The rifle above is a proven performer ... the scope is also a proven performer ... the powder and bullet being shot are either proven performers or something new being tested ... and during just about any given NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING test shooting session ... the same could be said about the primer being used for ignition. This photo just happened to have been taken while I was checking out the Cutting Edge Bullets 250-grain .430" diameter saboted MAXIMUS all-copper spitzer hollow-point bullets and Harvester Muzzleloading's .50x.44 Crush Rib Sabot, ahead of stiff charges of FFFg Triple Seven. The rifle is our 30-inch barreled Traditions .50 VORTEK StrikerFire LDR and the scope is one of the Hi-Lux Optics 3-9x40mm TB-ML models. The rig shows up regularly on this website ... since it is a reliable proven performer.
There are a lot of things which can affect the quality of the groups produced - from the compatibility of the loading components ... to the consistency of powder charges ... or even the seating pressure applied when topping a powder charge with the projectile. Certainly not of the least importance is just how solid the rifle is rested when the trigger is slowly squeezed rearward.,
Well, as you can see in the group shown at left, everything was "in-sync" during this round of test shooting ... including me.
I take the test shooting I conduct for this website very seriously. That's exactly why I finally started using a very high quality, well built, and "rock solid" shooting rest. In fact, that green Caldwell Shooting Supplies rest you are now seeing in so many of our photos provides such a solid rest that its model name is "The Rock".
Very often, I'll take two or even three rifles to the range with me to conduct a test ... or to actually work on more than one test ... allowing the rifles to be shot alternately .... and giving them plenty of time to fully cool down before being reloaded. The Caldwell rest can be quickly and easily adjusted for height. There is a big difference in how many of our test rifles set on the rest. If I take three rifles to the range ... and shoot each just ten times ... that could mean taking the height of the front rest up and down 30 times. It takes just a few seconds to reach forward ... loosen the lock ... turn the cog-shaped height adjustment to take the padded forearm cradle up or down ... then tighten the lock again.
I'll be the first to admit that shooting from a solid rest like "The Rock" can have a rifle printing slightly different than when that same rifle is shot from a rest that could be a bit less solid ... like a tree trunk ... maybe a handy limb ... the top of a fence post ... a day pack laying on top of a real rock ... or perhaps from a rail of a tree stand. When hunting open country, where there is a very good chance of having to take a shot out to and maybe a little past 200 yards, I've come to rely on one of the Bog Pod collapsible shooting rests. The one shown in the above right photo is the CLD 3 tripod model. This is a very adjustable rest, and can be set to shoot from the sitting ... the kneeling ... or standing positions.
I use my CLD 3 several times each week as a camera tripod, thanks to an accessory adapter that replaces the "U" shaped rubber lined forearm rest. The switch takes all of a couple of seconds. Collapsed, this tripod measures 31-inches in length, and weighs 40 ounces. For those days when I plan to hike the ridges, glassing for game, I pack along one of the CLD 3s models. That "s" stands for short. This model is for shooting from either the sitting or kneeling positions. Collapsed, this Bog Pod tripod measures just 22-inches in length and weighs 32 ounces. Bog Pod offers a variety of tripod ... bipod ... and monopod models. Check them out at the following link -
The buck shown at left was taken at a few long steps beyond 200 yards. The deer was crossing an open hayfield, and offered a perfect broadside shot. I was sitting at the base of a large cottonwood tree along the edge of the field ... following the buck with the crosshairs of the Hi-Lux Optics scope dead center of the whitetail's chest cavity.
During the spring and summer prior to this hunt, I had put several hundred rounds through the .50 caliber TC Strike rifle. For this hunt, I had the rifle loaded with a 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and a Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. Shooting from a solid bench rest, the rifle would consistently keep three-shot 100-yard groups right at an inch - printing the clusters right at 1 1/2-inches above point of aim. The week before the hunt, I spent a morning shooting off of the CLD 3s tripod rest. When shooting off of this rest, I tend to grip the "U" shaped forearm rest with my left hand ... with my index finger on one-side of the forearm and my thumb "kind of" gripping the other side of the forearm.
At 100 yards, from the Bog Pod rest, I found that I could still keep three-shot groups inside of 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches ... but, on average, the five groups shot were about an inch lower than when shooting the same rifle ... scope ... and load from a bench rest. Perhaps that was due to how I "kind of" gripped the forearm with a finger and my thumb. The holes in the target were still about 1/2- to 3/4-inch above point of aim. Also shooting off of the rest, several three shot 200-yard groups stayed at around 4- to 4 1/2- inches across.
When shooting at the longer range, just as I expected, those groups printed 9- to 10-inches below point of aim. So, when that early November buck stopped out in that open field, lasered at 208 yards, I brought the crosshairs up to the top of the shoulder, gripped the rest and forearm, steadied my hold ... and eased back on the trigger. That 300-grain polymer-tipped spire-point bullet zipped right through both lungs ... and the deer ran maybe 20 yards and went down.
I've fashioned a leather carry strap for my Bog Pod tripods, and rest assured that any time I leave camp to hunt ... one of those rests will be strapped across my back. - Toby Bridges
NOTE: Both Caldwell Shooting Supplies and Bog Pod are brand lines of Battenfield Technologies Inc., which is a division of the AMERICAN OUTDOOR BRANDS CORPORATION. Thompson/Center Arms and Smith & Wesson are also members of that growing family of outdoor brands.
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Broadside shot opportunities such as that shown above don't get any more classic than shown here. I photographed this bull, and a number of other elk, just a week before this was written. Shot placement here is a "no brainer". Simply come up from the rear of the shoulder/leg line, about half way up the chest cavity, and squeeze off the shot. This dandy bull was just 60 yards away ... and just about any .50 caliber in-line rifle loaded with a 100- to 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 or Triple Seven and a saboted 300-grain bullet would take out both lungs. If the bullet just happens to be my overall favorite, the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold ... I can tell you from experience it would most likely be a lump under the skin of the opposite side once you walked up to the downed bull ... or you would find an enlarged exit hole out the other side. Either way, both lungs would be destroyed ... and this dandy 8x8 bull would be down within a few yards.
