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.