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Patch lube essential to muzzleloader accuracy

Last week, we discussed several aspects of obtaining optimum muzzleloading rifle accuracy when shooting patched roundballs. We touched on such subjects as rate of twist, patch thickness, patch lube and size of roundball.

To continue, it's worth mentioning a few additional details concerning patches and patch lube.

Those in the "purist" fraternity prefer to cut their own patches for each shot. This is done by using a long strip of patch material, laying a portion of patch material over the muzzle and partially seating the ball over the material about a half inch or so down the bore. A patch knife is used to trim excess patch material. The patch material is either lubed with old fashioned spit or a commercial (or perhaps home brewed) patch lube.

This is well and good for the purists, but for me (and many others), that method is just too time consuming. Personally, I prefer pre-cut and pre-lubed patches.

By "pre-lubed" I don't necessarily mean the patches are bought pre-lubed. Dry pre-cut patch material can be bought, and a generous amount of commercial lube can be applied to the patches. The excess can be gently squeezed out. While far from traditional, plastic film cans are an excellent way to store lubed patches and carry them afield. The "mess" stays in the can.

There is a great variety of patch lube on the market. Some lubes also double as bore cleaner, and such brands may simplify cleaning after a day's shooting. Here are some common brand names: Blue Thunder Bore Solvent and Patch Lube, Thompson Center 13, Dixie Gun Works Black Solve, Pyrodex EZ Clean, Ox Yoke's Bore Butter, and my personal favorites, Lehigh Valley Patch and Bore Lube and Shooter's Choice FP-10.

As to loads, there are differences of opinion even among the experts as to whether .50 caliber rifles should use 2F or 3F granulation powder. Again, on a personal note, despite the fact that 3F powder will yield a slightly higher velocity (and higher pressures), I prefer 2F. Velocity is not necessarily the key to accuracy.

Unlike smokeless powders, black powder is measured by volume, not weight. Commonly used loads in rifled muzzleloader barrels are: 30 to 70 grains of 3F in .45 caliber rifles; 50 to 90 grains of either 2F or 3F in .50 caliber rifles and 50 to 100 grains of 2F in .54 calibers.

Exceeding these loads is dangerous and unnecessary. Also, keep in mind that this basic information pertains to black powder only, not to black powder substitutes.

Loads with different brands vary as well. Swiss black powder calls for using less volume than Goex, for example. Components and equipment also vary greatly, so it is the reader's responsibility to find out the manufacturer's or custom rifle maker's recommended loads for a particular rifle and follow them to the letter.

In practice, loads between 70 and 80 grains of black powder seem to give the best accuracy. Again, the most accurate load is determined by copious amounts of range shooting and experimentation and noting the results.

However, there are a few hard and fast rules that must be followed, not only for accuracy but for safety reasons as well.

First, proper seating of the patch and ball is of prime importance. Always use the same pressure on the ramrod to seat the patch and ball directly on the powder charge and always be sure there is no air space between the patch and ball and the powder charge. Always means always.

Secondly, always use pure lead roundballs. Roundballs containing amounts of tin or antimony can quickly ruin a barrel.

When on the range, initial shooting can be done at 25 yards. Shooting three to five shot strings will give a good indication of group size. At 25 yards, strive for one-inch groups. This should yield a 4-inch group at 100 yards, although, in actual field shooting, 100 yards is a stretch for a clean, humane kill when using roundball fodder. On the other hand, some muzzleloading rifle shooting matches may have 100-yard targets

To zero a rifle for 100 yards, a group should be about 1 12inches high at 25 yards, and 2 12 inches high at 50 yards. A more practical zero, however, for roundball shooting is 75 yards, which is perhaps the maximum distance one can expect a clean humane kill on deer. A group that is about one-inch or slightly higher at 50 yards will be about 34 of an inch high at 25 yards, dead on at 75 and about 3 inches low at 100 yards.

Again, the more shooting you do with your muzzleloader, the more familiar you become with it and the more confidence you gain.

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