Why A Muzzleloader?

Some people ask me why I hunt with a muzzleloader during the regular firearms season. Some ask why – period. So here are my top 10 reasons to use a muzzleloader, in no particular order.

10. It extends your hunting season. Many states have a late season muzzleloader hunt. Why end your deer hunting after the firearms season? If you like quiet in the woods the late season is where it’s at. Plus landowners will be more willing to let you hunt after the regular firearms season.

9. I choose the ingredients. I get to choose the bullet, powder, and primer. The load I choose was developed over hours on the range and it’s customized to my gun. It’s like grandma’s sugar cookie recipe. After she mastered it each bite is perfection.

8. More challenging than a modern firearm. No doubt muzzleloaders now-a-days have a lot of modern features, but they are still one-shot ponies. Knowing that you only have one shot to put that deer down increases the challenge of the hunt and makes the reward that much sweeter.

7. Forces discipline. When you have 5 rounds in the magazine you may be tempted to gamble on some shots. Running deer, long distance deer, deer in the brush are some of the shots I hear people taking that require follow up shots. You cannot be as cavalier with a muzzleloader. You have one shot, make it count.

6. The process. I love the whole process of shooting a muzzleloader. Clean it, pour powder in, start and load the bullet, prime it, fire, and clean it again. I feel it detoxes my system from stress.

5. More stuff. Yes, I get to buy more stuff. Muzzleloading requires a lot of stuff. And some of that stuff is trial and error, like bullets, powder, and primers. But the fun part is seeing how well those components work together.

4. Brings me closer to the game. It’s like baking your own bread versus buying it. You are involved with what goes into it and you hand-crafted the bread. Loading each component instead of just sliding a cartridge in the chamber makes me feel closer to the game that I take. And that makes me feel closer to nature, which is a purifying feeling after sitting in a desk in front of a computer all week.

3. Innovation. WHAT??? Isn’t a muzzleloader from the 1700s? True, the concept is, but there have been so many innovations in the past 30 years in regards to in-lines, powders, primers, bullets, and other components that it’s just a very exciting time to get into muzzleloading. Up and coming companies like LHR and rejuvenated companies like CVA are coming out with great products in some affordable price ranges. And then there are the smokeless options…sorry, starting to drool.

2. Affordability. I know this kinda contradicts the “More Stuff” point, but once you have all the starter components, the muzzleloader itself is pretty darn cheap compared to a rifle. For example, I picked up a CVA Wolf that didn’t appear to even have a shot fired from it for $100. I got a scoped CVA Accura V1, brand new, with a case, for $240. There are other brand new options out there from Traditions that will get you going for under $200. A new muzzleloader is a lot easier to get past the wife than a new rifle. The only thing that gets expensive is the components. So buy in bulk.

1. Great for new shooters! Muzzleloaders can be loaded with smaller powder charges so you can get your kids out shooting light loads. You can’t do that with grandpa’s 30-06. As they get older you can increase the charge accordingly.

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Pellets Vs. Powder

Open any hunting magazine, internet article, or manufacturer propaganda and you can be lead to believe that pellets are the wave of the future. CONVENIENCE! CONSISTENCY! SPEED! say the manufacturers and the media whores that peddle their product. What they don’t tell you are the facts.

1. Pellets are EXPENSIVE!

A box of Pyrodex pellets runs about $27. Each box contains 100 x  50 grain pellets. If you are shooting a 100 grain equivalent load then you get 50 shots per box. If you’re shooting a “magnum” load, that’s 33 shots per box.

So just for the propellant you’re looking at $0.54 a shot for a 100 grain load, $0.82 for a 150 grain load.

Compare that to Pyrodex powder, which sells for about $27 A POUND. There are approximately 7000 grains of powder in a 1 pound canister – give or a take a few grains since the canister is measured by weight but you measure out your powder by volume. That will give you 70 shots per canister with a 100 grain load, 46 shots with a 150 grain load.

