That long, nearly fully cylindrical bullet shown above may not be the most attractive bullet in the world ... but out of several of the .50 caliber in-line ignition muzzleloading rifles here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTNG ... it has been one heck of an accurate shooting bullet. It is the 400-grain "Hard Cast" bullet, from Harvester Muzzleloading.
For the past 12 years, my "mainstay" hunting bullet has been that same company's Scorpion PT Gold. The polymer tipped spire-point is offered in 240-, 260- and 300-grains. For easily 80% of that hunting, I've relied on the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, because of its exceptional accuracy, as well as great velocity and energy retention. That's thanks to the bullet's .250 to .255 b.c..
Just about every time I head out for a week to ten day hunt, for anything from whitetails to elk, I typically have at least two rifles in camp. My primary hunting rifle will be one with a longer barrel, like the Traditions 30-inch barreled VORTEK Ultra Light LDR, stuffed with the 300-grain version of the Harvester Muzzeloading poly-tipped spire-point bullets - for those possible shots out to and slightly past 200 yards. And if I take just two rifles on a hunt, the chances are better than "very good" that the "other" rifle will have a short 20 to 22 inch barrel - for those times when I have to go into very thick cover to find game that may have holed up for a few days. And on many such mornings or afternoons that fast-handling "brush rifle" is stuffed wit a hefty charge of either Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven and the big 400-grain flat nose "Hard Cast" bullet.
During my fall hunts those past 12 years, I have only shot at 8 deer and one bear with this bullet - AND 100% OF THOSE ANIMALS WENT DOWN ON THE SPOT!
The first whitetail I ever took with the saboted .451" diameter "Hard Cast" bullet was the nice 8-pointer shown here. The rifle is one of the "Limited Edition" .54 caliber "Brush Rifle" models offered by Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co. back in 2007. Harvester Muzzleloading offers the 400-grain "Hard Cast" with either the black Crush Rib Sabot for the .50 caliber bores ... or with the red Crush Rib Sabot for .54 caliber rifles. The 20-inch barreled Green Mountain rifle loved both, and with a full 120-grain charge of a new prototype powder which a few months later became Blackhorn 209, this fast handling No. 209 primer ignition .54 shortie would consistently put the big 400-grain bullet inside of an inch at 50 yards.
During a December 2007 hunt, I had put in several days trying to get this buck in my sights ... but the deer just would not come out of thick cover ... so ... one morning I chose to go in after the deer. A fresh 3-inch snow provided an opportunity to do some slow still hunting and tracking, and I was on the tracks of what I took to be an adult doe ... followed by a buck. After a couple of hours of slowly and quietly slipping through the dead still woods, I caught glimpse of the deer ahead ... maybe 60 or 70 yards - and they were angling back towards me.
I just stood next to a tree and waited. I turned my head slightly to the left, to try and pick out where I thought the deer would pass back by me. Suddenly, in the peripheral vision of my left eye, I realized that a buck was barely 25 yards behind me. The .54 "Brush Rifle" was in my hands, and when the deer dropped down into a shallow draw, which I had crossed just minutes earlier, in one motion I turned to face the oncoming buck and brought the rifle to my shoulder all in one motion.
As the tall and wide 8-pointer topped the bank, it spotted the last bit of my move, spun back down into the draw, and when the deer topped the opposite bank, the crosshairs of the scope were right on where I needed the bullet to hit. The .54 rifle barked loudly ... and the buck flipped over backwards and slid to the bottom of the wash. I determined that the distance of the shot had been just 19 yards.
This is the .50 caliber "Brush Rifle" I will have in camp with me this fall. Some of you should remember this barrel, which back in 2015 we shortened in two inch increments from 30 to 20 inches as we conducted ballistics testing at each of the in between lengths. What I ended up with was a 20-inch VORTEK barrel that also makes this rifle just as handy and fast handling. Not to my surprise at all ... it shoots the big 400-grain "Hard Cast" bullet with exceptional accuracy.
Early on, I had shot this short barrel with one of the Hi-Lux Optics electronic reflex red-dot sights, which is ideal for shots inside of 50 yards. However, in the river-bottom timber where I anticipate carrying this short rifle, there is a chance of getting shots out to and slightly past 100 yards. So, I've replaced the electronic red-dot sight with one of the Hi-Lux TB-ML 3-9x scopes.
The 3/4-inch center-to-center group shown here is one of the better 400-grain "Hard Cast" hundred yard groups shot with the 20-inch VORTEK barrel - using 100-grains of Blackhorn 209. With that charge, the big hardened lead bullet gets out of the muzzle at 1,764 f.p.s., generating a pretty amazing 2,765 f.p.e. at the muzzle. Most groups with this charge stayed right at 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches. With a 110-grain charge, accuracy remained about the same, but velocity moved up less than 30 f.p.s. - due to the short barrel - so I'm sticking with the 100-grain charge.
When hunting with this rig, I anticipate that the majority of shots will be inside of 50 yards - and at that distance the rifle and load will keep all three shots touching. The scope is sighted to print the big bullet right at an inch above point of aim at 50 yards ... which keeps 'em less than an inch low at 100 yards. Any deer shot within 50 yards will be hit by more than a ton of energy - and at 100 yards, the load still retains in the neighborhood of 1,800 f.p.e.
