Q: I plan to hunt with a muzzleloader this season. What is the best gun for a beginner, and which load should I use for whitetails?
A: Frontstuffers have become popular because of advancements in dependability and accuracy, and because many states offer special black-powder seasons.
Modern muzzleloaders are different from their ancestors. With in-line muzzleloaders, the primer is placed behind the powder charge, which promotes consistent firing. In-lines are also less likely to misfire from moisture, and many models have actions similar to conventional center-fire rifles.
Many in-lines use a 209 shotgun primer, which provides 12 times the heat of a traditional No. 11 cap. Another option is a hefty musket cap that is four times hotter than a No. 11.
I recommend a .50-caliber gun because it is adequate for all North American big game. I also prefer a 22- to 24-inch barrel with a 1-in-28-inch twist and quick-detach scope mounts, which let me switch to fiber-optic sights where scopes are illegal. My gun is sighted 1 inch high at 100 yards, which ensures accuracy at almost any distance. Two-inch groups at 100 yards are reasonable for a muzzleloader out of the box.
For whitetails, I use conical, saboted 200-grain copper bullets, which provide more velocity, flatter trajectory and plenty of kinetic energy. When using a gun designed for 209 primer caps, I prefer Pyrodex pellets. These premeasured powder pellets are the most accurate and convenient way to load or transport a powder charge. I usually use three pellets, which is equivalent to 150 grains of powder. Always follow the manufacturer's load recommendations because not every barrel can handle the pressure of 150 grains of propellant.
One end of a Pyrodex pellet is darker than the other because it contains a small strip of black powder. Make sure you place this end down the barrel first. If I'm shooting a gun that uses a musket cap or No. 11 primer, I use loose black powder. Pyrodex burns much cleaner and is easy to use, but it has a 700-degree ignition point. Black powder burns at 350 degrees. However, Pyrodex produces more chamber pressure and more energy.
Buy an aluminum ramrod if your gun doesn't include one. Aluminum is lightweight and sturdy, which makes it essential. Also, consider purchasing some inexpensive plastic speed-loaders and a sturdy shoulder strap. I also carry a few dry patches and some patches that have been premoistened with cleaning solvent for quick gun cleaning.
Get to know your muzzleloader. You'll probably be amazed at the capabilities of what once was considered a primitive weapon.