Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hunting With The .451 Caliber Hexagonal Bore Whitworth Rifle

                                                             Click On Photos To Enlarge

     One of my favorite rifles to take to the range five or six times a year is the big .451 caliber reproduction of the hexagonal bore Whitworth rifle shown in the photo above.  When summer temperatures soar into the upper 80's and 90's in Western Montana, and it gets just too hot to do a lot of shooting with plastic saboted bullets, that's when I pull out the Whitworth rifle.  But, first I have to make up a batch of bullets.  And while it does take a while, it's not difficult.

     The bullet starts out as a standard round sided cylindrical 500-grain cast bullet - produced with the Lee Precision 459-500-3R bullet mold.  The bullet, as cast, is right at .459" in diameter (for loading into the big .45 caliber black powder cartridges, i.e. .45-70, .45-90, etc.). 

     Next, I thread a custom built swaging die into my cartridge reloading press...feed the long spitzer shaped nose of the soft pure lead bullet into the die from the bottom...bring up the ram of the press and align an extension with the bottom of the bullet...and push the bullet through the swaging die.  What pops out the top is a "somewhat" hexagonal bullet that measures .448" across from hexagonal flat to hexagonal flat.  The die was formed with the same turn-in-21 inches pitch found in the hexagonal bore of the rifle.  (No "rifling"...instead, the bore is formed hexagonal and turns with a 1-in-21 inches rate of twist.)

Shown Above - The 500 grain cast Lee bullet as from the mold, right.  The same bullet swaged, center.  The 580-grain Whitworth bullet offered by Dixie Gun Works, left.

     The undersized bullet still makes some contact with bore...offering just a little resistance.  I have shot them as they are formed, but have easily gotten far superior accuracy when the bullet is wrapped with two layers of Alox lubed cotton-based paper.  The fit is a little tight, but the paper wrapped base of the bullet can still be worked into the bore, then using a short starter that's been shaped to fit down over the nose of the bullet, a healthy whack gets the paper wrapped bullet into the bore.  It's then easily pushed down the bore with the Whitworth's steel ramrod to seat on the powder charge.

     My particular Whitworth copy came from Dixie Gun Works, back in 2005.  The rifle is still offered, and sells for $1,300.  For more on the rifle, go to -

     Dixie Gun Works recommends loading 60-grains of FFFg behind the big 580-grain hex-shaped lead round nosed bullet they offer.  My first shooting was done with these bullets, and the rifle shot okay with the 1.340" long projectiles...but they loaded extremely tight.  That's when I had a friend, who is one heck of a machinist, produce the hex swaging die for me.  (Before anyone writes and inquires, he let me know in no uncertain terms that the die I have was the first...and last such die he would ever produce.)

     At first, I swaged the Dixie bullets, and found I could print 3 to 4 inch 200 yard groups.  Anyway, I could after I installed one of the superb Hi-Lux Optics recreation of a circa 1855 Wm. Malcolm 6x long telescopic rifle sights (as they were known back then).  My rifle came into it's own when I started casting the lighter, but slightly longer 1.360" long Lee 500-grain bullet, then running it through the swaging die and wrapping the bullets with lubed paper.  My favored charge has been 80 grains of GOEX FFFg black powder.  The rifle and load have printed a few very impressive 2- to 2 1/2-inch 200 yard groups.  At the muzzle, the big 500-grain bullet exits at 1,326 f.p.s. - generating 1,945 foot pounds of energy.  Out at 200 yards, it is still good for 1,053 f.p.s. and 1,231 f.p.e..

Photo At Right - Best 200 yard Whitworth group shot, so far, with swaged Lee bullet.

     Back when I first got the rifle, still shooting with the open sights, I took a couple of does with the Dixie bullet, both at about 50 yards.  Last year, I made up my mind that I was going to put something down with the Whitworth out at about 200 yards.  One area I planned to hunt in Montana (out on the plains) allowed the purchase of up to 7 doe tags, so I purchased several just to put some meat in the freezer...and to take one at longer range (200 yards) with the .451 Whitworth.

     The second evening in camp, I carried two rifles out to a small portable camouflaged blind I had set up at the edge of a river-bottom alfalfa field.  I packed my .50 Traditions VORTEK Ultra Light LDR just in case nothing walked to within 200 yards of the blind...and I took the Whitworth in order to take a doe that did get within 200 yards of the big and heavy bullet shooting rifle.

     About an hour and a half before sunset, close to 40 whitetails worked out into the field, including a small 4x4 buck, but I had already filled my buck tag on the first morning of the hunt.  I had forgotten my laser range finder in the pack I had worn all morning while looking for deer in the hills behind camp.  I rested the Whitworth on one of the Bog Pod CLD-3 collapsible tripod rests, and sighted through the Hi-Lux Malcolm scope.  The sun had already dropped behind a high ridge to the West, but I could still see the multiple targets in front of me very clearly.

