Muzzleloaders

A Primitive Weapon?

Jeff Smith
September 2003

Thompson Omega - 50 caliber

 

Today’s “Modern” Muzzleloaders are a fair cry from yester-years flintlock and percussion cap firearms.  With light years of technological advancement in today’s inline muzzleloaders, comparing them to flintlocks is hardly worth discussion.  This article takes a look at how the modern muzzleloader compares to a centerfire rifle.

 

Technically a "Muzzleloader" is considered a firearm that's loaded through the muzzle.  A muzzleloader falls into two categories; percussion and flintlock.  This article deals with the percussion muzzleloader.

 

I'm sure to get lots of emails from people who've shot a chipmunk at 800 yards on a windy day with a muzzleloader and that's cool.  At 800 yards, you'll be 458 inches low (a little over 38 feet) and a 10 mph crosswind will cause the bullet to move 77 inches (over 6 feet).  All I can say is ... congratulations!!


 

There’s four distinct traits to a hunting firearm – velocity/kinetic energy, accuracy, reliability and hunting functionality. 

 

Velocity

 

Compare the muzzleloader velocity and kinetic energy to three common centerfire cartridges – 270 Winchester, 30-06 and 300 Winchester Magnum.

 

Centerfire Cartridge Muzzle Velocity - ft/s Muzzle Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs
270 Winchester - 130 gr. bullet 3000 2597
     
30-06 - 165 gr. bullet 2900 2801
     
300 Winchester Magnum - 180 gr. bullet 2900 3361
     
* Data from Hodgdon Website

 

Muzzleloader Pyrodex Pellets Muzzle Velocity - ft/s Muzzle Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs
45 Caliber -  195 gr. bullet 100 gr.  2165  2030
  150gr.  2489  2683
       
45 Caliber -  225 gr. bullet 100 gr.  1970  1939
  150gr.  2198  2414
       
50 Caliber -  245 gr. bullet 100 gr.  1900  1964
  150gr.  2100  2400
       
50 Caliber -  348 gr. bullet 100 gr.  1515  1774
  150gr.  1820  2560
       
* Data from CVA Website

By comparing the bullet velocity of the centerfire to the muzzleloader, only one muzzleloader velocity (45 Caliber-195 gr. bullet with 150 grains of Pyrodex) is even close to the centerfire cartridges.  The kinetic energy created by the muzzleloader is comparable to the centerfire at the muzzle - later we'll look at the downrange trajectory of the two firearms and compare the kinetic energy at downrange targets.  You'll see a major difference!


Accuracy

It blows my mind the degree of accuracy the modern muzzleloader can achieve.  I handload my centerfire cartridges and can see a noticeable change in accuracy with just a half a grain of powder either way.  Measuring "loose" powder and pouring down the barrel seems very archaic, but it's hard to dispute the results.  Don't get me wrong, my muzzleloaders will not shoot groups like a centerfire rifle but they're more than accurate enough for hunting at their effective range.  Bullet seating depth is very important in centerfire but putting a bullet in the barrel and ramming it down to a mark on the ramrod ... against my better judgment it works.

The charts below show downrange velocity, KE and bullet path with a 150-yard sight-in range:

270 Winchester - 130 gr. bullet
Range Velocity - ft/s Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs. Bullet Path
Muzzle 3000 2597  
100 2752 2185 -0.2
150 2633 2000 0.0
200 2517 1828 -1.0
250 2404 1667 -3.4

 

30-06 - 165 gr. bullet
Range Velocity - ft/s Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs. Bullet Path
Muzzle 2900 3081  
100 2654 2580 -0.1
150 2536 2355 0.0
200 2420 2146 -1.2
250 2308 1952 -3.9

 

300 Winchester Magnum - 180 gr. bullet
Range Velocity - ft/s Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs. Bullet Path
Muzzle 2900 3361  
100 2686 2884 -0.2
150 2583 2666 0.0
200 2482 2462 -1.1
250 2384 2270 -3.7

The Pyrodex data only lists the information out to 250-yards - stay tuned and you'll see why.  They show a 150-yard sight-in range.

45 Caliber -  195 gr. bullet - 150 gr. of Pyrodex Pellets
Range Velocity - ft/s Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs. Bullet Path
Muzzle 2489 2683  
100 1967 1676 +1.53
150 1738 1308 0.0
200 1534 1019 -4.3
250 1354 794 -12.0

 

50 Caliber -  245 gr. bullet - 100 gr. of Pyrodex Pellets
Range Velocity - ft/s Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs. Bullet Path
Muzzle 1900 1964  
100 1433 1117 +3.3
150 1250 850 0.0
200 1118 680 -8.8
250 1029 576 -24.0

 

50 Caliber -  245 gr. bullet - 150 gr. of Pyrodex Pellets
Range Velocity - ft/s Kinetic Energy - ft/lbs. Bullet Path
Muzzle 2100 2400  
100 1589 1374 +2.6
150 1380 1036 0.0
200 1209 795 -7.1
250 1091 648 -20.0

As you can see, the Kinetic Energy and Bullet Path has a radical decrease in performance at all downrange variables.  A centerfire rifle is just getting started at 200 yards and a typical muzzleloader has lost most of it's punch at that distance.  The Kinetic Energy is less than one-third and the bullet drop is approximately 6 times greater for a muzzleloader.


Reliability

I don't feel reliability is an issue with today's muzzleloaders.  They're not as reliable as a centerfire rifle, but are definitely reliable.   I fired over 200 shots from three different muzzleloaders over the past couple of weeks and had no misfires.  That was shooting different brands and types of primers (No. 11 and 209) and 4 different types of powder.


Hunting Functionality

Today's muzzleloaders are designed along the same lines as a bolt-action rifle.  They're more time consuming to load and are "single shots", but that's the way of the world in muzzleloaders.  As far as hunting, other than being slightly heavier, they function very well as a hunting firearm.


In conclusion

I've never shot a deer at long range (200+ yards) with a muzzleloader, but at close range it's unbelievable the damage a 50 caliber muzzleloader will do to a deer sized animal.  I limit my range with a muzzleloader to 200-yards - that's not a "gimme" with any firearm but to say a muzzleloader is a centerfire rifle is in my opinion a mistake.  Is it a primitive weapon ... that's for you to decide ... I say no.


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