Hunting Modern South Africa with Powder and Ball
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Big Boomers from Doc White

By Randy D. Smith

Docs Big Boomers
The author�s White Muzzleloading .58 caliber Leman plains rifle and 12 bore English Sporting Rifle. Photo by Randy D. Smith.

Almost twenty years ago I was just getting started as a field editor for Blackpowder Hunting magazine and was a periodic muzzleloader writer for Rifle and Shotgun Sport Shooting. Blackpowder Hunting was begun by Basil Bradbury to promote the hot inline muzzleloader market through an organization known as the International Blackpower Hunting Association. I had access to virtually any muzzleloader I wanted and hunted with and reviewed a number of rifles, muskets and shotguns.

I decided that I wasn�t going to get on the Knight, Thompson/Center and CVA bandwagons. There were plenty of writers discussing those inlines. I chose to write about and hunt with products from some of the smaller companies at that time. The three I picked were Traditions, Pedersoli and White. I also used a number of sidelock and historical Dixie Gun Works and Navy Arms models. Things got so hectic and writing demands so great that I didn�t hunt a deer season for nearly ten years with a conventional cartridge rifle. I usually took three or four deer a season with three or four different muzzleloaders. I learned a lot about inline muzzleloaders, had a whale of a bunch of fun and came away thoroughly indoctrinated with the heavy bullet, moderate powder charge, high momentum theories of muzzleloader performance often expounded by Dr. Gary White of Roosevelt, Utah.

Doc White was the inventor of the White Muzzleloader System and I witnessed stunning field performance from his rifles and loads. I hunted all over North America with White inlines. I also hunted South African plains game and Florida Asian water buffalo with Doc. I have one room in my house literally ringed with trophies taken with White muzzleloaders from all over the world. I still consider the White Super 91 to be the best inline muzzleloader ever placed on the market.

I later enjoyed outstanding performance from the White Thunderbolt and will put that design up against any 209 ignition muzzleloader ever produced by anyone. There is a .54 caliber White Bison in my gun safe that has been one of the best brush busters I�ve ever owned. I had a custom .50 caliber English Sporting Rifle and a custom .50 caliber double from Doc that were simply excellent. Needless to say, I have a high opinion of both the original White inlines and Doc�s current line of custom muzzleloaders.

Well, both magazines are out of print, the inline craze has subsided a bit, and many of the inline rifle companies are gone. I still hunt with Traditions rifles for various magazine articles, but I don�t have much interest in anyone else�s new inlines. I wanted to go back to my original reasons for muzzleloader hunting. I wanted a good, historically accurate, round ball, sidelock muzzleloader that would take everything from whitetails to elk or even bear and still be historically accurate enough for my reenactment activities. I also wanted a big bore gun preferably in .58 caliber or larger. A good .58 sidelock is a heck of a flexible muzzleloader. A hunter can take feral hogs or deer at moderate range very effectively with a patched round ball and a modest powder charge. Nearly anything else in the world can be taken with a .58 caliber 555 or 600 grain conical and a larger powder charge. For primitive, open sight, black powder hunting, I�ll chose a .58 round baller as my first choice. I don�t have the range or trajectory of the more modern .50 caliber inlines, but I can do some impressive work with a big .58 at open sight ranges.

When it came time to order that rifle I turned to my old friend, Doc White, who still hand builds some impressive historically accurate muzzleloaders. I told Doc that I wanted a plain Jane, historically accurate, .58 caliber plains rifle. That was all the instruction he got from me. After hunting and talking muzzleloaders with Doc for nearly all of those 20 years, I knew that I didn�t need to tell him anything else.

Several months later I took delivery on a Doc built Leman 58 caliber half-stock with back-action percussion lock, Green River Rifle Works browned 36 inch long barrel and double set triggers. The rifle has mixed brass and iron furniture, like Leman often did. It also has primitive iron sights, a Pewter fore-end cap and semi-horse head patchbox, both of which are classic Leman details.

My Doc White Leman weighs over ten pounds and will easily proof a round ball black powder charge of 200 grains. My normal FFg loads are 100 grains for patched round ball and 120 grains with a 600 grain conical. With a gun of that length and bulk, recoil is very pleasant with these loads. The big Leman cradles in cross sticks like a dream and is rock solid for long range shooting. Using open primitive sights and cross sticks it grouped three shots inside of 2.5 inches on an orange target dot at 100 yards. I consider that performance to be excellent for a primitive sight rifle.

