooting Knight MK-85, loaded with a 110-grain charge of Pyrodex "P", would launch a saboted 250-grain Hornady XTP JHP at 1,625 f.p.s., and generate close to 1,525 f.p.e. That bullet has a .147 b.c., and at 100 yards was still good for 1,250 f.p.s. and almost 870 f.p.e. At 150 yards, velocity is down to 1,075 f.p.s. and energy is down to around 640 f.p.e. The load drops below 800 f.p.e. at about 110 to 115 yards.

My muzzleloading education has spanned 46 years, and fortunately, I'm still learning. Over on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website, I maintain between 75 and 100 articles, reports, and pages of data that shares what I've learned along the way. Likewise, in addition to this blog, I also host the Knight Muzzleloader Hunting blog, the Harvester Muzzleloading Hunter blog, and the Blackhorn 209 Hunter blog - with lots of info there.

If you have travelled the same long road I've taken to get here, or have some great muzzleloader performance information that others can benefit from...please jump in on the comment sections of these blogs and share.

Toby Bridges

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Energy! Energy! Energy!

By Toby Bridges

Few of us ever forget taking our first buck. Mine was shot on opening morning of my third deer season back in 1964. I was just 15-years-old, and hunting with a muzzleloader for the first time. I'd run an after school trapline the previous winter, and had worked most of the summer at a local gas station to earn the money to buy one of the long-barreled .45 "Kentucky" rifle reproductions from Dixie Gun Works - and spent the rest of the summer learning to load and shoot that percussion frontloader.

My load ended up being 80-grains of FFFg black powder behind a patched 133-grain .445" diameter soft lead ball - which I cast myself. By the time deer season rolled around, I could hit a tin-can at 60 yards with just about every shot, and felt confident that I could do a far better job with the muzzleloader than the only other gun I could legally hunt deer with in my home state of Illinois - a shotgun with slugs. Back then, I had no idea about the amount of energy the load produced, or what was really needed. I just felt that the rifle was more than adequate for taking whitetails.

Only a few distant shots had sounded that opening morning, and when I looked up to see an eight-pointer crossing the woodlot 65 or 70 yards away, I was soon tracking the buck with the open sights of the 40-inch barreled rifle. This was the first time I'd ever had a horned buck in my sights, and I'd be a liar if I said that I wasn't excited. Still, I held my fire until the deer stepped into a clear shooting lane, then tightened my finger on the trigger. The rifle boomed - and through the thinning smoke cloud I watched as the whitetail raced several hundred yards up the shallow valley, eventually disappearing in the mature hardwoods. I'll admit that I honestly thought the deer would have dropped on the spot, or maybe after a short 20 yard run. To watch it run off kind of diminished my faith in the deer-taking performance of the .45 muzzleloader.

After a long tracking job, an old friend and I finally found the buck - more than a 1/4-mile from where it had been shot. The 133-grain ball had hit its intended target perfectly, about two inches to the rear of the front shoulder - centering both lungs, and coming to rest under the skin of the opposite side. The ball was well flattened, adding even more to my wonderment at how the buck had traveled so far.

After 45 seasons with a muzzleloader, I now know a lot more about muzzleloader ballistics and the energy levels needed to insure a clean kill.

At the muzzle, the rifle and load I used for my first muzzleloader hunt had a muzzle velocity of right at 2,000 f.p.s., but due to the light weight of the ball, it generated a not-so-whopping 1,175 f.p.e. At the 70 or so yards the deer had been shot, that aerodynamically challenged .445" sphere of lead had retained just barely 500 foot-pounds of game-taking energy. And that's about 300 foot-pounds shy of what most deer hunting experts accept as the minimum amount of energy needed to cleanly bring down deer-sized game.

So, what kind of energy does it take to bring down big game? For deer, knowledgeable whitetail hunters agree that it's right at 800 foot-pounds of knockdown power. For bigger game like elk, large bears and Shiras moose, with a well placed shot it still takes around 1,200 f.p.e. for the punch needed for consistently clean harvests. And for game as large as Alaska-Yukon moose or bison, the required energy level jumps to 1,500 foot-pounds. Also, keep in mind that this is the "retained energy" at the distance of the target, not at the muzzle. The rifle and load I used to take my first muzzleloader buck had dropped below the needed 800 f.p.e. at only about 40 yards.

