For most of us, hunting seasons are now just around the corner - and this is also the time of year when many muzzleloading hunters finally decide it's time to try something new. When that "change" begins taking place, that's when NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING begins to hear from hundreds of hunters who simply aren't getting the performance they anticipated ... or, in their mind, was promised.
Some of the more significant changes include the switch to a new rifle...a new bullet...or a new powder. To get that new addition thrown into the mix of everything else already on hand, many muzzleloading shooters don't pay much attention to "little things", like whether or not the No. 209 primer they have been using for several years is compatible with the changes being made, whether that change is to a different rifle, a different sabot and bullet, and especially to a new powder.
After all, all No. 209 primers are No. 209 primers...right? Well, maybe they are in configuration and size, but they are not all created equal when it comes to the ignition qualities.
With fall just around the corner, I have heard from dozens of muzzleloading hunters who have made the switch to Blackhorn 209, and who have been experiencing ignition issues. The first question I ask is, "What primer are you using?" Many times, the answer I get back is that they are using one of the special "Muzzleloading" primers. And that is the problem.
Winchester's Triple Seven primers, Remington's "Muzzleloading" primers, the Fusion 209 In-Line Muzzleloading primers, and the CCI 209 In-Line MZL primers just don't have the "OOMPH" to spontaneously ignite charges of Blackhorn 209. In fact, even some of the milder No. 209 shotshell primers often can't get the job done.
My good friend Keith Anderson, who heads ballistics for Blackhorn 209 actually designed this plug for CVA - around the powder. The new plug design is so efficient that with it installed, some of the so-called "Muzzleloading" No. 209 primers will consistently ignite Blackhorn 209.
This summer, CVA came on board as a sponsor of the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website, and we now have two different Accura rifles in our collection of test rifles. When they arrived, both were fitted with the standard plug, and we shot Blackhorn 209 charges out of them without the benefit of the redesigned breech plug - and experienced absolutely no ignition problems.
Our 100% spontaneous ignition can be credited to the fact that we use only the hotter No.209 primers available for all of our test shooting with Blackhorn 209 - and that would be the Federal 209A and CCI 209M primers. Both are magnum strength shotshell primers. These are the primers we have used while test shooting with the Traditions VORTEK rifle models over the past four years. Those rifles have a breech plug that is very similar to CVA's standard flat-faced breech plug, and over the course of the past four years we have easily shot somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 rounds out of those rifles, most of them using Blackhorn 209. Thanks to the hotter Federal 209A and CCI 209M primers, we have never experienced a hang-fire during any of that shooting.
For a look at the comparative "strength" or "power" of today's selection of No. 209 primers, go to the following link - http://www.namlhunt.com/mlprimers.html
If making the switch to Blackhorn 209, and buying a new rifle, make sure the rifle comes with a breech plug that has been designed for best ignition with this advanced powder. While the powder is a bit more expensive than other black powder substitutes, keep in mind that the "Special" muzzleloader primers generally cost about twice what the hotter shotshell primers will set you back. If the other black powder substitute you are shooting requires use of a milder "Muzzleloading" primer - the added cost of those primers will more than make up the difference in the price between the two powders. - Toby Bridges
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Hardly a week goes by without at least two or three viewers of the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website asking, "Why do you lean so heavily in favor of shooting and hunting with Harvester Muzzleloading's saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold?"
Well, the answer is actually pretty simple.
Based on all of the shooting I have done with the bullet, and the exemplary performance of that bullet on the game I have taken with it, my opinion of the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold is that it is the best modern muzzleloader hunting bullet on the market today. Again...this opinion is entirely based on the outstanding accuracy I have gotten with this particular bullet, and the fact that EVERY big game animal I have shot with it since 2007 has not run out of sight before going down. In fact, easily 3/4ths have gone down pretty much where they were standing.
All of these tests have been performed with the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold...shooting charges of Blackhorn 209. For a look at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING's 2015 "50 Consecutive Shot Test", go to -
All three of the deer shown in the above two photos were taken last season (2014)...and all were taken at 200-plus yards...each with a single 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. The Montana buck and doe in the left photo were each dropped on the spot, shooting a stout 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 behind the bullet - out of a .50 caliber Redemption (LHR Sporting Arms). The Nebraska buck in the right photo, shot at 228 yards with a Traditions .50 VORTEK Ultra Light LDR stuffed with 110-grains of Blackhorn 209, ran maybe 60 yards out into a large alfalfa hay field, then dropped. The bullets passed completely through all three deer, but not before doing considerable damage to internal organs.
These two hunts are covered at the following links -
The photo above left is of the very first whitetail I ever shot with the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, taken on a very cold December afternoon at 181 yards. The deer is also the ONLY deer I have shot twice with the bullet...and really did not have to. This buck also holds another distinction. It was the very first whitetail to be taken in the U.S. with the powder that would come to be known as Blackhorn 209.
