Popular Muzzleloading Bullets, Ballistic Coefficients and What They Mean

By Randy Wakeman

It should surprise no one that there is very little difference in the flight characteristics of most .45 caliber projectiles of the same shape and weight, because there isn't much and never has been. Without exception, 300 grain class bullets are better terminal performers than their 250 grain counterparts. Doc White has gone as far as suggesting that under 300 grain bullets should be voluntarily banned in privately owned hunting areas.

In general, 250 grain jacketed hollow point bullets are best avoided, although at relatively low velocities the 250 grain Hornady XTP is a proven performer, if you don't hit heavy bones. Barnes all-copper bullets have essentially no velocity limitation when it comes to muzzleloaders, so if you can't break the 250 grain malady for some reason, the Barnes T-EZ 250 is a good choice.

Assuming a 2000 fps launch velocity, the 300 grain #4500 Hornady Hollow Point has a +/- 3 inch Maximum Point Blank Range (MPBR) of 184 yards. At 2100 fps MV, the MPBR is 193 yards. At the same 2000 fps MV, a Barnes Original 300 grain Semi-Spitzer Soft Point has a MPBR of 194 yards and at 2100 fps, 202 yards. You thus gain about 10 yards of maximum range by using the ballistically more efficient and heavier semi-spitzer (pointed) bullet, at the price of increased recoil.

Debates about ballistic coefficients, as you can see, are largely pointless, as all the noise is about a lousy 10 yards of MPBR with a 2000 fps load. Either load is a more than sufficient 200 yard load, if you know your trajectory and windage.

The only bullet that qualifies as a significantly longer range projectile is the Parker Match Hunter. At 2000 fps, its MPBR is 198 yards; at 2100 fps, 208 yards.

The primary benefit isn't less drop, it is less wind drift. Our 2000 fps, 300 grain Hornady #4500 HP bullet has 11.74 inches of drift at 200 yards in a 10 MPH cross-wind. Under the same conditions, the Parker 300 grain Match Hunter has only 5.94 inches of wind deflection at 200 yards.

Fail to compensate for a 10 mph crosswind at 200 yards with the Hornady 4500 and it is highly probable you will have a bad hit, despite a perfect vertical hold. With a Parker Match Hunter, it is likely you can just go pick-up your deer.

Obviously, we can improve those figures a bit with even higher launch velocities, contingent on how much additional hearing damage and recoil abuse you want to inflict upon yourself. There is a reason no one in their right mind hunts whitetail with a .458 Win. Mag. rifle and it isn't because a .458 won't kill a deer.

Muzzleloading Bullet Ballistic Coefficients

  • Hornady 250 grain .452 XTP: BC .146
  • Hornady 300 grain .452 XTP: BC .180
  • Hornady 250 grain .452 SST: BC .210
  • Hornady .458 #4500 300 grain Hollow Point: BC .197
  • Parker Ballistic Extreme .451 275 grain: BC .230
  • Parker Ballistic Extreme .451 300 grain: BC .260
  • Barnes XPB 275 grain: BC .210
  • Barnes Original 300 grain Semi-Spitzer: BC .291
  • Parker Match Hunter 300 grain: BC .370

Notes on Bullet Wounding Performance

  1. Powerbelts, particularly the lighter weight versions, are the worst. They are also inexplicably popular.

  2. The 250 and 300 grain Hornady XTPs are generally good on deer, so long as you do not exceed their velocity design parameters, and the 300 grain XTP is substantially better.

  3. The Hornady SST (T/C Shockwave) is the most miserable-performing bullet I've seen when used at high velocities. It is too fragile for a high performance muzzleloading application and an advance to the rear compared to the XTP. It was so bad that T/C tried marketing a "Bonded Shockwave" for a time, but those had accuracy issues.

  4. The Parker 300 grain Ballistic Extreme has been impressive so far, making two holes in deer. It is better choice than the 250 if impact velocity is significant. The 275 grain, predictably, strikes the middle ground.

  5. The Barnes XPB 275 did a fine job in South Africa for me on warthog and kudu. It needs to hit at 1600 fps, or higher, for the requisite 90 degree petal opening. I used it by necessity, as the 300 grain Barnes Semi-Spitzer was not available at the time of that hunt.

  6. Barnes T-EZ 290: the same outstanding performance as I've enjoyed for years with the classic 300 grain MZ-Expander, it just flies better. Three of the last four Minnesota black bears were taken with the Barnes T-EZ 290. The fourth was taken with the Barnes Original 300 grain SS-SP.

  7. The Barnes .458, 300 grain Semi-Spitzer Soft Point is a truly tough bullet, with generally superb accuracy and a better BC than most .45s. I've never recovered one, as it has always made two holes. However, Amanda did recover hers, along with her first bear.

  8. The Parker 300 grain Match Hunter is the best-flying 45 caliber bullet ever offered to the muzzleloading enthusiast. However, I have not been able to get it to group at moderate velocities in 1:28 rate of twist barrels. It shoots lights-out in the Savage 10ML-II (1:24) and the Remington Model 700 Ultimate (1:26) and is handily the pick of the litter for those two rifles at present, followed by the Barnes Original.

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Copyright 2014 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.