That's a lot of stomping power! - Toby Bridges
Note: Out of a full 30-inch VORTEK Ultra Light LDR barrel, this same load is good for 1,852 f.p.s. - generating 3,044 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Upping the charge to 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 pushes the velocity to 1,887 f.p.s. - which increases muzzle energy to a whopping 3,156 foot pounds!
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Some of you might remember how, here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING, we ended up with a great shooting 20-inch barrel for our Traditions .50 VORTEK Pistol. That barrel was the "left over" from our testing back in 2015 to check how barrel length affected muzzle velocity ... and to obtain that ballistics data, we shortened a 30-inch VORTEK Ultra Light LDR barrel back to 20 inches ... in two inch increments. Here's a link to our wrap up of that testing -
At first, it seemed that I had myself one very short and fast-handling "carbine length" barrel for one of our VORTEK rifles ... then one day I decided to see if it would also fit our VORTEK Pistol frame - which it did like a glove (still using the rifle fore-stock).
Shooting 90-grains of Blackhorn 209, and the saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold saboted bullet, the stubby barrel turns one of the VORTEK rifles into a very effective short-range brush gun. Using one of the Hi-Lux Optics non-magnifying MAX-TAC red-dot reflex sights, the combo would repeatedly print one-hole 50-yard groups. However, when that same load was shot with the longer barrel on the pistol frame, the recoil would pick the handgun up off of the sand bags ... and up over my head. For hunting, I had to tame it down just a bit.
Dropping the powder charge to 80-grains and going to the lighter 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold did just that, making the long-barreled "Pistol Carbine" more enjoyable to shoot - while maintaining great accuracy. Here's a link to that shooting -
By the time a December muzzleloader whitetail hunt rolled around, on which I planned to try taking a buck with the pistol, due to my never ending testing of muzzleloaders and what they're loaded with - that load had changed. For the hunt, I would be using the same 80-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 ... but I wanted to see how well the Hornady .430" diameter 265-grain FTX bullet would perform on game ... and went with that bullet. On the hunt, I managed to take the ONLY whitetail buck I have ever taken with a muzzle-loaded pistol. For more on that hunt, go to -
With the 13-inch barrel that comes standard on the .50 VORTEK Pistol, the most effective hunting load I've shot out of it consisted of the saboted 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet, powered by a 60-grain charge of Blackhorn 209. And that's due to the fact that 60 grains of the powder is all that can be burnt in that barrel length. The load is good for 1,409 f.p.s. and 1,146 f.p.e. at the muzzle. The buck shown above was taken down by right at 1,500 foot-pounds of energy ... at the distance of the shot ... about 50 yards. That kind of performance is due to the added length of the 20-inch barrel.
Do you believe there would be a market for such a barrel - which could be swapped back and forth from a rifle and pistol frame - turning the rifle into a handier brush rifle for those close shots in heavy cover ... and making a modern in-line muzzleloading pistol more effective on big game? - Toby Bridges
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We'll start this post by showing you the finished scope mounting job - our new .50 caliber Traditions PURSUIT Ultralight G4 rifle...topped with a scope we not only trust, but helped develop - the 3-9x40mm TB-ML muzzleloader hunting scope from Hi-Lux Optics. For the past couple of years, I have wanted to put together what I consider a "Light Stalking Rifle" - for those hunts, or days, when I spend a lot of time covering a lot of rough terrain. You know, for those days when you just might cover 12 or 14 miles on foot...going up and down some steep slopes or traversing extremely eroded country.
Those are the days when you want a light rifle and scope combination slung over your shoulder. Still, I wanted a rifle ... and load ... that was capable of reaching out to 200 yards, if and when a shot presented itself at that distance. I took a good hard look at the models available ... and the PURSUIT Ultralight G4 seemed to be the model that best met those requirements. The 26-inch barreled rifle itself weighs just 5 3/4-pounds ... a Traditions one-piece base and set of rings add only about 4 ounces of weight ... and one of the Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML scopes adds almost another 16 ounces. The scoped rifle ends up weighing right at 7 3/4-pounds.
The Traditions break-open in-line rifle models are some of the easiest modern muzzleloading rifles to scope. All of the rifles come pre-drilled and tapped (shown at left) for the Traditions light "aircraft grade" anodized aluminum one-piece "Weaver Style" base - and the same base will fit EVERY break-open model offered by the company ... whether it is the upper end VORTEK models ... the economy priced BUCKSTALKER ... or the mid-range PURSUIT Ultralight G4 rifles. The great thing about scoping a Traditions rifle with a Traditions scope base and rings is the price. I have shot solid sub 1-inch groups with EVERY Traditions break-open rifle I shoot - and I have all of them fitted with a Traditions base and set of rings ... which retail for just $19.95 ... FOR THE COMPLETE SET! Why would you want to pay more?
I would venture to say that easily 3/4ths of the "accuracy problems" or "scope problems" encountered by in-line rifle shooters have absolutely nothing to do with the rifle ... the load ... the scope ... or the actual mounts used ... but rather how the mounts are attached to the rifle! Before a rifle and scope can work together as a "Hunting Rig" ... that scope has to be solidly attached to the rifle. Even if you buy a rig that comes as a complete package ... with the scope base, rings and scope already mounted ... you'll likely save a lot of powder and bullets if you disassemble the "package" ... and make sure everything is nice and snug.
