The black powder smoke-poles from yesteryear have taken a backseat to the modern day inline muzzleloader rifles that shoot saboted bullets and use black powder substitutes. Industry leaders have accepted the challenge to carry muzzleloader hunting to an unprecedented level of performance, and the outcome has been impressive!
By Denny Quaiff
As the sun set in the western sky and daylight faded fast, young bucks and does were walking out from every direction. The long, narrow food plot I’d been watching for the past three hours had produced for me in the past, and things were getting interesting. It was the first Monday of the early muzzleloader season, and the rut was heating up. A quick look at the time revealed that only 20 minutes of legal shooting light remained. I scanned the area with my binoculars and spotted a buck with tall antlers. The buck was in heavy rut and slowly walking stiff-legged down the edge of the field straight away from me looking for a hot doe. I captured pictures of this cull buck on my trail cameras over the past two summers. There was no doubt this was a mature animal that needed to be removed from the gene pool.
Without a second thought, I shouldered my black powder rifle across the shooting rail on the tripod stand. The buck was still walking away, so I hit the grunt tube twice, and he stopped and turned broadside. With the scope crosshairs lined up center on his chest, it was a natural instinct to squeeze the trigger. The hot powder load roared, and the sound of the 250 grain bullet echoed as it reported down range. When the smoke cleared, it was quite satisfying to see the buck lying flat on his back. My range finder indicated the shot was 112 yards, and the exit wound was quite impressive.
During the past 28 years, since the statewide special early muzzleloader season was first introduced in Virginia, it’s been my good fortune to have experienced many exciting hunts. The two week early muzzleloader season is a prime time to catch bucks on the move. Having a black powder rifle that is fine tuned can be the difference between success and failure. The following overview is the set up that I’ve found to be noteworthy. Hopefully our readers will find at least one useful tip from my commitment to achieve the very best action in muzzleloader accuracy and performance. My muzzleloader, powder load and bullet choice come from many hours of range work. The test results have been exceptional, and there would be no one to blame but myself for a poorly placed shot when hunting.
Choosing an in-line Muzzleloader
My favorite muzzleloader rifle is an MK85, and I own five by various manufacturers. Several years ago, Field and Stream Magazine published a poster titled, ‘The 50 Best Guns Ever Made.’ The Knight MK85 was number 37, and it was the only muzzleloader to make this prestigious list. One of the things that make my muzzleloader so special to me is that Tony Knight, who passed away in 2013, autographed the thumb-hole stock many years ago. Today we have over 90,000 black powder deer hunters throughout the Old Dominion. Tony Knight deserves a great deal of the credit for this success story. It has been said before, but its well worth repeating, “Tony Knight did for muzzleloader hunting what Fred Bear did for bow hunting.” Although several well known manufacturers have moved to the forefront of the muzzleloader industry, Knight Rifles are truly the pioneer of the modern day inline muzzleloader mania. It’s safe to say that today the in-line muzzleloader is used by the majority of deer hunters. Several of the industry manufacturers have rifles that widely range in price and quality features. Many of these front stuffers come from the factory capable of producing 2 inch groups at 100 yards. The most recent development following the muzzleloader craze is the rifle built to shoot smokeless powder. Some of the manufacturers building these rifles advertise muzzle velocity up to 3000 fps. I have no personal experience with any of these rifles and only know what I have read and been told. The one thing that I do know and preach is to never use smokeless powder in a rifle that is not built for the task. It has proven to be dangerous. Always read the manufacturer’s instruction manual that accompanies all rifles. Follow their recommended guidelines to the letter.
Muzzleloader rifles built to shoot smokeless powder have a high-end purchase price, and this is one of the reasons that the market share throughout the industry has been slow. Keep in mind that prices historically have come down as technology continues to advance. Don’t be surprised if smokeless powder muzzleloaders become more affordable for the average deer hunter creating a greater demand throughout the hunting community.
When deciding on new muzzleloaders take time to do your homework. Research the internet for noted manufacturers to learn more about their latest models. Then stop by your local gun dealer and see what he has in stock. Listen to their black powder specialist and weigh out all of your options.
A Muzzleloader rifle that performs with excellence can be a lifetime hunting partner, just like my MK85.
Working up a Powder and Bullet Combination for Perfection
One of the most recognized names in the gun powder industry is Hodgdon Powder Company. This family owned business has been around for over 50 years. My first experience with their products was the Pyrodex powder used in my old percussion side hammer smoke-pole on my first muzzleloader hunt 29 years ago. This was the only black powder substitute that I was aware of, which was approved for deer hunting by the Virginia Game Department when the special early muzzleloader season started in 1990.
Hodgdon has always been on the cutting edge of technology. Their patented 50 grain Pyrodex Pellets came along in the mid 1990’s and took the market by storm. The new product offered modern day muzzleloaders the user friendly convenience they were looking for and answered the demanding outcry for fast action. However, the introduction of their Triple-Seven Powder in 2001 really got my interest. Triple-Seven pellets and granulated powder have proven to be a success story for muzzleloader consistency and accuracy in performance. The black powder substitute is unique for its easy water clean up and no sulfur smell.