This breaks down to a cost of  $0.39 per shot for a 100 grain load, $0.59 per shot for a 150 grain load.

The cost difference: 

100 grains powder vs. pellets: $0.15

150 grains powder vs. pellets: $0.23

If you shoot 200 rounds per year….pellets will cost you an additional $30 (which is a canister of powder) if you’re shooting 100 grains of powder. $46 a year for 150 grain charges.

What can you get for $46?

a) 3 packs of TC Shockwave 200 grain bullets or,

b) 1 full canister of Pyrodex (almost 2) or,

c) About 950 2.5″ cotton patches or,

d) 2 liters of Southern Comfort

If you don’t care about the cost savings, let’s go to the bar and you can pay.

2. Pellets are INACCURATE!

Pellets have proven to be more inaccurate than loose powder when comparing volume to volume loose vs. pellets. “What does the propellant have to do with accuracy? Isn’t that the gun and the bullet’s job?” you may ask.  While the gun and the bullet play major roles in accuracy, the propellant is just as important for one main reason: CONSISTENCY. If your propellant delivers the bullet out of the muzzle at a consistent velocity each and every time then you have solved one factor of the accuracy equation. Pellets just don’t produce consistent velocities…and here is why:

The Crush Factor – When you seat your bullet more times than not you will crush or crack one or both (or all) pellets. Those cracks and crushed bits will cause the pellets to burn differently each time, resulting in different velocities each time the weapon is fired. Think of it this way. If you split a piece of paper down the middle, how does it ignite compared to a whole piece of paper lit at the same position? Now cut another slit in it. How does that burn compared to the paper with one slit? Since you cannot predict how the pellets will crack that unknown factor will always exist.

Waste Barrel Real Estate – If you have used pellets before you notice you don’t have to use a ramrod to get them down the barrel. They are a smaller diameter than a .50 caliber barrel.  When you throw two pellets down the barrel there is space around the pellet. Since they don’t land perfectly centered each time that space could be all on one side, 30% on one side / 70% the other, or a million other variations. Put three pellets in and you end up with a Jenga tower in your barrel. All that unused space takes away from the amount of rifling your projectile will encounter as it leaves the barrel. It is a long standing truth that a longer barrel will give you better velocity and better accuracy.  So the more use-able barrel you have the better.  Also, as the pellets ignite the gases will fill the un-used space first and then push the projectile forward. With powder there is no wasted power. It all goes forward.

See the illustration below. The image on the left shows two pellets stacked, perfectly centered, with no breakage. The middle image shows two pellets stacked, perfectly centered, with breakage. The third image shows what your barrel looks like with powder.  Powder will look the same each an every time (as long as you measure correctly). Pellets are a crap shoot.

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Soak up moisture like a sponge – According to Federal Cartridge Company, un-fired Triple 7 pellets can absorb up to 30% moisture in humid conditions. One cause is the boxes they come in are not air-tight which gives pellets a limited shelf life. As the moisture content increases velocity decreases and the probability of failed ignition increases. If pellets were easier to ignite in the first place, why would they have to place a small amount of black powder at the base of the pellet? This alone is cause for concern. If you saw my experiment with Blackhorn 209 and Triple 7, having a combo propellant may help ignition but it didn’t do anything for accuracy.

3. Pellets Assume One-Size-Fits-All

With pellets you have two options:

2 Pellets or 3 Pellets

Not bad if you are a mindless drone. However, most muzzleloaders have a load that will bring out the best in that rifle.

With powder you have a multitude of combinations. This is important if you are working up a load for a youngster or anyone shy of recoil as you can use a lighter load that still performs adequately.