Generally speaking a 100 grain charge of FFg will launch a .570 patched round ball at 1,250 fps with muzzle energy of around 900 ft. lbs. and retained energy at 100 yards of 450 ft. lbs. That doesn�t sound very impressive when compared to the 150-grain pellet charges and 260-grain sabot loads of modern inlines. However, in the world of muzzle loading and ranges inside of 150 yards, velocity and ft. lbs of kinetic energy do not accurately reflect actual game taking potential. I can tell you from years of experience that a .58 caliber round ball with only 450 ft. lbs of energy will put a large deer right down at 100 yards. I run out of sighting ability with primitive open sights long before I run out of game taking potential. I generally limit my deer shots to 120 yards and then only if I have a solid rest from which to shoot. Honestly, I take the vast majority of whitetail deer in my area at ranges from 60 to 100 yards, no matter what kind of firearm I am using. It is more of a challenge to hunt with a primitive muzzleloader, but that was the whole idea behind the original muzzleloader-only deer regulations in the first place.

If the load is stepped up to a 600 grain conical and 120 grains of FFg muzzle velocity is only around 1,150 fps but muzzle energy is around 1,500 ft/lbs. I don�t like to go over 120 grains of FFg because that is about the maximum that I can stabilize my lead projectile in a 1:66� round ball twist barrel. Much more powder charge than that and the soft skirts of the conical will strip in the rifling and my accuracy will degenerate. General published 100 yard energy figures are only around 1,125 ft. lbs., but this load will hammer elk sized game at that range. Pure lead conicals expand beautifully and do tremendous tissue damage. I�ve used this load on massive feral hogs up to 525 pounds at ranges of 50 to 80 yards and shot clear through them from end to end. I shot a cow elk at 40 yards with a 555 grain .58 caliber Navy Arms musket and only 80 grains of FFg. She went down so hard that we had to roll her off her feet to get her ready to field dress.

I watched Doc White put down a 2,000 pound Asian water buffalo with a 600-grain enhanced lead .50 caliber White Superslug at 80 yards. We finished him off at 60 yards with another well-placed round. These projectiles are very effective on large game at moderate ranges and again, that is the whole idea of muzzleloading. If you want to shoot big game at longer range, get a 338 Win. Mag. The sport of muzzle loading is a moderate range undertaking for the challenge as much as the trophy.

This brings me to my next Doc White Big Boomer. I was all set to go back to South Africa for a Cape buffalo and plains game hunt when the economy went south and I had to postpone for a while. I still have two Ruger bolt actions in .458 Win. Mag. and .375 Ruger as my primary arms for that hunt. South Africa changed its sporting arms import regulations and I realized that I could also take a muzzleloader that would not count against me, as long as it was an authentic pre-1894 design. Dangerous game muzzle loading has always intrigued me.

Doc had an English Percussion 12 Bore (.73 caliber) Sporting Rifle for Big Game available on his web site. One look at it and I was hooked. I traded in two excellent White muzzleloaders and some cash to get that rifle in my hands. It has classic English styling with an English walnut stock, tapered octagon to round barrel by Rayl, slow twist for high velocity round ball, single trigger, folding double leaf rear sights, super-strong Manton style breeching with traditional leaf spring percussion lock and barrel drip bar. It has a 2" wide buttplate to distribute recoil, two keys, ebony fore-end and weighs about 10 lbs. There is early style checkering at the grip and the front sight is soldered in place for strength. The barrel is browned and the furniture is blued. There is no brass trim on the rifle. I placed musket cap ignition on it for sure fire ignition on dangerous game.

I load this rifle with .715 patched round balls and charge it with 200 grains of FFg. I sighted the rear sight to be dead on at 50 yards and the flip up leaf to hit center at 150 yards. Not long ago, I was consistently ringing an iron gong at 200 yards with this load, ten for ten shots from a bench rest. The big 12 Bore was hanging right in there with some pretty good Sharps replica rifle shooters using peep sights. My competitors were impressed and so was I. I plan to go after a zebra or wildebeest at ranges of less than 100 yards with it on my next African trip, but won�t pass up the opportunity at a North American elk or bear hunt. I estimate that I�m getting nearly 1,600 fps muzzle velocity from this load in this rifle. The round ball weighs 545 grains. Muzzle energy should be around 3,800 ft. lbs. Recoil and handling qualities are comparable to my Ruger .458 Win. Mag. with muzzle brake.

I�d like to say that I have extensive hunting experience with the 12 bore, but I don�t. Several other projects and writing obligations have taken up my hunting seasons since I got it. However, I have the dream and every time I take it to the shooting range visions of the South African bushveld dance through my imagination. That dream alone has been a great reward from owning it. Besides, shooting a Kansas whitetail or a 200 pound Texas feral hog with a 12 bore just might be considered overkill.

Then again, I notice on his web site that Doc is working on a .615 cal percussion double for the 900-grain SuperSlug and a .730 cal percussion double for the 1200-grain SuperSlug. Both muzzleloaders are designed for African hunting. Hum, I wonder . . . If you want to see what Doc is currently offering, check out

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