Hunting Big Game with Muzzleloading Pistols


Traditions' Buckhunter Pro and Thompson/Center Arms' 209X50 Encore are two handguns that the author has used to take big game animals.


  There are, and have been, only a  handful of muzzleloading pistols that can generate sufficient energy to ethically kill big-game animals when used as a primary hunting tool.  A few more are sufficient for very close-range shots at crippled animals or when the animal is only feet, or inches, from the hunter. 

  I enjoy the challenge of hunting with a muzzloading pistol and have taken deer, wild hogs, gators and warthog with them. The best that I have shot is the Thompson/Center Arms Encore .209X50 when used with a charge of 100 grains pelletized Triple Seven powder, a felt wad and 370-grain MaxiBall bullet. This bullet will penetrate 27-inches of tough hog and did a double-lung finishing shot on a Blue Wildebeest. The reason this gun works is that it has a long, about 15-inch, barrel and sufficient weight to help tame the gun. 

Davide Pedersoli Bounty pistol with added barrel weight.


  In flintlock, the only gun that I would recommend is Davide Pedersoli’s .50-caliber Bounty which has a 14-inch barrel. I used a load of 85-grains of FFg black powder in this one with a 295-grain PowerBelt bullet to kill a nice Florida buck deer.  It was necessary to tape a bag containing about a pound of lead shot to the front of the gun to keep it from flying from the hand with each shot. This load exceeds the plinking load recommended by the manufacturer and must be approached at the user’s own risk. 

  Common to the pistols mentioned is that they (and the T/C Scout) are shortened versions of equivalent rifles and the Pedersoli flintlock is proofed to muzzleloadng rifle pressures. The reason that only a low-power load is recommended is that handgun hunting is illegal in Italy,  and the manufacturer could see no need for recommending a  more potent load.   

Muzzleloading revolvers cannot combust sufficient powder to be effective on big game at little more than point-blank range.

 Additional work which is now on-going has caused me to change my mind to the point where I am now deer hunting with the Ruger Old Army and Cabela’s stainless steel Buffalo revolver with Triple Seven loads that approach or exceed the usual 500 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy needed to reliably take on deer-sized game at close range. I have a seven-part series of videos on this point up now on the Percussion Revolver. Segments 1-6 are now up. Both the test guns are strongly built with adjustable sights that enable reliable work to be done with them, although still having the drawbacks of  using percussion caps and being SOBs to clean. These loads are not recommended for brass-framed guns of any design.  

As a back-up pistol for precise shoots delivered at close range the Ruger Old Army revolver was use to finish off alligators at the side of the boat at a range of 4-inches. Here not too much power was wanted to keep from sending bullet or bone fragments through the boat’s aluminum hull. No black-powder revolver yet made can contain sufficient powder, or has sufficient barrel length, to combust the large charges necessary to generate sufficient energy to be reliable performers on game. The old Colt Walker come closest, but this gun has such poor sights as to be very difficult to make reliable hits beyond a few yards. With the Walker the ramrod needs to be taped to the barrel to keep it from binding the cylinder. 

  There is a tiny market for such guns. Look for guns with long barrels,  the best sights of their type and/or the ability to mount a scope. Traditions now discontinued Buckhunter Pro was the least expensive, really workable pistol for a period of years. Traditions introduced a new break-barrel muzzleloading pistol to replace it at the 2010 Shot Show, but I have not had the opportunity to work with the gun. 

  The key to success with these guns is to allow the game to approach close to the gun and take only very deliberate shots. With one exception, which was bad shot placement on my part, all of the game I have taken with these guns has been one-shot kills. In any event, you have to really know your gun and load. All depends on proper placement of what is apt to be your one, and only, shot opportunity. 

  My forthcoming book X-Treme Muzzleloading: Fur, fowl and dangerous game with muzzleloading rifles, smoothbores and pistols,  has much more detailed discussions about big and small game hunting with muzzleloading pistols. Advanced orders are now being taken for a pre-publication price of $17.00 (shipping included). For more information go to and look for the book’s cover at the fourth entry on the page.

35 thoughts on “Hunting Big Game with Muzzleloading Pistols

  1. Pingback: Index of First 150 Post, New Intern « Backyard deer hunting

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  3. From time to time I talk directly about tree stands. On Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures episode to be aired on October 19, 2011, I interview Margared Hice about how the Tree Lounge Co. started and what happened to it. Tree Lounge is now out of business. After her husband’s death, Margaret made a good effort to revive it and resume production from the original factory in Georgia and even introduced new models, such as the Ellusive Whitetail, ground stands and prop-up varieites. This effort failed, and the company closed in the Spring of 2011. To hear the show go to and click on the Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures’ Radio Show link just below the banner. This show will be available as an archived show on my show page, on Interstate Sportsman, and indefinately from Apple’s iTunes.

