Seven tips to max­i­mize the range of your muz­zleloader

SEVEN STEPS TO IN­CREASE THE RANGE OF YOUR SMOKEPOLE

Outdoor Life - - NEWS - BY BRAD FITZ­PATRICK

When Jeff Lester of Hunt Hard Out­fit­ters told me to be pre­pared for a 300-plus-yard shot on my upcoming New Mex­ico elk hunt, I thought he was blow­ing smoke. Lester ex­plained that there were lots of re­ally good bulls in the area, but that the ter­rain made it very dif­fi­cult to get closer than 300 yards. If I wasn’t com­fort­able shoot­ing to that dis­tance or far­ther, he ex­plained, I’d have to pass on most shot op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Like so many hunters, I had es­tab­lished an ar­bi­trary ef­fec­tive range for muzzleloading ri­fles with­out ever truly test­ing their lim­its. Af­ter speak­ing with Lester, I re­al­ized I’d un­der­es­ti­mated the po­ten­tial of to­day’s crop of classlead­ing smoke­poles. Im­proved bul­lets, pow­ders, and op­tics al­low you to ef­fec­tively take game out to 300 yards and, yes, be­yond. But mak­ing an ac­cu­rate shot at those ranges de­mands the right equip­ment and a great deal of prac­tice.

Af­ter ex­per­i­ment­ing with loads and pow­ders, I found I could con­sis­tently slap plates out to 400 yards with the Rem­ing­ton 700 UML I was car­ry­ing on that hunt. And, two days into the hunt, when a big New Mex­ico bull elk climbed out of a canyon just af­ter sun­rise and headed for the tim­ber above, I was ready. The shot was just a bit over 300 yards, but I was con­fi­dent in my ri­fle. The Rem­ing­ton de­liv­ered the bul­let just be­hind the shoul­der, and the bull barely made it 30 yards be­fore drop­ping.

Are you look­ing for that type of ac­cu­racy from your muz­zleloader? It’s pos­si­ble. Here are some tips to help you in­crease your ef­fec­tive range with a black­pow­der firearm.

no. 1 CHOOSE THE RIGHT RI­FLE

Most ded­i­cated long-range muzzleloaders are bolt-ac­tions de­signed to in­crease stiff­ness and im­prove ac­cu­racy. Car­bon-fiber stocks, alu­minum chas­sis, and hand-lapped bar­rels are com­mon on top-end muzzleloading ri­fles.

no. 2 CLEAN OFTEN AND EF­FEC­TIVELY

For max­i­mum con­sis­tency, clean your bar­rel be­tween shots. Use a jag that al­lows you to get all the way to the bot­tom of the bar­rel and clean­ing sol­vents that are de­signed for black pow­der.

no. 3 CHANGE THINGS UP

Swap pow­der man­u­fac­tur­ers and charge weights as well as bul­lets in your quest to find the right com­bi­na­tion for your ri­fle.

no. 4 WATCH THE TEM­PER­A­TURE

John Fink, Rem­ing­ton’s di­rec­tor of prod­uct man­age­ment for firearms, warns that shoot­ing muzzleloaders in tem­per­a­tures above 80 de­grees Fahren­heit can cause prob­lems with con­sis­tency. Also, not let­ting the bar­rel cool be­tween shots can ac­tu­ally heat a sabot and change the com­po­si­tion of the plas­tic enough to af­fect ac­cu­racy.

no. 5 UN­DER­STAND DWELL TIME

It’s a good idea to hold the fore­arm of a muz­zleloader firmly against the bags when shoot­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Fink, dwell time (length of time the pro­jec­tile is in the bar­rel) is greater than with a centerfire ri­fle, and al­low­ing the gun to rest loosely on the bags can neg­a­tively af­fect ac­cu­racy.

no. 6 CON­SIDER YOUR POW­DER

Pel­leted pow­ders are very con­ve­nient, but don’t dis­count loose pow­ders. They tend to pro­duce more con­sis­tent ve­loc­i­ties and pres­sures, and you can ad­just charges in small in­cre­ments to find what works.

no. 7 PLAY THE WIND

Wind is the great­est chal­lenge when tak­ing a shot be­yond 200 yards. “Be­cause of the lower ve­loc­i­ties and lower-per­for­mance bul­let shapes, wind de­flec­tion is sig­nif­i­cantly more than with your tra­di­tional long-range ri­fle,” says Gun­werks founder Aaron David­son. At 100 yards in a 10-mileper-hour cross­wind, a 300-grain .50-cal­iber sabot muz­zleloader bul­let may drift 3 inches or more. With that same wind speed, a 500yard shot will re­sult in more than 6 feet of bul­let drift.

“Prac­tice shoot­ing in the wind, and learn to es­ti­mate wind speed us­ing mi­rage, veg­e­ta­tion, and a wind me­ter,” David­son says.

For con­ve­nience, pow­der that comes in pre-formed pel­lets (right) can­not be beat, but us­ing loose pro­pel­lant is both cheaper and gen­er­ally more ac­cu­rate.

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