But, in the real world of hunting, we're often faced with some shots that are far from being perfectly broadside, and that's what we will cover in this post - and whether to take the shot or not.
Click on the above left photo to enlarge. That mule deer buck on the left is a real dandy, photographed a day or so after the bull shown at the top of this post. Study it for a minute. Would you feel confident in taking a 150-yard shot on this wide and tall buck?
The facing away angled shot is actually one of my favorite. If I were taking the shot on this buck, and had the rifle and load printing about 1 1/2 inches high at 100 yards, I would hold a little above center to allow for 3 or so inches of additional drop at 150 yards - indicated by the red spot on the deer. Also, note that the hold is well to the rear of the shoulder. When making such an angled shot on game, try to imagine where the bullet would exit if it penetrated all the way through. A 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold impacting where the red spot above left is located is headed right for the front of the opposite shoulder ... and would catch both lungs. The only bone structure it should hit on the facing side might be a rib, or two - and by the time the well expanded slug would hit the opposite shoulder blade, from the inside, massive damage would be delivered to the lungs, and maybe even the liver.
Now, if the shot above right, say at around 100 yards, would be the only shot I'd likely get at the elk bull shown in the above right photo ... I'm sure I would pass. First of all, a saboted bullet would be plowing into a very muscular area, plus to get into the vital area of a 500 to 600 pound bull, it would likely have to bust through some significant bone structure ... which could fragment most copper skinned lead core bullets. The best bet would be to wait. This bull's cow is headed to the right, and he's looking to the left. Chances are, this elk will turn to the right as well ... offering a more broadside shot. The smart thing to do would be to have the crosshairs or sights on the bull ... ready to take the shot should that happen.
If the buck at right showed up within a hundred yards of my stand, I would have absolutely no problem taking this shot - and I have very effectively put down several good bucks by holding pretty much as indicated here. This puts the bullet just a bit forward of the facing shoulder blade. A good bullet, like the Scorpion PT Gold, has the structural integrity to punch through a forward rib. At this angle, the expanded bullet should catch some of the facing lung ... destroy the lung of the opposite side ... and still have the momentum to bust through a rib on the other side of the chest cavity - and either come to rest under the skin or punch out just to the rear of the opposite shoulder. So hit, with 1,600 to 1,800 foot pounds of energy (at the distance of the shot), this nice buck should go down quickly ... if not on the spot!
When taking a facing or going away shot, always try to determine just where the angled shot will exit the other side ... or should exit the opposite side if it is not deflected by heavy bone structure. If vital chest cavity organs are not in that path - my advice is to pass on the shot. Since first hunting with a prototype of the Scorpion PT Gold back in the fall of 2005, I have now taken 61 deer and a near 400-pound black bear with 62 shots. And the one buck, shot at 181 yards, that did not go down to one shot just stood there when hit by a 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, allowing me to quickly reload and dump the deer with the second shot. Both of those bullets hit perfectly behind the shoulder ... less than 2 inches apart. Of the 60 other deer taken with these bullets, at least 40 were taken with the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, and 17 with the 260-grain version of the same bullet. Three were taken with the light 240-grain Scorpion PT Gold.
Reflecting back, I recall that at least 8 or 9 of the deer were either angled away or toward me at the shot. The buck shown at left is the one I remember best. It was the second afternoon/evening of a cold and snowy December muzzleloader hunt in Nebraska - the first year that scopes were allowed during that season.
The evening before, I had taken a dandy high and wide 8-pointer at just 120 yards, putting a 300-gain Scoprion PT Gold squarely through the rib cage ... thanks to a perfect broadside shot opportunity. And, I should have done the same with the buck shown here ... but it was too close.
I had gotten to my ground blind, made from cedar branches, early that afternoon. The temperatures were plummeting, and I felt the deer would move early as well. I settled into my Heater Body Suit, zipped up and settled back for the afternoon. Deer were moving almost immediately. Within 20 minutes of getting into the blind, a tall and heavy 4x4 offered an easy 50 yard shot. It was tempting, but I knew that a heavy horned 5x5 was also feeding regularly in the green winter wheat field I was watching.
An hour passed, and at least a hundred deer were in the field, feeding away. Suddenly, I heard the sound of running deer ... coming from behind and to my right. I knew they were close, but was still startled when the head of a big doe came around the cedar at my back ... and was barely 10 feet away. She looked back, then turned and trotted to the fence ... jumped it ... and joined the others in the field. A few seconds later, the buck shown in this photo slowly walked by in the same exact spot ... less than 10 feet away.
The heavy-horned 5x5 walked right up to the fence exactly where the doe crossed over, and jumped the top wire to join her. The deer was just 75 yards away, but a couple of other small cedars blocked the shot. The deer were walking out into the field at an angle to my left - and when they were back in the open the distance was right at 160 yards.
The buck offered a great angle for putting the bullet through the chest cavity to the opposite front shoulder. I held on where I figured the last left-side rib was located ... let the crosshairs drift up about 3 inches and squeezed off the shot. The buck dropped nearly to the ground ... caught itself ... and charged for the center of the several hundred acre open expanse. About 50 yards into that run, the heavy bodied whitetail crashed onto its side and rolled a couple of times. When I skinned the deer the next day, I found the expanded 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold shown above right just under the hide of the opposite front shoulder. The bullet had caught the rear left rib ... had passed through the left side of the liver ... caught the rear right side of the left lung ... had passed through the right lung ... and had punched through the front of the right shoulder blade. In all, the bullet shown here had passed through some 25 or 26 inches of the near 250-pound field dressed buck.