Remove one base screw at a time ... apply a light dab of blue Loctite thread sealer. Then replace that screw and snug it good and tight. Do each screw, one at a time ... and be sure to use the blue colored thread sealer ... which will allow you to break it loose if you ever have to replace the base. DO NOT USE the red colored Loctite ... which is for permanently attaching something. The blue sealer will insure the screws DO NOT loosen due to recoil ... and the sealer will also insure that moisture does not seep in around the threads and rust.
It took all of about 3 to 4 minutes to properly attach one of the Traditions scope bases to the Pursuit Ultralight G4 rifle. When mounting a scope with the base ... I then just go ahead and stick the rings on ... one using the cross-bolt slot at the very rear and one using the cross-bolt slot at the very front. Then the top halves of the bases are removed...and the scope set down into the bottom halves - which are attached to the base.
The spacing of these rings allow a scope with a 3 to 4 inch eye relief to be used. I was installing one of the Hi-Lux Optics 3-9x40mm TB-ML scopes, with a 3-inch eye relief...so just slid the scope rearward until the housing for the adjustment turrets made contact with the rear ring. The top halves of the rings were reattached ... and the screws equally tightened until they were just tight enough to still allow the scope to be turned in the rings. I then use a shooting rest to hold the rifle level ... then, with the scope turned down to the lowest magnification, I align the horizontal crosshair with a deck rail that is perfectly level.
The screws are then slowly tightened a thread at a time, from screw to screw, to insure that there is a slight equal gap between both sides of the top and lower ring. DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN ... tighten the screws just snug enough to insure that the scope cannot move under recoil. If you tighten one screw too much during the installation of the top ring halves, you may find that the torque has caused the horizontal crosshair to be higher on one side - and you'll have to loose all the screws, re-level the scope, and try again.
Now, the Pursuit Ultralight G4 comes with a great set of Williams fiber-optic adjustable sights...but you'll find that when installing most any scope, you'll have to remove the rear sight to provide the clearance needed for the bell of the objective lens.
With the Hi-Lux scope squarely and solidly mounted on the rifle, it was time to hit the range. Only problem was ... Close to 18 inches of hard crusted snow keeping me from driving into the range. A few weeks earlier, I had used a toboggan to pull in my shooting rest, a couple of loading rods, a supply of Blackhorn 209 and a variety of bullets, plus a few other things ... and had stored them in the old hay barn/machine shed where I also store my shooting bench. So, with the "Ultralight" .50 caliber slung from my shoulder, I walked the half-mile into the range - primarily to sight in the scoped rifle.
I had taken this scope from a 30-inch barreled Traditions .50 caliber VORTEK Ultra Light LDR rifle, using the same Traditions mounts - and had that rifle sighted in with a 110-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet. At 100 yards the point of impact was right at 1 1/2-inches above point of aim.
Out of the noticeably lighter Pursuit Ultralight G4, I had decided to go with a lighter 100-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and the lighter 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold. I had my target stapled to a relatively new piece of cardboard, with all previous hits hidden by the target. Curious to see how close the point of impact would be ... with the scope on a new rifle and shooting a slightly lighter load, I just went ahead and set the target at 100 yards.
My first shot was directly below the "X", about 2 1/2 inches down. I made the adjustment...and my next shot hit the right side of the "X". I put two clicks of "left" adjustment and 6 clicks of "up" adjustment on the scope...and just went ahead and stapled up a new target. My next three shots punched that .677" center-to-center group shown above left. It had started to snow again, often making it a little difficult to see a new target on the 100-yard target board ... but my second group that afternoon went just 1.010" center-to-center.
Hiking in to and back out of the range with the rifle slung over a shoulder let me know how nice it was going to be hunting with this 7 3/4-pound rifle and scope rig. Although I only got to shoot those two groups that day, I already have confidence in the rifle-load-scope combo. Before spring bear season rolls around, I should get in a lot more shooting with our newest test rifle. Watch for a more in-depth shooting report on Namlhunt.com by early April. - Toby Bridges
As we begin to head out of the Winter Season, and into our favorite season, which here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING we like to refer to as our "Shooting Season", we've rounded out our line up of Traditions break-open .50 caliber in-line muzzleloading rifles. In addition to our "Upper End" VORTEK models...and our "Lower End" Buckstalker test rifle, this year we plan on doing a lot of our test shooting with a model that falls somewhere right in between those two "Ends" - the Traditions Pursuit Ultralight G4 Model.
While this model has been around for a couple of years now, I did not really "take" a good look at the rifle until this past fall. A very good friend showed up at my door one evening...to see if I could help him scope a new Traditions muzzleloader he had ordered from Cabela's, and had just received. One of his relatives in Missouri had invited him to come hunt the muzzleloader season with their hunting camp. I did have an extra Traditions scope base on hand, but not a pair of spare rings. Fortunately, there is a Sportsman's Warehouse store only about a half-mile from my house, so as he drove over to pick up a set of rings...I mounted the base - and gave the rifle a very good look over. That rifle was one of the .50 caliber break-open Pursuit Ultralight G4 models.
