Accurizing Your Rifle
The rifleman’s quest for accuracy is central to his use of the rifle. No shooter wants a rifle that is not “accurate,” whatever that might mean in his mind. Some insist on the very best, with good reason, their quest for the ultimate in accuracy becoming a never ending round of shooting, expense, modification, experimentation, more shooting and etc.
The question this article will address is simple: what practical steps can be taken to make a muzzleloader more accurate. It turns out that there are a number of relatively simple and inexpensive steps that can enhance accuracy. There are also some complex and expensive steps available that better accomplish it. If you want ultimate accuracy, be prepared to spend a lot of time and cash getting it. But let’s start with the simple steps first:
Start by inspecting the rifle and its instruction sheet. Find the notation on the barrel or in the instructions that describes the nominal land-to-land diameter of the bore. The instruction sheet should also tell you the rifling twist in the barrel as well as the depth of rifling and groove diameter.
Most rifle barrels are manufactured with somewhat broad industrial tolerances, with most muzzleloading barrels no exception. Those listed as .50 caliber by various manufacturers often vary from .495 through .505 caliber, although hopefully far closer than that. This fact greatly complicates the selection of a proper bullet.
In the past, the shooter(that’s you) had to search for a bullet that was reasonably easy to load, yet reasonably accurate by purchasing representative brands in the approximate caliber and giving them a try. If they didn’t fit, buy some others and try again, ad infinitum, until you got it right.
The White Muzzle Loading System narrows that variance by identifying land to land diameter in three numbers rather then the traditional two. The three number system narrows the spread by a factor of ten. A barrel marked .504 will measure somewhere between .5035 and .5045, a much narrower spread, giving the shooter a much better idea of what he is looking for. We wish all barrel-makers would do it.
If you really want to know what the barrel’s true measurements are, you will have to “slug” the barrel with a soft lead plug (thumping in a greased lead round ball works well) then measure with a micrometer. This is really a very good idea with any barrel. Then you know the land and groove diameter for sure.
PICK THE PROPER BULLET
Knowing the barrel’s land to land diameter, twist and rifling depth greatly facilitates the choice of bullets for the rifle. It substantially reduces the time and effort spent finding the one bullet that will shoot accurately in that particular barrel.
Round ball hunting rifles generally use patched balls about .010 smaller than the land to land diameter, with slow twists in the 1-66 to 1-120 range. The patch fills the space between the ball and the grooves and pretty much compensates for variation in barrel bore diameter. If ball, patch and barrel don’t fit well, then changing to a thicker or thinner patch is easily done and is effective.
Patches are best made of tightly woven cotton and usually measure 10-25 thou thick. Cotton is tough, takes the rifling well and doesn’t tear or burn when fired. Linen is also excellent, every bit as good as cotton if not better, but is terribly hard to find. Never use any material with polyester in it. It burns, chars and shrivels when fired and leaves a sticky mess in your barrel.
Pillow ticking, canvas and old levis all work well. Use a ball about 8-12 thou smaller than the land to land diameter of your barrel and a patch about twice that thick, ie-about 16-25 thou thick. The patch thickness required will vary some with the depth of the rifling grooves, deeper rifling requiring thicker patching and shallower rifling the opposite.
There are a number of contemporary short lead bullets and sabots holding short jacketed pistol bullets available to the muzzle loading hunter. These are designed to be forced down through the rifling. These shorter bullets and pistol bullet /sabot combinations are best used in barrels with groove diameters that match either the diameter of the short bullet or the diameter of the sabot/bullet combination. Longer rifling twists of 1-32 to 1-48 are required to stabilize the shorter bullets. Slugging the barrel and using a micrometer to measure groove to groove diameters, then buying bullet or sabot/bullet combos to fit really helps.
The White Muzzleloading System advocates somewhat longer, more deeply grooved, lubricated lead slip-fit bullets for the same 1-32 to 1-48 twist barrels. White-designed BuckBusters use White Muzzle- Loading System principles, slipping down the bore easily and expanding with firing into the deeper rifling usually found in these barrels.
White-designed SuperSlugs and PowerPunch bullets, designed for the shallow groove fast-twist rifling advocated in the White Muzzleloading System, slip down with light ramrod pressure for extremely rapid reloading. They belly out with the shot to catch the rifling. Rifling marks can be found along their entire length on recovered bullets. They can be easily matched to proper bore diameter merely picking a White-designed bullet that is no more than 1/1000th of an inch smaller than the land to land diameter of the barrel. For example, a .450 PowerPunch fits a .451 caliber barrel. They are best used in barrels with fast 1-20 to 1-28 twists.