All muzzleloading hunters dream about getting a hundred yard broadside shot at a magnificent trophy like the caribou bull shown above. But ... in the real world of hunting ... the game being hunted all too often did not get a copy of the script. Don't be afraid to take those angling shots. Just be sure of where the bullet is headed (on the opposite side or end) ... and what's in between point of impact and the likely point of exit. Shooting a heavier bullet weight plays a vital role in getting the penetration needed for such shots, and that's exactly why I tend to hunt mostly with the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. - Toby Bridges
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If you are a regular to NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING, we don't have to tell you just how we feel about the saboted Scorpion PT Gold bullet from Harvester Muzzleloading, of Henderson, Kentucky. If you are, you already know we shoot these bullets more than any other during our test shooting ... and you likely realize that the 300-grain version of the bullet shown here is the bullet we definitely hunt with more than any other. Since the first prototype of these bullets back in 2005, I have taken 62 big game animals with 63 shots. The dandy whitetail buck that required a second shot was nice enough to stand in the same spot after being hit with the first, allowing me to quickly reload - and drop the deer with the second shot - at 186 yards.
See that 300-grain hollow-point on the far left side of this photo? That's Harvester Muzzleloading's earlier Scorpion Funnel Point bullet. For several years, I hunted with the big hollow-point, which shot great and put game down quickly. It's still available for those hollow-point fans out there ... and still shoots as good as ever, and hits game with a tremendous wallop. However, since convincing the company to install a polymer tip in the bullet, transforming it into the Scorpion PT Gold, I've never looked back. Today, the Scorpion PT Gold is Harvester Muzzleloading's best selling bullet ... and for good reason ... it shoots with tremendous accuracy and takes game down quickly!
The great Missouri Breaks whitetail buck in the above photo certainly never had much opportunity to debate the long range accuracy and game taking performance of the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold last fall. A single shot from 223 yards away dropped the deer on the spot!
To a point, I've pretty much been one of those who feel ... "If it's not broken don't go trying to fix it!" But, even with the stellar track record of the .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold, I honestly feel there needs to be a change made.
Harvester Muzzleloading needs to develop a .430" diameter Scorpion PT Gold!
Now, let's "fast backward" to 1985. That hollow-point shown above on the right side of the photo is the Hornady .430" diameter XTP Jacketed HP. This was the very first saboted bullet I ever shot ... and it wasn't out of an in-line rifle. My first shots with saboted bullets, specifically "THIS BULLET", was with a custom half-stock rifle I had built ... using a custom cut 1-in-24 twist barrel. I had also tried the sabots in a 1-in-48 twist .50 T/C Hawken I also shot and hunted with ... and they had shot horribly out of that rifle - often keyholing on the target (when I could keep them on the target) at 50 yards. But, my 1-in-24 twist bore custom half-stock punched a number of honest 1 1/2-inch hundred yard groups - loading and shooting a 100-grain charge of Pyrodex "RS".
In February 1986, I received my first Knight MK-85, Serial No. 31, and that rifle even featured 1-in-48 twist rifling. It too shot horribly with those early sabots, with either the 240- or 300-grain Hornady .44 XTP bullets. It was the accuracy of my faster twist custom barrel that convinced Tony Knight to speed up the rifling of his innovtive new in-line rifle ... to be able to shoot equally modern saboted bullets with great accuracy. An ultra modern muzzleloader needed to be shot with an equally ultra modern muzzleloading projectile system. The rest of that story is now history ... or is it?
What gives with that "polymer tipped" 300-grain .430" Hornady XTP shown above left?
One of the things that always impressed me about the .430" diameter 300-grain XTP hollow-point was it's relatively high ballistic coefficient (b.c.). As a hollow point, the bullet has a .245 b.c. That's just .005 shy of the .250 b.c. of the 300-grain .451 Scorpion PT Gold, or Hornady's own 300-grain .452" SST-ML saboted bullet.
A few years back, I got to thinking about just what a polymer tip in the 300-grain .430" XTP would do for the bullet's ballistic coefficient ... and did a little nose work on some of the bullets and installed a few of those golden polymer tips from the Harvester Muzzleloading bullet. Today's top muzzleloader powders, namely Blackhorn 209 and FFFg Triple Seven, can get these saboted bullets out of the muzzle of a 30-inch .50 caliber barrel, such as the Traditions VORTEK Ultra Light LDR and the CVA Accura V2 LR, at just over 2,000 f.p.s. That's enough velocity to insure that the heavier petals/sleeves of a .50x.44 sabot open up and get away from the bullet immediately upon exiting the barrel.
Pyrodex and black powder could not produce enough velocity to force those heavy petals/sleeves to open ... which also contributed to the horrible accuracy of saboted .44 bullets during the late 1980's and early 1990's. The addition of that polymer tip to the 300-grain .430" diameter XTP upped the bullet's b.c. to around .300 - shaving off nearly 25% of bullet drop between 100 and 200 yards ... and the tipped bullet hit with around 150 additional foot-pounds of energy at that distance.
The .44 bullet that has done even more to convince me this is where modern .50 caliber muzzleloading is headed is the Cutting Edge Bullets 250-grain machined all-copper MAXIMUS bullet shown on the right in the photo directly above. This .430" diameter bullet has a b.c. of .311. The bullet is shown here with our favored now 10-year-old 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. Loaded ahead of 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven, the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold gets out of a 30-inch barrel at around 2,000 to 2,010 f.p.s. - with between 2,660 and 2,690 f.p.e. At 200 yards, it would retain about 1,450 f.p.s. and hit with around 1,390 f.p.e.
Weighing 50-grains lighter, the 250-grain .430" diameter MAXIMUS would exit the same 30-inch barrel at close to 2,050 f.p.s. with around 2,335 f.p.e. Due to its higher .311 b.c. and faster muzzle velocity, at 200 yards the bullet would retain around 1,570 f.p.s. - and drive home with right at 1,370 f.p.e. At just 210-to-215 yards, the lighter all copper bullet would retain more energy than the 300-grain polymer tipped .451" bullet.
If the addition of that polymer tip can significantly up the performance of the Hornady .430" diameter XTP ... it can do the same for a .430" diameter Scorpion PT Gold. Likewise, just having a .430" diameter 300-grain Scorpion in the Harvester line would give hollow-point bullet fans a bullet that would very likely come very close to matching the .245 b.c. of Hornady's 300-grain .430" XTP. (The current 300-grain .451" Scorpion likely has a b.c. close to .190-to-.200.)
