By Michael Deming
It was probably twenty-five years ago when I got my first muzzleloader. I had a Javelina HAM (handgun, archery, muzzleloader) tag for late January. I’d always bow hunted, but I truly wanted to extend my range with a trusty smoke pole. One of the guys in our camp was a self-proclaimed expert in the muzzleloader department and he told me the items I needed to purchase. Before the days of YouTube, this wasn’t just a simple click away and you needed guys like this. Now you just hope the guy or gal on YouTube knows what they are talking about. My self-proclaimed expert didn’t turn out to be much help and even though I could get the rifle to go bang and smoke a lot, I wasn’t as accurate as I was with my bow. My tag ultimately got filled with a stick and string. However, my commitment to the muzzleloader continued and through lots of trial and error, I’ve figured out some great tips and tricks to get the most out of my smoke pole.
Today’s muzzleloaders and the bullets designed for them are significantly better than that of twenty-five years ago. Sportsman’s Warehouse has a very good supply of high quality rifles to choose from, but my personal preference is the CVA Accura V2 Long Range. We have put this rifle to the test with numerous different loads and paired with their own Powerbelt bullets, it’s a deadly combination.
First thing you will need to determine is what state you will be utilizing this primitive weapon in. This is important because each state has a different set of rules for these weapons or in some cases, no rules at all. Some examples of this are that you can only use loose powder instead of pelletized powders. Some states will only allow a percussion cap to ignite the load and others will allow a 209 shotgun primer. Some states will allow you to utilize saboted bullets, where others will not. Some states will allow you to use scoped rifles and others will not. Determining what is a legal setup for your state is very important because you don’t want to waste a bunch of money and time figuring out what is the most accurate setup if that setup is ultimately illegal in your state.
Once you know what is legal for your state, it is much easier to determine what products you are going to need. If you are going to use loose or granular powder, you will need a powder flask and a powder measure device. I like this type of powder because it is very precise and if you are going to shoot with a scope at longer ranges, I think it gives you the best accuracy. If you are restricted to open sights, pelletized powder is quick and easy. These are just premeasured and pressed cylinders of powder in usually 30 and 50 grain increments.
Next thing you are going to need is bullets. There are numerous different kinds of bullets on the market to fit your needs and this process is no different than figuring out what works for your regular rifle. You will need to shoot all the various different types of bullets, sabots and other types to see what your rifle likes the most. Feedback from other folks on YouTube and your specific rifle will likely reduce the time and money it takes to get the job done. I find that like model rifles tend to like the same types of setups. My personal setup is a CVA Accura V2 Long Range, which likes 777 pelletized powder. I shoot 3/50 grain pellets and a PowerBelt Platinum 300 grain bullet. I use Winchester primers, but don’t see much difference in shooting other brands. With this setup, I’m capable of shooting 2-3” groups at 300 yards with a scope.
Regardless of whether it is legal to shoot a scope on your muzzleloader or not during season, I highly recommend that you start your range time with a high powered scope on your rifle. This will allow you to see the target very clearly at 100 yards and will let you shoot each individual load for groups. You will be able to see what works best, taking some of the human error out of the equation. When doing load work like this, I like to set up a full sheet of plywood with white paper covering the entire side. I put ½” colored dots about 10” apart and making three rows to shoot at. This setup gives me lots of targets to shoot at while at my public range and I don’t have to run downrange to change out targets every 3-6 shots. I can likely figure out what load works with all of those open targets.
Black powder is very dirty and corrosive and sabots will foul up your barrel as well, so it is important to clean your rifle after each group. I usually shoot one fouling shot after a cleaning and then dial in for a 3-shot group. Once you have a group which you feel is acceptable for your situation, you are ready for the next step.
Many states don’t allow for a scoped muzzleloader, so you will now need to sight in your open or peep sights. I personally like a peep-sight with a fiber-optic front sight, but this is all personal preference.
Now, the hard part is done and you know exactly where your rifle shoots your targeted load. You just need to work on your open-sight setup. Once this is completed, I like to mark my sights on the side with a sharpie. This allows me to see if they move during all the trips to the field with just a glance. It’s only happened once in my life, but that mid-day glance allowed me to do a couple of quick shots at the target and make sure I was back on for a big muley buck. If I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have even noticed that all the riding on the ATV had loosened up my setup.
These tips are learned from years of trial and error. I hope that one or all of them help you be successful on your next muzzleloader hunt. These seasons tend to be during some of the very best times of years to harvest trophies and hopefully you have enough knowledge to make the most out of this shorter range weapon.