Two whitetails fed across Nebraska's rolling hills as I clutched my muzzleloader a bit tighter. I'd already killed my buck, so one of these does would be a perfect candidate for my antlerless tag.
The deer were on private land but just across the public fence line. I ranged the front doe at 209 yards. When she jumped the fence, I acted quickly since two large bounds would put her into a shelterbelt. I grunt-stopped her, exhaled and held my breath as I settled the crosshairs, then squeezed the trigger.
The scene went up in smoke. The shot felt good, so I assumed it hit its mark. After a 15-minute wait, I found a blood trail that led me to my harvest. All the time I spent assembling the rig and practicing with it had paid off.
In the modern muzzleloading world, custom guns can be built that will kill cleanly at 500 yards and beyond in skilled hands. YouTube it if you don't believe me. Those rigs will set you back thousands. But don't worry, these aren't the topic for discussion here.
No, this article is about stock guns that can be purchased inexpensively at virtually any gun shop. From there, we'll review optics, loads and cleaning procedures. In the end, most hunters with average shooting skills will understand what it takes to be deadly on whitetails at 200 yards with a stock in-line muzzleloader.
Choosing a gun from the many on the market can be perplexing. CVA, Knight, Thompson/Center, Traditions and Remington all make muzzleloaders capable of 200-yard-and-beyond accuracy. The more you spend, the higher quality gun you'll get.
I recommend visiting multiple gun shops or sporting-goods stores to hold and shoulder several models from the aforementioned brands. Decide which gun feels most comfortable and shoulders most naturally. Fit and feel contribute to accuracy more than you would think — it must feel like it's meant to be.
I've been using a Thompson/Center Triumph muzzleloader for 10 years now, and while I'm sure stock guns exist that could push the 300-yard envelope, my gun produces unreal 100-yard accuracy and sub-softball groups at 200 yards. I've spent considerable time with it to develop a high level of confidence in taking shots out to and slightly over 200 yards in ideal conditions. That confidence doesn't automatically come when you buy a new gun. It takes time to develop.
Inevitably, muzzleloaders produce slower velocities than rifles. Thus, trajectory majorly influences points of impact past 100 yards. Holding high for a 200-yard shot with a single crosshair reticle will yield sporadic results, especially in hunting situations. It's simply not ethical when far better equipment exists.
Of course, several optics manufacturers build scopes with multiple hold points out to 200 yards and beyond. One example is my Leupold Ultimate Slam 3-9x40mm muzzleloader scope. The reticle is designed with hold points out to 300 yards. It's a fine scope. And the hold points are compatible with either a 100- or 150-grain load, but the scope's magnification must be set according to your load for the hold points to correspond.
Several other optics manufacturers build scopes with similar trajectory-compensated reticles, Nikon being a popular choice. If you truly want 200-plus-yard accuracy, don't skimp. Optics are as important as the gun — maybe more. Save your pennies and buy a good one.
I wish I could recommend a specific powder and bullet that will be magic at 200 yards, but every gun shoots a bit differently. You'll most likely find that some powders and loads produce better, more consistent results than others. I found that a Thompson/Center Shockwave 250-grain saboted bullet over three Hodgdon Triple Se7en pellets (150 grains) not only groups well at 200 yards, but also creates large wounds that maximize blood trails and speed recovery.
I'd previously used only two Triple Se7en pellets (100 grains), but blood trails were virtually nonexistent. This led me to do some experimenting, ultimately finding that the additional recoil generated by 50 more grains of powder was worth it.
Nothing replaces range time. Again, every muzzleloader performs a bit differently, so it's crucial to experiment with multiple powders and bullets to find which ones your particular gun likes. It'll be time well spent.
The Cleaning Procedure
Once you choose a gun that fits, top it with quality glass, and work up a load combination that shoots accurately, cleaning and maintenance are keys to maintaining consistent accuracy for years to come. Treat your muzzleloader carefully, and it will treat you well in return.
My Thompson/Center Triumph has the Speed Breech XT breech plug, which removes from the barrel with a quarter turn. I can make multiple killing shots at 100 yards with a fouled barrel, but that isn't true at 200 yards. Hits become more sporadic. Thus, I swab the barrel multiple times with one Hoppe's 9 Gun Bore Cleaner-soaked patch followed by two dry, clean patches.
When I finish hunting or conclude a range visit, I use a bore brush to loosen fouling and build-up from the powder and sabot (bullet jacket). Then, I use a patch soaked in Hoppe's 9, followed by more brushing and a few more wet patches and dry patches until the rifling inside the bore is shiny and residue-free.
Next, I lube the barrel with Thompson/Center Bore Butter. The product inhibits rust inside the barrel when not in use. Of course, I wipe it out with two dry patches before my next loading, which prevents excessive caking/fouling, but leaves behind traces of the butter that make ramming the bullet down the barrel easier.
The breech plug will also have fouling after a range session, and it's wise to clean it out and make sure the pin hole that allows the spark from the primer to reach the powder charge isn't plugged, which could result in a misfire. Once clean and dry, apply an anti-seize lubricant like Thompson/Center's Super Lube to the breech plug threads before threading it back into the barrel. This will ensure it removes easily next time you clean the gun.
Cleaning is a critical step to achieving consistent 200-yard accuracy. Forsake any of the cleaning tips I've outlined, and you could wreck your gun or experience sub-par accuracy.
More important than everything we've covered so far is the shooter. You need not be a match shooter to kill deer at 200 yards with a muzzleloader, but you'll need to be proficient with your rig. This means you've spent considerable time on the range and know your weapon's capabilities. It also means you must not have bad habits such as trigger punching, flinching, peaking or uncontrolled breathing. If you can master those challenges and find a steady rest, you'll likely be able to take and make that 200-yard shot.
Lastly, don't attempt a 200-yard poke if conditions are less than ideal. Don't take gambles. Make sure the animal is standing still and that you have sufficient time to squeeze off a good shot. And in a steady crosswind, be sure you know bullet drift in inches for every 10 mph of wind speed.
Setting up a new muzzleloader rig is an intricate but fun process. The time involved makes it more intimate, comparable in some ways to archery. If that fits your personality type, with some work and range time, you can tote a 200-yard muzzleloader to the deer woods this fall.