The deer, 20-some in all, were bailing out of the draw in single file. All I could do was watch them go and kick myself for not having been more careful as I had crested the ridge. The last deer in the procession was a buck and from what I could see of him as he hurried through the timber, a good one at that.
But a shot at a quick moving target through 125 yards of thick timber was out of the question. Why the buck stopped I'll never know because none of the other deer had so much as hesitated. But stop he did and when he did I quickly found him in the 3.5X-10.5X Simmons scope. As is my habit, the scope was screwed down to its lowest magnification, a good habit to get into when hunting whitetails where shots are nearly always at close range. But this situation called for closer scrutiny, so I reached up and cranked the variable to full power.
The Knight Muzzleloader Performs
An opening I could not discern at the lower magnification materialized. It was not much of an opening, maybe the size of a soccer ball, but it was enough. Thanks to plenty of practice on the range, I knew that the Knight muzzleloader I was toting on that hunt and the guy on the trigger were up to the task. This was no Hail Mary. With a solid rest against a stout oak, I let the crosshairs settle on the buck's shoulder, snicked off the safety and put pressure on the trigger. Through the veil of white smoke I saw the buck kick out his hind legs like a mad mule before running off at full tilt. Heart shot animals often display this "mule kick." I found the buck lying just a stone's throw from where the 250-grain slug had found its mark.
Accuracy like that is what muzzleloading hunters should expect from their front-stuffers.
I've never understood why muzzleloading hunters are willing to settle for second-rate accuracy. At reasonable ranges, say 125 yards for scoped rifles and half that distance for open sights, well-built muzzleloaders, when fired from a bench rest should easily put every shot into your favorite coffee cup. If you are not getting that kind of accuracy out of your muzzleloader, the fault may be in the rifle itself, the load or as the old saying goes, "the jerk jerking the trigger."
Here is how to find out where the problem lies and what to do about it. To help out, I've asked Tony Knight, the man who single-handedly changed the face of modern-day muzzleloading with the introduction of the now famous MK-85 in-line muzzleloader. Knight is a fanatic when it comes to building accurate rifles, which hunters can depend upon and as I found out when I asked for his input on this important subject. He has some very definite opinions on accuracy, which to those of us who know him comes as no surprise.
Knight On Accuracy
"Let's start at the working end of the rifle, the all-important barrel," Knight said. "When we began to introduce some of our Knight rifles, like the DISC, with 26-inch barrels, many hunters thought it was to increase accuracy. But barrel length does not have much to do with accuracy. The main reason we now offer a 26-inch barrel on some of our models is to take full advantage of the increase in velocity, which you can attain when using Pyrodex Pellets in these longer barrels. The increased velocity translates into better downrange trajectory, but trajectory should not be confused with accuracy.
"There are a couple of things you can do to check out a barrel before you purchase the rifle," Knight continues. "One, is to run a couple of dry patches down the bore and feel for any catching or snags. A good barrel should not have any. However, just to be on the safe side, before I ever fire a new muzzleloader I take a couple of dry patches and use Flitz metal polish to polish the bore. If there are any little imperfections, this will take care of them. And it is very, very important that the crown of the muzzle be free of any rough edges or burring. Take a Q-tip and rub it around the crown, if the cotton snags it means that the crown was not polished as well as it should have been at the factory. That could be an indication of shoddy workmanship throughout the rifle. This might seem insignificant, but the last contact the projectile has with the barrel is as it exits the crown. Any imperfection here can really ruin accuracy.
"Another thing you can do to help accuracy is have your barrel glass bedded, at least in the recoil area. I do this to all of my rifles and I feel it really helps make the rifle more accurate."
Knight On Triggers
"Because of our unique double safety system, we can ship rifles right from the factory with very light triggers," Knight explains. "Our higher-grade guns feature triggers, which are adjustable not only for poundage, but also for creep. These triggers allow anyone to make adjustments, which fit them perfectly. If you own a rifle, which does not have an adjustable trigger and want to make adjustments to the trigger, I suggest letting a gunsmith perform this job."