  4. It takes guts to admit that your prior assessment on the killing power of the percussion revolver was not correct, my hat goes off to Mr. Hovey Smith for correcting his prior statements on the percussion revolver’s killing power.

    Mr. Smith we here at the percussion group appreciate your hard work and honesty
    based on your own test results.

    Kudos to you Sir. You are a true sportsman and a gentlemen. Keep up the good work, you have a huge following.

    Thank you.

  5. Ever see what lyman Plains pistol in .50 or in .54 caliber can do to a deer? The sights suck, and replacing them with real sights is essential…but they are quite deadly on deer. The Ruger old army with 47 grains of FFFG Swiss powder, a Buffalo Bullet 195 grain .457 round nose, a wonderwad, and the new hot caps, is also very effective. I have successfully killed deer with each of them, and never had any issues with killing power. I am not shooting at 50 yards though either…and the closer…the better. Only one stubborn little buck ever required a second shot…and I am seven for seven now.

    • Dan, it is great to see another black powder handgun hunter. I myself have taken many deer and wild boars in Florida using mostly a Pietta 1858 Stainless Buffalo revolver with a 12 inch barrel and have been quite successful at it for over a decade. My hunting load has been 37-40gr of 777 3fg, a wad and a ,454 ball. This load really knocks them dead and has been effective even on hogs up to 200 pounds. Recently we have been experimenting with a projectile made by Kaido Ojamaa which is a 240gr flat nose bullet and it is a powerful slug. I use it in my revolvers and with sabots in my 50 caliber pistols and rifles. My favorite pistol so far and the most powerful one made is the Optima 50cal Pistol, I have one and it is a tack driver and with the factory max charge of 150gr it has some serious power for taking the biggest game in North America with no problem. Hovey Smith recently took an 8 pointer with this slug. My brother in law has taken hogs with his 50 cal Pedersoli Bounty pistol with a 17.5 inch barrel and it drops them like a bad habit. You can check out some of our hunting pics at the yahoo percussion revolver group. Hovey also has an article which shows a couple of our pics too, These old timers have a lot more power and killing ability than people give them credit and even more now with the introduction of 777 powder and Kaido’s bullets. As I have said before and I will say it again, these weapons worked against man and beast in the old days and I doubt that any deer or hog have grown kevlar skin in the last 150 years or so.

      • I agree totally. If the muzzleloading pistols circa 1860 were so low in power, how did so very many people lose their lives to them, in the Civil war?

        The newer ones out there are significantly more powerful, plus they also benefit from advances in both the powders and bullets…also the technique has been highly refined. The Ruger old army is built like a tank, and it also delivers the goods. Everything I ever shot at with my Lyman .50 caliber Plains Pistol, also required but one deadly shot. I do suspect that you can significantly increase your range, by using the extremely long barreled (cumbersome actually) Pedersoli Bounty, and yet…dead is dead, and my pistols are definitely up to the task at hand.

        I also refuse to use longer barrels on my T/C contenders…my choice for cartridge bullets. It seems to me to defeat the entire purpose, by having rifle barrels on a pistol, and all of my contenders sport 10″ bull barrels…44 magnum…357 maximum…and 7-30 waters. I also hunt with the S & W 629…and Ruger Redhawks…but the single shot contenders are my meat guns. Have you ever tried to draw back any revolver totally silently to fire?

        I had to make two allowances for the Investarm manufactured Lyman pistols however. I put on a set of the Lyman AML series folding leaf rear sight…and bead front sight…each with just a dab of fluorescent paint on them…replacing the white…a trick that helps immeasurably in fading light. I was using fluorescent paint on sights now for 40 years this way…on all of my various firearms…before they even had the “newer” fluorescent sights.

        I also had issues with ignition on the Plains Pistol. They always went off, but the lag time was frequently pretty bad, so I added an ACCRA-SHOT system to the pistol…end of problems. That gave me sure and immediate ignition, plus considerably more power when chronographed. Now I have also ordered 777 powder to shoot…just to check it out…but the Swiss powders always gave more bang for the buck…with improved ignition…over the Goex and Elephant (yes…I do have 1# cans of Elephant around yet).

        Where I hunt, no logging is allowed, and the range is generally 20 to 30 yards…as that is about as far as you can see. The no logging policy is ill conceived and ecologically unsound, but you tell that to the california “tree huggers”.

        Sometimes I carry a .54 caliber T/C Renegade…in addition to the pistol…just in case, but to date have not needed it. The pistols have proven to be plenty adequate for hunting. I surely have never had issues finding my deer that have been shot, and many just keel right over.

        Do not underestimate the power of modern muzzle loading pistols, as from my vantage point…they work…and they work very well indeed. They also add a definite challenge to the sport.