     I had the scope set for 200 yards, and several does looked to be right about that distance.  I thumbed the hammer back, held for a center chest cavity shot on the larger doe, which was standing perfectly broadside.  The trigger slowly came back, and the hammer fell.  The rifle roared, and a huge cloud of black powder smoke blocked everything from sight.  Then, as it cleared, the only thing still in that field was the doe I had gone for...and the deer was laying exactly where it had been standing.  It was easy to realize why the Whitworth was so feared on Civil War battlefields.

Photo Above Left - The adjustable rear mount of the Hi-Lux Optics 6x Malcolm scope can be quickly moved from one yardage setting to another - once those settings are known.

     When I walked out to the deer, I saw why it had gone down so quickly.  The big 500-grain cast & swaged Lee bullet had caught the deer only about two inches down from the top of the back.  That big chunk of lead had blown out about four inches of backbone...and unfortunately ruined about six inches of backstrap.

     Mid day the following day, I walked out to where I had field dressed the deer, and took a laser reading on the front of the blind - 172 yards.  Back at camp, I set up a portable target board I had brought 172 yards...and took a shot from the Bog Pod rest.  The hole was right at six inches above point of aim.  Then, I moved back 26 more yards, and took a shot from exactly 200 yards, for which the scope was set, and the hole in the target was right at one inch above point of aim - pretty much how it had been sighted.  It was clear that with the doe standing just 28 yards closer, the trajectory of that big bullet was close to six inches higher.

     This coming summer, I'll do a good deal of shooting to determine the 300-yard setting for the Malcolm scope...and will likewise do some shooting with the .451 Whitworth at 225...250...and 275 yards.  My goal for this fall is to fill one of those doe tags with the Whitworth at 300 yards.  Rest assured, I'll never forget my range finder again. - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING    

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Iowa Hunter Attributes 242-Yard Shot On A Whitetail Buck To Lot's Practice On The Range And Precision Placement Of Long Range Reticles Of His Scope!

"As the smoke rolled out over the field the deer ran at top speed for cover. He made it about 40 yards before crashing in the open field. The Barnes bullet had found its way to within 2 inches of my aim. The extra hold offs in the scope are precise and unbelievable."

Iowa resident Mike Ross, hunting the late muzzleloader season this past January, pulled off a great 242-yard off-hand shot with his Knight .50 caliber Long Range Hunter, taking a nice buck with a single bullet centered through the chest cavity. He attributed the success of that shot to spending a lot of time on the range with the rifle and the Hi-Lux Optics multi-reticle TB-ML scope - and to the precise placement of those reticles in the scope.

Here's a link to his story of the hunt.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hot New Loads For The 260- And 300-Grain Scorpion PT Gold Out Of The Traditions VORTEK Ultra Light LDR

Here's a look at a hot new load for the Traditions .50 VORTEK Ultra Light LDR that's knocking right on the 2,200 f.p.s. door, shooting 130 grains of Blackhorn 209 and the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold polymer-tipped spire-point.  The recoil of the load is very tolerable...and the accuracy is outstanding!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nevada Department of Wildlife Ban Of Popular Muzzleloader Hunting Powder Is Discriminatory - And Likely Illegal!

           During the summer of 2011, the Nevada Department of Wildlife took away the right for muzzleloading hunters in the state to use a modern formulated propellant that not only makes loading and shooting a rifle of muzzle-loaded design less tedious and more reliable, but safer as well.  That new powder is being marketed under the brand name Blackhorn 209, by Western Powders of Miles City, MT.

            In July of 2011, NDOW sent a notice to all hunters who had drawn a  "muzzleloader only" Nevada big game tag, announcing, "The department has recently received numerous questions regarding the use of Blackhorn 209 during the muzzle-loading only season. Per NAC 503.142 (1) only blackpowder or a blackpowder substitute such as Pyrodex or Triple Seven may be used as a propellant. The use of smokeless powder is prohibited."

            This warning went on to distinguish that what separated Blackhorn 209 from the other two powders mentioned, Pyrodex and Triple Seven, was the fact that the newer powder relied on a nitrocellulose base rather than the carbon base used to produce the other two black powder substitutes.  NDOW published this warning in its August issue of OUTDOOR EDUCATOR as well.

            At the September 2011 Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners Meeting, under the topic issue "Muzzleloader Black Powder Legal Issues", Chief Game Warden Robert Buonamici told the nine-member board that prior to the hunting seasons his Division (Law Enforcement) had received quite a few calls as to whether or not if Blackhorn 209 powder was legal to use during the state's muzzleloader seasons.  He admitted that his staff did not know, so researched the issue - first referring back to the adopted regulation code which prohibited the use of smokeless powder during the muzzleloading hunts.  He pointed out to the commissioners that the U.S. Department of Transportation has designated Blackhorn 209 as a smokeless powder.

