The Magnum Muzzleloading Myth

By Randy Wakeman

There is a current trend in the "Muzzleloading City," to label muzzleloading rifles, primarily inlines, as "magnum muzzleloaders" for marketing purposes. This hyperbole is false on its face, at best misleading, and at worst possibly dangerous.

Though no agreement between manufacturers exists as to what constitutes a "magnum" muzzleloader, the slogan "magnum" added to glossy ad-copy has had its consequences. One effect of the "magnum myth" is leading newcomers to the sport to believe that the tag of "Magnum" somehow indicates a better, stronger, or more desirable muzzleloader. It does not. The magnum fantasy can lead some to believe that a muzzleloading firearm not called magnum is somehow of a lesser quality, less durable, or less effective in the hunting woods. None of this has ever been true. In fact, two of the provably strongest muzzleloaders made today, the Savage ML-10 II and the White 98 Elite Hunter are not billed as "magnum" guns. Yet, if any guns were worthy of such a moniker, it would be these two.

Though the peculiar notion of magnum has manifested itself in many forms, the most likely commonality is that the specific firearm can "handle" three 50 grain Pyrodex pellets. As anyone with a reloading background knows, the mere ability to burn powder is meaningless without a projectile in front of it. When the weight of that projectile is not specifically defined, the pressures generated cannot be.

The fact of the matter is that if you are a muzzleloader, you are a reloader. There are hotter loads than others, and higher pressures loads than others, but the ability to handle a specific powder charge by itself is indicative of nothing specific at all. How 150 grains of pellets can become a magnum, yet 130 grains of loose powder is not obfuscates the matter even more. Many muzzleloaders rated as 150 grain pellet capable magnum rifles cannot "handle" more than 100 grains of loose powder according to the published owner's manuals. Yet, some older 120 grain "rated" rifles are not considered magnum rifles. It is a confusing mess.

The potential hazard is that, based on some published owner's manuals, you can follow that 150 grain pellet charge with a bullet of unspecified and presumably unlimited weight. To say there might be a change in pressure is an understatement!

No .50 caliber inline gun manufactured today has shown that it can fully combust 150 grains of Pyrodex pellets. Additionally, no .50 caliber inline offered today has been shown to be more accurate with 150 grain loads.

The magnum buyer has bought into a blackpowder envelope that does not exist in the effective hunting world, beguiled by loads that offer unnecessarily heavy recoil, high cost, unburned powder, poor accuracy, and high pressures. The result is often a lighter wallet, a sore shoulder, frustrating groups, and quicker barrel wear, depending on the specific gun.

No .50 caliber inline can fully burn more than 130 volumetric grains or so of blackpowder or Pyrodex. I've not tested every gun on the market, but even the tightest grouping guns lose their accuracy after 120 or so grain charges, depending on the specific projectile. The most experienced muzzleloading hunters and shooters on the continent, including one gentleman who has some 80 muzzleloading elk among his substantial credits, have documented this. Those elk all fell to bullets propelled by 120 grain (or lighter) charges.

For the whitetail hunter, a 90 grain powder charge behind a 240-250 grain bullet will drop any deer cleanly out to 150 yards with proper shot placement. (As always, bullet placement is the key to killing power.) Ultra-long distance caribou hunters, and experienced elk hunters know that 110 to 120 grains of powder with suitable projectiles accomplish the same task. You have one shot; it needs to be a good one. Anything inaccurate just won't do.

Though the best hunters in the land have known for years that the magnum muzzleloading mentality is nothing more than fable and fiction, the marketing folks have yet to understand that. Truth in advertising has always been a scarce commodity. Those who practice it should be praised for their forthrightness. Mythical magical magnum muzzleloaders should die. In this writer's opinion, it can't be too soon.

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Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.