I was hunting with a prototype batch of the powder, which had been dubbed "Silver Strike", due to its varying shades of grey coloration. In late afternoon, this buck came working down a long sandy draw I had been watching, and when it stopped in front of a huge cottonwood tree...I decided to take the shot. The tree had been checked with a laser rangefinder earlier that afternoon, and was known to be at 188 yards. The deer looked to be 5 or 6 yards closer. Using the 200 yard reticle of the Hi-Lux TB-ML scope, I held a little below center of the chest cavity and squeezed off the shot.
The loud "wallop" of the bullet driving home told me that I had made a good hit. The buck just humped up and stood in the same spot. One of the things I was testing the new powder for was ease of reloading in the field. In less than 20 seconds, I had dumped in a new charge of powder, out of a plastic speed-load tube, and had ramrodded a saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold down onto the charge. Using a set of home-made cross-sticks for a solid rest, I held for the exact same spot and squeezed off the second shot...and at the "wallop" of that bullet driving home the buck went straight to the ground. From the downed deer back to my makeshift brush blind on the side of the ridge lasered out to be exactly 181 yards. (Both hits were within 1-inch of each other.)
Not all of the deer I've taken with the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold have been taken at such long ranges. The buck shown directly above right is a Montana deer that eased out to the edge of a large alfalfa field in the last shooting light of the day, offering a perfectly broadside shot at 140 yards. The 300-grain bullet drove home squarely through the rib cage, and this deer dropped like a sack of rocks.
Of the 57 deer I have personally taken with the Scorpion PT Gold bullets (with 58 shots), 49 of them have been taken with the 300-grain bullet - and none have run out of sight after being hit. As late summer days begin to cool off, especially in the morning, as always I'll hit the range a lot more to hone my longer range shooting skills in preparation for the coming big game seasons. As always, I will also do a lot of shooting with a variety of other bullets, especially out of a few newer test rifles we've acquired here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING. Still, I know that when I do head out on my first hunt of 2015, the rifle will be loaded with a 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold.
Why would I hunt with anything else? - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
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Advanced New Powders Produce Plenty Of Speed
Back in 1985, when I first began loading and shooting saboted bullets, no one actually manufactured a modern rifle with the proper rate of rifling twist for achieving best accuracy with the muzzleloader sabot system. Rifles with a snappier 1-in-32 twist didn't come on the market until 1987...and the now popular 1-in-28 twist followed about a year later.
Another "unknown" back in those days was whether the saboted (.44) .429/.430" diameter or the (.45) .451" diameter pistol/handgun bullets would shoot with best accuracy. That too took a couple of years, and more people shooting them, to determine. Early on, the vast majority of us discovered the thinner sleeves of the .50x.45 sabots tended to fold out and away from the bullet more quickly, forming an airfoil that got the sabot away from the bullet more quickly, allowing the bullet to fly to the target without any additional influence from the sabot. On the other hand, the sleeves/petals of a .50x.44 sabot were more prone to continue gripping the bullet for several yards after exiting the muzzle - and did affect bullet flight.
In the mid to late 1980's, we did not have "black powder substitutes" capable of getting saboted bullets out of the muzzle at velocities exceeding 1,800 f.p.s. The above photo shows sabots that were shot at velocities ranging from around 1,700 f.p.s. to more than 2,000 f.p.s. - and the affects that velocity has on the heavy sleeved .50x.44 sabot. The higher the velocity, the more quickly the sabot opens up and gets away from the bullet...and likewise, the better the accuracy.
Newer powders like Blackhorn 209 and FFFg Triple Seven could very likely be the key to tapping the downrange performance of a slightly smaller diameter and higher b.c. bullets of .429/.430" diameter. The added speed of the sabot and bullet could force those sleeves to fold back...catch air...and pull away from the bullet.
Back in 2012, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING took a more in-depth look at shooting saboted .44 bullets, and the advantages of doing so - once the lack of speed obstacle could be overcome. The Two-Part report also took a look at the vast superiority of the smaller diameter .429"-.430" diameter bullets when a sharp polymer-tipped spire-point is added to these bullets.
For more on this topic, go to the following two links...
Part 1 - http://www.namlhunt.com/mlbullets4.html
Part 2 - http://www.namlhunt.com/mlbullets5.html
As fast as muzzleloading sprinted ahead during the 1990's and early 2000's, development has slowed considerably during recent years, so don't hold your breathe waiting for bullet makers to immediately begin offering saboted .44 poly-tipped spire-points. However, if enough of you begin asking...who knows, maybe a bullet maker or two just might listen. - Toby Bridges
For those of you who own...shoot...and hunt with one of the well-built .50 caliber Redemption rifles, built by LHR Sporting Arms, we have just learned that the company has been bought by one of the major firearms manufacturers, and it seems that the company is now under re-organization. The good news is that it looks as if the Redemption rifle will remain in production. As soon as we know for sure who the new parent company is, we will share that information on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website. - Toby Bridges
So, it shouldn't come as any surprise that any time I receive a new .50 caliber No. 209 primer ignition rifle model for testing, this is the load I "go to" as well.
