300 Yard Muzzleloading Hunting, Part Two
Jack O'Connor's objections to long-range hunting were not muzzleloading-specific. Mr. O'Connor was objecting to long range hunting in general, as it gives the impression that living game animals are no more important than gongs, pieces of a paper, balloons, or anything else you try to hit to win a belt buckle, or just want to boorishly brag about.
Let's start with a .45-70 Government 405 grain bullet at 1305-1330 fps, one of the most common hunting loads of all time. The Remington factory load uses a 405 grain .281 G1 BC projectile at 1330 fps. It has a Maximum Point Blank Range (+/- 3 inches above or below the line of sight), of 135 yards. To obtain this, the zero range is 114 yards. This load is lethal past 500 yards, but precise shot placement is virtually impossible under hunting conditions. To comport to the Jack O'Connor avoidance of hold-over, it is a 135 yard load on whitetail deer. While the ballistic profile of this load is a dramatic improvement over a round ball, it remains a short range load.
A .451 caliber, Whitworth style 480 grain bullet (BC .300) at a MV of 1325 fps has the same 135 yard range. This is an effective load for most game, as proven by Doc White. If you are an ethical hunter in the style of Jack O'Connor, your job is to get within 135 yards of your animal.
However, with a modern, strong muzzleloading rifle we can substantially improve the maximum point blank range. Here are some modern .45 caliber bullets (.452-.458 inch diameter) and loads:
No longer is 135 yards the maximum ethical distance; it is now 200-233 yards without much drama (aside from increased recoil and a much lighter bullet). 250 yards is now a reality, using the top of the shoulder hold Jack O'Connor suggested.
While this may not make the headlines, 250 yards is a significant improvement over the classic .45-70-405 load. It represents about an 85 yard increase in ethical range and an increase of over 62% in maximum point blank range. (Note, however, that a 300 grain, .45 bullet has a sectional density of only .204, compared to the .272 SD of a 400 grain .45-70 bullet. -Editor.) My standard load for the last decade has been a 300 grain saboted projectile at 2300 fps.
CLUELESSNESS ABOUT RANGE
Jack O' Connor was right when he wrote that most hunters have no ability to estimate range accurately by eyeball. However, laser rangefinders have largely solved this problem. Even if you are facing a situation where shooting at steep inclines is a possibility, true ballistic range laser rangefinders are increasingly common. The most sophisticated, the G7 BR2 by Gunwerks, even takes into account temperature and barometric pressure, as well as incline.
WHY START WITH 100 YARD ACCURACY?
The reason to work-up loads at 100 yards, not 200 yards or longer, is the resolution of the data. It is the loads that are being tested, not wind or the shooter. This is why reliable accuracy testing is done in a 100 yard test tunnel, where wind is not a factor. In addition, the rifles are fired from machine rests or fixtures. This minimizes the effect of the two worst factors that contaminate the data: the human factor and the wind. Both are unpredictable. After your 100 yard load work up is completed, the load you have selected must shot at both the midrange and the longest range at which you intend to hunt to confirm the trajectory under your ambient conditions.
ARE 300 YARD SHOTS EVEN WORTH BOTHERING WITH?
That is an open question. As a friend of mine likes to put it, you'd have to be the world's worst whitetail deer hunter or in the worst whitetail hunting area in North America not to be able to get within 200-250 yards of your buck. Indeed, most whitetail are taken inside 100 yards with all firearms, the average shot being 86 yards. In many areas, you can't even see a deer in the woods at 100 yards, much less greater distances. If that is the type of area you are hunting, the answer to the question above is, "Of course not."
Long range whitetail deer hunting half a hour after sunset makes little sense, as in the failing light after sunset it is difficult to tell the difference between a button buck or spike buck and a doe at 200 yards. Of course, daylight hunting and longer ranges are common for mule deer and pronghorn antelope. Elk and moose have much larger kill zones than deer, so 300 yards requires less exact shot placement, commensurate with the larger kill zones.