WEIGH THE BULLETS
If you are really serious about accuracy you will weigh every bullet before you shoot it. Screen out the odd ones and use only those with in certain narrow limits, a one grain maximum variation, for serious work.
Use the others for fun.
This is important with cast bullets because of the chance of an unseen void in the bullet
. Swedged bullets rarely demonstrate voids but are available in far fewer sizes and shapes, and none I know of have the deep lubricant holding channelures that so characterize long lead bullet shooting. Swedging dies are just too expensive and marketing too cumbersome for a hugevariety. If you cast your own, do it slowly enough to avoid voids, then weigh anyway.
DON’T BEAT UP THE BULLET NOSE
Many contemporary bullet and barrel combinations are quite difficult to load. Many modern bullet manufacturers even advertise that their bullets are designed to be forced into the rifling on loading. As a matter of practice, this usually requires considerable force, mandating the use of short starters and forceful whanging with the ramrod. I’ve seen shooters using rocks to thump in their tight fitting bullets. This technique can’t help but deform the nose of the bullet, slow the reloading process, disturb accuracy and cause a very frustrated shooter.
In contrast, the White Muzzleloading System specifies the use of a slip fit bullet, but with 1/1000th or less windage, whether PowerPunch, BuckBuster or the slightly tighter PowerStar saboted bullets. All White designed bullets, including the saboted ones, shorten, expand and belly out into the rifling on firing. This means that the nose of the bullet is never deformed by a short starter or ramrod tip, loading is easy and quick and the shot is always consistently accurate.
CUSTOM SIZE THE BULLET
Considerable shooting over the years has shown that the most accurate bullets for fast twist, shallow groove barrels are those custom sized to fit the land to land diameter of the barrel. The bullet should be tighter than the usual 1/1000th slip-fit windage advocated by the White factory for PowerPunch and BuckBusters hunting bullets. Even 1/1000th oversize will work well in some rifles, but a lot more effort than usual will be required to get the bullet down the barrel. It might also require cleaning between shots so that ramming the bullet down is even possible.
Obviously, if the bullet is too tight a fit, then the nose of the bullet will likely get deformed with the force of ramming. Also, powder residues from previous shots will be more of a problem with the next shot. Cleaning between shots is one answer. Using one of the new lesser residue black powder replacement powders might also help. Unfortunately, Black Powder is normally the most accurate of all the powders available. It also produces the most residue, so if you use it, you’ll have to make the sacrifice of cleaning between shots in order to achieve the superior accuracy available from it. This might be the system you would want to use on target. I don’t recommend it for hunting, It’s just too slow and clumsy, if not downright dangerous in the hurry and excitement of the hunt.
In practical terms, the finest target accuracy requires custom sizing of bullets, whether White-designed or otherwise, so that they match the land to land diameter of the bore and barely slide down the barrel, and normally requires cleaning between shots.
The windage between land diameter and the custom sized bullet used for hunting should be in the range of 2-3/10,000th of an inch. This is what I use when hunting smaller game that requires greater accuracy but does not demand a fast follow-up shot. This is also the system I use to shoot the long range target games. It’s capable of fantastic groups at long yardage, especially if the game precludes cleaning between shots.
For everyday big game hunting, you don’t want to have to clean between shots. Nor will you want an excessively tight fitting bullet, White or other. Use a bullet that slides down a fouled bore fairly easily yet is accurate enough for the game hunted. The standard 1/1000th of an inch slip-fit recommendation of the White Muzzle- loading System is hard to beat in this circumstance. Buy your PowerPunch bullets or custom size your home cast bullets to 1/1000th of an inch less than the measured land to land diameter of your barrel. If you want to use sabots, then the White designed PowerStar is excellent. The PowerStar rams down a fouled bore easily, even though the plastic is slightly larger than land diameter by about 2 thousandths of an inch, (has to, to keep the bullet in place). The soft lead bullet in the PowerStar works on White Muzzle-loading principles, bellies out and forces the plastic side walls of the sabot into the rifling, accurizing the bullet.
The White Muzzle Loading System represents the best compromise between excellent hunting accuracy and fast, easy loading with consistently quick follow up shots on downed but not dead game. It’s the perfect System for the ardent muzzleloading hunter. There’s no other combination of bullet and barrel that will yield similar fantastic results when hunting big game.