Knowing that he had bought the rifle on sale, for right at $300, I was very impressed at "how much rifle" he had gotten for his money. The Pursuit Ultralight G4 looked to have just about all the bells and whistles found on the "Upper End" VORTEK models, which have been our mainstay test rifles for the past several years. Features included the Accelerator quick-remove breech plug for easy cleaning of the barrel...a CereKote finished 26-inch Chromoly tapered and flutted barrel (with recessed muzzle for easy bullet starting)...and a dual safety system (cross-bolt trigger lock and hammer-block).
I really liked the slimmer and trimmer alloy receiver of this rifle...and redesigned forearm which tends to fit the hand better. According to the specification on the Traditions website, the rifle weighs in at just 5.75 pounds...which does truly make it an "Ultralight" model. I fixed him up with what he needed for loading and shooting the new rifle. Since the rifle was very light, I convinced him to load and shoot the Harvester Muzzleloading 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet ... using a 100 grain charge of Blackhorn 209. He called the next day and said he had sighted the rifle to print dead on at 100 yards...and managed to punch a couple of groups close to an inch across, A few weeks later, he took a nice 8-point (4x4) Missouri buck at about 80 yards, pretty much putting the deer down on the spot. It was his first muzzleloader deer.
As the weather allows, we will be getting in some shooting with our new Pursuit Ultralight G4 test rifle. Our first shooting with the rifle will be with the very visible fiber optic open sights that came installed, maybe to see how well the 1-in-28 twist bore shoots with a couple of different bore-sized bullets. We do have some of the very avant-garde looking new Umarex ARX saboted muzzleloader bullets (shown at left) supposedly coming our way ... and this new rifle will likely be one of the rifles we use to wring out this new muzzleloader fodder. For that shooting, we'll definitely have the rifle scoped.
If you're already shooting and hunting with one of the Pursuit Ultralight G4 rifles, please use the comment section of this post to share your load ... and how well the rifle is shooting for you. Also, if you have taken game with this rifle model, please drop us an e-mail at the following address, to share a photo of the game you harvested ... and a paragraph or two on how well the rifle (and load) performed on the game taken. We would love to share your experiences in the several articles and reports we'll be doing on our new test rifle through the rest of this year. - Toby Bridges
Of the major muzzleloading companies headquartered here in the U.S. (Traditions, CVA, Thompson Center, Knight, Dixie Gun Works) ... and still in business ... ONLY Traditions and Dixie Gun Works continue to offer muzzleloaders of traditional design. It's been just a few years since Thompson/Center Arms finally threw in the towel and ended the production of the last traditional rifle they offered - the T/C Hawken... which ironically was the rifle that got them into muzzleloading way back in 1971. The retail price of the rifle had reached nearly $800 ... and no one was buying them.
Today's market is made up of the hottest muzzleloaders ever built - the No. 209 shotshell primer ignition in-line rifle models. The most popular models of which tend to be the break-open designs, which now rarely feature a "real wood" butt-stock and fore-stock. Manufacturers have found it easier to produce these rifles with tough moulded polymer stocks, and cast receivers moulded from new space age alloys. Whether you like them or not, they are proving to be some of the most reliable muzzleloaders ever produced - and capable of some darn amazing accuracy.
Traditional muzzleloader sales dropped for two main reasons - interest in the old style muzzle-loaded guns hit rock bottom during the early 2000's...while the price tags for very well built and authentically styled copies of muzzleloading guns of the 1800's and 1700's literally went through the roof! Today, Dixie Gun Works and Italian gunmaker Davide Pedersoli & Co. continue to offer a great selection of very high quality pre-1860 style muzzleloaders...and while these two companies are both great sponsors of this web magazine, I'll be the first to say that the prices of most models they offer are far from being affordable. And that's due to the tremendous detail found in these guns...the quality of the components used to build them...and the amount of hand work it takes to "build 'em like they used to!"
The traditionally styled half-stock rifle shown above, sitting on our Caldwell "The Rock" shooting rest, is likely the "Last of the Mohicans" when it comes to being even close to affordable. It is the .50 caliber Hawken Woodsman from Traditions Performance Firearms. The percussion model shown here currently retails for $479, while a flintlock version of the rifle retails for $519.
Late this past spring, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING acquired one of the percussion ignition .50 caliber Hawken Woodsman rifles for some test shooting. It has long been our feeling that IF traditional muzzleloading is to ever have another chance at being popular again, it would first take a reasonable selection of affordable rifles ... which still display some degree of style. Not very many shooters or muzzleloadng hunters will readily fork out $1,000 to $1,500 just to see if shooting and hunting with a muzzleloader of traditional design is their thing.
I have to admit, my first impression of the Hawken Woodsman was that its stock lines could be improved a little here and there. Still, overall I found the 7 7/8-pound .50 caliber half-stock a very nice handling muzzle-loaded hunting rifle. The 28-inch octagon barrel is rifled with a 1-in-48 inches rifling twist...which tends to be more compatible with a patched round ball than a bore sized conical bullet. Shooting a 90-grain charge of GOEX FFg black powder behind a swaged 177-grain .490" diameter soft lead ball, patching with a .018" thick lubed cotton patch, we found the rifle also very accurate. That 50-yard group shown above left is actually the very first group we shot with the Hawken Woodsman.
