Muzzle Loading As The Most Basic Form of Handloading!

The more I mess with this gun, the more I like it!

The more I mess with this gun, the more I like it!

One of the things many folks forget about in line muzzle loading, is that loads of various power levels can be worked up by varying bullet size and weight as well as powder charge weight. When I sally forth to hog hunt with my new Optima pistol, I intend to use basically the same hard cast bullets I use in my revolvers, by putting them in appropriately sized sabots. This means 292 gr to 335 gr .44 caliber or 300 gr .45. Although the weights may be the same, the .452″ bullets should have a bit more “wind resistance” than those of .429″ diameter?

A selection of .44 and .45 handgun bullets that should be good pig "medicine" from a .50 muzzle loader.

A selection of .44 and .45 handgun bullets that should be good pig “medicine” from a .50 muzzle loader.

Another option is to use the .45 cal “muzzle loader” bullets made by Hornady and Barnes that are shaped like modern centerfire bullets, even to having polymer tips to aid expansion. I also have a good selection of .45 jacketed soft nose bullets to try, and some 300 gr Barnes “Buster’ bullets. Sabots are designed to bring either .44 or .45 caliber bullets to .50 for shooting in muzzle loaders of this caliber, although you can also use the “powerbelt” type that is a full .50 in diameter with a plastic skirt that emulates the sabot.

These polymer tipped bullets are designed to expand at common muzzle loader velocities.

These polymer tipped bullets are designed to expand at common muzzle loader velocities.

The Optima is rated to shoot a maximum of 3 50 gr pellets, but this is discouraged by the powder manufacturers, who almost universally recommend no more than 2, 50 gr pellets, for a charge weight of 100 gr. Guessing this might put me over the 1000 fps muzzle velocity I really prefer with hard cast bullets for hogs, I purchased some 30 gr Triple Seven pellets, to make an 80 gr load. I originally thought if I wanted to go full bore “magnum”, I could use 2 50 gr pellets with one 30 gr, but 2 pellets of whatever size are the recommended maximum, at least by Hodgdon. This may be because it would be harder to ignite 3? Of course, for just “target” and “fun” shooting, either one 50 or 2, 30 gr pellets would make a much milder load.

UPDATE: Fired the CVA again, using one 30 gr Triple Seven Pellet, and one 50 gr, and chronographed the load at 1227 fps. Since this is over my hoped for velocity of 1000 fps, and well into .44 mag territory, I suspect this will be my hog hunting load. Actually, from the Lee Manual, the velocity range listed for recommended loads of .44 mag with a 300 gr lead bullet runs 1030 fps to 1225 – less than the velocity of my 80 gr Triple Seven load with that weight bullet! Going up to a 355 gr bullet, the velocities for .44 mag are even less, at 900 – 1178 fps. By comparison, under .45 Colt “Ruger and T/C only” loads, velocity with a 300 gr lead bullet runs about 800 fps, and with a 360 in a “hotter” load, 1000 fps is possible. Taking the next step, to .454 Casull loads, a 300 gr bullet produces 1260 fps, and a 360, 1200 – 1330. My treasured .480 Ruger can be loaded to Casull velocities, with a larger diameter bullet – .475″, and the fierce .475 Linebaugh gets 1450 fps with a 355 gr bullet, 925 – 1442 with a 370gr. I just traded for some 360 gr .45 hard cast bullets by True Shot and Cast Performance, and think I can get .454 performance out of them in the Optima! Looks like this is going to be a very versatile gun! Wonder if I can get .475/.50 sabots? Then I could use the over 400 gr hard cast I load for the .480!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Shot a 360 gr hard cast .45 ahead of 100 gr of Triple Seven this morning. Got 1378 fps! Drilled the bull on the target at 25 yards, also. Recoil was lively, but nothing that could not be handled.

With this kind of power, and good shot placement, one shot should be plenty!

Triple seven, besides coming in two weights, seem to shoot "cleaner" than some other powders.

Triple seven, besides coming in two weights, seem to shoot “cleaner” than some other powders.

Another popular in line powder is the IMR "Whit Hots" brand.

Another popular in line powder is the IMR “White Hots” brand.

Loads can be "made up" ahead of time for slightly faster reloads in the field.

Loads can be “made up” ahead of time for slightly faster reloads in the field.

Since the muzzle loader uses all the components of a cartridge load – except for the brass cartridge itself, I find working with the loads in even a limited manner to be interesting, as well as useful.

This handy holder carries six reloads of powder and bullet, plus 4 primers.

This handy holder carries six reloads of powder and bullet, plus 4 primers.

The carrier also has a place to hold 4 primers ready.

The carrier also has a place to hold 4 primers ready.

For extended range sessions, or speeding reloads a bit when hunting, the plastic tubes that IMR White Hots powder pellets are sold in make great “cartridges” when set up ahead of time. Each tube will hold 4 pellets and 2 bullets, or two shots. I have a little device that is designed to carry extra powder, and hold 3 of the tubes, so it will carry 6 reloads. It also has recesses to carry 4, 209 primers – although I would not recommend storing them like this for extended periods.

Of course, even more flexibility in velocity and power ranges may be had if one chooses to load “loose” powder in the form of Pyrodex, Triple Seven, or Blackthorn 209 – even in an in line muzzle loader. I have not tried this option, and don’t intend to for at least the present. Powder pellets are fixed in weights, and it is not recommended to try to section them, but the ease of use factor is tremendous!

The in line “muzzle loader was obviously created to help hunters sort of “get around’ the muzzle loader only restrictions for special seasons originally called “Primitive Weapons Seasons”. With pelletized powder, modern bullets, and 209 shotgun primer ignition systems, they are hardly “primitive”! This type of firearm is as effective in many ways as a modern centerfire rifle – or handgun, and there is no reason not to hunt with one outside the one week muzzle loader only deer season. There are plenty of hogs in Texas to use these guns on, and they have sufficient power, range, and accuracy to get the job done. I grew up hunting with a single shot 20 gauge shotgun, and still hunt a lot with Thompson Contender single shot carbines and handguns, so a singe shot does not discourage me. Still it would be very interesting to try one of the over/under double barreled in line guns offered by – I think – CVA and Traditions!

About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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