While hating to start off with the same line of options, options, options…I can’t help it, it’s even more true with load components than anything!
1. Bullets, 2. Powder, 3. Primers…within the categories, the choices are endless. In this post, I want to give you a few things to think about that will help you find loads that will provide you with consistency, accuracy and big game performance. Let’s start with bullets and what to look for.
BULLETS - First, lets talk about bullets that will hold up while shooting big game. The main thing here is to look for a bullet that will maintain most of it’s weight after impact and while penetrating the game. A bullet that comes apart on impact will not have much of a chance of penetrating in one side and exiting the other; not giving us the chance of having two holes for leaving a blood-trail out both sides.
Second would be a bullet with a good ballistic coefficient or BC. As most of you know, this factor is a number based on a few things: weight, length, shape, etc. Most muzzleloader bullets have a BC factor of between .180 to .240. Some muzzleloader bullets go over .300, but not many.
The BC factor gives us an idea as to how well a bullet will overcome the urge to decelerate due to air drag while in flight. The higher the BC factor, the better the flight we can expect from a bullet. What this comes down to is this: the higher the BC Factor, the flatter the flight path.
Flat flight path = less bullet drop = what you want.
There are a couple of things that really affect muzzleloader bullets and keep their ballistic coefficient low:
1. bullet weight
In other words, they’re heavy, fat and short.
These things are a fact, it’s science. There is nothing we can do about it, so we just have to deal with it and compensate for it. It’s not a problem but these factors, along with slower velocities, is what restricts and limits the range of even modern muzzleloaders.
In our testing, I’ve always opted to pick the higher BC Factor bullets and that will provide less drop and deliver more controllable and predictable flight paths at a range of 250 yards, and in some cases, 300 yards.
The bullets that will provide these results on a consistent basis are 250 to 270 grains, usually have a ballistic tip and have a BC Factor of .210 to .240 (with the right velocities).
This is a big subject, and I want to get into it much deeper, but it will have to wait for a future post. In the meantime, just keep a couple of brands in mind: Barnes, Hornady, Parker, PowerBelt, Precision, and Thompson Center.
POWDER - The next big factor in a load is Powder. Again, a lot of options. But in the case of powders they have been the easiest to figure out which ones are worth spending money on. What we look for in a powder is one that will have:
1. reliability to ignite
2. produce good consistent velocities
3. resistance to moisture
After testing all the powders on the market (and I do mean ALL), the only two we trust for our hunts at this time are Blackhorn 209 and Hodgden Triple 7.
We recommend no one, ever, use pellet-type powders (another complete topic for another day).
Whenever I do this sort of thing, I always go in alphabetical order, so let’s start with Blackhorn 209. Blackhorn has been on the market for 3 years now and it is my powder of choice. It provides very consistent velocities, packs in the barrel very tightly, burns extremely cleanly, holds up very well against moisture, ignites very well, has an almost indefinite shelf-life and best of all, numerous shots can be fired without cleaning between shots without any loss of accuracy. It is best cleaned up with normal solvent-type barrel cleaners, which are much better on your rifle than water-based cleaners. And it cleans the other parts of your rifle much faster than any other brands, to include the breech plug and frame. About the only problem you can have with this powder is having to wait between shots because you can re-load and fire so quickly your barrel will heat up and affect accuracy.
Hodgdens Triple 7 is another good power. It provides great, consistent velocities and ignites well. It is lower in price than Blackhorn 209, but can clump up in the can during the off-season, so it does not provide as good of results the next year, so the lower price is a trade-off. We always replace Triple 7 while testing if the powder sits around for several months between our testing sessions. This tells me that is does not resist moisture well. Triple 7 is a mess to shoot, it leaves a lot of residue behind, however, it does clean up well with water-based cleaners. The barrel must be cleaned between shots to get consistent velocities and it is also very hard to load a second shot on top of a dirty barrel without swabbing because of the crust ring left behind in the breech after firing. This is not a problem on the range, but could be a real problem in a hunting situation.
PRIMERS - Primers are often over looked as being a solution when accuracy problems occur, but are most likely the culprit. We have a standard primer test we conduct on all primers before we ever use it to work up a load.
Our testing has shown this: for Triple 7 Powder, use a low impact primer such as the Winchester Triple 7 Primer or, my favorite for Triple 7 powder, the 209 by Fiocchi. Both of these primers will provide good results. The problem with the Fiocchi primers is they are super hard to find.
For Blackhorn 209, a higher impact primer is needed, or per Blackhorns manufacturer recommendations, a full-strength 209 shotgun primer, such as the “Blue Box” 209 by Winchester or the one Blackhorn themselves recommend (and per my findings, I have to agree), the CCI 209M.
So, there are the components that have proven, in our testing, to provide the requirements we demand: consistency, accuracy and big game performance.
As mentioned before, I’ll be posting on the some of the individual bullets and how they performed for us. But my next post will be on my recent trip to Miles City, Montana to visit the Blackhorn 209 facility there. You are going to be surprised at what I found! (hint-hint: powder vs pellets)