For More On Our First Shooting With The Hawken Woodsman Go To -
And Here's A Look At How To Save Money Shooting This Rifle -
During a hunt along the Musselshell River in north-central Montana last month (November), I had managed to take a very nice 6x6 whitetail buck on the third evening of the six-day hunt, shooting a modern in-line .50 caliber rifle. I also had two antlerless tags in my pocket, and had three more days to fill them. I had taken along a variety of muzzleloaders for the hunt, and for filling those antlerless tags, I tended to head out each morning or afternoon with a different muzzleloader over my shoulder.
For the second morning of "doe hunting", I chose to wade the river to a secluded piece of river bottom brush, using the .50 Hawken Woodsman to still hunt slowly through the tangle of willows and cottonwood sapplings. However, for this hunt, I had chosen to load with the very short 270-grain belted Saber-Tooth bore-sized conical bullet (shown above left) ... which tended to shoot very well out of the .50 caliber rifle's 1-in-48 twist bore. For more on shooting this bullet out of this rifle go to -
The rifle, and bullet, proved to be the ideal choice for the morning hunt. A little more than an hour into the river-bottom hunt, the doe in the above right photo slowly worked into an opening about 70 yards from where I stood, offering a relatively easy shot for the open-sighted .50 caliber Hawken Woodsman rifle. Of course, the deer made it the 50 yards back to the middle of the river before going down. For the full story of that hunt, click on the following link.
To get an idea of just how affordable this rifle really is, shop around a bit. You're sure to suffer some sticker price shock. Most half-stock rifles of similar design will sell for $600 to $900 - and won't shoot any better than this rifle. For those of you who are good at sanding...polishing...and finishing, Traditions also offers a kit of this rifle - that comes fully inletted and pre-assembled. All you have to do is take it apart and do the final touches and to finish it. The result could be a rifle with more refined stock lines and contours. Dixie Gun Works offers the percussion Hawken Woodsman kit in their 2017 catalog for $338.00. - Toby Bridges
Look at that date on this post...it's Friday the 13th!
Recently, as I headed out for a few days of bear hunting about 120-miles northwest of where I live in Missoula, MT, about half way to where I planned to hunt, I pulled off onto a gravel side road, then made a short walk up to the small fast running mountain creek shown above. In the past, I had watched black bears feed on the new grass you can see growing where the creek bends off to the right...so I had packed my Traditions .50 VORTEK Ultra Light LDR in-line muzzleloading rifle...just in case a bear was grazing on a bit of the new green growth.
Actually, my primary reason for stopping at this spot was to get rid of a couple of too many cups of coffee enjoyed that morning...and to photograph this little stream.
I spent 10 or 12 minutes shooting a couple of vertical shots, then decided to shoot a couple of horizontal photos. I'm now redoing my living room and plan to decorate with large photos of some of my favorite places here in Montana ... as a constant reminder that I need to re-visit them again and again...plus always scout for new places.
I had just shot the photo shown at right, then played around a bit with adjusting the exposure. As I prepared to shoot the first horizontal shot...two black objects ran right into the frame. I immediately knew it was a pair of black bears, so zoomed in and snapped a couple of frames. I could tell that the larger of the two bears was a mature sow...likely of 250 or so pounds...and the other bear was very likely one of her cubs from the previous year. The smaller of the two bears looked to be of about 70 pounds.
Sow black bears generally do not breed until they are about 5 years old (breeding in the Northern Rockies generally takes place in late May and June). It's not uncommon for a cub or cubs to stick with the sow for upwards of 1 1/2 years - and the sow will not breed again until the cub (or cubs) leave on their own. To facilitate breeding...it is not uncommon for boar bears to actually kill the cub (or cubs), to make the sow receptive to breeding again.
The way the two had run down to the creek, I wondered if a boar was in pursuit. I quickly snapped the above photo, and a couple of more, of the bears looking back in the direction from which they had ran into the camera frame. A few seconds later, the two crossed the stream and headed into the thick growth off to the right of the stream. I sat down on a log and waited to see if a larger boar bear would follow. An hour later I packed up and headed on toward where I planned to hunt bear, another 70 miles on down the road.
Now, since that cub was as large and old as it was... and feeding on its own...I could have legally shot the sow...which was at most 130 yards away. Several times, the bear offered a perfect broadside shot. The rifle, with its 3-9x40mm Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML muzzleloader scope sighted 1-inch high at 100 yards, and load (110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold) could group inside of an inch at that distance ... and would have hit the bear with around 1,700 foot-pounds of energy.
Do you think I should have taken the shot? Would you have taken the shot ... or would you have done what I did ... and waited to see if a 300 to 400 pound boar bear followed? - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
Is it just me...or have many of you also noticed that today's muzzleloading industry seems to have given up on bringing new innovations or new concepts to the market? Has the industry decided for us that.."Muzzleloader development or muzzleloader performance has gone as far as we are going to allow it?"
As advanced as today's rifles and loading components may seem, to some anyway, much of what we are shooting today isn't that much different than what we were shooting (and reveling over) 20 to 30 years ago. Of all the Traditions...CVA...Thompson/Center...and Knight .50 caliber in-line rifles currently being manufactured, all still feature the 1-in-28 rifling twist. And while that twist STILL does a great job with the sabots and bullets that come pre-packaged - that does not mean it is the ideal rate of twist for obtaining optimum performance from a modern in-line ignition rifle and high performance muzzleloading powder or propellant.
