Barnes Bullet/Sabot Selection Guide

By Randy Wakeman

Barnes bullets has the most comprehensive line of great-performing muzzleloading projectiles offered by any reputable manufacturer today. The more I shoot them, the more I like them. Though I shoot Barnes bullets more often than any other, I've not shot all the possibilities, and won't even begin to describe all of them. Only the bullets that I have had excellent results with at the range and on game, or which several trusted associates have uesd are listed here.

Some you are likely familiar with from their well known muzzleloading line; a few are likely bullets you've not tried yet and are from their XPB pistol bullet or rifle bullet lines, but are equally impressive when used out of frontloaders.

Barnes XPB Bullet #45120 .451 diameter, 225 grain

This is perhaps the most overlooked Barnes bullet offering of all. It loads easily in most muzzleloaders when combined with the MMP standard .451 x .50 black sabot. If you have a very tight barrel, the new MMP 3 Petal sabot reduces the assembled outside diameter even more. It is essentially a "250 MZ" bullet in a lighter weight. The benefit of this combination shows off what the Barnes all-copper bullets do, virtually 100% weight retention so you can use a lighter bullet while still out-penetrating heavier conventional bullets. Its deep hollow point expands all the way down to 1100 fps or so. It offers the attractive combination of both higher muzzle velocity and lower recoil when compared to 250 or 300 grain projectiles, with no loss of lethality on most game.

Barnes 250 grain MZ-Expander (#45125) and 300 grain MZ-Expander (#45130)

With attractive new packaging for 2006 and equally attractive pricing, these are the mainstays of the Barnes muzzleloading bullet line, and have been for the last decade. They come complete with current formulation MMP black "HPH-12" sabots, and there really is no better terminally performing muzzleloading bullet that you can possibly put into a game animal.

The deep "tube" hollow point guarantees expansion down to 1100 fps or a bit below, and they are have been used with great success not only on whitetail, but on black bear, caribou, elk, and moose as well. The 250 gr. Barnes MZ-Expander shoots beautifully out of most Knight Rifles and other higher quality .502 in. diameter 1:28 rate of twist inline barrels as well. If a specific rifle you might have is hard to load, a call to MMP sabots for a bag of their "HPH-24" .451 x .50 long-petaled sabots is the easy solution.

Though 250 grain class bullets remain the most popular weight for most inline muzzleloaders, I personally prefer a heavier bullet. That, and the fact the Savage 10ML-II I shoot most often has an easy time stabilizing heavier bullets with its 1:24 twist barrel means that I've hunted with the 300 gr. MZ-Expander more than any other muzzleloading bullet over the last few years.

Barnes 245 grain Spitfire MZ, 285 grain Spitfire MZ, 250 grain Spitfire TMZ, and Barnes 290 grain TMZ

The Barnes "Spitfire" 245 and 285 gr. bullets were new for 2005; the 250 and 290 gr. Spitfire TMZ bullets are new for 2006. They all share proprietary yellow MMP sabots that accommodates their boat tails, and all have relatively pointy noses that make them more ballistically efficient. They are the flattest shooting muzzleloading projectiles on the market in their weight classes, and as best I can tell at this point the 245 gr. Spitfires and the 250 TMZ Spitfires shoot very similarly.

The same can be said for the 285 Spitfires and the 290 TMZ Spitfires. The polymer tip on the TMZ bullets is what sets them apart from the rest of the Barnes MZ line. The construction of the TMZ is more of a traditional "MZ-Expander" gapping hollow point with a polymer tip than the Spitfire. Due to this I believe the TMZ will expand at lower velocities than the standard Spitfire, and would be my choice of the two offerings.

Barnes #45105 275 grain XPB

The new bullet was developed primarily for the .460 S&W revolver cartridge, but happens to shoot fabulously well in my Savage 10ML-II's when mated to the black MMP HPH-12 .451 x .50 sabot. It is also remarkably easy to load, has a streamlined nose and a flat base, usually an excellent muzzleloading combination. It has already killed deer and hogs instantly, and needs a bit more terminal velocity (1400 fps) to properly expand. It is one of the most impressive new bullets I've shot over the last six months.

Barnes Original Spitzer Soft Point .458 300 grain #457010

These are of the original Fred Barnes design: heavy copper jacket, .032 in. thick, and filled with pure lead. It was designed to be an extremely tough bullet, and they are.

When mated to the MMP Orange .458 x 50 sabot, it is the flattest shooting combination I have ever found that I've been able to shoot with excellent accuracy out of a muzzleloader: 1-1/8 in. @ 220 yards. It has blown through a hog at 7 yards and a pronghorn at 185 and 285 yards for me, and has done a great job for others as well.

Some may think it is a "bit much" for a whitetail; I sure hope so, that is the general idea. It needs more terminal velocity to expand (1600 fps guesstimated) but so far, it has killed everything it has been thrown at. The Barnes Originals remain popular choices for African game as well. I'd much rather have a bullet that holds together and penetrates deeply rather than quickly fragments when it touches hide. This bullet certainly qualifies.

Barnes X-Bullet #45832 Flat Nose 300 grain

This is sort of a 'trick' description, as what it really is essentially a 300 gr. MZ-Expander with a .458 outside diameter. This is great news for me, for it allows me to use my favorite sabot, the MMP Orange .458 x 50 sabot, which has been the most forgivingly accurate of any sabot I've ever used, tolerant of both temperature and powder charge. There is no reason to think that this bullet will perform less fabulously than the 300 gr. MZ-Expander has for me, as it is the same all copper bullet with a huge, gapping hollow point.

Barnes X-Bullet #45805 .458 350 grain

This bullet has the highest ballistic coefficient of any bullet I've ever shot out of a muzzleloader: a static BC of a whopping .402. It mates well with the Orange MMP sabot, and if you believe that too much is just barely enough-this is the bullet for you. A great shooter, and naturally a stout kicker when moved at good velocity.


This is not, by any means, the entire line of Barnes bullets suitable for muzzleloading use, but it does list my favorites. With such a variety of bullets to choose from, you might wonder what is best for you? What is "best" is not to listen to me, or anybody else for that matter. The only thing that can tell you what your gun likes to be fed is your gun itself. We don't like hearing it, we all want quick and easy "absolutes" in answers, but there is no substitute for range time.

There are a few trends, though. Thompson's seem to do well with the 245 gr. Spitfires, Knights seem to like the 250 MZ-Expanders and 290 Spitfires, and most other inlines will shoot the 250 MZ's or the 225 gr. XPB's when coupled with the proper sabot.

Another thing only the individual hunter can determine is the range at which the trigger is pulled. For inside 150 yard work, the bullet choice hardly matters. If you need to reach out and touch something, then the Spitfires or the 275 XPB is a logical starting point.

As for me, personally, I'm having a rough time deciding between the .458 300 gr. FN X Bullet, the 275 XPB, and the .458 300 gr. Barnes Original Spitzer Soft Point. They all do so well that it is a nice problem to have.

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Copyright 2006, 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.