That was exactly the case when one of the new break open Redemption rifles arrived from LHR Sporting Arms, of Rochester, NH. I quickly mounted one of the great 1.5-6x42mm Hi-Lux Optics 30mm tube Professional model scopes on the rifle, using the base that comes already mounted on the frontloader. With just four shots, I had this rifle pretty much sighted in at 100 yards. The first 3-shot 100-yard group punched with the rifle...load...and scope measured right at an inch across center-to-center.
Here's a look at this new rifle from a new company - a rifle that is likely to be with us for quite some time...no matter who is NOW running the company. -
We also have one of the shorter 20-inch barreled Redemption Carbine models on hand for testing now, and almost as soon as it arrived last summer (2014), we swapped out the shorter barrel for the longer rifle barrel. We felt the black composite buttstock and forearm were more suiting for a short and fast-handling brush rifle.
The two deer shown at the top of this post were both taken at over 200 yards with the Redemption rifle and 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. For more on that hunt, go to -
The fall and winter of 2006 proved to be an important hunting season for me. That year, I hunted whitetails in five states, and took three good bucks, including the one shown here, and a total of 14 does. It's not that I needed all that much meat. In fact, I gave more than half of the deer harvested to friends and to needy families. Those hunts allowed me to check out a couple of new products that I had been working on for nearly a year ... and there's no better test of a hunting product than hunting and taking game. In all honesty, it is the ONLY way to see if those products perform exactly as designed...and as hoped.
One of those products was a prototype 300-grain version of the new Scorpion PT Gold bullet that had just been put into production by Harvester Muzzleloading. The company first came out with the 260-grain version in time for the 2006 hunting seasons, and I had taken several deer with that bullet. I had mocked up the early prototypes of the Scorpion PT Gold for the company, using the 300-grain Scorpion funnel-point (a.k.a. hollow-point), and simply installing a polymer spire-point tip in the bullet. The production 300-grain bullets came out in 2007.
From shooting the production-run 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold, I had determined that it had a b.c. of close to .220. From that same shooting, comparing the trajectory of the bullet with my home-brewed 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, I knew the heavier version had to have a b.c. of .250 to .255. From 100 to 200 yards, the heavier 300-grain bullet, which got out of the muzzle at a slightly slower velocity, actually dropped about 2 inches less than the lighter and faster 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold.
I had a late muzzleloader season hunt that would take me into some very open cattle country, and wanted the flattest shooting combo I could load into the .50 caliber Knight "Long Range Hunter" rifle I was hunting with at that time. The load was 110-grains of FFFg Triple Seven, which got the 300-grain spire-point out of the muzzle of the 27-inch Green Mountain barrel at 1,967 f.p.s., with 2,577 f.p.e.
On the fourth morning of the hunt, with temperatures right at 15-degrees, the buck at the top of this post showed up...on the opposite side of a large hay field. When I first spotted the deer, I put the laser rangefinder on it ... 217 yards. Problem was, the buck was back four or five yards from the edge of the field, working it's way through a tangle of bottom-land brush. Fortunately, the deer was working a narrow finger that jutted out into the field...then stopped.
I took another reading on a sizeable cottonwood tree 25 or so yards ahead of the whitetail...where the strip of brush thinned out considerably. The reading was 252 yards. From all the shooting I had done with the rifle...scope...and 300-grain prototype Scorpion PT Gold - I knew the load printed right at 2 1/2 inches high at 250 yards...when using the 250-yard BDC hold-over built into the reticle of the scope.
I rested the forearm of the Long Range Hunter into the rest of a set of home-made hickory cross sticks, and waited. A few minutes later, the nice 10-pointer stepped clear of the brush, at what appeared to be 5 or 6 yards closer than the cottonwood. I quickly settled the 250-yard hold-over a couple of inches lower than center of the chest cavity...slipped off the safety...and ever so gently applied pressure to the trigger. The rifle fired...and a split second later I heard that big poly-tipped spire point drive home with a resounding "Wallop!"
The buck ran all of, maybe, 10 yards and went down. When I walked out to where the deer had been...it was easy to see exactly where it had been standing at the shot...thanks to a fresh snow fall the night before. A laser reading on the tree I had been setting next to revealed the shot had been 244-yards...give or take a few inches.
The shot had pretty much centered the chest cavity, and remains my longest shot with one of Harvester Muzzleloading's Scorpion PT Gold bullets. What is you most memorable shot with a modern saboted bullet? - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
Topic of the Month...
Let's face it, the so-called belted bullets, such as the Harvester Muzzleloading "Saber-Tooth" and the BPI "Power Belt" bullets gained in popularity for one primary reason ... they load easier than saboted bullets. It's not because they shoot more accurately...or because they perform better on big game. It is the manner in which these bullets can be easily slid down the bore which has led to their popularity.
During the course of an "average" year, I'll stuff between 2,500 and 3,000 bullets down front-loader bores, and easily 90-percent of those muzzleloader projectiles are of the "saboted" variety. And, yes, there have been plenty of bullet and sabot combos which have loaded far tighter than I care for...or feel the need to load.