CUSTOM BULLETS AND BARRELS
Many muzzleloading barrels fall somewhat outside the usual manufacturing norms, just as do many modern centerfire barrels, but are still well made and can be accurate shooters. Custom sizing bullets to specifically fit the rifles measured bore is a perfectly good way to rescue a barrel that might otherwise be thrown away. Purchasing unlubricated bullets or casting your own, then custom sizing to fit the bore properly is the way to go. Both Lyman and RCBS make excellent sizer-lubricators for this purpose. Sizing dies are commonly available in custom sizes from RCBS and others. Bullet molds are available from Lyman, RCBS, and others in many sizes and shapes. One of the best custom bullet mold makers is NEI Handtools in Scapoose, Oregon.
Just as an example, one of the most accurate 50 caliber rifles in my collection sports an outsize bore of .505 from land to land. I enhance its accuracy by custom sizing 480 grain PowerPunch bullets, obtained from the factory unsized at .505 inches, to .5045 in a Lyman lubrisizer. This rifle consistently shoots into 2 inches at 200 yards with my modest loads and a scope.
Another, and perhaps easier solution to the problem, is to use the White designed SuperSabot and PowerStar bullet com-bination. This works well because there’s enough plastic in the sabot to catch the rifling and hold the bullet in place in the barrel even in an oversize bore.
This is one of the reasons that sabots are so popular. They are much like a ball and patch, the plastic sabot taking up the room between bullet and barrel, automatically adjusting for any quirks in barrel internal diameters.
Many otherwise fine barrels shoot poor strings of shots because of induced stress. If the internal stress induced by boring and rifling and turning is not completely relieved, (and sometimes complete relief is well nigh impossible), then heat induced by repeated firing may cause warping and change the barrel’s point of impact. This problem is a decided problem in modern muzzleloading barrels because muzzleloading calibers are so large and barrel walls consequently so thin. You can do several things about this problem:
Dumb down the barrel Removing the induced stress in a barrel is traditionally done by careful heat treatment. Of late, cryogenic or cold, treatment has also been found to work. Both techniques are said to re-align the metal molecules in the barrel, thus removing the “snakes” and “crawls”, as the famous Bill Large used to say, “dumbing” down the steel so it acts the same with each shot. These techniques are not inexpensive and are probably not the place to start. There are a few simpler things to try first.
Slow the rate of fire. One of my favorite 504 caliber Super 91 rifles will always throw a 600 grain PowerPunch bullet into a tiny group on its first shot of the day. It’s such a consistent first shot shooter that I often hunt with it in preference to rifles that shoot better long strings. After all, how many shots at an elk do you usually get with a muzzleloader, especially if you miss the first one?
Switch to a heavier barrel. Replace your old thin barrel with a heavier one, one that doesn’t heat up so fast. Barrels destined for heavy target rifles are often not stress relieved simply because they are so thick and heavy that they never get hot enough to snake or crawl. One of the great unrecognized bargains of the world was the old White ‘Bison” in-line rifle, with its heavy untapered inch thick barrel. They are consistently accurate, rarely snake or crawl and deserve more accolades then they ever got. Oddly, they were the least expensive rifle White ever sold.
Hang a weight on the barrel Adjust its position to produce the best accuracy. This is often done with super accurate target rifles. Even taping it on works. Simply adjusting the position of the rifle’s under-barrel ramrod-holding rib will help. Making sure that the under-rib is straight and not producing any twisting stress on the barrel is mandatory. Removing the ramrod from under the barrel is a good idea on important shots, but you have to practice with it out so you know where your group is going. All of these maneuvers help because barrel harmonics are optimized by positioning weight or rib just right and by removing the ramrod. This is why the Browning ‘BOSS’ works.
Shoot the barrel a lot Shooting shakes out the snakes and stops the crawling, eventually. It may take considerable shooting, but it works, which is one of the reasons most barrels initially improve as you shoot them. I was surprised when I discovered that old time muzzleloading barrel-smiths preferred old barrels to re-bore and re-rifle, simply because the snakes and crawls were already shot out. You can duplicate this effect by simply shooting a lot, and by a lot I mean hundreds of shots.
Get a new barrel Replacing the barrel is always an option, although it usually the last step taken because of the expense. Custom barrel-makers make their super-accurate barrels one at a time with loving care, taking lots of time and using the best of materials and charging a corresponding price. Oddly enough, their barrels are usually heavier then factory barrels, Ever wonder why?
This is a time honored and effective way to improve a barrel’s accuracy. It is especially effective if the bore is a little rough, has tight spots or is slightly undersize. It also helps the barrel that leads or ‘plastics’ badly, probably because it slicks up the machine marks in the barrel. It can also help a bore that is larger at the muzzle than at the breech. The most desirable taper, if any, is from the breech to the muzzle.