When the new product first hit the market Chris Hodgdon, whom I am proud to have known for many years, sent me a box of pellets and two 1 pound cans of powder. It was my goal to develop a load that was second to none, and with the help of my friend and gunsmith, the late Dave Munden, we set out to do just that.
Dave and I worked together at his rifle range and determined that 110 grains of FFFg Triple Seven Powder was the right measured volume for my rifle. The granulated Triple Seven FFFg Powder produces a 15% hotter charge than the FFg pellets. Our next step was to find the right bullet. We then settled on the 250 grain Parker Productions saboted Hydra-Con bullet and determined this was a perfect combination for this MK85. Parker Productions is also a family business who strives for perfection. Bob Parker has become a good friend throughout the years and has never been more than a phone call away for technical advice.
Dave Munden’s gunsmith trade taught him never to be completely satisfied until all of the facts are determined and to always check the muzzle velocity with the chronograph. The rifle was shooting consistent 1 ½ to 2 inch three shot groups at 100 yards, and the muzzle velocity ranged from 1945 to 1980 fps. Dave Munden was sold on the Parker Bullets. Dave’s son, Justin, who now runs the DSS Custom Guns Shop, that his Dad started over 45 years ago, continues to stand behind the Parker Productions.
During a recent phone conversation with Chris Hodgdon, we discussed what my test results had revealed from years gone by. Chris suggested that he would take the same load that I use and run a test with two different rifles to see how things compared. The results were amazing and very comparable to the test that we had run over 18 years ago. The Hodgdon Firing Record Chart bears out the facts.
Today, I’m still shooting a 250 grain saboted projectile. However, an upgrade to the Parker Ballistic Extreme if you can imagine, has tightened my groups and built even more confidence for longer shots. The Parker Ballistic Extreme Polymer Tip not only shoots very tight groups and looks good, its performance is remarkable. The exit wounds on whitetails that I have taken were comparable to deer that had been shot with my 30-06 center fire rifle and left similar blood trails that were easy to follow. You can rely on Parker’s bullets to get the job done. It is wise to dedicate time to determine what bullet size and design performs best in your rifle and will prove to be well worth your efforts.
Parker Productions have two primary objectives. Bob Parker says, “Our first goal is to produce the best product we possibly can. The second is to treat those who use our products the way we would like to be treated.” The Parker Production’s Ballistic Extreme Chart provides professional data detailing the precision that puts these bullets in a league of their own.
When we look back over the past 29 years, and think about all of the changes that have taken place in the black powder world, it becomes mind boggling. The first year Virginia’s statewide muzzleloader deer season was only six days, and the bag limit was one antlered buck.
Muzzleloading was originally considered to be a primitive weapon season. Rifles had to be side hammer percussion or flint lock, and only conical bullets or round balls were legal. Black powder or black powder substitutes were the charge behind the bullet with a #11 percussion cap for the ignition.
Today things have advanced with much more liberal bag limits and a two week season. The scoped inline muzzleloader is the popular choice for whitetail hunters. Pellet powder, fired by a 209 shotgun primer, along with sabots and bullets that are precision made for accuracy are what most deer hunters use. The long range, flat-shooting capabilities of modern day muzzle-loading rifles are beyond the wildest imagination of the buck skinners from yesteryear.
Muzzleloader season in the Old Dominion is set to open on November 2 this year. There’s still time to get your smoke-pole dialed in. It’s my recommendation to give the powder and bullet combination, which has been consistent from the test outlined in this article, a fair chance. The results set forth have met the test of time. The dedicated manufacturers that developed the products and made all of this possible are industry leaders who take pride in their work.
Muzzleloaders will be the first gun hunters in the deer woods this fall. Along with being prepared, the most important thing that we must all be mindful of is hunter safety. Always be completely aware of your target and beyond, and wear blaze orange. When hunting from a treestand, always wear a full body harness. Use common sense and be responsible. You owe it to yourself, family, fellow hunters and their loved ones!
Parker Balistic Extreme:
BULLET WEIGHTS 250, 275 and 300 gr. BALLISTIC COEFFICIENT SECTIONAL DENSITY 250 gr. BC = 0.267 SD = 0.176 275 gr. BC = 0.296 SD = 0.194 300 gr. BC = 0.324 SD = 0.212 BULLET DIAMETER .451 (all Parker Ballistic Extreme and Match Hunters now standardized to this diameter) JACKET 1. Thickness 0.015 2. Material C-210 copper (95% copper 5% zinc) CORE 99.9% pure lead TIP Polymer TERMINAL EXPECTATIONS: 1. Good expansion and penetration with standard muzzleloaders 2. Dramatic Terminal Performance, with high velocity smokeless weapons ACCURACY: The projectiles are held to the highest standards of materials and workmanship; our goal to produce the most accurate projectile possible. Note BC @ 2850 fps.
©Virginia Deer Hunters Association. For attribution information and reprint rights, contact Denny Quaiff, Executive Director, VDHA.