.54 caliber patched round ball elk load?

Nate Eller

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Nov 15, 2020
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Hello Hunt talk forum, long time listener first time caller. A friend has offered me a landowner muzzleloader cow tag in New Mexico for fall of 2024. I am very excited and I would like to do it as traditionally as possible. I have a left handed Lyman Great Plains Rifle in .54 that is twisted 1-60. I currently shoot 70grs of 3f behind a .530 ball with a .18 pillow ticking patch for competition and ringing steel. I was wondering if I should consider upping the powder charge, or would 70gr do the job. I feel comfortable with this rifle currently to about 75 yards or so, but with more practice, 100 yards is my goal. Would this load work for me or should I try for more oomph? Any and all replies appreciated.
 
I say you’re good. If you have the time and resources feel free to experiment but that load will work if you do your part.
That’ll be a fun hunt.
 
UP that load a bit, keep pushing until you lose accuracy, even if you have to try a different patch combo. Maybe put a lubed wool wad behind it too if you are shredding. I’d want a good bit more powder behind that round ball on an elk, closer to a max load. That is a pretty low power load you are with right now and definitely too-low power out at 100. It would be a light load even for whitetails. Or better yet, consider a heavier conical, but a very short one and ensure it works with the slow twist. In that case 70-85 grains may even be just fine.
 
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Lots of good advice. Try more powder and see what happens. Try a felt wad or other wadding under the ball. Inspecting fired patches is always a good thing. Once upon a time, I had my flintlock going at just over 2000 fps with a patched .54 roundball. It was a lot of powder. I was going moose hunting. Never did see a moose, so I can't say if it would have worked, but it might be argued that 2000 fps was too much of a good thing. The bullet may have expanded too fast or shattered. I'll never know. 90ish grains would be nice, plus or minus 10 grains. Don't worry about maximum accuracy. Elk are big. You need MOE, not MOA.
 
I would recommend looking at 100 grains of 3f, since the Lyman has a good barrel length. Most of my friends that hunted with .54 were in the 120 grain range, but if all you are doing is making a show with unburned powder leaving the end of the barrel, that's too much. 100 grains of 3f should easily burn up in the barrel.

A good way to work on precision (group) is to shoot at 25 yards, which removes eyesight from the equation, so to speak. Ideally, you should be able to one-hole at 25. Start with your 70 grain load, and up it 5 grains at a time as you shoot 3 shot strings (or 5 if you are a statistician)- you will likely see the POI move around, and maybe even the group open up and then come back together. Pick the charge that gives you the tightest group / most energy - going back to what I stated earlier, I wouldn't go less than 90-100 (so you could just start the 5 grain steps at 85 or 90...).

Might also experiment with a .535 ball, which the tight load shooters would press for. I normally shoot my .50 in competition with a .490, but go to .495 for hunting. Different gun, though, 36", .50 cal bbl.

Have a great time!

David
NM
 
If you go at a 1500 minimum ft#, one just never gets there for 100 yards with a patched, round ball.

I have hunted for well over 30 years with a muzzle loader, always patched round ball. For mule deer, my new eyeball (cataract surgery) might allow 150 yards with my .50 or .54, but for elk the distance might be down to 75 yards.

I no longer hunt elk with my traditional muzzleloader. One, I want the deck stacked in my favor (I have a very nice shooting 30-06), and, two, I don't think my hunting abilities are up to snuff to use a prb in a muzzleloader. Since I won't go with a sabot or pointy bullet, then it's off to suppository guns for me.

IMHO, one has to be a very good hunter to be successful on elk with a traditional muzzleloader. By successful, I mean a killing shot, as close to DRT as you can be - not tracking a wounded critter half a day or more to put it out of its misery. I wish I were younger and that good, but that time has passed my by.

David
NM
 
I think you can safely cut back on the ft-lbs as compared to a centerfire, muzzies make a big hole, but you should be aiming to shoot the heaviest load that will confidently be in the kill zone at the ranges you are hunting, take only clear near broadside shots, AND keep ranges close, as would be the case with traditional iron sights. Muzzleloaders with round balls have and do kill game cleanly, but they are very different tools than a modern rifle. Within their limits, deadly, used outside their limits, wildly irresponsible and unethical behavior!
 
As others have said I would try using it a bit. I'd be surprised if you couldn't be accurate with 90 to 100 grains which would make me feel a bit better on elk.

Good luck and have fun
 
An update on my load development process. Today, thanks to my friend I was able to get my Lyman out to 50 yards for load development. The first load I sighted the rifle in for was my target load, 70grs of goex fffg behind a .530 Hornady ball with an .018 pillow ticking patch. That is the target on the far right. I then started shooting 4 shot groups, the first shot being a fouler, with swabbing of a wet patch then a dry patch between each group. For these groups, I used a .535 ball with an .018 pillow ticking patch.The target order from left to right is the target load of 70grs, the 90gr load, the 95gr load, and the 100 grain load. Based on these groups, I am torn between the superior accuracy of the 90gr load or the slightly less accurate 100gr load. Another not, ignore the poi shift on the targets, I held on the bottom edge of the 8 ring for the first two, then I held on the red dot for the second two. I also shot my companion pistol for the first time today. A big thank you to all of you who gave me good suggestions on load data, and load workup. Another lesson I learned today that you can see on the 100gr target is that you should always carry a ball pulling jag, my friend was nice enough to lend me his, though if he had not had one, this would have been a short range trip.
 