Many custom makers offer barrels purposefully lapped from the breech to produce a tiny amount of constriction at the muzzle. This is thought to improve accuracy with lead bullets.
Lapping is done by casting a soft lead plug around a metal rod in the barrel, applying lapping compound, then carefully working the gritty plug back and forth in the barrel about a million times. It usually takes more than one plug to do the job. It can make a real shooter out of a streak of rust but will require custom-sized bullets for best results. (Don’t all barrels?)
You can also apply the lapping compound to the grooves of a channelured bullet, shooting the combination repeatedly until you get the results you want. This is called fire-lapping and works far better than it sounds. Be sure to clean the barrel between shots for quickest results.
SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT
The only way to determine if a particular bullet shoots well in a particular rifle is to shoot it. In reality, this means experimenting with a number of bullets and loads until the most accurate combination is found. A solid bench rest with fore and aft rests should be used as well as the best of sighting equipment. Wind flags are advisable.
If this sounds like what you might do to coax the finest accuracy from your finest centerfire varmint rifle, it is exactly that. It should be undertaken with the same concentration and determination.
THE SOUND BARRIER
Yaw causes the bullet to wobble around its own axis, increases surface area to air and slows the bullet dramatically as well as causing loss of accuracy.
Most hunters want to use the most powerful load possible. This is often a mistake, as the most accurate loads are rarely the most powerful. One reason for this is that muzzleloading bullets travel at velocities that fall very near the speed of sound. They often shoot faster than the speed of sound at the muzzle, then fall through the speed of sound shortly downrange. This passage causes the bullet to yaw, which results in rapid slowing and usually a loss of accuracy.
All bullets yaw, a wobbling motion around their own axis, at least a little, as they slow through the air . Yaw is impossible to avoid, as the bullets rotary velocity would have to match its linear velocity precisely at all ranges, a circumstance physically impossible to attain. When the bullet backs down through the sound barrier, it yaws just exactly as does an airplane in the same circumstance. Chuck Yaeger describes the phenomenon beautifully in his autobiography. It happened to him more than once in the X-1 supersonic experimental airplane..
Naturally, this motion causes a terrific increase in air resistance, slowing the bullet at a far more rapid rate than usual until it’s past the sound barrier and stabilizes again. All this results in a sudden drop by the bullet and usually a loss of accuracy in the area of yaw.
This is why modern target shooters try to keep their bullets supersonic all the way to the target, and it’s also the reason muzzleloading target shooters usually try to keep their bullets subsonic.
THE BEST COMBINATION
Muzzleloading bullets fired at velocities just below the speed of sound generally yield a satisfactory combination of power and accuracy. If you want to take advantage of this fact, figure out what the speed of sound is at the altitude where you will be hunting, then devise accurate loads that fall just below that speed.
Naturally, if the expected ranges are short enough, the muzzleloading hunter might be able to design a load that will stay supersonic all the way to the target. Since even the best of muzzleloading bullets lose velocity fairly quickly, and leave generous amounts of lead or plastic in the barrel if the muzzle velocity is pushed high enough, this is not as easy as it sounds. For example, the White designed .450 cal. 520 grain PowerPunch bullet, which has the highest Ballistic Coefficient in the industry at .33, loses nearly 100 FPS in the first 100 yards and close to 75 FPS in the second when fired at 1400 FPS. It arrives at 200 yards with about 1225 FPS, which at 5000 feet altitude is just above the speed of sound. Obviously, accuracy at any range past 200 yards is going to suffer. Worse, at those velocities, the barrel is going to acquire some lead.
LEADING AND “PLASTIKING”
All lead bullets will leave small amounts of lead in the barrels they are shot from if velocities, pressure and heat generated are high enough. All plastic sabots will do the same thing under the same circumstances, in fact, to a far worse degree than does a lead bullet, a phenomenon that I call “plastiking.” The problem with leading and plastiking is that any amount of lead or plastic left in the barrel interferes with loading and ruins accuracy.
It is a wonder to me that the muzzleloading companies that brag about their 2000 FPS plus loads with plastic sabots and short pistol bullets never say a word about having to clean the barrel after every shot to get the plastic out so the next load can be rammed home and have a chance of accuracy. Somehow, I can’t envision myself furiously cleaning a barrel for another shot when the biggest whitetail in the world is getting away because I made a poor first shot in the excitement. Such a requirement with a muzzleloading hunting rifle is impractical and intolerable.
Wads can be used to protect the base of the bullet, much the way a gas check protects a modern lead bullet. The woven wool wads made by OX Yoke or the wool felt wads made by the Thompson Co. fill this need quite nicely. Both are lubricated, are quite tough and hold together well, and allow another 100-200 fps velocity before leading or plastiking takes place. This is an excellent technique for large, powerful loads on big and/or dangerous game.
