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Topic of the Month...
Let's face it, the so-called belted bullets, such as the Harvester Muzzleloading "Saber-Tooth" and the BPI "Power Belt" bullets gained in popularity for one primary reason ... they load easier than saboted bullets. It's not because they shoot more accurately...or because they perform better on big game. It is the manner in which these bullets can be easily slid down the bore which has led to their popularity.
During the course of an "average" year, I'll stuff between 2,500 and 3,000 bullets down front-loader bores, and easily 90-percent of those muzzleloader projectiles are of the "saboted" variety. And, yes, there have been plenty of bullet and sabot combos which have loaded far tighter than I care for...or feel the need to load.
The great thing about today's selection of saboted bullets is that there tends to be a combination of sabot and bullet that fits "just right" in about any bore...whether the barrel has a "tight" bore ... or a "loose" bore. So...what is that "just right" fit supposed to be? For me, I like a combo that requires around 70 to 80 pounds of seating pressure to get the sabot and bullet down onto the powder charge, and solidly seated over that charge. I actually developed the feel for that kind of loading pressure by packing along an old bathroom scale to the range with me on occasion. I'll start the sabot and bullet, shove it down to the powder charge, then set the butt of the rifle on the scale and apply what is, for me, my normal final seating pressure - and that is 70 to 80 pounds of pressure. (Keep in mind, the rifle and scope typically weigh around 10 pounds...so the reading I get on the scale is usually 80 to 90 pounds.)
While that may sound like a lot of effort to push a sabot and bullet down a rifle's bore, it really isn't. This is just what is typical for me ... and I try to seat the sabot and bullet with the same amount of pressure each time. That is key to getting optimum accuracy.
The powder I shoot most often is Blackhorn 209, and this powder performs best when compacted. But, is 70 to 80 pounds really needed?
No, it's not. The key is to develop a feel for seating a saboted bullet with nearly the same amount of pressure each time. Again, relying on my old set of bathroom scales, I've found that I can still punch those 1-inch class groups at 100 yards when the sabot and bullet are loaded with just 50 to 60 pounds of seating pressure. However, when I went to as little as 30 to 40 pounds of seating pressure, my groups with charges of Blackhorn 209 actually began to open up slightly. As I said, this powder likes to be compacted. Also, I found it more difficult to get the feel for just 30 to 40 pounds of pressure on the ramrod than when exerting 70 to 80 pounds.
One of the problems I see with a somewhat under sized "bore-sized" bullet, like the "Power Belt" and the "Saber-Tooth" bullets, is that they do not retain compression on the powder charge. Even if the shooter applies 70 to 80 pounds of pressure when seating the bullet over the powder charge, much of that compaction is lost when the exertion on the ramrod ends. With loose grain loads, this can really affect accuracy.
The standard black .50x.45 Crush Rib Sabot from Harvester Muzzleloading (shown directly above left and at the top of this post) has done much to make loading a bit easier. The raised ribs of this sabot reduce loading friction (the sabot riding down the bore during loading) by as much as 40- to 50-percent. Still, those ribs tend to keep the sabot and bullet in place once the pressure on the ramrod stops.
It is also possible that, in some bores, standard .50x.45 sabots and bullets of .451" or .452" simply fit too loose. While rifles sold as ".50 caliber" rifles generally have a bore that will measure .500" to .501", some leave the factory with bores of .502" to .504" - and when a standard .50x.45 sabot is used with a .451" to .452" bullet, the fit is too loose to insure optimum accuracy with the load. In worse case scenarios, the loss of compaction of the powder charge can result in a severe hang fire or a misfire...and a missed opportunity to hang your tag on a nice buck.
NOTE: When loading and shooting with pre-formed pellet charges...DO NOT EXERT MORE THAN 20 TO 30 POUNDS OF SEATING PRESSURE ONCE THE SABOT AND BULLET REACH THE CHARGE. Excessive seating pressure can fracture the pellets differently each time ... changing the burn rate of the charge from shot to shot. That in turn can severely hamper accuracy.
Above Featured Rifle - Cooper .50 Model 22 ML
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