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Common Muzzleloading Questions from Guns & Shooting Online Readers

By Randy D. Smith


While I haven't submitted a lot of articles lately to Guns & Shooting Online, I normally get two or three questions a week from readers, which indicates to me that a lot of people access this web site. The following are four that are representative of a lot of the inquiries I get on muzzle-loading and my fairly standard responses. I've left out the names of the writers.

With the demise of several muzzleloading magazines this is about the only format left where you can get some fairly unbiased (I hope) answers. Always glad to share when I can. Perhaps these examples will be of value.

.54 Caliber for Bear Hunting

Q: I am planning a black bear hunt in Maine this Sept. I have a Remington 700 in-line .54 caliber muzzle loader that I would love to take. The guy there said that most of my shots would be 50 yards or less. I have changed my 700 from standard caps to the 209 primer and have been using 85 grains of triple f powder; the ignition seems to be really quick, almost like a centerfire rifle.

A: I use 325 grain Powerbelt and some 425 gr. Barns-X bullets. Since this is my first bear hunt I really want to make a clean kill the first time. I had planned on doing some testing with loads say go up on powder every 5 grains up to a maximum of 130 gr. with 3-shot groups testing for accuracy. Do you have any suggestions?

Your rifle has a 1:48 twist, so high powder charge rates can hurt your accuracy. Your present 85 grain charge is plenty and will shoot through any black bear walking the woods. I don't like Powerbelts, not just a little bit. I don't have any use for them and would NEVER trust them on any potentially dangerous game hunt for fear of fragmentation or poor penetration. I don't like the Barnes-X bullet because it loads hard and it over engineered for muzzleloaders. Expansion is erratic and accuracy only so-so.

I have an old White Bison in .54 that I use for bear hunting. I use 85 grains of FFg in it and musket cap ignition. I use White's 430 grain SuperSlug and Hornady's 435 grain Great Plains bullet in it. There are also T/C Maxi-Balls and Maxi-hunters available for the .54. The Maxi Ball is hard and designed for penetration and the Maxi-hunter is designed for expansion. Precision Rifle also markets some heavy lead conicals in .54. All of these conicals will give superior performance to either of your choices at the 85 grain charge level, be more accurate, kick less, and offer more bone breaking ability with less barrel contamination than the loads you mentioned.

My first recommendation for your gun is 85 grains of FFg with the 435-grain Hornady Great Plains bullet. You have a good dependable rifle that will handle that load very well. And it will kill any black bear dead, dead, dead at woods ranges. - RDS

.58 Caliber Hunting Suggestions

Q: I've had a .58 cal. H&R Springfield Stalker for some time but not really done any hunting with it. I mainly hunt whitetails and would like to use it this fall. I don't know much about the gun or loads sufficient enough to bring down game. I bought minis for it and Triple Seven powder. What is your opinion on this? Any other suggestions?

A: The original Springfield Stalker was ahead of its time. With the advent of 209 primers it came right back in style. Correct me if I'm wrong but the gun has a #11 percussion system and I don't know how well your individual gun will do with Triple 7. If your ignition is consistently delayed you may want to look at FFg black powder or perhaps Goex Pinnacle for ignition. Otherwise the gun is perfectly safe with Triple 7. As far as bringing down game, a .58 will knock the stuffings out of deer, feral hogs, moose, elk, and bear. You should have no problem in that area.

I recommend that you begin with a load of 60 grains of powder and get it to the range. I'd max the gun out at around 70 grains with mini-balls. (Too high a powder charge will cause gases to cut by the mini and hurt accuracy. The standard Civil War combat load was 70 grains.) You could certainly hunt deer with a patched round ball and do very well. My current .58 is a custom plains rifle. I use 100 grains of FFg and a patched round ball for deer and have no problem bringing them down out to 120 yards.

Sight you gun in at 2 inches high at 50 yards which should put you dead on (or thereabouts) at 100 and about three to four inches low at 120. Use a good grade of percussion cap: RWS, Remington, CCI to insure consistent ignition. Pay special attention to keep the percussion cap ignition channel clean. I like to soak mine in a good solvent after each day's shooting and blow through it to clear out residual moisture before re-installing it. Be sure to always grease the threads of the percussion nipple when installing it.

