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Scoping Your Muzzleloader

Photo
The author flushed this buck at 150 yards. This scope is a 3-9x32mm. He made the shot at 200 yards with the scope still set on 3x magnification.
By Randy D. Smith

-- A recent Kansas deer hunting regulation update to allow scope-mounted guns during the early muzzleloader season will alter the configuration of many muzzle-loading rifles. Effective shooting ranges will increase, and I look for this regulation change to increase deer harvest numbers. There are several reasons for this. While a scope will not necessarily improve rifle accuracy, it will aid the hunter's shooting precision. 

Nearly everyone can shoot a rifle better with a scope so there is that benefit. The second reason is that foliage is normally very heavy during the mid-September season and hunters will not only be able to aim more precisely through brush but also there will be less likelihood of an unseen branch or twig causing a ricochet.

Even though I did not support this change, you can bet that I will mount a new Traditions Pursuit Pro II Guide Gun test rifle with a scope for the September hunt, and I will not be using the original planned load. Using a scope on a muzzleloader dramatically changes tactics and loads.

I have always favored heavy conicals and calibers larger than .50 for the Kansas muzzleloader deer season. I seldom took a shot of more than 100 yards on a whitetail because I was limited to open sights. I liked big conicals because of the massive sign they are likely to leave in heavy weeds and grass.

My favorite early season muzzleloaders were a sidelock .58 caliber Plains rifle shooting patched round balls and an old White .54 caliber Bison that shot a ground shaking 430-grain conical. Even when I used .50 caliber test rifles, I tended to use sabot loads of 300 grains or more to gain the same effect. One of my favorites was the 375-grain Buffalo SSB sabot.

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A compact scope such as this Weaver V3 1-3x20mm solves many muzzleloader scope challenges. It has more than enough magnification and light transmission for any whitetail hunting, has little effect on balance and allows for the standard open sights to be left in place.
With the regulation change I am far more likely to load a .50 caliber rifle with a lighter, flatter shooting sabot. I will probably shoot a 260-grain APB in the Guide Gun and plan on taking more precisely aimed shots. I doubt that I will drag out any of my sidelocks for this season and will concentrate on hunting with inline rifles. Inline rifles have more scope friendly mounting systems and frankly, I don't like the idea of putting modern scopes on primitive rifles. 

Tips for Using Scopes
For years I was a field editor for a blackpowder magazine, and I often used scopes on test rifles during the regular firearms deer hunting season. My favorite scope during the late season was always a fairly standard 3-9x32mm. This type of scope allows for still-hunting on low power with plenty of field of view, and it can still be cranked up to 6 power or higher for precise shot placement. 

However, don't over look a good 4x or 6x scope for early season hunting. That is all the magnification you will need for practical ranges and these simple scopes are remarkably rugged. I plan to mount a straight 4x fixed power on the Traditions Guide Gun for this season's hunt. I like its compact dimensions and quick target orientation traits, and it is easy on the pocketbook.

While the temptation to use scope mounts with see-through elevated rings for open sight use seems like a good idea, I never liked them. If I have a scope mounted on my muzzleloader I like it mounted low to the breech so that my cheek comes fully in contact with the stock. Elevated rings force the shooter to brace the stock against the chin. It is slower to aim and less precise when mounted that way. 

If you are concerned about rapid shot acquisition, I suggest you go with a 2.5x or 2x low-powered compact scope and mount it low. Another reason for going with a compact scope is that many older inlines are too short in the breech area and scopes tended to be set too far back, causing the shooter to hold his head at an unnatural angle to see properly through the scope. A compact scope solves a lot of those problems.

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This 3-9x40mm Traditions Silver Antler was mounted on a Traditions Yukon for a Wyoming coyote hunt. The author took a coyote at 150 yards shooting off a bipod with the scope set at 6x.
I sight my scope-mounted muzzleloaders in at 2 inches high at 50 yards. That puts me dead on at 100 yards and about 2 inches low at 120 yards with most loads. This is an excellent scope sighting trajectory for most whitetail hunts.

If you are planning to mount a scope on an older style open breech or sidelock muzzleloader using No. 11 or Musket Cap ignition and you are using a scope that you do not want scorched or burned, I suggest you take some extra precautions. I wrap my scopes along the breech area and the side windage adjustment cover with black electrical tape to protect the finish.

Even a light coat of gun grease will help protect the finish but the problem is that the grease attracts grime and dust. Removable scope guards are still available from some retailers.

Even though I enjoy primitive muzzleloader hunting for its challenges, I know that a scope-mounted muzzleloader will dramatically improve my chances of success. A low magnification, fixed-power scope will probably provide all the advantage I need for the coming deer season, and it will be less likely to dramatically alter the balance of my muzzleloader. 

A more traditional rifle scope will work well, especially on newer inline rifles, but be certain that the scope is mounted low enough for good contact with the stock and far enough forward for good sighting qualities and recoil protection from scope bite.

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