The great thing about today's selection of saboted bullets is that there tends to be a combination of sabot and bullet that fits "just right" in about any bore...whether the barrel has a "tight" bore ... or a "loose" bore. So...what is that "just right" fit supposed to be? For me, I like a combo that requires around 70 to 80 pounds of seating pressure to get the sabot and bullet down onto the powder charge, and solidly seated over that charge. I actually developed the feel for that kind of loading pressure by packing along an old bathroom scale to the range with me on occasion. I'll start the sabot and bullet, shove it down to the powder charge, then set the butt of the rifle on the scale and apply what is, for me, my normal final seating pressure - and that is 70 to 80 pounds of pressure. (Keep in mind, the rifle and scope typically weigh around 10 pounds...so the reading I get on the scale is usually 80 to 90 pounds.)
While that may sound like a lot of effort to push a sabot and bullet down a rifle's bore, it really isn't. This is just what is typical for me ... and I try to seat the sabot and bullet with the same amount of pressure each time. That is key to getting optimum accuracy.
The powder I shoot most often is Blackhorn 209, and this powder performs best when compacted. But, is 70 to 80 pounds really needed?
No, it's not. The key is to develop a feel for seating a saboted bullet with nearly the same amount of pressure each time. Again, relying on my old set of bathroom scales, I've found that I can still punch those 1-inch class groups at 100 yards when the sabot and bullet are loaded with just 50 to 60 pounds of seating pressure. However, when I went to as little as 30 to 40 pounds of seating pressure, my groups with charges of Blackhorn 209 actually began to open up slightly. As I said, this powder likes to be compacted. Also, I found it more difficult to get the feel for just 30 to 40 pounds of pressure on the ramrod than when exerting 70 to 80 pounds.
One of the problems I see with a somewhat under sized "bore-sized" bullet, like the "Power Belt" and the "Saber-Tooth" bullets, is that they do not retain compression on the powder charge. Even if the shooter applies 70 to 80 pounds of pressure when seating the bullet over the powder charge, much of that compaction is lost when the exertion on the ramrod ends. With loose grain loads, this can really affect accuracy.
The standard black .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot from Harvester Muzzleloading (shown directly above left and at the top of this post) has done much to make loading a bit easier. The raised ribs of this sabot reduce loading friction (the sabot riding down the bore during loading) by as much as 40- to 50-percent. Still, those ribs tend to keep the sabot and bullet in place once the pressure on the ramrod stops.
It is also possible that, in some bores, standard .50x.45 sabots and bullets of .451" or .452" simply fit too loose. While rifles sold as ".50 caliber" rifles generally have a bore that will measure .500" to .501", some leave the factory with bores of .502" to .504" - and when a standard .50x.45 sabot is used with a .451" to .452" bullet, the fit is too loose to insure optimum accuracy with the load. In worse case scenarios, the loss of compaction of the powder charge can result in a severe hang fire or a misfire...and a missed opportunity to hang your tag on a nice buck.
NOTE: When loading and shooting with pre-formed pellet charges...DO NOT EXERT MORE THAN 20 TO 30 POUNDS OF SEATING PRESSURE ONCE THE SABOT AND BULLET REACH THE CHARGE. Excessive seating pressure can fracture the pellets differently each time ... changing the burn rate of the charge from shot to shot. That in turn can severely hamper accuracy.
Harvester Muzzleloading 400 Gr. Hard Cast - Bullets On Right Recovered From Frozen Dirt Bank
If you've hunted with a muzzleloader for any length of time, you've surely had a few times when you've taken shots at big game in the brush which failed to connect. And that miss was likely due to the fact that many of the muzzleloader hunting projectiles available in the past were far from being ideal brush busters. I've had a few of those "misses" that were unexplainable, until I spent some time looking at everything that had been between me and that deer, or elk, or whatever. And the tatletale sign of the shot connecting with a branch...limb...or sapling usually revealed why my shot failed to connect. The muzzleloader hunting projectiles of 25 years ago were easily deflected, sometimes at a severe angle.
About 20 years ago, I began a search for those projectiles which could catch a limb or sapling or two, and still hit game with enough accuracy to put it down. And what I've noticed as muzzleloader hunting has progressed is that more and more of today's bullets are doing a far better job of busting brush...and still staying pretty much on target.
Early on, I would drive out to a handy maple or willow thicket...place a portable target board back into the tangle of limbs and sapling trunks, and see if I could get a high degree of shots to hit anywhere near where I was aiming. Back then, few would.
Surprisingly, some of today's muzzleloader hunting bullets do a pretty darn good job of plowing through a little brush and hitting the intended target close enough to point of aim to get the job done. But that depends on how far the target is behind that wall of brush - and the construction of the bullet.
These tests have also shown that bullet weight plays a big role in resisting deflection. The heavier the bullet, the more it tends to stay on course. A couple of winter's back, I put close to 300 rounds through my man-made thicket, and those bullets of 300 or more grains definitely put a much higher percentage of hits into the kill zone than lighter bullets. To simulate that zone, I staple a standard 9-inch diameter paper plate onto my plywood target board. The plate is large enough to be seen behind the stand of saplings, allowing the crosshairs to be fairly centered on the plate for each shot - even if I can't actually see the "center" of the plate.