It was the lackluster performance of the old patched round ball rifles that opened the door for the development of new rifles, new projectiles and hotter loads that could produce higher energy levels - and retain such knockdown power well past a hundred yards. That first happened back during the mid 1800s, then again during the late 1980s and on through the 1990s.

The first true long-range muzzle-loaded rifles were developed and refined through the 1840s, built to tap the accuracy, range and knockdown power of the newly developed elongated conical bullets of the same period. While the earlier round ball rifles were built with exceptionally slow 1-turn-in 60 to 70 or so inches rates of twist (to prevent the patched ball from stripping the rifling at high velocity), the new bullet rifles featured rifling as fast as 1-turn-in 18 to 24 inches. The snappier twist was needed to stabilize cylindrical projectiles that could be as much as 3 or more times longer than in diameter. They were also heavier, often 300 to 500 grains for a .45 caliber rifle, and with a stout powder charge these great hunks of lead could retain high levels of energy out to and past 200 yards.

Some of the better made rifles of this period, produced by master rifle makers such as William Billinghurst, Edwin Wesson, Norman Brockway and Morgan James, continued to be used during long-range competition until well after the modern breech-loading target rifles like the Sharps or Remington rolling block were in widespread use. Many shooters found the slower-to-load muzzle-loaded bullet rifles more accurate, and continued to out shoot competitors using metallic cartridge rifles - even in 1,000 yard competition.

A .45 caliber bullet rifle (32" barrel) of the late 1840s, loaded with just 70 grains of FFFg black powder and a bore-sized 500-grain conical bullet was good for just 1,260 f.p.s. at the muzzle, due to the heavy weight of the bullet. However, thanks to that same weight, the load generated 1,759 f.p.e. Out at 200 yards, the aerodynamically superior elongated bullet would retain 950 to 1,000 foot-pounds of energy. In fact, these rifles and loads retained enough energy (800 foot-pounds) to drop a whitetail out to about 225 yards.

One 1840-1850 style bullet rifle I shoot regularly, and still hunt with on occasion is a custom half-stock that I built back in 1983. Back then, I had installed a custom turn-in-24 inches twist .50 caliber barrel on the rifle - and over a 20 year period, I literally shot that barrel out. A couple of years ago, the original barrel was replaced with one of the 32" cut-rifled turn-in-24 inches twist Green Mountain .50 caliber "Sharpshooter" barrels, which I now have scoped with an 1880s style Leatherwood/Hi-Lux short "Wm. Malcolm" 6x scope. With a 100-grain charge of FFFg GOEX Express black powder, the rifle will get a bore-sized 440-grain Parker Productions "Traditional Hunter" lead conical out of the muzzle at 1,506 f.p.s., with 2,213 f.p.e. At 100 yards, the load is still good for 1,048 f.p.s. and 1,078 f.p.e., and at 200 yards velocity is right at 910 f.p.s. with a retained energy of 805 f.p.e.

Note that a heavier but smaller diameter, and longer, 500-grain bullet out of a .45 caliber bore retains more energy at 200 yards, shooting 30 grains less powder, than the 60 grain lighter bore-sized bullet out of the .50 caliber bore. That's the effect of improved aerodynamics, or in other words, of the improved ballistic coefficient of the longer, smaller diameter and heavier bullet. Still, the .50 caliber Green Mountain barrel makes my custom half-stock an honest 200-yard rifle for deer, and a solid 90-yard elk rifle. And with the precision Leatherwood/Hi-Lux scope aboard, I can on occasion keep five-shot 200-yard groups inside of 3 inches. Not bad for a 160-year old rifle design.

What today's in-line rifle designs have done is to make it easier for the average shooter to obtain this kind of muzzleloader performance.

