Skip to main content

Scoping Your Muzzleloader

Scoping Your Muzzleloader

One of my other jobs is covering all things blackpowder for this magazine's sister publication, Petersen's Hunting.

Eye relief is an important consideration since magnum loads can deliver stout recoil. Three inches is the bare minimum to prevent injury.

And what an interesting job muzzleloader editor has turned out to be since no other category with the exception of optics sees as much new stuff as the blackpowder world.

If Rip Van Winkle was a die-hard muzzleloader shooter and woke up from a 20-year nap--or a 10-year nap, for that matter--he would hardly recognize the sport. The changes since Tony Knight's introduction of the first commercially viable in-line muzzleloader in 1988 have been exponential. Rifles are more accurate, easier to load and clean, and more shooter friendly. In a chicken-and-egg relationship, states responded to this boom with special muzzleloader-only seasons. Many whitetail hunters in the Midwest--they number in the millions--are limited to shotguns and muzzleloaders, and as rifles caught up with and then surpassed slug guns, hunters responded in kind by buying lots of guns.


Many states started out with severe restrictions on action types, bullets, and optics. But like the guns, regulations have evolved to allow optics, and that's a move in the right direction since a set of the finest iron sights can cover an entire deer at 150 or 175 yards, a distance well within most any in-line's reach.


I'm sure someone somewhere will argue otherwise, but muzzleloader rifles do not pose any vexing problems for optics makers, so a new crop of muzzleloader scopes soon appeared after the in-line rifle. While the recoil of a maximum propellant charge and heavy bullet can be exciting, it is certainly no more violent than that of a magnum centerfire rifle. Scopes are designed to handle that sort of recoil from the start. There are certain attributes that make some models better than others.

In general, most of us tend to "over scope" our rifles with too-powerful an optic. Even with tremendous gains in propellants and bullets, the average hunter with the average rifle will not see shots beyond 200 yards, and a 150-yard maximum range is more realistic. While a riflescope will certainly aid in a more precise placement of the bullet, there is little reason to exceed 9X, and 7X is more practical. Variable scopes, like in-lines, have advanced to the state of almost absolute reliability, so it makes sense to expand one's options, but I would not feel handicapped in the vast majority of most muzzleloading hunting situations with a fixed 4X, perhaps the grandest of scopes.




Generous eye relief is a quality that will be much appreciated after that 150-grain charge detonates and the heavy bullet exits the barrel as the rifle violently reverses course and puts into effect those undeniable laws of physics. Three inches is a starting point, and 4 or 5 inches would be appreciated by the brow, as most of us tend to lean into a rifle harder the larger the antlers. One option that should be seriously considered is dispensing with conventional scopes altogether in favor of a reflex optic. I admit a bias towards these newfangled optics, but it is one borne purely out of function. Because they are essentially free of parallax, you could hang the sight on the barrel's end for all the eye relief you wanted. The toll to be paid is the lack of magnification. Still, intensity-adjustable dots or reticles are so fine that I have taken shots out to 160 yards and knew precisely where my point of aim was on the animal. If quick shots at driven game are the order of the day, reflex optics are unbeatable tools for making that one and only shot count.


Nikon developed a reticle that closely matches the flight path of a 250-grain bullet fired from a full-length barrel over a 150-grain charge of high-performance propellant. The open aiming circles allow more precise bullet placement at longer ranges.

While most companies pull a standard scope from the line and simply slap a shotgun/muzzleloader label on a 2-7X variable--and there is no trickery or subterfuge in doing such--there are a few offerings that are purpose built for blackpowder guns. Because there is no practical difference in the mechanical requirements, the changes amount to pairing the appropriate power range with a ballistic-drop-compensating reticle.

Leatherwood/Hi-Lux Optics has a High-Performance Muzzleloading (HPML) scope. The 3-9X has a little under 3 inches of eye relief and three extra aiming points below the crosshair that represent the average drop of a 250-grain polymer tipped bullet that leaves the muzzle at 1,950 to 2,000 fps, an attainable velocity with a 150-grain charge of high-performance propellant. Assuming a 100-yard zero, the crossbars should provide aiming points for 200, 225, and 250 yards.