My first round of testing was with the target board just 5 yards behind the saplings.
The bullets shot were: 1.) 260- and 300-grain Harvester copper-plated .451" Scorpion PT Gold; 2.) 200-grain Harvester copper-plated .400" Scorpion hollow-point; 3.) 330- and 400-grain Harvester .451" Hard Cast lead flat-nose; 4.) 250- and 300-grain .452" jacketed Hornady SST-ML polymer spire-point; 5.) 250- and 290-grain all-copper Barnes TMZ polymer spire-point; 6.) 300-grain Barnes all-copper .458" SOCOM polymer spire-point; 7.) 325-grain Hornady .458" FTX soft polymer tipped spitzer; 8.) 300-grain Lehigh .458" all-brass hollow-point; 9.) 350-grain Lehigh .475" all-brass hollow-point; 10.) 300- and 350-grain Hornady .500" bore-sized FPB copper-plated spitzer; 11.) 295-grain BPI .500" bore-sized Power Belt poly-tipped copper-plated spitzer; 12.) 300- and 350-grain Harvester copper-plated Saber-Tooth hollow-point.
All of these bullets were loaded and shot with a volume measured 100-grain charge of Blackhorn 209. Four different rifles were used - a .50 caliber T/C Triumph, a .50 caliber Traditions VORTEK, a .50 caliber Knight Long Range Hunter, and a .52 caliber Knight DISC Extreme. Each was shot and sighted to be pretty much center of a paper plate at 50 yards. Then three shots were taken at a plate on the target board behind the sapling thicket. With the board just 5 yards behind the saplings, only two bullets failed to put all three on the 9-inch plate. The light 200-grain Scorpion hollow-point scored just one hit, while the 295-grain Power Belt put two hits into the simulated kill zone.
When the target board was moved to 10 yards behind the saplings, the angle of deflection became more evident. And so did how lighter weight bullets are more easily thrown off course. The saboted 250-grain Hornady SST-ML, 250-grain TMZ, and 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold each kept two hits on the paper plate. All of the heavier saboted bullets managed to put all three into the zone. Of the bore-sized bullets, only the 350-grain Hornady FPB kept all three on the plate. The 350-grain Saber-Tooth and 300-grain FPB each scored two hits, while the 300-grain Saber-Tooth scored a single hit. All three shots with the Power Belt failed to cut paper. The light 200-grain Scorpion hollow-point also failed to hit the plate. Both bullets were dropped from further testing.
When the target board was moved to 15 yards behind the stand of saplings, six bullets kept all three hits inside the 9-inch circle - the 330- and 400-grain Hard Cast flat-nosed bullets, the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, the 300-grain all-copper SOCOM, the 350-grain Lehigh all-brass hollow-point, and the 350-grain FPB. The 300-grain Lehigh all-brass bullet kept two hits on the plate, as did the 290-grain TMZ. The 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold, 300-grain SST-ML, 325-grain FTX, and the 350-grain Saber-Tooth scored one hit each.
The heavier copper plated, all-copper and all-brass bullets definitely resisted deflection better than all lighter bullets, and to some degree better than the copper-jacketed bullets tested (SST-ML and FTX). The two bullets that proved to be only slightly affected by smacking into a sapling or two were the 330- and 400-grain flat-nosed Hard Cast bullets from Harvester Muzzleloading. In fact, after dead centering one willow and clipping another one or two, the 330-grain Hard Cast managed to group right at .705" on the paper plate set 15 yards behind the thicket. The 400-grain stayed inside of 1 1/4". The next best grouping with the target board set that far back was with the 350-grain all-brass Lehigh hollow-point (shot out of the Knight .52 DISC Extreme), which kept all three hits inside of 2.7". The 300-grain Barnes SOCOM and 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold grouped right at 3 inches across.
The past couple of winters, my shooting results with the copper-plated, all-copper and hardened lead bullets varied little from these more extensive brush busting tests. During several years, I would throw in a few soft pure lead saboted bullets, but found that once they hit one or two saplings, the bullets became so deformed that they tended to stray way off course within a few yards. As accurate as some of these may be, they're best used when hunting open country. Plowing through brush with the accuracy to still hit that sweet spot on a big old buck is the job for bullets that are more solidly constructed.
It was easy to see where the bullets impacted the snow covered bank backstop after plowing through the saplings and 3/4" thick plywood target board. After shooting one afternoon, I walked over to a bare spot where most of the bullets had been hitting the frozen ground, and there lay several of the big 400-grain Hard Cast bullets...with the noses just slightly flattened and bent. And that damage was likely done when the bullet hit the frozen dirt bank. It became very clear why those hardened lead bullets had fared so well during the brush buster bullet test. (Those recovered bullets can be seen in the photo at the top of this post.)