In working up a load many people will start at 80 grains but you can go as low as 70 grains when shooting Blackhorn 209 and go all the way up to 150 grains (120 for Blackhorn 209). Usually somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. Part of the enjoyment of a muzzleloader is finding that sweet spot.  So get a bunch of speed loaders (I have about 30 of them), load them up with 3 charges of the following (for Pyrodex or Triple 7):

  • 80 grains
  • 90 grains
  • 100 grains
  • 110 grains
  • 120 grains
  • 130 grains

You should see your groups get better or worse. If they are getting better, keep going. If they get worse, go backward. The charge that gives you your tightest group is your winner. You can further fine-tune your charge by trying intermediate charges by (+) or (-) 5 grains.

I have found that my guns shoot best with 110 grains of Triple 7 and a 200 grain TC Shockwave. This produces sub-1″ groups at 100 yards.

Still undecided? Read more about the pellet / powder battle below:

Article by Randy Wakeman: http://www.chuckhawks.com/pellets_dummies.htm

Accessories!

As you get started in muzzleloading you’ll need to get plenty of accessories. Unlike shooting a centerfire rifle muzzleloaders require a lot of  “stuff” to do it right. But all that stuff is what makes it so much fun! If you’re going out to buy your first muzzy the “what to buy” can be daunting. Do you listen to the pimple-faced kid behind the counter that’s never smelled that sweet smell of sulfer before? Heck no! Here’s your list to help you avoid buying junk you don’t need and to get you started off on the right foot.

Powder Measure ($10-$15) – A powder measure is necessary for measuring out the grains of powder. Most go in 10 grain increments up to 150 grains. The better ones have a funnel that doubles as a leveling device. Do NOT compact the powder. Just like measuring flour.

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Flask ($10-$20)- A flask is an intermediary device between the powder jug and the powder measure. It has a spout so you can control the amount of powder going into the measure.

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Powder Funnel ($4)- A powder funnel goes on the end of the powder jug so you don’t spill the powder going into the flask.

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Speed Loaders ($0.88 – $8)- Speed loaders allow you to pre-measure several powder charges prior to hitting the range or the field. It’s best to measure them at home that way you don’t waste valuable range time measuring powder. I generally go to the range with 15-20 pre-measured speed loaders, depending on what I plan to accomplish. I found a great deal on .45 cal speed loaders at Cabela’s – $0.88 for a pack of 3. Regular price is $5.99 for a 3 pack. While I shoot a .50 I only use them for powder and a .45 speed loader holds 150 grains of powder. Score!

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Range Rod ($15-$45) – The ramrods that come with a muzzy typically suck. They’re short and don’t have handles. They are basically meant for field use. Using a range rod to at least clean the barrel makes life much easier as they have a decent handle and are much longer. You can use the rod from your cleaning kit for this if you choose. There are some high quality range rods out there, including some with a handle that spins so it follows the rifling. You get what you pay for so be mindful of your purchase.

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Muzzleloader Cleaning Kit ($30) – I like this kit from Cabelas. It contains all the essentials: Cleaning rod, breech plug lube, a few patches, a .50 cal wire brush, .45 cal wire brush, and cleaning jags.

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Spin Jag ($18) – A spin jag attaches to the end of your ramrod and twists with the bullet or patch as it is pushed down the barrel. This allows the sabot to have the rifling cut into it so it follows the same path out, resulting in a more accurate bullet. And since you’re not pushing against the rifling but with it, it makes for easier loading.

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Tool Box ($14 – $20) – You’re going to need some place to put all your supplies. A possibles bag is only good enough for out in the field. When you hit the range, you need a tool box big enough to handle everything. Try to find one deep enough to hold a jug of powder and compartments for bullets, allen wrenches, jags, etc. I have a 23″ Stanley I picked up at Wal-Mart for $16.00.

2.5″ Round Cotton Patches ($12 for 250) – The touch, the feel of cotton. Nothing beats it for soaking up propellant residue. Go down the black powder aisle of a sporting goods store and most have 2″ patches. Those are far too small for a .50 cal rifle. Find some good 2.5″ round cotton patches.

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Ballistol ($14) – Ballistol is a great all purpose cleaner / lubricant.  For a cleaning solution, mix 50% Ballistol with 50% water and soak your patches in it.

