By Key Rippetoe
Smart muzzleloader hunters keep cappers, short starters and spare caps on a lanyard around their neck, always at the ready.
It’s a one-shot deal. Legions of modern muzzleloader hunters accept that limitation and do everything possible to make the first shot count. Unfortunately, hunting outcomes are not always predictable, and often, stuff happens.
The time will come when you will need a second shot. When that happens, things will be frantic and you will need it fast. A fast second shot is possible, but it takes the right equipment, practice and a near-unconscious knowledge of where everything is in order to pull it off.
It’s a safe bet that today’s muzzleloader hunters fall into two distinct groups. The minority is the traditional group that opts for flinters and sidelocks. You are the purist. In choosing that camp, you have had to study your firearm in detail. You know the intricacies of patch thickness, speed blocks, cow’s knees and such, or you wouldn’t opt to be in that camp. The other group, the vast majority, is packing a modern inline. You just want to hunt. It’s to this group this primer on the fast second shot applies.
Pre-capped discs like these from H&R or Knight help speed up the reloading process.
There is no standard for muzzleloader bore dimensions, even among top manufacturers. I have measured .50-caliber bores that run the gamut from .495 to .504. That’s a huge swing. Bullet manufacturers respond with an equally wide range of bullet dimensions. Hornady tends to run a little large, relying on force to form-fit the bullet to the bore, while some, like White, make their bullets so small that they can often be started with just thumb pressure. One of the most popular, the PowerBelt, is known for easy loading even in a super-fouled bore.
If you’re going to reload fast, step one is selecting a bullet that fits snugly, yet loads easily in a fouled bore. Don’t rely on a clean bore to gauge loading ease. Remember, you’ve already fired one and need to load another without a struggle. Prior to the hunt, find a bullet or sabot combination that best fits your bore, and stick with it.
T/C’s 4-in-1 Loaders carry everything and act as a speed starter.
Often taken for granted, the simple ramrod can make or break a hunt. Most factory rods supplied with rifles are sorely lacking. Avoid the whippy, overly flexible rods. You don’t want any flex in a ramrod, especially when loading in a hurry.
Make sure your rod is held firmly, but is easily removed from the hangers. If it’s too tight, remove the stock and open up the channel until you can remove it with minimal effort, yet it won’t fall out.
Keep in mind you may be reloading from a sitting, kneeling or even prone position or from the limited space available in a stand. Exerting enough pressure to seat a bullet under these conditions means you’ll need something on the end of the rod to save your palm. Palm savers work, but the time it takes to find and fit one will slow you down. The best replacement rod ever designed, and one that absolutely cuts reloading time in half under any conditions is the Power Rod from Express Sight Systems in Fort Worth, Texas. Their replacement rods, available for every muzzleloader out there, have a palm-saving handle that pivots to the “T” position when removed from the rifle, then flips back to straight when you reinsert it in the hangers. Once you try one of these, you won’t ever go back to a conventional ramrod. Every one of my hunting muzzleloaders, regardless of manufacturer, has a Power Rod in the hangers. In any case, a tough, stout rod is step one to a fast reload.
Most hunters today carry pre-measured charges in speed loaders, but here again, some are a lot speedier than others. You want to open it with the flip of a thumb and not lose time fishing for the bullet. Avoid screw-on or pop-on covers. Carry at least four in the same shirt or jacket pocket so you’ll know exactly where they are every time.
By far the best and fastest loader on the market is the 4-in-1 from Thompson/Center. This loader not only carries the powder and bullet, but also will short start it down the muzzle, eliminating a step and saving precious time. Practice reloading from your speed loaders, even at the bench, until you’re totally comfortable with their use.
Putting a small cap or primer on a small nipple is awkward, even when you have plenty of time. It can be a real fumble-fest when you’re in a hurry. Some of today’s inlines simply don’t give you much room to work. That’s why I prefer the bolt or newer break-open styles that give you tons of room with the bolt back or action open. Regardless of action style, recapping means taking your eyes off the game to concentrate on the cap. One innovative capper manufactured by MMP and marketed by Hornady solves the problem. The CapStar is designed to ride the inside radius on the bottom of every inline receiver, and will automatically center and cap the nipple without even looking. It works as well with sidelocks, but for any inline shooter, this $5 capper is a must-have.
Powder or Pellets?
Which is faster? The answer will surprise you - it’s neither. You must open your loader and pour exactly the same with either choice. But, there is another factor that distinctly favors pellets, and it’s a function of seating pressure. Slight variations in powder charge don’t have nearly as much effect on point of impact as does seating pressure. It must be consistent, and in the haste of a rapid reload, you might not seat the bullet on the powder as snugly as you did when sighting-in. Pellets take that variable out of the equation. You seat to the top of the pellet charge and stop. The bullet gets the same ride out of the chute every time. That’s the only reason I opt for pellets over loose powder.
Tune and replace this gear for the fastest possible reload and practice reloading with your field gear from standing, kneeling, sitting and tight blind positions. When the time comes for that crucial second shot, you’ll be ready.
Express Sight Systems (888) 744-4880
Hornady (308) 382-1390
MMP/Muzzleload Magnum Products
(870) 741-5019 / www.mmpsabots.com
Thompson/Center (603) 332-2394
PowerBelt Bullets (800) 376-4010
Reprinted from the August 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine