No mystery to working up a muzzleloader charge

There are many routes a blackpowder hunter can take to determine
the most accurate load for a muzzleloading rifle, but blackpowder
veterans do agree on a couple things read the owner’s manual, start
shooting at 25 yards, and then plan on spending a lot of time on
the range burning powder.

Anything after that is up to the shooter.

Some hunters are satisfied with dropping two or three 50-grain
Pyrodex pellets and a sabot into the barrel, if that will get them
“on paper” at 50 yards. These hunters may never shoot more than one
style of bullet. That’s fine, if they’re satisfied with the
results.

Other hunters may want more out of their muzzleloader hunting,
or maybe they’re just curious about what kind of accuracy is
available from a front-stuffer. Or maybe they shoot out to 100
yards, or more. These guys will have to spend more time at the
range.

For this article, Wisconsin Outdoor News talked to several
blackpowder experts, including Steve Johnson of Hornady, Ray Crow
of Austin and Halleck, Art Kirchoff of Knight Rifles, Mike Daly of
Hodgdon Powder, and Mike Wright of Thompson/Center Arms. All five
said new shooters should begin by reading their owner’s manuals,
which suggest starting loads. Those loads may lead to satisfactory
accuracy, but shooters don’t have to stop there. The experts also
agreed on another point consistency, in terms of swabbing barrels,
measuring powder, seating bullets, etc., is important in getting
consistent results downrange once the cap or primer goes off.

“Do things in the field the same way you do at the bench and
vise versa. That’s very critical for consistency,” said Johnson.
“Keep it simple.”

Other suggestions include starting at 25 yards to make sure the
bullets are hitting paper, start with the minimum suggested powder
weight and then work up, shoot more than one type of bullet at each
powder weight, and take notes.

All of them said hunters should know the rate of twist in their
barrel, because that rate of twist will be an indication of which
bullets should shoot better through that gun. A rate of 1 in 60 or
1 in 66 is considered a “slow” twist and is better suited for
patched round balls. A rate of 1 in 28 or 1 in 32 is considered a
“faster” twist and is better suited for sabots or conical bullets.
Some rifles have a “hybrid” twist, like 1 in 48, that should shoot
round balls, conicals, or sabots decently.

It might make it easier if you could flatly state that all
flintlocks and percussion (side hammer) rifles are round ball guns
with slow rates of twist. Not so. Austin and Halleck flintlocks are
built with slow or fast twists.

What that means is that hunters should consider their type of
hunting, the style of hunting they intend to do, then buy a rifle
that matches those needs or interests.

Here are a few suggestions from the five experts.

Steve Johnson, Hornady

“In a lot of ways, it’s like hand-loading. There are techniques
that need to be used, but a lot of people are doing it and doing it
successfully,” he said. “A person should try some different bullets
to see what fits their needs the best, what works the best in terms
of accuracy and terminal performance. You should see if you like
loose powder with a sabot, or a pellet with a conical bullet.”

Ray Crow, Austin & Halleck

“Start at 25 yards, get on paper and get the sights heading in
the right direction. Swab after each three shots. Consistency in
what you do will help you achieve accuracy,” Crow said. “In most
cases, you can start at 70 grains of powder, then move up in
5-grain increments to 120, firing three-shot groups at each
interval. I can guarantee that somewhere in that range you will
find the sweet spot for your barrel and the bullet you’ve
chosen.”

Mike Daly, Hodgdon

“Try different projectiles with different powder charges until
you find the most accurate load. Forget about velocity; accuracy is
everything. A deer surely will not die if you miss it. Velocity is
secondary,” Daly said. “The absolute first thing to understand is
this is not a smokeless powder gun. You have to understand the
limitations of the firearm. At the same time, there were people who
couldn’t read or write who were doing this 500 years ago. It is
easy, you just have to understand it.”

Art Kirchoff, Knight

“Pyrodex pellets are a very big thing these days. They’re not
what I prefer, but for a beginner, they’re the easiest to use. Get
started with the pellets, then as you shoot more, and get into it,
you will eventually try the loose powder to fine-tune loads,”
Kirchoff said. “I would take accuracy over velocity. Read the
owner’s manual; there are limitations of powder charges. The manual
will have suggested bullet weights, types and charges. I recommend
starting out with two to three bullets. We now give specific
recommendations This is the best one for you to start with.’ That’s
because we’ve shot a lot of them, and we know which ones shoot best
in our guns.”

Mike Wright, T/C

“With any gun, follow the manual. Our book has suggested loads;
start at or near the bottom. Start with charge of 70 grains of FF
blackpowder, or an FF equivalent like Pyrodex. The most important
thing is to find the load that’s the most accurate,” Wright said.
“You want at least 70 grains for deer-sized game with a .50-caliber
rifle. Go with a three-shot group to determine accuracy. If using a
traditional gun with iron sights, you want 2 inches at 50 yards.
With a faster twist, sabots, and scopes, you can get tighter groups
at 50 yards.”

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