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Palm Saver / Bullet Starter  ($5 – $30) – A good foundation is the start of a good home. Same goes for loading bullets. You need to start your bullet properly in order to get the best accuracy. In order to reduce and consolidate my tools, I prefer the Traditions 4-in-1 Loader. It’s a speed loader, bullet starter, palm saver, and a bullet holder all in one. 4 -in-1 loaders come from several manufacturers, they all serve the same purpose. Or you can get one specifically meant as a palm saver / bullet starter like the SpinJag starter (shown below). Thompson, CVA, Knight, Cabela’s and others also make bullet starters. Be sure you get one that can accommodate the type of bullet you’re using.

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Breech Plug Grease ($5) – The little tube of breech plug grease that comes in the cleaning kit will probably last 1-2 seasons. But it’s messy. Pick up the CVA Breech Plus Anti-Seize Grease Stick.

Breech Plug Cleaner ($9)- If you are shooting 777 or Pyrodex, you definitely need some breech plug cleaner. Thompson Center makes a good one. It comes with a basket that you put the breech plug in, dunk it in the solution, and VOILA! A clean plug.

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2 x Zip-Lock Containers – (about 2.5″ – 3″ in diameter and 3″ deep) ($10 for a 12 pack) – I use these containers for the following purpose:

1. One container for dry patches – to keep them clean, dry, and organized.

2. One container for wet patches – get them just damp with a mixture of Ballistol and water.

This is a big help in managing your time at the range and not making a mess of things.

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Allen Wrenches – Seems like everything on a muzzy uses an allen wrench. Keep extras in your box for your buddies and you’ll be a hero.

Drill Bits – The drill bits are used to clean out the flash hole and primer seat of the breech plug. Each breech plug has a different sized hole so you’ll have to do some checking to find the right size.

Priming Tool (if needed) – If your breech plug requires the use of a priming tool your rifle should have came with one. If not, this should be in your arsenal.

Possibles Bag – This will be what you carry out into the field. A small container of patches, some bullets, speed loaders,  primers, breech plug wrench and allen wrenches are all you really need.

Optional

Chronograph – If you really want to get down and dirty on velocity. A chronograph will help you in determining the maximum effective range of your powder / bullet combination.

Digital Caliper – Digital calipers are nice for measuring groups, bullets, barrels, etc. They can be picked up for as little as $15.

Lead Sled – A lead sled is must for discovering the true ability of your muzzleloader. There are a lot of variables in shooting and having a solid rest will help narrow those variables. If you’re shooting 100 grains or higher a lead sled will tame the kick and help you focus on trigger pull.

NOT NEEDED:

Pellets – While not an accessory, I just want to make sure you never buy these. Unless there is a zombie apocalypse and the only gun you have is a muzzleloader and some pellets, there is never a good reason to buy pellets. I will have a post in the near future explaining why.

Bore Butter – Unless you are loading a patch and a round ball, bore butter is useless. Muzzleloaders do not need to be ‘conditioned’ like a cast iron pot. You also shouldn’t be putting bore butter on a sabot. It may make it easier to load but that means it comes out easier, increasing the slippage and not catching the rifling. For storage, clean the rifle and run an oiled patch down the bore. Shooting a round with a barrel lubed in bore butter causes the second and preceding shots to be different. You want consistency. Always shoot with a clean barrel.

Scale – Black powder is measured in volume, not by weight. This being there are different densities between the different types and all load data is based on volume. Weighing your powder does not make you more consistent.

Bullet / Patch Puller – If you need to remove a bullet, pull the breech plug and push it through. Using a bullet puller will wreck the tip of your bullet. If you use the bullet puller 5 times, you’ve already doubled your cost of the puller because you’ve ruined 5 bullets. I’ve never had a patch get stuck on me so I don’t see a need to have a tool for a < 1% scenario.

If you haven’t purchased your gun yet, hold tight. The 2012 Muzzy Round-Up is just around the corner to help you make your decision.