Is a Modern Muzzleloader Like a Center-fire?
How often have you heard this tortured comparison? "An inline is like a cartridge gun, you might a well be shooting a center-fire," and on it goes. It's not like muzzleloading manufacturers haven't asked for this, and haven't brought a bit of this on themselves. A "Magnum Muzzleloader" doesn't exist, yet it has seemed to work for marketing purposes. T/C has bragged "Everything Out to 200 yards is Toast," and compared their Encore to a 7mm RemMag. Naturally, they aren't alone in the ad brag department.
Physics be damned, though, on both sides of the fence. A small, relatively young Italian muzzleloading company has publicly commented that "in-line rifles are closer to the modern high power cartridge rifles." Perhaps a new substance has been introduced into the water in Italy since I was last there? It is rare to read of a manufacturer making such bizarre, wrongheaded, easily disprovable statements. Perhaps this clumsy swipe at inline muzzleloaders has a little bit to do with their inability to successfully market one? I don't know; you'll have to judge for yourself.
Not everyone is shooting three pellet loads these days; far from it. The most common muzzleloading load used remains 90 - 100 grains of loose powder or "two pellets." For the sake of discussion, though, I'll use what some would call a "magnum, high performance load" of three pellets and a 250 grain sabot. Direct from Hornady's website, that equates to 2250 fps at the muzzle out of an Omega. Giving the 250 SST a generous BC of .200, sighted in 2 inches high at 100 yards, here is what we have at 300 yards: approximately 26.03 inches of drop, and a 10 mph wind drift of 24.05 inches. With a 20 mph cross wind, that is over FOUR FEET of wind deflection.
Moving on, let's take a 100 year old cartridge, the .30-06 Springfield. Federal ammo factory load P3006Q is a 165 gr. bullet @ 2800 fps, stated BC of .475. The old .30-06 is hardly the most impressive ultra long range cartridge in the rack these days, but remains the most popular.
Sighted in at 1.9 inches high at 100 yards, the drop at 300 yards is about 7-1/4 inches; only 28% as much as our magnum muzzleloader. The 10 mph wind drift is 6.29 inches- only about 26% as much as our super muzzleloader. Phrased differently, the hotter inline muzzleloading loads have over 300% of the drop, and nearly 400% of the wind drift of ye olde .30-06 Springfield. This example is far from the flattest .30-06 load around, and not even close to 7mm RemMag (or hotter) cartridges.
We haven't even begun to factor in rate of fire, where even a single shot cartridge rifle puts muzzleloaders to shame. We haven't touched upon pump and semi-auto rifled slug guns, or even bolt action repeaters. Certainly, muzzleloading performance has improved. But, so has everything else, from slug guns to cartridges. Revolver performance has as well: I don't want to neglect .454 Casull or .460 S & W fans. The balance, however, has not changed much at all.
Doc White summed up as well as anyone ever has, the best muzzleloaders have no more than half the effective range of modern centerfires. The difficulty level of placing a bullet where it counts with a muzzleloader is roughly twice that of a common centerfire; a 200 yard shot out of today's muzzleloaders is very roughly like a 400 yard shot out of a common centerfire. Federal factory load P300RUMD has a 6 inch MPBR of 316 yards, retaining 2000 fpe past 550 yards. To compare a muzzleloader with the .300 RUM level of exterior ballistics is to take extreme liberty with the truth. Facts don't bother some folks that shrilly cry out regardless of them, but exterior ballistics are what they are, regardless of the ignorance of them.
Working with three times the drop and four times the wind drift of a .30-06 is what the very best muzzleloaders do, with little hope of an instant follow-up shot. Therein lies the challenge, and the "one shot and make it a good one" approach.
Muzzleloading has long been an intimate sport, with the vast majority of animals taken inside one hundred yards, under fifty in many areas. Sure, the Queen of England pulled the string that pulled the trigger that fired the gun that broke the balloon at great range, and Elmer Keith shot a deer off-hand at 600 yards with his iron-sighted .44 Mag revolver. The odd, the strange, and the unusual may make for interesting reading, but they have little relevance to standard hunting practices. It merely offers fodder for those obsessed with what other people might do, rather than tending to their own field effectiveness.
What is relevant is the goal of taking animals as quickly, humanely, and as ethically as possible, regardless of range. That is a goal that is easily embraced.
Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.