We now have the modern black powder substitutes which are truly "High Performance Muzzleloading Propellants" that can give us the velocities to tap the better aerodynamics of smaller diameter bullets ... and the rifles for shooting such saboted bullets. So ... Why isn't a current muzzleloader bullet maker offering a copper jacketed/plated .430" diameter long range hunting bullet?
I wouldn't change a thing about the present .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold bullet. It's just too good a bullet. But I think it needs a somewhat slimmer and trimmer companion to be poised to take its place ... because muzzleloading is about to change one more time - and longer range performance will play an ever more important role in product popularity. - Toby Bridges
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My 2017 Montana spring black bear hunt was a very short lived affair ... with the taking of this nice near 400-pound brown color phase boar, at about 60 yards, with a single shot from my Cooper .50 Model 22 ML ... just 2 1/2 hours into my first evening of hunting. The rifle had been stuffed with my favored load - 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet. Shot through both front shoulders and both lungs, this bear went, maybe, 40 yards - then down for keeps.
After all the excitement ... all the work of getting the bear off the mountain ... and the rush to get the bruin skinned, quartered and into the freezer to beat the near 80-degree heat the next morning - when I look at all the photos shot, I realize that there's something missing. Shown not once in any of the photos taken that evening, and the next morning, is the muzzleloading pistol I also carried for the hunt ... just in case I needed a quick "backup" second shot. Which I did not ... and for which I am grateful.
Even punched through both lungs by a bullet that did tremendous damage, this bear went from a dead stand still to 30 or 35 m.p.h. in just a dozen or so bounds, What if my shot had been off just a little? What if that "one and only" muzzle-loaded shot had just "clipped" vital internal organs? One thing is for sure ... that empty .50 caliber rifle would have been less than adequate for fending off that mouthful of teeth and those powerful front paws and claws.
So...Would the muzzle-loaded handgun carried as a backup have delivered enough punch, up close and very personal, to stop the bear ... or at least to greatly diminish its ability to inflict bodily harm? Fortunately ... I did not have to find out.
Of all the muzzle-loaded handguns I have ever shot and hunted with, the one shown here is the ONLY one I would EXPECT to deliver enough punch to stop a charging 400-pound bear ... or at least change its mind. This isn't something you can simply buy off the shelf ... or order through a major mail order outdoor catalog. This pistol was assembled after a series of ballistics testing we conducted a couple of years back ... checking velocities out of barrel lengths ranging from 30 inches down to 20 inches. We found the left-over 20-inch Traditions .50 caliber VORTEK barrel (and rifle forearm) to fit the frame of our VORTEK Pistol frame very nicely... and with a sling swivel stud installed on the bottom of the grip ... this long barreled handgun can easily be carried slung across the back.
For the bear hunt, I decided to keep things simple and loaded the pistol with the same saboted bullet and powder being used in the rifle for the hunt - the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold and Blackhorn 209. However, any powder charge over 80 grains, with a bullet that heavy, makes this home-made "pistol carbine" a bit much to handle. So, I went with an 80-grain charge of Blackhorn 209. At 50 yards, I could keep hits inside of 1 1/2-inches. (The 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold is shown at left ... with the well flattened bullet that was recovered from the above bear.)
At the muzzle of the 20-inch barrel, the load is good for right at 1,630 f.p.s. - and 1,770 f.p.e. That means a charging bear at 20 to 25 yards would be hit with around 1,700 foot-pounds of wallop. For comparison, let's look at the ballistics of a big black powder .44 percussion revolver.
One of the finest percussion .44 six shooters ever offered was the Ruger "Old Army" ... which was kind of a front-loaded version of the company's revered cartridge Blackhawk line. A stout load for this handgun would be 40-grains of "P" grade Pyrodex behind a 143-grain .457" diameter lead ball. At the muzzle of the standard 7 1/2-inch barrel, the load would be good for 1,014 f.p.s. ... and just 327 f.p.e. At 25 yards, velocity is down to 895 f.p.s. and energy to just 256 f.p.e.
The "standard length" barrels of single-shot in-line handguns, like the .50 Traditions VORTEK Pistol and the .50 CVA Optima V2 Pistol fare a bit better. The Traditions muzzleloading handgun comes with a 13-inch barrel, while the CVA pistol sports a 14-inch barrel. Out of the VORTEK Pistol, I've gotten a 70-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and a saboted 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold to give an average of around 1,410 f.p.s. and 1,140 f.p.e. The 1-inch longer Optima V2 would add about 20 or so additional f.p.s. and maybe 40 more foot-pounds of knockdown power - AT THE MUZZLE ... which would be getting a bit close for comfort when trying to stop a charging bear ... or anything else intending to inflict some bodily harm.
I would love to see either Traditions or CVA ... or both ... take muzzleloader handgun hunting a bit more seriously. Those shorter 13- and 14-inch barrel lengths simply do not provide the length needed to fully burn a heavier 70 or 80 grain charge of a modern powder like Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven. To fully tap what these powders and modern saboted bullets can do, it simply will take a longer barrel ... like the 20-inch barreled "pistol carbine" shown here.
With a little thought, the barrel could fit either a pistol or rifle frame, allowing the shooter to put together a very modular shooting & hunting system - which includes standard length pistol and rifle barrels ... and a barrel that can turn the pistol into a more effective hunting handgun or the rifle into a much faster handling brush rifle.
As for carrying a muzzle-loaded pistol or percussion revolver as something of a backup when going after game like a bear ... or maybe a wild boar ... or perhaps even a mountain lion ... yes ... I think it is a good idea - even if it is only to provide the comfort of knowing you've got some added firepower if things suddenly turn real ugly. - Toby Bridges
Here's A Link To A Report On The Modular System We've Put Together -
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That powder you can see in the above photo is actually the last major innovation to come along for improving the performance of today's modern in-line ignition rifles - and that change came almost ten years ago. Well, the modern side of muzzleloading is now poised for another major change ... or two.