Wool or felt lubricated base wads protect the base of a lead bullet from hot powder gases just like gas checks do on modern centerfire bullets.
The common practice is to either keep the velocities low enough to avoid leading or ‘plastiking’ or to clean the barrel often enough to manage the problem. It’s easy to carry a Ziplock baggy full of moist patches ready for fast use. Soak them in a quality lead and plastic removing solution such as White-designed PowerClean. Carry some dry patches in a second baggy to clean up the moisture after getting the lead or plastic out. Be aware that a clean barrel might shoot to a different point of impact than a fouled one.
It’s also useful to equip your ramrod with a quick detachable cleaning jag for use in the field. Then you don’t have to search your pockets for a jag, screw it on the ramrod than screw it off when it’s done so you can hunt again. Some manufacturers, like White, ship their rifles from the factory with a combo cleaning jag and bullet pullet on the ramrod. Cleaning in the field becomes much easier once you are so equipped.
When hunting, when you’re firing a short series of shots, it’s easy to clean the rifle after powder and bullet have been loaded, but before the priming has been applied. Just swab down to the bullet nose with moist, then dry patches. This is a great way to keep the bore free of lead or plastic residues, if you are cursed with them. Just be sure there is not a cap on the nipple or priming in the pan . More thorough cleaning can follow in camp. Of course, and I just can’t help but say this, the White Muzzle- Loading System was devised so you won’t have to engage in such time wasting activities.
White’s Super-Lube is engineered to stay on the bullet despite the heat of the day.
LUBRICANTS AND SABOTS
A good lubricant is a considerable help with leading and plastiking. Almost all brands of muzzleloading lead bullets have multiple channelures for lubricant, but only one sabot does. This is the patented White- designed SuperSabot made especially for the PowerStar bullet. The SuperSabot’s patented lube grooves give it a decided advantage over more common sabots without grooves. The superior length, weight and consequent improved ballistic coefficient of the Power-Star bullet also add to that advantage. This is a real rifle bullet, long and slim and obviously superior to shorter, blunter pistol bullets used in competing non-lubricated sabots.
White’s Quick Charger, or similar fast loading aid, is a good way to ensure safe loads with uniform powder charges and proper bullets. Load them at home when you are calm and in control.
White, and a few others, also supply their bullets and sabot/bullet combinations in plastic tubing. White calls theirs a ‘Super-Keeper’. What the plastic tubing does best is keep the lube on the bullet and the bullet out of the dirt, free of dings and dents.
There has been a revolution in lubricants in the past couple of decades. This relates in a major way to the development of micro sizing machinery. The new machinery reduces solid lube components to sizes far smaller than those available in the past. Combine this quality with natural greases and you get a far superior lube. The Ox Yoke Co. was the originator of this improvement. Many other companies have jumped on the band-wagon. T/C’s yellow Naturalube, Hodgdon’s green stuff and White’s Blue PowerLube all participate in this revolutionary development.
White’s particular advantage is that their PowerLube is firm and heat resistant enough to stay on pre-lubed bullets , even in a UPS van in midsummer, while the others are primarily meant to be smeared on patch or bullet just before shooting. All of the brands mentioned soften Black Powder fouling to the point where far more shots can be fired between cleaning than ever before.
If Pyrodex P is used, rather than Black Powder, many more shots can be fired without cleaning between shots. In the humid South, up to hundreds of shots can fired and in the dry West at least a couple of dozen before cleaning is required. The use of Pyrodex lends a decided advantage to the White Muzzleloading System. White’s long bullets, loaded slip-fit with only 1/1000th windage, gum up badly with Black Powder and require frequent cleaning. Using Pyrodex P allows many more accurate shots without cleaning, enough so that cleaning between shots during hunting is rendered obsolete.
This is the reason that White has recommended Pyrodex P so highly. Another reason is that the combination of Pyrodex P and White’s long bullets is decidedly superior in the field, with excellent power and accuracy, quick second shots and no cleaning required . The other, newer Black Powder substitutes are promising in this regard, as they shoot with even less residue than Pyrodex. One thing, though, if you’re shooting target , and cleaning between shots anyway, there is no substitute for Black Powder. Long strings of shots will show less variation in velocity between shots with Black Powder than with any other.