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An update on my load development process. Today, thanks to my friend I was able to get my Lyman out to 50 yards for load development. The first load I sighted the rifle in for was my target load, 70grs of goex fffg behind a .530 Hornady ball with an .018 pillow ticking patch. That is the target on the far right. I then started shooting 4 shot groups, the first shot being a fouler, with swabbing of a wet patch then a dry patch between each group. For these groups, I used a .535 ball with an .018 pillow ticking patch.The target order from left to right is the target load of 70grs, the 90gr load, the 95gr load, and the 100 grain load. Based on these groups, I am torn between the superior accuracy of the 90gr load or the slightly less accurate 100gr load. Another not, ignore the poi shift on the targets, I held on the bottom edge of the 8 ring for the first two, then I held on the red dot for the second two. I also shot my companion pistol for the first time today. A big thank you to all of you who gave me good suggestions on load data, and load workup. Another lesson I learned today that you can see on the 100gr target is that you should always carry a ball pulling jag, my friend was nice enough to lend me his, though if he had not had one, this would have been a short range trip.
Yep, dryballing is always fun - I actually have a trophy for excelling at such during the Oregon State ML Competition years ago. You can always remove the nipple and trinkle some powder in the hole, replace the nipple, and kinda poot the ball out of the barrel.

If you move beyond the 100 grain load, you might find your poi and group change in your favor. Or not. I would humbly suggest you try a bit more, working up to around 120. Then you've bracketed your 100 grain load, and you might even find that the 120 works!

I kinda push the higher loads, based on my many friends' loads used when hunting. But you have to use what your gun likes to eat, and what you want to sit behind at the range.

David
NM
 
Elk are big. You need MOE, not MOA.
This.

I'm looked hard this year at going to a .58. My .54 is scary pitted. A re-bore may be in order. Right now I'm shooting a 110 grains of Pyrodex.
I used to shoot 120, but 110 is all I can get into my backup speed loaders.

I hear about elk being knocked over with a .54 but I have never seen it happen. Most elk I have seen hit by a muzzle loader don't even hunch up.

My yardage limit get less every year. These days I won't shoot past 75 yards.
 
This.

I'm looked hard this year at going to a .58. My .54 is scary pitted. A re-bore may be in order. Right now I'm shooting a 110 grains of Pyrodex.
I used to shoot 120, but 110 is all I can get into my backup speed loaders.

I hear about elk being knocked over with a .54 but I have never seen it happen. Most elk I have seen hit by a muzzle loader don't even hunch up.

My yardage limit get less every year. These days I won't shoot past 75 yards.
I think 75 yards is a good limit, 100 max. Elk aren't bulletproof, but sometimes it seems that way.

David
NM
 
Yep, dryballing is always fun - I actually have a trophy for excelling at such during the Oregon State ML Competition years ago. You can always remove the nipple and trinkle some powder in the hole, replace the nipple, and kinda poot the ball out of the barrel.

If you move beyond the 100 grain load, you might find your poi and group change in your favor. Or not. I would humbly suggest you try a bit more, working up to around 120. Then you've bracketed your 100 grain load, and you might even find that the 120 works!

I kinda push the higher loads, based on my many friends' loads used when hunting. But you have to use what your gun likes to eat, and what you want to sit behind at the range.

David
NM
I am going to disagree with this just a little bit. One hundred grains of three powder is shirley enough to get the job done and that's. Even higher amounts of powder could lead to 2 undesirable results. The first being that you can burn out flash hole inside the nipple. To check or yes, use a drill set to find. The largest bit that will fit through the nipple. Then check it periodically to see if it has enlarged.

The other possibility is that the lead ball may fragment without much penetration due to high velocity and Over expansion.

I'm not guaranteeing that will happen but it's a possibility. I would definitely be shooting these over a chromegraph as well. 100 grains should get you well in excess of 2000 feet per second. That's a hell of a lot for a fifty four round ball.
 
I am going to disagree with this just a little bit. One hundred grains of three powder is shirley enough to get the job done and that's. Even higher amounts of powder could lead to 2 undesirable results. The first being that you can burn out flash hole inside the nipple. To check or yes, use a drill set to find. The largest bit that will fit through the nipple. Then check it periodically to see if it has enlarged.

The other possibility is that the lead ball may fragment without much penetration due to high velocity and Over expansion.

I'm not guaranteeing that will happen but it's a possibility. I would definitely be shooting these over a chromegraph as well. 100 grains should get you well in excess of 2000 feet per second. That's a hell of a lot for a fifty four round ball.
Never have heard of a patched round ball, pure lead, fragmenting due to excessive velocity. Not much in the way of expansion happening, either, though the ball will deform particularly if it hits bone. I can always be wrong (in fact, am practiced at it), but I don't think I am in this case. Using my 36" barrel, .50 caliber rifle, I hunted with 140grains. Almost without exception the ball would be found, deformed but not "expanded" under the hide on the far side of the critter.

At 100 grains in a GPR, there is about zero chance of getting to 2000fps. Barrel length is key - velocity will top out at the point all the powder burns just before the ball exits. More, and you just make fire out of the muzzle. But in the 32" bbl GPR, one should be able to work above 100 grains before just blowing powder out of the barrel. I don't think you can find any data, published or from a buddy at the range, that will show a .54 at 2000fps out of that GPR barrel. You are correct that 2000 is a hell of a lot for a .54, because it just ain't gonna happen in that rifle with 100 grains of powder.

David
NM
 
I bought a 50cal Great Plains Hunter this week. 1:32 twist. I'm going to try to work up a load with 385gr Great plains bullets.
I'll probably start somewhere in the 80gr range and work up from there.
Does anyone have any experience with these rifles?
 

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