I don't think that you will have any problem with this gun if you keep it clean... especially the ignition channel. - RDS

Bullets, Sabots, Powder and Sighting-In

Q: I recently purchased a Nikon Omega scope for my Thompson Center Omega. When shooting at 50 yards I was an inch high with a super glide sabot @ 250 gr w/3 pellets. When I went back to 100 yards I was still using the super glide sabot @ 250 gr but it was the yellow tip not the blue. Blue being bonded and yellow being the spire point. At 100 yards it was now 5 inches low. After 2 more and adjustments it was ok. Why do you think it was so low at 100. Was it the change in sabots? I am going out again on Thursday to see if I have better luck. I did call Thompson center and I was told it should matter because the sabots were the same weight. My hands are up in the air. What do you think?

A: Lots of times I've had this situation develop with all makes of rifles. When I recently sighted in a Knight Revolution I had nearly identical results using 100 grains of Pyrodex T-7 Magnum pellets. But when I went back to 50 there was very little difference in impact points. I wouldn't get in a bit toot about it as long as your 100 yard groups remain consistent.... and they might not. The reason is pellet energy variances. I'll bet that if you try a powder such as Triple Seven powder, Pyrodex RS or P or Select, Goex Pinnacle, that you will not have as much variance. Pellets are nice and convenient but when three are stacked together ignition is sometimes inconsistent. Do you really believe you need three pellet charges for hunting? You might try some T-7 Magnums (two pellets) and see if they aren't more consistent.

The main thing to remember is that when a deer is encountered at 30-50 yards with your load sighted in at 100 yards you may want to aim a bit low say two inches below where you'd normally shoot to be on target. My question is: After you sighted in at 100 yards, did you go back to 50 and see if there was really that much difference from your original sight in? You may find that you are only 1.5 or 2 inches high now at 50 which is more than adequate for deer shooting at all ranges. - RDS

Dialogue: Loading for 1880's Muzzleloading Shotgun

Q: I am a regular reader of Guns and shooting online and find much common sense written there. I have been shooting for nearly 30 years but am in the process of buying a GOOD condition, black powder hammer 12 or 20 bore Purdey or Holland from the late 1880's. I haven't used black powder arms before. I wanted your advice on building up a load with this using Pyrodex (black powder is a bit of a nightmare in Spain and UK) How would you go about this ?

A: Can you get Pyrodex over there? Pyrodex loads are usually comparable to black powder. Use RS or Select... if you end up going with black powder go with FFg. 80 grains by volume is a good beginning point for a 12 bore, 70 grains for a 20 bore. Using the same volume measure. I suggest an equal or slightly larger amount of shot... or if you are using a shot measure go with 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 ounces of shot. I like #6 shot because it patterns so well and use it on upland game, turkey, and small game. I would not load either barrel with more than 100 grains of powder for a 12 bore and 90 grains of powder on a 20 bore. I use 1/4 inch cushion fiber wads over shot and over powder. Over shot cards are fragile. Often I'll split the wad with my thumbnail when loading over shot. Pattern your gun at 30 yards shooting into a 30 inch circle if you like or simply mark a large center dot on the paper and aim each barrel at the center dot. Pattern each barrel on a separate paper. You want an even pattern with the shot evenly dispersed. If you have a concentration of shot in a circle with a light center (what is called a blown pattern) back off your powder charge by five or ten grains. If the shot is clustered or uneven, back off the powder charge. Roughly speaking, most of time, you will get a better pattern with about five percent more shot than powder. Do not try to over charge a black powder shotgun. You'll get more boom and smoke but your patterns will degenerate. Keep loads moderate and you should have good results. For hunting I suggest you get an upland bag with a shot snake and charger. It greatly aids with management of loading. www.trackofthewolf.com has some nice upland bags. Generally you can expect a good muzzleloader to rival a modern shotgun except for the slower loading. I use a Cabela's 12 gauge (Pedersoli) with screw in chokes but I doubt your guns will have that, but with a Purdey or Holland you shouldn't have any trouble. -RDS

Q: Hello again Randy, sorry to bother you, but I am a bit puzzled. As I said below I intend to use pyrodex which is readily available in UK and Spain and I understand is VOLUMETRICALLY the same as BP. Since my flask horn measures in drams (2-1/2 up to 3-3/4) and my shot flask measures 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 ozs and I need to use approx the same amount of shot as pyrodex, what is the conversion of drams into say 75 grains of pyrodex ? I can't find a table anywhere.