Are you ready? Actually, if you have been loading and shooting with the Crush Rib Sabot from Harvester Muzzleloading ... you could already be using what is likely the sabot design that's most apt to become the new industry standard. Still, thanks to the increased velocities produced by Blackhorn 209, and to some extent by loose-grain Triple Seven, the stage is set for a major move to loading and shooting longer and smaller diameter bullets ... with significantly higher ballistic coefficients - for a flatter trajectory and more retained velocity and energy to and beyond 200 yards.
Here's a link to a look at what could lie ahead, in the not so distant future, thanks to the efficiency of modern black powder substitutes like Blackhorn 209 ... and to the versatility of the Crush Rib Sabot. - Toby Bridges
What Are Your Thoughts On All Of This?
There are not a lot of .50 caliber in-line rifle shooters ... or those who hunt with a .50 caliber in-line rifle ... who have tried loading and shooting a saboted .40 caliber (.400" diameter) bullet out of a rifle with a .500" bore. However, for those who have at least thought about it ... Harvester Muzzleloading does include in its sabot lineup that dark blue .50x.40 Crush Rib Sabot shown on the right side of the above photo.
Now, surely those of you who HAVE NOT are likely asking yourself ... "With so many saboted .451" or .430" diameter bullets now available for the modern .50 caliber front-loading rifles ... why would anyone really want to try getting such a combination to shoot with a high degree of accuracy?"
Actually, there are a couple of reasons why some people do ... or at least seek to. One is that it's possible to load and shoot a significantly lighter 150 to 200 grain bullet ... at a significantly higher velocity ... with much milder recoil. Then, another reason is that it is now possible to load ... shoot ... and hunt with a sleek and smaller diameter bullet which has a much higher ballistic coefficient (b.c.) ... for a flatter shooting hunting bullet that retains velocity and energy downrange much better than a ,451" diameter bullet of the same weight.
That bullet shown directly above is the .400" diameter .287 b.c. all-copper MAXIMUS spitzer hollow-point produced by Cutting Edge Bullets. The company currently only offers the bullet pre-packaged with the light blue Crush Rib Sabot shown on the left in the above photo. This is a .45x.40 sabot for a fast twist bore .45 caliber in-line rifle.
But...what is that black thing-a-ma-jiggie the sabot is sitting on? It's called a "Magnum Sub Base" (produced by Muzzleload Magnum Products) - and it protects the base from excessive pressures produced by heavy powder charges. When using the Harvester Muzzleloading .50x.40 sabot ... especially when shooting an all-copper .400" diameter bullet ... you'll very likely find it a must.
Those heavy sleeves which take up the difference between the .400" diameter bullet and .500" bore are extremely stiff ... and so are the powder charges required to force them to peel out and away from the bullet in order to catch air and fall back and away from the bullet. Even though the .50x.40 sabot shown above left was propelled down a .50 caliber bore by a 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 ... note that the base cup practically looks as if the sabot had not even been shot ... thanks to the use of a sub base. On the other hand, without a sub base between the sabot and powder charge ... when shooting all-copper bullets the pressures of a 110- or 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven will very typically blow the bottom right out of these sabots - as shown above right.
Should shooting that high b.c. .40 caliber 240-grain bullet now seem like something you just might want to try with your .50 caliber in-line ... there is one major problem most of you are sure to run into. That is the rate of rifling twist most likely found in your rifle. Unless it is the Pedersoli .50 caliber No. 209 primer ignition Rolling Block Muzzleloader shown at left ... or one of the discontinued Savage Model 10ML II rifles ... your rifle very likely has a 1-in-28 twist. The two rifles mentioned feature a 1-in-24 twist.
The 1-in-28 twist simply will not adequately stabilize the longer 240-grain .400" MAXIMUS bullet. That hundred yard group shown here, shot with the 1-in-24 twist Pedersoli rifle, measures .667" center-to-center. The powder charge was 120-grains of Blackhorn 209, and the Harvester .50x.40 CRS was loaded over a Magnum Sub Base for each shot. Velocity of the load was 2,137 f.p.s. (with 2,434 f.p.e.).
Come mid May, we look to spend a couple of mornings shooting several different .40 caliber bullets out of several different .50 caliber rifles - using the Harvester Muzzleloading .50x.40 sabot featured in this post. Out of the 1-in-28 twist rifles, we'll stick with bullets of 200-grains and lighter. We should have a detailed report on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website before the end of that month.
If you've played around with shooting .400" diameter bullets out of your .50 caliber rifle, or rifles, please use the comment section to share your experience ... and the performance you achieved. Likewise, if you've taken game with these smaller diameter bullets, please share how well they performed. - Toby Bridges
For More On Shooting The 1-in-24 Twist Pedersoli .50 Rolling Block Muzzleloader Go To -
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Take a very good look at the bullets above. They are the same exact bullet ... or ... they at least started out as the very same bullet - the Hornady 300-grain .430" diameter XTP (Xtreme Terminal Performance) bullet for loading into .44 handgun cartridges. To install that 3-grain polymer spire-point tip in the two bullets on the right hand side of the photo required the careful removal of 9 grains of lead from the hollow-point nose ... and a very small drop of "Super Glue". The finished bullet weighed in at 294-grains.
So...other than giving the bullet a somewhat sleeker look and profile ... what does the addition of that tip do for performance?
The hollow-pointed 300-grain .44 Hornady XTP (left) is shown here with the 300-grain Harvester Muzzleloading .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold (which has easily been our favorite muzzleloader testing and hunting bullet here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING). Also, take note that if the polymer tip was removed from the Harvester Muzzleloading spire point, the resulting "hollow-point" would be about .060" shorter than the smaller diameter Hornady bullet of the same weight. As a hollow-point, the .44 XTP has a .245 b.c. - as a poly-tipped spire point, the Scorpion PT Gold has a b.c. of .250. Note, the Harvester Muzzleloading .451" bullet is also offered as the hollow-pointed Scorpion bullet, and in the 300-grain weight has a b.c. of about .190.
