This Article/Report Published On An Extension To The Original NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Web Magazine ...
My Rifle & Load Picks For Hunting Black Bear
Hunting Bear With A Single-Shot Muzzleloader Can Be Dangerous - Be Sure To Shoot Enough Rifle!
Bear hunting can be extremely time consuming. Even where there are a lot of bears, you can spend a great deal of time sitting on a stand … and never have a "shooter bear" show up … during shooting hours anyway. In some states it is legal to hunt over bait, which can draw bears into range while there is still good shooting light. Where bait or even hunting scents are not allowed, and there's no incentive for bears to show up while there's still good light, the animals will do the majority of their movement during the dark of night. That's the case in Montana, where NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING is headquartered.
Last Fall (2018), during the first month of bear season, I hunted just about every evening. I was on one of several stands I had out by 6 p.m. every day … and most nights made my way back to my vehicle in near darkness, at around 8 p.m. (I was hunting within 10 miles of the next time zone - the Pacific Time Zone.) In each of the areas I hunted, I knew there were a couple of honest 300+ pound bears … and in one was a bear that would likely go 500-pounds.
One evening, sitting on the ground with my back to a big pine tree, I decided to hang with the stand a little longer. The sun set at around 7:30, and I knew I had a half-hour of legal shooting time left. Under the canopy of the towering hundred-feet tall mature trees, within 15 minutes it was getting dark … and I was just about to stand and ease out of the woods … and heard some movement behind me. A couple of minutes later, a large dark form came easing through the trees, just 30 or 40 yards slightly up the ridge side from where I sat. I knew immediately that it was a black bear … of about 350 pounds. As the bear moved behind the trunk of another huge pine tree, I rested the forearm of my .50 caliber Thompson/Center break-open Strike in the rubber lined rest of a Bog Pod shooting tripod … and as soon as the bear stepped out from behind the tree, I had the crosshairs centered on the facing shoulder. As I moved my finger toward the trigger, another … closer … shuffling sound made me freeze … and when I peered around the scope … standing with its two front feet up on a log … just 15 yards away was a 40 or so pound cub … staring right at me. Fortunately, the cub did not cry out … it just quietly pulled back and in a fast walk went to momma. When I glanced back at the big bear, I spotted a second cub right behind her. Within minutes, the trio was out of sight … and I got out of the woods before it was so dark I had to use a flashlight.
Thompson/Center Arms .50 Caliber Strike
The rifle shown directly above is the rifle I had with me that evening … and I had purposely chosen it for the thick cover I planned to hunt. The T/C Strike is a short and fast handling 24-inch barreled .50 caliber that handles hefty loads well. For that evening hunt I had the rifle stuffed with 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind a huge Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 400-grain .451" diameter flat-nosed Hard Cast lead bullet. At the muzzle, the rifle and load is good for almost 1,900 f.p.s. - generating right at 3,200 foot-pounds of bear ass-kicking knockdown power … at the muzzle.
For hunting big game, particularly dangerous game like bear, the rifle and load were ideal for the cover and 50-yard maximum range of where I was hunting that evening. About ten years ago, I tested ten different saboted bullets to determine which was the best "Brush Busting" bullet of the bunch. For that test, I literally shot through a tangle of willow saplings, at a standard paper plate stabled to a target board positioned 10 yards behind that wall of young trees. Before reaching the 9-inch diameter "kill zone" sized target … each bullet had to hit or clip at least 5 or 6 of those saplings. The bullet you see in the photo at left was the only bullet to keep all three hits at the center of a paper plate.
When hunting thick and heavy cover, where shots are generally 40 to 60 yards … the 24-inch barreled .50 caliber Strike rifle from Thompson/Center … with 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 … and the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted .451" diameter 400-grain Hard Cast bullet is definitely my "First Choice" when hunting black bears!
This rifle is scoped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 1.5-6x42mm Buck Country models … which is ideal for hunting such close cover.
