What's a good long distance muzzleloader?

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Buck Conner1

Well-Known Member
Oct 20, 2015
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Subject: "What's a good long distance muzzleloader?"

We have all read articles about this subject (mostly written by manufacturers pushing their wares). See article below.

I contacted "Idaho Lewis" as he does as much long distance shooting as anyone here if not more. He always gives us good details and some pretty cool pictures with his findings. Now we can wait for a reply on what he's doing now. See message sent to him this morning.

Hey Bud,

Why not give us a report on your best shooting muzzleloader (600 - 800 yard) gun. Show pictures of the gun - the make, sights, and aids to make such shots. Also tell us about what bullets your casting for these shots and the powder and best loads. I have guys asking me about getting started in long range muzzleloading, I'm lost as 200 yards is about my max.

Long-Range Muzzleloaders

Killing antelope at 220 - 250 yards might come as a shock to some hunters, however, is that it’s happens with in-line muzzleloaders. The CVA Optima Elite at ranges of more than 200 yards are always reported, including a 60-pound Austrian chamois, a small mountain goat, from 217 yards.

Thirty years ago, if you could shoot a 4-inch group from a muzzleloader at 100 yards, you were doing well. Now, match shooters and hunters have entered a new era in which long-range killing shots are becoming the norm and a tight three-shot group at 200 yards doesn't merit a second look. Some shooters are even drilling targets consistently at 250 yards, which gives them a real advantage in states where deer hunters are limited by law to muzzleloaders or slug guns.

Affective bullet performance--the powder, the bullet and the gun itself, is what Knight Rifles claim. "All three have seen huge improvements since they were first introduced. Of course, none of that matters if the person using the gun can't shoot well, but assuming he can, those three things are all factors."

CVA reports that for most hunting situations where shots less than 100 yards are standard, it's not critical to fine-tune a rifle so it can peg a quarter at 200 yards. But sometimes a long shot is all you get, and you need to be prepared if you want to take it.

Pelleted powder became a popular alternative to loose powder when Pyrodex introduced solid, premeasured pellets in 1997. Each pellet weighs 50 grains, giving shooters the option of pushing a bullet with 50, 100 or 150 grains of powder. For most close-range hunting or shooting situations, pelleted powder is a welcome and convenient option, but it has its drawbacks. Most guns perform best with a specific powder load, something that often can't be achieved with premeasured pellets.

The best load for your gun might be one hundred fifty grains, but then again it might be one hundred forty grains. I prefer to have the freedom of changing the load incrementally--say, by ten grains. That's what a lot of match shooters do, although some will actually experiment with five-grain increments until they hit the right load. By shooting with different powder loads, you can find out which one performs best for your gun. The difference in accuracy between one hundred thirty and one hundred forty grains of Triple Seven [granulated black powder] at two hundred yards can be enormous."

The other drawback to powder pellets, is that they don't fit tightly in the barrel. That space around the pellets reduces pressure and the ignition rate of the powder, causing inconsistencies that ultimately affect accuracy. Loads with more powder tend to shoot better than those with less powder, because hotter loads give you more velocity and better bullet stabilization. However too much powder can create drag on the bullet as it travels down the barrel.

We experimented with all sorts of powder loads for a fifty-caliber, and we found that there is a point of diminishing return when you go above a certain amount of powder. We did gain velocity with loads above one hundred fifty grains, but the bullet started going all over the place. Just as modern powder components have helped increase muzzleloader performance, advances in bullet design have improved accuracy tremendously. Prior to sabots and belted, copper-plated bullets, in-line shooters were limited to round balls and cast-lead bullets. Neither was remarkably accurate. Newer bullets, however, are tack drivers when fired out of in-lines.

Many shooters don't like using sabots because they can be tough to push down a barrel, but they form a tighter seal than loose bullets, which prevents gasses from escaping around the bullet as it travels through the barrel. We recommend sabots with thin petals, which open faster after leaving the barrel, permitting the bullet to travel downrange unhindered by the plastic sabot. Power Belt belted bullets, which slide down the barrel with only a light push on the ramrod. The problem with sabots is they are almost impossible to seat after the first couple of shots. A lot of shooters feel like they need a hammer to beat the bullet down the barrel. That can lead to short-loading, which means the bullet isn't seated all the way down the barrel. That can result in inconsistent pressure, which affects accuracy."

While some disagree on bullet styles, we found that heavier bullets tend to shoot more accurately. We like the Barnes muzzleloader bullets between 275 and 300 grains for .50-caliber rifles. The bullets are actually .451 caliber and are longer than most muzzleloader bullets. Longer bullets stabilize better. Some like the 275-grain .45-caliber Power Belts. The .45 has a higher velocity and a flatter trajectory than larger bullets, offering better long-range accuracy.

In the race to make a better muzzleloader, gun manufacturers have given hunters the same components they demanded on their centerfire rifles: crisp, reliable triggers, comfortable stocks and high-quality barrels. The result is out-of-the-box accuracy. The biggest improvement in in-lines during the last ten years has to do with the manufacturing process of the barrels. Everything is high-tech now. The barrel walls are uniform, the rifling is dead-on and there are fewer variations from barrel to barrel.