Yes, the addition of that 3-grain sharp polymer tip does that much for the bullet. So, what if the same polymer tip was added to the already aerodynamic smaller diameter .430" Hornady 300-grain bullet? From my own test shooting, I've determined that the b.c. would jump to at least .285 or .290 - maybe even a bit higher. Shot with a 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 (out of a 28-inch barrel), a saboted non-tipped .245 b.c. 300-grain XTP leaves the muzzle at around 2,020 f.p.s. - and bullet drop from 100 to 200 yards averages right at 11 inches. With the polymer tip installed, shooting the same charge at basically the same muzzle velocity, bullet drop from 100- to 200-yards is cut to around 8.5 inches.
Even more significant is the retained velocity and energy of the polymer tipped .430" bullet out at 200 yards. As a hollow-point, the bullet would retain just over 1,400 f.p.s., and hit with a tad over 1,300 foot-pounds. Thanks to the added aerodynamics of the polymer tip, the spire-pointed version of this same bullet would retain just over 1,500 f.p.s. at 200 yards, and hit a big ol' whitetail buck or bull elk with right at 1,500 foot-pounds of knockdown power.
Harvester Muzzleloading could easily accomplish the same thing if they were to introduce a .430" diameter 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold!
When saboted bullets were first introduced during the mid 1980's...there wasn't even a rifle available with the proper rate of rifling twist to shoot them! When Knight got around to going with the 1-in-28 twist in late 1987, that's when shooters really began to realize the potential of the sabot system ... but even then they quickly favored loading and shooting saboted .45 bullet over saboted .44 bullets. The problem back then was that the hottest black powder substitute available (and only such powder available) was Pyrodex ... and the powder just could not produce the velocity to force the heavier sleeves of the .50x.44 sabots to open up and get away from the bullet. Even though the .429"/.430" bullets were clearly more aerodynamic , and could shoot flatter, the combination of the thinner sleeved .50x.45 sabots and slightly larger diameter .45 bullets nearly always shot with far superior accuracy.
A .50 inline rifle of the late 1980's and early 1990's, loaded with a 100-grain charge of Pyrodex "RS" typically produced a muzzle velocity with a saboted 300-grain bullet of around 1,600 f.p.s. And at that velocity, the extremely heavy sleeves of the .50x.44 sabots just would not open adequately.
We no longer have that problem ... thanks to Blackhorn 209 and FFFg Triple Seven.
Compare the two Harvester Muzzleloading green .50x.44 Crush Rib Sabots in the two photos directly above. The sabot on the left was shot with the new Cutting Edge Bullets 250-grain MAXIMUS .430" bullet and a 100-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 - out of a 28-inch barreled Traditions VORTEK rifle. The muzzle velocity was right at 1,940 f.p.s. - and even at that velocity the sleeves of a recovered sabot were only slightly opened. Going to a heftier 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 pushed velocity out of the 28-inch barrel to around 2,090 f.p.s. - and the recovered sabots showed considerably more opening of the heavy sleeves - shown in the photo above right.
The introduction of the CNC machined all-copper MAXIMUS bullets by Cutting Edge Bullets has been one new fresh breath when it comes to "performance muzzleloading" development. I was excited to see two things with the new bullets they are offering for today's modern .50 caliber in-line rifles. One was their use of the Crush Rib Sabots produced by Harvester Muzzleloading - which I consider the very best sabot available today. I was also excited to see that the company's new MAXIMUS bullets for the .50 caliber rifles to be of .430" diameter. One is a real lightweight of just 165-grains ... the other is the 250-grain bullet shown at left.
This is a 1.062" long bullet, which has shot great for me out of several different 1-in-28 twsit .50 caliber in-line rifles - shooting charges of 120- and 130-grains of Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven. With the heftier charge of those two powders, muzzle velocity out of a 28-inch barrel tops 2,100 f.p.s. Thanks to this bullet's .311 b.c. - it shoots very flat for a .50 caliber muzzleloader bullet to 200 yards...and retains velocity and energy well.
Although we did enjoy nearly a week of sunny and calm days this month...it's now snowing again. As soon as the weather begins to break, and temperatures warm just a bit to allow staying out on the range for 4 or so hours ... NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING will get in more trajectory testing with the 250-grain MAXIMUS bullets ... and we'll put together more of our home-brewed 300-grain "XTP PT Gold" poly-tipped spire points for some of that shooting to 200 yards - and farther - as well.
If you've shot saboted .44 bullets, of any make or design, with hefty charges of Blackorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven ... how about commenting below and share what you've experienced. - Toby Bridges
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So...What in the heck are "Specialty Sabots"?
First, let's take a look at what most of us today consider "Standard Sabots". See that black Harvester Muzzleloading .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot above left? That sabot, and Harvester Muzzleloading's other .50x.45 sabots, including the red .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot sabot shown above right, and similar sabots produced by Muzzleload Magnum Products, are easily the most widely used sabots today. The majority of the bullets being shot today out of fast-twist .50 caliber in-line rifles are of .451" or .452" diameter, and the variety of different 50x.45 sabots available allow today's performance minded muzzleloading hunters to load and shoot a tremendous number of those ".45" caliber bullets - including the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold .451" diameter bullet shown here. (The red Crush Rib Sabot is just a tad larger in diameter, for those rifles with slightly larger .502" to .504" bores - or when a tighter sabot-bullet fit is needed to insure more spontaneous ignition.)
At one time, the .50x.44 sabots (typically green in color) were also considered "Standard Sabots" ...but tended to fall from grace due to the sleeves being so heavy that they were slow to open up and pull the sabot away from the bullet. Accuracy tended to suffer. The real problem was that we simply did not have the powders to give the velocity needed to force those sleeves, or petals, to open up quickly. WE DO TODAY! Hot charges of Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven can easily get a .50x.44 sabot, like the HML Crush Rib Sabot shown here, and a sleek .429-430" diameter bullet, like the 250-grain Cutting Edge Bullets all-copper MAXIMUS bullet also shown here, out of the muzzle at more than 2,000 f.p.s. - with great accuracy. There's now a very good chance that the .50x.44 saboted bullets just could become a new "Standard" for .50 caliber in-line rifle shooters.