A: Conversion tables like that exist in the Lyman Black Powder Handbook and Dixie Gun Works has some conversion tables in the back of their catalogue.

  • 2-1/2 Drams = 68 grains
  • 2-3/4 Drams = 75 grains
  • 3 Drams = 82 grains
  • 3-1/4 Drams - 89 grains
  • 3-1/2 Drams = 96 grains
  • 3-3/4 Drams = 102 grains

Use 1-1/4 ounces of shot or 1-1/2 ounces of shot with any load. Pattern your gun to see what you prefer in your shotgun. I have my best luck with 100 grains of powder (3-3/4 Drams) and approximately 1-1/2 ounces of shot. However, your gun may pattern better with a lighter powder charge.

Don't get too hung up on trying to figure an exact load. Use the measures you have and see how they match. 1 1/2 ozs of shot will probably match up best with one of the loads above 3 Drams. 1 1/4 ozs of shot will probably match up best with 3 Drams or less of powder. The lighter load will work well for rabbits, squirrels, quail, and smaller game. The heavier load will work best for pheasants, partridge, prairie chicken, and turkeys.

I did not give you feet per second estimates or foot/pound of energy measurements because, frankly, they aren't important. What is important is the integrity of your patterns. Power, in and of itself, is a minor consideration with a black powder shotgun because ANY of these loads will kill the game I've mentioned at ranges out to 40 yards or so. Heavier powder charges will move heavier shot charges more efficiently and maintain patterns better and heavier shot will penetrate better than lighter shot... for instance, #6 or #4 shot will penetrate a pheasants feathers better than #7 1/2 shot because of the more efficient "momentum" of the heavier shot. You can't increase powder charges to make #7 1/2 shot penetrate better because that shot size will never be able to generate the same momentum and additional powder will only blow out the center of your pattern... further weakening the pattern effectiveness. So if your match up shot size to game size you then only need to worry about what powder charge/shot charge combination patterns best. I use #6 shot for everything except coyote calling. I use #2 shot for that through an extra-full turkey choke but my powder charge remains at 100 grains and my shot charge is 1-1/4 ozs. -RDS

Q: Many thanks again. It will be used on driven pheasant and partridge. Chokes are open and I think that I'll be using no.6 shot.

A: Your shots will be long and I advise that you go with 1-1/4 ozs of shot with a powder charge of 3-1/2 or 3-3/4 drams of Pyrodex. For a fast flying or even gliding pheasant crossing shots at 40 yards I advise that you lead your bird by at least three body lengths with black powder. I normally put my gun on the bird then swing forward the three body lengths, maintaining my swing even after pulling the trigger. You want to "Paint" the area with shot so the bird will fly into the pattern. For best results you want your pellets to strike the head and neck area. For straight away shots aim directly at the pheasant's butt and do not hesitate to give him a second round with open chokes. A plastic shot collar in your second barrel will easily give you an additional five yards of tight pattern. A plastic shot collar will act the same as a modified choke in an open choke gun. It will act like a full choke in a modified gun. Plastic shot collars in black powder guns should be simple affairs, basically a flat base with fairly light walls. I will normally cut petals in my plastic shot collars about half way down the walls of the collar if they aren't present. My load is then powder, wad, collar/shot, wad. - RDS

Muzzleloader Set up for Coyote Hunting

Q: I've read a lot of your articles where you talk about hunting coyotes with muzzleloaders. I have a .50 caliber CVA Kodiak. What kind of powder charge and bullet should I use? I was thinking about putting a 4-12X Blazer scope in it. What are your thoughts?

A: While a .50 caliber muzzleloader is not the perfect tool for coyote hunting, it will work. I use mine quite often on public hunting ground that restricts the area to shotgun and muzzleloader hunting only. I call with a pump shotgun in my hands but keep the muzzleloader at my side for shots beyond 50 yards.