Nikon, always quick to add another useful scope to the line, introduced several years ago what has turned out to be one of the most popular scopes it markets, the Omega Muzzleloading Riflescope. Taking a page from varmint and benchrest optics, the Omega has open aiming circles in place of crossbars, allowing a hunter or target shooter to place the desired impact point inside the circle for precise aiming instead of obscuring it with a crossbar's intersection. The circles, like the HPML, are designed to coincide with the flight path of a 250-grain bullet pushed by a magnum load of propellant at 150, 200, 225, and 250 yards. The Omega is fast with practice and works wonderfully in the field.

To its credit, Nikon explains that there are innumerable variables that can unduly influence bullets and make them appear places they should not, despite what all the ballistic charts say. The lesson here is to take the combination to the range and ground truth the system. Should either the HPML or Omega systems not perfectly match the preprogrammed drops, it is easy enough to find where the circles or crossbars do coincide with the flight path. Scratch out a cheat sheet and tape it to the riflestock and the combination is hunt ready.

Should you decide to take advantage of all those special muzzleloader seasons, be sure both your in-line and your optic are up to the task.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

A great pump-action shotgun design has several characteristics: reliable, smooth and easy to function, easy to shoot well, adaptable to vastly different configurations and uses, and it's classy.6 Best Classic Pump-Action Shotguns Ever Made Shotguns

6 Best Classic Pump-Action Shotguns Ever Made

Joseph von Benedikt - January 21, 2021

A great pump-action shotgun design has several characteristics: reliable, smooth and easy to...

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the .338 Winchester Magnum. Why? Because hunters are often after game bigger and tougher than whitetails. Here's a list of the .338-caliber greats in chronological order in which they were introduced.11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges Ammo

11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges

Payton Miller

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the...

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a relatively lightweight (17 ounces) and short (12 inches) scope.Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope Optics

Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope

Steve Gash - January 05, 2021

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a...

Would you take the extra power and pop of the .22 Magnum over the more price-effective .22 LR? Here's one man's opinion.Best Rimfire Cartridges — .22 Magnum vs .22 Long Rifle Ammo

Best Rimfire Cartridges — .22 Magnum vs .22 Long Rifle

Payton Miller - December 21, 2020

Would you take the extra power and pop of the .22 Magnum over the more price-effective .22 LR?...

See More Trending Articles

More Optics

Some of the coolest new optics introduced this year range from Aimpoint's new COMPM5B red dot to Zeiss's Precision Rings and include Trijicon's Ventus laser rangefinder that measures wind speed via its ground-breaking Doppler LIDAR engine and a lot more. Here's a quick look at 17 hot new products.17 New Optics for 2020 Optics

17 New Optics for 2020

Joel J. Hutchcroft - July 23, 2020

Some of the coolest new optics introduced this year range from Aimpoint's new COMPM5B red dot...

The Burris Eliminator III 3-12X 44mm LaserScope has a variety of innovative features that both hunters and gadget-obsessed shooters will enjoy.Burris Eliminator III 3-12X 44mm LaserScope Optics

Burris Eliminator III 3-12X 44mm LaserScope

Steve Gash - April 17, 2020

The Burris Eliminator III 3-12X 44mm LaserScope has a variety of innovative features that both...

The Credo HX scopes feature easy-focus eyepieces, repositionable magnification levers, crisp and precise windage and elevation adjustments, and extra-wide fields of view.Trijicon Credo HX 1-6X 24mm Riflescope Optics

Trijicon Credo HX 1-6X 24mm Riflescope

Joel J. Hutchcroft - August 07, 2020

The Credo HX scopes feature easy-focus eyepieces, repositionable magnification levers, crisp...

Paul Curtis, the self-proclaimed Paul Curtis: Self-Proclaimed "Father of the Riflescope" Optics

Paul Curtis: Self-Proclaimed "Father of the Riflescope"

Joel J. Hutchcroft - October 08, 2019

Paul Curtis, the self-proclaimed "Father of the Riflescope", was a flamboyant character and...

See More Optics

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now