Gun World - - Hunt -



Bit­ter winds, ush­ered in by a po­lar vor­tex, howled across the Ohio coun­try­side in Jan­uary 2014, bring­ing with it bit­ter-cold tem­per­a­tures with wind chills as low as -30 de­grees Fahren­heit. News out­lets in Colum­bus, Day­ton, Cleve­land and Cincin­nati were warn­ing cit­i­zens about be­ing out­side for more than a few min­utes in that type of weather. Ci­ties were scram­bling to keep roads clear. Gen­er­a­tor and kerosene sales spiked.

But Chad McKibben was ac­tu­ally sit­ting out­side in the bit­ter cold … on pur­pose. It was muz­zleloader sea­son in Ohio, just a few days long; and vor­tex or no vor­tex, McKibben had to take a chance on find­ing the gnarly, old buck that had eluded him in Novem­ber.

As the sun rose just enough to send a di­a­mond shine across the icy land­scape and the wind chill dipped to -20, the buck stepped out at a bit more than 150 yards.

McKibben raised his Tra­di­tions muz­zleloader, cen­tered the scope on the buck’s shoul­der, cocked the ham­mer and pressed the trig­ger. When the roar of the ri­fle died and the smoke screen cleared, the buck was down.


One hun­dred fifty-yard shots with a muz­zleloader may seem pedes­trian to­day, but that’s only be­cause mod­ern muzzleloaders, black pow­der pro­pel­lants and bul­lets are so good. Not very long ago, that was push­ing max­i­mum range; and to­day, hunters with muzzleloaders rou­tinely make clean kills at 300 yards or even more.

Al­most ev­ery com­po­nent of muzzleloading has changed over the last two decades. Many hunters have re­placed loose black pow­der with pel­leted pow­der such as Triple 7 and Py­rodex. And these pel­leted pow­ders do more than just sim­plify the load­ing process. They are fine-tuned for muz­zleloader pro­jec­tiles and burn ef­fi­ciently and cleanly in stan­dard-length bar­rels. That means more ac­cu­racy. Just as im­por­tantly, it means you’re get­ting a full burn with less clean­ing.

Tra­di­tion­ally, most ri­fles have been loaded with ei­ther two (100 grains) or three (150 grains) pel­lets, but Rem­ing­ton is push­ing the en­ve­lope and call­ing for a 200-grain, four-pel­let charge in the Model 700 UML. This ca­pa­bil­ity comes thanks to a spe­cial con­i­cal breech plug that was de­signed to fit Rem­ing­ton’s ig­ni­tion sys­tem, which looks like the rear por­tion of a metal­lic cen­ter­fire car­tridge. So loaded, the UML is ca­pa­ble of out­stand­ing ac­cu­racy at long ranges.

As pow­ders have im­proved, so have bul­lets. The days of round balls are gone, re­placed by cut­ting-edge prod­ucts from large com­pa­nies that are in­vest­ing in muzzleloaders.

Hor­nady of­fers its Lock-N-Load Low Drag Sabot, which fea­tures a tail sec­tion that holds three Py­rodex of Triple Seven pel­lets for faster load­ing. Rem­ing­ton, too, is of­fer­ing its Ac­cu­tip muz­zleloader bul­let—a tra­di­tional jack­eted sabot with a notch cut in the base. Upon fir­ing, the sabot jacket drives for­ward into the notch, and the bul­let and jacket spin at the same rate. I used this bul­let in New Mex­ico to take a large bull elk at 332 yards. The per­for­mance was ex­cel­lent, and the bul­let came to rest un­der the skin on the far side of the elk.

An­other out­stand­ing new pro­jec­tile is Fed­eral’s Tro­phy Cop­per muz­zleloader bul­let with B.O.R. Lock. These tipped, all-cop­per bul­lets have a unique poly­mer cup de­sign that re­places the old sabot sys­tem. The cup and the bul­let have a di­am­e­ter slightly less than the bore of your ri­fle. That means easy, con­sis­tent load­ing.