If you hunt thick country, you might want to give this testing some thought...or get out and do some of your own. Plowing through brush and still driving into the kill zone takes a very special bullet. - Toby Bridges
The popularity of Harvester Muzzleloading's saboted "Scorpion PT Gold" polymer-tipped spire-pointed bullet has taken off like a skyrocket. And the reasons why are pretty simple - the bullet shoots with exceptional accuracy and delivers tremendous knockdown power, with exceptional penetration. Likewise, the sleek aerodyamics and improved ballistic coefficient of the bullet (compared to bullets of blunt fronted hollow-point design) insures greater retention of velocity and energy down range.
Here is a bullet that's built to hold together well when driven into big game at close range (20 to 50 yards), yet will still provide the expansion that's a must out at 200+ yards to give the transfer of energy needed for clean one-shot kills. For me, it has been everything I've ever wanted in a muzzle-loaded big game projectile. And as this is being posted on the new HARVESTER MUZZLELOADING Hunter Blog, I've now collectively taken 52 whitetails with the 240-, 260- and 300-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" bullets - and all but one have been one-shot kills - including the buck in the above photo, which was taken at 211 yards. I've also heard from hundreds of others who have experienced the same great game-taking accuracy and knockdown power.
The buck I did have to shoot twice humped up when hit with the first shot, and just stood there, allowing me to reload and put in the second shot...from 181 yards away. The second shot dropped the deer on the spot. Both hits were through the center of the chest cavity, hitting less than an inch apart.
So, you're sold on this bullet...or at least perhaps you're now thinking about giving them a try. And you would like to know which bullet weight is best suited for your big game hunting.
That depends on a number of things. First, is the big game you plan to hunt. Another consideration is the maximum range you may have to shoot. Plus, the rate of rifling twist in the bore of your rifle. And even how recoil sensitive you, or the shooter who will be pulling the trigger, may be.
If you're going exclusively after whitetails and other similar-sized game at ranges less than 200 yards, the 240- and 260-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" are both great choices. With a 100-grain charge of a modern powder like Blackhorn 209, the 260-grain bullet will get out of the muzzle of a 26- to 28-inch barreled No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifle at around 1,950 f.p.s. - with right at 2,195 foot-pounds of energy. This bullet has a b.c. of right at .220. And out at 200 yards, it will take a big ol' whitetail buck with about 1,000 foot-pounds of retained energy. (800 f.p.e. is pretty much considered the minimum.) The 240-grain bullet will get out of the muzzle at a slightly faster velocity of around 2,000 f.p.s., but due to its lighter weight generates a little less energy, at around 2,130 f.p.e. Still, thanks to it's .205 b.c., this load will retain right at 950 f.p.e. at 200 yards.
The great thing about either bullet with this load is that recoil is very minimal, and accuracy is great out of the standard 1-in-28 inches rifling twists of most modern in-line rifles. Drop from 100 to 200 yards is right at 11 inches. And with a rifle sighted "dead on" at 100 yards...with the crosshairs right at the top of the back, the 260-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" will dead center the kill zone...the 240-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" would hit about an inch lower.
When going after larger game, such as big black bear...elk...or moose, the 300-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" is a better choice. Due to the heavier weight, it will take a 110-grain charge to get this bullet out of the muzzle at a similar velocity (appx. 1,960 f.p.s.). And at the higher muzzle velocity, it generates a significantly higher 2,560 foot-pounds of energy. And thanks to its higher .250 to .255 b.c.(due to its added weight and longer length), this bullet retains velocity and energy better down range. In fact, at 200 yards, this load would drive home with 1,400+ f.p.e. - 200 foot-pounds more than needed to take a bull elk at that distance.
The load drops only about 1/2 inch more at 200 yards than the lighter 260-grain "Scorpion PT Gold"...which left the muzzle at a slightly higher velocity.
300-Grain Scorpion PT Gold
In 2007, I personally made the switch to shooting the 300-grain bullet for everything - from deer to elk. I made the change due to the flatter trajectory of the higher b.c. 300-grain bullet once past 200 yards. Even when both are shot out of a 30-inch barreled .50 caliber in-line rifle, like the Traditions VORTEK Ultra Light LDR used to make the 200+ yard shot on the buck shown above, with a hot 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 (at around 2,130 f.p.s. for the 260-grain, and around 2,070 f.p.s. for the 300-grain bullet), the faster out-of-the-muzzle 260-grain spire-point sheds velocity quicker once past 200 yards - which simply means less game taking energy and a bit more bullet drop.
Shooting 120-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind these two bullets, and using the 250-yard reticle of the Leatherwood/Hi-Lux HPML muzzleloader scope, I found that at 250 yards the heavier (and higher b.c.) 300-grain bullet (sighted "dead on" at 100 yards) tends to print right at 2 1/2 inches above point-of-aim...while the lighter (and lower b.c.) 260-grain bullet hits the target about 2 1/2 inches below point-of-aim. With such a hot load, the 260-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" would retain around 1,080 f.p.e. at 250 yards, while the 300-grain version would still be good for right at 1,360 foot-pounds of knockdown power.