Tony Knight sent me one of his first MK-85 in-line rifles back in January of 1986...Serial No. 37. Believe it or not...that rifle was built with a 1-in-48 twist barrel. Tony and I became best friends, and we spent a lot of time shooting and hunting together. We both agreed that it was going to take a much faster rifling twist to harness the (then) new saboted bullet concept ... and after some trial and error, we settled on the 1-in-28 twist. The twist became the standard for the industry by the early 1990's ... and remains so today.
Keep in mind, we were loading and shooting saboted "pistol" bullets in those days...like the 250-grain .452" diameter Hornady XTP. That bullet measures just .665" in length, while the heavier 300-grain .452" XTP measures only about .830" in length.
The Missouri buck shown above, taken in 1987, was one of my first saboted bullet bucks, taken with an "experimental" 1-in-32 "fast twist" MK-85. The following year, Knight went to the faster still 1-in-28 twist.
As I've already pointed out, the 1-in-28 twist tends to shoot very well with the "pre-packaged" sabots and bullets now available...with some bullets now exceeding 1-inch in length. But...what about saboted bullets heavier than 300 grains...or bullets that are much longer? Likewise, why would anyone want a longer and heavier bullet?
Take a look at the two bullets shown at left. The bullet on the left side of the photo is the 300-grain .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold from Harvester Muzzleloading...it's the bullet we shoot more than any other at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING. Including the polymer tip, this bullet measures right at 1.042" in length. The bullet has a .250 ballistic coefficient...compared to the .180 b.c. of the shorter .830" long Hornady 300-grain XTP hollow-point pistol bullet. Shot at the same muzzle velocity, that added .212" of length, and better aerodynamics of the polymer spire-point tip, shaves off approximately 1/3 of the bullet drop from 100 to 200 yards.
The other bullet in this photo, the one on the right, is something of a prototype I had Harvester Muzzleloading mock up for me four or five years ago. It is a .458" diameter 350-grain version of the Scorpion PT Gold. This heavyweight measures right at 1.052" in length - and from shooting the bullet and comparing the degree of drop between 100 and 200 yards, I've determined that the bullet likely has a b.c. of around .300. So, what is the significance of that?
With a 110-grain charge of Blackhorn 209, the 350-grain .458" diameter bullet will exit the muzzle of a 30-inch .50 caliber VORTEK Ultra Light LDR barrel at an average of 1,949 f.p.s. - and that works out to 2,954 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Shooting the same charge out of the same rifle, the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold is good for an average of 2,011 f.p.s. and right at 2,695 f.p.e. at the muzzle. That's 250 less f.p.e. than the 350-grain version of the bullet.
Factoring in the 350-grain .458" bullet's higher .300 b.c., out at 200 yards it would still be flying along at around 1,400 f.p.s. - where it would plow into game as large as elk with just over 1,520 f.p.e. Thanks to the bullet's .050 higher b.c., bullet drop is pretty much right on par with the lighter and faster (at the muzzle) 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. In fact, thanks to the higher b.c. of the 350-grain bullet, even though it gets out of the muzzle at around 60 f.p.s. slower velocity, it actually shoots just a bit flatter between 100 and 200 yards.
Now...Take a look at the bullet at left (and shown on the right side in the photo at the top of this post). This is another .458" diameter bullet - the Barnes lead-core jacketed 400-grain Original. This true heavyweight measures, according to Barnes, 1.16" in length. Our calipers gives us 1.166". Barnes has also established that this bullet has an astonishing .389 b.c.! (You now probably know where we are going with this.)
The fact is, we spent quite a bit of time on the range shooting this bullet...and the flat-nosed .458" diameter Barnes Buster bullet also shown in the photo at the top of this post..back in 2013. Here's a link to a report on that shooting...
As you might imagine, shooting 110-grain charges of Blackhorn 209 (and even 120-grain charges) out of basically a 9-pound rifle and scope combination was just a little on the harsh side. Still, we're headed back to the range to do more shooting with this high b.c. and aerodynamic spitzer bullet. As you will see in the article/report at the above link ... the loads shot then could easily retain between 1,800 and 2,000 foot-pounds of knockdown power...ALL THE WAY OUT AT 200 YARDS!
(Note: We have added a bit of weight to the buttstock of the Traditions VORTEK Ultra Light LDR (shown above) to help tone down the recoil. Our rifle is now something of a VORTEK Medium Weight LDR!)
We will be bringing you a report on this latest round of shooting with the Barnes 400-grain .458" Original bullet. Watch for that article/report in mid March. Here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING, we would love to hear from anyone who has either been loading and shooting saboted .458" diameter bullets out of their .50 caliber in-line rifle(s)...or who have been loading, shooting and hunting with heavyweight saboted bullets of 350- to 400-grains. Simply use the comment section of this post to share your thought and experiences...or e-mail them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rest assured, we will reach our own conclusions and opinions. Still, we would like to hear your's as well. - Toby Bridges
For More On Shooting The 400-Grain Barnes .458" Original With A Sabot...Go To -
Who In The Modern In-Line Rifle Building Industry Will Be The First To Step Into The Future To Offer .50 Caliber Rifles With A Slightly Faster 1-in-26 Inches Rate Of Rifling Twist...To Allow The Development Of Longer And Heavier High B.C. Bullets For Better Long Range Perfromance?