Even the early No. 11 percussion cap in-line models of the late 1980s and early 1990s, like the Knight MK-85 and CVA Apollo, could be loaded to deliver the accuracy and knockdown power needed for deer at 150 yards and elk at 100 yards. One of the hottest loads I shot out of a stainless .50 caliber Knight MK-85 during the early 1990s was 110-grains of Pyrodex "P" behind a saboted 300-grain .452" diameter Hornady 300-grain XTP hollow- point. At the muzzle of the 24" barrel, the load was good for 1,620 f.p.s., and 1,755 f.p.e. At 100 yards, the blunt-faced .181 b.c. bullet slowed to around 1,375 f.p.s. and hit with right at 1,250 f.p.e. Out at 150 yards, the speed of the big jacketed hollow-point bullet was down to 1,150 f.p.s., where it hit deer-sized game with about 875 foot-pounds of punch.

Recently, I pulled that old rifle out of retirement, installed a breech plug and plunger hammer that allowed use of hotter No. 209 primers for ignition, and ran a few loads of FFFg Triple Seven across the chronograph. And instead of shooting a saboted 300-grain hollow-pointed "pistol bullet", I did this shooting with the higher .255 b.c. Harvester Muzzleloading .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold bullet of the same weight. The difference was amazing.

At the muzzle, a 110-grain charge of FFFg Triple Seven gets the sleek spire-pointed 300-grain bullet on its way at 1,881 f.p.s., which translates into 2,355 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Because of the noticeably higher ballistic coefficient, the bullet retains 1,610 f.p.s. with 1,725 f.p.e. at 100 yards, and 1,380 f.p.s. with 1,266 f.p.e. at 200 yards. For deer sized game, this load will deliver the energy needed all the way out to about 260 yards, where the bullet is still moving at just over 1,100 f.p.s. with 804 foot-pounds of retained energy.

The energy a bullet generates at the muzzle is simply determined by its weight and the velocity it exits. How well a bullet retains those ballistics down range is determined by its aerodynamics, or its ballistic coefficient. The higher its b.c., the higher the velocity and foot-pounds of energy a bullet retains, and the flatter its trajectory. The point at which the powder and charge allows a bullet to drop below the minimum game-taking energy levels given earlier should be considered the maximum effective range of the rifle and load.

Modern in-line rifle manufacturers, powder suppliers and bullet makers have certainly stretched the ranges at which today's rifles and loads can still deliver the knockdown power and accuracy needed to take big game. Twenty years ago, most rifle makers set "Maximum Recommended Powder Charges" at 100 grains - and that was with black powder and Pyrodex. Today, every manufacturer of hot No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifles promotes the use of magnum 150-grain Triple Seven Pellet or Pyrodex Pellet charges - some of which are now generating internal barrel pressures of 30,000 p.s.i. and greater. Muzzleloading rifles today are now being subjected to the same pressures produced by some milder smokeless powders.

Why? Because the modern muzzleloading hunter is looking for greater range, and for greater knockdown power at the outer limits of these rifles' practical effective range. And that has opened the door to the development of other modern muzzleloader propellants. One that has won over a lot of muzzleloading hunters is Blackhorn 209 - a nitrocellulose based powder formulated to give top end velocities and energy with a lower peak pressures than other more recent black powder substitutes. With just a 110-grain volume measured charge, this powder can match the velocities of the 150-grain compressed pellet charges. And it burns so clean that the shooter can fire 20...30... 40 or more shots without wiping the bore - and still shoot with excellent accuracy.

The latest in-line rifle models, like the Thompson/Center Arms "Encore Endeavor" and "Triumph Bone Collector", have been built around today's newer powders, with No. 209 primer systems for sure-fire ignition of the harder to ignite muzzleloader powders, plus stocks with built-in recoil reducers to help tame down the added recoil that comes hand-in-hand with added velocity and knockdown. Traditions and CVA also offer similar models.

Through the winter and spring of 2010, I was testing a new "Super Magnum" in-line model for Knight Rifles - when word reached me that the company had called it quits and was closing its doors, due to the poor economy. That rifle was to hit the market as their new .50 caliber Extreme Ultimate Slam model. Unlike earlier DISC Extreme models, this new bolt-action muzzleloader did not require the use of plastic primer carriers. A redesigned breech plug and bolt allowed this rifle to be fired with a bare primer, forcing the front edge of the primer tightly against a shoulder at the front of the primer chamber. The fit insured that very little fire escaped rearward, putting more fire into the powder charge. And Blackhorn 209 likes a hot spark.

