My Sabot is Hard to Load!

By Randy Wakeman

How often have you heard this one, more than a few thousand times? There is no such thing as a hard to load sabot, of course. They are all effortless to load until we put a bullet in them, and bullet diameters vary. It is not possible for a sabot manufacturer to know what bullet we are placing in a sabot: a .451 diameter Barnes, a .452 diameter Hornady, or a .4515 Sierra. It is also not possible for a sabot manufacturer to know the bearing surface of the bullet. Longer contact areas between bullet and bore may mean more effort is required in seating.

No the sabot manufacturer or any bullet manufacturer can know the exact bore dimension of our specific muzzleloader. If it is a Savage 10ML-II, it may be .501 in. land to land. Knight rifles often run .502, and T/C product has been .500 with some a bit tighter. Low quality CVA / Traditions / Remington Genesis barrels can run all over the place, and do: from .497 to .505 or so. Few us of could reasonably expect a pair of boots or a pair or jeans to fit us if we don't know our size. Are our boots too tight, or are our feet too big? Yet, we quickly can wail, whine and complain that a sabot is too tight (or too loose) though we remain completely ignorant as to what dimension we want it to fit.

We fail to recognize that it is simple geometry, and a proper loading sabot bullet combination is contingent on many tolerances: cumulative tolerances, known as "tolerance stack up." Bullets have a tolerance, sabots have a tolerance, gun barrels have a tolerance, and on top of all that easy of loading is contingent on bore fouling conditions. That is something that we can control, of course, if we bother.

Muzzleloading rifle barrels, no matter how carefully made, have tolerances. As any machinist is aware, there is always tooling wear. Ream a chamber with a brand new reamer, that chamber will be larger than the 500th chamber reamed with that same reamer. Tooling is expensive; reamers and carbide buttons are certainly used for more than just one barrel. If they we not, most of us could not afford to buy a muzzleloader.

It is our obligation to find the best fitting combination for our individual rifle. No one can possibly do this for us. We are the ones that are going to load and shoot it. What is called "tight" to some is designated as a "proper" fit by others. My old girlfriends can comment on that. "Tight" and "loose" is subjective; we determine the fit, no one else. Make no mistake; just a thousandth or two can make all the difference. The difference between a smooth loading sabot and one we feel is "impossible to load."

We don't help ourselves by using the wrong terminology for sabots, either. Take the phrase "high pressure sabot." What are we talking about? What pressure can a "high pressure sabot" take? No one has ever made a "low-pressure sabot" that I know of, except perhaps a patch, as in "patch and ball." There is no difference in functionality between a cotton patch and a modern sabot, except that modern sabots made by MMP work far better, and allow us to use a huge variety of projectiles.

It is not a difficult task at all, and finding our personal best combination is a one time task. No one can do it for use, for no two guns are identical. We need to accept that what works for "the other guy" may not work for our rifle, and our conditions. We have our own personal "tolerance stack-up."

Thankfully, it isn't all that tough. Barnes 250 and 300 grain MZ-expanders come with MMP HPH-12 sabots as supplied. If we think they are too tight, substitution of an MMP HPH-24 sabot (assembled outside diameter approximately .003 in. smaller) can often remedy the situation in a flash.

If we are using a Hornady .452 standard (non-magnum) XTP of 250 or 300 grain weight, the standard "MMP" sabot is the first choice. However, the MMP 3 Petal EZ sabot is the choice for tighter barreled guns.

As a generalization, a good starting point for the Savage 10ML-II is a Barnes 300 MZ Expander as supplied, or the 300 .452 non-magnum Hornady XTP with a black "MMP" sabot. Knights often do well with the same combinations, with the 250 grain versions preferred.

T/C has the tightest barrels in the industry; at least that has been my experience. It is good to have MMP 3 petal EZ sabots at the ready for .452 XTPs, and HPH-24 sabots from MMP set for Barnes MZ-Expanders. There is no substitute for range time, though, and we need to pull our own triggers. Being prepared with a variety of bags of sabots from MMP (they come in bags of 50) will maximize our range time with our new muzzleloaders. Trying the same bullet and sabot combination over and over again, yet hoping for different results was Einstein's definition of insanity.

That is part and parcel of muzzleloading; discovering the combination that suits our individual needs. The "Boy Scout's Motto" applies-get your sabots before you go to the range, and your valuable time will be efficiently used. As for absolute 100% correct advice on what will shoot best for you, it simply does not exist. No one else has your unique, individual muzzleloader.

There is no substitute for quality trigger time. What we can do is be well-prepared in advance, so we can hone in on effective choices quickly. No one can tell us what boots fit us the best unless they have our feet, and no one can give us the best projectile choice unless they have our rifle. This should not be surprising. Can you tell me what shell and choke gives the best pattern out of my 20 gauge B-80 shotgun? What rimfire ammo groups the best out of my Savage Accu-Trigger .22 long rifle? I wouldn't expect you to be able to.

With no universal muzzleloading standards, the challenge of the "best load" is ours alone, and the rewards as well. Good shooting!

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Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.