From all the e-mails I do receive, I realize that many of you who spend some time on NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING own and shoot one or more of the Traditions break-open No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifles. They are a great choice for the muzzleloading hunter on a budget...but who still wants great accuracy and reliability. I keep a half-dozen of the rifles on hand for my testing of powders...sabots...bullets...rifle optics...or just about any other product that can be related to hunting with a modern muzzle-loaded rifle.
Other than questions on what shoots best out of my Traditions VORTEK models, the next most frequently asked question has to do with scoping one of the rifles. Well, the Traditions break-open rifles are currently my No. 1 test rifles, and on these rifles at any given time you will find a variety of different scope models...and rings. The one thing that all six of my VORTEK rifles have in common is that each is fitted with one of the Weaver-Style machined aluminum scope bases offered by Traditions Performance Firearms...which allows me to quickly and easily swap out scopes...or to remove a scope and slap on a red-dot sight that's been sighted for those up close and personal shots when going into heavy cover where the game may have holed up.
Several of my scopes are also fitted with the simple some-what Weaver-Style rings also offered by Traditions. The company actually offers rings of this type in a couple of different versions. My favorite is the top-bottom "split ring" variation shown directly above...with the simple "coin slot" side screw for tightening the rings to the base. In just a few seconds, I can slip the the cross-bolts into the proper cross slots of the base...tighten the screws finger-tight...then use a good ol' two-bit piece (a.k.a. a quarter) to cinch 'em tight. And the Lord knows that pocket change is pretty much all I have on me more days than not! Definitely no screw driver...no Allen wrench.
For those who have no intention of moving scopes to different rifles, or to swap the scope out with a red-dot sight, Traditions also offers the set of "side clamp" rings, with a single screw running across at the top and another single screw running across at the bottom - shown in the photo at the top of this post. I've used this set up for several years now...and the VORTEK rifles this Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML scope and set of rings have been on have punched some great hundred yard groups...a few that have been sub 1/2-inch!
As this was being written, I've just started on a new testing project...to check out a modern remake of a 1960's vintage riflescope, which was adopted by the United States Marine Corps as the scope for their Vietnam era M40 sniper rifle. This is another Hi-Lux Optics product, and is an excellent rifle optic - in fact, built much better than the original Redfield manufactured scope. Originally, the reproduction was going to be offered in only the USMC issue anodized green color, but so many shooters liked the simple built-in ranging system, they asked for a matte-black model - with a Bullet Drop Compensating reticle for long range sporting or hunting rifles. I quickly realized that the scope could also prove to be an ideal hunting scope for today's modern in-line rifles - and will be testing the scope to see where those longer range hold-over bars will print my favorite load - 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold (the load used to punch that .310" group shown above left).
The rifle being used for this testing is the basic black stocked and matte CereKote finished barrel and receiver VORTEK Ultra Light LDR model. That rifle is shown above with the Hi-Lux Optics M40 Tactical Hunter scope aboard, using the very affordable Traditions scope rings and base. On the very first trip to the range, to sight the rifle and scope, this rig punched a .920" center-to-center 100-yard group with the Blackhorn 209 and Scorpion PT Gold load combo. Be sure to watch for the results of this testing on NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING by mid November. This scope could just prove to be the ideal long range muzzleloader hunting scope.
If you own a Traditions break-open in-line rifle...or if you are thinking about buying one of the rifles...and putting a scope on the rifle is in your future plans - just keep in mind, you can pay a heck of a lot more for the base and the rings for the rifle...but you simply will not buy a mounting system that will better tap the rifle's accuracy than those offered by Traditions. - Toby Bridges
For More On Traditions Mounting Accessories Go To The Following Link ...
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I have enjoyed finding a load that shoots well out of the 13-inch barreled Traditions .50 caliber VORTEK pistol shown above, and shooting the handgun enough to be able to shoot some very decent 50-yard groups with the muzzleloader. Back in 2013, I even relied on the muzzleloading handgun to fill one of my "antlerless" whitetail tags. That article can be found at -http://www.namlhunt.com/doublefeature.html
The two photos directly above show that barrel, at 20 inches, on both the VORTEK rifle frame and on the VORTEK pistol frame. The lock up and barrel lug for the rifle and pistol is exactly the same, allowing me to now actually turn my VORTEK pistol into what I like to refer to as my VORTEK Pistol Carbine.
To get a feel for the knockdown power the added 7 inches of barrel adds, thanks to a longer "working bore", go to the last round of chronographing of this barrel - at the 20 inch length. Go to - http://www.namlhunt.com/mltesting-4-5.html
As I write this, I am ready to head to the range for my first shooting with the 20-inch barrel on the pistol frame. The shortie VORTEK barrel has already proven fully capable of punching near 1/2-inch groups at 50 yards ... using one of the Hi-Lux Optics Max-Tac red-dot sights. The shooting I do with this long barreled handgun will be reported on in early September on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website. Shooting this big pistol off of a BOG-POD collapsible tripod rest this fall ought to prove interesting. - Toby Bridges
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Traditions .32 Caliber Crockett Rifle
A while back, I was going through some old photos, kind of looking for a topic for this blog. I've been so busy working on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website, I just haven't had the time to devote to a lot of projects.