FOR MORE ON THIS RIFLE GO TO … www.tcarms.com
Cooper Firearms .50 Caliber Model 22ML
Since first shooting this rifle back in 2015, this Cooper Model 22ML has been one of my favorite rifles to shoot and hunt with … due to its outstanding accuracy. It is one of my most consistent rifles, regularly punching sub 1-inch groups at 100-yards. My pet load has been 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind the saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold from Harvester Muzzleloading. Since 2015, the rifle and load have taken 3 whitetails, one of them a 6x6 buck dropped where it stood at more than 220 yards. Shooting the big 400-grain Hard Cast bullet detailed above, the rifle also dropped as nice sized black bear where it stood in 2016.
During the Spring 2017 Montana bear season, the 400-pound brown color phase black bear shown at right, and also at the top of this article, offered a perfect 60-yard broadside shot, and I precisely placed one of the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullets … powered by 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 … right behind the facing left shoulder. The bear charged forward 20 yards … then literally seemed to run up a big pine tree 20 or so feet … and fell out dead - IN ALL OF 10 SECONDS!
For the remainder of the spring season here in Montana and again for fall (if I don't fill my tag this spring) the rifle will be loaded with 120-grains of Blackhorn 209 and one of the Barnes .458" diameter 400-grain Original semi-spitzer copper jacketed lead-core bullets. My track record with the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold has been flawless … but the big .458" Barnes 400-grain bullet intrigues me … and I would love to see what it will do to a big black bear. Loaded with Harvester Muzzleloading's new .50x.458 Crush Rib Sabot … and 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 … the Cooper Model 22ML has repeatedly produced wallowed out "one hole three-shot groups" at 100 yards. The load is good for right at 1923 f.p.s. at the muzzle … with nearly 3,300 foot pounds of energy. This bullet has a very high .389 b.c. - and at 200 yards would retain right at 2,000 foot pounds of that energy.
The rifle is now topped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 3-9x40mm M40 Tactical Hunter scopes. This is a modern version of the Marine Corps sniper scope of the Vietnam era, complete with the built in range finder (to 600 yards). Unlike the original, this one has a BDC reticle - based on the .308 Winchester (7.62 NATO) cartridge. Lucky for me … the first BDC hold-over in the scope prints the above 400-grain Barnes bullet and hefty charge of Blackhorn 209 just a couple of inches high at 200 yards. This rifle … scope … and load are definitely my choice when there is a chance of getting a 200-yard shot at a big 400 to 500 pound bear.
To Read The Article On The Hunt For The Bear Shown Here … Go To -
Traditions .50 VORTEK StrikerFire LDR
Few current modern in-line No. 209 primer ignition muzzleloading rifles can match the stylish look of the Traditions VORTEK StrikerFire models. And that's exactly what I shared with Traditions head honcho Tom Hall the first time I saw the sleek hammerless design at the SHOT Show some 6 or 7 years ago. However, when I began shooting one of the rifles, I discovered that the rifle seemed to exaggerate the recoil of hefty hunting charges … and I faulted the thin walled buttstock, with its built in storage compartment (and low comb). I openly shared those feelings with the folks at Traditions … as I'm sure they also heard the same from others. Well, this great looking rifle got a second chance earlier this year … now built with a revamped buttstock. It's now a lot more comfortable to shoot with the 110- and 120-grain powder charges I prefer to shoot when hunting big game … ANY BIG GAME … but especially when hunting large carnivores with healthy claws!
As this was written, I've had the opportunity to put close to 200 rounds through a new VORTEK StrikerFire LDR … with the new buttstock … and one bullet the rifle truly seems to love is the new Harvester Muzzleloading saboted .430" diameter 300-grain Scorpion White Lightning. Thanks to the smaller diameter and slightly longer length of this polymer tipped spire-point than its beefier brother, the .451" diameter 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold, this new bullet has a noticeably higher ballistic coefficient. The 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold has a .250 b.c. … the sleeker 300-grain Scorpion White Lightning has a b.c. that's very close to .290. With the same amount of powder … both will get out of the muzzle at basically the same velocity.
See that target at right? There's actually three shots there … the bottom hole was slightly wallowed out by a second bullet. This half-inch center-to-center group was punched by the VORTEK StrikerFire LDR with the redesigned stock … shooting a 110-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and the new 300-grain .430" diameter Scorpion White Lightning. The load exits the muzzle of the rifle's 30-inch barrel right at 2,015 f.p.s., which is basically the same velocity that the larger diameter 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold exits the muzzle … when shooting the same amount of the same powder. Both loads also produce right at 2,700 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. But … thanks to that .040 higher b.c., the Scorpion White Lightning will hit a bear at 200 yards with about 100 more foot-pounds of retained energy than the shorter and fatter Scorpion PT Gold.