Upon ig­ni­tion, the poly­mer cup slides for­ward and ex­pands around a widened shank on the bul­let, lock­ing into the lands and grooves in the bar­rel and cre­at­ing a tight seal that pro­motes con­sis­tent ac­cu­racy. I’ve used all these bul­lets in var­i­ous muzzleloaders and have seen just how ef­fec­tive they are first hand. A 100-yard shot on deer-sized game with a muz­zleloader was a gam­ble not all that long ago. To­day, how­ever, you can print near-MOA groups with mod­ern muzzleloaders at that dis­tance.

Once upon a time, iron sights were stan­dard on muzzleloaders. Then, a few years back, scopes started show­ing up on smoke­poles.

To­day, how­ever, muz­zleloader tech has risen to a level at which a very good scope is the or­der of the day. When I was hunt­ing with the Rem­ing­ton 700 UML in New Mex­ico, it was topped with a Tri­ji­con Ac­cupower 3-9 scope. Vari­able scopes with great lenses such as the Ac­cupower make long shots eas­ier, but to­day’s muzzleloaders are so good that you can ac­tu­ally use bal­lis­tic tur­rets to dial in your dope.

For that New Mex­ico hunt, I ze­roed the ri­fle at 200 yards, re­set the scope’s el­e­va­tion tur­ret to zero, and from there, I could dial up as needed to make 250- and 300-yard shots and longer. In that in­stance, hav­ing the right op­tic helped glean the most from a mod­ern muz­zleloader.

A cou­ple of quick notes about muz­zleloader hunt­ing: First, you can’t fly with black pow­der. If you’re plan­ning a hunt half­way around the coun­try, you’ll need to bud­get some time to stop at a sport­ing goods store and pick up some pro­pel­lants (don’t as­sume there will be a store open that car­ries the pow­der your gun likes. Fer­ret out a store near your des­ti­na­tion and call to be sure that it stocks ex­actly what you want). An­other op­tion is to have your out­fit­ter pick up some pow­der; but again, you need to be cer­tain they know ex­actly what you’re af­ter.

In ad­di­tion, you need to check lo­cal game laws to be cer­tain about ex­actly what con­sti­tutes a “prim­i­tive” muz­zleloader. Some states re­quire that the ri­fle doesn’t have an op­tic and doesn’t uti­lize an in­line ig­ni­tion sys­tem; so be­fore you buy a new black­pow­der rig, be cer­tain you can use it in the state in which you plan to hunt.


I thor­oughly en­joy hand­gun hunt­ing. For starters, a hol­stered re­volver, sin­gle-shot or semi-auto leaves your hand free for climb­ing into rough coun­try where big game abounds. Even the heav­i­est hunt­ing re­volver weighs less than most light hunt­ing ri­fles—a real bonus when you’re in the back­coun­try.

But the real thrill of hand­gun hunt­ing is the chal­lenge. You’ve got to get close, and lim­it­ing your range re­quires you to stalk closer and get in place for a shot. How­ever, you’d be sur­prised what you can do with a hand­gun.

Paul Pluff is one of the best hand­gun hunters I know. I had the op­por­tu­nity to learn from him when we hunted to­gether in Texas last year. He has taken some re­ally im­pres­sive game with a hand­gun, in­clud­ing an Eastern Cape kudu bull in Africa at about 200 yards. That’s a long shot for a hand­gun, to be sure, but if you com­bine Paul’s high level of shoot­ing skill with the right gun (he was car­ry­ing a Smith & Wes­son .460 with a scope), you’d be sur­prised what you can ac­com­plish. Af­ter a ses­sion with Paul on the range, I was con­sis­tently mak­ing good shots with a Thomp­son/Cen­ter Con­tender hand­gun in .44 Mag­num and topped with a Le­upold VX-3i scope out to 100 yards.

Later on dur­ing that hunt, I man­aged to take a cull buck with the same hand­gun. The buck stepped out of cover at about 40 yards— not a long shot—but I was con­fi­dent in my gun; and af­ter the trig­ger broke, the buck made it just a few steps be­fore pil­ing up.