For More On Shooting Saboted .44 MAXIMUS Bullets ... Go To -
It's kind of a stretch of the imagination to address a "Standard Sabot" for the .45 caliber in-line rifles, since so few modern minded muzzleloading hunters shoot and hunt with them. Back in 1987, I had just three modern in-line ignition rifles - all Knight MK-85 rifles. Two of them were in .50 caliber, the other was one of just three .45 models that Tony Knight had put together - just to see if they could produce the accuracy and game-taking punch needed for hunting game as large as deer. The rifle I had was built with a 1-in-24 twist Lothar-Walther barrel. At that time, there was just one sabot available for the .45 rifles - a .45x.357" sabot - for loading and shooting .357-.358" diameter .38/.357 Magnum handgun bullets. Both I and my son took deer with that rifle, shooting 90 grains of Pyrodex "P" behind a saboted .357" diameter 158-grain Speer JHP bullet. Velocity out of the 24-inch barrel was just a bit shy of 1,800 f.p.s., with around 1,269 f,p,e, at the muzzle. That bullet has a .158 b.c., meaning the load was down in the 1,250 f.p.s. range at 100 yards, where it would retain only about 550 f.p.e.
Today, the standard for .45 rifles tends to be shooting .400" diameter bullets, of 180 to 200 grains - using a .45x.40 sabot, like the light blue Harvester Muzzleloading sabot shown above left. This bullet is the 240-grain .400" diameter all-copper MAXIMUS bullet from Cutting Edge Bullets ... which has a much more impressive .287 b.c. This is the bullet which just might accomplish putting the "Super" into the loads (and accuracy) for the "Super .45" rifles. Watch for more on shooting this bullet on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING website...as soon as close to 20 inches of snow disappears from our range.
Other Less Common "Specialty" Sabots
One sabot that is seldom written about, but which does seem to have tremendous potential with the .50 caliber rifles, is the light blue .50x.475 Harvester Muzzleloading sabot shown at right. This is a "non-ribbed" sabot, with relatively thin sleeves/petals, which do readily fold back and away from the bullet. As uncommon as bullets of .475" diameter may seem, there's actually a fairly good selection of such bullets. The one shown in this photo is the big 375-grain .475" diameter all-copper bullet Knight Rifles developed (with Barnes Bullets) specifically for their .52 caliber rifle models back during the 2000's,
I have gotten this bullet out of a .52 Knight DISC Extreme (using their purple .52x.475 sabot) at 1,919 f.p.s. with a 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 (using the standard DISC Extreme breech plug). At that velocity, the big 375-grain spitzer hollow-point generates 3,064 f.p.e. - and at 200 yards plows home with around 1,750 foot-pounds of wallop ... thanks to a lengthy bullet with a b.c. of around .330 (give or take .010). But, it is exactly that length which makes the bullet incompatible with the vast majority of .50 caliber in-line rifles now on the market. You see, the widely used 1-in-28 rifling twist just is not snappy enough to stabilize this 1.210" long all-copper bullet.
Knight's .52 rifles features a 1-in-26 twist...and it would take that same twist, or a 1-in-24 twist, for a .50 caliber rifle to shoot a bullet of this length. The only commercially built .50 caliber in-line I know of that's now available with a 1-in-24 twist bore is the .50 caliber Rolling Block model offered by Davide Pedersoli & Co. - available through the Italian Firearms Group, of Amarillo, TX. (Use the link at the bottom of this post to visit their website.)
That darker blue sabot in the photo at left, shown next to the 240-grain .40 caliber MAXIMUS bullet and the Harvester Muzzleloading .45x40 Crush Rib Sabot, is the same company's .50x.40 Crush Rib Sabot. In fact, the sabot is shown here with the very same high b.c. 240-grain MAXIMUS bullet. And it is the the ability to shoot a smaller diameter (high b.c.) bullet which has made this ,59 caliber sabot a bit more popular than the .50x.475 sabot.
The Cutting Edge Bullets packaging for this bullet recommends shooting this 1.117" long all-copper .400" diameter bullet out of a bore with a "1:24 TWIST RATE OR FASTER". One of the test sessions we have planned for this spring, or in late winter if the snow cover thins, is to see if we can get this bullet, using hefty charges of Blackhorn 209 and FFFg Triple Seven for more velocity, to shoot with accuracy out of the 1-in-28 twist .50 caliber bores found in our T/C Strike ... Traditions VORTEK StrikerFire LDR ... CVA Accura V2 LR ... and Cooper Model 22 ML test rifles. All have shot great with the shorter and lighter saboted 165-grain .400" MAXIMUS bullet ... which we have gotten out of the longer barrels at close to 2,200 f.,p.s.!
One problem a few shooters have experienced with the heavy-sleeved .50x.40 sabot is getting those sleeves to open fast enough to not affect the down range flight of a .40 caliber bullet. Again, velocity is the key. The thickness of the sleeves will continue to be a problem as long as we continue to turn to ever smaller bullet diameters. This is especially true with the .50 caliber rifles.
Is it time for a .48 caliber???
There have been attempts to produce other "Specialty Sabots", even a .58x.45 sabot ... but again, the thicker the sabot sleeves ... the less likelihood of achieving acceptable accuracy. If the rifle makers were willing to build rifles with a more appropriate bore size ... more appropriate rate of rifling twist ... and sabot makers were willing to produce sabots for NEW longer and higher b.c. bullets ... in your mind, what would be the ideal combination of bore size ... rifling twist ... and bullet diameter, length and weight? Don't be afraid to think outside of the box ... the same "Standard" box that now confines modern in-line rifle performance. - Toby Bridges
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This Bullet Is No Beauty Queen ... But It Hits Like A Mack Truck!!!
In a world of sleek and aerodynamically shaped bullets, the Harvester Muzzleloading belted Saber-Tooth bullet stands out like a sore thumb. But then, this bullet was never ever designed to be, or promoted as, a long-range 200+ yard bullet. To be perfectly honest, this bullet is more at home where shots rarely exceed 100 yards. Shown directly above, with a .490" pure lead round ball, for a .50 caliber rifle, are the 270-grain Saber-Tooth (to the left of the ball) and the 300-grain Saber-Tooth (to the right of the ball).
