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What Blackpowder Loads You Need for taking Elk with Russell Lynch

Editor’s Note: A former sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps and shooter in matches and trainer of personnel in shooting for the Armed Services, Russell Lynch of South Carolina, the owner of M.A.X. (Muzzleloader Accuracy Xperts, LLC), has learned to shoot accurately with muzzleloader guns from 300 yards out to 1,000 yards. Russell has recently been working closely with CVA Muzzleloaders to help its customers improve there shooting experience.

Question: Russell, you’ve said one of the questions you’re often asked is, “If you’re hunting for elk, are you going to shoot a magnum charge, or will you shoot a powder charge? You won’t know at what range you’ll be shooting. So, do you go with a magnum load that’s 150 grains of pellets, or do you prefer an accuracy load – 110 grains of loose powder?”
Lynch: My answer is if you’ve ever hunted elk or ever read about hunting elk, then you know that you may get a closer-range shot like bowhunters, or you may get a long-range shot like the centerfire rifle hunters have at elk. But generally most of your shots will be at extended ranges. Given the choice between knockdown power with a magnum charge of pellets or an accuracy charge with loose powder, I’ll take the loose powder over the pellets every time. If I’m shooting in the West, I don’t want my groups to be 2-1/2- inches or more at 100 yards, when I know I can have the same group at 2-1/2- or 3 inches at 200 yards. If I choose loose powder instead of pellets, I even can reach out to 250 yards if I must. 

50-grain pellets aren’t exactly 50 grains. They’re less than 50 grains. So, when you’re shooting loose powder, you’ll get more bang for your buck and be shooting less powder. That powder will pack more uniformly and ignite more evenly, and you’ll shoot more accurately than you will with the pellets. At 250 yards, I know that I can shoot a 2- or a 3-inch group with my CVA rifle, and that bullet will have enough energy to take a bull elk down at that range. So, I’ll always pick the option that will give me the best accuracy at the longest ranges. The answer to your question, how will I hunt elk with loose powder, well, I can tell you for sure that I won’t be loading my rifle with three 50-grain pellets.

One of the reasons some people think they need magnum charges is because they think that if their shot placement is off a little bit when shooting the magnum charges, they’ll  have a better chance of taking the animal down. However, if I can put a bullet in an elk at 250 yards and know almost exactly where the bullet will land because of good marksmanship and an accurate rifle, I know I can successfully take more elk, than if I have a 150-grain charge and aren’t as confident in my bullet placement. What I’ve learned is that at 250 yards with three 50-grain pellets, I’ll have terrible patterns. I think you’ll be shooting really well if you can maintain 10-inch groups shooting those magnum charges out to 250 yards. Now when you compare those groups to the 4- and 5-inch groups, I can shoot using loose powder and less powder than shooting a magnum charge. 

Something else you have to consider when you’re talking about magnum charges versus loose powder of about 110 grains is when you’re shooting on a bench you’ll shoot far-more accurately than when you’re propped-up against a tree with the rifle on your pack and/or when you’re shooting from a standing or a kneeling position. When the stress and the excitement involved in an elk hunt in the wild is put on a sportsman, his accuracy will suffer somewhat more than when he’s shooting-off a bench, especially when he has to trot up a hill to cut-off a big bull before the bull reaches the black timber, and the hunter sees those giant antlers and knows that he only has a few seconds to stop the elk before the bull vanishes into the black timber. That hunter’s marksmanship may suffer because he’s not only under emotional pressure, but he’s also under physical pressure and breathing heavily. If you’re not breathing properly, you won’t have as smooth of a trigger pull as you will when shooting off a bench. Plus, when you add the physical, mental and emotional aspects of trying to take a bull elk at 150 yards with a magnum charge of three 50-grain pellets, and the hunter knows that on the bench he’s shooting 10-inch groups at that range with that powder charge, more than likely the hunter may completely miss the animal.

Although I like to think that my blood runs cold as ice water when I’m about to take a shot at 50 yards or 250 yards on a big-game animal with a muzzleloader rifle, you have to remember that I’ve been hunting big-game animals for more than 30 years. I’m going to have myself under better control than those who only have been hunting for a few years, plus I have the advantage of all the marksmanship skills I learned in the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School. Based on my training, my experience and my skill level, I know I can make that 250-yard shot with a muzzleloader rifle on an elk, but that’s really a questionable shot for most hunters. What makes it even more questionable is when you know the best you can shoot with that rifle under controlled conditions is only a 10-inch group. I just don’t know whether you should take that shot or not. My gut feeling is probably not.

What I really enjoy about hunting elk with a muzzleloader is my ability to control my emotions, so that I can see and remember every step that the elk takes, until I finally pull the trigger. If you really want to shoot a magnum charge with three 50-grain pellets, I strongly recommend that you don’t take a shot of more than 125 yards. Even at that range, you’ll still be shooting 3-inch groups. I’ve tested a lot of rifles from all the manufacturers of muzzleloading rifles, and I feel I have some of the most-accurate muzzleloader rifles on the planet. Even with the best rifles and my marksmanship skills, I’m still not sure I can shoot a 3-inch group with 150 grains of pellets at 125 yards. When you put that much powder in pellet form in a muzzleloader rifle, you’re always going to have accuracy issues.