Long-range shoot­ing is all the rage, but a large per­cent­age of deer­sized game is taken at ranges of fewer than 150 yards, at which a hand­gun is more of a chal­lenge—but not as much of a hand­i­cap as you might imag­ine—pro­vided, of course, you’ve put the time in at the range re­quired for such a task.

A good rest is es­sen­tial, and an op­tic cer­tainly helps, but I have com­plete con­fi­dence out to 100 yards with all my hunt­ing hand­guns. That makes them per­fect for white­tail deer in a stand, black bears over bait, spot-and-stalk hogs and moun­tain lions over hounds. In ad­di­tion, there are many great hand­guns de­signed specif­i­cally for hunt­ing.

Re­volvers are the pri­mary gun-of-choice for sev­eral rea­sons: They can har­ness pow­er­ful car­tridges such as the .500 S&W Mag­num,

.460 S&W Mag­num, .480 Ruger, .454 Ca­sull, .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num, .41 Mag­num and oth­ers. Plus, these ro­bust, re­li­able wheel­guns are easy to main­tain, and most come with good trig­gers that break cleanly in sin­gle- and dou­ble-ac­tion mode.

Don’t dis­count semi-au­tos, how­ever. The var­i­ous 10mm Au­tos are ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing plenty of power to drop white­tails and even larger game at mod­er­ate ranges, and there are many long-slide 10s with 6-inch bar­rels that al­low these loads to reach their full po­ten­tial (which falls just short of the mighty .41 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num). In ad­di­tion, these guns are light and easy to carry.

An­other op­tion is semi-auto pis­tols that are cham­bered in car­tridges tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered re­volver rounds, such as the Mag­num Re­search Desert Ea­gle in .44 Mag­num. I re­cently tested the new Desert Ea­gle L5 in .357 Mag­num, and it was quite ac­cu­rate. It might be the best sidearm for those who hunt sounders of hogs.

No mat­ter whether you choose a muz­zleloader or hand­gun, so­called “prim­i­tive” weapons are per­fectly ca­pa­ble of tak­ing game cleanly to ranges that ex­tend far be­yond what was imag­in­able just a few years ago. You’ll need to play with loads to find the right one, and you’ll need to spend plenty of time at the range (just as you would with a mod­ern bolt-ac­tion cen­ter­fire ri­fle), but the re­wards are many.

If you’re look­ing for a new chal­lenge this hunt­ing sea­son, these guns have a lot to of­fer. They’ll de­mand a lit­tle more from you as a hunter—but that’s a good thing. GW

Ohio hunter Chad McKibben took this buck dur­ing Ohio’s muz­zleloader sea­son us­ing a Tra­di­tions muz­zleloader. The range was 150 yards— well within reach of to­day’s mod­ern smoke­poles.

Muzzleloaders and hand­guns used to be real “prim­i­tive” weapons, but they have ad­vanced greatly—thanks to mod­ern ma­chin­ing tech­nol­ogy, im­proved de­signs, and bet­ter loads and bul­lets.

Rem­ing­ton’s Model 700 UML is a thor­oughly mod­ern muz­zleloader that uses a unique ig­ni­tion sys­tem. It can han­dle up to 200 grains of pow­der, mak­ing it an ex­cel­lent choice for West­ern hunt­ing.

The au­thor with a Texas cull buck taken with Thomp­son/Cen­ter’s G2 Con­tender in .44 Mag­num. The .44 is a great hunt­ing car­tridge that blends am­ple stop­ping power with man­age­able re­coil.

10mm Auto loads vary in ve­loc­ity and en­ergy, but the more-pow­er­ful loads ap­proach the .41 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num in terms of ca­pa­bil­ity, mak­ing this a great (and un­der­rated) hand­gun car­tridge.

Dan Wes­son’s Bruin is a long-slide 10mm Auto that is per­fectly suited for big-game hunt­ing.

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