Friday, March 18, 2011
Low Recoil Muzzleloader Whitetail Loads
By Toby Bridges
In recent years, I have taken a number of nice whitetail bucks at ranges of 180 to 200 yards, hitting them with 1,500 to 1,700 foot-pounds of energy at those distances. And more often than not, I've actually watched the animals go down - pretty much where they were standing. However, to achieve this kind of performance there is generally a trade off. To get a modern saboted bullet out of the muzzle at 2,000+ f.p.s. requires shooting a hefty load, say 110- to 120-grains of a hot loose grain black powder substitute, or a 150-grain "pellet" charge. And the recoil generated can be a bit more than many care to tolerate. This is especially true if the hunter happens to be 12 to 14 years old, a small framed female, or perhaps even an elderly person with some physical impairment.
Back during the mid 1990s, while working on a new muzzleloader book, I spent a great deal of time on the range, testing new rifle models and loading components. A local 12-year-old boy had a lot of interest in muzzleloaders and spent a great deal of time on the range with me. He especially enjoyed shooting the modern .50 caliber bolt-action models, which were the new trend at that time. I started him out loading and shooting with a single "50-grain" Pyrodex Pellet and a saboted 250-grain Hornady bullet. At 50 yards, that young shooter could keep them inside of 2 inches with the scoped muzzleloader.
After a few range sessions, I switched him over to 70 grains of fine-grained Pyrodex "P", and had him start shooting at 100 yards. In no time at all, the youngster was punching 3 inch groups at a hundred yards. And on the second day of the Iowa youth deer hunt in September, a fat six-pointer offered him a perfect 70 yard shot - and one very well placed 250-grain Hornady XTP hollow-point put his first deer on the ground.
So, what kind of ballistics does this load produce?
At the muzzle, the light charge of Pyrodex "P" was getting the saboted hollow-point on its way at just over 1,470 f.p.s. That translates into right at 1,200 f.p.e. at the muzzle. This .452" diameter bullet has a b.c. of .147. And at the distance the buck was shot, the load retained just over 850 foot-pounds of energy. The accepted minimum energy needed to cleanly bring down deer-sized game is 800 f.p.e.. The load the boy used to take his first deer had a maximum effective range of about 80 to 85 yards - and I had purposely selected a stand location from which longer shots were not likely. Even out of the lightweight 7-pound rifle, this load generated very tolerable recoil for the 12-year-old.
One mistake many experienced muzzleloader hunters make when getting a younger or smaller framed person into muzzleloader hunting is to start them out with the exact same loads that perform well for them - and that could mean loading heavy powder charges and heavy weight projectiles. The resulting recoil can make it a very unpleasant shooting and hunting experience. One thing is for certain, if the shooter is afraid to pull the trigger, because of that recoil, it is unlikely that they will consistently pull off optimum shot placement.
Most whitetails are taken inside of 100 yards. When starting a hunter with a muzzleloader for the first time, it's wise to limit range to 75 or 100 yards, then develop a load that is comfortable for them to shoot, and which can generate at least 800 f.p.e. at the maximum range that can be shot from the stand they will be hunting. And with today's superior powders and hunting projectiles, it's now a lot easier to accomplish than it was 10 to 15 years ago.
My better half (some say my better 3/4) has shot and hunted most of her life. She tips the scales at just 115 pounds, and is very recoil sensitive. For the 2009 Montana deer season, she decided that she wanted to try hunting with a muzzleloader - for the first time. All of her center-fire shooting had been with mild recoiling rifles in .243 Winchester or .30/30 Winchester caliber, the latter a break-open single shot. And it was one of the No. 209 primer ignition .50 caliber break-open MDM "QuicShooter Magnum" models that appealed to her the most.
Her load was a light charge of Blackhorn 209 behind a 240-grain Harvester Muzzleloading bullet that I had the company's Alan Hensley put together for me. Well, actually all I had him do was install the polymer spire-point tip of the Scorpion PT Gold line up into the funnel-point cavity of the 240-grain Scorpion - to produce a lighter 240-grain Scorpion PT Gold. And the bullet shot so great, the company has now added it to the line.
My gal Christy started with a 70-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 behind this saboted sleek 240-grainer. The light charge of this very energetic powder gets the bullet out of her .50 MDM rifle (26" barrel) at 1,682 f.p.s., with 1,504 f.p.e. This bullet has a b.c. of around .200, and at 100 yards, the load is still good for close to 1,350 f.p.s., and hits with close to 1,000 f.p.e.
Most importantly, this rifle and load does it with very light recoil, and great accuracy. I found that I could consistently keep 100 yard groups right at an inch, and Christy generally kept her groups inside of 2 inches.
She's not much of a horn hunter, and when a big doe stepped out at about 90 yards, one shot put some great eating on the ground - almost instantly. My calculations have this load still capable of delivering 800 f.p.e. to the target out to about 130 yards.
My .50 Knight DISC Extreme, which has been fitted with a conversion to eliminate having to use the red Full Plastic Jacket primer carriers, has always shot well with the 260- and 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullets - even when I've pushed powder charges all the way up to 120-grains of Blackhorn 209. Curiosity got the better of me, and I just had to see what the light 240-grain Scorpion PT Gold will do out of the 27-inch barrel of my "Long Range Hunter" version of this rifle.
Now, when heading for the range or the deer woods with this rifle, my goal has pretty much always been to shoot the hottest load that can produce acceptable accuracy - and for me that is to keep them inside of 1 1/2 inches at a hundred yards. This rifle, stoked with a full 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 (or FFFg Triple Seven) will get the light 240-grain bullet on its way at 2,188 f.p.s. - with about 2,550 f.p.e. at the muzzle. At 100 yards the projectile is still moving at around 1,800 f.p.s., and plows home with around 1,725 f.p.e. In fact, all the way out to 200 yards, this sleek and light muzzleloader hunting projectile, pushed out of the .50 DISC Extreme by 120-grains of Blackhorn 209, retains right at 1,475 f.p.s., and will take out any whitetail with more than 1,150 foot-pounds of retained energy.
What about accuracy? Three test groups shot with the hot charge of Blackhorn 209 averaged right at 3/4-inch from center-to-center. The best measured .510" . So, what will it do out of this rifle with a lighter, low recoiling powder charge?
With an 80-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 the 240-grain Scorpion PT Gold will get out of the Knight "Long Range Hunter" 27-inch Green Mountain barrel at around 1,740 f.p.s., with around 1,610 f.p.e. By the time this load gets the bullet to 100 yards, it has slowed to right at 1,425 f.p.s. - and hits with 1,080 foot-pounds of remaining knockdown power. This load drops below 800 f.p.e. at between 160 and 170 yards.
Complete with scope and mounts, this rifle weighs in at about 8 3/4 pounds. Recoil with the rifle and load is nil, and accuracy has been exceptional. Most hundred yard groups stay inside of 1 1/2 inches - while some were under an inch.
I have to confess...I'm often inflicted by a case of "magnumitis". It seems that I and many other very performance minded muzzleloading hunters too often forget that not everyone is seeking an honest 200-yard-plus big game rifle. With 70 to 100 grain charges of modern powders like Blackhorn 209 or Triple Seven, the new 240-grain Scorpion PT Gold can deliver the punch needed to bring down deer to 100 yards and a little farther - without the rearward punch that can make muzzleloading a painful and unpleasant experience for smaller framed shooters.
Watch for more on this bullet on the North American Muzzleloader Hunting website at www.hpmuzzleloading.com .