If you don't hunt game as large as elk, or do not want to contend with the recoil of heftier powder charges, and are simply looking for an honest flat-shooting 200-yard saboted muzzleloader bullet with exceptional game-taking performance - either the 240- or 260-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" is your bullet. However, if you do hunt a variety of game, up to and including elk, and want one bullet for hunting everything out to 250 yards, you can shop around and experiment for a long time and not find a better shooting or better performing bullet than the 300-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" from Harvester Muzzleloading. And for those of you shooting a rifle with a faster turn-in-24 inches rate of rifling twist, the longer length of this bullet is better suited than the shorter 260-grain bullet.- Toby Bridges
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Topic of the Month...
The Following Was First Published A Couple Of Years Back - Due To The Popularity Of The Information, It Is Being Posted Again Here On The HARVESTER MUZZLELOADING Hunter Blog...With Some Updating
By Toby Bridges
Back in the early 1990s, I attended a meeting to help try establish some standards for muzzleloading, including standardizing bore sizes. Knight Rifles, Thompson/Center Arms, Connecticut Valley Arms, and other major muzzleloading rifle manufacturers or importers were there, and so were four or five muzzleloading bullet makers. And, I am sorry to say...Not much ever came of that meeting, other than the realization that the muzzleloading industry is the most non-standardized segment of the shooting and hunting industry.
Back then, in 1993, rifles sold as ".50 caliber" had bores ranging from as tight as .499" (Gonic) to as loose as .504-.505" (White Rifles). And that much variation had created quite a dilemma for those manufacturing bullets for the so-called .50 caliber muzzle-loaded rifles - or for the .45 & .54 caliber rifles at that time as well. This was especially true with "bore-sized" bullets.
The saving grace of this era of muzzleloader development was the plastic saboted bullet. The resiliency and compressability (new word) of the polymers used to produce sabots made it possible to use the same sabot and bullet combinations in various diameter bores - that is, within a reasonable variation of bore diameters. The fact remained that, at that time, a sabot that fit tight enough to be shot with some degree of accuracy from a .504" White Rifles bore could not even come close to being forced into a .005" smaller diameter .499" Gonic Arms .50 caliber rifle. Likewise, the sabot and bullet combo that loaded properly in the tighter bore would literally fall down the looser bore.
In regard to the variations in the diameter of .50 caliber bores of various modern in-line rifle makers, things have gotten somewhat better. And that's mostly due to those companies that were at the outer edges of what was considered a "nominal bore" diameter not selling enough rifles to remain in business. Still, today's popular .50 caliber fast-twist sabot-shooting bores can vary in diameter as much as .002" to .003" - from the same manufacturer, thanks to wear on the tooling used to produce their barrels.
The .50 caliber rifles produced by LHR Sporting Arms and Knight Rifles feature Green Mountain barrels, and are some of the closest tolerance muzzleloader barrels produced today. Typically, a .50 caliber Knight or LHR in-line ignition rifle will have a bore diameter of .500" to .501". And on rare occasion, a rifle may leave the factory with a bore closer to .502". Thompson/Center Arms .50 caliber barrels are typically .501-.502", with some .50 caliber bores pushing .503". Traditions and CVA .50 caliber bores generally run .502". And depending on the hardness of the steels used, by about a thousand rounds most of these barrels will show a minute amount of wear - opening, maybe, another .001".
Now, .001"....002"....003" isn't much variation when looking at the gap between the jaws of a set of calipers. In fact, you have to hold it up in front of a bright light to even see an extremely slight gap of .002" between those jaws. But that small amount of difference can make all the difference in the world when trying to obtain optimum accuracy with a saboted bullet - that you are trying to get to group inside of a 2-inch circle at the distance of the length of a football field.
The .50 caliber Knight "Long Range Hunter" I shot and hunted with more than any other muzzleloader for five years has a bore that's right at .501". This rifle loads relatively easily with the Harvester Muzzleloading .50x.45 black "Crush Rib" Sabot and a .451-.452" bullet. Shooting my favored 260- or 300-grain "Scorpion PT Gold", propelled by a 110- or 120-grain charge of either Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven, the rifle will consistently keep groups inside of 1 1/2 inches at 100 yards - often tighter when the operator (me) is up to the task that day.
A couple of fall seasons back, I helped another shooter sight in his well used .50 caliber Knight DISC Extreme model. He was impressed by the accuracy of the Green Mountain barrel of my rifle, and wanted to shoot the same load. With the same powder charge, sabot and bullet, and with the same exact scope (Hi-Lux TB-ML) as on my rifle, the best we could do was to get the poly-tipped 300-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" to group inside of 2 1/4 inches. During loading, I noticed that the Harvester Muzzleloading black "Crush Rib" and .451" bullet tended to load noticeably easier. I surmised that the bore was .001-.002" larger - so switched to the red .50x.45 "Crush Rib" Sabot. This particular sabot is several thousandths of an inch larger in diameter, designed for maintaining more compression of the smokeless powder charges shot out of the now discontinued Savage Model 10MLII muzzleloader. The slightly tighter fit, which still loads easily due to the "Crush Rib" design of this sabot, made all the difference in the world. Shooting 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the 300-grain "Scorpion PT Gold" (with the red .50x.45 sabot), we had his rifle punching 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch groups in short order.
