Is Long Range Muzzleloading Ethical?

By Randy Wakeman

Every once in a while this question crosses my desk. Typically from someone who wishes to define what muzzleloading should be for others, instead of containing their alleged concerns to their own choice of equipment and their personally defined theories of what hunting is about.

Regardless of equipment, the vast majority of game animals are taken every year inside 100 yards. That has never been refuted, regardless of centerfire, muzzleloading, or any other means of sport hunting. And, yes, I believe that closer is always better. However, close is not always possible or likely, as in the case of a fall pronghorn hunt outside Laramie, Wyoming that I'll be going on shortly.

Most of the game animals I've taken with a muzzleloader have been by choice. I've never been on a "muzzleloading only" hog, caribou, bear, or pronghorn hunt.

Modern inline muzzleloaders have ballistics exceeding what I feel is a very good deer and black bear hunting cartridge: the .35 Remington. It is not the exception; it is commonplace.

Let's take a look at what the world's largest bullet manufacturer, Hornady, publishes as ballistics in their 2005 catalog as common loads tested in a Thompson / Center Omega .50 caliber inline:

SST Ballistics

This is no radical, obscure, or experimental load, it is common fare, and I don't believe it could be more obvious how well this load compares with the .38-55 Winchester, .45-70 Government, and the .35 Remington already cited. It is clearly ethical and humane to muzzleload at distances deemed sensible with these three cartridges; we are operating at the same, or perhaps higher, game-getting levels.

The game department studies with which I'm familiar have not found modern muzzleloaders to be unethical or inhumane at all. Quite the contrary, the most disgusting amounts of game crippled and lost to muzzleloaders has been traced to round-ball wounds. A .54 caliber round-ball (230 grain, .535" diameter) fired from a 28" 1:48 rate of twist barrel by 100 grains volumetric of Goex FFg black powder retains the recommended 800 foot pounds of energy for the ethical harvesting of thin-skinned deer sized game out to less than fifty yards. A .50 caliber round-ball fares even worse. The 300 grain Hornady SST load, as published by Hornady, has more velocity and energy at 250 yards than our deer-crippling .54 round ball load has at the muzzle.

Quick, humane game-getting ability is precisely WHY modern inlines came to be via Tony Knight and Del Ramsey some twenty years ago. Faster, cleaner kills were the motivation for what has now become a flourishing industry with no end in sight.

The specific distance at which an individual might be comfortable shooting game is not for me to say. The absence of a scope on a rifle in no way insures accurate shot placement or short range shots. It just adds visual aiming error and an extra sighting plane. Scopes exist to help you see what you are shooting at, and to allow for more accurate shot placement. No scope or rifle is directly connected to the most important component: the nut behind the butt.

I certainly do not begrudge those who, leaving this article on the Internet, wish to fantasize that they are now subsistence hunters with no access to electricity, or that stepping out of their SUV is part of yesteryear that suddenly begins sans horse with the wearing of funny clothes. However, those who insist that their personal fantasy is somehow the ONLY morally correct one have been appropriately rewarded for their intolerance: their numbers shrink every year.

Whatever and however you choose to hunt, the same wish applies: I hope that when you pull trigger, what happens is the confidently expected, not a surprise.

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Copyright 2005, 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.