      • Dan, you are going to love 777. It is even more powerful than Swiss and easier to clean. My 1858 Buffalo revolver clocks in excess of 1250fps/450ftlbs with 40gr 777, a wad and a ball and 1050fps/587ftlbs with Kaidos VKV BG 455 240gr flat point conical. 777 powder has leveled the playing field and have placed the percussion revolvers on par with the 357,41 and 44 magnum modern revolvers. Hovey Smith has done extensive work with these pistols and has taken a couple of deer with them. He last took a nice 8 pointer with his revolver and has a video on the hunt.


      • On the long barreled pistols that I like, I have a carry technique where I hold the grip in my left hand and allow the barrel to rest in the crook of this non-shooting arm while hooking my finger in my belt. When I see something, I grasp the pistol silently in my right hand anduse both hands togrip the gun when I shoot. When in a tree I most often have the pistol out or in one of my homemade cloth or deer-leather pouch holsters which are absolutely silent when the pistol is drawn. Such holsters are not fast draw, but they are quiet and protect the gun. It is good to hear of another muzzleloading pistol hunters successes with the different challenges of using a variety of these antique-pattern guns. Like with most things, with care,good load development and making whatever modifications are needed to make the guns really workable, these guns can, and will, reliably take game.

  6. You have mentioned the bullets you used before. I simply always had a ton of the Buffalo Bullets, and they worked quite well for me. In the Lyman plains pistol, I use either a 275 grain T/C Maxi-Hunter in the .50 calibers, or a patched ball in the .54. I likewise use either Buffalo Bullets or T/C conicals for all of my rifles. I am glad to see that Buffalo Bullets are back in production.

    Where do you get information on the Kaidos bullets? I received emails from the man, but still have no idea what the bullets are about…nor how to obtain them.

    I am definitely looking forward to playing with the 777 powder, but you know, so many black powder substitutes have come and gone over the years, that I get skeptical (anyone remember Black Canyon powder?). Hodgdon is a reputable concern, so maybe this time it will be different. I have a collection of the various powders from years past, and only the Pyrodex is any good…so far. Some BP substitutes were unstable and required destruction to be safe with them. I simply have found that I get better ignition and more consistent performance using the Swiss FFFG. The 777 may prove to be a game changer though.

    If you ever want a real challenge, try silently drawing any revolver, when on a deer stand, and all is dead silence. Even holding my hand on the cylinder to muffle the noise, is often not enough to suffice. I usually have to wait for the buck to move a bit, before drawing back…his noise…covering my noise.

    Using open sights on a pistol, the length of the sight radius, also generally does make a difference. My 8 3/8″ S & W 629’s are for the most part, more accurate than my 6.5 inch barrel models. Every once in a while though, there is a game changer there as well. My most accurate open sighted .44 magnum is a Ruger Redhawk with a 5.5″ barrel…that has a Wolff spring kit that I installed. Getting a decent trigger on the Lymans has proven to be much more difficult…a very painstaking…very time consuming…endeavor. I have the Rugers all figured out now, and that does not take me very long anymore.

    Good sights and a reasonable trigger pull (light weight and crisp) are what is essential for any real accuracy. But just as I will not use the extreme length barrels in the T/C contenders, I also do not use a 16″ barrel on a muzzleloading BP pistol. To me, they are simply ungainly and awkward (nice in a carbine…muzzle heavy in a pistol). But hey…each to his own…and who is to say! It works for you, and that is a good thing.

    • Kaido’s bullets are brand new, and I am still working with them. I should receive the 255 grain versions for the Ruger Old Army in a few days. These are flat-nosed bullets similar, but not idential to, the Keith-style bullet. I will have some photos up when I receive them and the molds.

      You can correspondwithKaido at He has both bullets and 6-cavity gang molds for bothbullet weights. I will have more to say about them on my blogs and videos and in the 2013 (next years) Gun Digest Annual.

      • I have watched all of the YouTube videos, just no concrete information is actually out there yet.

        Time will surely tell.

        Just make me aware, as the information flows in, and I do monitor this site.

        The bullet coating process he uses, is quite funny actually. T/C makes a bullet lube device for their Natural Lube 1000 plus Bore Butter, and it seems to me to be so very much easier than the “cake pan” technique. I suspect that will be something he will have to work on…LOL!!!

        Coating bullets that way, seems to me to be a lot of work.

    • There is an aftermarket company that makes Ruger Old Army cylinders, with increased powder capacity as well as modified ports for more accuracy. Another company, will take your cylinder, and rebore it to make it be able to hold more of a powder charge. Both add considerably to the abilities of the ROA.

  7. I found a source for some cast 220 grain .456 caliber bullets, and do they ever perform…WoW!

    Using real black powder corrodes the barrels eventually…even of the stainless steel muzzleloaders…so I am intrigued to try the new Hodgdon powder substitute. I gues the issue is the aame as using scuba equipment in the ocean…as salt water rusts 440 stainless quite fast.

