Seven tips to maximize the range of your muzzleloader
SEVEN STEPS TO INCREASE THE RANGE OF YOUR SMOKEPOLE
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.