Knight's Long Range hunter has a free-floating barrel (a feature cherished by centerfire rifle shooters because of its high accuracy) and an adjustable trigger. Consequently, Knight guarantees that the Long Range Hunter will produce three-shot groups of 4 inches at 200 yards. Their .50-caliber Long-Range Hunter (starting at about $650), Barnes 285-grain Spitzer boattail bullet, Knight yellow sabot, 120 grains of 777 granular powder, Winchester 209 primer.

CVA .45-caliber Optima Elite (starting at about $350), 150 grains of Pyrodex (three 50-grain pellets), 777 Winchester primer and a 275-grain Power Belt Aerotip bullet.


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More Ideas for this subject.

Getting Good Muzzleloader Performance Begins Here

These days there are many quality muzzleloaders capable of precision accuracy at 200 yards. But maximizing muzzleloader accuracy is more difficult than shooting tight groups with a centerfire rifle. You have to start with a solid platform. This means you need a quality gun. What makes a quality gun? Well, a good barrel, a solid stock and a decent trigger. Pretty much everything else is an accessory.

You need good sights, whether open sights or optics. You need a good bullet that shoots well from your gun and you need good powder. To figure out the right amount of powder, you’ll have to shoot a lot. Developing a great muzzleloader load is like developing a cooking recipe. You add a little of this and take away a little of that until it’s just right.

“The old phrase, it’s not the fiddle, it’s the fiddle player’, has never been more true than when it comes to making a muzzleloader accurate at long distances. Muzzleloading is not much different than archery in the sense that an archer has to practice a lot before he heads to the timber to hunt. I believe that muzzleloader hunters should practice as much as an archer, or more, so they really understand the complexities of their weapon.”

Swab Between Shots
A lot of fouling occurs when shooting a muzzleloader. Enough, in fact, from each shot to slightly alter the direction of your bullet. You might not notice it at 50 yards, but when you start stretching out to 200 yards, the deviation increases. Consistency is the biggest requirement for getting muzzleloader performance out past the 200-yard mark. If you want your gun to shoot the same every time, you need to swab the bore between shots. This will ensure that every shot is the exact same in bore resistance and chamber pressure.

If you want to be accurate beyond 200 yards with a muzzleloader, then there is no magic formula. You need to put in time at the range and experiment with different loads and accessories. One thing to keep in mind when you’re at the range practicing is to seat your bullet exactly the same way each time. Mark your ramrod to make sure the bullet is seated exactly at the same place against your powder.”

If you are going to be shooting a muzzleloader out to 100 yards, I highly recommend a good scope. Shooting at 200 yards without a good scope is virtually impossible for the average hunter. Good is defined by glass and quality is represented by price. The more expensive the scope, chances are, the higher the quality of glass. Quality matters most in low-light conditions, which just happen to be when you are taking most of your shots.

“Good optics are a must on long shots. Always buy the best glass you can afford.” “And ballistic reticles can really help with longer shots.

Use a Heavy Bullet
The bullet debate hinges on weight. Some preach speed while others preach knock-down power. Serious long-range shooters consider both.

“I match the bullet weight to the game I’m hunting. On deer-sized animals, a 250-grain bullet is very effective.” A lighter bullet might reach a 200-yard target a little faster, but a heavier bullet will retain more energy.

“The lighter a bullet is, the quicker it runs out of steam, and the heavier a bullet is, the longer it will carry its energy. Even though the trajectory isn’t as flat, I believe a heavier bullet is a better choice for long-range shots.” I prefer a 300-grain bullet because I like the knock-down power and greater wind resistance.

Keep the Powder Consistent
Most muzzleloaders can handle up to 150 grains of powder, but that does not mean that they shoot well with that amount. “Just because a gun will shoot 150 grains doesn’t mean that’s the best load. I shoot 120 grains. It pushes my bullets fast, but not to the point that they get erratic flight.”

Chamber pressure is the amount of pressure the powder builds up when it is ignited by the primer. If this pressure varies much it will cause the bullet to leave the barrel faster or slower, thus making the bullet have a different impact point on the target. Swapping from one brand of powder to another is likely to cause some differences in chamber pressure. Find a powder that delivers good performance from your gun and stick with it.

Keep It Steady
At the range, you are sitting on a chair or bench seat. Your rifle is on a rest and your crosshairs are steady. In the field, you just hoofed it up a long hill, so you’re sweating and out of breath. You’re trying to hold your rifle offhand, and the crosshairs are dancing like a chicken walking on lava. Don’t shoot. Force yourself to find a steady rest.

“Don’t take a long shot without a very steady rest. In most hunting situations I try to find a natural rest that is rock-solid, or I use my pack in the prone position. I am also a fan of using a bipod that mounts on your gun.”

If you hope to be accurate with a muzzleloader beyond 200 yards, then buy the best equipment you can afford and spend a lot of time at the range. Dialing in at long distances isn’t rocket science. You can do it. But you’ll need to find the right muzzleloader and match it with the right bullet and powder charge. When you get it right and start punching tight groups at 200 yards, you’ll find the work was worth it.