10 Responses to “What Blackpowder Loads You Need for taking Elk with Russell Lynch”

  1. Jason Gill says:

    Interesting read. I have always been told the best way to sight in is vary the pellets by 10-20 grains leading up to 150 grains. They always told me this was the best way, but I could never get good groups out at 150+ yards. I always blamed it on my not so steady hand. I am excited to get out there again and test loose powder and see if that helps. Thanks for advice

  2. spikehunter87 says:

    How great is that story about shooting a muzzle loader, Awesome. I hunt for deer. I would love to shoot a muzzle loader , some day.

  3. Bore diameter of gun, & diameter of bullet will make difference in accuacy as well. .50 cal gun with a barrel bore diameter of .502 will shoot different groups depending on the bullet diamenter you shoot in the gun. .501 diameter bullet may group better than .500 or .502 etc. Same gun may shoot .502 bullets and will not shoot the .500 or .501 at all. Same applies to Sabots as well. Outside plastic diameter, inside plastic diameter, and bullet diameter makes a world of difference in getting the difficult muzzleloader to group. Find out what your muzzleloader barrel diameter is and you will have something to start with. Measure the diameter of the lands. Powder charge has to be considered but most modern muzzleloader guns, do not burn all the powder even though it can handle the 150gr charge it will not burn all of it. Longer barrel BP guns of old used to be longer to burn the black powder. Not sure how much faster pyrodex or 777 or other substitues will burn but short barrel muzzleloaders need a fast burning powder to burn all of it before the bullet exits.

    Peace, Mo

  4. vitolattanzi says:

    I have been hunting for six years blakpowder that is using two 5o grain pellets of pyrodex and Imust say I have killed 5 deer using 295 gr.powerbelt bullets . none of them went more than 20 yds. can somebody out there explain to me why all this hype about 150 gr. loads when first of all they are supposed to be dangerous .because i have read that all of rifles cannot handle the pressures safely. Iwill be using 100 gr.until i cannot kill deer anymore. by the way I am hitting half dollars at 100yds.with my lightningboltaction rifle. and I think I would kill an elk with a well placed shot. can someone please clue me in on magnun or not. thank you .

  5. Vito: 100 grains is plenty for any animal in North America — as long as the bullet is heavy enough. Usually, magnum loads are used for long range shooting, as the extra velocity reduces the drop at beyond 100 yards. Aslo, at those long ranges, sometimes the extra velocity is needed to assure sufficient energy is still behind the bullet when it arrives. I would recommend a heavier PowerBelt for elk than the 295 — like a Platinum 338, Copper 348 AeroTip, or Copper 405 AeroTip. Any of these will be fine if you are within 100 yards. Good luck, Dudley

  6. Glenn Hildebrand says:

    I enjoyed your column. I just recently bought a used CVA Hunterbolt with the last 2 serial #’s 98.
    I understand that some of the older models were called back because the barrels blew-up! I am hunting whitetail deer in Pa. I am getting really good groups at 50 yds. I use 54 cal round balls and 130 grains of black powder. Do you think I am using too much powder for this gun?
    Thank you

  7. Glen: Just in case Russel does not get back to you soon, your gun was not one of the recall guns. They were built in 1995 and 1996 and would have a serial ending in 95 or 96. Yes, the gun will handle magnum charges, but I would not suggest shooting magnum charges with a patched round ball. In fact, I would not recommend round balls in this gun at all. A pure lead conical, PowerBelt, or saboted bullet will provide better results. Best regards, Dudley

  8. Art Giles says:

    Hi Russ I’v been Black Powder hinting since 1953 when I came home from Korea.
    I use loose podwer for all my guns. I have taken Black Bear ,Elk White tail Deer
    and Mule Deer. I have Hunted Birds to.
    Live in Wapiti area Wyoming.

  9. Ray Williamson Vail AZ says:

    Hello Russell, I have just bought a CVA V2. I took it to the range Zeroed it in three shots. I then shot it at 100 yds, one hole 4 shots. I then went to 200 loaded the Parker 300 gr .extreme with 120 of BH 209. I shot 5 shots 3 of which was sub MOA at 1/2 inch. The other two were at a inch and a half. I think I am ready for this Elk season. I will continue to practice with the Parker 250 EX and 300 EX. What a combo. Great article as always.


  10. Ray Williamson Vail AZ says:

    I forgot to say I was shooting from a bench. I will now practice from cross sticks. I will be shooting at 200, 225 and 250. I run to the target between sessions at the range. I attempt to keep my breathing high but practice the breathing methods taught in the Army. Oh I am 72 years old as well. I have been shooting mussel loaders for a lot of years. However I have learned more about the proper methods from Russell Lynch at Max Muzzleloader than I can say. Great stuff.


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