I managed to take a small buck with a prototype of the bullet last fall … dropping the deer where it stood. Now, the rifle and load are in my bear hunting line up … simply because I want to see how it performs.
CVA .45 1-in-22 Twist Paramount Rifle
As this article is being written, the rifle shown above is so new, I've only put about a hundred rounds through it. When it arrived from CVA for our test shooting, the company had sent it with one of the VORTEX 6-24x50mm long range scopes mounted on it … just to insure we had "enough scope" to check out the new Paramount's 200+ yards capabilities. That is a nice scope, but I already had a model in mind for this rifle when it arrived - one of the Hi-Lux Optics Pentalux TAC-V models … the 4-20x50mm version. That's the scope shown on the rifle in the above photo. There are several reasons why I chose this scope over the VORTEX … which I will share in a future report … but the primary reason "Why?" is the magnification range. I SIMPLY WILL NOT GO INTO THE BEAR WOODS WITH A RIFLE THAT'S TOPPED WITH A SCOPE THAT HAS A MINIMUM MAGNIFICATION OF 6X! But … there are a couple of other reasons why the Hi-Lux Optics scope is better suited on a "hunting rifle" … and I'll share why after getting in a bit more shooting with the rifle and its new scope.
The company developed this rifle to handle massive 150-grain charges of Blackhorn 209 … and right along with the Paramount rifle they also developed a very high b.c. PowerBelt bullet … the Aerolite ELR shown in the photo at right. This is a 280-grain bullet … with a b.c. the company claims will exceed .400 … and with 150-grains of Blackhorn 209 … this sleek missle is launched from the 26-inch barrel at well over 2,200 f.p.s. - with more than 3,000 foot-pounds of energy. If that b.c. proves right, this bullet would hit a big game animal at 200 yards with more than a ton of retained energy.
It's the promise of such performance that's put this rifle and load into my "Bear Rifle" line up.
At left, that's my very first three-shot 100-yard group with the new fast 1-in-22 twist .45 rifle and powerhouse charge of Blackhorn 209. From what I could determine "center-to-center" the group goes right at .550". My first 200-yard group went 2.120" center-to-center … and bullet drop from 100 to 200 yards seems to be just under 5 inches. At 50 yards … the rifle and load tends to print about 3 inches high.
Technically, I could hold "center chest cavity" on a bear anywhere between 50 and 200 yards … and still keep one of those lengthy high b.c. 280-grain Aerolite ELR bullets in the "kill zone". Of course, I know me. If a bear shows up anywhere within 200 yards … I will hold accordingly to try keeping the point of impact as close to "dead center" as humanly possible. Several of the stands I do plan to hunt the last two weeks of this month (May) just could provide a shot opportunity inside of that yardage range.
Choices … Choices … Choices !!!
The photo directly above was shot on the first day of spring this year … barely a mile from where I'm sitting building this page. There are bears inhabiting all of it. Where to hunt can become just as big of a decision as which of the above rifles to use for a given evening of sitting on stand. Generally, I let the terrain … foliage … and the distance of anticipated shots dictate which of these rifles will be the one that's slung over my shoulder. This look at my selected bear rifles and loads is scheduled to be published the morning of May 14th … and on the evening of May 16th is the first day I plan to hunt bear this spring. Those plans have me hunting a fairly open flat shelf that snakes around the face of a mountain … where anticipated shots are likely to be at 60 to 150 yards. For my first four evenings on stand, I think I'll choose between using either the Cooper .50 Model 22ML and the load detailed above … or the Traditions .50 VORTEK StrikerFire LDR and new 300-grain Scorpion White Lightning. The first four evenings … each day I will alternate between using one or the other. Then as I move into the following four day period … the .50 T/C Strike and the CVA .45 Paramount will step up to bat.
If the spring season is good to me … and the right bear gives me a clear shot … watch for a short "ADDENDUM" … with a photo … but, you'll have to wait until June for a full article on the hunt … and the performance of the rifle and load used to make the shot. - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
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