Effective Muzzleloader Range

By Randy Wakeman

Much ado and ballyhoo has been foisted, perpetrated, and disseminated about the effective hunting range of today's modern inline muzzleloader. The inline industry's ad copy has done its fair share of taking extreme liberties with the truth, inventing the myth of "magnum muzzleloaders,"--an odd concept of power--and proclaiming a muzzleloader to be the equivalent of a 7mm Remington Magnum centerfire rifle, an absolutely ridiculous notion with no basis in the field. Too often, frontloaders designated as "magnums" are actually shoddily made, dubious quality little monsters that are nowhere comparable in strength, safety, and performance to the better muzzleloaders not designated with the magnum mislabeling.

Hunting ethics cannot be legislated, nor should they be. There are far too many senseless gun laws on the books as it is. "Non-hunter harassment laws" exist in many states, yet it is the states' own invasive hunting regulations and firearm laws that may harass the law-abiding hunter the most vigorously. In any case, realistic muzzleloading hunting ranges are clearly not what some people imagine them to be.

The case has been made quite convincingly that it is not reasonable for the casual shooter/hunter, sometimes dubbed the "half a box a year man," to shoot at a big game animal beyond the "Maximum Point Blank Range" of his weapon at big game, regardless whether that weapon is centerfire rifle, pistol, or frontloader. While the only true governor remains between our ears, that really isn't bad advice. With the relatively heavy, large caliber projectiles that inline muzzleloaders commonly use, from .40 to .50 caliber, the trajectory is quite poor compared to high intensity and magnum centerfires. Not only is the drop "rainbowy" in comparison, but the wind drift is even worse. Added to the mix is the fact that no quick follow-up shots are possible.

Frontloaders remain the relatively limited range weapons (compared to centerfire rifles) that they have always been. Modern muzzleloaders have increased in accuracy and velocity incrementally, but so have centerfires. The built-in poor aerodynamics of large caliber bullets insures that you get a very poor return for any increased velocity and recoil compared to typical centerfire cartridges. Regardless of some outlandish bullet brags, the average ballistic coefficient for a 2000 fps muzzleloading projectile rarely exceeds .180 for a 250 grain bullet; many are below that. A .222 Remington bullet weighing just 55 grains can fly with a BC of .336, and that's at over 3000 fps.

To compare, I'll use a 300 grain muzzleloading projectile at 2000 fps, using a static BC of .200, a quite healthy load from any muzzleloader, generous in lethality but not in range. Using a 6 inch kill zone, the maximum point blank range is about 185 yards. Just a 10 mph direct cross wind can blow your bullet about 10 inches to the side of your crosshairs at that range, so wind management may already be an issue for us.

Let's compare this to a factory 7mm Rem. Mag. load with which a muzzleloader was recently claimed to be somehow on a par. Naturally, the 7mm Rem. Mag. is not the hottest or flattest shooting cartridge on the planet these days, but it was considered state of the art back in 1962 when it was originally introduced. A quick look at a 7mm Rem. Mag. factory load, Federal Cartridge #P7RD, illuminates the sheer lunacy of any relevance to muzzleloading. This 140 grain bullet has a BC of .526, and leaves the muzzle at a published 3110 fps.

Instead of our muzzleloading 6 inch Maximum Point Blank Range of 185 yards, our factory 7mm Rem. Mag. load's MPBR jumps about 60%, to 311 yards. That 10 inch, 10 mph crosswind drift that might concern us with our frontloader at 185 yard shrinks to well under 2 inches, actually 1.85 inches at 190 yards. That is better than an 80% reduction in windage. Our 7mm Rem. Mag. has less wind drift at 420 yards than our frontloader has at 190 yards.

Sighted in about 3 inches high at 100 yards, our muzzleloader hits over seven FEET low at 400 yards. Our 7mm Rem. Mag, sighted in 2.5 inches high at 100 yards, hits just under 12 inches low at 400 yards. On top of all this, most 7mm Rem. Mags. offer two or three quick follow-up shots. The 10mph crosswind blows our muzzleloader bullet over four FEET at 400 yards compared to less than nine inches for the factory 7mm round.

The point of this somewhat elongated rumination is not to attempt to tell anyone how to hunt, where to hunt, or at what range at which they should attempt to take game. That will remain, just as it should be, a purely personal decision. The point is, however, to emphatically state that those uniformed folks who smugly spew that "hunting with a modern inline" is somehow just like "hunting with a centerfire" are clearly, unequivocally, completely, and obviously out of their cotton-picking minds. At least as far as I am concerned.

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Copyright 2005, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.