closer than 50 yards lived to learn from their mistake, and I began to take for granted the tack-driving accuracy of my bolt action rifle. I was ripe for conversion, and the evangelist who won me over turned out to be my son.
David has always had a purist streak a mile wide, so when it came time to outfit him for deer hunting, he naturally wanted to go primitive. I didn't want my 15-year-old venturing into black-powder shooting alone, so I bought two soot-burners -- a left-handed .50-cal. for him and a right-handed .54 caliber for me.
Eventually David moved on to a longbow. But by then I was hooked. I found the romance of frontier legends like Jim Bridger and the archaic accouterments of black-powder shooting immensely appealing. But what ultimately proved most seductive was the change that black-powder hunting wrought inside my head.
When I decided to try my hand at black powder and bushytails, I traded one of my a big muzzle-loading rifles (by then I owned four) for a small-caliber carbine. I took it to the shooting range to learn what load provided the best accuracy. I was confident in my ability to "work up" a satisfactory load as I had done with my deer guns.
I had failed, however, to take one factor into account -- size. Not the size of the gun, but of the target. The vital area on a white-tailed deer is roughly 10 inches in diameter. The average squirrel's head, on the other hand, is about 2 inches long and not quite that tall. Finding a combination of powder, bullet and patch that allowed me to hit a dinner plate consistently at 50 yards with my big guns had been no problem. Doing the same thing with a target the size of a walnut turned out to be impossible.
Part of the problem was my sights. Iron sights limit the accuracy of any shooter, especially one who needs bifocal glasses. But much of the appeal of black-powder shooting lies in going back to the way pioneers did things 150 years ago, and I never considered mounting scopes on my muzzleloaders.
Also significant is the limit of muzzle-loading rifles' accuracy. Muzzle loading rifles can't match the accuracy of modern firearms. The variance in powder charge and bullet/bore fit is greater with muzzleloaders, so shot groups from a front-stuffer always will be