Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Getting The Most Out Of A Multi-Reticle Muzzleloader Hunting Scope

There are several different riflescopes now on the market which feature a reticle having multiple cross-bars, cross-plexes, cross-hairs or circles, offering built-in holdover for shooting at longer ranges...well, long range for a muzzleloader anyway.  Do they work?  Most certainly, but to fully benefit from using such a scope, today's muzzleloading hunter needs to know a thing or two about setting up a rifle and load in order to tap the full benefit of such optics for today's top performing muzzleloading big game rifles.

Here, we will be using the TB-ML muzzleloader scope from Hi-Lux Optics to provide pointers which will allow the muzzleloading hunter to sight in the primary crosshair at 100 yards with an accurate combination of powder...charge...sabot...bullet...and primer...then rely on three lower cross-bar plexes for placing shots at 200...225...and 250 yards.  The reason why we've chosen this scope is that the TB-ML model was developed out of all the shooting conducted for all of the information packed muzzleloader performance articles and reports that are published on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website.  We know that the locations of the longer range plexes were not determined through calculation...but rather through placing thousands of rounds downrange... because we did that shooting.

Take a look at the TB-ML reticle in the drawing at right.  Note the three shorter cross-bars below the center crosshair.  The locations of these "aiming points" were determined more by velocity and bullet ballistic coefficient than any other factors.  The reticle was developed using  a .50 caliber rifle loaded to get a saboted 250- to 300-grain bullet with a .210 to .250 b.c. bullet out of the muzzle at between 1,925 f.p.s. and 2,000 f.p.s.  If you are saying to yourself that such a wide range of bullets and velocities cannot all print "on" exactly the same at all these ranges...you are absolutely right.  But, for hunting, they don't have to.

The rifle shown in the photo at the top of this post actually belongs to a very good friend, and this summer (2013) I tweaked his load and scope to make it a deadly 250-yard big game rifle.  However, it is exactly like one of the rifles I now tend to shoot more often than any other - the .50 caliber Traditions VORTEK model.  And like all four of my VORTEK test rifles, this one is also topped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 3-9x40mm multi-reticle TB-ML muzzleloader hunting scopes.  The load it tends to like more than any other is 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind the saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet and black Crush Rib Sabot, both produced by Harvester Muzzleloading.  At the muzzle of this 28-inch barreled No. 209 primer ignition in-line  rifle, the load is good for 1,952 f.p.s., generating 2,535 foot-pounds of energy.  On a really good day, when conditions are ideal, and the shooter is up to it, the rifle and load will often punch a great sub 1/2-inch cluster at 100 yards, such as that shown here.

More typically, the groups I shoot are more like 1 1/4- to 1 1/2 inches, measured center-to-center.  While little things like 20 to 30 degree warmer or colder temperatures...shooting at 2,000 to 3,000 feet different elevation...or say a change of the humidity by 30- or 40-percent can cause the exact point of impact to shift a 1/4 to 1/2 inch from day to day, the fact remains that such accuracy will still take any big game animal with a center chest cavity hold at 100 yards.

Through the course of a year's worth of test shooting, I punch a lot of standard paper targets...and often get a little bored.  One enjoyable way to get in some beneficial shooting, especially when shooting with a multi-reticle scope, is to play around with cardboard cut outs that simulate somewhat life size shooting at game.  The above piece of cardboard is roughly 18 to 19 inches from top of what would be the back to bottom of the chest cavity.  It also measures right at 40 inches in length - relatively closely simulating the body size of a whitetail buck.

That 10" diameter paper plate also roughly simulates the so-called "kill zone" of a whitetail.  In other words, any reliable bullet design that can be put into this area with AT LEAST 800 F.P.E., and which is capable of transferring that energy to the target, will cleanly bring down a mature whitetail or mule deer buck.  Keeping hits in that "zone" is the key...and this is where the multi-reticle muzzleloader scopes can be key to being successful.
The 9 shots inside the kill zone shown on the cardboard silhouette at right include 3 shots at 200 yards (3.1 inch spread)...3 shots at 225 yards (3.6 inch spread)...and 3 shots at 250 yards (4.7 inch spread).  The proper hold-over cross-bar reticle of the Hi-Lux TB-ML scope was used at each range...and the three overlapping groups have an extreme spread of 6 inches (center-to-center). 

