My 2017 Montana spring black bear hunt was a very short lived affair ... with the taking of this nice near 400-pound brown color phase boar, at about 60 yards, with a single shot from my Cooper .50 Model 22 ML ... just 2 1/2 hours into my first evening of hunting. The rifle had been stuffed with my favored load - 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet. Shot through both front shoulders and both lungs, this bear went, maybe, 40 yards - then down for keeps.
After all the excitement ... all the work of getting the bear off the mountain ... and the rush to get the bruin skinned, quartered and into the freezer to beat the near 80-degree heat the next morning - when I look at all the photos shot, I realize that there's something missing. Shown not once in any of the photos taken that evening, and the next morning, is the muzzleloading pistol I also carried for the hunt ... just in case I needed a quick "backup" second shot. Which I did not ... and for which I am grateful.
Even punched through both lungs by a bullet that did tremendous damage, this bear went from a dead stand still to 30 or 35 m.p.h. in just a dozen or so bounds, What if my shot had been off just a little? What if that "one and only" muzzle-loaded shot had just "clipped" vital internal organs? One thing is for sure ... that empty .50 caliber rifle would have been less than adequate for fending off that mouthful of teeth and those powerful front paws and claws.
So...Would the muzzle-loaded handgun carried as a backup have delivered enough punch, up close and very personal, to stop the bear ... or at least to greatly diminish its ability to inflict bodily harm? Fortunately ... I did not have to find out.
Of all the muzzle-loaded handguns I have ever shot and hunted with, the one shown here is the ONLY one I would EXPECT to deliver enough punch to stop a charging 400-pound bear ... or at least change its mind. This isn't something you can simply buy off the shelf ... or order through a major mail order outdoor catalog. This pistol was assembled after a series of ballistics testing we conducted a couple of years back ... checking velocities out of barrel lengths ranging from 30 inches down to 20 inches. We found the left-over 20-inch Traditions .50 caliber VORTEK barrel (and rifle forearm) to fit the frame of our VORTEK Pistol frame very nicely... and with a sling swivel stud installed on the bottom of the grip ... this long barreled handgun can easily be carried slung across the back.
For the bear hunt, I decided to keep things simple and loaded the pistol with the same saboted bullet and powder being used in the rifle for the hunt - the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold and Blackhorn 209. However, any powder charge over 80 grains, with a bullet that heavy, makes this home-made "pistol carbine" a bit much to handle. So, I went with an 80-grain charge of Blackhorn 209. At 50 yards, I could keep hits inside of 1 1/2-inches. (The 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold is shown at left ... with the well flattened bullet that was recovered from the above bear.)
At the muzzle of the 20-inch barrel, the load is good for right at 1,630 f.p.s. - and 1,770 f.p.e. That means a charging bear at 20 to 25 yards would be hit with around 1,700 foot-pounds of wallop. For comparison, let's look at the ballistics of a big black powder .44 percussion revolver.
One of the finest percussion .44 six shooters ever offered was the Ruger "Old Army" ... which was kind of a front-loaded version of the company's revered cartridge Blackhawk line. A stout load for this handgun would be 40-grains of "P" grade Pyrodex behind a 143-grain .457" diameter lead ball. At the muzzle of the standard 7 1/2-inch barrel, the load would be good for 1,014 f.p.s. ... and just 327 f.p.e. At 25 yards, velocity is down to 895 f.p.s. and energy to just 256 f.p.e.
The "standard length" barrels of single-shot in-line handguns, like the .50 Traditions VORTEK Pistol and the .50 CVA Optima V2 Pistol fare a bit better. The Traditions muzzleloading handgun comes with a 13-inch barrel, while the CVA pistol sports a 14-inch barrel. Out of the VORTEK Pistol, I've gotten a 70-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and a saboted 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold to give an average of around 1,410 f.p.s. and 1,140 f.p.e. The 1-inch longer Optima V2 would add about 20 or so additional f.p.s. and maybe 40 more foot-pounds of knockdown power - AT THE MUZZLE ... which would be getting a bit close for comfort when trying to stop a charging bear ... or anything else intending to inflict some bodily harm.
I would love to see either Traditions or CVA ... or both ... take muzzleloader handgun hunting a bit more seriously. Those shorter 13- and 14-inch barrel lengths simply do not provide the length needed to fully burn a heavier 70 or 80 grain charge of a modern powder like Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven. To fully tap what these powders and modern saboted bullets can do, it simply will take a longer barrel ... like the 20-inch barreled "pistol carbine" shown here.
With a little thought, the barrel could fit either a pistol or rifle frame, allowing the shooter to put together a very modular shooting & hunting system - which includes standard length pistol and rifle barrels ... and a barrel that can turn the pistol into a more effective hunting handgun or the rifle into a much faster handling brush rifle.
As for carrying a muzzle-loaded pistol or percussion revolver as something of a backup when going after game like a bear ... or maybe a wild boar ... or perhaps even a mountain lion ... yes ... I think it is a good idea - even if it is only to provide the comfort of knowing you've got some added firepower if things suddenly turn real ugly. - Toby Bridges
Here's A Link To A Report On The Modular System We've Put Together -
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Above Featured Rifle - T/C Strike - With 3-9X40mm Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML Scope
HARVESTER MUZZLELOADING Hunter
Harvester Muzzleoading has been a primary sponsor of this website since 2004 - the company's reputation has been built through the quality of their sabots and bullets...plus their outstanding service to America's muzzleloading hunters.