Pyrodex P is White’s currently preferred propellant, closely followed by Hodgden’s 777. Although still basically Black Powder, with additives, it burns more cleanly, leaves less residue and allows many more shots between cleanings
By the time this is published, the newer Black Powder substitutes, CleanShot, Hodgden’s 777 and Goex’ ClearShot, should all be on the market. This is revolutionary stuff, with less residue, generally less corrosiveness and easier cleanup than with Black Powder or Pyrodex. Unfortunately, all are more expensive than either Black Powder or Pyrodex, sometimes twice the retail price. The nicest thing about these new powders is that they make the White Muzzleloading System work better then ever.
PROPELLENTS-EVERY ONE IS DIFFERENT
One of the great fictions of muzzle-loading is that all black powders and black powder substitutes can be treated as if they were the same propellant. Many shooters and hunters interchange loads of Black Powder, Pyrodex or the new substitutes or different granulations of one powder for another as if there were no risk to gun or accuracy at all. Nothing could be further from the truth-or more foolish.
David White’s ballistic studies have shown that each granulation of each kind of muzzleloading propellant acts in a very independent and different fashion than any other. This is especially true in muzzle-loading rifles meant for elongated bullets. Pressures in these rifles, like the White designed ones, can be twice as high as those in a round ball rifle. PowerPunch bullet pressures generally run 16-28000 PSI. This is a lot less than the 50-55000 PSI of a 30-06 but destructive tests have shown that even the toughest new muzzleloader can be experimentally blown up. It takes enormous loads and stuck bullets to do it, but the destructiveness of the event is obvious, as is the potential threat to life and limb.
It’s best to treat each granulation and kind of propellant just as you would different kinds of smokeless powder in a modern center-fire rifle, pistol or shotgun.
Safe loads are best carefully worked up from modest to more forceful with carefully measured increments of powder.
Five grain increments are fine. Special care should be taken to make sure that short stroking does not occur and that the bullet never sticks. If it does, then un-breech the rifle, remove the bullet and powder charge, then clean it, re-breech it and start over. Never “shoot out” a stuck bullet or ramrod.
WEIGH THE POWDER CHARGES
Weighing each and every powder charge for your muzzleloader may sound like a real pain and nuisance, but it really doesn’t have to be, especially if you put together your loads at home. Sounds almost like hand loading for a modern rifle. It works for the same reason. Assembling loads at home takes out the guesswork and eliminates errors due to hurry and excitement.
Simply use White QuickChargers or similar speed-loaders that hold powder and bullet. White’s are less expensive than most and are simple, effective and fast in the field. Put the chosen bullet into one end of the charger. Be sure to wipe off the bullet nose so powder will not stick to it. Now weigh your powder charge on your scale and pour the powder charge into the other end. Weighing the powder charge means that you do enough homework to know what the volume equivalent to weight ratio of your powder really is. If you can’t weigh or won’t, than at least use a good quality accurate powder measure with a scrape-off funnel
Cap the charger and box or bag it with other loaded QuickChargers. Put on a label so you identify the caliber, bullet weight, powder type and charge. When ready to shoot with rifle squibbed, simply load from the charger. You will know exactly what you are shooting, having carefully assembled it in the peace and quiet of home when nothing was hurried or confusing.
Experienced bench gun target shooters often use a “drop tube” to guarantee that the powder does not absorb moisture from the barrel walls and moisture loving residues from the last shot. This technique is also used by black powder single-shot cartridge gunners but for a different reason. They claim that the long drop tube stacks the Black Powder in the cartridge in such a way that it burns more evenly and produces more consistent pressures and velocities, thus improving accuracy. Probably both reasons are valid.
Make your tube out of thin walled stainless steel and silver solder on a small metal funnel. Just be sure to make it long enough to reach the bottom of the barrel. Use it after you have cleaned the barrel, placing it all the way to the breech, then pouring the powder evenly into the funnel. Remove it with a measured pull. Try to make the motion the same each time. It’s a great technique for target. Don’t take the tube when you go hunting.
Nothing is more irritating than shooting a fine rifle equipped with lousy sights. You can never shoot any better than your sights (and eyes) will define the target. Obviously, it pays to get the best sights that the law will allow and that money will buy.
Sighting aids for the worst of eyes: a Swzrovski scope on top, an Aimpoint red dot scope in the middle, White’s QuickPeep made by Lyman on the bottom. All are excellent ways to improve vision and accuracy when hunting.
The finest sights are optical, including both scopes and red dot sights. Their unique advantage is that they clear up the images, sharpen the picture, usually magnify it a little and place the images seen on a single plane. Many good scopes are available but the really good ones cost almost as much as the rifle and occasionally more.