All 9 of these shots would have effectively put down a 200+ pound buck.  At 250 yards, a 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet (.250 b.c.), that left the muzzle at 1,952 f.p.s., would still be flying at around 1,300 f.p.s. at that distance, and would hit with 1,125 foot-pounds of retained energy.

The 260- and 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullets were the bullets shot most during the development and refinement of the TB-ML scope, shooting 110 grains of FFFg Triple Seven.  The charge got the 260-grain .220 b.c. bullet out of the muzzle of a 27-inch barreled Knight Long Range Hunter model at 2,018 f.p.s., and with the rifle sighted 1-inch high at 100 yards, then using the 200-yard cross-bar would print right at 2 inches high at that distance.  The same rifle, loaded with 110-grains of FFFg Triple Seven and the .250 b.c. 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold was good for 1,909 f.p.s. at the muzzle.  Again, sighted 1-inch high at 100 yards, then using the 200-yard cross-bar reticle, at 200 yards the heavier and slower bullet would print on the average 1 inch below point of aim. 

Due to the lower b.c. of the lighter 260-grain bullet, somewhere between 150 and 200 yards, it begins to slow faster than the higher b.c. 300-grain polymer-tipped spire-point.   Using the 225 yard cross-bar at 225 yards, the 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold will print pretty much "on", while the 300-grain version of the same bullet prints about an inch high.  Out at 250 yards, the 260-grain bullet hits the target around 2 1/2 inches below point of aim - the 300-grain bullet averages nearly 2 inches above point of aim.  Still, when it comes to maintaining "minute-of-whitetail", all of this is a moot point.  On more than one occasion I have conducted similar tests, shooting three shots at each range (using the proper cross-bar) with each bullet (with rifles sighted to print 1 inch high at 100 yards), and the extreme spread of all 18 shots rarely opens to more than 6 inches.

With a center chest cavity hold on deer sized game every one of these shots printed inside the "kill zone", and would have taken game.  Since developing the TB-ML scope with Hi-Lux Optics, I've only had to rely on the longer range cross-bar reticles a half dozen times to take game for the table.  However, I have used the scope on several different rifles to bust some 200 to 250+ yard coyotes, groundhogs, and other predators or vermin.  My longest shot was on a coyote that I had lasered at 256 yards.  I held just above center, and squeezed off the shot.  That yodel dog never knew what hit him.

The 110-grain charges of Blackhorn 209 I'm now shooting out of the .50 caliber 28-inch barreled VORTEK and the 30-inch barreled VORTEK Ultra Light LDR are just a bit faster than the charges of FFFg Triple Seven used when determining just where the longer range cross-bars of the TB-ML would be located.  Even so, that really has not changed the points of impact much once out at 200...225...250 yards.  The overlapping three 200, 225, 250 yard groups (9-shots) punched with my friend's Traditions VORTEK were shot with a muzzle velocity of 1,952 f.p.s., not 1,909 f.p.s. - and all 9 stayed in the kill zone.

The multi-reticle muzzleloader scopes do indeed work...and work very well.  However, no one should ever shoot at game at a range they have never shot at - no matter what some scope makers may lead you to believe.  The best advice anyone could give the muzzleloading hunter that's either new to a multi-reticle muzzleloader scope, or who is anticipating the purchase of one is to get out and shoot often at those longer ranges.

Another tip is to make absolutely sure that the reticle of the scope is perfectly squared with the bore.  If the crosshairs have even the slightest tilt (not square with the bore) to one side or the other, it will result in the shot being off to the side.  Sure, the crosshair itself is centered in the scope, and can still be sighted to print dead on at 100 yards.  But if the crosshairs are not level with a perfectly leveled rifle, then the 200...225...or 250 yard reticles will be off to one side or the other of the primary crosshair - which should be directly above the cross-bar being used. 

If it's not, then the scope is not squared with the bore.  If you already have a multi-reticle scope on your rifle, next time you are aiming with one of the longer range cross-bars, plexes or circles of your scope...note where the crosshair is on the target.  If it is slightly off to the right...your shot will go off to the right.  If it is off to the left...guess where your shot is going. 

Also, keep in mind that these scopes are still very, very useful when shooting considerably slower loads or much lower ballistic coefficient bullets.  While the so-called "200 yard" reticle...or the "225 yard" reticle...or the "250 yard" reticles may not be on AT THESE DISTANCES...they will still allow you to hold on at some longer range...and that would be up to you to do plenty of shooting to determine exactly where each prints the load you are hunting with.

Toby Bridges


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