The Green Mountain barrel, breech plug and receiver had been designed to shoot true magnum powder charges - 130 to 150 grains of Blackhorn 209, or three pellet charges with the 60-grain equivalent pellet Triple Seven Magnums or IMR White Hots. And with the hotter charges in this rifle, saboted 290- and 300-grain bullets were getting out of the muzzle at 2,150 to 2,200 f.p.s. Such hot loads were generating 2,975 to 3,100 foot-pounds of wallop.

The most impressive load I shot out of the prototype rifle had to be 130-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind a prototype 350-grain saboted Scorpion PT Gold that Harvester Muzzleloading has been thinking about introducing. Now, this is the heaviest saboted bullet I've shot from a modern .50 caliber in-line rifle, and because of that weight the velocity is right at 2,030 f.p.s. - with 3,200-plus-f.p.e.! This longer and heavier version of the Scorpion PT Gold would have a b.c. that's getting close to .325, meaning that at 200 yards this load would retain around 1,565 feet-per-second of bullet speed, and drive home with 1,900 foot-pounds of energy. In fact, way out at 300 yards, this load would still be good for 1,425 f.p.s. - and more than 1,500 foot-pounds of energy that will take anything that walks North America.

Now, that's muzzleloader performance! And now that Knight Rifles has new owners, this rifle is scheduled to be in produciton this year - as the "Mountaineer".

Another hard hitting load combination consists of 120-grains of Blackhorn 209 under one of Hornady's 325-grain .458" FTX soft polymer-tipped semi-spitzers, loaded with a Harvester Muzzleloading "Crush Rib" sabot. (This somewhat sharp-fronted bullet was developed for .45-70 lever-action rifles.) Out of the 27-inch barreled "Mountaineer" prototype, the load is good for 2,017 f.p.s. - with 2,938 f.p.e. Hornady has established that this bullet has a .230 b.c., meaning this load would retain right at 1,400 f.p.s. at 200 yards, and hit with more than 1,400 foot-pounds of wallop.

Here's a tremendous elk load, which the .50 caliber Knight "Mountaineer" is fully capable of grouping inside of an inch at a hundred yards.

Today's modern rifles, improved saboted bullets and hot new powders continue to raise the bar on muzzleloader performance - delivering, with superb accuracy, the knockdown power needed to cleanly take large game well past 200 yards.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Montana Muzzleloader Turkey Hunt With Toby Bridges To Air On The Pursuit Channel!

North American Muzzleloader Hunting host Toby Bridges takes a good Montana gobbler with the Knight TK2000 shotgun on Taxidermy Trails tv show. This program premiers on the Pursuit Channel on March 14th. The show Bridges shot with show host Dan Bantley airs the week of March 21st - on Dish Network (Channel 240) and Direct TV (Channel 608). The episode airs three times that week - see local scheduling for times.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Two New Muzzleloader Hunting Blogs - Knight Muzzleloader Hunting and Harvester Muzzleloading Hunter...

The Above Photo Pretty Much Attests To The Compatibility Of A Knight Muzzleloader & Harvester Muzzleloading Bullets.

That's 50 shots through the same 1.6" hole at 100 yards - shooting a .50 caliber Knight "Long Range Hunter" and the Harvester Muzzleloading 300-grain saboted "Scorpion PT Gold" bullet. The other parts of this deadly accurate equation was a 100-grain charge of Blackhorn 209...CCI 209M primers...and the 3-9x40mm HPML Muzzleloader hunting scope from Hi-Lux Optics.

This shooting was conducted on a 50-degree morning, allowing the rifle to cool 3 to 4 minutes between shots. And the bore was not wiped once. The shooting session took approximately 3 1/2 hours. Muzzleloading does not get any better than this!

For more muzzleloader performance and hunting information, be sure to check out the blogs at the following links.

Knight Muzzleloader Hunting

Harvester Muzzleloading Hunter