From what I could see from the terrain, and where this cabin was situated, my guess was that there was likely never a road for motor vehicles within four or five miles of this backwoods home site. Chances were very good that whoever hewed out those logs also hunted with a muzzleloading rifle. The cabin could have very easily been built in the late 1800's.
What made this photo really significant to me was that it is one of the earliest photos of me hunting with a muzzleloader. The shot was taken in November of 1972 - just ten years after I had ever shot a muzzle-loaded rifle for the first time, at the age of 13 years old. I loved it so much, less than two years later I purchased my first frontloader - a .45 caliber percussion Kentucky rifle. That fall, the rifle accounted for two eight-point bucks - and I was hooked on muzzleloader hunting for life.
I had even written and had published three or four magazine articles on hunting with a muzzleloader, plus my first book, of which I wrote about 75-percent - titled BLACK POWDER GUN DIGEST. Before writing this book, after a stint with the Marine Corps as a photo journalist, I had also worked as Associate Editor for GUN WORLD and BOW & ARROW magazines.
Knew Everything? Was I ever wrong, little did I know at the time...was that my muzzleloading education hadn't even gotten a good start!
Muzzleloading was a much simpler shooting sport in those days. The vast majority of guns were built for shooting the patched round ball...and if a rifle had a quality barrel, working up a hunting load pretty much meant slowly upping the powder charge until you reached a point where the rifle no longer shot with accuracy - then you took the charge the other way until it was grouping again. Most considered 100 yards as the maximum effective range of those rifles...so few hunters ever bothered scoping a muzzleloader.
In late 1985, I became acquainted with Tony Knight, and in February 1986 I began shooting and hunting with a Knight MK-85 in-line rifle - and that's when my real muzzleloading education began. Muzzleloading as we know it today has evolved from that day forward...and since the mid 1980s, the only thing in this sport that has remained constant has been change.
On the morning that my old high school buddy Earl Barr and I found that rustic old cabin, if someone would have walked up to me and predicted that 40 years down the road I would be shooting a scoped Traditions break-open in-line rifle that utilized hot No. 209 primer ignition...and when loaded with a modern nitro-cellulose based black powder substitute and a plastic saboted polymer-tipped spire-point bullet, the rifle and load would be fully capable of consistently printing sub 1-inch 100 yard groups, I would have laughed. Then I would have gotten away from them as quickly as I could.
When I fully got into this game back in 1964, at age 15, with the purchase of my first rifle, a percussion .45 caliber Kentucky reproduction, the load I first shot and hunted with was good for about 1,900 f.p.s. - but the light 128-grain ball was generating just 1,025 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. And that load was actually dropping below the 800 f.p.e. considered to be minimum for deer at just 30 to 35 yards. Muzzleloader energies is something I did not really begin to comprehend until the early 1970s. The first whitetail I ever shot with the rifle, at 60 to 70 yards, went more than 200 yards before going down. The second buck I shot with the rifle, at about 45 yards, went more than a half-mile...and was nearly lost.
The .50 T/C "Hawken", stoked with 100-grains of FFFg black powder, would get a 370-grain soft lead "Maxi-Ball"bullet out of the 28-inch barrel at around 1,500 f.p.s., with 1,850 f.p.e. The bullet has a low b.c., and by the time it gets to 100 yards, it has slowed to just over 1,050 f.p.s., and hits with just over 900 f.p.e. At 150 yards, velocity drops to 920 f.p.s., with 690 f.p.e. The load drops below the needed 800 f.p.e. for deer sized game at about 115 to 120 yards.
In comparison, my first .50 caliber sabot-shooting Knight MK-85, loaded with a 110-grain charge of Pyrodex "P", would launch a saboted 250-grain Hornady XTP JHP at 1,625 f.p.s., and generate close to 1,525 f.p.e. That bullet has a .147 b.c., and at 100 yards was still good for 1,250 f.p.s. and almost 870 f.p.e. At 150 yards, velocity is down to 1,075 f.p.s. and energy is down to around 640 f.p.e. The load drops below 800 f.p.e. at about 110 to 115 yards.
The Traditions .50 VORTEK Ultra Light LDR has proven to be one of the absolute finest performing No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifles I have ever shot and hunted with. While I do intend to do some hunting with several other rifles during the coming fall hunting seasons...the performance of the Ultra Light LDR has already insured that it will be one of my primary hunting rifle in 2015. Topped with one of the Hi-Lux 3-9x TB-ML multi-reticle scopes, using the proper long-range cross-bar for the range, the rifle and load shared earlier easily keeps ALL HITS in the kill zone at 200...225...250 yards - and with the knockdown power to insure the game will be laying very close to where it was standing when the shot was taken.
To see how the VORTEK Ultra Light LDR fared in a 50 Consecutive Shot Test, go to -
Over on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website, you'll now find between 200 and 225 articles, reports, and pages of data that shares what I've learned along the way. Likewise, in addition to this blog, I also host the North American Muzzleloader Hunting blog, the Harvester Muzzleloading Hunter blog, the Blackhorn 209 Hunter blog and the Traditional Muzzleloading Hunter blog - with lots of info there. There is no better place to give your muzzleloading education a real jump start.
If you have travelled the same long road I've taken to get here, or have some great muzzleloader performance information that others can benefit from...please jump in on the comment sections of these blogs and share.
For A Look At Traditions's New "Hammerless" VORTEK StrikerFire Rifle Go To -
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