Another .50 caliber rifle I shot back in 2010 and 2009 was a prototype of the Knight "Mountaineer" models. The bore on the rifle I have runs between .501" and .502". And the rifle shoots well with the black .50x.45 "Crush Rib" Sabot and .451" diameter "Scorpion" or "Scorpion PT Gold". Typically, groups with the latter in 300 grains will be inside of 1 1/2 inches at a hundred yards (ahead of 120-grains of Blackhorn 209). After seeing the big improvement with accuracy in the aforementioned .50 Knight DISC Extreme when switching to the slightly tighter fitting red .50x.45 sabot, I gave them a try in the pre-production "Moutnaineer" - and discovered a rifle fully capable of punching sub 1-inch groups.
If you are just so-so pleased with the accuracy you are now getting with your .50 caliber in-line rifle, especially if the groups you are shooting are running 2 to 3 inches at a hundred yards, maybe it's time to do some experimenting. A good start may be to run down to a local machine shop and see if you can get them to measure the land-to-land measurement of your bore. Knowing the exact bore size will help you choose the right sabot. If the bore runs .500-.502", the black .50x.45 sabot may be the one you need to be loading with. If the bore runs .502-.504", chances are the red .50x.45 "Crush Rib" sabot will help tighten those hundred yard groups.
Experimenting to find the optimum sabot and bullet combination for any particular rifle is half the fun of owning...shooting...and hunting with a modern in-line rifle.
One combination I am looking forward to doing more with in the future is with .458" diameter bullets, such as the 300-grain all-copper Barnes SOCOM, the 300-grain all-brass Knight Bloodline bullet, and the 325-grain Hornady FTX. I've loaded and shot these bullets out of a Traditions .50 VORTEK Ultra Light LDR rifle, shooting 110- and 120-grain charges of Blackhorn 209, and have found they make hard-hitting elk hunting combinations that shoot well under an inch at a hundred yards with regularity. While the black .50x.45 "Crush Rib" Sabot has been designed to be loaded with a .451-.452" diameter bullet, it still loads well with the .006-.007" larger diameter .458" bullet. In fact, these bullets with that sabot load easier than many of the "standard" sabot and .451-.452" bullet combinations I shot and hunted with for years.
(Note: When shooting the 300-grain Barnes SOCOM, I rely on the yellow .50x.45 "Crush Rib" sabot to accomodate the the slight boat-tailed base of this bullet.)
FOR MORE ON ALL HARVESTER MUZZLELOADING PRODUCTS GO TO -www.harvestermuzzleloading.com
Harvester Muzzleloading sabots and bullets have been a part of easily 80-percent of the test shooting we've conducted since 2004. Likewise, the company has been there to support this website...to insure that we've been able to stay on the internet for the past 11 years, and to continue bringing the best coverage of muzzleloader hunting to North America's muzzleloading hunters.
We've actually even gotten a bit involved with some of Harvester Muzzleloading's "product development". Take the early prototypes of the popular Scorpion PT Gold bullet shown in the above photo.
NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING made the switch to the Harvester Muzzleloading sabots in 2004, and did a great deal of shooting with the company's 300-grain Scorpion funnel-point (hollow-point) bullet. Shooting hot loads of FFFg Triple Seven, we found the bullet exceptionally accurate. The only downside to the bullet, when compared to then brand new polymer tipped spire point bullets like the Hornady SST-ML and the Parker Ballistic Extreme was how much more the hollow-pointed Scorpion dropped from 100 to 200 yards. Typically, the spire-point 300-grain SST-ML, with 110-grains of FFFg Triple Seven, would drop right at 11 inches from 100 to 200 yards...while the 300-grain Scorpion, leaving the muzzle at basically the same velocity, would drop closer to 15 inches.
Fortunately, one day a shipment of the very aerodynamic Parker Ballistic Extreme bullets arrived (of very early production bullets)...and the sharp pointed polymer tips were extremely loose. So loose, I was able to pull them out with my fingers...and I found they would fit right into the Scorpion hollow-point nose. Before you know it, using a small dab of Super Glue to keep the tips in...I had a couple of dozen mocked up Harvester Muzzleloading polymer tipped spire points. A visit to the range revealed that the bullet shot extremely well...and shaved off right at 1/3 the amount of drop from 100 to 200 yards.
To disguise where the tips came from, I masked off a few of the bullets, and spray painted the black polymer tips gold. I took the above photo, and the next day e-mailed it to the folks at Harvester Muzzleloading, along with a couple of sub 1-inch hundred yard targets I had shot with the home-brewed spire-points. That, and a short e-mail claiming I had discovered a new sleek and great shooting bullet.
Within an hour I got an e-mail back wanting to know who's bullet it was...and I answered right back..."YOURS!"
Before the end of that year (2006), Harvester Muzzleloading put the Scorpion PT Gold into production, and it remains their very best selling bullet. Through our working relationship over the past 10 years, we've come to be a lot like family. I know that Harvester Muzzleloading has some exciting new products and plans on the drawing board, and this new HARVESTER MUZZLELOADING Hunter Blog is where you will likely read about them first. So, please check back often.
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.