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Why Can’t I Kill Deer at 200 Yards with my .45-Caliber Seneca?

Friend Roger Kicklighter, shown above with a deer he shot yesterday with a .270 Winchester wanted his picture taken with what he has hopes of being one of his favorite muzzleloading guns. The rifle is a long-discontinued Thompson/Center Arms Seneca rifle which was designed to be a small, light-weight gun that could be used in the U.S. National Muzzleloading Rifle Association’s Seneca Match. This is a move and shoot event where contestants run from station to station and shoot at pop up targets as they appear at different ranges. Like the Olympic biathlon, the match is scored based on a combination of time and hits on the target. Hunters also purchased the gun in both .45 and .36 calibers for hunting turkeys and small game. After many had been using the much heavier and longer barreled Thompson/Center Hawken rifles for their deer hunting, (about 9 lbs. vs. 6 lbs.), they wondered, “Would not the handier Seneca Rifle do as well?”

The heavier Hawken had the advantage of a longer barrel so whatever powder charge was used, it would generate more velocity and energy. The heavier barrel is also rated for a larger maximum powder charge which was reported in the 1975 edition of the Lyman Black Powder Handbook as 110 grains of FFg with a .440 patched round ball vs. 90 grains for the Seneca. Out of the Seneca, Mowry, and other similar guns of the period, I often shot 70 grains of FFg out of the these lighter-weight guns. This charge, combined with the longer barrel, generated more velocity and energy at the muzzle than the 60-grain charge of FFFg from the Walker revolver, that many have demonstrated over the decades will also kill close-range deer. If you are interested in this aspect of muzzleloading hunting I have an e-book Hunting with Muzzleloading Revolvers that is available from Amazon.com and other e-book sources worldwide. If the Walker can do it, why can’t the Seneca?

The answer is that the Seneca can take such deer provided that the shots are at close range and you have reasonable bullet placement. While in hunt camp, Roger asked me about the Seneca’s trajectory at 200 yards, saying that if he saw a big deer at that range, he would try for it. I asked him could he estimate at least 20 inches of hold-over and windage at that range. He replied that he could. When I got back home I looked up the drop table in the Lyman Handbook and found that the drop was more like 40-inches than 20, but there was an even more significant problem – energy loss. By the time that that round ball got to 200 yards it had only 163 foot pounds of energy, assuming that it was launched at 2,000 fps. With the 80-grain charge of FFFg that he was using. this is in the energy range of the .32 ACP. A deer might be hit at 200 yards, but no rational person would recommend a .32 ACP for deer for anything else than a point-blank shot into the brain of a downed animal.

The round ball gets off to a reasonable start, but runs out of steam in a hurry. Assuming a 2,000 fps. muzzle velocity, it has 858 ft./lbs. of energy at 25-yards, 621 at 50, 448 at 75 and 333 at 100 yards. The desirable number of foot pounds usually recommended for killing deer is 500 ft./lbs. This makes the round-ball load out of the Seneca at 2,000 fps. about a 75-yard gun – a far cry from 200 yards. Can’t you load more powder? You can load another 10 grains of powder, but the recoil increases and the added velocity brings the energy figures at 75-yards to 554 ft./lbs. which drops to 397 ft./lbs. at 100 yards. The added powder does not result in a significant increase in killing power for these inefficient projectiles.

Using a patch round ball and 70 grains of FFFg, Jon LeCroy, took five shots to kill this wild hog using the flintlock Thompson/Center Hawken rifle that I lent him. I recommended that he load with 85-grains, but the combination of his shooting with a less powerful load with a flintlock rifle at a moving target resulted in a series of not particularly well-placed hits that ultimately killed the animal. In this case the animal was close enough for a stronger load (and a harder cast bullet) to have been effective had the first shot been appropriately placed.

A load of 85 grains of FFFg and a patched round ball dropped this Georgia buck with a neck shot , and it was finished off with a .54-caliber round-ball load from Young Blunderbuss. I have videos about hunting with both guns and tell of their exploits in my book X-Treme Muzzleloading. This shot was delivered on this deer at 40 yards, broke the spine, and the deer went down instantly. Had I wished, I could have finished the deer with a knife. If you own or inherit a .45-caliber muzzleloader and you wish to take deer with it, remember it is not just hitting the animal that is significant. Not only do you need to put the bullet in the right place, you also need to do it at a range where the round ball can do its magic. Shoot reasonably well and keep your shots within 75-yards and round-ball loads will effectively kill your animals. Try to stretch the range to try for that huge deer, and they will wound, but not seriously disable the animal who may die days or weeks later.

Roger’s adventures with the Seneca go back over a decade. He bought the gun with a rusted barrel, had a Green Mountain barrel installed, but due to a low front sight, could never get it sighted in. At Hunt Camp he shot the gun, now equipped with a taller front sight, with both .45-caliber MaxiBalls and patched round balls. Within a few shots he had the gun zeroed at 25 yards with a load of 80 grains of GEOX FFFg and round ball. Now satisfied that this is a 75-yard gun, he is ready to hunt with it and showed his Seneca what sort of results he expects from in. My gun, Bon Richard, a .69-calliber Model 1777 French flintlock musket that I built from a kit, and the Seneca are in competition on who can score on a deer first. Bon Richard has been out more than 10 times and not shot at a deer yet. As Roger did, I am showing what I expect of him.

You can see a video of our hunt camp restoration process at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA2Uos8yr54. You will need to cut and paste this into your browser to bring up the video.

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