If you can’t use a scope, by law or natural inclination, then use an adjustable peep. The old QuickPeep sold by White and still available from Lyman is an excellent high quality peep with fast and precise adjustment knobs. It’s made to fit all White and many other in-line rifles. It’s the same peep they sell for the ‘03 Springfield. (57A) The Williams Gunsight Co. makes excellent peeps as well.
A number of Vernier peeps are made for side lock rifles. Some come with lateral adjustments and some without. Since the lateral adjustments on the ladder-like peep are sometimes flimsy at best, it is useful to use a sturdier adjustable front sight with lateral adjustments.. Custom adjustable front sights with shades, inter-changeable inserts and spirit levels are available from various custom shops if you’re truly serious about iron sights.
THE OLDER EYE
If you are a little older, and have trouble seeing the rear sight with your older eyes, a peep is just the ticket. You can even use the peep principle if confined to using “open” sights. Just have a custom rear sight made with tall buckhorn blades well wrapped up and around, almost meeting at the top. That tiny slit you left at the top is what makes it an “open” sight. Drill the opening in the buckhorn round and about a quarter inch in diameter, depending on your personal preference. Now use it like a peep, centering the bead in the peep formed by the buckhorn sight’s horns. The opening at the top won’t be noticed by your older eye. It’s an accurate and fast sight, excellent for quick target pick-up and allowable on the target line.
Adjusting the size of the aperture in a peep sight becomes important in bright or dim light. Some years ago I spotted a 36 inch mule deer. The sun was low, coming from behind the buck and the light poor. I had a standard aperture in the peep man-dated by Utah law. I could see the deer clearly at two hundred yards with the naked eye but could not see him through the peep. Having an adjustable aperture on the peep would have helped.
If the adjustable aperture won’t open far enough, then screw out the aperture and use the sight’s threaded insert opening as a peep. You’ll see the thin ring only as a “ghost.” It’s not as good as an adjustable peep, but it’s far more accurate than you’d think. Back in the 50’s, when peep sights were commonly seen, it seemed that all peeps had threads where you looked through at the front sight. No hunter I knew used any kind of aperture back then.
The best truly open sight for hunting is a wide rear blade, with the blade slightly slanted towards a U-notch in the middle just big enough to fit the front bead. Factory rifles rarely come with such a good combination. The shooter will usually have to arrange his own. Adjustable is best, with secure fastening for blades and ramps. The best front sight is a brass or black bead, depending on use in or out of shaded forest. Use a big bright one for close-in shaded shooting, and a finer dark one for longer, open country shooting. Carry a tiny bottle of luminescent paint, with brush, to paint the front sight in low light conditions or use one of the new fiber-optic open sights that have recently become popular. Green is best at the rear, red at the front.
A crisp trigger with a relatively light pull that breaks consistently is a blessing. Pulls of about three lbs. are best. This weight is heavy enough for safe hunting yet light enough for good accuracy. The in-line rifles made by White come equipped with totally adjustable custom triggers preset at the factory for a 48-50 oz. pull.
If wanted, even fancier more expensive custom triggers can be purchased and installed. Some can be adjusted down to pulls of only several ounces. You should recognize that these are useful only for high profile target shooting. Their use in the hunting field is not advised.
White-designed Nipple-Breech-Plugs speed up ignition simply by getting the powder as close to the cap as possible: shorter is quicker is faster is far better.
Fast ignition helps more than you might think. In-lines are always the fastest, with White’s combination nipple-breechplug giving a real edge, simply because the distance from the cap to the powder is short.
Beware of the sidelock that has a double dog- leg ignition channel, drilled with two right angles from nipple to powder chamber. They are always the slowest and most likely to misfire.
The GR series sidelock Sporting Rifle that I designed for White has a channel that angles directly from the nipple to the chamber for fastest ignition. This is as close in “in-line” ignition as you can get with a sidelock rifle.
Pick a rifle with a fast lock time. Sidelocks are usually a little slower than inlines, but often not significantly. There’s a great difference in various sidelock and inline locktimes. If the locktime is slow, whether inline or sidelock, then spruce up the time with a faster spring.
There are a number of things you can do with the stock to improve accuracy.
1- The simplest and most important is to use a stock that fits YOU. A poorly fitting stock almost always induces poor shooting. This happens because of increased felt recoil and because the stock feels clumsy. If it doesn’t fit well, then modify the factory stock or get a custom stock fitted. An ugly stock that fits you well is always better than a pretty stock that doesn’t.Pay special attention to three areas on the stock: the length of pull, the height of comb where it impacts your cheek, and the fit of your hand on the grip. Make sure all are comfortable.