By using lighter bullets and heavy powder charges, muzzleloaders can be loaded to .458 Win. Mag. muzzle velocity levels. However, the .458 Win. Mag. is not a rational choice for deer hunting. The much less powerful .458 SOCOM makes more sense as a deer cartridge. It is a 35,000 psi MAP cartridge that produces 2150 fps with a 250 grain bullet, 1900 fps with a 300 grain bullet and 1860 fps with a 325 grain bullet. Muzzleloaders have equalled or bettered .458 SOCOM performance for many years, without unacceptable recoil or excessive noise levels that may cause permanent hearing damage.
If you are well informed, which all of my readers naturally are, you know a 300 yard muzzleloader doesn't exist in terms of maximum point blank range. The .270 Winchester is a 305 yard MPBR cartridge. Common sense tells us that isn't happening from a muzzleloader, unless we are shooting a 130 grain, .277 inch SP bullet at 3140 fps MV, and no muzzleloader does that.
Nevertheless, accurate 300 yard shooting is possible under ideal conditions and at large targets. The point is largely "Boy Scout's Motto." A savvy hunter, prepared for 300 yard shots under perfectly ideal conditions, knows that hunting is never under ideal conditions. Animals are not stationary, shooting isn't done in a test tunnel, ambient light is rarely laboratory perfect, animals don't pose exactly broadside at known distances, we aren't surrounded by wind socks and we don't drag lead sleds or mechanical rests into tree stands.
The point of 300 yard practice isn't beer-foam filled obnoxious bragging, or encouragement of slob-hunting. If you are proficient at 300 yards on paper, you'll be better prepared on a hunt where 190, 215 or 230 yards is an ethical shot opportunity.
Anybody can get a bullet out of a muzzle faster by packing in more powder. The problem is, deer don't care how fast you miss them and the fastest load out of the muzzle usually isn't the most accurate. Eardrum-splitting muzzle blast, over pressure loads and abusing your shoulder do not promote accuracy.
Nevertheless, a 300 grain Parker Match Hunter at 2300 fps has a 6 inch kill maximum point blank range (MPBR) of 228 yards. At 2100 fps, the MPBR is 208 yards. Although not what intoxicated advertising departments want to hear, those are loads that would make Jack O'Connor smile. They are still quite dramatic and impressive.
In April 2014, gun writer David Petzal and some friends conducted a hunting accuracy (a sloppy term) test of sorts with .300 Weatherby rifles, shooting at 100 and 200 yards. The idea was to compare the hunting accuracy of lightweight vs. standard weight rifles. The results should give everyone pause. The lightweight rifle average group size was 8.26 inches at 200 yards; the standard weight rifle average group size was 6.69 inches. These results showed that even top quality, standard weight, .300 Magnum rifles, shot by experienced shooter/hunters under simulated field conditions, are not 300 yard guns. It makes you wonder, or at least it darn well should.
"Everything Out to 200 Yards is Toast" was the nebulous ad-brag of Thompson-Center several years ago, referring to the Encore. There was a debate soon thereafter, regarding whether the "toast" ads should be increased to 250 yards, or even 300 yards, because they managed to kill a couple of hogs in Texas at 300 yards. Naturally, they didn't bother to count the hogs that were gut-shot and lost, or just flat-out missed. The Encore ad-brag stayed at 200 yards.
1/1000th of an inch movement at the muzzle equates to about one inch at 100 yards. Holdover reticles are not accurate unless you work up your own personal ballistic profile. The 1/4 MOA clicks in most scopes aren't perfectly accurate, either. Whether they are sufficiently accurate enough for your purposes is something you can discover only by doing the field shooting in your own rifle. In order to make longer ranges manageable, you need both good velocities and good ballistic coefficients. One without the other is like Laurel without Hardy.
Wind drift is a major problem at extended ranges. Two examples come to mind, both excellent loads within their limits. The new Federal 270 grain Trophy Copper bullet hits about 2200 fps at the muzzle with 120 grains by volume of Blackhorn 209. It is a beautiful load for the vast majority of whitetail hunting, but not for shooting at 300 yards. At 300 yards, the 10 MPH wind drift is 30.79 inches and 10 MPH is only a mild breeze. A Parker Match Hunter 300 grain bullet at the same 2200 fps muzzle velocity has a 10 MPH wind drift of 12.03 inches at 300 yards, enough to blow the bullet out of the kill zone. Keep these facts in mind the next time you contemplate a long shot at a game animal.
Copyright 2014, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.