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Shotgunners, Muzzleloaders Must Know the Range

By Dave Henderson

Nikon Omega
A laser rangefinder and a range-finding scope like this Nikon Omega are essentials for slug and muzzleloader shooters today.

What did we slug shooters ever do before laser range-finders? I know what I did — missed a lot! I shot over and under more deer than I care to remember while relying on yardage guesstimates and rainbow trajectories.

I still miss once in a while, but it’s not from poor guesswork anymore, since range-finders became my don’t-leave-home-without-it hunting tools.

During a recent hunt in Iowa, several minutes before the end of legal shooting time, the gathering gloom and persistent rain had dampened my enthusiasm. Suddenly, a buck appeared on the darkening horizon.

A quick look through the Nikon 10x42 Monarch UCC binoculars confirmed the 9-pointer was a shooter. But how far was he? A quick guess put him at least 180, maybe 200 yards, but it was tough to tell in the drizzle, limited light and featureless cut-corn carpet between us.

The Nikon 800 laser range-finder took the guess out of it. The laser amazingly cut through the raindrops to the buck as he stared curiously, then bounced back to tell me he was standing exactly 132 yards distant. Now the whole thing was doable.

All you’ve ever heard about Nikon binoculars’ and scopes’ extraordinary light-gathering qualities are true, and I was grateful for every grain of light as I centered the Monarch’s crosshairs. The Remington 870 slug gun was zeroed for 75 yards, so I gave the crosshairs about 5 inches of elevation to adapt for the 130ish range and applied slow, steady pressure to the trigger.

Sure enough, as I slogged my way toward the horizon, his form lay motionless in the mud, just 30 yards from the impact point. The steaming entry wound is just where an experienced hand would expect from a high hold at 130 yards — not 80 or 180.

The whole scenario may sound like a Nikon ad, but to be truthful, the equipment mentioned has served me best under circumstances like these for years. I’ve got other range-finders, binoculars and scopes, but when the choice is mine, that’s the direction I go.

That said, I would have been carrying different equipment if the hunt been later. Not that the Nikon Monarch UCC scope isn’t adequate; it’s just that I’m sold on the usefulness of the new Nikon Omega range-finding scope with its BDC (bullet-drop-compensating) 250 reticle.

Most of the range-finding scopes in my shop require a modicum of adjustment time, an extra hand and a far nimbler mind than mine to use effectively. And all were built with long-range riflery in mind. It’s safe to say that none of those scope designers envisioned the special needs of muzzleloaders or shotguns, where long range is situated at the starting point for prairie riflemen.

The Omega’s designers, however, were thinking of us short-range folks. I shot an Omega extensively last winter on both types of short-range ordnance, and am absolutely sold on its viability for this specific use.

Subscribe Today! The unique 3-9x40mm scope is designed to give the shooter dead-on aiming for an inline muzzleloader loaded with 250-grain bullets over 150 grains of Pyrodex. The BDC 250 reticle features aiming circles situated below the intersection of the crosshairs and can be placed on targets 100, 150, 200 and 250 yards distant. I quickly found that you can compare the described load’s muzzle velocity and bullet weight with high-velocity shotgun slugs and be right in the same ballpark in terms of the aiming circles.

Granted, there’s a significant velocity difference between using pellets and granulated Pyrodex. Likewise, Hodgdon Triple 7, American Pioneer and other powders have different performance characteristics - and there are differences in the trajectories of various 250-grain muzzleloading bullets and slugs.

But the 150 grains of Pyrodex and 250-grain bullet is a base line designed to give the shooter something to work from. With surprisingly little range work, the differences between loads can all be worked out, and your particular load or slug can be fitted to the system. For instance, I already knew where my Thompson/Center Encore .50-caliber muzzleloader and its pet load of 130 grains of American Pioneer and a Hornady 250-grain bullet and T-N-T sabot would shoot, and it took me just eight shots to adapt the BDC 250 reticle system to be point-on at 75, 125, 175 and 200.

It took even fewer shots to adapt the system to my 20-gauge Remington 11-87 Sportsman slug gun and 265-grain, 1,900-fps Remington Core-Lokt Ultra slugs to shoot roughly the same yardages.

See More Buckmasters Feature StoriesNow there’s something else I never leave home without.

If you have a question about shotgunning or muzzleloaders, contact Dave Henderson through his website at

-- Reprinted from the July 2006 issue of Buckmasters Magazine

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