I use a .50 caliber Traditions Pursuit Pro with a 3-9X Traditions Silver Reserve scope normally loaded with 260 grain Hornady .44 caliber hollow point bullets in black MMP sabots. My normal charge is 100 grains of Pyrodex Triple 7 pellets. I get good accuracy, more than enough killing power, and less expense than the high priced and unnecessary deer rounds. I imagine your CVA should handle the same or a similar load very well for coyotes. A 240 - 300 grain sabot load is all you need for them. I sight my rifle in to be dead on at 100 yards for coyotes. Don't try to charge the gun too heavily. Concentrate on accuracy rather than raw power. 80 to 100 grain powder charges should be fine.

Frankly, I don't believe you need such a high magnification scope on a muzzleloader for coyote hunting, but if that is what you have, it will work. Certainly a good 4X or 6X fixed power will work very well. Nearly all of my shots are taken at 3X - 6X magnification, with the vast majority on 3X. A coyote is a very small target and you want to call him in as close as possible before trying a shot with a muzzleloader. I like low power settings so I have a broad field of view as a coyote usually only stops briefly and you want to be able to find him quickly in your scope. Go for chest shots if you can. If he is facing you dead on, aim just below the chin, center mass. If he is less than 30 yards away, aim a bit low to counter trajectory.

I suggest you consider using cross sticks or a Harris bipod to gain the most stability you can for coyote shooting. You'll only have one shot and will never get a second with a muzzleloader. I suggest that you go to the range and practice extensively with the rifle, not just at 100 yards but 30, 50, 70 as well as 120 when you gain confidence in the rifle. Most of your successful shots will be at those ranges. - RDS

Taking a Double Barrel Muzzleloader to South Africa

Q: I read your article on hunting with a muzzleloader in Africa on Guns & Shooting Online. Good stuff! I am planning to go to South Africa next year to hunt and want to take a muzzleloader. I will be hunting plains game. I have been looking at the Cabela's Kodiak double and am considering on buying the .72 caliber. Do you have any opinions? How do I get black powder over there? Thank you for a response.

A: Yeah, I have a lot of opinions. While the romance of hunting with a big bore double barrel muzzleloader in Africa is certainly appealing, I just don't believe that you will be happy with the .72 for the hunting conditions you will encounter. If you want to take a Cabela's double barrel, I suggest that you look strongly at the .50 caliber model instead. You will have a much broader selection of projectiles and flatter trajectory. You certainly don't need a .72 for plains game and the trajectory will be terrible for long range shots. Most of your shooting opportunities will be from 50 to 150 yards with the vast majority at around 100.

The Cabela's double is a nice gun for the money but the barrels are not regulated for the kinds of loads you will need. You need to sight in one sight for one barrel and the other sight for the other. I suggest using the closest sight to you for the right barrel, front trigger and right hammer, at 50 yards. Sight in the back sight for the left barrel at 100 yards. I used the 425-grain Buffalo SSB sabot for most of my shooting and had excellent performance with charges of 120 grains of Pyrodex. A Cabela's Kodiak will kick like the devil with that load and the recoil will transfer into your upper right arm. A Kick-Killer slip-on recoil pad or something similar will be necessary.

Another double you might consider is the Traditions Express .50 over/under. It has a decent recoil pad, is very well balanced, and uses 209 ignition. It will work very well with Pyrodex Pellets, which are much easier to transfer on the airlines.

A third route that you might consider is to contact Dr. Gary White (www.whitemuzzleloading.com) about an inline .54 he is building. You can't have my .50 'cause it's going back someday.

The only way to use black powder is to have your outfitter order some for you over there. Don't even think about trying to slip the stuff by the airlines or customs in some clever fashion. I shudder to think of the trouble you could get into. Pyrodex pellets can be transferred in the original sealed package packed in a locked ammunition box and declared as muzzleloader ammunition. I've not had any trouble doing that on several airline trips.

A better option in my opinion is to take a good .50 caliber inline or sidelock mounted with a scope and take the double along as a backup-knockdown gun. If you do that than a .58 Cabela's Kodiak loaded with a good heavy conical would be ideal for backup duties and short range shots. Even the .72 would work for quick shots out to 70 yards. You will find, however, that the scope mounted .50 single shot will be your main shooting choice and is probably all you will need.

If you want to take a double, do it. I certainly don't blame you if you do. I probably would. Right now my first choice would be the Traditions Express double with a high quality 4X scope mounted on it. You have the best of both worlds going that route. - RDS




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