300 Yard Muzzleloading Hunting, Part One

By Randy Wakeman

The lethality of heavy for caliber, .45 caliber projectiles is beyond question. It was back in 1880 when Report of the Secretary of War, 1880, Volume III, under the chapter titled, "Extreme Ranges of Military Small Arms," stated:

"The firing was done by Mr. R.T. Hare of Springfield Armory who has the enviable distinction, so far as is known, of being the only person in the world who has hit the Bull's-Eye six feet in diameter at 2,500 yards with three different rifles, and who has ever fired at and hit so small a target as that described in this report at 3,200 yards. In comparison with this, all other so-called long range firing pales into insignificance. The gun was held under the arm, a muzzle rest only being used."

In the November, 1977 issue of Rifle magazine, W. John Farquharson wrote:

"While these tests may be considered mere oddities today, they proved extremely useful at the time. The fact that the 500-grain bullet penetrated through the three-plank target and eight inches into sand meant that it could kill or wound enemy troops at extreme distances, even if they were partially protected and that was significant military information in a period when it was quite usual for large masses of troops to form up within view of defenders. Although no average infantryman could be expected to equal Mr. Hare's accuracy, a large number of defenders shooting from barricade rests and given the proper sight adjustments for the range could severely harass companies and larger bodies of enemy troops at previously unheard-of ranges."


There is naturally a huge difference between military area fire, long distance shooting and ethical hunting. You get to decide what is ethical, for you, under your conditions.

As a rule, the less anyone knows, the more bemused he is by the complicated. This was the comment from the late Jack O'Connor (Dean of American Gun Writers), expressing disdain for gimmicky, busy scope reticles in his 1970 book, The Hunting Rifle. Mr. O'Connor could barely contain his contempt for bracketing reticles in scopes, noting that animals come in different sizes and that they must pose with the proper presentation and the hunter must have his scope in a rocky-steady, vice-like grip to allow for any proper measurement. Mr. O'Connor went on to discuss his general contempt for long range hunters, who left as much wounded game in the field as they brought in and the tremendous ignorance of the hunter who put his faith in factory charts and trajectory tables.

Mr. O'Connor debunked the peculiar notions of knock-down power, shock, velocity and bore size as being definitive of anything. He joked of the velocity worshippers and also had fun with the big bore pounds-feet aficionados, who felt that bullet weight was everything. O'Connor felt that any shot that required hold-over was likely reckless, unnecessary and unsportsmanlike.

Mr. O'Connor's feelings on the matter were also memorialized his 1967 masterpiece, The Art of Hunting Big Game in North America, one of the most comprehensive and well-written books ever published on the subject. In Chapter 21 of this epic tome, Jack O'Connor laid down some rules about long-range hunting. Among them are the following:

  • A long-range shot should never be taken if there is a reasonable chance of getting closer.
  • A long-range shot should never be taken if the rifleman feels doubtful of his ability to make a good, solid, well-placed hit in the vitals.
  • A long range shot should never be taken if the hunter cannot get into a solid position, such as prone with sling or from a solid rest.
  • A long range shot should never be taken at an unwounded, running animal.
  • A long-range shot should never be taken if the animal can get out of sight so quickly that it would be difficult to ascertain the effect of the shot.
  • A long-range shot should not be taken if the range is so great that a hold on the top of the shoulders will not drop a bullet into the chest cavity.

Jack O'Connor, after writing his set of rules, went on to say that likely some folks would find them a bit on the conservative side, but he felt that anyone with respect for what they were hunting would well appreciate that it would help eliminate unnecessary wounding, leaving wounded animals in misery to die several days afterwards with coyotes ripping the living flesh from their bodies after they became too weak to elude them.

For the most part, Jack O'Connor was completely right. The human animal is a jumpy, nervous, unsteady concoction of muscles and nerves. Mr. O'Connor found even the best hunters to be horrible at estimating range and had no problem soundly and loudly criticizing both himself and his wife, Eleanor (an extremely experienced hunter in her own right), for some poor judgment exhibited in their earlier hunting days.

It is with respect for the magnificent animals we hunt and a sense of duty to do our homework before we go afield that the discussion of what ethical long-range hunting is and what we should consider before we launch a bullet that cannot be called back. Things have improved for us in recent years, so we can be a bit more precise at longer ranges than Jack O'Connor could. The advent and popularity of the laser rangefinder has played the most important role in this.

O'Connor's comments that any shot that required hold-over was likely reckless, unnecessary and unsportsmanlike would not be well-received today, particularly by riflescope marketing departments. You won't find one major scope company that doesn't encourage and market exactly what Jack O'Connor expressed such deep contempt for: hold-over. (Jack O'Connor was absolutely correct and he had hundreds of times more actual hunting experience than any marketing guru today. -Editor.)

Jack O'Connor's sentiments that you cannot buy experience, wisdom, or judgment are, of course, true. Nevertheless, some things have changed which do answer and partially overcome the longstanding objections of Jack O'Connor, as I'll do my best to cover in Part Two.

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Copyright 2014, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.