Come on Lewis we are waiting on you.

I just contacted Doc White (GRRW fame) as he builds traditional as well as in-lines capable of 1000 yard groups. Be interesting to get his thoughts too.

You that don't know him or haven't read his articles have missed out. I just got off the phone with Doc and he's going to join in here. Just posted a few of his rifles he makes for those longer shots.

A Rigby Sporting-Target rifle in .367 caliber for 300 grain slip-fit bullets. The rear sight is a mid-range ladder, good for up to 700 yards, the front a Globe.

Another Sporting Target rifle in dark maple with tall rear peep good for 1000 plus yard shooting and Globe front sight. The DST was unusual in Britain. The SST were sometimes used. Note that the most consistent part of these two rifles is the lock and breaching.

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The Parker Hale .451 of any of the rifling types will do long range shots, you can get them with Rigby rifling ( 1st generation of which I have one in use) Henry rifling and of course Whitworth rifling. these rifles come with a ladder rear sight which is ok for hunting. I hunted with the PH two bander rifle when I was a kid with success.
Lots of good information to start with on the subject matter Buck'. I always enjoyed reading posts from Idaholewis.
It's an extra step, but I too always swab between shots on the range for consistency since I hunt with a clean barrel.
To answer your "question", my long range inline smoker is a scoped CVA Kodiak Pro in .45. 195 grain sabot-ed Barnes pushed by 120 grains of BH209 and a solid rest takes me mentally comfortably out to 200 yards for hunting whitetails. A heavier bullet IMO is needed beyond that distance with a smoke gun.
Hope to hear from other members who have taken game beyond 150 yards with blackpowder.
I too enjoyed reading posts from Idaholewis. :thumbs up:

He has moved on to another webstite that does mostly modern muzzleloaders subjects, sad he will be missed.

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What's a "good long distance muzzleloader?"

Well ... flintlocks and side lock percussion arms using a vernier tang sight have been consistantly hit targets out past 1,000 yards for hundreds of years ... both in times of war and the rare times of peace.

I suppose any quality muzzleloading rifle with the proper load is capable of better accuracy than most shooters are capable of at long distances.
I'm looking for an article (documented) of a long distance shot made during the American Civil War (was in an American Rifleman magazine a dozen years ago).

A Union Officer would set every evening facing a river at the same spot and have his drink by the camp fire with his younger officers. Across the river a Reb Sharpshooter watched this for several nights (figured approximately the distance to sight in at, practiced and was ready knowing his target). A few more days and the Reb was ready, at dust climbered a tree for an advantage point. Sighted in on his target the shooter pulled the trigger. As the ball was on its way the high ranking officer got up a another officer sat in his chair and died on the spot. That shot was recorded in the Reb's log book and signed by a half dozen folks watching, later the distance was measured at approximately 1,010 yards. 880 yards equals 1/2 mile - that's a very nice shot in any ones book.

Good thing the higher ranking officer didn'r say "seat saved" - no story ..... ;) :cheers:
For long range muzzleloading rifle shooting trials were held in 1857 to compare Whitworth's design against the Enfield. The Whitworth rifle outperformed the Enfield at a rate of about three to one in the trials, which tested the accuracy and range of both weapons. Notably, the Whitworth rifle was able to hit the target at a range of 2,000 yards, where the Enfield was only able to hit the same target at a range of 1,400 yards
The "Volunteer Movement" was established in Great Britain in 1847, with lack of interest of manufacturers in the idea it was dropped. It was felt it would be a show of personal skills rather than the weapon them selves.

To gain significant factors in maintaining this idea the formation of the National Rifle Association in 1859 and the sponsorship by Queen Victoria of a competition in the NRA Annual Rifle meeting first held competition in 1860.

The Volunteers were a military organisation and their arm of issue was the Pattern 1853 ‘Enfield’ Rifle Musket. Both the Volunteers and the NRA held many competitions which were fired with this rifle, perhaps the most notable being the first stage of the Queen’s Prize, with shooting out to 600 yards.

For many years the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain have continued this tradition of long range shooting with the Enfield rifle. Their match schedule includes National Rifle Championship matches at 200, 300, 500 and 600 yards. For those seeking a further challenge, the Long Range Rifles Branch of the MLAGB Asquith Cup match is an aggregate fired at 600 and 800 yards with the Enfield.
NRA National Archive.​
Pick up a copy of Ned Roberts' book, "The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle". Lots of information there on long range target shooting. I got a copy a while back and just finished reading it. A re-read actually, since I had first read a copy from the library about 25 years ago.

He recounts the Creedmore matches, where the Irish rifle team used muzzleloaders while the Americans used centerfire rifles. The Irish did NOT have to swab between shots, while the US team did. The range started at 600 yards, then 800 and finally 1000. The Americans won by a point; one of the Irish shooters made one shot at the wrong target so it was disqualified. Otherwise the Irish would have won.

Lots of good information in that book, written in 1940. The originals are way spendy, but I got my reprint as a used book for $20.