    • Regardless of if you use black powder or the new substitutes, almost all of them including Triple Seven, require water clean up to prevent corrosion. Triple is easier than many because it contains no sulfur, but it will still corrode if uncleaned. Oil based solvents do not work unless the system has been flushed with water first.   Wash with soapy water, then dry, and then oil. This way your guns will last for generations.  

      • Black powder corrodes Stainless steel whether you clean it fast or not. That much I have witnessed. I never allow anything to stay in the ROA guns I have…especially after firing…and I lube it with a generous coating of Balistol. Just using them eventually causes corrosion…it seems to pretty well go with the turf. The best way to see the effect, is to take a casting of the entire barrel using dental impression materials. Doing so has been enlightening…especially viewing the castings over time.

  8. I have been using a stainless 1858 Buffalo revolver from Pietta for over 10 years with not a hint of corrosion and it is used regularly with full loads on hogs and deer in Florida. Follow Hovey’s advice, use warm soap and water first then lube her up good with WD 40 or similar rust inhibitor and you will be fine. I own many percussion revolvers and rifles and they all look almost new with zero corrosion. 777 cleans real easy and is the most powerful thing out there that is why we use it exclusively.


    • Actually…you would not ever be able to see it, but trust me, the powder does remove metal each and every time it is used. An old pro told me that, and I did not believe him either…ergo the impressions of the chamber with dental impression material…and he was correct. I tossed it all out when I moved…or I would show you the comparison pictures.

      Salt water also rusts 440 stainless within 24 hours…and not just a little bit either…you should have seen my diving knives…how bad they got. I carefully rinsed it all down well, but carelessly forgot the little knife on my BC…and it was all rust within a day.

      WD40 is not designed to be used on firearms, as it removes the bluing, and gums things up as it hardens with time. Nothing beats the Ballistol. Ask the guys who shoot competition what they swear by. They shoot a whole lot more than I do, and they should know.

      You would die if you knew what they used to clean the guns after a session…but most use Ballistol as an antirust/anticorrosive. For cleaning…I quote:

      “I might give you a suggestion on cleaning since we shoot a minimum of 25 to 35 shots in a match and cleaning sometimes presents a problem.

      My favorite and easiest method is a mixture of:
      1/3 alcohol + 1/3 hydrogen peroxide + 1/3 Murphy Oil Soap, all this can be found at Walgreens.

      – Plug nipple or touch hole and pour a couple of ounces down barrel.

      – Put your thumb over end of barrel, swish up & down a few times and let sit 5 or 10 minutes.

      – Remove plug and run patch down barrel, use patch to clean around nipple/touch hole.

      – Then a clean patch down barrel back and forth again using same patch around nipple/touch hole.

      – Then one more patch and usually will be clean after only three patches, sometimes may take another patch or two.

      – Finish off with a good non petroleum oil for rust prevention (Ballistol is by far the best).

      This method works for me and has been tested and written up in the NMLRA magazine several times.

      This mixture can also be used as a round ball patch lube but I prefer LeHigh (or Shenandoah) Valley lube which is also good for wood and leather preservation as well as rust prevention.”

      • I believe you,guess I have been lucky even my 30 year old Kentucky rifle shows no visible rust. Hot warm soapy water and lots of WD 40 afterward and no rust seen with the naked eye. I believe these guns will out live me.

      • You are not going to hurt the bluing either…not on a Stainless steel firearm.

        The major firearms manufacturers have had warnings over the years, against using WD40 though…must be for a reason. Remington had a flyer out, Ruger used toss a warning in the box, and Beretta still says no. It gums things up too much as it evaporates…and it also goes into primers on cartridge guns. As it hardens…it likewise collects a lot of crap from the air…making semiautos into single shots.

        You need to remove any and all oil from a muzzle loader, before using it, but not so with cartridge guns.

        It used to be an age old mechanic’s trick…to spray carburetors with WD40…as things never worked so well, until it aged and hardened…and gave you more work…usually beyond warranty.

        Again though…I reiterate…the pros all favor Ballistol…and there has to be some good reason why. Just because you use WD40…and swear by it…does not mean it is the right thing to do. There is more to reality, than simple anecdotal evidence.

        For some odd reason, WD40 seems to draw a coterie of extremely avid followers, and you will find heated discussions concerning such use on firearms…all over the internet. There really is absolutely no way it can ever be as efficacious as the Ballistol…or Break-free…that is actually usually recommended by the manufacturers…so why persist. What do you gain?

        Believing that something is so…will not necessarily make it so…and the recommended materials are not hard to find, nor are they expensive…so why?

  9. Is there any possible way that you would share the info on cutting down a encore barrel to make it pistol size? Forend modifications? Thank you in advance .

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