Note that the lighter 270-grain bullet really isn't that much longer than the diameter of the ball. In fact, it measures just .635" in length. And that short length got me to thinking ... which can be a dangerous thing at times!
My very first .50 caliber muzzleloader, which I acquired in 1972, very shortly after the rifle had been introduced, was a percussion Thompson/Center Hawken. The rifle had been promoted to shoot BOTH a patched round ball and a somewhat squat 370-grain conical, dubbed the "Maxi-Ball", with good accuracy. Well, my rifle shot well with a patched 177-grain .490" diameter ball ... as long as I loaded with 80 or 90 rains of black powder. With the Maxi-Ball, which was .947" in length, I did good to keep the "bullet" inside of 6 inches at 50 yards.
The problem was that the 1-in-48 rifling twist of the rifle just did not impart enough spin on the short elongated bullet to properly stabilize it in flight.
I've owned a number of 1-in-48 twist .50 caliber rifles over the years, and all tended to shoot a patched round ball far more accurately than a conical bullet. So, when the above .50 caliber rifle arrived here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING earlier this year, I was pretty much sure that ALL I would be shooting out of it would be a patched round ball. And this Traditions Hawken Woodsman model did indeed shoot very well with patched round balls. Our first experiences with this rifle can be found at - http://www.namlhunt.com/mlrifle20.html
Over the past 10 or 12 years, I have shot quite a few of the Saber-Tooth bullets...but mostly out of modern in-line rifle models - with a faster 1-in-24 to 1-in-28 rifling twist. I actually made the 300-gain bullet one of my "Special Purpose" bullets ... and relied on these bullets several times where I wanted to insure that shots would be well inside of 100 yards. Here's a link to an article published on this web magazine a few years back - http://www.namlhunt.com/mlbullets9.html
And that is...the Saber-Tooth, particularly the 270-grain is short enough to be stabilized by the 1-in-48 twist of rifles like the Traditions .50 Hawken Woodsman and the T/C Hawken ... and could very well turn these rifles into "honest" 100-yard deer rifles. I know there are plenty of muzzleloading hunters who will argue that the .50 Hawken rifles loaded with a patched round ball are more than sufficient for taking deer-sized game to and past 100 yards. But ... Ballistics Data Says Otherwise!
I'm now conducting some test shooting to see if there is any merit to this "theory". I will say at this point that the 270-grain Saber-Tooth is shooting as well as a patched round ball out of the Hawken Woodsman rifle. Before the end of this month (September 2016), we'll publish our findings on NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING - Toby Bridges
Have you had any experience with shooting the Saber-Tooth bullets out of a 1-in-48 inches rifling twist bore ... or found another short conical that shoots well out of a rifle with a 1-in-48 twist? If so, please share in the comment section.
Watch For Full Report On Shooting The Saber-Tooth Out Of A 1-In-48 Twist About 9-20-16
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There seems to be a new interest in loading and shooting heavier 350- to 400-grain saboted bullets out of today's modern .50 caliber No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifles. At least, here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING we've been getting more inquiries about which bullet makers offer a heavyweight .451"/.452" diameter bullet that can be loaded with a .50x.45 sabot. The answer to that one is easy..."Not very many!"
My search among the major bullet makers found one 325-grain (Swift) .452" diameter bullet that could be loaded with a .50x.45 sabot into a .50 caliber bore. While almost everyone producing a full line of bullets tends to offer a 300-grain bullet of .451" or .452" diameter, the ONLY bullet of that diameter that exceeds 350-grains that I know of is the 400-grain .451"diameter Hard Cast saboted bullets offered by Harvester Muzzleloading.
However...when you move up .007" in diameter, to .458", the door opens to a much better selection of heavyweights.
The short 20-inch barreled .54 rifle shown here was at one time my "go in after them" brush rifle, offered by Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co. a few years back. This rifle, built on a Knight DISC Extreme action, shot the 400-grain Hard Cast (and the 330-grain version of the same bullet) with exceptional accuracy. Loaded with 120-grains of Blackhorn 209, this short barrel rifle and bullet is good for 1,803 f.p.s. at the muzzle ... and 2,880 f.p.e.
Anything Inside of 100 yards would be hammered by more than 2,000 foot-pounds of knockdown power!
That 400-grain .451" diameter non-expanding Hard Cast bullet is shown here, on the right side, with another 400-grain non-expanding bullet - the .458" diameter Barnes flat-nosed Buster bullet. This copper encapsulated lead core bullet measures 1.079" in length, while the Harvester Muzzleloading hardened lead bullet measures exactly 1" in length. Both stabilize very well in a bore having a 1-in-28 twist.
The other bullet shown in the photo at the very top of this post is the 400-grain .458" diameter Barnes copper-jacketed Original bullet. The feature of this spitzer style bullet that really caught my eye is the extremely high ballistic coefficient of the the bullet. Barnes claims the bullet has a .389 b.c.!
Now, I did quite a bit of shooting with all three of these 400-grain bullets a couple of years back...using the same black .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot, from Harvester Muzzleloading, for loading the .451" and .458" diameter bullets into several different .50 caliber in-line rifles. While the .458" bullets did load noticeably tighter...loading was no where close to being impossible. Here are links to a couple of the articles written about loading and shooting these 400-grain bullets. Note the energy levels produced...
As we head into March, and the weather permits, my goal is to get back out and do more shooting with these bullets, using our Cooper Model 22 ML rifle. We'll bring the report on that shooting to you shortly after we can spend some time on the range.
Now, have any of you done any shooting with saboted bullets of this weight...or of .458" diameter? If you have, please use the comment section for this post and share your experience. Also, what are your thoughts on relying on the broad flat nose of the above bullet designs to transfer energy rather than relying on bullet expansion? - Toby Bridges
Above Featured Rifle - T/C Strike - With 3-9X40mm Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML Scope
HARVESTER MUZZLELOADING Hunter
Harvester Muzzleoading has been a primary sponsor of this website since 2004 - the company's reputation has been built through the quality of their sabots and bullets...plus their outstanding service to America's muzzleloading hunters.