Bullets are a very tricky subject. Muzzleloader rifles in general are very unique beasts in what they like. If they are fed the wrong bullets, they will reject them like a child spitting out green beans! No muzzleloader is the same – some will shoot great right out of the box, others need a little trial and error to find out “what they like.”
There are two main types of bullets to consider when shooting modern inline muzzleloaders like CVA, Traditions and Thompson Center: Saboted bullets or belted bullets. Let’s first examine the difference between sabots and belted bullets:
Saboted Bullet – Sabots are sleeved bullets in that the actual bullet never touches the rifling of the barrel. The plastic sleeve in most .50 caliber rifles surrounds a .45 caliber bullet in a .05″ plastic sleeve. The sleeve has an integrated gas seal which enables the propellant or blackpowder to push the bullet evenly as it is ejected from the barrel. The plastic sabot engages the rifling of the barrel which induces spin on the bullet as it leaves the muzzle. Sabots are extremely accurate and have been used in many other applications such as shotguns with great success. The downside to saboted rounds? You guessed it, the plastic residue left in the barrel as the bullet twists through the muzzle. This is rarely a big problem in the field, as usually you get only 1 to 2 shots at your target. However, at the range I recommend cleaning your bore at least every 5 shots when using saboted rounds. If you don’t, you will begin to have trouble loading subsequent rounds, and your accuracy will be thrown off by the plastic build-up along the barrel walls.
Belted Bullets – Belted bullets are different from saboted bullets in that they are a true .50 caliber round. The term belted comes from the belt or gas seal connected to the bottom of the .50 caliber round. The advantage of belted bullets are that the bullets themselves engage the rifling twist of the muzzleloader, and are much more aerodynamic in flight given the smooth sides of the bullets. Another advantage of belted bullets are they require less cleaning after every shot. The belt will still leave a residue of plastic in the barrel, but it is minute compared to sabots. I’ve shot up to 15 rounds accurately through my CVA Accura without having to swab the barrel. The downside to belted bullets is that they sometimes are a bit more expensive than their saboted counterparts, but this cost is minimal per shot.
Top Muzzleloader Sabots
In my opinion, you have 3 distinct brands in muzzleloader sabots: Barnes, Hornady & Thompson Center.
Barnes – Barnes manufactures what I believe are some of the best muzzleloading bullets on the market. The Barnes SpitFire T-EZ sabots and the Barnes™ Spitfire TMZ sabots are two of the top bullets I use. Both include a 250 grain, .45 boat-tail slug with the T-EZ, including a easy-loading blue sabot. The Barnes bullets are at the higher end of the price range, but you pay for the quality and accuracy of these sabots. I highly recommend them to everyone that asks.
Hornady – Hornady has been making muzzleloader bullets for years, and the patriarch of their muzzleloading line is the Hornady™ SST sabot. Like the Barnes sabots, the most popular grain of the Hornady is the 250 grain model. However, Hornady also makes them in a 300 grain round for larger game. Hornady’s exclusive Flex Tip™ is optimal for muzzleloaders due to its flight performance at low velocities over longer-distances.
Thompson Center – Thompson Center makes a deadly little sabot called the TC™ Super-glide Shockwave. This is actually a Hornady™ SST bullet with a different color tip and proprietary Super-glide sabot. The Shockwave works great with most modern .50 caliber rifles, but is designed for use with Thompson Center’s patented Quick Load Accurizer (QLA™) system. I have personally never used these bullets, but I hear that they are pretty accurate and easy to load.
Best Belted Bullets
For modern rifles, PowerBelt bullets are the best belted bullets on the market. The innovative gas seal belt makes these bullets very accurate at longer distances. I have personally shot 1-3″ groups with the PowerBelt™ Aerotip at 175 yards. PowerBelts come in either Aerotip, Aerotip Hollow-points or Aerolite models.
Powerbelt™ Aerotip – These bullets are designed with a aerodynamic polymer tip. I have found these bullets work very well with most CVA, Traditions and Thompson Center muzzleloaders. The Aerotip also comes in a hollow-point model in either 245 or 295 grain weight. The advantage of having a hollow point bullet is the refraction or morphing of the bullet upon impact. Most hollow point bullets cause more damage and leave a greater blood trail.
PowerBelt™ Aerolite – Probably the coolest looking bullets on the market. With their black body and red polymer tip, these bullets definitely feel like you are shooting the latest technology. The Aerolites are designed for 100 grain charges, which for most of my muzzleloaders, and for most muzzleloaders in general, appears to be a sweet spot for accuracy. Many people will use these with the CVA or Traditions inline pistols, as they are rated for lower powder charges.
When picking a muzzleloader bullet, the real key is trial and error. Most rifles will shoot any of the above bullets just fine. However, sometimes a rifle will be particular to a certain bullet or sabot, so it is really up to the shooter to take the time to get out there and test them. In my opinion, the bullets I listed above are the BEST of the BEST muzzleloader bullets on the market today.