Working Up A Load
"Every muzzleloader has a personality, just like people," Knight said. "No two muzzleloaders perform exactly alike with the same amount of powder, the same sabot and same projectile. If you are really interested in wringing all of the accuracy you can from your muzzleloader, then you are going to have to experiment with various loads. We recommend you start with two Pyrodex 50-grain pellets and the 250-grain Barnes or Knight Red Hot saboted bullet in our rifles. This load will give darn good accuracy in Knight rifles, but that does not mean that this load is the most accurate combination for your rifle. Experiment with different pellet combinations, and try various bullet and sabot combinations. Find the one that performs the best in your rifle and then stick with it.
"You will notice that I recommend Pyrodex Pellets," Knight continues. "That is not to say that either Pyrodex or black powder in granule is no good, both are good, but pellets have the advantage of always having consistent compactness, which results in very consistent velocities, much more consistent than you can attain with granules. That even pressure will enhance accuracy. I don't see any reason to use anything else."
And when it comes to projectiles, saboted bullets are the way to go, Knight said. "You get great accuracy, tremendous punch and excellent trajectory. Why would you shoot anything else?
"There are a lot of excellent bullets for muzzleloaders these days," Knight adds. "I like a fairly long bullet with a lot of bearing surface, say 1/4-inch minimum, with a 1/2-inch being even better. We also have found that a wider, deeper hollow-point bullet tends to deliver the optimum accuracy in our muzzleloaders.
"It is important that whatever bullet you choose be matched with the right sabot. You don't want one that you have to hammer down the barrel, but you don't want it to slide down on its own either. Choose a sabot, which loads easily, but still grips the bullet firmly."
What To Expect
"A good rifle in the hands of a competent rifleman should produce 1-1/2-inch groups at 100 yards with a scope and the same size at half that distance with open sights," Knight said. "I'm talking three-shot groups here. There is no need to shoot five or 10-shot groups with a muzzleloader. That is fine with a centerfire where you just jack in another round, but working up an accurate load with a muzzleloader is time-consuming enough without shooting five or 10-shot groups. Any well-built muzzleloader should be able to deliver that kind of accuracy. I've found that in most cases when someone complains about accuracy problems with one of our rifles, the problem is often the man behind the trigger and not the gun.
"There are some rules I follow on the range to keep human error to a tolerable minimum," Knight said. "I always shoot either from sandbags or a mechanical rest and once the rifle is nestled into the rest, I don't touch the forearm or barrel with my left hand (for right-handed shooters). I've seen guys try to sight-in with their finger looped over the top of the barrel. Others insist on gripping the forearm. Either way you are going to interfere with the performance of the rifle. Just leave the barrel and forearm alone.
"Snuggle into the stock, get a good sight picture, take a deep breath, let half of it out and squeeze," Knight recommends. "If you are doing it right the shot should be a surprise every time.
"Between shots I run one damp (not wet) patch down the barrel and one dry patch," he advises. "In hot weather, I wait five minutes between shots to give the barrel time to cool down. In colder weather you can knock a minute or two off of that time. The reason for this is that if you shove a plastic sabot down a hot barrel, the plastic will start to melt and deform, which is going to result in sabot failure and some horrendous accuracy problems. Sure this all takes time, but it is the only way I know to achieve the kind of accuracy a well-built muzzleloader is capable of delivering
"And one more thing Clancy," Knight concluded. "After a muzzleloader has been cleaned, you should always run a lightly oiled patch down the barrel to prevent rust. This light coating of oil, even if you run a patch or two before loading for the first time, is enough to influence trajectory. Most of my rifles will shoot 1-1/2 inches higher at 100 yards on the first shot. And since that is the shot, which counts in a hunting situation, I just always keep this in the back of my mind."
Just because you are toting a front-stuffer instead of a centerfire, don't think you have to settle for second rate accuracy. Take the tips Knight has shared here and use them to make your muzzleloader a genuine tack driver.
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