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Youth Muzzleloading Loads
by Mark Fike
To be successful as a youth hunter, you need a firearm and load that will allow you to shoot comfortably and accurately in a consistent manner. If a young person is comfortable shooting and has confidence that they can hit a target or deer accurately, they will not only shoot well but they will enjoy it so much they will get their friends involved too.
Through some assistance from a grant from Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and a great deal from Muzzle-loaders.com, I was able to purchase 2 scoped CVA rifles with bullets, powder, and primers as well as speed loaders for my youth club. I was invited to take some youth on a youth deer hunt and I had to figure out what loads would be best to introduce the young people to shooting muzzleloaders and hunting and be effective enough to ethically and humanely take deer down up to 100 yards.
After some thought and consultation with Caleb at Muzzle-loaders.com, we decided to use a combination of bullet and powder that would be easy for the young shooters to keep track of, load and fire. What we came up with was a 245-grain Powerbelt Aerotip bullet propelled by 100 grains of IMR’s White Hots pellets. The pellets come in easy to remove cylinders that are clear plastic allowing the young shooters to readily view how much powder they have left. Pellets are so much easier to load than measuring and pouring loose powder down a barrel. For young shooters, ease of loading is critical to success. The pellets simply drop down the barrel with a relative “clunk, clunk”. Then the Powerbelt bullet is very easy to start down the muzzle with a 4 in 1 T loader. A gentle push with the ramrod with the palm saver gets the bullet snug against the pellets at the bottom of the barrel. I was sure to point out the amount of ramrod left when the rifles are fully loaded so the young people did not leave an air gap.
The result of this load configuration was good all the way around. No one has to measure powder. Just drop two pellets out of the cylinders and you are done. The plastic base on the bullet allows it to slide down the barrel with ease. Instead of fumbling with a sabot and bullet and trying to cup that duo just right, particularly in a deer stand while loading for any second shots, the Powerbelt is all one piece.
So, how does the load and bullet perform on the range? I had a pair of shooters come over to my small range a few days before our hunt to learn to load and shoot the rifles. I could tell they both were a little anxious about shooting a rifle and possibly they were slightly intimidated too. They had never shot a firearm before. But, the good news was that they had no bad habits to break either! To help allay any fears, I had a Lead Sled set up to remove the recoil variable from the shooting. I wanted my shooters focused on the target, not rifle recoil. I also was sure to equip them with hearing protection.
As expected, the youth were nervous on the first shot even after being told a few times that the rifle would not kick because of the Lead Sled. Despite being a bit nervous, they easily hit the target with the first shot (thanks to the team at muzzle-loaders.com for bore sighting!) and we adjusted the scope some as I felt very confident that they made clean trigger pulls and shots. On the second shot, the adjustments were minute and merely personalizing the rifles to the youth shooting them. The holes were touching on the target and the pair of youth shooters were totally focused on outshooting the other and having fun. Shots ten and eleven I had to replace the target because we could not see where the bullet was striking because there was one big hole at 50 yards! The two youth left my range ready to go hunting and they knew how to load and fire the rifles.
So, how did the load perform out in the field? I sat with one of our youth that was using the CVA Wolf. He was aware that he no longer using the Lead Sled but he was focused on the deer we were watching 100 yards out. We waited until the deer was approximately 75 yards before giving him a green light to take the shot. I watched as he verbally went through the checklist of how to mount the rifle, where to hold, taking a breath, letting half out and then silence for a few seconds until the rifle belched fire and smoke. The deer leaped upwards, landed a bit awkwardly, stumbled, tucked tail and ran. Its efforts were futile as he piled up just out of sight of the point of impact. While field dressing the deer, we found that the heart was completely gone from the deer. It had run on sheer adrenaline! That harvest was a testament to the accurate shooting of my young shooter and the performance of the youth load combination that we used.
Just a few hundred yards away, his counterpart, a young lady armed with the matching CVA Wolf rifle she was using from muzzle-loaders.com, saw a wide 5 point buck come out in front of her and her stepdad at 80 yards. She lowered the crosshairs on him and it was lights out too. The deer she took was very mature and was aged to be 5.5 years old. Both young hunter’s shots did the job very well and the deer were humanely dispatched to be processed and shared in celebration with family around the table later that week. In summary, the loads we used were perfect for our needs. The IMR White Hots are easy to use and the tubes, once empty, make great Powerbelt bullet storage too. I loaded up an empty tube with Powerbelts and used another empty tube of IMR White Hots to store extra primers in. I took both of these items plus three tubes of White Hots and put them in a heavy-duty sealable freezer bag that zipped shut and handed them to the youth for potential follow up shots while hunting. The White Hots tubes made great storage. I liked and the youth appreciated that we used only 100 grains of powder. There was no need to shoot 150 grains. The 100 grains sufficiently brought down the deer and the bullets were able to penetrate easily. The deer the young many with me harvested, had complete penetration because he shot behind the shoulder and through the ribs. The young lady had a nearly complete pass-through shot. We found the copper jacket just inside the shoulder bone while processing the buck.
One could write pages and pages about youth load combinations. However, when I found the White Hots, Powerbelts, and 209 primer combination and realized how lethal and accurate it was out of the gate, there was no reason to fix something that was not broke. The cleanup is very easy too as the White Hots don’t seem to overly foul the barrel or breech plug. The youth shot 12 rounds plus a few rounds I shot in one sitting before we cleaned the rifles. They were still shooting very accurately with only one patch being run down the barrel between shots. This combination is easy for the kids to load, shoot and recover deer. You cannot ask more than that!