White has helped in this area by designing two different styles of stock. Close examination of White designed stocks will show a basic difference in general dimensions. The tall, rangy shooter will probably find the W-series stocks (Super-91, SuperSafari, M98 Elite Hunter) more comfortable while stockier or shorter shooters will find the G and SG-series (Whitetail, White Lightning, Bison, M97 Whitetail Hunter) more to their liking.
2- A second technique that almost always improves accuracy is to glass bed the action or barrel and action. This can be done easily at home by any shooter. Glass bedding kits like Brownell’s excellent AccraGlass are available from most sporting goods stores and catalogue houses.
3- Free floating the barrel is also an easy technique that almost anyone can do at home. Simply remove enough barrel channel material so that no part of the stock touches the barrel. Of course, the results might turn out a bit ugly, and a wide gap can catch all kinds of dirt and debris, so a bit of care is advised. The best job just barely shows as a slightly wider line beside the barrel, just wide enough not to touch and just narrow enough not to catch dirt and debris. Paper thin is about right.
4- Stiffening the stock also helps accuracy. This is probably why glass bedding works. One of the alternatives to glass bedding the action and free floating the barrel is to glass bed the entire action and barrel. This yields maximum stiffness and is often done on heavy barreled target rifles. Some shooters even glass the action and barrel in permanently, claiming even better results. Pillar bedding the action screws also helps.
5- Increasing the size and weight of the stock also increases stiffness and therefore improves accuracy. This is why many target stocks are big and clumsy looking.
6- The use of a laminated hardwood stock is also effective. White offers laminated stock options in various attractive colors through their custom shop. Choosing one of these laminates and then glass bedding the action, and free floating the barrel, or glass bedding the entire action and barrel is easy to do at home and works well. If you don’t want to try your hand at it, then get a professional to help. Most all gunsmiths offer this service and glass bedding an in-line muzzleloading rifle is no different than a modern one.
There is a little difference when glass bedding a sidelock. This style of rifle is best done by applying glass at the breech and at the fore-end of the barrel channel. If the rifle has a patent breech with hook, then glass in the standing breech, then work over the hook to make sure it fits as tightly as possible. If the hook rattles around in the standing breech, accuracy will be lost. I like to glass in the standing breech then separately glass in the last two inches of the breech end of the barrel plus the last two inches of the fore-end.
Accurizing the muzzleloading rifle obviously can be a time consuming and expensive process. However, the results can be astounding accuracy, even in a rifle destined only for hunting. The secret is spending the time and effort required. Far too many muzzleloading shooters regard their rifle as a toy rather than the serious hunting weapon that it is, deserving of all the respect and effort that you would lavish on your favorite sheep rifle.
If you tender your muzzleloader the same intelligent and judicious effort that the sheep rifle deserves, your reward will be a hunting tool that few can match. At the least, you will learn what you have and how to use it to your best advantage. You will get to know its advantages and learn its dis-advantages, and be a wiser, more careful and cautious hunter because of it.
The tool, this muzzleloader, will become part of you, and you of it, if you but master it and yourself, and will strike the target you choose simply because you will it.
SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT
I cannot emphasize this enough:
The finest rifle with the best custom loads and most expensive sighting equipment has little value if the shooter won’t practice with it
How many times do shooters and hunters spend a ton of money on a fancy rifle and accouterments and then fail to shoot it enough to even get acquainted with it.
How many times have gunsmiths been awakened on the morning of an important season by a hunter who unexpectedly found something about his shooting equipment unfamiliar enough that it spooked him into an inconvenient visit.
Far too many shooters wait until the last minute to sight in their rifles, let alone shake out the quirks or get familiar with it.
You should set a personal goal of shooting at least two hundred shots from your rifle in the months before a significant hunt.
Shoot at short, medium and long range and get thoroughly familiar with the peculiarities of your rifle, bullet and load.
Learn how to use the sights and become familiar with the trajectory of the bullet.
Learn how the trigger feels. Master breath control. Learn to squeeze, not jerk.
Practice fast close range shooting as well as careful long range marksmanship.
Acquaint yourself with the rifle’s recoil and learn to master it, and your reaction to it.
Practice getting it up to your shoulder for a quick first shot and practice speed loading for a fast second shot. Your goal should be three aimed shots per minute or more
Your goal is to become thoroughly familiar with this complicated technically sophisticated tool and the components it uses to successfully accomplish the task you assign it.
Working hard on shooting skills leads to near fantastic shooting when the chips are down. Sometimes you would think that luck helps, but really it only seems so. The truth is that the agony of long practice helps out the luck a lot more than luck helps out the shooting
Good Hunting ‘Doc’ White