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The Future Of Traditional Muzzleloader Hunting
By Toby Bridges
North American Muzzleloader Hunting Association

During a phone conversation with another muzzleloading writer earlier this week, I mentioned the decline in traditional muzzleloader shooting and hunting. And he pretty much summed it all up with a single statement...

"No one shoots a patched round ball any more!"

While that's not exactly 100-percent correct, the number of shooters and hunters who still do has been in a serious downward spiral for most of the past 20 years.

The fact is, those who continue to prefer the older style rifles, especially those that are for "patched round ball only", are a quickly aging group. A check with the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association will reveal that the average age of its membership is well into its 60s. And that the continued annual decline in the organization's ranks can be largely attributed to those members who have passed away during the course of each year.

The Future Of Traditional Muzzleloader Hunting
There are now somewhere between 3.5 and 4-million muzzleloader hunters in this country - and fewer than 10-percent shoot tradtional rifles exclusively. Simply put, it is the modern in-line rifles (and loads) that attract new participants to muzzleloader hunting, and very few of them are making the cross over to tradtional rifles.

More than anything, it is the lackluster performance of patched round ball loads that make the majority of older guns unappealing to the modern muzzleloader hunter. These new shooters came into the sport to hunt the special muzzleloader seasons, not to relive history. And most want a rifle and load that's at least effective from 100 to 150 yards. And that's where the round ball falls way short. Typical .50 caliber round ball "big game" loads are only marginally effective on deer-sized game at 60 to 70 yards.

If the decline in the number of traditional muzzleloader shooters/hunters is to be reversed, muzzleloading rifle manufacturers and importers will have to begin offering a much better selection of older-style fast-twist bore bullet rifles, such as the originals that were popular during the 1840s and 1850s. These "traditional muzzleloaders" were capable of exceptional accuracy, range and knockdown power. Some would consistently produce 3-inch 10 shot groups at 40 rods (220 yards).

I built the rifle in the accompanying photo back in 1983. I had stripped down a .45 Thompson/Center Arms "Hawken" for most of the metal work - including the use of the factory barrel. However, unahppy with the bullet accuracy produced by the T/C turn-in-48 inches rifling twist, I sent the barrel to a custom barrel maker, had it bored out and polished to .50 caliber, then re-cut with a much snappier turn-in-24 inches twist. (This rifle was the first muzzleloader with which I loaded and shot saboted bullets back in 1985...and it was the acuracy of this rifle with saboted bullets that helped to convince Tony Knight to up the rifling twist of his new MK-85 in-line rifle, eventually to a turn-in-28 inches.)

More recently, I installed one of the Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co. 32-inch .50 caliber "Sharpshooter" barrels, cut rifled with a turn-in-24 inches - complete with one of Leatherwood Hi-Lux Optics' modern copies of a circa 1850s style "Wm.Malcolm" scope. This rig can deliver a huge 440-grain bore-sized conical bullet with more than 1,200 foot-pounds of punch at 100 yards, where it keeps the big lead slugs inside of 1 1/2 inches. Or, this very traditional looking 1850s rig can be loaded with a modern saboted bullet, and produce even more impressive accuracy. (The best 200-yard group shot with this rifle has been a 2 1/4 inch cluster, shot with the 300-grain saboted Precision Rifle "Dead Center" bullet!)

This is the kind of performance the modern day muzzleloading hunter is looking for, and with a true fast-twist bore copy of an 1850-style rifle, the muzzleloading hunter can pretty much duplicate the accuracy, range and game-taking knockdown power of a modern in-line rifle design. And do it with a little traditional flair.

Is the muzzleloading industry willing to save traditional muzzleloader shooting and hunting, or let it wither on the vine?

Visit the MonsterMuleys.com Muzzleloading Forum and lets hear what you think!!