Inline muzzleloaders have become nearly foolproof

There is a well-worn saying often heard at hunting lodges in the Deep South concerning one’s hunting accomplishments — “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s fact.”

With opening day of the seven-day statewide antlerless muzzleloader season in Pennsylvania Saturday, flintlock hunters who have the urge to use what are referred to as “modern” muzzleloaders should be aware that some manufacture claims are more braggin’ than fact. Concurrent with this season, Oct. 18 to 20 is the statewide special firearms season for properly licensed junior, senior, mentored youth, disabled and active military hunters using any legal firearm.

Concurrent with the seven-day muzzleloader season in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D is a black bear season for properly licensed hunters. Those eligible to hunt deer during the three-day special firearms season may also hunt black bear in those four WMUs if possessing a bear license.

Inline rifles are nearly foolproof — or at least weatherproof — because of their sealed ignition systems that allow some brands to be loaded, primed, placed in a tub of water and still fire. Most manufactures recommend specific bullets, propellants and primers for loading, and while going off the chart usually, but not always, produces ignition, there are brands such as the Remington 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader where primers and bullets made exclusively for the rifle should be used.

Although most quality inlines when properly loaded will achieve the accuracy of centerfire hunting rifles, claims of consistent downrange on-target hits in the kill zone of a deer is more brag than fact. Yes, almost all inlines will send a conical bullet 200 yards downrange and hit a target, and some will punch paper at 300 yards, but a center hold will usually result in a bullet drop of 12 inches or more unless the rifle is equipped with a scope that has been sighted-in for long-range shooting.

Realistically, shots of more than 150 yards are usually something to be concerned about by those traveling to the American West to hunt big game and are not normally encountered by those hunting Pennsylvania woodlands. Spending no more than $200 for an off-the-shelf, .50-caliber inline equipped with fiber-optic sights should take a deer at 100 yards if time has been spent at the range working up the best bullet-and-propellant combination of synthetic blackpowder in either pellet or granulation form.

No matter if one’s favorite outdoors television celebrity uses as a Thompson/Center Arms, CVA or Knight Rifle be assured all are of equality within the same price range. Low-end rifles are, well, low end and may not be satisfactory for even the two-Saturday inline hunter.

An inline priced $150-$350 should result in a rifle that will give years of quality service if used only during the antlerless season. For those who like the challenge of hunting with a muzzleloader during the regular firearms bear and deer seasons without having to worry about the weather conditions an inline in the $400-$500 price range is the equal of hunting grade center-fire rifles.

For those who must have what many consider the best production inline muzzleloader on the market there is the Remington 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader. Other than the ramrod under the barrel, this bolt-action that seals the cartridge-like primer has the appearance of the Remington 700 center-fire rifle, but be prepared for sticker shock — and many who initially planned to purchase this rifle go the extra yard and spend a few hundred dollars more for a custom-build rifle by gunsmiths such as Bob Hart of Nescopeck.

Like the choice of rifles, loading with pellets or granular propellants should produce similar accuracy if the time is taken at the range to work up the best load for the rifle. It is how much propellant is used — each pellet is equal to 50 grains — that produces accuracy.

Be aware, however, to avoid the claim — brag — of some manufacturers that there is no need to clean between shots as should be done with blackpowder. That may be true in the deer woods where reloading quickly is often a bigger concern than maintenance, but swabbing the barrel at the range will produce the best accuracy – and take time to pull the breechplug for a through cleaning after practice sessions or a hunting trip.

Centerfire 209 shotgun primers are far more effective for consistent ignition because of generating more heat than percussion caps that are used for traditional muzzleloaders. Only in an emergency should they be used with a Remington 700, which has its own brass primer.

While all-lead conical bullets can be absolutely devastating on game when fired from both flintlock and traditional percussion muzzleloaders equipped with “bullet” barrels, for the best accuracy inlines should use a sabot as ammunition. These bullets are encased in plastic to obtain higher velocities and better accuracy than a lead ball or conical bullet, but here again the barrel must be cleaned thoroughly to remove the residue.

Listening to the claims of inline manufactures seemingly makes these rifles foolproof, but no matter what they need the same of pre-hunt practice at the range and as much — or sometimes — more cleaning that traditional muzzleloaders. Taking these steps could result in some bragging after the hunt.

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Doyle Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.

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