When I first bought my modern inline muzzleloader, I relied on the advice of too many people that didn’t know what they were talking about. I recognize all the B.S. now, but back then I was glad for any advice I could get. That bad advice set me back many months before I learned how to clean, load and shoot accurately.
I was not the only beginning muzzleloader to be given bad advice. This week, I watched two young men trying to shoot their new muzzleloaders. I say trying, because I no longer consider 6 inch groups at 50 yards to be getting the job done.
Most modern muzzleloaders should be capable of shooting one inch groups at 100 yards even if every shooter is not. They were having problems because they had been given some of the same bad advice I was given.
What kind of bad advice was I given? Here are a few examples:
Free Bad Advice Given while Learning to Shoot My Muzzleloader
- Always use magnum loads (150 grains) in magnum gun
- Use Power Belt bullets because they load easy
- Don’t need to clean barrel after each shot
If you’re not laughing at me by now, then you are the person I wrote this post for and I can help you shoot more accurately.
Want another laugh at my expense?
I also wasted several weeks trying to learn how to “season” my barrel like a cast iron frying pan. Pure non-sense, but back to the problem at hand – achieving 1 inch accuracy with our muzzleloaders.
Why Not Use Magnum Loads?
So, why shouldn’t we use the maximum 150 grain loads if our guns can handle the stress? Stands to reason that maximum load creates maximum velocity, which creates a flatter trajectory. Flat trajectories and increased energy at the point of impact are usually good characteristics for hunting.
For one reason, there are many muzzleloaders that are not capable of shooting anything close to “magnum” loads. Do not test any loads of modern powder in your muzzleloader unless you are certain it can withstand the pressures.
For another reason, even massed produced modern guns can have their own peculiarities. Some guns shoot best with different bullets and different amounts of powder. It’s your job to discover that combination and it requires systematic testing to discover the best combination.
Differences in Muzzleloader Barrels and Bullets
For starters, different manufacturers of 50 cal barrels may have different sized barrels. Thompson Center (TC) barrels are produced very consistently at 0.500 inches. Savage barrels are consistently 0.501 and Knight rifles are consistently 0.502 inches. Other brands may not be consistent from one gun to the next.
Also, the 45 caliber bullets we use in our 50 cal muzzleloaders are not all exactly 0.45 inches. Hornady bullets actually measure 0.452 inches, Barnes bullets are 0.451 and Sierra bullets are 0.4515 inches. The sabots that go with these bullets also come in different thickness, so it should be obvious that different barrels will perform better with different bullet and sabot combinations because they fit differently. I have learned that Barnes T-EZ muzzleloader bullets shoot best in my TC Pro Hunter.
Why Not Use PowerBelt Bullets?
What about those Powerbelt bullets? There are so easy to load. Did the salesman at the sporting goods store lie to me? No, Powerbelt bullets probably worked well for him in his muzzleloader, but they did not work well in my TC encore. I could never shoot better than 3 inch groups with Powerbelts (245 or 295 grain Aerotip) at 100 yards. Plus, later I learned that Powerbelts have poor ballistic coefficients and very poor weight retention when compared to other bullets. Look for a post in the future about making fishing sinkers out of Powerbelt bullets.
Do You Really Have to Clean the Barrel after Every Shot?
Not if you are just shooting for fun, but if you want to shoot for accuracy, like when sighting in your gun or working up a load, then Yes! You really need to clean the barrel and breech plug after every shot (or every other shot).
NOTE: I actually shoot two times before cleaning. Once with the clean barrel at one target and once with the dirty barrel at a second target. I use powder for my first clean barrel shot and reload with pellets for a quick second shot. Why not practice as if we were hunting? If you missed while hunting, you would have to reload quickly and take a second shot from a dirty barrel.
Consistent shooting requires consistent loading and cleaning. How consistent can the load be if you push all that left over crud down on top of the powder when you seat the bullet? Crud gets mixed with the powder and crud increases the distance of the bullet from the spark. Also, how can the bullet exit the barrel consistently when sometimes it’s clean, sometimes its a little dirty and sometimes it’s real dirty?
Also ever considered the inconsistency of using pellets that have chips missing? And, does it make a difference if you sometimes crush the pellets when ramming them down the barrel?
I’ve read articles claiming the bore will be more consistent if you don’t swab after each shot because swabbing causes inconsistencies. I agree that inconsistent swabbing can be a problem, but consistent swabbing, lubing and drying has to create a more consistent barrel than not swabbing. Anyway, I know what has worked for me and that is to clean the barrel and the breech plug after each shot.
I suggest that you try it both ways and see what you think. Which method gives you the smallest groups?
How To Shoot Muzzleloader Accurately
So, how did I escape from the dark side and get back on the right path? It is a very simple process, but requires steps.
- Consistent Cleaning
- Consistent Loading
- Consistent Shooting
- Systematic Testing of powder loads and bullets
Consistent cleaning and loading are simple tasks, but require organization and discipline. Shooting is a perishable skill that we all have to practice constantly to stay proficient. I suggest that while sighting in your muzzleloader or while testing to find the best load for your gun, that you use a bipod, sand bags or a bench rest rests to remove as much of the shooter variation as possible.
My Load for Thompson Center Encore
For mule deer, the most accurate load for my TC Encore is a 250 grain Barnes T-EZ sabot and bullet with 95 grains of Pyrodex Select Powder. I use Federal or Remington 209 primers. Nothing fancy, but it works for me.
For elk, I use a 290 grain Barnes T-EZ sabot and bullet with 120 grains of Pyrodex Select Powder.
For a second shots during practice and in hunting situations, I use 100 grains of Pyrodex Pellets with the 250 grain Barnes T-EZ bullet and 110 or 120 grains with the 290 grain Barnes T-EZ bullet. (110 grains = 50+30+30; 120 grains = 4 X 30).
Don’t know why you missed that deer or elk with your muzzleloader? It might have something to do with those 6 inch groups at the range that automatically turn into 12 inch groups (or worse) in the field.
I suppose I am like a reformed smoker in a way… Now that I know modern inline rifles can shoot tight groups, it drives me crazy to see people that are satisfied with less, especially if they plan to wildly lob those bullets at deer and elk.
I’ve written a book about learning to shoot a muzzleloader accurately. Learn more about my book: Modern Inline Muzzleloader Guide to Loading, Shooting & Cleaning for Accuracy where I share the bad information I was given, the mistakes I made and the valuable tips I learned along the way.