Minimum Deer-Killing Muzzleloading Loads for Young and Small Shooters

A .50-caliber Traditions Deerhunter which is a light-weight muzzleloader often selected for a young shooter's first muzzleloading gun.

  This is an  arguable topic because close-range deer have been killed with almost everything that would throw a bullet out of the muzzle of a gun, including the .22 L.R. The fact that a given load has sometimes killed deer does not, of itself, mean that it could, or should, be used under all circumstances. Obviously, a survival situation is different from hunting where every effort should be made by the sportsman to deliver a projectile into the animal that will be quickly lethal.

  Shot placement is more important than power. An ill-placed shot from a powerful gun will not reliably kill deer, but a well-placed bullet will. The selection of a load for a young hunter should be an accurate one that he, or she, can shoot well. Because we are discussing threshold loads, it also follows that the range needs to be short, 50 yards or less. It is also of assistance if the deer is relatively small with weights in the range of 90-120 lbs. These are good-eating-sized deer and fine for a young hunter’s first deer.

  In muzzleloading the  .45 is considered a medium caliber. The lightest projectile in this caliber is a patched round ball. In the typical light-weight rifles that a young hunter can handle (6-7 lbs. with 28-inch barrels) I recommend 85 grains of FFg GOEX black powder and a patched round ball for well placed shots in the heart-lung area at 50 yards and less. This load will develop about 900 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy, but at 100 yards its muzzle energy will have decreased to less than 300 ft./lbs.  At 50-yards it will still be producing about 500 ft./lbs. which most consider the threshold value for taking deer-sized game.

Sharon Henson used a CVA Youth muzzleloader and a BallEts on this hog.

  Although once more common than .50-calibers, today it is difficult to find .45-caliber muzzleloading rifles  that have suitable twists for round-ball loads. In the easier to get .50 caliber-rifles,  the heavier balls are more effective using the same charge of  85-grains of FFg. Because the bullets are slightly heavier there will be more recoil. At these velocities, pure lead balls will expand on game with notably more expansion if it drives through the shoulder blade.

  Muzzleloaders are nice in that there is no reason to start a shooter out with maximum loads. Initially, the load with either-sized bullet can be between 40-50 grains of FFg which will give a satisfying amount of  recoil and smoke but not be punishing. For any shooter, start out with a low-power load and then increase the powder charge to the point where the shooter can tolerate it before  moving up in power. 

  If shooting patched round balls is considered too much trouble, Buffalo Bullet’s BallEts, are available in both .45 and .50 caliber. These are hollow-based pre-lubricated bullets that weigh more than round balls, have slightly better penetration, are faster to load and are a little less messy to handle. They do not clean the bore with each loading as do the patched round balls. For best shooting with the BallEts  it is necessary to wipe the bore between shots. When hunting it is not usually necessary to clean the barrel between shots because of the few shots fired,  but when targeting the rifle  wiping the bore between shots will keep fouling from building up in the bore to the point where you can no longer load the gun.  BallEts will shoot to a different point of aim than round balls (both horizontally and vertically) and sights will often need to be adjusted.

  Some traditionally patterned muzzleloaders have set triggers. These help precision shooting, but do require extra care in their use. Those on Thompson/Center Arms guns are double-set,  meaning that a strong pull on the front trigger will also fire the gun should the user need to make a quick snap shot.  It is also more difficult to silent-cock a gun (Pulling the hammer back while also holding the trigger back and then lowering the hammer into the full-cock notch – practice before doing this in the field.), but set triggers allow more precision and help shooters fight flinch.  I prefer to start beginners out with a standard trigger.

6 thoughts on “Minimum Deer-Killing Muzzleloading Loads for Young and Small Shooters

  1. 85 grains ? Really? I shoot 70gr fffg- or Pyrodex P in my short 50 and limit shots to 50 yards (a really good recommendation) I hunt for meat so the 100 -120 lb deer are just what I’m after (another really good recommendation) I haven’t needed a second shot yet with this “light” load. I’m using a patched round ball and a loading block makes reloading these even less trouble than a conical (or Ball-Et). Way back when I started I was using 90gr when an “old timer” told me the extra weight of the charge just added to the recoil. He claimed the fouling residue from heavy loads increase the total projectile weight faster than the velocity gain. Barrel length gets factored in somehow but essentially the shorter the barrel the less powder for an “optimum” load (not the same as MAXIMUM load).
    Altogether a pretty darn good post by hoveysmith.

    • I actually started shooting deer with a 70-grain charge in .45-caliber round ball guns. I did kill smallish, close-range deer with this load. Increasing the caliber to .50 requires more powder to achieve the same velocity, but you can over-powder a gun to the point where the larger chargers are no longer efficient for the weight of the bullet that you are throwing. That was what your “Old Timer” was getting at, along with the added economy of using less powder per shot.

      Once you start reaching out and/or start shooting heavier deer with a 50-caliber round ball load, 85 grains of FFg is about optimum for most guns. If you are shooting FFFg then less powder would be required for the same result. If you keep your shots close and take “eating sized” deer in the range of 90-120 pounds lighter charges and smaller bullet weights will work. This does fairly well in thick country, such as I typically hunt in the Southeastern U.S., just as you have experienced.

      Moving out west and for longer shots at bigger animals, I like a little more powder in round-ball loads; and would most often nowdays use conical bullets in the 300-grain range and 100-grain charges from the longest barreled, heaviest in-lines that I can buy.

      I do not like ultra-light muzzleloading rifles for anything. My favorite design in a traditional rifle in a Hawken -style percussion gun with set triggers, musket cap nipple and weight of something about 8 pounds more or less. You can go too heavy with these rifles (like octagional barrels with 1-inch flats), but you want enough barrel weight where you can do reliable off-hand shooting at 75 and 100 yards. This optimum weight depends on the strength and size of the individual.

      If I must go light-weight, then I will use a muzzleloading pistol with the longest barrel that I can get with heavy charges and heavy bullets. These generate a lot of recoil and much smoke; but you must have sufficient bullet weight to raise pressures sufficiently to combust the powder. In my 15-inch barreled Encore, I use 100 grains of pelletized powder and a 370 grain MaxiBall bullet. This load will kill.

  2. I’m looking for some 45 Cal Ball,ets if you have just 2 ..I’ll buy them..
    And or if you know someone else who might have some…
    Any information would be greatly appreciated
    Thank you.. Doug Greer

    • You can order these from Dixie Gun Works. If you are into black powder stuff at all you should have this catalog. It is full of useful stuff. You may order by telephone 731-885-0700 or go to their webpage, You want item no. BT0202 which are .45 cal. 200 grains 50 to the box at $16.25 plus shipping.

      • Well sir..
        I contacted Dixie and they don’t have any..
        Buffalo hasn’t sent any for 2 years..
        I’m not sure, But I’m gonna try going srtat to the horse… Thanks for your help though..
        Still surching …All I need is 2 and I’ll make a mold…So if you know of ANYONE that has a
        Few could you ask if I can buy 2 of them..
        Thanks again.. Doug Greer

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