Back in November I had the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come along all that often. It was the ultimate “twofer” — a chance to hunt a tremendous piece of intensely managed private property owned in Pike County, Illinois, by the Metcalf family for decades and managed by big-buck fanatic George Metcalf, and hunt it with a muzzleloader loaded with an all-new hunting bullet. This bullet — the Federal Premium Trophy Copper Muzzleloader Bullet with B.O.R. Lock MZ System — changed the way I think about loading a muzzleloading rifle for hunting.
First, some background. Muzzleloaders have evolved greatly over the past two decades, with today’s best capable of accuracy rivaling many centerfire rifles at distances approaching 2½ football fields. Misfires are almost a thing of the past, and modern propellants are reliable, consistent and relatively easy to clean up. And yet, projectiles have remained much as they have been for decades in that the way they are tightly loaded in the barrel has changed little. In the very old days, lead round balls were wrapped in a tight-fitting cloth patch — essentially a primitive sabot. The patch formed a relatively tight seal and gripped the lands and grooves of the rifling to impart spin as the bullet left the barrel. Then came Claude-Etienne Minié, a French army officer who in 1847 created a bullet design that would ultimately bear his name. The cone-shaped lead projectile, the Minié Ball, was built smaller than the rifle bore to ease loading, but its concave base expanded during ignition. This sealed the bore and engaged the rifling, resulting in accuracy and ease of loading that was unprecedented at the time.
Despite the passage of nearly 170 years, the bullets most muzzleloaders use today basically still follow one of these two principles, using either a plastic sabot or expanding base to seal the bore. “Most muzzleloader bullets use a sabot or a soft plastic belt to seal the bore. The problem with sabots is the force required to load them. To work correctly, a sabot needs to fit so tightly that it’s really hard to push down the bore,” said Mike Holm, Federal’s Ammunition Product Line Manager. “And it only gets worse if you’re taking repeated shots through a dirty barrel. Then there’s legality. Hunting regulations vary quite a bit, but many areas don’t allow sabots.
“Belted bullets are allowed for hunting in more places, but we’ve found that, sometimes, a loaded bullet can separate from the belt and slide down the barrel if the gun is jarred,” Holm said. “The plastic of the belt can also rupture during the shot, which means lower velocity and less consistent accuracy. Most of these bullets are also made of soft lead, which can mean poor weight retention and penetration. And, some states no longer allow the use of lead bullets for hunting, a trend that may grow over time.”
And so Federal decided to attack the issue in a different way. “We used our 90-plus years of ammunition manufacturing expertise to create something that would let muzzleloaders hunt legally in more places, with better accuracy, dependability and ease,” Federal’s J.J. Reich told me on the shooting range just prior to our Illinois hunt. “It’s a true 200-yard muzzleloader bullet while remaining easy to load, providing consistent seating, and helping scrub fouling from the breech.” The .50-caliber bullets weigh 270 grains.
The result, J.J. told me, is the exclusive B.O.R. Lock MZ system. “Unlike sabots or belted bullets, it features a polymer cup permanently attached to the bullet base,” he said. “The unfired bullet and cup are slightly smaller than the bore, but the force of ignition pushes the cup forward onto two raised bands along the bullet shank, which essentially increases the diameter of the projectile. This engages the rifling and seals the bore, optimizing velocity and accuracy.
B.O.R. stands for Bullet Obturating Ramp. What the heck does that mean?, I asked.
“It’s really kinda simple, but also a bit complex,” J.J. said. “The walls of the polymer cup get pushed up and out, into the rifling, so you get an excellent seal — and that means better ballistics and downrange performance.”
The rear of the B.O.R. Lock cup features a hard, fiber-reinforced polymer ring that scours fouling from the breech as the bullet is pushed into place. This decreases the need to clean between shots and makes it easy to seat the bullet at the exact same depth. Because there’s no bulky sabot (only the fouling-cutting ring of an unfired bullet engages the rifling) the required loading force averages about half that of most sabot bullets.
The bullet itself is also a step forward in muzzleloader technology. The Federal Premium line already has a successful Trophy Copper rifle bullet and shotgun slug, and it was a natural evolution to incorporate that technology into a new muzzleloader bullet. This 100 percent copper bullet features a polymer tip and a deep, hollow cavity and skiving that provides consistent, devastating expansion. It also has a relatively high ballistic coefficient of 0.168 that results in a flat trajectory that also bucks the wind.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, so we spent some time on the range before heading to the field. My setup included a Traditions Vortek StrikerFire with 28-inch barrel topped with a Bushnell 3-9X scope and using 100 grains of Blackhorn 209. Once the scope was dialed in, I did quite a bit of shooting to see how this rifle/propellant/bullet combination would perform. For me, the best accuracy was achieved with a slightly dirty barrel, meaning I would fire a fouling shot, run a clean patch down the barrel, then shoot two shots for group in an attempt to simulate how things might play out in the real world of deer hunting.
I did not shoot more than three shots without cleaning the barrel, but regardless, I found that the new bullet loads extremely easily, without the need of a bullet starter and using the standard ramrod that comes with the rifle. Despite a light crosswind, this combination produced excellent accuracy. My final 100-yard group produced two shots that were touching, and sighted in at 2 inches high at that distance — which put me dead-on at 150 yards — I was ready to head for a deer stand.
The weather this November week essentially sucked. One morning temperatures hovered near 10 degrees and the wind was stiff. A few days later we were greeted with a freezing rain. Our group was hunting from elevated shooting towers that Mr. Metcalf has spread over his incredible property, and as part of his management plan he encouraged us all to shoot a doe while holding out for bucks at least 3½ years of age. So on the morning of day three, a fat doe presented herself at 150 yards and I decided to make some meat. The deer ran just 50 yards after the shot. The autopsy showed a nice half-inch entrance hole at the shoulder. The bullet passed through the scapula, imbedding itself on the far side hide. It was a perfect mushroom. This was the first deer ever killed with this bullet, and the results were impressive.
The next evening I was set up in a shooting house overlooking a very narrow powerline cut that passed between two woodlots. When a doe entered the cut at about 140 yards at 5 p.m., I got behind the rifle, hoping a buck would follow. When he did I had less than three seconds for my brain to register, “Shooter!,” place the crosshair behind the shoulder, and touch the gun off. Down he went, and again, the autopsy found a perfectly mushroomed bullet up against the offside hide.
Our group shot five deer on the hunt from distances ranging from 10 to 150 yards, and every bullet was recovered as a perfect mushroom on the offside hide. Terminal performance just doesn’t get any better.
The new Trophy Copper Muzzleloader Bullet with the B.O.R. Lock MZ System carries a suggested retail price for $24.99 for a 15-pack. Federal has produced a quick video that shows you a lot more about them; and more information on the entire line of Federal Premium ammunition can be found at www.federalpremium.com.