Why We Need to Work Up Loads

By Randy Wakeman

I'm uniquely qualified to write this little article, as I've managed to shoot far more horrifically, really bad groups out of muzzleloaders than anyone I know! Cumulative tolerances are in play in muzzleloaders. To change more than one component at a time necessarily changes everything. We all claim to want accuracy and I suppose we do want it, but we do not always spend the requisite time necessary to find it. As a friend puts it, "all guns are a mystery unto themselves to be solved." That seems to be true more often than not.

Everything made by man that is used in the firing of any muzzleloading firearm, including the Savage 10ML-II, has a tolerance. Not just the accepted "every gun is an individual" dogma, but all of the components we use. Primers vary not just from brand to brand, but from lot to lot. Sabots have a tolerance, just like any other molded substrate. Powder varies from lot to lot. Everywhere you look, there are tolerances-many imperceptible, but many are not-like sorting bullets by weight. That is just our muzzleloader; we have not yet considered inherent tolerances in rings, bases, scopes, or the atmosphere through which our projectile flies.

We also have our own human tolerances that come part and parcel with the human condition. On some days we can shoot better than others; I know I do. Some days our reflexes are better, our eyes work better, on some days we just feel better and can perform better than when we are a bit weary or under the weather. All of our human tolerances are necessarily added to the mechanical and geometrical tolerances of any muzzleloader.

Then there is recoil. Some folks will acknowledge that they are recoil sensitive, some say recoil does not bother them. I know of no shooter that actually performs better when recoil is increased, however.

So it is with "starting loads," as expressed in most of the better reloading manuals for decades. Too often, for the sake of convenience, we ignore the working up a load effort, even though it is a one-time task. When things do not instantly work perfectly, "our gun won't shoot."

All too often, we just did not take the small amount of effort to find what our specific, individual gun, in our unique set of ambient conditions in our unique hands likes best. We all handload a bit differently, and handloading is exactly what we are doing when we muzzleload.

There are a dozen or so case histories reported in just the last week that illustrates this. One Savage 10ML-II shooter that was using 45 grains of Accurate Arms 5744 powder pushing a Barnes 300 grain MZ-Expander bullet, and got poor accuracy. Dropping to 40 grains of 5744, with no other changes, his gun now groups MOA at 100 yards.

Another Savage shooter reported shooting several 60 grain loads of N120 with .458 Spitzer Soft Point Barnes Originals and orange MMP 50 x .458 sabots. He reported, "I learned they shoot flat, but the groups were not all that impressive. Shortly after that somebody said they were going to use 57.1 grains. I thought that maybe I'd back it down to 58 grains. I started out with 58 grains--more insanity. Once I switched to 56 grains the group was tight and I was cured!"

Starting loads, as listed in the article "Pet Loads for the Savage 10ML-II" are hardly marginal or unsubstantial. In fact, the very slowest starting load is in the 1900 fps arena developing some 2400 ft. lbs. of energy, and retaining over 1000 ft. lbs. at 225 yards. Deer don't care how fast you miss them, and there sure isn't much that can live on the difference inside 200 yards.

Please don't be obsessed with a muzzle velocity number, although it is an easy trap to fall into. We don't shoot our game at the muzzle, and 100 fps at the muzzle either way is meaningless at 150 yards from a lethality standpoint, given the relatively heavy, large caliber projectiles that we use. I'm not allergic to muzzle velocity, nor am I suggesting that anyone should be. It is just that velocity at the expense of repeatable accuracy is an abysmally poor trade-off. Remember that I've shot worse groups than you have!

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