            The call to outlaw the use of this powder was made entirely by Chief Buonamici and the NDOW Division of Law Enforcement.  What Buonamici failed to share with the Board of Wildlife Commissioners was that also sharing the very same North American and United Nations hazardous materials classification codes (NA3178 and UN0499) which he used to deem Blackhorn 209 "illegal" are all other "black powder substitutes", including the two "legal" powders mentioned by name in Nevada's muzzleloader hunting regulations - Pyrodex and Triple Seven.

            All are classified as either "smokeless powder for small arms" or as "propellant solid - smokeless".

            Through correspondence with members of the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners, the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Association has been told that the regulation, as it stands, can be attributed to bad information and bureaucratic status quo within the Nevada Department of Wildlife.  That bad information came from NDOW's administration, and many of the originators of the regulation are now gone - including Director Ken Mayer, who has been fired, for the second time.

            "Nevada's ban of Blackhorn 209 should make sportsmen question many other non-serving hunting regulations on the books around the country.  We were told that to change the regulation in Nevada is a slow process, and that process would require that a petition first be filed - even though those serving on the Board of Wildlife Commissioners are now aware that the regulation was railroaded right through by a biased and agenda driven  high ranking individual or a division of NDOW.  Strangely, it was done so without any opposition from the Commission.  The legality of how this exceptionally poor and bogus regulation has been allowed to stand needs to be investigated...and perhaps have its day in court ," states Toby Bridges, founder of the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Association.

            Nevada is the only state to ban the use of Blackhorn 209 powder.  A couple of other states, namely New Mexico and Utah, had considered a similar ban, but realized that since the powder shared the very same federal and international regulations governing other black powder substitutes, such a ban would run into tremendous opposition from muzzleloading hunters.  Collectively, the modern "non black powder" muzzleloader propellants are now used by more than 90-percent of all muzzleloading hunters.

            What has made Blackhorn 209 so popular among the fastest growing segment of muzzleloader hunting, those who have switched to equally modern in-line primer ignition rifle models, is the cleanliness of the powder.  Other modern muzzleloader powders leave a great deal of fouling in the bore, and for best accuracy that fouling has to be wiped from the bore after each and every shot.  The light fouling left behind by charges of Blackhorn 209 does not affect the accuracy of the load.  In fact, many shooters have shot all morning or afternoon, firing upwards of 50 shots or more, and still maintain great accuracy without cleaning the bore once.  That cleanliness also means that there is a lot less chance of not getting the projectile properly seated directly in contact with the power charge.  Firing a muzzleloader with the projectile setting an inch or two off the powder charge creates an extremely dangerous situation.

            The new powder is also far less corrosive than the powders named "legal" in the Nevada regulations, and due to its nitrocellulose base, Blackhorn 209 granules are far more uniform and result in extremely consistent volume measured charges.  This in turn produces the most consistent accuracy.  Perhaps NDOW's fear of the powder is that it is too good, allowing the state's muzzleloading hunters to more easily make a clean and effective harvest of the game being hunted.
(On Friday, February 8, 2013 - this NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELODER HUNTING release was sent to the major media providers in the State of Nevada, as well as to many within the shooting & hunting industry, plus to a large number of those working within the outdoor media.  For more on this issue, plus more on the qualities that make Blackhorn 209 extremely popular, and a look at all the uses of nitrocellulose, go to - .)


Monday, February 4, 2013

Nevada Department of Wildlife Bans Blackhorn 209 - NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Responds!

Following is an e-mail sent to the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners in regard to the Nevada Department of Wildlife ban on the use of Blackhorn 209 during the muzzleloader only seasons and hunts in that state...

Dear Nevada Wildlife Commission;

What does the State of Nevada have against nitrocellulose...or Blackhorn 209?

The manner in which the Nevada muzzleloader hunting regulations attack this powder, by brand name, shows extreme prejudice - and likely violates interstate commerce laws. The Nevada Wildlife Commission needs to give all of this very serious thought, and truly question those responsible for such a stand against a revolutionary new muzzleloader propellant that is now taking muzzleloader hunting by storm across the country. Should there be any personal bias involved, it could end in some extremely costly legal litigation.

The manner in which the agency and the commission allows several powders, by brand name, to be used during the muzzleloader only season, then bans the use of another powder, by brand name, is extremely discriminatory - especially since the powders, including Blackhorn 209, all share the same technical classification - as determined by the U.S. Department of Transportation - and the United Nations.

Over the past 12 months, the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website has had more than 1.7 million visitors, and they are now reading about how the Nevada Wildlife Commission and the Nevada Department of Wildlife are wrongly robbing Nevada's muzzleloading hunters of the opportunity to go afield with a superior muzzleloader propellant. Here's a link to a report published Sunday, February 3, 2013.

I would be very interested in hearing from any of you in defense of such non-serving muzzleloader hunting legislation. The end of this week, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING will issue a release, addressing this issue, that goes out to much of the media there in Nevada, and to the national outdoor media and to the shooting & hunting industry.

Toby Bridges