Given the plethora (and increasing) of shotgun/muzzleloader-only locales, counties, and states, not to mention the fact that the primary whitetail rut coincides with smoke-pole season in some states, such as Virginia, it only makes sense that manufacturers would dedicate much research-and-development effort to improving the performance of these oft-overlooked bullets. This is particularly true for lead-free projectiles. Below, five of the newest, most unique front-stuffer projectiles are detailed in-depth. Among these American-made projectiles you’re sure to find one with which to bag your trophy this fall, regardless of the muzzleloader that you use.
Cutting Edge Bullets MZL Raptor
Representative of the evolution of muzzleloader (and center-fire) bullets, which are individually CNC machined from brass or copper, the 0.4515”-diameter all-copper, hollow-point MZL Raptor projectiles are “preprogrammed” to lose its four petals after 1-2” of penetration, thereby creating five separate wound channels. Whereas the petals radiate outward in a star pattern, the Blunt Trauma Base (BTB) penetrates deep. The result is rapid expiration of the animal; in fact, between my son and I we killed four Virginia whitetails (including two large bucks) last season, and none of the animals ran further than 70 yds. Typical weight retention (i.e. Blunt Trauma Base) for the 250-gr. variant is approximately 183 grs., while that for the 160-gr. version is about 95 grs. Weighing three of the BTBs recovered from the aforementioned deer—usually against the offside hide—the average weight was 182.3 grs.—exactly as the company purports. I also found five of the sheared petals and one polymer tip. Lastly, housed in black, .50-cal. Harvester Crush Rib sabots, MZL Raptors load easily and, in the muzzleloaders in which I’ve used them, have proven to be quite accurate. MSRP: $28.08-$29.64 per 12.
Made for Knight Rifles by Lehigh Defense, Knight Bloodline hollow-point muzzleloader bullets are CNC machined from solid brass and “preprogrammed” (i.e. pre-stressed) to shear into six sharp segments of equal size that disperse outward after impact, thereby significantly amplifying its wounding capability. Meanwhile, the back-to-caliber base continues forward for deep penetration, for a total of seven wound channels. Lehigh Defense coined said action “controlled-fracturing technology.” Bloodlines are recommended for use on thin-skinned, medium-size game such as deer and black bear. Bullet weights range from 185 grs. (.45 cal.) to 325 grs. (.54 cal.). In .50 cal. alone there are versions in 220, 250, 275, 300, and 350 grs., and the company even offers a sample pack with four of each of the aforementioned weights (except 350 grs.) to determine which shoots best in your gun. Dual knurling on the 0.452”-diameter bullet is reported to enhance stability and thus accuracy, as the rotational energy from the rifling is better transferred to the bullet. Bloodlines come with sabots. MSRP: $19.59 to $37.39 per 20-count package.
Nosler Jim Shockey Signature Series Ballistic Tip MZ
Unveiled in 2013, Nosler’s Jim Shockey Signature Series Ballistic Tip (BT) MZ muzzleloader bullets are the only ones in this survey that utilize lead in its construction. Similar to Nosler’s BT Hunting center-fire-series bullets, those in the MZ line have a lead-alloy core contained within a tapered, gilding metal jacket that promotes expansion of 1.5 to 1.75 times the bullet’s original diameter at velocities from 800 to 2000 f.p.s., while exhibiting 45-60% weight retention. Initiating expansion of the flat-base bullet is its minute, pointed, orange polymer tip. The 300-gr., .45-cal. bullets are housed in orange, .50-cal. sabots and are suitable for game in size up to (and including) elk. MSRP: $12.80 per 15-count package.
TomBob Outdoors ITX Muzzleloader Roundballs
Manufactured from compressed, powdered tungsten and iron with proprietary binding material to a target density of 10 g/cc, which nearly mimics that of lead, ITX Roundballs have close-to-lead trajectories and ductility that prevents them from damaging the bores of traditional muzzleloaders, such flintlocks and caplocks. A product of their design, the leadless ITX Roundballs have a wide band circumscribing the mid-section that enhances its ability to damage life-sustaining organs. ITX Roundballs are available in the following calibers: .32 (0.312”); .45 (0.436”); .50 (0.487”); .54 (0.524”); and .62 (0.601”). Because the balls are slightly undersize when compared to their lead counterparts, some experimentation with patch thickness might be required. Using a .54-cal. Cabela’s-exclusive Pedersoli Blue Ridge Flintlock and 0.010”-thick Cabela’s patches, I achieved excellent accuracy with ITX Roundballs. MSRP: $11.99 to $16.99 per package of eight to 30 balls.
Federal Premium Trophy Copper Muzzleloading Bullet
Federal Premium garners top honor for the “unconventional” category with its Trophy Copper Muzzloading Bullet, which has the innovative Bullet Obturating Ramp (BOR) Lock MZ system in lieu of a traditional belt or sabot. Attached to the bullet’s base is a one-piece, black, polymer cup that remains behind the forward obturation ramp until firing, at which point it moves forward, obturating to contain gases and engage the rifling. The cup is not discarded in flight. Because of the design, only the hard, residue-scouring, fiberglass-reinforced base contacts the rifling, making loading extremely easy even after multiple shots. Moreover, since the .50-cal., 270-gr. bullet is absent a sabot, it’s legal for use where such restrictions demand such. Made from copper alloy, the Trophy Copper Muzzleloading Bullet typically retains all of its pre-expansion weight (sans the black, polymer tip) and opens to exhibit six sharp petals, for an outside-to-outside diameter of 1”. These bullets are accurate, too; in fact, when testing them for an American Hunter “Hardware” I attained a 1.88” three-shot group at 100 yds. using a CVA Accura Mountain Rifle with a go-to charge of two Hodgdon Triple-Seven Magnum pellets. With load refinement, I believe they’re sub-m.o.a. (or close to it) capable. MSRP: $24.95 for a 15-count pack.
As you can see, muzzleloader-specific bullets have evolved greatly in recent times. Now, regardless of what species you hunt and the regulations (no matter how onerous) you’ll need to adhere to, there’s an option available. And those products outlined above represent the some of the best. This fall try one and see for yourself the difference.