Sunday, February 20, 2011

Best Brush Busting Muzzleloader Hunting Bullets...



If you've hunted with a muzzleloader for any length of time, you've surely had a few times when you've taken shots at big game in the brush which failed to connect. And that miss was likely due to the fact that many of the muzzleloader hunting projectiles available in the past were far from being ideal brush busters. I've had a few of those "misses" that were unexplainable, until I spent some time looking at everything that had been between me and that deer, or elk, or whatever. And the tatletale sign of the shot connecting with a branch...limb...or sapling usually revealed why my shot failed to connect. The muzzleloader hunting projectiles of 25 years ago were easily deflected, sometimes at a severe angle.

About 20 years ago, I began a search for those projectiles which could catch a limb or sapling or two, and still hit game with enough accuracy to put it down. And what I've noticed as muzzleloader hunting has progressed is that more and more of today's bullets are doing a far better job of busting brush...and still stying pretty much on target.

Early on, I would drive out to a handy maple or willow thicket...place a portable target board back into the tangle of limbs and sapling trunks, and see if I could get a high degree of shots to hit anywhere near where I was aiming. Back then, few would.

Now, most every winter, after the big game seasons have closed, once there is some snow on the ground, I get out a half-dozen or so times to conduct the same test that I first did back in those days. But instead of driving out to a convenient thicket, I now bring the thicket to my range. That's accomplished by cutting a truck load of 1/2- to 1-inch diameter willows, and pushing the cut ends down into a snow bank. Then a portable target board is placed behind 5 or 6 staggered rows of saplings, insuring that every shot will contact at least one of the young tree trunks. More often than not, any bullet shot will hit two or three of the saplings.

Surprisingly, some of today's muzzleloader hunting bullets do a pretty darn good job of plowing through a little brush and hitting the intended target close enough to point of aim to get the job done. But that depends on how far the target is behind that wall of brush - and the construction of the bullet.

These tests have also shown that bullet weight plays a big role in resisting deflection. The heavier the bullet, the more it tends to stay on course. This winter, I've put close to 300 rounds through my man-made thicket, and those bullets of 300 or more grains definitely put a much higher percentage of hits into the kill zone than lighter bullets. To simulate that zone, I staple a standard 9-inch diameter paper plate onto my plywood target board. The plate is large enough to be seen behind the stand of saplings, allowing the crosshairs to be fairly centered on the plate for each shot - even if I can't actually see the "center" of the plate.

My first round of testing was with the target board just 5 yards behind the saplings.

The bullets shot were: 1.) 260- and 300-grain Harvester copper-plated .451" Scorpion PT Gold; 2.) 200-grain Harvester copper-plated .400" Scorpion hollow-point; 3.) 330- and 400-grain Harvester .451" Hard Cast lead flat-nose; 4.) 250- and 300-grain .452" jacketed Hornady SST polymer spire-point; 5.) 250- and 290-grain all-copper Barnes TMZ polymer spire-point; 6.) 300-grain Barnes all-copper .458" SOCOM polymer spire-point; 7.) 325-grain Hornady .458" FTX soft polymer tipped spitzer; 8.) 300-grain Lehigh .458" all-brass hollow-point; 9.) 350-grain Lehigh .475" all-brass hollow-point; 10.) 300- and 350-grain Hornady .500" bore-sized FPB copper-plated spitzer; 11.) 295-grain BPI .500" bore-sized Power Belt poly-tipped copper-plated spitzer; 12.) 300- and 350-grain Harvester copper-plated Saber-Tooth hollow-point.

All of these bullets were loaded and shot with a volume measured 100-grain charge of Blackhorn 209. Four different rifles were used - a .50 caliber T/C Triumph, a .50 caliber Traditions VORTEK, a .50 caliber Knight Long Range Hunter, and a .52 caliber Knight DISC Extreme. Each was shot and sighted to be pretty much center of a paper plate at 50 yards. Then three shots were taken at a plate on the target board behind the sapling thicket. With the board just 5 yards behind the saplings, only two bullets failed to put all three on the 9-inch plate. The light 200-grain Scorpion hollow-point scored just one hit, while the 295-grain Power Belt put two hits into the simulated kill zone.

When the target board was moved to 10 yards behind the saplings, the angle of deflection became more evident. And so did how lighter weight bullets are more easily thrown off course. The saboted 250-grain Hornady SST, 250-grain TMZ, and 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold each kept two hits on the paper plate. All of the heavier saboted bullets managed to put all three into the zone. Of the bore-sized bullets, only the 350-grain Hornady FPB kept all three on the plate. The 350-grain Saber-Tooth and 300-grain FPB each scored two hits, while the 300-grain Saber-Tooth scored a single hit. All three shots with the Power Belt failed to cut paper. The light 200-grain Scorpion hollow-point also failed to hit the plate. Both bullets were dropped from further testing.

When the target board was moved to 15 yards behind the stand of saplings, six bullets kept all three hits inside the 9-inch circle - the 330- and 400-grain Hard Cast flat-nosed bullets, the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, the 300-grain all-copper SOCOM, the 350-grain Lehigh all-brass hollow-point, and the 350-grain FPB. The 300-grain Lehigh all-brass bullet kept two hits on the plate, as did the 290-grain TMZ. The 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold, 300-grain SST, 325-grain FTX, and the 350-grain Saber-Tooth scored one hit each.

The heavier copper plated, all-copper and all-brass bullets definitely resisted deflection better than all lighter bullets, and to some degree better than the copper-jacketed bullets tested (SST and FTX). The two bullets that proved to be only slightly affected by smacking into a sapling or two were the 330- and 400-grain flat-nosed Hard Cast bullets from Harvester Muzzleloading. In fact, after dead centering one willow and clipping another one or two, the 330-grain Hard Cast managed to group right at .705" on the paper plate set 15 yards behind the thicket. The 400-grain stayed inside of 1 1/4". The next best grouping with the target board set that far back was with the 350-grain all-brass Lehigh hollow-point (shot out of the Knight .52 DISC Extreme), which kept all three hits inside of 2.7". The 300-grain Barnes SOCOM and 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold grouped right at 3 inches across.  (Photo Above Right - Still In The Kill Zone After Plowing Through A Wall Of Brush!)

The past couple of winters, my shooting results with the copper-plated, all-copper and hardened lead bullets varied little from this year's brush busting tests. For several years, I would continue to throw in a few soft pure lead saboted bullets, but found that once they hit one or two saplings, the bullets became so deformed that they tended to stray way off course within a few yards. As accurate as some of these may be, they're best used when hunting open country. Plowing through brush with the accuracy to still hit that sweet spot on a big old buck is the job for bullets that are more solidly constructed.

It was easy to see where the bullets impacted the snow covered bank backstop after plowing through the saplings and 3/4" thick plywood target board. After shooting one afternoon, I walked over to a bare spot where most of the bullets had been hitting the frozen ground, and there lay several of the big 400-grain Hard Cast bullets...with the noses just slightly flattened and bent. And that damage was likely done when the bullet hit the frozen dirt bank. It became very clear why those hardened lead bullets had fared so well during the brush buster bullet test. (Those recovered bullets can be seen in the photo at the top of this post.)

If you hunt thick country, you might want to give this testing some thought...or get out and do some of your own. Plowing through brush and still driving into the kill zone takes a very special bullet. - Toby Bridges


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